Andrew Marr’s Great Scots on BBC2 and Scottish Independence.

Andrew Marr's Great Scots: the Writers Who Shaped A Nation.

Andrew Marr’s Great Scots: the Writ­ers Who Shaped A Nation.

Andrew Marr is a senior polit­i­cal fig­ure at the BBC, hav­ing pre­vi­ously edited the Lon­don Inde­pen­dent. More recently, in between host­ing Radio 4’s pres­ti­gious Start The Week he’s begun pre­sent­ing his own doc­u­men­taries. His lat­est, on great Scot­tish writ­ers in com­fort­ably his best to date.

The first episode was on James Boswell. Like so many Scots before and since, Boswell was torn between his blind­ing ambi­tion, which demanded that he leave Scot­land and head for Lon­don, and the resent­ment he felt at being forced to do so.

Bizarrely, he ended up team­ing up with the arche­typal 18th cen­tury Eng­lish­man, Samuel John­son. Even more bizarrely, Boswell lured the jin­go­is­tic John­son up north for a tour of Scot­land, which both insisted was the most enjoy­able cou­ple of months that either of them had ever spent.

The sec­ond episode was even more suc­cess­ful, not to say pre­scient, com­par­ing the con­trast­ing styles and pol­i­tics of Robert Burns and Sir Wal­ter Scott. Scott the con­ser­v­a­tive union­ist who har­boured dreams of rebel­lion, and Burns the Roman­tic poet par excel­lence who wrote in florid Scots incit­ing actual rebel­lion, but who worked by day as a tax inspec­tor for the British government.

Burns not only gets his own day every year, he managed to inflict that song on all the rest of us.

Burns not only gets his own day every year, he man­aged to inflict that song on all the rest of us.

Marr strikes exactly the right bal­ance between lit­er­ary his­tory and polit­i­cal analy­sis. Plac­ing these lit­er­ary giants in the con­text of the fierce polit­i­cal debate that fol­lowed the dis­solv­ing of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment after the act of union in 1707, he sounds out the clear echoes with­out ever labour­ing the point.

As a proud Scots­man who nonethe­less left his native soil to take the British coin at the BBC in Lon­don, Marr knows only too well of what he speaks. Wryly, he reminds us, as the Scot­tish so often do, that Jekyll and Hyde was writ­ten by a Scots­man. That ten­sion that gov­erns how they view the land south of the bor­der and the peo­ple who live there has always been there.

So will the Scot­tish vote for inde­pen­dence this Sep­tem­ber? I get the impres­sion they are com­ing to regard that pre­vi­ous vote accept­ing union some 300 years ago with increas­ing shame. I’ve a funny feel­ing the heart might rule the head. That 9–2 is look­ing extremely invit­ing. In the mean­time, Andrew Marr’s Great Scots con­tin­ues on BBC 2 on Sat­ur­day evening.

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Robin Wright” in “The Congress”.

Harvey Keitel and Robin Wright in The Congress.

Har­vey Kei­tel and Robin Wright in The Con­gress.

The Israeli film maker Ari Fol­man shot into inter­na­tional promi­nence with the haunt­ing Waltz With Bashir in 2008. Fol­man, who is one of the head writ­ers on the hit TV show In Treat­ment, needed to revisit what he’d done as a teenager. As a young sol­dier he’d been part of the Israeli army’s appalling assault on Sabra and Shatila, when they invaded the Lebanon in 1982.

But the only way he was able to peer into the dark recesses of his psy­che was by using the cloak of ani­ma­tion, which acted like the dark of the con­fes­sional box, allow­ing him close his eyes and re-imagine what might have hap­pened there.

The Con­gress is his much awaited fol­low up. And it’s an almighty mess. Robin Wright plays a ver­sion of her­self, who is forced to sell the rights to her dig­i­tal self so that the stu­dio can go on to make the kinds of films with “her” that they’d like to, with­out hav­ing to actu­ally deal with the moods and tantrums of the actual human being.

Robin Wright as Buttercup with Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.

Robin Wright as But­ter­cup with Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.

But then the film veers wildly into wholly improb­a­ble sci fi ter­ri­tory, which it can only do by retreat­ing into ani­ma­tion. And not just any old ani­ma­tion, the kind of far out ani­ma­tion that’s meant to make you fondly recall The Bea­t­les in their Yel­low Sub­ma­rine.

I wish I could tell you that it were just too ambi­tious. But none of its Big Ideas are in any way explored, they are just bul­let points in bold. Will CGI allow Hol­ly­wood stu­dios dis­pense with Tal­ent all together? What’s more impor­tant, suc­cess or your fam­ily? Will future gen­er­a­tions be inca­pable of com­mu­ni­cat­ing other than through a screen? Is the dig­i­tal realm this century’s heroin? Our only means of avoid­ing the drudgery and dis­ap­point­ment of our daily lives? Etc, and so on.

