Posts Tagged ‘Music biopic’

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021)

Dir.: Brent Wilson; Documentary with Brian Wilson, Linda Perry, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Jason Fine; USA 2021, 95 min.

Do we need another Brian Wilson documentary? I Just Wasn’t made for These Times and Love & Mercy have already told his story, but the billion or so the super-fans will always ask for more. And The Beach Boys were America’s answer to The Beatles, back in the day, they epitomised an era and their harmonies are almost as divine – so yes, we do!.

Director Brent Wilson (no relation), veteran of music docs like Streetlight Harmonies, has tried the linear angle, confronting the images of the ‘Beach Boy’ founder with today’s survivor of schizoid-affective and bi-polar disorders, who enjoys being on tour again, even though the hallucinatory voices still haunt him – and have done for the last 60 years – when he is performing, in spite of all the medication available.

‘Rolling Stone’ editor Jason Fine, a close friend of Wilson, drives the megastar composer/singer round his favourite haunts, sadly only getting monosyllabic answers to his leading questions. Brian is very much in the shell he has created to survive. And there is more that enough pain for anybody to deal with, let alone a highly-strung artist.

There is the Hawthorne home of his childhood, where his father Murry (who died in 1973) played sadistic games while managing the bank with Brian and his brothers Carl (who died of lung cancer in 1998) and Dennis, who drowned in 1963. The two then visit the house Brian shared with his wife Marilyn, and their two children Carnie and Wendy.

They even take in the darker times: The “Malibu Prison” where Brian spend the 1980s under the influence of psychiatrist Eugen Landy, whose infamous 24-hour therapy led to a total inter-dependency, and was only solved when Landy started to mingle in the music business. Landy too was responsible for Brian breaking up with Melinda Ledbetter, but the two then married after Brian’s ‘release’ from Landy – the couple have adopted six children, and Melinda still works hard as Brian’s business manager. Brian insists today “that Landy saved me”.

Music-wise there is extensive time devoted to the iconic “Pet Sounds” and SMiLE, that came into being in  the mid-1960s and finished thirty years later. There are few revelations, the bitter chapter of Brian’s relationship with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love is nearly brushed out of the picture. Only once the mask of self-defence slips, when Brian tells Jason “I have not talked to a real friend in three years.” At the Beverly Glen Deli, where Brian and Jason stop for lunch, Brian devours his ice cream sundae with almost childlike enjoyment: and its with this same soulful devotion that he plays the piano (again) for an audience who adores him. Oh yes, about the surfing: “Yeah, Dennis surfed, I never learned it”.

The movie poster says it all: the young Brian looking over the shoulders if his older self at the piano. But this is not a psychoanalytical study, but a love letter to the music of Brian Wilson. As Bruce Springsteen says of “Pet Sounds”: “The beauty of it carries a sense of joyfulness even in the pain of living. The joyfulness of an emotional life”. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | UK and Eire

Ronnie’s (2020)

Dir: Oliver Murray | Doc with:

The sheer exhilaration of live music is one of life’s pleasures. And Oliver Murray conjurs up the vibrant spirit of Jazz in this documentary tribute to a man who was always “gracious, inviting and free to share his ideas with everybody” in the words of American record producer Quincy Jones. This is the story of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Soho’s storied jazz club in London.

Ronnie Scott (1927-1996) was an English jazz tenor saxophonist who played alongside some of the most famous figures in the world of Jazz in a small basement location in London’s Frith Street in the heart of Soho.

Once described as a “very nice bunch of guys”, Ronnie was all things to all people, everyone describing a different side of his charismatic personality. And Murray saves the darker side for the final chapter of this layered biopic. Scott grew up in a working class Jewish family in the East End of London where he trained on the saxophone just like his father before him, founding his iconic jazz club in 1959 and unintentionally creating a den of cool and a meeting place for luminaries of the jazz world and their aficionados.

Still going after 60 years, Ronnie Scotts is now a household name, inextricably linked to the word Jazz, the current manager (and talking head) Simon Cooke has been keeping the place going for the past 25 years. Owned by theatre impresario Sally Greene and the entrepreneur Michael Watt since 2005

Fascinating archive footage forms the background to a later interview with Ronnie – taking us through the history of his East and West End childhood and early adulthood in the 1940s where he became a dance-band saxophonist (like his father) and then falling in love with Bebop and learning his Jazz style on board oceans liners bound for New York. Here he discovered Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and eventually, sailing back to London, he dreamed up the idea of his own jazz club – he would be the star-power – starting the evening in compare mode with a series of dry jokes – his fellow musician Pete King was the business brain. The idea came together with the aspiration to provide keen musicians with the first ever place to perform in Gerrard Street (just round the corner), although Americans were forbidden by the Musician’s Union to play in English venues. This made the financing complicated because only the Americans bought in the money. This led to a long-standing feud with the UK musician’s union.

Five bob (UK shillings) was the charge for the Saturday ‘all-nighter” and there was generous hospitality shown to regulars and those who worked there. Later the club moved to bigger premises at 47 Frith Street and welcomed the likes of Sonny Rollins, Dizzie Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker and Sarah Vaughan, and even Van Morrison all of whom perform in the clips that Murray interweaves into this lively biopic.

Scott was the frontman while macho straight-talker King took care of the business. Their close relationship was likened to a marriage, by King’s wife Stella, who describes Ronnie as a complicated man who, unknown to friends and fellow musicians, suffered from low moods that he shook off by playing his music. And bankruptcy was often round the corner, Ronnie recalling the bailiffs being on site one time even pricing up the piano while the show went on. Ronnie often gambled away the takings but he was also the life and soul of a place fondly remembered here by those who enjoyed it over the years amongst them Mel Brooks, music journalist John Fordham, Ronnie’s daughter Rebecca, and his various wives and partners Mary Scott, Francoise Venet, and others who help flesh out the complicated artist he was.

But the unique feel of the place and Ronnie’s soulful charisma dominant this jubilant often deeply poignant biopic about a man with a vision, and a club that still attracts crowds as never before and will hopefully carry on. MT

ON QUALITY PLATFORMS

 

 

Max Richter’s Sleep (2020) ****

Dir.: Natalie Johns; Cast: Max Richter, Yulia Mahr; The American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Grace Davidson (Soprano), Emily  Brausa (Cello), Clarence Jensen (Cello), Isabel Hagen (Viola), Ben Russell (Violin), Andrew Tholl (Violin), Max Richter (Piano, Keyboards Electronics);  UK 2019, 99 min.

Director/writer Natalie Johns offers up a unique experience with the filming of the first outdoor performance of composer Max Richter’s eight hour long grand scale epos SLEEP in LA’s Grand Park in July 2018.

The composition was published by Deutsche Gramophone in 2015, and since performed at in-door arenas including The Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Sidney Opera House and London’s Barbican; and was also produced by BBC R3. 215 pages of sheet music are testament of the first open night performance in front of 560 listeners/sleepers in their numbered cots.

German-born British composer Max Richter (*1966) and his partner in love and art Yulia Mahr comment on the history of the piece and this particular performance. Richter, who came up against the Classical Music establishment, finances his albums, heavy on synthesisers, like ‘Memoryhouse’ and ‘Songs from Before’ with over fifty film scores, the later being Ad Astra by director James Gray.

Richter calls SLEEP a work in the Lullaby tradition, and points to Indian music for over-night settings and the 1960ies Flux experiments. For the first seven hours, the music is mostly southing and very structural, but with the sunrise, the last hour is more vigorous, high-frequency, rather like a not so gentle alarm clock. Purple-ambient light dominates at this phase. Richter explains that SLEEP “should be seen as a piece which could work as a holiday reality from our data-saturated world”. Thus “the people sleeping are the story”. He emphasises that SLEEP “should not be listened too, but experienced, like a landscape one is in”. Which makes sort of sense, since Mahler seems to be one of the influences on Richter’s music.

Soothing and ethereal, the music brings out the best in the audience: there are back-massages and help with yoga exercises. One male member of the audience even writes a note to his partner: “Alice, I love you, and I am sorry that I am so often a shitty partner”. A French woman is rather more morbid: “Very strong, we almost felt death coming”. Overall, one has to admire the musicians, being on stage such a long time, only interrupted by a few breaks for drinks and sustenance.

DoP Elisha Christian takes much credit for her “light games”: always finding new angles to put the music into images, flitting from the sleeping audience to the panorama shots of LA. Particularly impressive are the slow transitions from night to day. Overall SLEEP is very much an elitist experience, a sort of quiet protest. Neuroscientists, who feature briefly appear, support the composer, who wants his music “to re-connect people, who have been lost in modernism”. Having said all that, with the average attention span being three minutes these days, an eight-hour experience might not be such a bad thing after all – elitist or not. AS

IN UK CINEMAS ON 11 SEPTEMBER 2020

 

   

  

Stop Making Sense (1984) **** Bfi Player

Dir: Jonathan Demme | With David Byrne and Talking Heads |Biopic, 84′
A musical biopic in the best sense of the word. In Hollywood December 1983, Jonathan Demme films three concerts from Scottish maverick music maker David Byrne, rolling them out without explanation or talking heads – although Talking Heads are very much part of the scene. The bands speaks for itself and we get the best seats – on stage, up close and personal and from the back of the auditorium, even loitering in the wings.
Demme’s film is an energising experience made at the climax of what would be the band’s final major tour. The show starts with the beat-driven Pyscho Killer and works its way through a classic repertoire with hits such as, Take Me to the Water tThis Must be the Place that scored Paolo Sorrentino’s film of the same name in 2011 and of course, Once in a Lifetime. Byrne gradually relaxes from taut jutting-faced uncertainty to a more smiling and febrile intensity, a style icon in white plimsolls and oversized concrete-coloured suits. Hypnotic to look at, his moves are as funky, smooth and syncopated as Bing Crosby or even Elvis without the sexual magnetism: Byrne is a performer more artfully ambivalent in his erotic appeal, but none the less legendary. And he feels very much at home on his own or surrounded by his family of Talking Heads. A nostalgic, diverting, happy film. MT
NOW ON BFI PLAYER
https://youtu.be/yCXT5Fs-V10

Rachmaninoff: The Harvest of Sorrow (1998) ****

Dir: Tony Palmer | UK Doc, 102′

Tony Palmer’s extensive documentary about the one of the world’s most loved composers(1873-1943) is a vibrant memoire, enlivened by musical interludes, ample archive footage of his life and times in Russia, Sweden and the United States where he finally died in 1943, unable to return to his beloved homeland: “a ghost wandering forever in the world”.

Playing out as a long autobiographical letter to his daughters Tatiana and Irina, voiced by Gielgud in slightly sardonic but wistful tone, the film covers the composer’s life until his final months in New York. But it starts at a low point, with the Rachmaninoff family leaving Russia in 1917, escaping from the Bolshevik devastation of Petrograd (soon to be Leningrad) set for musical adventures in Stockholm, and thence to America. Desperate about leaving his homeland, the composer also felt at a low ebb creatively: “Nowadays I am never satisfied with myself, I am burdened with a harvest of sorrow: I almost never feel that what I do is successful”.
Quite the opposite: Rachmaninoff would become a celebrated figure, but a very private man, who would tell interviewers: “if you want to know me, listen to my music”. Avoiding the intellectual approach, his wanted his music “to go direct to the heart, bypassing the brain”. Remembered by his niece, Sofia Satina, as a happy, tall, elegantly dressed gentleman who loved his Savile Row suits and driving his car, although he was never wealthy, and ironically ended his days as a concert pianist playing for money until his fingers were literally bruised, to maintain his family during gruelling tours of the United States, which he hated: “now I play without joy, just mechanically”. His friend Igor Stravinsky remembered him in those times as “a six-foot scowl”.
Sergei Rachmaninoff was born in Moscow to a musical family, taking up the piano from the age of four and gaining a place at the Conservatoire whence he graduated at nineteen, having already composed several orchestral and piano pieces. Although he dreamed of the Mariinsky Theatre, his philandering father broke the family up and Rachmaninov started his career with family in Moscow where he became friendly with Tchaikovsky, the last of Russian Romantics, and the two formed a close friendship. But the composer was always most at home in the small town of Ivanovka, where he spent his summers as a young boy, and his grandson is seen returning here in an exhaustive sequence that pictures the refurbished family home – a fairytale blue and white wooden clad affair (destroyed by the Bolsheviks) during celebrations to honour the musical legend. It was in Ivanovka that local folkloric musicians became a big influence on the young composer’s, along with the Russian Orthodox chants. He is also know for his fugal writing, which is even more of a throwback to the classical era.
It took Rachmaninoff until the late 1890s to free himself from his friend and idol Tchaikovsky. He is best classified as a neo-romantic, in the style of Bruckner and Mahler, but in reality he is much closer to Elgar. The distinguishing feature of intra-tonal chromaticism runs through the whole of Rachmaninoff’s work. He is also known for his widely spaced chords, used in the Second Symphony ‘The Bells’. But towards the end he was less concerned with melody, his emotional and impressionistic style is best experienced in the 39 Etudes Tableaux, which is a deeply affecting rollercoaster.
The other important contributor to the film is conductor and composer Valery Gergiev (Widowmaker) who is seen at work in the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg. It was Rachmaninoff himself who said that his life had been ‘a harvest of sorrow’, and Tony Palmer certainly brings that poignancy to bear in this deeply affecting film that brings the spirit of Rachmaninoff alive. MT
https://youtu.be/43dF4wg0r2o
NOW ON BLURAY | STREAMING ONLINE

Mahler (1974) **** Russell and the Music Makers

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Robert Powell, Georgina Hale, Les Montague, Rosalie Crutchley, Gary Rich, Richard Morant, Antonia Ellis, Peter Eyre, David Collings; UK 1974, 115 min.

