A documentary to look out for

Some months ago I posted here an anticipatory ramble about forthcoming Irish documentary The Pipe.  The film deals with the struggle of a community on the remote west coast of Ireland against Shell and the Irish government and how the surrounding controversies have taken their toll on the small community.  The Pipe has been doing the festival circuit in the meantime and has been officially selected for the Toronto Film Festival and saw its UK premier on 22nd October at the BFI London Film Festival.

Reviews have been encouraging, including Screen Daily’s chief critic Mark Adams’ description of the film as “delightfully shot and stirring in message.”

The film will see a general release in Irish cinemas on 3rd December.  A UK release inches closer as promotion of the film around the world gains momentum.  Today the film’s producers unveiled the official trailer.  Gripping and frightening stuff.

The Pipe: another oil company, another offshore controversy

This is not exactly the belle époque for oil and gas companies.  Since the disaster on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig began on 20th April 2010, between 30,000 and 60,000 barrels of crude oil have reportedly been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day and the problem has been so out of control that BP was thought to be facing backrupcy by mid-June.  We heard this morning that this flow has been slowed for now, but we’ve had false hope before and the well-documented efforts to solve this problem are ongoing.

However, this is not the only energy company causing trouble for locals along their coastline.  A new Irish documentary called The Pipe debuted last weekend at the Galway Film Fleadh to two full houses and walked away with the Best Documentary award.  The producers describe the film as the “story of a community tragically divided, and how they deal with a pipe that could bring economic prosperity or destruction of a way of life shared for generations”.  Following the personal journeys of people from the town of Rossport and Shell to Sea campaigners, the film is likely to reveal a terrifying level of intimidation and brutality which is more akin to a dictatorship that a modern democracy, as Royal Dutch Shell and Enterprise Oil Consortium attempt to bring gas ashore from the Corrib Gas Field, 80 km offshore.

Locals have been more than aware of the story for years.  Shell intends to bring gas ashore and refine it along a beautiful, remote stretch of coastline, rather than doing so at sea.  Many of the more traditionally minded locals don’t fancy it.  The government wants it.  Fishermen and protesters are attacked by masked men and brutalised by police.  A sad and frankly terrifying story about the way big companies deal with small communities.

This is a potentially explosive documentary revealing a struggle which many have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to.  See it if you get the chance.  It’s on my list.  The following clip gives you a flavour of the dramatic showdown.

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery is running an exhibition of films by the Belgian artist and filmmaker Johan Grimonprez.  It runs until 11th July so there’s still plenty of time to see it.  It’s well worth a visit but you have to be prepared to sit down for a while as the two highlights last in excess of an hour each.  There are a number of items to see here, the main draw being Double Take, Grimonprez’s newest work written by Tom McCarthy and featuring Alfred Hitchcock meeting his double.

However, most visitors will likely end up remebering the 1997 production dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a somewhat gruelling film about plane hijackings and subsequent media coverage that will certainly cause you significant stress.  If you’re about to fly in a plane somewhere, I strongly advise you not to watch this!  It’s a powerful and frightening take on a subject that has only grown in our collective consciousness since the film was previewed in the late 90s.  The only solace is that this is an experiment of sorts which demonstrates the shock factor that the media has in reporting terrorist attacks.  That is, when you leave the room at the end, that feeling of pure sickness at the bottom of your stomach is your own little piece of proof that the media do engender fear; your own fear is the evidence.  Why was this solace for me?  Because I realised at that point that Grimonprez is right: this manipulated series of media clips with a voice-over which features extracts from novelist Don DeLillo’s Mao II and White Noise, is put together to show you how horrified the media can make you feel.  In this respect I realised after watching it that this feeling doesn’t necessarily come from terrorists or the threat of terrorist attacks, but from the news, so panic over… for now.

For some light relief, Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter (1992) is a good follow-up.  In this shorter film, Grimonprez draws on his experience as a graduate Anthropology student to show how ethnographers have become cultural commodities and status symbols for many Papua New Guineans.  The profound effect that ethnoographers have had in certain villages and especially regarding village rivalries is troubling for the discipline but the symptoms of it evident in this exhibition are quite frankly hilarious.