Worse again, it’s entirely humour­less. Imag­ine what fun Woody Allen might have had with the idea of sep­a­rat­ing the actress from her dig­i­tal self. Come to think of it, he did have that idea, in his crim­i­nally under­val­ued The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo.

Woody Allen's much funnier The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

Woody Allen’s much fun­nier The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo.

The Con­gress is like that episode of the Simp­sons when Homer is encour­aged by his half brother to design his own car, which itself was a re-working of an old Johnny Cash song. If you take the best bits from your favourite films (or cars) and mould them all together, all you end up with is a dys­func­tional eyesore.

Robin Wright and Har­vey Kei­tel are two of mod­ern cinema’s finest actors. Even more remark­ably, both have man­aged that rare feat of nav­i­gat­ing the treach­er­ous waters between a large num­ber of small, inde­pen­dent films, inter­spersed with the occa­sional more com­mer­cial enter­prise. Hap­pily, in ten years’ time, no one will remem­ber that either of them had any­thing to do with this. You can see The Con­gress trailer here.

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Luluc’s New Album “Passerby” Simmers Sublimely.

Luluc's Passerby.

Luluc’s Passerby.

It’s taken the indie folk duo of Zoë Ran­dell and Steve Has­sett six years to come up with their sec­ond album as Luluc. In the interim they signed with Sub Pop, home to Fleet Foxes, Beach House and Wolf Parade as well as, a life­time ago, Nir­vana. And last year they con­tributed the two best tracks on Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake.

Alt coun­try queen Gillian Welch is a fan, and their new album, Passerby was pro­duced by The National’s Aaron Dess­ner in New York’s Val­halla bor­ough of Brooklyn.

So we oughtn’t to have been too ter­ri­bly sur­prised with the result. Nonethe­less, this really is a gor­geous album. Simon and Gar­funkel har­monies cloaked in the ele­giac melan­cho­lia of the afore­men­tioned Drake.

But the fig­ure most clearly evoked through­out is that of Nico. Across the album, Randell’s vocal lines stay unex­pect­edly flat, only occa­sion­ally veer­ing tri­umphantly up. The results are simul­ta­ne­ously sooth­ing and qui­etly thrilling.

Nico in La Dolce Vita before joining Reed and Warhol in The Velvet Underground.

Nico in La Dolce Vita before join­ing Lou Reed and Andy Warhol in The Vel­vet Underground.

All of which was per­fectly cap­tured in the per­for­mance they gave of the title track a year and half ago in Din­gle for RTE’s manda­tory Other Voices here, accom­pa­nied by Mr Dess­ner on keyboards.

Luluc are due to go out on tour with J Mas­cis, who recently res­ur­rected Dinosaur Jr for their excel­lent come­back album I Bet On Sky, reviewed ear­lier here.

That’ll be an inter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion. In the mean­time, have a look at the video for the open­ing track on their album, Small Win­dow here.

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Some Forgotten Classics (and a Turkey) at Dublin’s IFI Dublin this August.

Dorleac and Deneuve in Rochefort.

Dorleac, Deneuve and Gene Kelly in Rochefort.

The Films Mau­dits (cursed films) Fes­ti­val was begun by Jean Cocteau and friends in 1949 to give peo­ple the chance to have a look again at a few films they felt had been unfairly over­looked first time around. This August in Dublin, the IFI hon­ours that tra­di­tion with its own mini mau­dits festival.

Last Wednes­day they screened François Truffaut’s Le Peau Douce (‘64). After the huge suc­cess of his first three films, The 400 Blows (’59), Shoot the Pianist (‘60) and espe­cially the joy­ous Jules et Jim (‘62) this dour exam­i­na­tion of adul­tery was always going to be a hard sell, and they walked out of its screen­ing at Cannes in their droves.

They were try­ing to make a morally neu­tral film about adul­tery in which the man and the two women were treated equally. Unfor­tu­nately, the man is all too believ­ably ordi­nary, and you’re never really sure what either of the two women see in him.

It is though an all too rare oppor­tu­nity to see the effer­ves­cent and radi­ent Françoise Dor­léac. Cather­ine Deneuve’s elder sis­ter was killed in a car acci­dent at the age of 25 in 1967, soon after they’d both fin­ished film­ing the insanely over­looked The Young Girls of Rochefort, a sort of 12th Night to The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg’s Romeo and Juliet. Deneuve said she never really got over it.

Monica Vitt and Alain Delon.

Mon­ica Vitti and Alain Delon.

She, and Nelly Benedetti as the firey wife, make this film worth catch­ing up on.

On Sun­day 10th there’s a rare chance to see Michelan­gelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (‘62). The final part of his Mon­ica Vitti tril­ogy, it wasn’t actu­ally this film that caused such con­ster­na­tion at Cannes, it was the first part, L’Avventura (’60).