Mahler is a picture of elegant restraint compared with the crudely salacious Gothic, Lisztomania and Tommy. Ken Russell’s portrait of Austro-Hungarian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) is full of poignancy, Robert Powell conveying the composer’s inner angst and but also his finesse, despite the endless turmoil of his troubled personal life that was pierced by tragedy that defines but never quite engulfs this subdued but redolent arthouse masterpiece with its nuanced colour palette that reflects the highs and lows . Being Jewish, Mahler had to convert to Catholicism in order to be chief-conductor of the Vienna Court Opera, even though a campaign was launched to have him removed from the position. In 1902 he married Alma Schindler, a fellow composer, who was twenty-five years his junior. Until near the end of his life, she insisted he refrain from composing. The couple had two daughters, one of them, Maria, died in 1907 of scarlet fever. Russell tells his life story in flashbacks, starting with his last journey to Vienna, a month before his death, after he had returned from New York.

The story begins as Mahler is returning to his home in Austria with Alma (Hale) after time spent in New York conducting at the Metropolitan opera. In the first flashback, Mahler (Powell) is pictured composing in Maiernigg, his summer house, where he demands absolute quietness for his creative process to flow. Next we see little Gustav (Rich) at home with his parents, his father Bernhard (Montague) abusing his mother Marie (Crutchley) so badly that the boy runs away. Gustav was very close to his brother Otto (Eyre), whose financial worries  and later contributed to his suicide, just after Mahler’s appointment at the Vienna Court Opera.

Meanwhile back in the train, Gustav is suddenly confronted with Alma’s lover Max (Morant), a character representative of Alma’s real lover, the architect Walter Gropius whom she would marry after Mahler’s death. Mahler is so traumatised by seeing Max, he faints and dreams of his own death. The couple discuss their troubled marriage set against another flashback, Mahler’s fight to become Chief Conductor at the Court Opera. These emotional scenes jostle with sequences picturing the nervous breakdown of his friend, the composer Hugo Wolff (Collings).

Cosima Wagner (Ellis) appears as an Aryan Viking amazon, barring Mahler from becoming Chief Conductor. We witness the fight between the Alma and Gustav, just after the death of Maria, Alma complaining Mahler provoked her fate with his composition the KinderTotenLieder. In the end, Mahler and Alma reconcile, and Max leaves the train. In real life, Mahler shared his wife with Gropius for the last two years of his life, after having met Freud in Leyden in August 1910 for a consultation – the latter episode surprisingly not part of Russell’s feature. 

DoP Dick Bush (Yanks) uses vibrant colours for certain sequences, such as Cosima’s Valkyrie appearance, but whenever Mahler’s music is played the palette is suffused with mellow warmth. A dull sepia for the train journey underlines the funereal atmosphere of the whole endeavour. Powell and Hale’s onscreen chemistry is real and convincing, but Russell lets Mahler’s music take centre stage. AS

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

   

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) ****

Dir.: Mervin Le Roy; Cast: Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Alice McMahon, Ned Sparks; USA 1933, 97 min.

Shot during the Great Depression, this 1930s musical extravaganza rails against the privations of the era with its verve and pizazz. Mervin Le Roy (Quo Vadis, The Wizard of Oz) may have been the director but Busby Berkeley, who choreographed the lavish dance numbers, is very much the ‘father’ – and he nearly paid for it with his life: During the shooting of the “Shadow Waltz” number, the famous Long Beach Earthquake rocked the set, causing a black-out and leaving Berkeley hanging with one hand from the camera boom, whilst the dance troop was perilously trapped on a near ten-meter. 

The jamboree opens modestly in a rather glum apartment. Three of the four Gold Diggers, Polly (Keeler), Carol (Blondell) and Trixie (MacMahon) are showgirls desperate to make it in the grim days of economic hardship. Then along comes producer Barney Hopkins (Sparks) to discuss their planned musical. Hopkins has just seen his creditors, and hope is fading on the money front. Then salvation arrives in the shape of girl’s Polly’s boyfriend next door Brad Roberts (Powell).  He miraculously comes up with the cash – although the cast and producer treat him more like the villain of the piece, believing the finance comes from ill-gotten gain. 

In reality Roberts is a millionaire who keeps his theatre connections secret from his family in the film’s simple plot that lets the musical numbers take centre stage. Apart from Fay (Rogers) all the showgirls have lived up to their Gold-digging nick names. The most famous song, “We’re in the Money” is sung by Ginger Rogers; “Pettin’ in the Park” in the Park” by Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, who also delivers the aforementioned “Shadow Waltz”. Finally there is ”Remember my Forgotten Man”, performed with allure by Joan Blondell.

The musical set pieces are absolutely spectacular and captured with gusto by the great Sol Polito (Sergeant York, Robin Hood). Warner Brothers had to go to great lengths to avoid censorship over the scantily clad dancing girls: They produced different copies of the feature, some for more liberal regions like New York, some for more prudish districts in the deep South. Overall, Gold Diggers never forgets the gloom of the era, and when Hopkins explains to the girls that the musical is about the Depression, they answer spontaneously, “we won’t need to rehearse that”!

MUSICALS: THE GREATEST SHOW ON SCREEN | Nov-Jan 2019/20

 

Musicals! | The Greatest Show on Screen | Winter season 2019

BFI MUSICALS! THE GREATEST SHOW ON SCREEN is the UK’s greatest ever season celebrating the joyful, emotional, shared experience of watching film musicals on the big screen. Highlights of the season, The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) in Belfast Cathedral; a festive screening of White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954) in Birmingham Cathedral; and a tour of Russian musicals to London, Bristol and Nottingham

BFI Musicals will also feature a touring programme of 12 musicals  such as Gold Diggers of 1933; First a Girl (Victor Saville, 1935), Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955), A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954), Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972), Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935), Carousel (Henry King, 1956), Sweet Charity (Bob Fosse, 1969), Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1972), Cabin in the Sky (Vincente Minnelli, 1943) and Singing Lovebirds (Masahiro Makino, 1939).

Three classics on release this season are – Singin’ in the Rain on 18 October; Tommy on 22 November and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on 6 December. The re-releases will screen at venues across the UK, ensuring that audiences the length and breadth of the country will be able to join in the celebration of all things song and dance.

https://youtu.be/1t6L-HU9Amg

That’ll be the Day (1973) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Claude Watham, Wri: Ray Connelly | Cast: David Essex, Ringo Star, Keith Moon, Robert Lindsay, Rosemary Leach | UK Drama 91′

Bad boy David Essex was a teenage heartthrob back in the 1970s. With his twisted grin, blue-eyes and cheeky swagger he was a little bit louche in contrast to David Cassidy’s fresh-faced boy next door. But the camera loves him as Jim MacLaine, the perfect teen hero in Claude Whatham’s seamy coming of age drama about wannabe rock ‘n’ roll stardom in a post-war suburbia where England is still rather down on its knees, gloomily captured by legendary DoP Peter Suschitzky. Leaving school just before the end of term exams Jim soon finds himself in the Isle of Wight working in a holiday camp, and then joins the travelling fair where he meets his mentor in the shape of a game Ringo Star with his mellow Merseyside burr. Rosemary Leach doesn’t get much of a role as Jim’s mother, but she certainly makes her mark as the face of maternal disillusionment in this poignantly atmospheric trip down memory lane. MT

NOW COMING TO DVD, Bluray and DIGITAL together with cult classic STARDUST (1974) | 21 OCTOBER 2019

Shock of the Future **

Dir: Marc Collin | Music Drama, Biopic | France 84′

A girl reacts with nonchalance, petulance and finally flirty self-assurance when hired to compose a jingle for an advert in late 1970s Paris. Not much of a role model for aspiring female music-makers – especially when the sleazy old geezers that rally round to help her are clearly after one thing – which is why Marc Collin’s film is such a missed opportunity.

The Shock of the Future works best as a riff on the genesis of electronic funk and synthesised music from Pink Floyd to Michel Jarre and French disco drummer Cerrone (nice to revisit his one hit wonder ‘Supernature’) during the late 1970s early 1980s. Collin is a French musician and producer so has a keen feel for the vibe and the pioneering women who made it happen: Delia Derbyshire, Laurie Spiegel and Wendy Carlos. But he is clearly over-awed by Alma Jodorowsky – granddaughter of Alejandro – who plays sultry Ana, a chain-smoking budding composer whose sexy attributes ensure oodles of assistance from the men who swing by her humble bedsit where she idly twiddles knobs – sadly not theirs – on an impressive early synthesiser. The threadbare narrative and shallow characterisations don’t do the film a favour – especially for Jodorowsky’s subtle talents, but it’s short and sweet at only 84 minutes running time and provides a pleasurable heads up for that heady era. MT

OUT THIS FRIDAY, 13 September 2019

 

 

Marianne and Leonard (2019) Netflix


Dir. Nick Broomfield; Documentary with Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen, Judy Collins, Helle Goldman, Aviva Layton; USA 2019, 97 min.

Veteran filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me?) tries to unravel one of the greatest love stories between artist and muse: Leonard Cohen and Norwegian Marianne Ihlen met 1960 on the Greek Island of Hydra, a sunny place for the counterculture of hippies who wanted to get away from a cold, organised northern hemisphere, where emotions were as cold as the weather. Whilst their relationship lasted seven years, they lived with each other’s shadow until the very end: they died within three months of each other in 2016, and Cohen’s beautiful farewell message to the dying Marianne makes up, at least a bit, for his lifelong philandering.

Cohen came from a well-to-do family of Jewish emigrants from Lithuania and Poland who had settled in Quebec, Canada. Aviva Layton, married to the poet Irving Layton (“Poets don’t make great husbands), the latter taking Cohen – who started off as a writer and poet – under his wings on Hydra, classifies Leonard’s mother Marsha as “Mad as a hatter, Oedipally mad.” It became soon clear that poets were not the only artists who were useless husbands. Ihlen was also looking after her son Axel, from a failed marriage with a violent Norwegian writer, and was quiet happy being Cohen’s muse he insistered on having his sexual freedom – like many males (not only in the hippie environment). A much older Cohen can be quoted saying “I was always escaping, I was also trying to get away.”

After the total flop of Cohen’s first novel Beautiful Losers (1966) he turned to music, but he was so insecure abut his voice, that, as Judy Collins reports “He would at first only come on stage with me”. A year later, Cohen was off to on a “hedonistic odyssey”, the excesses well documented by band members and tour organisers. We can see Cohen literally wading into his female admirers, who were waiting for him after the concerts. We do not know when exactly Marianne said her farewell but she returned to Oslo, took a secure job, married (the same man twice) and looked after Axel, who had to spent long periods in institutions.

Broomfield skips over chunks of the 1970s and 80s, and takes up the story in 1994, when Cohen became a monk in a Buddhist monastery in California. After leaving, he found out, that his business manager (and friend) had spent all five million of his retirement account, and Cohen went back to touring, earning well over USD per year. He sent Marianne first row tickets for his concert in Oslo, and we see her singing “So long, Marianne”: a wise woman who had not lost her love for a man who hardly deserved it.

Broomfield, who spent some time on Hydra with Marianne and Leonard, certainly knows his subject and the era of free love – too often an excuse for men to be promiscuous – while their female muse looked after their domestic needs. Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre, the work of a low-level depressive, has certainly influenced a generation, and it is only fitting that Marianne & Leonard tells the story of the woman who influenced him – and who, even on her deathbed, puts her feelings for him into words. After being read his farewell message, in which he mentions that he ‘is just behind her on the way’, she exclaims: “This is beautiful; but, poor Leonard, he has no Sue to massage his feet”.  AS

ON NETFLIX

 

 

 

Rocketman (2019)

Dir: Dexter Fletcher | Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Bell, Harriet Walter | Fantasy Musical | UK, 121′

The Elton John biopic ROCKETMAN is an all singing all dancing affair with Taron Egerton performing the classic numbers and Dexter Fletcher behind the camera. Feeling rather like Ken Russell directing Roger Daltrey in Tommy without the cinematic qualities: this is just one big theatrical number after the other.

Told through a clever framing device, written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), this is a proper musical with fantasy sequences sharing an extraordinary human story of the shy but talented schoolboy Reginald Dwight from Pinner who found fame and fortune as one of the most iconic figures in pop culture, only to land up in drug therapy and finally accept his sexual orientation after a failed marriage.

