Archives for March 2012

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Brilliant “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia”, Where All the World’s a Country.

There’s a famous Ital­ian say­ing which goes tut­to il mon­do e’ un paese. It’s some­times trans­lat­ed as it’s a small world. But we use that in Eng­lish when we’re far from home and we see some­thing or some­one that we only expect to see at home.

Where­as what the Ital­ians mean when they say all the world’s a coun­try, is that even here, miles from home, peo­ple live their lives wor­ry­ing about the same things, and mov­ing to the same rhythms as we all do, wher­ev­er we hap­pen to come from. If you want to wit­ness what that looks like, look no fur­ther than the bril­liant new film from Nuri Bilge Cey­lan (pro­nounced Jay-lan).

Once Upon A Time In Ana­to­lia picked up the run­ners-up prize at Cannes last year. Unfor­giv­ably, the jury gave the Palme d’Or to Mal­ick­’s hope­less­ly overblown The Tree Of Life instead, reviewed here ear­li­er. More fool them, this is a prop­er film.

In his inter­view with the Lon­don Inde­pen­dent here, Bilge Cey­lan says that his lat­est film owes more to 19th cen­tu­ry Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture than it does to any fel­low film mak­er, not with­stand­ing its title. And there’s no mis­tak­ing the air of doom and that sense of exis­ten­tial angst that hangs over the film, call­ing to mind the moral fog that so many of Dos­toyevsky’s trou­bled char­ac­ters are forced to wade through. But more than any­thing else, it’s the shad­ow of Chekov that so impres­sive­ly shrouds it.

As with all of his plays, what we get here is a small group of fig­ures in iso­la­tion who offer up a pic­ture of the world in micro­cosm. A ne’er-do-well and his sim­ple­ton broth­er have killed a man, but they can’t remem­ber where they buried the body. So the film charts the night and ear­ly morn­ing as they, the police, the doc­tor and pros­e­cu­tor traipse weari­ly across the bar­ren land­scape until they even­tu­al­ly unearth it.

But the actu­al crime is mere­ly the excuse, the MacGuf­fin as Hitch­cock called it, which allows us to wit­ness the details of the hum­drum exis­tence that they lead, and the way in which they and their sep­a­rate lives are all inter­con­nect­ed. Inevitably, in the course of their jour­ney into the night, they and we dis­cov­er the par­tic­u­lar hid­den his­to­ries that they are each defined by.

This is a pal­pa­ble advance on the film that Bilge Cey­lan was best known for up until now. Cli­mates, his forth from ’06, had a won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive dream sequence on the beach, and an impres­sive­ly fer­al and all too believ­able sex scene at its cen­tre. But the long stretch­es of ennui and detach­ment in between were all too life-like. That might be what life is like, but it’s not what most of us want our films to be like. Dra­ma is what you’re left with when all of that has been excised.

Here in con­trast, all the time that ticks over in between what lit­tle there is in the way of con­ven­tion­al plot is qui­et­ly thought-pro­vok­ing, and serves to build an increas­ing­ly com­plex por­trait of every­day lives.

It’s a man’s world to be sure. But as the fleet­ing appari­tion of the may­or’s beau­ti­ful daugh­ter demon­strates, these are men whose lives revolve around try­ing to come to terms with the absence of the women in their lives, for what­ev­er their dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and the lone­li­ness that engulfs them ever after.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week  with All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!


BBC’s “Monty Don’s Italian Gardens” Educates, Informs and Entertains, Brilliantly.

Monty Don's Italian GardensWatch­ing Mon­ty Don amble lov­ing­ly through some of Italy’s most spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens is rather like watch­ing Bruno Ganz’s angel expe­ri­enc­ing the rap­ture of final­ly falling in love in Wings Of Desire.

You feel that here’s a man who’s spent all his life bur­dened with a pas­sion that he some­how could­n’t quite put his fin­ger on. And the sense of joy now that he’s unearthed it is pal­pa­ble. This man lives and breathes gar­den­ing. And it’s infec­tious. Or rather, he makes it infectious.

Like all the best ideas it seems obvi­ous in ret­ro­spect, and it’s slight­ly sur­pris­ing that a pro­gramme like this has­n’t already been made. But that of explor­ing Italy via its gar­dens is an inspired one. And, like most appar­ent­ly sim­ple things, he could all too eas­i­ly have got it hor­ri­bly wrong. Hap­pi­ly though, Don strikes exact­ly the right bal­ance between the pro­gram­me’s dif­fer­ent elements.