But let’s not split hairs, any chance to see one of cinema’s tow­er­ing mas­ter­pieces should be grabbed with grate­ful hands. Vitti and Alain Delon framed by Anto­nioni, scripted by Tonino Guerra and shot by the mas­ter DoP Gianni Di Venanzo, who the fol­low­ing year shot 8 ½ (‘63) and then Giuli­etta Delgi Spir­iti (‘65) for Fellini.

Nicholas Ray's "Johnny Guitar".

Nicholas Ray’s “Johnny Guitar”.

After the polit­i­cally savvy The Manchurian Can­di­date (’62) and Seven Days In May (‘64) John Franken­heimer made Sec­onds in ‘66 with Rock Hud­son. Reviled at Cannes, it too has been com­pletely reassessed. You can see it on Wed 13th.

Then on Sat 16th there an incred­i­bly rare chance to see Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again. After the mag­is­te­r­ial Johnny Gui­tar (’54) reviewed ear­lier here and Rebel With­out A Cause (’55) – and in a par­al­lel uni­verse some­where, there’s a ver­sion of that film with the actor he’d orig­i­nally wanted in the lead, one Elvis Pres­ley – Ray ended up teach­ing film stu­dents at Harpur Col­lege in New York.

He made this with them dur­ing his time there, and con­tin­ued edit­ing it before head­ing over to Cannes, where he dis­cov­ered that the ven­er­a­ble film fes­ti­val there was built on a far more lucra­tive porn fes­ti­val that goes on there lit­er­ally under­ground. And so his twi­light years were spent ahem “act­ing”. Which is not some­thing you’ll find on his Wikipedia entry.

Anna Paquin and Matt Damon in "Margaret".

Anna Paquin and Matt Damon in “Margaret”.

On Sun 17th you can see Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s unjustly over­looked Mar­garet (’11), which I reviewed ear­lier here. And if you haven’t yet seen his mag­nif­i­cent You Can Count on Me (’00), lucky you. It’s all ahead of you. Here’s Margaret’s trailer. And, going from the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous, the mini fes­ti­val ends with the ris­i­ble Heaven’s Gate (’80), which I reviewed ear­lier here.

All the above are hap­pily avail­able of dvd. And, the last named aside, they all deserve a re-visit.

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5 Albums You Might Have Missed This Year.

NPR's no 1 choice.

NPR’s no 1 choice.

A few weeks ago the good peo­ple on NPR’s manda­tory All Songs Con­sid­ered pod­cast, reviewed ear­lier here, ran a 50 Best Albums, Songs, Bands and Sur­prises of the year so far set of lists, here. Here are 5 from that list that I’d missed and that, hap­pily, I’ve now caught up on.

5. Say Yes To Love, by Per­fect Pussy.

This was the one album that they all had at the top of their lists. 23 min­utes of un-sanitised, tri­umphantly aggres­sive, raw post punk, that some­how man­ages to be sig­nif­i­cantly more nuanced that it has any right to be. You can hear Big Stars here.

4. High Life, by Brian Eno & Karl Hyde.

Ear­lier this year Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde got together to record Some­day World, reviewed ear­lier here. After they’d fin­ished that more for­mal album, they recorded a num­ber of tracks live, where each would respond to what the other was doing as they were doing it. With Hyde on gui­tar and Eno on assorted synths, this is a far more organic sound­ing album, and is a propul­sive echo of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the album Eno made with David Byrne in 1981. You can hear DBF here.

The debut album from the Family Crest.

The debut album from the The Fam­ily Crest.

3. Syl­van Esso, by Syl­van Esso.

This is the sort of mel­liflu­ous, melody heavy indi­etron­ica we used to hear from Valerie Tre­bel­jahr with Lali Puna, or The Notwist back in the day – and the latter’s most recent, more poppy album was another of their rec­om­men­da­tions. Struc­tured min­i­mal­ism to dig­i­tal beats soft­ened and qui­etly trans­formed by the female lead vocal that gen­tly leads the melody. Here’s their video for Cof­fee.

2. Beneath The Brine, by The Fam­ily Crest.

These clas­si­cally trained, multi instru­men­tal­ist art rock­ers from San Fran­cisco are as happy ref­er­enc­ing jazz, swing or Weill as they are Bowie of Boland. This is the sort of qui­etly sophis­ti­cated, glo­ri­ously epic sound that we had hoped the Arcade Fire would one day pro­duce. Here’s the video for Love Don’t Go.

Dominic Palermo's heady nihilism.

Dominic Palermo’s heady nihilism.

1. Guilty Of Every­thing, by Nothing.

Sent to jail for two years for stab­bing a man, for­mer Hor­ror Show front man Dominic Palermo (yes, that is his real name) dis­cov­ered Niet­zsche and Dos­toyevsky there whilst evi­dently lis­ten­ing to My Bloody Valen­tine and the 4AD Records back cat­a­logue. This is the debut album form the new band he’s formed. Indus­trial, post-apocalyptic noise becalmed by breathy vocals. Majes­tic. You can see the video for Bent Nail here.

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