Fletcher has Elton recounting the story looking back through a lens clouded with drug and alcohol abuse, and this gives the film its fantasy element, although although there is very little about what actually makes Elton John tick, and maybe that was a conscious decision to concentrate the narrative on his showman-like qualities, avoiding a warts and all approach. Egerton has a good voice; he performed a version of I’m Still Standing in the comedy animation film Sing (2016). With a nice fat budget of 40 million, Rocketman actually looks glamorous too although but like a great deal of show business, it has no heart or soul. MT

NOW ON BBC iPlayer

Amazing Grace (2018) ***

Dir: Sydney Pollack, Alan Elliott | US Doc 89′

By the early 1970s American ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) was a already megastar with a string of hits behind her such as Chain of Fools and I Say A Little Prayer. This concert film goes back to her roots as a Gospel singer in 1972. Warner Brothers hired Sydney Pollack to direct the two-night session in the simple, half-empty Bethel Baptist Church in Los Angeles, accompanied on the piano by gospel star Reverend James Cleveland, the father of one of her children. But the footage never had an official release despite the massive success of the resulting double album.

Ten years after Pollack’s death in 2008, producer Alan Elliott had another go with the material and Amazing Grace is the result. Playing out as a straightforward chronological recording (with the inclusion of a scene from an earlier concert) the documentary shows Franklin channels her own spirituality into her selfless performance – there is not a one iota of guile or self-regard in her singing style or in the serious, detached way she presents herself to the audience, wearing a simple tent dress and earrings, yet pouring herself entirely into the music. She is simply a conduit for the soulful tunes to come through, as if directed by another power – sweating profusely, such is the intensity of her experience.

Up until her death in August last year, Franklin blocked the film stating Elliott had not obtained her permission to go ahead. But now it is here for all to enjoy, a collection of sometimes overwrought renditions – the most enjoyable are those accompanied by the talented band of musicians, and it’s interesting to see a young Mick Jagger enjoying himself in the audience along with Charlie Watts, and Pollack clapping along. There is also an appearance from her father Rev C L Franklin who talks about their early experience on the road.

Amazing Grace is a bit thin music-wise but what it does is shine a light on Franklins’ impressive connection with the spiritual power that lies beyond her songs, affording her a serenity and apparent protection from the corrosive affects of the fame and fortune she had achieved by that time. The only other singer who appears to have this is Stevie Wonder – and he is blind. The numbers are well-known to the Gospel crowd: Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy.”; “Never Grow Old,” Despite her colossal fame Aretha cuts a modest, almost compliant figure. Clearly, fame did not touch her, but her Gospel songs certainly made their mark. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 10 MAY 2019

Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me By Now (2019) ***

Dir: Olivia Lichtenstein | Biopic | 106′ US

Teddy Pendergrass was such a loved and wanted child, success would always follow him. Born in Philadelphia to a proud mother who had suffered six miscarriages that made her cherish him all the more, the two grew close after his father left home shortly after he arrived. Powerful both musically and physically, he had an electric smile and a rich and melodious voice. And women in their droves would flock to his sexually-charged performances, while men were attracted by his power. Lichtenstein chronicles his story but somehow misses a vital chapter, playing down a sinister but clearly significant crime side-story involving the local Phili mafia. And that somehow eclipses the high notes of this essentially celebratory film.

Much the same as Aretha Franklin, Pendergrass started singing in his local Gospel church where he would be ordained. He soon joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, only to leave  in 1977  – under a cloud – for a spectacular solo career, that would result in a clutch of platinum discs: an impossibly handsome, virile man with a rich and sensuous voice. But in 1982 tragedy would touch his life when a car accident turned him into a cripple. He flirted with suicide but pulled back from the brink thanks to his family and friends. One of the film’s most moving moments is seeing Pendergrass performing from a wheelchair at Live Aid at Philadelphia.

In 1977, one of the most important woman in his life was shot dead. No one has ever been convicted of Taaz Lang’s crime but Teddy was devastated. And clearly the split from Melvin had left him with enemies too, not least the local police, yet to play this up would diminish the overall impact of his own success and recovery from near death. And, at the time his career was taking off and he was positioned to be a major crossover artist, a Black Elvis even. But the crash takes over in the final scenes changing the mood of the film and leaving us wondering what really happened and why.

The murky world of organised crime in pop music is a real issue, but Pendergrass’s inspirational comeback story forces a different narrative arc on the film, leaving questions unanswered. It’s a remarkable story, but way more complicated than this makes it sound. MT

DVD RELEASE DATE 29.03.19

NATIONWIDE SCREENINGS

moviehouseent.com/films/teddy-pendergrass

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live (2019) ****

With Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Krall, James Taylor | Music

Canadian singer songwriter Joni Mitchell takes a back stage for her birthday celebration  tribute concert which features some of the World’s best known singers. Arriving on the arms of her escorts, she sits down to enjoy her own work performed by others. And it’s a motley crew – a bit like asking Polanski to direct a Scorsese film – it’s just not the same classic, but the original elements are still there. So if you’re expecting to hear Joni sing, you’ll be disappointed but entertained royally, nevertheless.

Most Memorable of all is Graham Nash who strikes out with the only song not written by Joni – but for her – Our House, simply and poignantly performed on the piano (and what a fabulous strong voice still – at 77). The two lived together for several years in their twenties in California. Diane Krall also shines with her husky voice of warm treacle. Seal sings softly (but then spoils it with a wimpish comment “I worship the ground you walk on”). But Chaka Khan brings a welcome vitality to the stage after Emmylou Harris’ dreadfully bland rendition of a song about Irish convent girls. Awful too, is Rufus Wainwright who really ruins Joni’s stunning song Blue, and then talks about his husband, thanking him profusely, for some reason. No Rufus – not your platform, thanks. He does a slightly better job with “I am on a lonely road and I am travelling….” Although no one could sing it like Joni. Brandi Carlile has the voice most similar to Joni, but more bassy and without the subtle complexity.

James Taylor and Norah Jones are also welcome. During the concert, there are archive clips of Joni on stage and birthday greetings come live via video from Elton John and Peter Gabriel, who gives creative expression to Joni’s iconically complex tunes and lyrics describing them “sparkling like jewels on a trampoline”.

The voluminous LA venue is hung with Van Gogh style artwork of Joni and photos by Henry Diltz, Nurit Wilde and Norman Seeff whose recent Joni: The Joni Mitchell Sessions, is being released in the US on hardback.

Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration Live | The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California | NATIONWIDE FROM 4 MARCH 2019

 

 

Freak Show (2017) ** Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Trudie Styler | Musical Drama | US | 97′

Actor, producer and now filmmaker, Trudie Styler works her contact list to great effect in cobbling together this middling teen-outsider musical powered by an impressive central turn from Alex Lawther. He plays Billy Bloom, a spirited and thoughtful young man who finds his gay identity at odds with his new surroundings when the family move from New York to a Red Neck southern state.

Thanks to DoP Dante Spinotti, Freak Show opens stylishly with a glamorous Bette Middler (as Muv) dancing with her little son (Eddie Schweighardt as the young Billy). The two are as thick as thieves but when Muv falls off the waggon, leaving Billy with Daddy ‘Downer’ (Larry Pine actually looks like Lawther), the movie soon loses its pacy allure, and dissolves into a series of musical vignettes that piece together Billy’s gradual empowerment from victim to victor. This schematic sprawl lurches from one scene to the next, hanging entirely on Lawther’s capable coat tails – and there are some striking rigouts thanks to Colleen Atwood and Sarah Laux – and Billy gets the best lines: “I just moved here from Darien Connecticut, the hometown of Chloe Sevigny”.

Intended for a teen audience Freak Show brings to mind Amy Heckerling’s 1995 comedy Clueless, and is adapted from James St James novel by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, who also wrote Raising Helen. Rather than finding her own distinct voice, Styler cherry picks liberally from reliable stalwarts such as Oscar Wilde and Plastic Bertrand whose quotes and music may not be known to young audiences.

After the conservative kids get used to Billy’s outlandish attire at his new school, he soon becomes friends with tousled haired dreamboat Flip Nelson (Ian Kelly), who he secretly fancies, meanwhile Flip is a bland but underwritten teen idol who remains unconvincing as a real person. Billy suffers a brutal homophobic attack that lands him in a coma and hospitalised, but this deepens his thing with Flip and he’s persuaded to run for homecoming Queen. There are some witty exchanges between Middler’s Muv and Dad’s housekeeper Florence (Celia Weston) who flags up the potential woes of Billy’s adolescent crush with Flip, and the gauche handling of this particular conflict resolution is one of the film’s many flaws. But these will likely slip off the radar of the film’s intended audience – it premiered at Berlinale’s 14K generation plus sidebar. See this for Alex Lawther and his star performance as Billy. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY DVD

 

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A (2018) ****

Dir.: Stephen Loveridge; Documentary starring M.I.A.; USA/UK 2018, 96 min.

Director Stephen Loveridge’s debut feature documentary is a tour-de-force of struggles, contradictions and art: rarely has a person had to fight so much for personal, political and artistic identity than M.I.A. – born in Hounslow, growing up in war-torn Sri Lanka and coming back to the UK to start a glittering artistic career, only to be de-railed by music industry and mainstream media, who could not handle her outspokenness.

Matanghi ‘Maya’ Arulprasan was born in London to the engineer and soon-to-be Tamil resistance leader Arul and his wife Kala in 1975. The family moved six months later to Sri Lanka, where M.I.A. grew up in a war torn country: The Civil War lasted from 1980 to 2009. Bombs where smuggled covered by toys, and Government soldiers shot at the school M.I.A. was attending. In 1986 Kala moved with her three children to India; and in the same year to London.

M.I.A. attended the Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, and gained a degree in 2000. Being first interested in visual arts and cinema, she later turned to music, creating hits like “Kala” (2007) and “Maya” (2010). But after her visit to Sri Lanka in 2001, she became politicized. The main stream media in the West reported the Civil War as a fight between Tamils (terrorists) against the legal Government – it was in reality a near-genocide of the minority. Not that her family had any pity on her: “You never had the war zone experience” – she was estranged from her own country, and back in London she was taunted as a “Paki”. In 2009 at the Grammy Awards, M..I.A was nine months pregnant, and commented that her interview in a newspaper was  “too much about me”. To which the journalist replied: “You are the first to say this. People mostly want it to be about them”. A year later, further controversy occurred after the publication of a high-budget music video “Born Free”, which showed the rounding up of white boys with red hair, who would later be shot in the head. NY Times Magazine Lynn Hirschberg raved about the video originally, but later was very critical, misquoting M.I.A.  And at the Half-Time at Super Bowl 2012, Maya was appearing with Madonna, giving the nation the middle-finger, after being angered by Madonna’s treatment as sexist: before she went on stage. She had to change her outfit after complaints by male managers of the event. The NFL (National Football League) sued M.I.A. for 16 million, the law suit was settled later in private. Her marriage to Benjamin Bronfman (a member of the Lehman family) lasted six years until 2012, the couple had a child. M.I.A. commented after the split “who Ben is, on paper, sounds more powerful than who I am, because of where he comes from”.

The documentary is book-ended by the music video “Borders” featuring refugees and migrants. It’s not a hagiography – Loveridge does not paint M.I.A. as a victim, but as a political artist, the overlapping borders between art and politics causing friction. And M.I.A.’s approach is not always the most sensible – but how could anyone be balanced and adjusted growing up in a civil war, one side led by your father? Loveridge directs with empathy, trying to do his subject justice, without losing all detachment. Overall Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is not only substantial, but very entertaining. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 21 SEPTEMBER 2018

The Man from Mo’ Wax (2017) ****

Dir: Matthew Jones | Music Biopic | doc |

The Man from Mo’Wax chronicles the life and times of the influential producer, DJ, and musician James Lavelle.

For his laudable debut feature Matthew Jones draws on extensive archive footage and previously unseen videos of Lavelle together with stills and original interviews that capture the essence of his idiosyncratic label Mo’Wax, gaining insight into his relationship with DJ Shadow and duo’s chart-topping UNKLE project, featuring amongst other musicians Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft, Josh Homme and Kool G Rap. No stone is left unturned in exploring the ups and downs of the iconic cool guy’s personal life and loves in this enjoyable and lively documentary that will appeal to fans and music-lovers alike. MT

There will be a special event at BFI Southbank on 30st August 2018, featuring a screening of the film and a Q&A with James Lavelle and director Matthew Jones. The film will be released in selected cinemas nationwide on the 31st August – celebrating the 20th anniversary of ‘Psyence Fiction’’s release. Following that the DVD/Blu Ray will be released September 10th with TV streaming TBA. For more information about all confirmed nationwide screenings of The Man From Mo’Wax

NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF THE BFI ON BLURAY

 

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Elvis ‘68 Comeback Special (2018) ***

Dir.: Steve Binder; Documentary with Elvis Presley; USA 1968/2018, 105 min.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this legendary Elvis Presley Comeback Show, originally filmed in the NBC studios in June 1968, director Steve Binder and Priscilla Presley shed light on the details of the recordings; followed bya 90-minute special cut of the original 440- minute DVD. The Special Edition will be shown in cinemas on August the 16th, the 41th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.

Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, who had pushed the singer into a mediocre Hollywood career after his return from Military Service, originally wanted the first public appearance of Presley for seven years as a Christmas Special, but when ‘Hullabaloo’ producer/director Steve Binder came on board everything changed, though Parker church a hope that at least the final song would be a festive one for the screening in December of that year. But Binder sent Presley away to slim down, and for the start of the recordings on June 17th in the NBC studios, he re-united Presley with his original musicians Fontana and Scotty Moore, later adding Mike Deasey and Hal Blaine to support the star. Presley was a little shy at first, but soon started goofing around on and off the little stage, which looked “like an open boxing ring”. And he certainly looks terrific in a swanky black leather outfit and his signature slicked back hairdo. More sexually alluring but with the same dry sense of humour as The Beatles, who had made their own tour of the US two years earlier.

For the planned Gospel medley recordings on June 27th, Parker had given out tickets mainly to NBC security guards, and Binder personally went to ‘Bob’s Big Boy’ to get a much different age group to attend. Whilst classics like “Guitar Man”, “That’s alright” and “Heartbreak Hotel” make us remember how great Presley was creatively and physically (only nine years before his death), Binder cut the infamous ‘Bordello’ sequence. A week after shooting ended, Presley started the Western Charro. As Blaine said “Everybody was on Cloud Nine” – but Presley would never be the same, even in his third, ‘Las Vegas’ re-incarnation. This release is bound to be a hit with fans of the star and may even garner some new interest from the current millennial generation. AS

AVAILABLE IN UK CINEMAS FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY ON 16 AUGUST 2018 ACROSS 250 CINEMAS NATIONWIDE 

Whitney (2018)

Dir: Kevin Macdonald | Musical biopic | UK | 120’

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald looks at the real woman behind the legend that was Whitney Houston in this blistering biopic that gains exclusive access to the enigmatic star’s family and music.

The 1987 global hit  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” was probably the most telling in the tragic star’s repertoire reflecting a romantic balladeer for whom true love and peace remained elusive. Whitney was a female vocalist who emerged into the limelight with a series of soulful ballads that captured the imagination of women everywhere, at a time where popular music was defined by bands. 

 “How Will I know,” and “Saving All My Love for You” felt personal and yet universal with their sentimental confessions that remain dance-floor delights across the generations. But who was the real woman behind these tender tunes? 

In two compelling hours WHITNEY explores the meteoric rise and sudden death at 48 in a Beverley Hills hotel, after years of addiction and a troubled marriage to rapper Bobby Brown who comes across here as defensive. Macdonald has the key advantage over Nick Bromfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me, with his intimate access to family, friends and industry collaborators who all seem united in getting to the truth behind the public persona and cliche.

Piecing together contemporary talking heads, Macdonald and editor Sam Rice-Edwards delve into the singer’s psychological past revealing a “tough tomboy” whose parents were unfaithful, and purported sexual from family member, Dee Dee Warwick, who died in 2008. Allusions are made to Whitney’s ‘fluid’ sexuality that indicate marriage to Brown was just to conform to the celebrity image back in the day. Longtime assistant Mary Jones indicates that Whitney’s close friend Robyn Crawford was also her ‘secret lover’, and although Crawford is notably absent to confirm this, the two shared an apartment. Whitney was also dogged by the perception amongst the African-American community that her music, “wasn’t black enough.”.

Rice-Edwards’ clever editing captures the political and social climate interweaving images of Houston’s musical contemporaries and concurrent world events. The Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner talks of her groundbreaking role as a ‘black leading lady.”  And there are suggestions that her father abused her financially, causing the estrangement that led to her emotional down-spiralling and weight loss, seen in tawdry stage appearances echoing those of tragic Amy Winehouse. And although the film does not quite match the cogent quality of Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning Amy, it offers compelling and deeply affecting revelations for her fans and mainstream audiences alike. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE from 6 July 2018

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017) ****

Dir: Stephen Nomura Schible (US, Japan, 100’, Japanese/English s/t English/Italian)

Five years in the making, Stephen Nomura’s discreet yet impressively resonant portrait Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda brings us face to face with the Oscar-winning Japanese composer of synth-pop and electronica at a time where he was being treated for cancer and was writing Async his first album in eight years.

The documentary follows Sakamoto as he survives this near death experience and we first meet him in his homeland tinkling the ivories of a Yamaha baby grand piano that has also lived through trauma in the shape of the 2011 tsunami. Showing his deep humanity and social engagement as an artist, Sakamoto rocks a protective jacket as he boldly explores the restricted contamination zone of the Fukishima nuclear disaster demonstrating his allegiance to those who have suffered by joining a protest at the Japanese prime minister’s Tokyo residence. In further honour of these tragedies he later performs with elegant finesse the theme tune from Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence dedicating this soigné arrangement to the victims. To say Sakamoto is a poster boy for such calamities as the 9/11 attacks, Iraq war and climate change would be trite and kack-handed but these concerns have certainly inspired his work for a quarter of a century and his calm demeanour and contemplative nature do seem apposite qualities in a creative genius who, at 65, has certainly lived through troubled times. With his mop of silver hair and striking gracefulness he is an appealing performer who is at pains to dress stylishly and eat healthily, attributes that compliment his work, and his candidness in talking about his creative process marks him out as a man of integrity and great intelligence.

Nomura Schible keeps his film sleek and yet reasonably loose in structure without resorting to talking heads or periphera – this is a snapshot of a point in time. There are also excerpts from Sakamoto’s Oscar-winning work on film scores for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky; together with Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, and archive footage of the master conducting the relevant film pieces. These dovetail into scenes in his domestic milieu where he is pictured composing on the computer and playing his piano, a Steinway (naturellement). MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018 | VENICE REVIEW 2017

 

Suggs: My Life Story (2017) ***

Dir: Julien Temple | Owen Lewis; Drama-Documentary | Cast: Suggs, Perry Benson, Dean Munford; UK 2018, 96’.

Director Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners) creates a wild and anarchic bio-pic of Madness frontman Suggs, using the singer’s performance in a London music hall (these sequences are directed by Lewis) as a background for an energetic trip into Suggs’ past, mixed with satire and cartoons.

Graham McPherson, who was born in Hastings in 1961, grew up with his mother, after his father had to be institutionalised – due to drug abuse – when Graham was only three years old. He got his stage name from the encyclopaedia of Jazz Singer’s, the name at random. The encyclopaedia belonged to his mother, a chanteuse, who worked in London clubs around Soho, after having spent much of her son’s youth in a village in Wales. Young Graham went to a comprehensive school in Swiss Cottage, where he met Mike Barson, who would joined him in 1976 in the ska band North London Invaders, which later morphed into Madness. After splitting up in 1986, Madness re-grouped later, and are still active today, mostly known for hits like “It must be Love” and “Our House”.

After playing for a long time in small basement cellars of pubs in North London (such as the Hope & Anchor), Madness literally caused an earthquake in 1992, when 75 000 assembled in Finsbury Park to hear them play – the noise level reached Five on the Richter Scale. After 1994 Suggs recorded numerous single albums, having worked with Morrissey in 1989/90. Suggs married the singer Bettie Bright (who starred in Temple’s The Great h Swindle) in 1982, the couple nowd have their own kids. The former “Bürgerschreck” Suggs is today a Patron of Children in Need and supports Cancer Research with his performances.

Suggs is very self-deprecating on stage, making fun of himself, when remembering his excitement of starring with Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley in a film – before finding out that he had just one line in the script. His journey into his past was set off by the death of his beloved cat, on his 50th birthday. Travelling to Birmingham to find out more about his father, he had to admit that even a second marriage did not change the self-destructive course his father chose – he died young, his second wife only lasting another year. But Suggs himself seems to have the last laugh: when he travelled with Madness to Paris for a gig in August 2009, the band made a mess of their surroundings “even pinching the contents of the mini bar – which was free.” Oasis lead Liam Gallagher had travelled in First Class, and told the promoter, that they would not share a stage with Madness. After performing on a side stage, said promoter had to beg Madness to perform instead of Oasis – who had broken up after a violent re-concert confrontation between the Gallagher brothers Liam and Noel.

Pianist Dean Mumford and Pierry Benson as the erratic taxi-driver, chauffeuring Suggs around London, complete this mad-cap caper, with impressive images by DoP Steve Organ. And for those not mad on Madness, Suggs: My Life Story, takes us a very worthwhile journey into London’s social and musical history.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2018 NATIONWIDE

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars (2017)

Dir: Lili Fini Zanuck | Writers: Stephen “Scooter” Weintraub, Larry Yelen | Music Biopic | 213′

Fans of Eric Clapton will certainly know the facts behind the ’god of guitar’s’ eventful life. In her flawed but emotionally penetrating rock-doc, Lili Fini Zanuck’s poignantly conveys the years of heartache behind this fated and fêted musician.

London UK : PATTIE BOYD ATTENDS THE UK PRMEIERE OF “ERIC CLAPTON : LIFE IN 12 BARS” JANUARY 10TH 2018. (CREDIT : JAMES GILLHAM / STILLMOVING.NET)

Lili Fini Zanuck and Eric Clapton are longterm friends and collaborators: He provided the score for her feature Rush, back in 1991. And despite the use of a meandering, counterintuitive narrative to tell his, often tragic, story with its ill-judged epilogue feeling more like a cheesy commercial for Clapton’s current project rather than a fitting finale, the study is mostly thorough in its breadth and depth, chronicling the life story of an Englishman who has suffered, been severely tested and has come up trumps.

Life in 12 Bars is an ironic title given Clapton’s years of alcoholism, so let’s hope this is refers to his mastery of the guitar, an instrument that was to be his muse, his whipping boy (we are shown how he uses it as anger therapy), and his saving grace throughout his life. The film opens with a fabulous account of Clapton’s early childhood, his artistic reveries and discovery, aged 9, that his mother had abandoned him: he was brought up by his grandmother Rose Clapp. We learn how Clapton turns his disappointment and rejection into developing his musical technique from his teens to his involvement in blues-based and psychedelic groups. The Yardbirds and The Cream years are covered in compelling depth, and Zanuck shows how Clapton did his bit for the blues, and was headhunted by Mayall who got him playing for the Bluesbreakers. He even moved in to Mayall’s home with his family.

But Zanuck and her writers Weintraub and Yelen tend to gloss over certain aspects of his career – probably out of respect to friendship – and it’s Clapton himself who owns up to his behavioural shortcomings as an introvert who couldn’t relate to women but became obsessed by one of them, Patti Boyd, during her mariage to George Harrison. So although the film goes into almost forensic detail on some aspects of the story, other years are befuddled – almost as if in an booze-fuelled haze – such as his career as a solo recording artist which gave rise to a several salient albums. Pattie Boyd merely serves the narrative as a flirtatious cypher who cannot make up her mind between him and George – while he is yearning for her love, howling at the moon for her to leave George, which she eventually does, but by then too much damage has been done for them to make a go of things. Talking faces are almost entirely absent to give context to this period of his life, particularly his closest friend, Ben Palmer.

London UK : JOHN BATTSEK, JOOLS HOLLAND, LILI FINI ZANUCK, ERIC CLAPTON AND CHRIS KING ATTEND THE UK PRMEIERE OF “ERIC CLAPTON : LIFE IN 12 BARS” JANUARY 10TH 2018. (CREDIT : JAMES GILLHAM / STILLMOVING.NET)

Zanuck has a cinematic way of conjuring up the days lost to booze and drugs in Hurtwood, Clapton’s country house in the depths of Surrey. But his romantic affairs take on a rather hazy anecdotal feel, the story often flipping back and forth – and there’s a curious bit where Zanuck suddenly goes back to his mother’s second rejection of him, arriving from Canada with her two latest children, and this comes towards the end of the story, father than at the beginning, where it would have clearly better informed us of The emotional arc that coloured his career. Clearly this fundamental rejection was going to lead to a lack of trust and vulnerability issues that would go on to jeopardise any kind of lasting romantic attachment. But it’s these years that are so movingly conveyed by Zanuck, showing Clapton heartbroken over Boyd after dedicating Layla to her, and retreating into a ‘safe’ world blunted by drugs and alcohol. But there’s much to enjoy here in this freewheeling trip back to a rich and vibrant musical era. And it’s heart-warming to see how Clapton has finally managed to overcome his demons, albeit circuitously, and despite a rather cheesy ending which actually has the strange effect of making the legend seem less interesting than he appeared to be at the beginning of his career. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 12 JANUARY 2017

 

 

Napoléon (1927)

Dir|Writer|Prod: Abel Gance | Music: Carl Davis, Carmine Coppola, Arthur Honegger | Silent | 330min

One of the highlights of silent film is the digitally restored version of Abel Gance’s cinematic triumph NAPOLÉON. This magnificent film is enhanced by Carl Davis’ rousing score and technical touches to reveal the original tinting that make it feel edgy and contemporary enough for modern audiences as it approaches it centenary.