The time factor is a little demanding for some of these films, especially Double Take and dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, but think of it this way: you’d probably go to see one of these in the cinema at the drop of a hat – they’re so compelling and affecting.  You can see them here for free (but only until the 11th July).

This week is payday week, thank Christ!

Image: British Museum

Eek, it’s been a five-weekend pay month!  Holidays have to be booked, passports have to be renewed (I’d rather gouge my own eyes out), work has to be done, and above all we’ve had a fairly beautiful weekend in Edinburgh.  Okay, Sunday wasn’t amazing all day, but generally there was plenty to draw one towards a beer garden.  Despite this, one persevered with cans of Tennents in the flat with the window open.  But we needn’t despair, Wednesday (like, right at the beginning of Wednesday, like Tuesday at midnight), one’s misery will end.

But it hasn’t been misery, really, just a touch of end-of-the-month frugality to soften the hedonism of the first couple of thirds.  Here are a few things I enjoyed.

1. Walking around outside.  You can’t beat it.  It’s free, normally healthy, and pretty in this city.

2. While doing same, popped into Leo’s Beanery on Howe Street for a gorgeous cup of coffee (one of a couple of indulgences which flew in the face the emergency budget).  I fully intend to comprehensively review this place as I think it’s a hidden gem.

3. Doctor Who, The Time of Angels.  The new series of the Doctor has been a little touch and go if you ask me – it’s teething.  This might well have been my favourite episode so far.  You can’t fault those weeping angels.  They were bound to bring them back.  They’re like the Borg of Doctor Who.  Awesome, intimidating villians who are seemingly indestructible.  If you’re not a fan, these are statues who only remain statues as long as they’re being watched; at all other times they’re totally murderous and absolutely moving around.  So basically they turn to stone when you look at them.  But they never tell you what material they’re made of otherwise.  It could be paper for all we know!  But an original take on a familiar form, which is a strong feature.  Looking forward to seeing where that goes.  Here’s a clip from the last series:


4. Yojimbo.  I’m going through a mini Akira Kurosawa movie season at home with no strict order to it.  Ran was recently watched and enjoyed.   Samurai King Lear works.  Yojimbo?  Many people would say this is a masterpiece and subject it to careful criticism and analysis.  For now, I’d rather just say I enjoyed it.  I have to admit I fell asleep a few times trying to watch it last week, but that was entirely the week I had rather than the film.  Finished it this weekend.  Happy to recommend it.  It’s a good, short, snappy film with a great soundtrack.  I had been wondering what film to start my Kurosawa season with and Ran happened accidentally.  Yojimbo would have been a better kick-off.

5. 500 Days of Summer.  The Comely Banking Crisis does Lovefilm and this one was on the Icy Penguin’s list, with the former, Yojimbo, being on mine.  We’re still digesting it but I think we both enjoyed it.  We were both frustrated by the female character, but that’s kind-of the point of the film.  A sort-of romantic comedy with a twist.   It thinks it’s Amelie a little bit, without all the magic or Paris.  Los Angeles is the setting and one of the things I enjoyed was the fact that the the male lead character is an architecture graduate who discusses LA and its architecture regularly.  This led me to think about another film set there, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, a better film actually, also portraying a brief-ish relationship and very much referencing its Californian backdrop.

But aside from these small mercies, we wait for the money!

My Own Private Michael Sheen Season

I love Michael Sheen.  I can’t get enough of the man.  His little face, his brilliant acting, that cheeky grin that can say ‘I’m a champion’ one moment and ‘I’m in misery’ the next.  The man is a chameleon, a vessel for weird and wonderful Britons of the last hundred years.  His deployment in so many iconic roles recently has been inspired.  A truly great British actor.

So it follows that I should host my own Michael Sheen Season!  I’d like to call this my Sheen Season but that could be confusing (not that I’d begrudge anyone a Charlie or Martin season).  I have to admit this wasn’t planned very carefully.  It’s rather been an organic exploration testifying to the addictive property of the actor’s presence and work – you just want to go back for more.


Most recently for us it’s been Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon.  This has been one of those big films that everyone cool says is great – a bit like Good Night and Good Luck – critically accclaimed, intelligent, big.  It always takes me a while to get round to watching these.  Maybe it’s War and Peace syndrome except on a small scale with movies: a big committment for a Friday night!  Anyhow, we watched it and loved it.

