Friday, July 20, 2018

The Napier Jazz Summer School has been on this week and although I didn't take part this year I had it in mind to go to their concert but for one reason or another I didn't make it.

I have been to some other Jazz Festival gigs though and have more booked for this weekend.  The only one worth reporting so far was Martin Kershaw's.  He'd gathered a few locally well known players together to present the world premiere of a piece he's written called Dreaming of Ourselves.

The title comes from a book by David Foster Wallace who died ten years ago and the music and the concert were in tribute to him.  I've never read any of his work and he sounds a bit of an oddball to put it kindly and I can't say I understand the process of creating music in response to anything; person, book, scenery or whatever.

But the result in Martin's case was super.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The rest of the week was equally wonderful and the journey home, via Munich this time, was equally tedious.

I happened to be in a bar with some American musicians during the latter stages of the Croatia-England World Cup game.  Foolishly they were relying on my football expertise to help them follow the match.  Despite that they enjoyed it and joined in with the general Croation delirium when the final whistle was blown.

They didn't go to the extent of jumping into the nearby fountain like this lot though:
I imagine that many of these bathers, having dried themselves off, were amongst the hundreds thronging around in Zagreb airport at 5am on the following Sunday en route to Moscow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The journey to Zagreb was tedious, involving as it did hours hanging around Cologne Airport. I did have Muriel Spark's first novel for company and am encouraged to work through more of her oeuvre.

The journey was worth it though. The first day of the Sax Congress was wonderful. I believe their are 1500 participants and over 400 recitals, concerts and other events. Very like the Fringe except that one ticket at 160 euros gives me access to all 400. That's up from 100 three years ago but I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Numéro Une or Woman Up as it is known here is a feminist drama.  It tells the story of a woman already well up the business ladder who, boosted by a group of women whose mission is the furtherance of the sisterhood, is persuaded to have a go at getting the top job in a company from the CAC 40, the French equivalent of our Footsie 100.

Her hospitalised philosophy teacher father is somewhat sceptical about the business world and her American husband fears for his own career.  Indeed he loses his current job as collateral damage in the machinations that are unleashed.

Sad to say there are lots of machinations and dirty tricks not only from the entrenched interests that oppose her but from her side also.  She succeeds only by stooping to the underhand ways of the male.

I don't think that's a very encouraging or edifying message to women doing their best to break through the glass ceiling.

Peter Sellers has always been one of my favourite actors.  I've enjoyed lots of his films but had never seen Being There in which he plays a simpleton whose deadpan delivery of trite statements about the seasons and gardening are taken by the rich and powerful to be insightful metaphors that illustrate the ills of the world and how to resolve them.  It's very. very funny.

When I went to see Man of Iron I thought I was going to a documentary about Lech Wałęsa, the founder of the independent trade union Solidarność.  Instead it was a drama dealing with the period and the struggle to bind the shipyard workers together and the personal stories behind the events.  I've no idea how true to the facts it was but I didn't care for it much as a film. That's probably a hanging offence because I've since discovered that it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1981.

It contains a lot of shouting and ill-tempered squabbling and weeping women, none of which moved me in the slightest.  All of which struck me as melodramatic over-acting.  That no doubt is my insensitivity at work but there we are.

That's the Film Festival over for another year.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Another film I could well have done without seeing was Pushkar Myths.  I know very well why I chose it.  The Pushkar camel fair has always been high on my list of things to see before I die so a documentary about it seemed a good idea, either as an appetiser or as a means of saving all the hassle of actually going.

Someone said at the screening of another film that there is too much verbalisation nowadays in what is essentially a visual art.  Let the pictures tell the story.  I have a lot of sympathy with that view but in a documentary it's generally helpful to back up the pictures with some words.  That's maybe what the makers of Pushkar Myths were trying to do but none of the words were a direct commentary on the pictures.  They were mostly rambling, and to me barely comprehensible, stories about the Indian gods with a lot of old testament style X begat Y and Y begat Z...

The story the pictures did tell was of a fairly chaotic gathering of people and beasts.  Some of the pictures were great, folk dancing displays for instance or haggling over a best cow in fair competition.  But not all.  A ferris wheel is a ferris wheel is a ferris wheel in India or in Cowdenbeath.  And the camels figured hardly at all.

While Pushkar Myths may have given me the hump Testament repaid my small investment in time and treasure manyfold.  Made in 1983 it's the story of the effects on a typical, not to say stereotypical American family and their small Californian community after a nuclear attack on the country's main cities.

The director, Lynne Littman, was at the screening and was visibly moved when she came on for a Q&A.  She said she hadn't seen the film for 25 years and that as she watched she blushed at everything she thought was wrong with it, every family cliché, every overdone moment, every obvious emotional trick.  But she could not help herself from being stirred.  Neither could the audience. 

Saying she'd been scared at the possibility of nuclear annihilation when she made the film her one regret was that given the present regime in America it seemed to be relevant still.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Going through this year's Book Festival programme I identified 57 events of interest.  Over time I managed to cut that list down to a more manageable not to say affordable 12 and when booking opened yesterday got a ticket for all of them.