It portrays the early life of the legendary French soldier who was go on to make his mark in world for centuries to come. In opening scenes Napoleon Bonaparte is seen playing with his school friends in the snow, already asserting his powers of leadership in an impressive performance by Vladimir Roudenko. Albert Dieudonnéthen plays the adult Napoleon as he forges ahead with a successful military campaign in Italy. Running at over 5.5 hours, this is an absorbing and thrilling experience blending melodrama with moving musical interludes and combining intimate domestic scenes with full scale widescreen historical recreations that offer insight into the French Revolution and Italian campaigns of 1796. MT

Digitally restored by Photoplay Productions and the BFI National Archive, with a newly-recorded score, composed and conducted by Carl Davis, Napoleon (1927) comes to UK cinemas, DVD/Blu-ray and BFI Player | Back this December 2017 

Grace Jones – Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

Die:. Sophie Fiennes | UK/Ireland. 2017 | Musical Biopic | 115′

As fabulous now as when she was in 1979 – when I first experienced her at a concert in Italy’s famous Covo di Nord Est – Grace Jones still rocks. At almost 70, her voice has mellowed, wavering occasionally, but her glamour and star power are just as potent and her aura and outrageous antics as just spectacular, if not more.

After an overture of Slave to the Rhythm where Grace performs in purple regalia and a golden sunburst mask, Fiennes cuts to an autograph session with fans fawning: “I’ve been waiting to see you for 25 years” – Grace responds “so has my mother”. Suddenly we are following her through Jamaica airport for an exuberant reunion with her mother (who looks like Aretha Franklin), son Paolo and niece Chantel, and as night falls, the camera pictures a sultry moonlight gig in the torridly tropical island, drenched in lush emerald forests.

1268255_Grace-Jones-2At at raucous and voluble family meal we get some backstory on the Jones and Williams troubled family backstory in a scene that culminates in a full-throated performance of Wicked and Williams’ Blood as Grace struts around amid strobes – sporting nothing but a black leotard and a massive clotted cream moonshaped crown – by Irish hatter Philip Treacy – Fiennes tribute captures the warmth and ebullience of Jamaica and Grace’s defiant irreverence.

Grace was once a Bond Girl – May Day – in A View To A Kill and also appeared in Conan The Destroyer, but here we witness the real Grace for the first time: The woman behind the act, and she’s as feisty and strangely vulnerable as you would imagine. Champagne flows throughout as Grace moves constantly, making angry phone calls and negotiating in French – she lived in Paris for many years with French photographer Jean Paul Goude who styled her legendary look and shtick. Opening an oyster with difficulty she snarls: “wish my pussy was still this tight”. Fiennes’ punctuates the gutsy real time footage shot in her kitchen, car and dressing room – with Grace’s mesmerising Dublin stage show, but both are beguiling and cinematic. Fiennes’ shirks the traditional documentary format – there are no photos or archive footage, making Bloodlight And Bami fresh, feisty and intriguing for longtime fans who have never really experienced the woman ‘behind the scenes’. It’s also longer than most docs at nearly 2 hours.

La Vie en Rose is performed in a blossom pink setting – all softly sequinned and shimmery. Bloodlight And Bami – the film’s title is Jamaican for the recording studio lighting. She’s busy raising money for her next album, accompanied by her bass duo Sly and Robbie. Grace is no wallflower when it comes to things financial: she wants to be paid upfront for every concert, but will trawl through the old stalwarts just to raise money for her new work. You get the impression these old numbers bore her slightly, as she rants through Nipple to the Bottle, tottering gamely on amazingly amazonian legs. “Sometimes you have to be a high-flying bitch”.

Jones hasn’t forgotten the ghosts of the past: her abusive step-grandfather fuels the angry energy for her stage persona. Her parents lived away from Jamaica in New York during her childhood but she’s now closer to her mother and goes with her to church back home.

Pull up to the Bumper is vigorously vampish. Her lyrics – like her lips and bone structure – are strong and powerfully stand the test of time. Grace is vulnerable, scary and exotic – a feminine volcano that smoulders and could erupt at any time. Fiercely feline she purrs more like a jaguar than a pussycat. Her following is eclectic and all-encompassing: middle-aged men; sophisticated women and the gay crowd, all attracted to her burlesque bravado and musical power.

In concert footage, Grace mesmerises with performances of Pull Up To The Bumper and more personal tracks including Williams’ Blood, This Is and Hurricane. She is s force of nature, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Legendary GET CARTER composer, Roy Budd is to have his lost score for Rupert Julian’s silent classic film, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA premiered at the London Coliseum, 24 years after his untimely death in 1993. On October 8th 2017, Budd’s masterpiece score will be performed by the 77 piece Docklands Sinfonia Orchestra, conducted by Spencer Down, alongside a screening of the silent film in a world premiere event.

British jazz musician and composer Roy Budd, is best known for the film scores of Get Carter with Michael Caine and The Wild Geese with Roger Moore and Richard Burton. In 1989 Budd acquired the only surviving original 35mm reel of Rupert Julian’s silent 1925 film, The Phantom of the Opera, and lovingly restored it to its former glory before composing his own score to the film, a sweeping romantic symphony. Phantom is the sound of Budd blossoming from jazz virtuoso to classical maestro.

img014 A self-taught pianist and child prodigy, in 1953 aged six, Budd performed his first concert at The London Coliseum on the same bill as Roy Castle and went on to perform with stars such as Aretha Franklin, Bob Hope, and Antonio Carlos Jobin as well as scoring 40 feature films.

Throughout his childhood Budd, who has perfect pitch, won a number of televised talent competitions, before releasing a single, “The Birth of the Budd”, when he was still a teenager, and becoming the resident pianist at one of London’s jazz meccas, the Bull’s Head pub in Barnes. In 1971, he sealed his place in film history when, aged 22, he was hired by Mike Hodges to score his grim revenge drama, Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. The music budget was a mere £450, but Budd, along with a bassist and a percussionist, recorded a spine-tingling harpsichord motif which is now iconic. In 1981 The Human League covered the theme from Get Carter on their multi-million selling album Dare.

Phantom Dancers_SmIn 1989 Budd acquired an original 35mm film print to the 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera from a collector. He restored the film to its full glory using an experimental two colour process and original tints from the film’s original release. Budd completed a full orchestral score for the film using an 84-piece orchestra and recorded this with the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra. In 1993, with five weeks to go before a London premiere at the Barbican in partnership with UNICEF and European tour, Budd suffered a fatal brain hemorrhage and passed away at just 46 years of age. The concert was cancelled and Budd’s widow Sylvia was asked to foot the bill. Sylvia has fought for 24 years to give the score the public airing it deserves.

Phantom of the Opera is arguably Budd’s greatest achievement: a grand soundtrack for full orchestra with several themes and leitmotifs that pay tribute to the great composers of the concert hall and screen, while at the same time unmistakably the work of its inspired creator.

LONDON COLISEUM | 8 OCTOBER 2017

SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock (2017)

Dir: Barnaby Clay | Biopic | UK | 93min

Mick Rock is a maverick English photographer best known for his work and close friendships with David Bowie and Lou Reed in the late 1960s and 1970s.

IMG_3819Mr. Rock features very predominantly in Barnaby Clay’s entertaining but rather hagiographic portrait of a larger than life character with a gift for the gab and an eye for capturing what Rock himself describes as “the aura” of those he photographed – who were in Bowie’s own words just ‘ghosts’.

The title of Clay’s biopic plays not only on Rock’s name but also to his classical education and yoga training setting the tone for a stylish and cinematic doc that paints him as the tortured master of his own destiny, but fails to nail the root cause behind this insecurity. Many of those emblematic album covers from the Glam Rock era were created by Rock, whose mother remains a significant figure in his psyche (he mentions her many times, but never talks of his wife), and the impetus behind his place at Cambridge where he read French literature in the early ’70s. Rock peppers his conversation with arcane pronouncements (“the lysergic experience opened up my third eye”) and flippantly quotes from Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Not only does this give him a pretentious air, it also creates an impression of a man desperate to underpin his successful career as a celebrity photographer with proof of his solid intellect.

Rock certainly emerges as a formidable creative force, and one who didn’t want to remain on the sidelines – unlike Elliott Landy or Anton Corbijn (who later turned his skills to directing) – but very much wanted to be, and be seen as a mover and shaker in the inner sanctum of Rock Glam, hanging out and forging close relationships with the likes of Queen, Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry (due to her photogenic appeal he calls her “the Marilyn Monroe of music”). Although clearly Rock was not part of the musical creative process he was very much part of the artistic one with his iconic images, the original photos now languish in storage in his New York home providing a talking point and a rich source of fascination for us viewers.

For all his soul-searching, Rock’s story is the archtypical ‘Rock story”; obsessed with the music scene and the glamour surrounding it, he became addicted to the bright lights and buzz, professing to love cocaine so much that it led to him suffering a near-fatal heart attack at the age of 42, requiring quadruple bypass surgery for which Beatles manager Klein and several others picked up the hefty US medical bills. Clay captures this recurring scene on a soundstage while an actor spins round on a gurney in the operating theatre – it almost feels like Rock’s party piece by the end of the film. Mick Rock is clearly a bit of a primadonna, but a charming, and likeable one at that. The final scenes show him photographing contemporary acts like ‘TV on the Radio’ and ‘Father John Misty’. Clearly he’s found the path to greater personal serenity, and all that it brings. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 21 JULY 2017

Alive in France (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: Abel Ferrara | Cast: Abel Ferrara, Joe Delia, Paul Hipp, Cristina Chiriac, Dounia Sichov, PJ Delia, Laurent Bechad | 79mins | Rockumentary

Cult film director Abel Ferrara turns the camera on himself in the role of raddled rock star in this self-indulgent concert documentary premiering here at Cannes Film Festival.

Ferrara joins a long list of filmmakers who have morphed into their own musical subjects but the others have done so with considerably more flare and elan particularly David Lynch and Woody Allen. Strutting and staggering about on stage like a dishevelled hippy, Ferrara doesn’t exactly strike a pose in the way that Madonna did for her Blond Ambition Tour. Better described as a poor man’s Keith Richard. his musical ravings are at best forgettable, at worst shambolic and meandering.

The director of classics Bad Lieutenant and The King of New York embarks on a tour that plays out in Paris and Toulouse during October 2016 with his musical collaborators Joe Delia and Paul Hipp. Described as a friends and family affair, maybe it should be kept that way, while his film fans look forward to the next film SIBERIA with Willem Dafoe.  MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | SPECIAL SCREENING.

 

 

Bunch of Kunst (2016)

Dir: Christine Franz | with Andrew Fearn, Steve Underwood, Jason Williamson | Germany | Music Biopic | 106min

BUNCH OF KUNST accurately reflects the mindset of the Sleaford Mods, a couple of angry individuals who turn their feelings into sweary music. Whilst lacking the acerbic humour of Ian Dury, the Sex Pistols or The Clash the band gladdens the hearts of a fervent fan base with an axe to grind in modern Britain. They also stand out as a cry for help amid the saccharine hurling of so many of today’s British vocalists: at least the Mods are unaffectedly genuine in their vitriol, captured so candidly here by new German director Christine Franz.

There is clearly no animosity between the duo themselves who share a warm and mutually respectful friendship: writer Jason Williamson and computer ‘beat man’ Andrew Fearn call themselves “the voice of Britain” but continue a long tradition of fury that brings nothing particularly new to a party that’s been rocking on since the 1980s Punk era.

Franz follows the band from their genesis in a Nottingham bedroom to chart success – a journey that has taken two years and now sees them performing to fervent wide-eyed fans whose lives they seemingly reflect in livid lyrics. The long-forgotten towns and dreary backwaters epitomised by Morrissey are here again and chiming with a new generation of disenfranchised followers. Daniel Waldhecker visuals capture the heady waywardness of it all on stage and behind the scenes. This strong and evocative debut for Christine Franz will certainly delight fans. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 4 MAY 2017

Django (2017) | Berlinale Competition

Dir: Etienne Comar | Cast: Reda Kateb; Cécile de France (Louise); Beata Palya, Bim Bam Merstein; Gabriel Mirété; Vincent Frade; Johnny Montreuil, Raphaël Dever | 117 min · Colour

Etienne Comar (Of Gods and Men) sadly fails in his attempt to bring the jazzy verve of Belgian-born Romany Django Rheinhardt’s music to the rescue of this rather earnest biopic, although it cleverly carries the undertone of Nazi persecution of his people during wartime France during 1943, based on the fictional novel Folles de Django by Salatko, who co-wrote the script.

