troubled diva  
 

My freelance writing can now be found at mikeatkinson.wordpress.com.
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On Thursday September 17th, I danced on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Control.

A quick word in support of the long-awaited Joy Divsion biopic Control, as I was lucky enough to attend a press screening for it earlier today down at the Broadway Cinema, in advance of its "gala screening" this evening.

Joy Division might have been a Manchester band, but there's a strong Nottingham link to the movie; lead actress Samantha Morton was born and bred here, a large chunk of the funding came from the East Midlands, and most of the film was shot in the city. The concert scenes were filmed inside the Ballroom of the Marcus Garvey Centre, with crowd extras recruited from the message boards of LeftLion magazine; the Derby Road council flats behind the Savoy Cinema are easily recognisable; and the supposedly Mancunian kids in the opening scene have suspiciously local accents.

The film marks the directorial debut of rock photographer Anton Corbijn, perhaps best known for his work with U2 and Depeche Mode, who also worked with Joy Division in the late 1970s, helping to define their oh-God-I-hate-using-this-word iconic (bleurgh) image. Not surprsingly, the visual aesthetic is closely aligned with Corbijn's signature style, all monochrome austerity and pared down moodiness. As such, it's completely in line with the band's existing iconography - almost to the degree of being an extension of their brand, were I minded to be cynical.

Which, to my relief, and despite niggling early doubts (with every shot exquisitely composed, was the art direction in danger of drowning in its own sumptuous "perfection"?), I'm not. For the tightly controlled visual aesthetic actually serves to preserve the band's mystique, even as the drama seeks to examine the circumstances which led to singer Ian Curtis's suicide, aged 23, in May 1980. Or, as I put it on Twitter earlier today, on my way back from the cinema, the film "illuminates the story without puncturing the legend". It's a tricky line to walk, and some slightly clunky initial wobbles notwithstanding (or maybe it's simply impossible not to giggle at the first sight of the earnest young actors playing Barney and Hooky, and at the sight of "Tony Wilson" in a daft wig), the balance is admirably struck.

(Thus, to give one example, you gain an almost literal insight as to how Curtis's emotional state inspired the lyrics of Love Will Tear Us Apart, without running the risk of permanently devaluing the personal experience that you might get from the song.)

Ah yes: Tony Wilson, whose serious illness was well known amongst the cast and crew, and whose death less than two months ago casts an extra shadow over what was already a distinctly murky drama. His character provides a couple of the film's rare comedic moments - the lack of which was also noted, with some measure of disappointment, by Curtis's widow Deborah (darned if I can find the source, but this article by their now grown-up daughter Natalie provides some fascinating background). Control thus becomes something of a dual memorial, as well as making some of the links between Ian Curtis's and Kurt Cobain's respective states of suicidal despair all the more explicit (I'm thinking of one concert scene in particular, which shows Curtis no longer able to control the widening gap between what his audience expects and what he is capable of providing).

Highly recommended. Go see.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Hallam Foe.



Way back at the beginning of June, I received an invite to a special "bloggers only" preview, in the screening room of a swanky Soho hotel, of the movie Hallam Foe, which went out on general release in the UK this weekend. Never being one to turn down the opportunity for an ooh-I-saw-it-FIRST freebie, I duly accepted (provided that I could bring along a glamorous lady companion), but remained mystifed as to why anyone would have stuck me on their guest list in the first place.

A bit of judicious Googling led me to suspect the unseen hand of Hugh McLeod at work: he who writes the widely read blog gapingvoid. (You know, the one with the cartoons drawn on the back of business cards.) As it turned out, the hunch was correct. Hugh is an old friend of the film's director David Mackenzie, and the bloggers-only preview appeared to be some sort of experiment in building a blog-based buzz around the movie, well in advance of its general release. Further to this, an official, regularly updated "making of the movie" blog had been in existence since February 2006, although I had never stumbled across it myself before.

Thankfully, no conditions were attached to the invitation. The assembled bloggers remained perfectly at liberty to write what they wanted about the film, positively or negatively, or indeed not to write about it at all. To my mind, this demonstrated a fairly massive statement of faith by the film's creators.

Having met my glamorous lady companion (GLC) outside the swanky hotel, we sashayed into the swishy bar, where my GLC kindly got the drinks in: two spirits, two mixers, and virtually no change from a twenty quid note. How exclusive!

What neither of us had realised was that free drinks and canapes were simultaneously being served to the bloggerati in the downstairs bar, adjacent to the screening room. Well, why didn't they say?

After some difficulty in locating said screening room, we eventually found the vestibule, where a nice lady with a clipboard was ticking off names. I had been wondering all along which of my other blogpals might be in attendance, and now I discovered that, with the exception of my GLC, there were none. This was a totally different group of bloggers, drawn more from the marketing/consultancy/web punditry areas of the UK blogosphere, many or most of whom made their livings from the sort of subject matter which they blogged about. Erk! Eek! Professionals!