Water, as is becom­ing increas­ing­ly obvi­ous, is by far and away our plan­et’s most pre­cious resource. So nat­u­ral­ly it was the cur­ren­cy through which the Ital­ian aris­toc­ra­cy expressed its wealth. What bet­ter way to do so than by extrav­a­gant­ly wast­ing it as wan­ton­ly as pos­si­ble? And few things waste water quite like an Ital­ian garden.

Episode 1 was cen­tred around Rome, and as he walked us around the grandeur of the Vil­la D’Este there, Don put the opu­lence of the gar­den into the con­text of the his­to­ry and the soci­ety that helped pro­duce it. But he nev­er lec­tures, nor do you have the sense that he’s mere­ly show­ing off. Instead, he’s sim­ply explain­ing how some­thing that extra­or­di­nary came into being.

It’s not a ques­tion of him being inter­est­ed in his­to­ry and gar­den­ing, rather it’s his con­vic­tion that it’s not pos­si­ble to be inter­est­ed in one with­out the oth­er. And watch­ing him elab­o­rate and hear­ing him explain, it’s impos­si­ble not to be drawn in.

Sim­i­lar­ly, when in sub­se­quent episodes he talks about food and the pro­duce from the land, it’s not yet anoth­er area of inter­est, it’s all part and par­cel of what gar­den­ing is all about. It’s all of it born of the same passion.

Cru­cial­ly though, his enthu­si­asm is tem­pered by an intel­li­gence that has the capac­i­ty to stop, stand back and calm­ly sur­vey. It’s an intel­li­gence in oth­er words that’s been mold­ed by expe­ri­ence and under­stands the need to always take your time before reach­ing any con­clu­sions. Were he back at Cam­bridge, one of his more annoy­ing class­mates might prof­fer that his is the per­fect mix of the Apol­lon­ian and Dionysian urges.

Before ever he got the gar­den­ing bug, and after a host of oth­er things, he began work as a job­bing writer, and you can get a taste of his tal­ents and this pro­gramme here.

If you missed it first time around it’s cur­rent­ly being re-shown on BBC4 on Sat­ur­days. It’s pro­grammes like this, and peo­ple like Don that give the BBC its august rep­u­ta­tion. And it’s one of the rea­sons that it con­tin­ues to be the yard­stick against which all oth­er broad­cast­ers are mea­sured. I hope they appre­ci­ate him.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week  with All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Katie Kim’s “Cover & Flood”, a Serious Album from a Proper Musician.

Katie Kim "Cover & FLood"The won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive “Heavy Light­ing” (here), which now appears as track 7 on Katie Kim’s sec­ond album Cov­er & Flood, was released as a split sin­gle last year togeth­er with a Lau­ra Sheer­an track. They both per­formed on the same set at the excel­lent pop-up event curat­ed by Don­al Dineen at last year’s Dublin Con­tem­po­rary, which I reviewed here earlier.

Sheer­an and Kim are part of that new breed of musi­cians who begin by mak­ing use of this dizzy­ing dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion that we are all in the midst of to pro­duce impres­sive­ly fin­ished music from their bed­rooms, using lit­tle more than a lap­top and what­ev­er instru­ments they hap­pen to have to hand.

When they then begin to per­form on stage, they are forced to use the few tools that they are able to car­ry them­selves onto stage in increas­ing­ly com­plex ways, as they are faced with the real­i­ty of try­ing to hold onto an audi­ence’s atten­tion with extra­or­di­nary lim­it­ed resources.

What tends to result is that they learn to pro­duce increas­ing­ly involved lay­ers of sound by dis­tort­ing their voice and instru­ments, both elec­tron­i­cal­ly and dig­i­tal­ly, to draw the audi­ence in through what becomes a form of rit­u­al, rhyth­mic hypnosis.

The prob­lem is, that it’s far from sim­ple to re-trans­late that sound back onto disc once they return to the stu­dio. What was cap­ti­vat­ing on stage, can often sound a lit­tle dull and repet­i­tive, a tad samey.

So it’s huge­ly grat­i­fy­ing to be able to report that as hyp­not­ic as she is on stage, Katie Kim is every bit as allur­ing now that she’s returned to the record­ing stu­dio in between all that inevitable tour­ing. And impres­sive­ly, despite being appar­ent­ly pro­duced in her bed­room, her sec­ond album is an even more expan­sive and con­fi­dent affair than her first, Twelve, from 2008.