After a thrilling opening in Paris where the musician entertains enraptured audiences while German officials set up a propaganda initiative against his ‘degenerate’ jazz, a narrative torpor sets in despite a game and committed lead performance from Reda Ketab as the charismatic and carefree strummer with Cecile de France seductively sinuous as his agent, who enhances his publicity value to the top brass, while remaining in cahoots with them. Django thinks his popularity will give him protection from the Nazis but wisely refuses to go on tour in Germany after pressure from the powers that be, taking refuge with his wife Naguine (the Hungarian singer Beata Palya) in a village near the Swiss border, where he reconnects with other members of his family, composes a classical work “Requiem for the Gypsy Brothers”, and makes a crafty bid for freedom via Lake Geneva into Switzerland, the Nazis hot in pursuit.

Despite its drawbacks DJANGO offers decent entertainment and is certainly worth a watch for its colourful cinematography and historic footage, but Colmar’s studious and rather stodgy narrative flies in the face of the cherished allure of the musician who captured our collective imagination and fondness with his effervescent brand of jazz. MT

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

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Reset (2015)

DIR: Thierry Demaiziere, Alban Teurlai | Doc | France | 107min

Despite a nondescript and bland title – RESET turns out to be a fascinating documentary about the oldest national ballet company the the world: the Paris Opera Ballet. Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai explore a new chapter for this prestigious organisation with the visionary appointment of dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied – best known for his work on the Black Swan – and his marriage to Nathalie Portman.

This is a more fluid and unstructured affair in comparison with Frederick Wiseman’s impressive film La Danse which captured the austere and highly traditional set-up before Millepied took over. If anything, RESET has the same charismatic gusto of Nick Read’s highly enjoyable Bolshoi Babylon (2015) that captured the zeitgeist of recent upheavals at Moscow’s famous ballet company. There is a great deal of talky behind the scenes politics which may not appeal so much to general non-French speaking audiences but devotees will lap this up and find Millepied’s unorthodox approach and political machinations enthralling. Alban Teurlai’s expert camerawork conveys the ethereal bliss of the mise-en-scènes and dancing routines and those bored with the politics will soon be entranced when things lighten up after the initial preamble where the likeable maverick Millepied gets his knees firmly under the table blowing the cobwebs away in the darkest corners of this maze-like institution, with the help of his stressed-out assistant Virginia.

The film divides its study into brisk chapters but could have made more of the corps de ballet’s more of Millepied’s electrifying affect on the individual performer with his Millepied’s charisma shining as an an exciting beacon of hope and innovation for the Paris Ballet’s future. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 26 DECEMBER 2016

Bernard Herrmann and The Red Shoes

Katherine Hepburn was once asked what ‘star quality’ was and she replied: “I don’t know but I’ve got it”. This indefinable quality is the premise of Powell and Pressburger’s timeless cinema classic THE RED SHOES (1948), which Sir Matthew Bourne, a fan of classic film, has riotously reimagined for his latest balletic blockbuster, at London’s Sadler’s Wells this holiday season. Bourne’s ballet is also a tribute to the Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann whose scores oozed star quality, enlivening the films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese, not to mention Ray Harryhausen and Brian De Palma.

the-red-shoes-byBy replacing the film’s original Oscar-winning score with Bernard Herrmann’s music, ardent film fan Bourne intends to raise the profile of a Hollywood legend whose evergreen compositions possess the resonance and star quality that he feels, quite rightly, should be enjoyed by contemporary audiences in a theatrical setting with a live orchestra, not just in the cinema. Lez Brotherston’s imaginative set has a revolving proscenium arch that transports us back to an early 20th-century ballet company, inspired by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and the production is saucily tweaked with Bourne’s own brand of irreverent humour. Whisking us effortlessly from a glamorous Monte Beach in summer to the sordid sadness of the East End cabaret, this is a dizzying production that dazzles at every turn with a stunning central peformance from ballerina Ashley Shaw.

THE RED SHOES is a ballet within a ballet and Bourne has cleverly identified three key elements that make Herrmann’s music so suitable: the backstage life of Boris Lermontov’s dance company, the emotional awakening and torment of ballerina Victoria Page and the joie de vivre of the ballet itself.

THE RED SHOESThe Hollywood composer was born Max Herrmann to Jewish parents of Russian origin in New York City 1911. His musical career kicked off in his teens when he won a composition prize at the age of 13, founding the classical New Chamber Orchestra of New York when he was just 20 and studying at the Juilliard School. Herrmann was soon appointed chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra and his friendship with Orson Welles led to a collaboration with the auteur on the radio series The Orson Welles Show. When Welles joined RKO Herrmann joined him with scores for CITIZEN KANE (1940), THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS  (1942) and Welles starrer JANE EYRE (1943).

THE RED SHOESFor THE RED SHOES ballet Bourne has concentrated on Herrmann’s pre-Hitchcock fare and uncovered some real gems such as his Concerto Macabre from HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) along with the often unacknowledged dance music of CITIZEN KANE (1941) and the bittersweet beats of THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947). But the ballet’s dynamite centrepiece scenes, set against a dramatic background of birds, fleeting clouds and eerily silhouetted buildings are perhaps the most futuristic and inventive thanks to Herrmann’s restless trembling music which features among others Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451perfectly evoking the psychological tension between the love-torn trio of Boris Lermontov, Julian Craster and Victoria Page. Under Terry Davies the New Adventure orchestra makes great use of edgy expressionist electronic strings, the vibraphone and the glockenspiel as well as classic piano and wind to convey the sense of seduction combined with heart-stopping obsession and some cheeky interludes to lighten the tone. The heart-rending finale is quietly devastating as Ashley Shaw’s elegant dancing complements the emotional resonance of Hermann’s orchestral magnificence and his lighter danceable beatsmaking this a memorable and moving addition to Bourne’s ballet bonanza. MT

THE RED SHOES IS AT SADLERS WELLS LONDON UNTIL 29 JANUARY 2017 | OTHER VENUES ON TOUR

 

 

 

 

The Music of Strangers (2015)

Director: Morgan Neville | 99min | Documentary | US

A motley crew teams with Yo-Yo Ma in a bid to foster cross-cultural connectivity in another highly enjoyable documentary from Best of Enemies director Morgan Neville. For those new to Yo-Yo Ma, he is a proponent of Western classical music but here takes time out with the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of storytelling troubadours who co-create art, performance and ideas.

But first Neville sketches out a brief introduction to Ma, a Chinese American who was born in Paris in the ’50s and accidentally discovered his musical talent for cello during his childhood when he met the conductor Leonard Bernstein. The cello prodigy then developed his musical style collaborating with such luminaries as John Williams, Stephane Grappelli and Bobby McFerrin. Inventiveness is clearly the challenge for Ma who wanted to be more than ‘just’ a cellist and when he got together with the Silk Road Project, his creative juices continued to flow and percolate through their rich river of musical styles and influences from Italy to the Middle East culminating in their first experimental concert at Tanglewood in 2000.

Concentrating on the more eclectic members of the group and their newsworthy backgrounds of political upheaval and migration, Neville never really explores their musical genesis. Wu Man who plays the Chinese pipa; Iranian Kayhan Kalhor; the kamancheh – a stringed instrument – and Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh are amongst the collaborators whose stories are explored in greater depth but the nature and origin of their instruments is a subject for a more thorough musical doc.

The most moving story is that of Kalhor’s who was forced to flee Iran nearly a decade ago despite his desire to remain  in his homeland. Live music also features in Neville’s film and we are entertained by a variety of upbeat songs and more poignant fare. Clearly this is a heartwarming collaboration that will go from strength to strength, forging new links that transcend those of race or nationality. MT

SCREENING AT CURZONCINEMAS.COM FROM 18 NOVEMBER | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 2016

King of Jazz (1930) | LFF 2016

king-of-jazz_lugosiDIR: John Murray Anderson

CAST: Paul Whiteman, John Boles, Laura La Plante, Jeanette Loff, Glenn Tryon, William Kent, Slim Summerville, The Rhythm Boys

USA / Musical / 105min

The only film ever directed by Broadway showman John Murray Anderson (1886-1954), KING OF JAZZ was conceived – as the Rhythm Boys put it – as a “super super special special production!” showcasing bandleader and self-proclaimed ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) and his music. Having spent over a year in gestation at a cost of nearly $2 million before finally hitting cinemas long after the craze for “all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing” big screen musicals had run its course, despite also being all-colour it was a cataclysmic box office flop when it opened in the spring of 1930. It would have brought Universal to its knees but for the success of All Quiet on the Western Front, released three days earlier; although it was popular enough abroad to break even eventually.

But KING OF JAZZ has enjoyed the last laugh. It exists! And people are still watching it!! This vast, sprawling folly is one of the very few musicals shot entirely in early two-colour Technicolor to have actually survived in colour, has now been restored to something like its original form – and there has never been anything else quite like it!

The Technicolor process in those days was limited to just two primary colours, and sometimes looks almost like sepia; and the strange combination of brick red and sea green does occasionally become a little wearing. The ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ sequence, for example, proved a nightmare to shoot; both because of the intense heat from the lights required (which caused the varnish on the violins to peel and the wood in the pianos to warp) and because despite everyone’s best efforts the Technicolor process as it then existed simply could not manage the colour blue. They eventually had to settle for a Rhapsody in Turquoise. For the magnificent job that he did with the limited palette at his disposal, art director Herman Rosse was rewarded with the first ever Academy Award to go to a Technicolor feature.

The blue eyes of the young Bing Crosby – then one of a trio under contact to Whiteman called The Rhythm Boys – show up vividly in his close-ups, however. Starting with the opening credits (under which the Young Groaner can be heard singing ‘Music Hath Charms’), he occasionally saunters in and out of the proceedings; although his big solo number ‘The Song of the Dawn’ went to John Boles because Bing was in the slammer for a drink-driving offence when it was being filmed.

From the very start the audience is put on notice that they are in store for something unprecedented when we are treated to an animated prologue by Walter Lantz featuring Whiteman himself in what was the first cartoon ever to be made in Technicolor. The makers evidently threw in any bright idea that took their fancy, starting with the introduction of the members of Whiteman’s band by having them climb out in miniature from a valise brought on to the set by Whiteman, following by a magnificently coloured sequence in which they present themselves by playing individual tunes with their instruments. Of the many visual jolts the film supplies the most startling may well be when a very convincing miniature of New York is suddenly invaded by King Kong-sized chorus girls; not to mention Whiteman himself apparently performing an energetic Charleston. As a further bonus much of the choreography and camera angles of the chorus girls (who perform their first routine sitting down) are obviously pre-Code; ditto Marion Stattler being flung about in a very short skirt and frilly knickers to the strains of ‘Ragamuffin Romeo’ sung by the elfin Jeanie Lang. The comic quickies too include a remarkable array of jokes about drunkenness, adultery; and other details like a chorus sheet that pops up in Hebrew wouldn’t have been a feature of the more whitebread Hollywood product later in the decade. (Another comic skit – ‘All Noisy on the Eastern Front’ – plugs that spring’s concurrent blockbuster from Universal).

The pace of the film actually picks up as it progresses, and of the big production numbers themselves, ‘Happy Feet’ is easily the liveliest and most engaging; with Al Norman’s rubber legs flopping around like those of the cartoon Whiteman did in the prologue. The grand finale, ‘The Melting Pot of Music’, on the other hand, goes way over the top in its extravagance and exposes Anderson’s theatrical background by repeatedly shooting the participants as if on a stage (the original director, Paul Fejos would probably have made better use of the famous camera crane he created for the film Broadway).

And then there’s the complete lack of black faces from the final line up. We see bagpipes, Irish harps and Viennese waltzes – but nothing from Africa. Throughout King of Jazz Africa’s contribution to jazz is almost totally ignored, yet there are JUST sufficient acknowledgments of the existence of black people to suggest that the film is attempting to introduce them into the film, but is doing so almost subliminally to avoid offending sensibilities south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only black face we see in the entire film is of a pretty little black girl we see sitting on Whiteman’s lap at the conclusion of the number ‘A Bench in the Park’. Later on Whiteman informs us that “Jazz was born in the African jungle, to the beating of the voodoo drum,” and the ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ sequence begins with the gleaming, dramatically lit physique of black dancer Jacques Cartier dressed as an African chieftain beating that very drum. Less remarked upon is the choice of Africa as the setting for the opening sequence; as if making discreet acknowledgement of the input from that continent by beginning the film there. RICHARD CHATTEN

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016 

Born to be Blue (2015)

Wirter|Director: Robert Budreau

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Rennie, Tony Nappo, Stephen McHattie

97min | Biopic | US

Ethan Hawke’s career took off when he received critical prise for Reality Bites which lead to his role in the Before trilogy in a career that has steadily grown as a screenwriter, novelist director and actor in mainstream titles and  independent arthouse fare such as BORN TO BE BLUE where he plays the role of Chet Baker in a re-imagining of a period in the celebrated jazz musician’s life that blends reality with ‘semi-fictiona’l elements as a film within a film.