As well as Hugh McLeod, who introduced the film and chaired the post-screening discussion, director David Mackenzie was also in attendance, along with the film's two stars: Jamie Bell (best known for his starring role in Billy Elliot) and Sophia Myles (recently seen playing Madame de Pompadour in Doctor Who). Such exalted company! And all laid on for a bunch of bloggers? Talk about steering through uncharted waters...

And so to the film itself, which began by scoring two immediate massive Plus Points: an animated title sequence by David Shrigley, accompanied by Orange Juice's fantastic 1980 single Blue Boy on the soundtrack. Indeed, the whole soundtrack - CD copies of which were given away free to all attendees, and ooh look, blimey, an exclusive new track from Franz Ferdinand - demonstrated sound taste, having been assembled from the roster of well respected indie label Domino Records.

In the movie, Jamie Bell plays the troubled youth Hallam Foe: a mixed-up loner who faux-ferally roams around the grounds attached to his capacious family home, with "tribal" daubings on his face and alternately voyeuristic and vengeful fantasies on his mind. His mother is dead, his father has re-married, and his stepmother is a cold-hearted eminence grise who reads his diaries on the sly. A potentially violent confrontation with her in Hallam's tree-house ends with the two of them having sex (the first confirmation that Young Master Bell is now Quite The Young Man), after which Hallam runs away to Edinburgh, where the bulk of the film is set.

Soon after arriving in Edinburgh, Hallam becomes erotically obsessed with Kate (played by Sophia Myles), whom he spots on the street. He secretly follows her to the city centre hotel where she works, and ends up taking a job in the hotel's kitchens. In the evenings, he spies on Kate through the windows of her apartment, as his obsession intensifies. The reason for this obsession: Kate is the spitting image of his late mother.

So far, so Oedipal. (And for many film critics, it has to be said: so far, so preposterous.) As for me, the assumption at this still early stage was that we were in for a standard stalker/slasher flick, with Hallam as the twisted aggressor and Kate as the silent victim. All of which was pressing hard on my Big Red Gender Politics Alarm Button.

Suffice it to say that, from this point on, my expectations of both characters were slowly and skilfully subverted, as Hallam and Kate revealed themselves to be more nuanced, more complex, and more intriguingly peculiar and perverse than we had been led to expect. And although many of the same critics have judged the film's denouement to be far-fetched and unconvincing, I found it to contain recognisable emotional truths, which moved me to the brink of tears.

(Let's just say that, without wishing to cause undue alarm, I spotted certain elements of my own mixed-up teenage self in Hallam's character. But not the Oedipal elements, I hasten to assure you.)

Hallam Foe, then. A modestly budgeted independent production, beautifully acted and intelligently directed, which deserves all the support it can get. And yes, I have factored in the distorting effect of the ooh-I-saw-it-FIRST factor...

After the screening, the director and actors trooped back in for what I felt was a rather unsatisfactory and exasperating Q&A session, dominated as it was by a certain self-regarding self-importance on the part of the questioners. This was perhaps only to be expected, given the unprecedented hospitality which was being afforded us, but questions such as "How is blogging changing the film industry?", and observations along the lines of "Pah, cinemas are old hat, we'll soon be downloading movies onto hand-held devices, and what do you have to say about THAT?" made me, my GLC, and some of the assembled panellists visibly cringe at times.

Tellingly, when one questioner began by explaining that unlike his predecessors, he was neither a blogger nor a marketeer, Jamie Bell reacted by putting his head in his hands and groaning, with no small degree of force, "OH! THANK GOD!"

But, as I say, uncharted waters for all concerned.

The evening concluded with a Meet And Greet Slash Networking Opportunity on the top floor of a swanky diner down the road. Upon entering, my GLC and I headed straight for a table in the quietest corner, which turned out to be rather handily positioned by the kitchen doors. As a result, we got First Pickings on all the tasty finger food, the moment that it was brought though, freshly cooked and piping hot, by the charming and faultlessly attentive waiting staff. Sod the networking, this was a Major Result.

We stayed put for the duration, locked in conversation, and ended up mingling with no-one (although I did get to chat earlier with Gia Milinovich, a long-standing blogging acquaintance, and briefly with social software maven Suw Charman). Such uncharacteristic aloofness, especially at a blogmeet, ill becomes me... but then, it really was exceedingly good finger food.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Charity screening of An Inconvenient Truth, London, Sunday April 29.

Here at Troubled Diva, we only Do Adverts if they're a) for friends and b) for worthy causes. This is one such rare occasion.

My good friend Sasha is embarking on a humanitarian aid mission to Moldova in May, and she needs to raise £5500 before she leaves. With over £2500 already raised in donations, she has decided to generate additional funds by arranging a one-off Sunday lunchtime screening of Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

As the film isn't currently on general release, this might be an ideal time to catch it, and to sprinkle a little bit of philanthropic love-dust along the way.

The screening takes place at the Tricycle Cinema in Kilburn, London, at 12:30pm on Sunday April 29th. Tickets cost £12.50 (including nibbles), and can be booked by calling 020 7328 1000.

Full information can be found at www.sashinka.com/tricycle.

