Archives for October 2012

New Film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” Fails to Move.

I’d love to be able to say that Beasts of the South­ern Wild lives up to all the hype that it’s man­aged to gen­er­ate. I’d love even to be able to say that you prob­a­bly need to know as lit­tle as pos­si­ble about it before going to see it in order appre­ci­ate its impact – and I shall be reveal­ing very lit­tle about it here.

But the fact of the mat­ter is, it’s dis­ap­point­ing­ly underwhelming.

It’s not just the way that it’s shot, but that cer­tain­ly doesn’t help. It’s shot on 16mm, that is to say on cel­lu­loid. It is in oth­er words, old school. But in real­i­ty it looks alas all too familiar.

Like every­thing else, and I mean every­thing else since The Blair Witch Project, it has that uncon­trol­lable urge to con­stant­ly resort to hand-held pho­tog­ra­phy as a short cut for authen­tic­i­ty. And while we’re on the sub­ject of the great white hope of inde­pen­dent cin­e­ma, what­ev­er hap­pened to that pair?

First, the idea that we go to the cin­e­ma for a win­dow on the world, to see in oth­er words an authen­tic real­i­ty unmedi­at­ed by artis­tic inven­tion, is hope­less­ly dat­ed and reeks of the Direct Cin­e­ma that flour­ished, briefly, in the 50s, before every­body grew up and moved on. What most of us go to the cin­e­ma for is to escape real­i­ty. Not be con­front­ed by it.

Sec­ond, if it is so say authen­tic­i­ty that you’re striv­ing for, and you find a cin­e­mat­ic trope to help you express it, then it is vital that you use what­ev­er it is that you have found as spar­ing­ly as pos­si­ble. Less, as ever, is always more.

If Benh Zeitlin, whose debut this is, had been forced to shoot it prop­er­ly and frame it a bit more thought­ful­ly, then it would­n’t have end­ed up look­ing quite so famil­iar. But all that hand-held stuff is so tedious.

Fur­ther­more, and this pains me to say it, but if the sto­ry had­n’t been quite so pal­pa­bly work­shopped, then it might have felt a lit­tle less con­trived. All sto­ries need to be end­less­ly chis­eled away at. It just should­n’t be quite so visible.

The per­for­mances of the father and daugh­ter are both won­der­ful. And there are some promis­ing polit­i­cal rum­blings that send rip­ples across the sur­face of the swamps where the whole thing is set. And it is a com­pe­tent indeed con­fi­dent direc­to­r­i­al debut. But the film tries much too hard to tug at our emo­tion­al sleeves. Like Antho­ny Quinn in the Inde­pen­dent here, it left me large­ly unmoved. It’s all just a bit too effortful.

You can see its trail­er here.

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Flying Lotus’ inventive new album “Until The Quiet Comes”.

Until The Qui­et Comes is the 4th album from Fly­ing Lotus and con­tin­ues his fear­less for­ay into the very out­er realm of approach­able pop. It’s still in oth­er words a con­ven­tion­al album, but you’re unlike­ly to have heard music that sounds any­thing quite like it.

Or rather, it sounds like stuff you’d already be famil­iar with, but all the dif­fer­ent parts have been mold­ed and fash­ioned in a star­tling­ly orig­i­nal manner.

Steven Elli­son, to give him his full name, is a devo­tee of the pio­neer pro­duc­er J Dil­la. And, as the grand nephew of Alice Coltrane, her­self an accom­plished free jazz musi­cian, as well as being the wife of the leg­endary sax­o­phon­ist John Coltrane, his take on con­tem­po­rary music was always going to be both eclec­ti­cal­ly mul­ti-cul­tur­al and aggres­sive­ly experimental.

But it was only real­ly with his third album, Cos­mo­gram­ma that the world began to sit up and take notice. Just­ly laud­ed across the board, the boys from Pitch­fork gave it an august 8.8 here. So this is his poten­tial­ly dif­fi­cult follow-up.

Until The Qui­et Comes occu­pies the same sort of ter­rain that Radio­head mapped out in their more rest­less moments on Kid A and Amne­si­ac, and that were then fur­ther explored on Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Era­sure.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, Yorke sur­faces again here as a guest vocal­ist, just as he had on Cos­mo­gram­ma, and is here joined by Erykah Badu. But nei­ther are allowed – or seek – to over­whelm, and are just one more fea­ture in an unchar­tered and sur­pris­ing vista. 

It is qui­eter than Cos­ma­gram­ma, as the boys from Pitch­fork note in their excel­lent review of it, here, where they gave it a mea­sured 8.5. It’s still a land­scape pock-marked by dig­i­tal blips, where con­ven­tion­al melodies are for­ev­er being lost in rhyth­mic detours. But some­how, those detours are less nervy and more mea­sured than they were on the pre­vi­ous album.

What it is more than any­thing else is a head­phones album. It’s not the kind of thing you’re going to be return­ing to every day. But when you do and the mood takes, you’ll be very glad that you did.

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Sky Arts’ Superb Documentary on Ingrid Bergman Roberto Rossellini Scandal.

In the late 40s Rober­to Rosselli­ni, the most revered and respect­ed art house film direc­tor in Europe secret­ly con­tact­ed Ingrid Bergman, one of the biggest stars in Hol­ly­wood, to come over and make a film with him.