Opening with Baker playing himself in a biopic, we see him falling for his on-screen love interest (Carmen Ejogo) as he battles with heroin addiction.

With its relaxed jazzy score, BORN TO BE BLUE plays out in a freewheeling way as it dabbles at the edges of truth which gives it an innovative but also questionable slant, neatly side-stepping cliche. Like many artists, Baker did struggle with drugs, and interestingly, he found it difficult to break into the world of jazz as a white man – but this is by no means a pitiful portrait or one that see Baker cry into his cups but it is certainly a worthwhile take on the music industry of the era.

Hawke is convincing as the tortured musician (did he have trumpet lessons – possibly) and appealing in the role to which he brings a certain intensity without going overboard. Born to be Blue is an enjoyable film rather than a great one. But worth watching nevertheless. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE

Absolute Beginners (1986) | DVD and Bluray release

absolute-beginners-blu-rayDir: Julien Temple | Cast: Patsy Kensit, Eddie O’Connell, Robert Fox, Steven Berkoff | UK Musical | 108min

Helmed by renowned British director Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury), this lavishly mounted but uneven ’80s musical is based on Colin MacInnes’ revered novel about upwardly mobile creative life in Soho and Notting Hill in the late ’50s. Starring David Bowie, along with his renowned title track, ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS was one of the most ambitious homegrown productions of the decade, and now celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a brand new high definition restoration and the first ever UK Blu-ray release.

Despite occasional flourishes, the film falls down on its undistinguished but workmanlike performances: Patsy Kensit (Suzette) and Eddie O’Connell (Colin) are the flibbetigibbet pair who lead a bizarre casting of Lionel Blair as noncey tin pan alley king Harry Charms, Alan Freeman as Call-Me-Cobber, Steven Berkoff spouting his usual vitriol as The Fanatic, James Fox as Henley of Mayfair and Sade in her big screen debut as Athene Duncannon (her only film role to date). Musically unremarkable and meaningless, apart from Bowie’s contribution, the narrative is flaccid and the tone as camp as a row of tents, despite a curious undertow of racial tension. Nostalgic is the defining word about this new release – perhaps some things are better left to quietly fade away. That said, fans will no doubt lap it up. MT

OUT ON 25 JULY 2016 courtesy of Second Sight Films

 

 

Streetdance Family (2016)

Director: Debbie Shuter, Adam Tysoe

87min | Documentary | Germany/Italy.

When fourteen year old Ethan, the son of filmmakers Debbie Shuter and Adam Tysoe, joined the ‘Entity Allstars’, an Under-16 Street Dance crew of twenty Hip-Hop dancers in Barking, his parents decided to film the journey without realising that it would take them from their home in Barking via Luton and Rimini (Italy) to Bochum (Germany). Here in September 2014 they were the first British team to take on the World Champions of the IDO (International Dance Organisation) in the Junior Streetdance category.

The directors called this a “passion project” – and quite rightly so. The young dancers, their parents, the choreographer, the juries and even the IDO president of the British section all infuse Streetdance Family with a spirited emotional impact on a level with the competition itself. To start with, Tashan Muir, a big burly man and the crew’s dance coach, saw himself “like a re-incarnation of Noah”. Helped on by Pater Adjaye, the religious undercurrent was very clear, and Muir certainly had all the qualities of a religious leader. Unfortunately, some of the dancers’ parents could not always keep their emotions under control, and made life for their children difficult. Petty quarrels erupted, some parents being not very good role models when it came to conflict resolution. It led to one of the main dancers missing the Bochum finals. To make matters more difficult Derek Povey, the President of the British Section of IDO, walked around the competition places, seemingly unhelpful to the course of Entity. Still, Muir held the group together and when they reached the final of the competition, he instilled an “us-against-the-world” underdog feeling in his troupe.

Being his own cinematographer helped Tysoe to capture the spontaneity and often also the chaos of the events. The rollercoaster ride is pure cinema-verite, recalling Jean Rouch documentaries about tribal rituals: with Entity coach Muir acting as the chieftain, putting his dancers into a trance-like attitude where they believed they could overcome all obstacles. The filmmakers tried not to be judgemental when it came to parental misbehaviour – resulting in early cuts when tempers flew. Overall, Streetdance Family retains a gritty indie feel, either by accident or design, and in the process achieves a hyper-realistic intensity, and an affectionate tenderness for the young dancers. AS

OUT NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 27 May 2016

Miles Ahead (2015) | Berlinale 2016

Director: Don Cheadle | Writers: Don Cheadle, Steven Baigelman

Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield

100min | Music Biopic |US

Actor Don Cheadle makes his debut as director of this biopic in which he also stars as 20th century jazz supremo Miles Davis (1926-1991) exploring his lost years during the late Seventies

Cheadle plays it close up and intimate, capturing the mercurial nature of the trumpeter but sadly
his music hardly features at all, instead his co star Ewan McGregor shares most the screen time as a music hack, Dave Braden – purportedly from Rolling Stone magazine – who has been sent to report on the musician’s putative comeback: “If you’re gonna tell a story, man, come with some attitude,” Davis advises him in an early show of feisty bravado. “Don’t be all corny with this shit.”

In the event, Cheadle’s narrative is so freewheeling that it mostly feels unsatisfying in a doc that gives the audience scattergun snatches of music but no full numbers. MILES AHEAD is largely composed of outbursts, memories, flashbacks, and smoke-fuelled musings on Davis’ life. Devotees of jazz or and the celebrated auteur will be disappointed if they are expecting a musical biopic, and if you are hoping for an introduction to his music – look elsewhere.

Co-scripted by Steven Baigelman, who also worked on the James Brown 2014 biopic, Get On Up. Cheadle does succeed in evoking the free-spirited and reclusive nature of a man who preferred to call his music ‘social’ rather than ‘jazz’.  The soulfully-eyed Cheadle also has the wiry frame and sinuous elegance that fits the part.

During the second half of the Seventies, Miles Davis took a break from the limelight due to chronic pain from a hip injury and this is where Cheadle opens his narrative. Apparently there is a hidden session tape that has fallen into the hands of a music producer Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) and the storyline follows Davis’ attempts to recover it. Braden befriends him through the medium of some top drawer cocaine  (supplied by a wealthy student fan (Austin Lyon), and this section explores the greed and opportunistic nature of the record business with the finger particularly pointed at Columbia Records. In flashback the film also revisits Davis’ worldwind love affair and marriage (in the late sixties) to celebrated dancer Frances Taylor – a knockout performance from Emayatzy Corinealdi – and these emotional interludes give the film its best moments cinematically and some much need dramatic heft, as the couple fall madly in love. Cheadle also portrays the unravelling of their relationship (due to his infidelity, drugs and violence) with a piercing poignance.

Music-wise there are excerpts from Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue played during smoky recording sessions where Davis sports some dapper designs in a vibrant retro palette betokening the respective era. There is a vignette involving a young jazz trumpeter Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield), a brilliant young jazz trumpeter whom Harper is cultivating – this may actually be a clever technique for introducing Davis himself as a young man.

All it all, this impressionistic jumble of snatches from Miles Davis’ reclusive period and earlier life captures a maverick man whose musical talent was evident and enduring despite his debilitating illness and drug abuse. Clearly too, Miles Davis’ musical career deserves more extensive treatment but that’s another film. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 22 April 2016

Experimenter (2015) l Dvd and Digital release

Director|Writer: Michael Almereyda

Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Taryn Manning, Anton Yelchin, Tom Bateman, Jim Gaffigan

98min   Biopic Drama   US

Peter Sarsgaard leads with a haunting and humanistic performance in this serious and well-crafted biopic of the controversial social psychologist Stanley Milgram who grew up in America, the child of Romanian and Hungarian Jewish refugees.

Cleverly reminding us of the Holocaust without placing it at the forefront, Michael Almereyda elevates this absorbing film with Ryan Samul’s subtle cinematography and Deana Sidney’s restrained set design that never allows it to feel dry or technical. Set in ’60s Yale, a subtle love story simmers below the surface, that of Milgram and his wife Sasha, elegantly portrayed by Winona Ryder. Meeting in a lift during the opening scenes, they pursue a rapid, low-key courtship, both immediately recognising their suitability as marriage partners due to their Jewish roots.

Milgrim’s notoriety was largely the result of “the machine”, a device that he used to illustrate his experiments on human obedience to malevolent authority. During his debatably unethical study, he tricked ordinary people into delivering electric shocks to unseen subjects in another room,  Even though there was no coercion, practically all of them continued with the experiment despite the cries of pain that emerged from the room. In reality there were no electric shocks, but Milgram wanted to prove that people would continue inflicting pain, just because they were told to. The scientist was also known for proving the “six degrees of separation” rule through a Harvard mail experiment.

Peter Sarsgaard gives a melancholy performance but one which manages to be both seductively sinister and authoritative. Quoting from  Søren Kierkegaard (“Life can only be understood backwards, but it much be read forwards’), he is quietly spoken and detached yet full warmth and acceptance for both his co-workers and his wife and children; never coming over as condescending or boffin-like. The only thing that marrs EXPERIMENTER is the appearance of an ill-advised beard that sprouts suddenly on Milgram’s face after the birth of his two children; adding an unintentional comic element to the proceedings. There is also a scene that features a man playing William Shatner in the TV movie The Tenth Level, that was loosely based on Milgram’s book. Sasha claims that this character turns him into a “goy” (non-Jew) where in fact Shatner is Jewish, and Sarsgaard is not.

The central theme of the film continues to be the main central experiment and the stark and unbelievable reality – backed by science – that most people continued to press the button, ‘harming’ their fellow men, despite their sheer abhorance of the facts and their subsequent disbelief.  Highly recommended. MT

EXPERIMENTER IS OUT ON DVD AND DIGITAL RELEASE FROM 29 FEBRUARY 2016 here 

REVIEWED DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NATIONWIDE 7 – 22 NOVEMBER 2015 | MORE FROM THE PROGRAMME here

 

Mavis! (2016)

Director: Jessica Edwards;

Documentary with Mavis Staples; USA 2015, 80 min.

In her first feature documentary, director/writer Jessica Edwards charts the life and career of Mavis Staples, born 1939 in Chicago. Mavis started her career in 1948 as part of her father’s Gospel group ‘The Staples’, and later, after the demise of the group, as a solo entertainer still going strong today: after 65 years, the last thing on her mind is retirement.

Mavis grew up on Chicago’s South Side, sharing a neighbourhood with Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield. Her father, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples (1914-2000) had emigrated from the South, and it took Mavis a while to find out that whilst she and her siblings (brother Pervis, sisters Cleotha, Yvonne) were singing Gospel, Dad’s guitar was pure ‘Blues’ – he had not forgotten his Missisippi roots. And neither did he forgot his harsh upbringing in the racially segregated South, were black women had to cross the pavement when a white person was walking towards them.

‘Pops’ and the ‘Staple Singers’ got in contact with Dr. Martin Luther King during the American Civil Rights Movement at the beginning of the 1960s. Around the same time, Mavis and her family met the young Bob Dylan, not very famous then, and the “Staples” performed his “Blowing in the Wind”. Dylan fell for Mavis and asked for her hand in marriage. But nothing came of it. Mavis shrugs her shoulders today with the throwaway comment: “We may have smooched”. For his part, Dylan is a lively interview partner, full of admiration for the ‘woman who got away’. Mavis was only married for a short time in 1964, but, as she explains: “I had the perfect father, no man could measure up to him”. Today, on her single career which started in 1994, she is nearly always accompanied by her sister Yvonne, “who enjoyed managing the group much more than singing”. Mavis’ long career, which led to musical co-operations with Prince, among others, led to her first “Grammy” in 2011 for the album “You are not Alone”.

Edwards succeeds in showing the feisty nature of the singer right from the beginning, at a live concert in her hometown of Chicago, and later at the Newport Folk Festival. Old concert clips from the latter and Wattstax, show that Mavis has not lost any of her bubbly energy and her empathy with the concertgoers is as strong as it was in Sixties. Newsreel and TV clips give us a glimpse of the musical history of the USA; a few too many “talking heads” only succeed in getting Mavis! closer to a feature length running time. As is often the case, less would have been more: Mavis Staples is far too much a forceful personality and has more than enough talent – she does not need the hagiographic approach Edwards chooses. AS

OUT ON RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016 

 

Eden (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Mia Hansen-Løve; Cast: Felix de Givry, Arsinee Khanjian, Greta Gerwig; France 2014, 131 min.

At only 33 years old, Mia Hansen-Løve has already directed four features, a considerable achievement for a woman director in France. EDEN shares with her last two outings, a central character who does not know when to give up. In Father of my Children (2009), the producer Gregoire Canvel (based on the real life figure of the independent producer Humbert Balsan) can’t stop producing, even though his debts are astronomical – desperate, he commits suicide in the streets of Paris. Camille, the heroine in Goodbye first Love (2011) can’t get over her first love, and spends years in the doldrums, before accepting the loss. Both films could do with some shorter running time, but they are aesthetically so mature, whilst genre- wise so different, that one has to marvels at this filmmaker’s skill.