I think my choices are quite firmly based which is not always the case.  As I sat in the Filmhouse watching Cosmic Eye I wondered what had driven me to choose it.  Animation is not my bag for a start.  It must surely have been the advertised contributions of Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie that made me ignore the "rarely screened gem" warning in the festival brochure. Fortunately an afternoon Campari and soda taken to celebrate the arrival of a small table for my balcony induced a fair degree of eyelid droop so there was no lasting damage.

Terminal is all style over substance but none the worse for that.  The director told us that they had wanted to create a neon drenched noir thriller set in a dystopian city that had a London flavour to it.  With a caveat over just how thrilling or not it was, they succeeded.

The cinematography, music, costumes and performances are excellent.  The locations like the deserted railway terminal, the vast industrial building with a bottomless pit at its centre and others are all lit and dressed atmospherically.

But the plot advertised as complex, travels more along the familiar paths of the genre.  Its double crosses and reveals, its denouement's echoes of gathering the suspects and explaining all (albeit there's only one left) hardly breaks new ground or strains the spectator's brain. That may or may not be a good thing in the cinemagoers' eyes.  I hope it's a good thing because the film is fun and deserves to do well.

Monday, June 25, 2018

I absented myself from this afternoon's screening of Fritz Lang's 1931 thriller M  to enjoy the current heatwave but I sacrificed sun for cinema yesterday.

First on the agenda was a set of seven short films grouped under the title Where's Your Skirt? That was in fact a line plucked from one of the films. It was not altogether representative of the group though four were about girls and one featured a boy in a negligée. I guess it just appealed to the programmer.  Brief notes so I don't forget.  They were all well crafted and interesting whether lighthearted or serious. 

Winter with Umma - Thirty year old still a student in Edinburgh while her brother is getting married back home in Korea. Can a visit from her mum help her into adulthood whatever that is?

Salt and Sauce - A girl unhappily stuck helping in the family chip shop while friends escape to college or the big bad world.  She likes taking photographs.  A middle-aged lady customer admires them and reveals that she once toured as a provocatively clad magician's assistant. Get up and do what makes you happy is her advice.

Some of these Days - A young German interviewing his grandparents who were school children under the Nazis and adults in the GDR. His grandad's passion was jazz. Sanctioned for playing records to his friends at school things got better in the early post-war years and then jazz became unGerman again.  Grandad sees things getting worse today.

Three Centimetres -  Four girls, friends, take a ride on a ferris wheel in Beirut. Their chat and banter is mostly about sex.  One comes out as gay.

Bo & Mei -  A recently bereaved Chinese runs a dry cleaning business. He forbids his son Bo to help his sister do the dishes.  He insists Bo drinks beer with his meal. But Bo likes lipstick and is found in  a négligée left for cleaning by a client who objected to the Chinese music playing in the shop.  When she returns to collect it they turn up the volume.

Homage to Kobane - The camera sweeps around the ruins of Kobane while a voiceover reads a letter written by a girl fighter to her mum while she waited for death.

Good Girls - A St. Trinian's style group of girls is rounded up reluctantly for a photograph, one of them skirtless.  The director, asked what inspired her said it was her nice pink jersey and lo that became part of the school uniform.

After the screening of Meeting Jim half a dozen of those involved in making the film lined up and declared their devotion to him.  Jim Haynes is clearly a man with charm which for someone who says that his main interest in life is and always has been people is not surprising. In Edinburgh he helped galvanise cultural life in the 60s with his bookshop in Charles Street, the founding of the Traverse, the Writers Conference and so on.  When he moved south it was our loss and London's gain.  He then moved on again to make Paris his home and maintained his people centred philosophy with his legendary Sunday dinners.

All of this and more is capably told in the film which seamlessly knits together archive footage (including an interview with a onetime philosophy tutor of mine) and new material. That new material is in fact a couple of years old since the editing process stretched over two years.

For those new to Jim Haynes the film will be a revelation. For those familiar with his story it is a confirmation of the debt owed to him by many, not least those of us here in Edinburgh.

My last film of the day was a well told and gripping story of intergenerational conflict in a Pakistani family living in Norway.  From the opening scene in which the heroine runs through snowy streets to ominous music to meet whatever curfew has been imposed on her you know that bad things will happen.

And so they do.  Surprised in an embrace with a local lad she is carted off to Pakistan and dumped on relatives.  Naturally she rebels but after a while seems to be softening and indeed developing feelings for a young man I took to be a cousin.  Alas disaster strikes when she and cousin fall foul of relationship norms.  Dad come out from Norway and invites her to commit suicide.  She doesn't but auntie refuses to keep her so back to Norway she goes.  She lies to the child protection agency about her treatment by her family to protect them.

Their next move is to organise marriage to a suitable chap in Canada.  Suitable from the family's point of view.  But for Nisha this is the last straw.  Without giving anything away I can say that the film ends hopefully.  

I may have made What Will People Say sound a bit trite but it's not.  You need to do a bit of suspending disbelief.  You'd very probably hide your involvement with friends and activities that your conservative family would disapprove of but very improbably smuggle a boyfriend into your bedroom even if it was just for a cuddle.

That aside the conflict is real as are the dilemmas that young immigrants find themselves in and the film deals with all of it sympathetically and movingly.