Sheen was great as hedonistic David Frost.  We felt that Frank Langella’s Nixon was something of a caricature, but maybe this role demanded a bit of overplaying.  Nixon has been caricatured so many times since his presidency that it’s the caricature that everyone remembers anyway.  It was the right choice, because we forgot about Langella quickly and focused on his Nixon instead.  A great, entertaining film that gives you just enough information on the background so that you can learn and enjoy.  And Sheen?  Perfect!  The role doesn’t stretch him hugely, but that’s the role.

Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa

Before Frost/Nixon it was Fantabulosa.  Aired by BBC4 (I missed it and rented the DVD – worth it!) this drama depicting the adult life of Kenneth Williams is stunning.  The writing felt just a little slow and clumsey at the very beginning, but the story unravels fantastically and manages to be dark, tense, uncomfortable and funny, like the man.  Playing both the young man and ageing Williams, Sheen is camp, delerious, mentally and physically ill, and miserable.  This finished on BBC iPlayer but it’s all over youtube.  Here’s one of my favourite sections (it’s worth waiting until around 5 minutes in to see the brilliant, hideously awkward ‘love’ scene – be warned, not one for the kids).  In my opinion this is Sheen at his very best:

The Deal; The Queen

Sheen has played Tony Blair twice.  I would summarise these as Nasty Ambitious Blair in the 2003 TV drama The Deal and Great Guy Blair in The Queen.  He’s best known for the latter, but I prefer the Nasty Blair of The Deal because its focus is on Blair himself and it’s a more thorough exploration of the man.  And he’s portrayed as a nasty git!  In any case, Sheen gets quite the accolade from me for doing two different Blairs, each one great.

The Blair character promises a lot more screen time.  We’re still waiting for War Criminal Blair, but I suspect that can only be done once the outcome of the current Iraq Inquiry is known and Blair is retired and we have a little distance from it.  Perhaps Pierce Brosnan’s ex-Prime-Minister in Polanski’s The Ghost will take us part of the way there.  I haven’t seen it but I don’t think a character played by Brosnan who merely alludes to a Blair-type figure is a sufficient third part of this trilogy.  There’s a great movie in the Blair story yet.


And last but not least in my Season, we must revisit Wilde (1997).  Sheen in a love scene with Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde?  Must be done!  Ealier roles such as this promised just what we have now:  a fantastic, developed actor with a great CV, screen presence and versatility.  And tonnes of potential yet.  Look at him there, snogging Fry! (Again, NOT for the kids!)


Anyone have any other recommendations?  I still haven’t seen The Damned United due to my football-schmutball attitude, but I must get over that!

Some Variations on a Musical Theme

Ever since I first watched it as a teenager, I’ve been a huge fan of Tous les Matins du Monde.  The 1991 film is a dramatisation of the relationship between the French baroque composer Marin Marias (played by the late Guillaume Depardieu and in some scenes by his father Gerard) and his teacher the mysterious Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle).   

The plot of the film is framed with a lot of sadness.  Sainte Colombe, the master, is sad due to the loss of his wife; Marais is sad because his voice is breaking and he can no longer sing in a boys’ choir.  Marais pesters Sainte-Colombe for viol lessons and the latter capitulates only because he is touched by Marais’s sadness.  But Marais is a brat and disrespects Sainte-Columbe’s philosophy (and daughters) and makes him angry and sad.  But ultimately Marais is sad as a result of his shallowness and misdeeds.  And that’s pretty much it!!   

I would forgive anyone who has seen this film and thought it morose, depressing, and short on dialioge.  Indeed it is all of the above!  But I like to get past that and enjoy the music, and I find that taking some time to consider and appreciate the soundtrack brings one back into the film’s compelling story, whose central character is surely the music itself.   

Or perhaps the music forms two characters: one paralleling the sad, regretful and puritalical Sainte-Colombe (this character dominates), and the other the amitious future court composer Marais.  Very little is known of the real Sainte-Colombe and this adds intrigue to the experience of seeing him re-enacted as the reluctant teacher and widower.   