Why secret­ly? Because at the time he was hav­ing a very pub­lic affair with the most famous actress in Italy. 

Anna Mag­nani had giv­en Rosselli­ni one of the most icon­ic images in the his­to­ry of Ital­ian film. It was she who ran down the street in des­per­a­tion as her fiancée was cart­ed away by the fas­cists in Rome, Open City in 1945.

She was every­thing Bergman was­n’t. Earthy, cor­po­re­al, and inescapably and glo­ri­ous­ly southern. 

So when Rome’s favourite actress learned that the ethe­re­al, Nordic beau­ty had been secret­ly ensconced on a vol­canic island off the coast of Sici­ly (Sici­ly for Heav­ens sake!) to star in the lat­est vehi­cle of her now for­mer para­mour, she sprang into action.

She got Rossellini’s cousins to start shoot­ing a sus­pi­cious­ly sim­i­lar film on the next door island, with her as its lead­ing lady. In what sense sus­pi­cious­ly sim­i­lar? Well the script that Rosselli­ni had now begun shoot­ing on the island of Strom­boli was based on an idea he’d stolen from them in the first place.

And so, for the next few months, what became dubbed as the War of The Vol­ca­noes was played out off the Straights of Messi­na, where once Odysseus had been forced to steer between Charyb­dis and Scyl­la, as the two war­ring film crews took to the field. 

And when a vis­i­bly ahem heav­ier Bergman was spied act­ing in a film that now includ­ed a hasti­ly writ­ten preg­nan­cy sto­ry­line, the Ital­ian paparazzi went to town. Not because he was cheat­ing, again, on his wife, but because he was doing so at the expense of his film star and oh so Ital­ian mistress. 

Though tech­ni­cal­ly of course, there was no such thing as the paparazzi then. It was only after  Felli­ni intro­duced the char­ac­ter of Paparaz­zo in La Dolce Vita a decade lat­er that the term was coined. Felli­ni, by the by, had been one of the scriptwrit­ers on Rome, Open City.

The War of the Vol­ca­noes per­fect­ly struck the bal­ance between red top sen­sa­tion­al­ism and blue top calm. It told a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry superbly with­out shy­ing away from the scan­dal it caused at the time. And, more to the point, it’s fur­ther proof that Sky seem to be mov­ing into the arts in much the same way that they pre­vi­ous­ly homed in on sport.

They pro­vide a steady stream of grown-up arts docs, some of which they buy in but more of which they help fund, and they are qui­et­ly poach­ing some of the bet­ter British brains deter­mined to report on all things cul­tur­al. The migra­tion of The South Bank Show there is very much the rule and not the exception.

All of which is very much a good thing. Now that Chan­nel Four has focused its atten­tion on becom­ing ITV Lite (I know I know, that’s a tau­tol­ogy), it’s vital that there’s some­thing there to keep BBC4 and 2 on its toes.

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The xx’s Second Album “Coexist” Smoulders.

The xx burst into life in 2009, and their epony­mous debut album was many peo­ple’s album of the year. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, like Hot Chip and Four Tet, they too are grad­u­ates of the Elliott com­pre­hen­sive school in Put­ney, in Lon­don. Though appar­ent­ly, that’s all it is.

At that time they were a four­some, but by the time they won the Mer­cury Prize in 2010 they’d “decid­ed” to become a threesome.

That suc­cess and the wave of pub­lic and crit­i­cal acclaim that it ush­ered in saw their music make the by now tra­di­tion­al jour­ney into the movies, games and ads circuit.

So it’s a tad sur­pris­ing that their fol­low-up, Coex­ist should make its way in to the pub­lic are­na so very qui­et­ly. Or per­haps that’s just a reflec­tion of that invari­ably dif­fi­cult sec­ond album syndrome. 

As the boys from Prav­da ask in their review, giv­ing it an appre­cia­tive 7.5 here, do you refine what you’ve already done, or head off in a new direction?

They’ve gone with the for­mer, and the paired and stripped down lo-fi sound of their debut has if any­thing been even fur­ther reduced. Accord­ing to Jamie xx, who stands behind the front pair man­ning the drums and twid­dling the nobs (and who recent­ly teamed up with Gil Scott-Heron for the just­ly laud­ed We’re New Here album), they’d intend­ed giv­ing their sec­ond effort more of a club­bable vibe.

But the only one of the tracks on Coex­ist that you could ever imag­ine sur­fac­ing on the dance-floor is “Swept Away”.

What you get instead is a seduc­tive­ly evoca­tive night­time cityscape that’s less Cin­e­maS­cope than it is draped in neon. Think Stu­art Sta­ples duet­ing with Tracey Horn on an off-shoot of 4AD.

Too dance­able to be con­ven­tion­al­ly chill-out, but not enough to be ful­ly club­bable, it occu­pies instead its own unique spot. And that’s what the xx and this album have that’s so sat­is­fy­ing­ly seduc­tive; their own sound.

If you missed them first time around, here’s your chance to catch up. And you can see them per­form the sin­gle “Angels” from the album on the Jools Hol­land show here. 

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