If the sound she pro­duces live can best be ref­er­enced by Coco Rosie and Mazzy Star, on disc it’s a slight­ly more mea­sured affair. A lit­tle less pri­mal per­haps, but more panoram­ic in its stead, and a lot more ambi­tious in its scope.

There is some dis­tor­tion and feed­back, but on many of the tracks you get the qui­eter more nuanced sound of Sti­na Nor­den­stam, or Joan­na New­som, but with­out the lat­ter’s angst or sense of strug­gle. Whilst a track like “Dum­mer” has clear echoes of Julian­na Bar­wick, reviewed here ear­li­er, with those waves of sound that wash over you and draw you so plea­sur­ably into their depths.

This is a seri­ous album from a prop­er musi­cian pro­duc­ing a com­plex, eclec­tic and sin­gu­lar sound. If there’s a bet­ter, more accom­plished album pro­duced in Ire­land this year, I shall be very sur­prised indeed.

NPR’s Pitch-perfect “All Songs Considered” Podcast, Your Weekly Music Fix.

At the end of last year, the ter­ri­bly clever bean coun­ters at The New York Times decid­ed that what the orga­ni­za­tion need­ed was to make it more like a tra­di­tion­al news­pa­per, and less like some­thing more attuned to the 21st cen­tu­ry. So they axed near­ly all of their superb pod­casts, leav­ing just a skele­tal three. And one of those includ­ed in the cull was, alas, the excel­lent Pop­cast.

So in Jan­u­ary of this year I went in search of a replace­ment pod­cast for all things musi­cal, and was quick­ly point­ed in the gen­er­al direc­tion of NPR’s “All Songs Con­sid­ered”. And despite only tun­ing in to it for the last few weeks, I can con­fi­dent­ly declare it manda­to­ry listening.

Nation­al Pub­lic Radio is an enlight­ened attempt in the US to repli­cate the (at least orig­i­nal) ethos behind the BBC. It’s a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion and the pro­grammes that are pro­duced there are made by peo­ple because they’re the kinds of pro­grammes that they would like to hear aired, and they right­ly assume that there must be oth­ers who are sim­i­lar­ly curi­ous. They are in oth­er words pro­grammes that are made regard­less of ratings.

All Songs Con­sid­ered is the musi­cal ver­sion of one of their most suc­cess­ful shows, All Things Con­sid­ered, and it first aired on the web a lit­tle over ten years ago. It’s chaired by Bob Boilen, who cre­at­ed it, and Robin Hilton, and between them they man­age to strike exact­ly the right bal­ance of care­ful casu­al­ness and qui­et plan­ning. You get the impres­sion that you’re eaves-drop­ping on a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, but one that you’re meant to be over-hear­ing. And the areas that they cov­er every week with each of their guest review­ers real­ly are all-encompassing.

A recent edi­tion for instance looked at the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Radio­head­’s Jon­ny Green­wood and the vet­er­an avant-garde Pol­ish com­pos­er Krzysztof Pen­derec­ki. Hear­ing how in awe the for­mer is of the lat­ter, and how unashamed­ly he echoes him on his sound­track to There Will Be Blood was a revelation.

In anoth­er which focused on elec­tron­i­ca, they gave us a taste of the lat­est project from Joe God­dard, one half of Hot Chip whose The 2 Bears, and yes, they real­ly do dress up and DJ in bear suits, is about to release its debut album.

And it was here too, in an ear­li­er edi­tion again, that I was intro­duced to the ethe­re­al delights of the bewitch­ing Julian­na Bar­wick, whose album I reviewed here earlier.

Next week they’re pre­view­ing this year’s South By South­west, and the fol­low­ing week they’ll be cov­er­ing the event prop­er. SXSW is to music what Sun­dance is to film. It has in oth­er words become so much a part of the main­stream that refer­ring to it now as being in any way indie is frankly laugh­able. Nev­er­the­less, it still man­ages to some­how unearth an undis­cov­ered gem every year.

In 2010 it was Sleigh Bells (whose fol­low up album Reign Of Ter­ror has just been released). And on this, its 20th anniver­sary, it’s unlike­ly to prove any less illu­mi­nat­ing. Either way, the best place to keep tabs on it is All Songs Con­sid­ered’s pitch-per­fect pod­cast, which you can find here.