One of the most popular scenes from the film, however, includes music composed by neither Marais nor Sainte-Colombe.  The young upstart Marais visits Sainte-Colombe to audition to be his student and is asked to improvise on Folies d’Espagne (The Follies of Spain), and the hauntingly beautiful result is as follows.   

Here Depardieu is miming over the great contemporary Catalan viol player Jordi Savall, whose adaptation and performance of much of the music for the film are highlights.  I’ve always enjoyed this scene and the piece is variously called La Folia/Follia, Les Folies, or Folies d’Espagne.   

One of the oldest known European musical themes, Follies‘ composer is not known and it is thought to originate from Iberia in the late 15th century.  More than 150 composers have incorporated it into their music in some way or other, but many baroque composers have focused on composing variations of the theme itself rather than simply incorporating it into something else.   

Sound good?  Here’s a version of the theme arranged by Marin Marais’s other teacher (not dealt with in the film), the also-great, Florenese baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.   

This version is fairly conservative, but it’s relative simplicity leaves the theme free to be enjoyed on its own terms.  For something quite different, have a listen to Antonio Vivaldi‘s later, punchier, and considerably more expressive variation.   

There are plenty of other versions available to listen to on youtube, but I shouldn’t push it.  If you’ve been so kind as to listen to the three posted here, I suspected you’ve had enough of it by now!   

Tous les Matins du Monde won seven César awards in 1992 including Best Music Written for a Film for Jordi Savall’s arrangements and was nominated for a Golden Globe the folllowing year.  Tragically, Guillaume Depardieu died of pneumonia in October 2008 aged 37.

Snow is Cool in the Movies

House of Flying Daggers

This snow is ridiculous.  Really, need I say more?  Well, I want something to blog about, so yes!  People are stuck at home and unable to come into work (yeah, right!) and we’ve had continuous snowfall in Edinburgh all day and yesterday evening too.  And it’s the 31st March! 

What was the point of all my hopeful, studious observation of sunset and the time of the last dwindling light of each and every evening throughout January, February and March?  This?!

Well screw you, bad weather!  In today’s post, I have decided to come up with a way to look on the bright side, so here are five snowy movie moments that tell us that snow is, after all, really titillating, atmospheric and above all, cool.

In no particular order:

1.  Old Boy, closing sequence

Don’t worry, watching this doesn’t give the ending away.  Well, come on, it is the ending, but you know what I mean.  No spoilers here.  This is a beautiful sequence and I especially love the waltz which forms the centrepiece of the soundtrack.  If you like the look of it and haven’t seen this film, do so soon.  It’s well worth it.  Snow is beautiful and a little disturbing in Old Boy.

Watch it here

2.  Gladiator, Germania battle sequence

Romans, furs, dogs, archers, testudos, Germanic barbarians, Germania, Maximus, lobbing olive oil bombs, flaming arrows, forests, slow-motion Saving-Private-Ryan-type what’s-it-all-worth footage.  How dare anyone suggest that the perfect accompaniment is not snow?  Snow is cool in Gladiator, and so is the desert.  And both are definitely cooler than Maximus’s lame (ball-and-chain) Spanish farm.

Watch it here

3.  House of Flying Daggers, closing sequence

This film, probably the first real manifestation of the slippery slope Zhang Yimou has been on over the last few years, has a truly sketchy plot.  However, Zhang’s visuals are as beautiful as they are in any of his other films, and the snowy ending is no exception.  Snow is beautiful in House of Flying Daggers.  Is this a spoiler?  Yes and no.  It is, but the ending has very little logical coherence with the beginning of the film, or the middle, so it doesn’t matter.  Anyway, truly stunning visuals, that’s the point.

 Watch it here

4.  Dr Zhivago, most of…

This is not really uplifting at all, and doesn’t help me with my point, but I don’t think you can discuss snow in film without reference to Dr Zhivago.

Watch the trailer here

5.  Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, opening sequence

New Zealand, the Misty Mountains, whatever way you want to look at it, beautiful snowy landscapes.  The film just gets better from there!

Watch it here

This list could really go on forever and I make no pretence to its being exhaustive.  To be honest, I’m trying to complete it as quickly as I can before it stops snowing!  Can you think of any others?

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