I'm fully aware that, y'know, linking to things is, like, soooo 2002. (Weblogs that link to things? Whoever heard of such an idea?) But nevertheless, it would be very cool (retro-cool, even) if you could spread the word.

Here, have an image for your sidebar.



Here, have some HTML code to go with that.

<p><a href="http://sashinka.com/tricycle/"><img src="http://www.sashinka.com/tricycle/inctruth29thbox.jpg" width="250" border="0"></a>

Image too big for your sidebar? If so, then take that width="250" down a few sizes.

Thank you. We now return you to your regular scheduled programming.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Inland Empire.

Yesterday, I attended a morning press screening of the forthcoming David Lynch movie, Inland Empire. An extravagant use of my precious annual leave entitlement, I grant you – but then I’m not often invited to these things, and it sounded like a fun little experience to tick off the list.

Although I make a point of never reading film reviews, in case they reveal more than I need to know, I was aware that Inland Empire is three hours long, complex, and plotless. I decided to take this as a challenge.

(Sitting on my own, in silence, for three uninterrupted hours, trying to concentrate on something impossibly complicated, without really having a clue as to what’s going on? Hmm, sounds familiar. Talk about taking a busman’s holiday.)

The film started with a few disconnected scenes, high on surrealism but low on tangible meaning. A needle on a scratchy record. A hooker and a john in a hotel room, their heads smudged out, speaking in an Eastern European tongue. A family of three, with rabbit heads, speaking in non-sequiturs, with an audience laughter track. That sort of thing.

This was all fine. The scenes were slow-moving, and I was primed for weirdness, and so I purposefully committed all the details to memory, for future reference. Weird bits at the beginning have a habit of making retrospective sense, don’t they?

And then, lo and behold, a story started developing. An odd story, to be sure – but rooted in narrative logic, and with properly drawn characters, and an absolute doddle to follow.

The story was about a successful movie actress (played by Laura Dern) being offered a lead role in a movie, and commencing rehearsals, and of an ambiguous relationship developing between her and her male co-lead. There was a supernatural mystery/suspense element, and some nice interplay between the outer story and the plot of the film-within-the-film. This being David Lynch, there was also a vague sense of looming peril. It was all rather enjoyable. Jeremy Irons was in it. Harry Dean Stanton played an amusing cameo role. William H. Macy made a fleeting appearance. There were even a couple of scenes where I was able to successfully predict what was about to happen.

At around the thirty or forty minute mark, I had a flash of insight, as the inevitable arc of the story suddenly became clear. This was followed by a stab of disappointment. Two and a half hours to go, and I basically knew what was going to happen, and why. How on earth were they going to fill the time?

Minutes later, the chaos kicked in, as Laura Dern’s character began to wander between different realities, with ever-decreasing connecting logic. Locations and time scales dissolved. Dern’s personal circumstances altered, as did her mannerisms, and indeed her whole character. Certain familiar faces re-appeared, in varying guises (but not Irons, or Stanton, or Macy, all of whom disappeared). The sense of looming peril ratcheted up a good few notches. All certainties vanished, to the extent that I found myself longing for the film to return to its original story. The longer that the chaos continued, the more my nostalgia for the opening thirty or forty minutes increased.

This bewildering entropy went on, and on, and on, for two and a half trippy, dream-like hours. My concentration lapsed, badly, to the extent where I kept chastising myself for my inability to keep a grasp of the details. If only I could have committed that scene to memory, then this scene might have made more sense.

However, for all the wheels within wheels and world within worlds, all the earlier dramatic tension was lost. Dern’s previously subtle, compelling performance was reduced to a clutch of stock expressions – in particular, an expression of uncomprehending, open-mouthed terror, which became progressively more irksome.

I stopped caring, and started yawning, fidgeting and clock-watching. Hours passed.

There was a fun little formation dancing scene, set to Little Eva’s “The Locomotion”.

Etta James’s “At Last” popped up on the soundtrack. It was nice to hear it again.

There was a suburban barbecue scene, slightly grainy and oversaturated, like an old home movie. Something happened at a circus. I forget what.

There were occasional pieces of relatively straightforward dialogue or monologue, which teased me into hoping that they might explain something or other. I would prick up my ears for a while, before slouching back into itchy exasperation, or glazed ennui. These sometimes took place in a grimy, low-rent office, with Dern explaining her plight to a man behind a desk, who never spoke.

Was there ever a resolution? Of sorts, yes. But only a partial one. I’m saying nothing else.

For about half an hour afterwards, as I ordered and consumed my late-lunchtime coffee and sandwich in the Atlas deli, I felt disorientated and spaced out. Everything had a slightly surreal sheen to it, as if I wasn’t quite physically present. I went shopping, caught a cab home, then mooched about on the computer for a bit.

My prediction: critical panning, commercial flop, cult longevity – especially with the sort of 19-year stoners who delight in spotting and swapping arbitrary and entirely accidental “clues”. (“But the number on the door was 47, man! Think about it!”)

No, I don’t recommend it. Glad to be of service.

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