5 Worst Films To Win The Oscar For Best Film.

5. Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby (2004). For its first 90 min­utes or so (most films’ actu­al length), Clint East­wood’s box­er chick flick shuf­fles along as a poor man’s Rocky. But then, with what’s laugh­ably described as a plot “twist”, it sud­den­ly veers off into the final scene of Bet­ty Blue, which it man­ages to drag out for a fur­ther ¾ of an hour.

Nei­ther one thing nor the oth­er, it man­ages to be dull and tedious twice over. Incred­i­bly, it tri­umphed at the expense of the right­ly laud­ed Side­ways, the charm­ing Find­ing Nev­er­land, and Scors­ese’s under­rat­ed The Avi­a­tor.

Hav­ing to write Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby was obvi­ous­ly the price that Paul Hag­gis had to pay for being allowed to direct Crash, which quite cor­rect­ly won the fol­low­ing year.

4. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003). The final install­ment of Peter Jack­son’s mag­num opus affords a third oppor­tu­ni­ty to spend yet anoth­er three hours (3 hours and 20 min­utes actu­al­ly…) watch­ing one set of com­put­er gen­er­at­ed char­ac­ters in a series of increas­ing­ly noi­some bat­tles with A N Oth­er set. Which, inex­plic­a­bly, they occa­sion­al­ly do with subtitles.

Watch­ing a video game with­out being able to par­tic­i­pate is the cin­e­mat­ic equiv­a­lent of being treat­ed to a lap dance with­out being allowed to touch. For hours and hours. Oh and it beat Lost In Trans­la­tion and Clint East­wood’s superb Mys­tic Riv­er.

3. How Green Was My Val­ley (1941). Is John Ford the worst film mak­er of all time? Or is that Kuro­sawa? They are, as they say, well met.

Either way, just in case you thought that get­ting it mon­u­men­tal­ly wrong on Oscar night was a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, Ford’s oh so dull and typ­i­cal­ly lead­en tale of, yawn, a Welsh min­ing town was duly award­ed the gong in 1941. And at whose expense?

Well, for one there was a cer­tain Cit­i­zen Kane. Then there was John Hus­ton’s enig­mat­ic and gen­uine­ly quirky noir clas­sic, The Mal­tese Fal­con. And William Wyler’s ice-cold but razor-sharp Bette Davis vehi­cle, The Lit­tle Fox­es (which, like Kane, was shot by Gregg Toland). As well as Hitch­cock­’s Sus­pi­cion, star­ring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine.

2. Titan­ic (1997). Our very own Ford and Kuro­sawa rolled into one (see above), the first thing you want to do with James Cameron’s mes­mer­i­cal­ly tedious  3 hours and 17 minute film is to take each and every one of its shots and chop off their open­ing and clos­ing 25%. That would bring it down to just over an hour and a half.

You’d lose noth­ing. You would how­ev­er see even more clear­ly that it’s lit­tle more than a shot by shot remake of the 1958 film A Night To Remem­ber, but with­out any of the lat­ter’s charm, social graces or under­stand­ing of eti­quette. And as for those spe­cial effects. Well, they’re cer­tain­ly spe­cial all right.

1. The Artist (2012). Any­one who’s ever done any of those Hol­ly­wood screen­writ­ing cours­es will know that there are a cer­tain num­ber of arche­typ­al plots. One of which is the Iron­ic Plot, a clas­sic exam­ple of which goes as fol­lows; he does some­thing to avoid being caught, and hide his true iden­ti­ty, only to dis­cov­er that what he does is pre­cise­ly the thing that leads to him being unmasked.

The one thing that Hol­ly­wood is obsessed with, is prov­ing to the rest of the world that, con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion, it is not in fact peo­pled by philistines. So they fell over them­selves in their haste to lav­ish The Artist (reviewed by me here ear­li­er) with ill-con­sid­ered praise on the grounds that a) it’s French, b) it’s in black and white, and c) it’s silent.

But by fail­ing to spot its com­plete absence of dra­ma, or to notice that it’s made up of one-dimen­sion­al card­board cut-outs, albethey beau­ti­ful­ly drawn ones, whose nar­ra­tive arc could be com­fort­ably pre­dict­ed by most below-aver­age­ly intel­li­gent 9 year olds, they have, need­less to say, con­firmed all our worst sus­pi­cions. So there you are then, QED.

Appro­pri­ate­ly enough I  sup­pose, Hol­ly­wood itself has become a clas­sic exam­ple of one of its own genres.