EDEN, true to its name, is set in the world of French Garage music, chronicling the years from the late eighties to the present. Its anti-hero, the DJ Paul (de Givry), inhales mountains of coke and goes through many broken relationships whilst living in the “fast lane”: a superficial and consumerist existence. Having given up his literature studies, his debts accumulate and his mother (Khanjian) has to continually bail him out. His girlfriends usually don’t stay around long; empathy is not his strength. On his travels to New York, he meets up with Julia (Gerwig), who had left him in Paris. Having been dumped again, he rekindles the relationship, even though Julia has two little girls. When Paul’s best friend, the cartoonist Cyril, commits suicide, throwing himself under a metro train, Paul, now in his mid thirties, says goodbye to his former life style, and returns to his first love, literature. When a young woman on his course, asks him about his past, he lets on about his involvement in Garage music – to his utter astonishment, she has never heard of this music genre…..

Paul, like many men in his circle, is semi-autistic. Narcissistic, egocentric and spoilt by his mother, he accumulates debts from a coke habit that ruins his bank balance and his health. Self-pity is just another character trait he wears on his sleeve. His love for Julia only functions in retrospective yearning. When he meets her again, she has to abort their child, because Paul is totally broke.  Hansen-Løve’s style is remarkable: even those who know next to nothing about this particular music scene in France will find this edifying and informative, not only from a musical angle, but also from the  atmosphere engendered, and the admirable characterisations. Hansen-Løve astonishes with her maturity and sheer brilliance, worthy of any veteran., Her talent and spontaneity oozes out of every frame. The ensemble acting is brilliant, the camera catches every moment in time, working in elliptic movements, showing the musicians in intimate close-ups and illuminating the Paris skyline in glorious panoramic shots, that never degenerate into picture-postcard blandness. A spellbinding tour-de-force of music and emotion. AS

NOW ON DVD RELEASE from 14 December 2015

Amy (2015) | Cannes 2015 | DVD | Blu-ray | Digital release

IMG_1736Director: Asif Kapadia

90min   Musical Documentary UK

Best known for his acclaimed 2010 documentary SENNA about late Formula One driver, Asif Kapadia’s bittersweet biopic AMY, premiering in Cannes, introduces the Southgate-born jazz singer as a “North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude”, who loved to write poetry and lyrics. Unearthing a treasure trove of photos, home movie footage and demos shared from over 100 interviews from those closest to her, he shows Winehouse as a witty, down to earth and “gobby” girl with a rich and velvety voice, who never wanted to be famous but whose inadvertent stardom let to her tragic death, aged 27.

The legendary Tony Bennett described her as “a natural, true jazz singer” when they performed together towards the end of her career, comparing her quality to Ella Fitzgerald; while Amy’s own confessed role models were Billie Holliday and Thelonius Monk.

Kapadia’s raw and real expose has not gone down well with her father Mitch Winehouse. And it’s easy to see why. No dad wants to witness a full and frank account of his daughter’s personal life – straight from the mouths of friends and lovers – however truthful this may be. But Kapadia never stands in judgement of the singer’s life, telling her story simply and sensitively as it unfolds. Winehouse herself admits “My dad was never there.” But as her career prospered, Mitch is seen becoming more exploitatively involved, when all she had ever wanted was a supportive male figure in her life who she could unconditionally love. Kapadia does not attempt a psychological analysis. It is Amy who confesses how music became her refuge and a way of expressing inner turmoil.

This visually vibrant and often shocking film unspools in a straightforward fashion: Amy’s teenage years marked by singing in the National Youth Jazz orchestra after a middle-class childhood deeply affected by her parent’s split and father’s departure, only to return again; her gradually rise to fame and riches, voiced through photos of various musical collaborators Nick Shymansky, Mark Ronson, Raye Cosbert and Salaam Remi, her obsessive relationship with a self-seeking Blake Fielder-Civil for whom she confesses “unconditional love” after her spectacular fall from grace. Clearly the two were desperately in love but toxically inseparable, alienating their close friends. Honeymoon footage shows them blissfully happy on a speedboat in Miami, but eventually he is seen denouncing Amy for her lack of interest in his life. This was clearly another crushing blow. Tearful girlfriends talk of her ‘phoning to say “Sorry”, for her behaviour shortly before the end. At the depths of her career, photos show her hollowed features and emaciated figure and she appears, dazed and confused. Chat show hosts who welcomed her interviews are later seen openly deriding her afflictions: proof of the fickle nature of fame.

But there are plenty of upbeat moments celebrating her poignant vocals and seductive singing style in performances of “Stronger Than Me’, ‘Back to Black’ and ‘Frank’; her defiant hit ‘Rehab’ contrasts sharply with her negative views on celebrity in her ordinary North London speaking voice, that Jonathan Ross jokingly describes as “common”. And the film vaunts her exotic beauty, raven locks and emerald eyes blinking suggestively in her signature eye-liner as she poses sensuously at the microphone, then playfully screwing up her features with irritation as a female interviewer bores on to her about Dido.

In the end, Kapadia’s respectful and polished documentary shows the glory and the tragedy of this vulnerable and gifted young woman, saddened by her parent’s split, sullied by drugs and alcohol yet honest and convincing. Amy’s life may be an unfinished symphony but she leaves an enduring musical legacy.

Meredith Taylor is the Editor of online film magazine Filmuforia.co.uk. This review also appeared in the Hampstead and Highgate Express and Islington Gazette | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 13 -24 May 2 | AMY IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL|

* The home entertainment release contains some worthwhile additional features including  touching and intimate scenes (a tattoo is visible on her ring finger) of fresh-faced Amy riffing on her guitar and singing LOVE IS A LOSING GAME; YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD; REHAB 

* Deleted scenes of a US visit featuring producer Commissioner Gordon and Bob Marley’s ex-band members, a US ad lib recording session of Frank and the Back to Black recording session with Mark Ronson 

* Teaser trailer and UK trailer 

* Nearly 50 minutes of Blu-ray interviews with collaborators 

 

 

Lambert and Stamp (2014)

GettyImages_85360721 copyDirector: James D Cooper

With: Kit Lambert, Pete Townsend, Roger Daltrey, Chris Stamp, Richard Barnes, Robert Fearnley Whittingstall

118min   Music Documentary    US

Kit Lambert and Christopher Stamp shaped the early years of one of England’s greatest rock bands that was The Who. James D. Cooper’s enjoyable documentary traces the partnership of this unlikely couple, who are no longer around but whose memory lives on, in this affectionate portrait featuring band members: Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey, and Stamp’s elder brother, the actor Terence. Chris also makes an expansive and charismatic appearance and it’s only later that you realise that he died in 2012. Clearly this well-researched film. with its superb editing by Christopher Tellefsen, has been a long time in the making.

Watching Lambert & Stamp the phrase “the past is a different country ” frequently springs to mind. Not only did they do things differently back in the Swinging Sixties, but life seemed simpler then and a great deal more fun. This heady conconction of black and white photos, archive footage and musical excerpts charts the days of the Mods and Rockers and Swinging London that formed the genesis in 1964 of The High Numbers, later known as The Who.

Lambert and Stamp were two highly unorthodox characters who together forged a relationship that was to make these media entrepreneurs into successful record producers in the world of Rock. Yet Kit Lambert couldn’t have come from a more illustrious and upmarket background. The son of classical composer Constant Lambert, he was born in Knightsbridge and educated at Lancing College and Oxford and spoke French and German – we see him conversing fluently in TV interviews. In contrast, Stamp grew up in the East End, one of five children whose father was a tugboat captain on the Thames. Meeting in Shepperton Studios, where they both fostered dreams of graduating from directing assistants to fully-fledged film directors, they were drawn together by a remarkable synergy, sharing an interest for French New Wave. Their original aim was make a film about a music band and were searching around with this idea that would provide them with an entrée into the film world as directors. Townshend reflects that “irreverence” is probably the wrong word to describe their approach to managing the band, since that would imply that they weren’t treating the endeavour seriously. But may be this laissez-faire style was just right in handling these young and rebellious men and moulding them into rocks stars. And although Lambert was frightfully classy his manner is described by all the band members as warm and approachable. Being gay, he was also unthreatening to the other men. Although Daltrey claims, jokingly, to have been slightly miffed that Lambert never made an approach, making him feeling “unattractive”. In another hilarious moment, Townsend’s school chum, Richard Barnes, claims that, Kit, a chain-smoker: “used one match in his whole life to light his first cigarette” which he was apparently offered at the age of 9 by one of his father’s friends. Kit had worked as a crew member on The Guns of Navarone, Tommy and To Russia With Love.  Terence Stamp describes his brother as “a rough, tough fighting sort of spiv,” whose interest in girls was helped, undoubtedly, by his gift of the gab and unruly mop of dark hair. Even in his seventies, his hair turned white, he exudes a voluble appeal. 

Cooper ‘s documentary is replete with nearly two hours of amusing anecdotes and moving moments that coalesce in this candid and fascinating exposé of the band, the personalities and the sixties .Although this era has already been well-documented (and dramatised in the 1979 film  Quadrophenia), Cooper still finds something new and worthwhile to bring to the party of the sixties popular music revolution that also embraced The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. MT

LAMBERT AND STAMP IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 MAY 2015

Heaven Adores You (2014)

Dir.: Nickolas Dylan Rossi   DoP: Jeremiah Gurzi

Documentary; USA 2014, 104.min.

Nickolas Rossi’s debut documentary, which he also co-photographed, is an earnest and very soulful insight into the life of singer and songwriter Elliott Smith (1969-2003), whose melancholic and often nihilistic ballads are played against a background of the places Smith inhabited, mainly Portland, Oregon. The greatest strengths of the film are the long shots of urban life, often at night, giving the documentary a noirish quality, quited suited to Smith’s personality and the unclear circumstances of his untimely death.

Elliott Smith was born in Omaha, Nebraska, his parents divorced when he was six month old and Elliott was raised in Duncanville, Texas. His childhood was very traumatic, he did not get on with his stepfather, and it emerges that music became an outlet for his psychological troubles. In Portland he was to become part of the punk rock scene in the early 1990s, culminating in him playing and singing for “Heatmiser”.  But it soon became clear, that his talents were best served as a solo artist, and he was, at the beginning of his career, often compared to Paul Simon. His first release “Roman Candle” (1994), was followed two years later with his first film score for “Lucky Three: an Elliott Smith Portrait”.  Smith’ next album “Either/Or” gave much insight into the psyche of the songwriter: the title is from a two part volume of the Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegard, an early existentialist, whose main topics were angst, death and the questionable existence of God.

His link with the  film world came in 1997 when he wrote “Miss Misery” for Gus Van Sant’s movie Good Will Hunting, and was nominated for an Oscar. At the Oscar ceremony in March 1998, he played the song, finding the occasion very “absurd”, and not minding that he did not win. Further albums like “XO” and “Figure 8” (2000) established him as a star. Like many artists, Elliott Smith was a shy person who hated touring and interviews and after he moved to New York in 1998, his psychological problems worsened, as did his alcohol and drug dependency. In California, his condition deteriorated even more, though he wrote the song “Needle in the Hay” for Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tannenbaums (2001). On his 34th birthday on August the 6th 2003, he gave up drugs and alcohol after many failed treatments but, ironically, he was to die of two stab wounds in his chest, later that year and the inquest left an open verdict. At the time he was living with his partner Jennifer Chiba in Echo Park, California.

Song titles like “Everything Means Nothing To Me’ and “Ballad of Big Nothing” are not the only sign of Smith’ vulnerability: even though HEAVEN ADORES YOU interviewed many friends and musician (among them Joanna Bolme, for whom Smith wrote the ambivalent love song “Say Yes”), nobody seems to have known Elliott and he remains an enigma for everyone he met. The motifs of nomadic wandering, solitude and melancholia captured in the dark images of Portland, New York and Los Angeles are the nearest we will ever get to a man, whose introspective nature collided with his status: “I’m the wrong kind of person to be really big and famous”. AS

HEAVEN ADORES YOU ELLIOTT SMITH IS ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 7 MAY 2015

 

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Director: Brett Morgan


132 minutes (US) MUSICAL BIOPIC  

Over 20 years after his death, what is the enduring appeal of Kurt Cobain? Does it speak of the anodyne, characterless musical landscape du jour that we are still so enamoured with his rise and fall? Or is it simply down to appreciation of a musical visionary? Alternatively, is it the gruesome romance of suicide; the garish, tragic apex of that stereotyped notion of the tortured artist? Or a complex compound of the two?

Presented as a HBO production, Montage of Heck is the latest in a substantial line of documentaries to look into the late icon’s life. Rather than the probing, but ultimately unauthorised, illegitimate and dissatisfying Nick Broomfield doc Kurt & Courtney (1998), director Brett Morgen’s film secures a modicum of legitimacy due to the calibre of its witnesses and previously unseen video footage.

It is a film that is ghoulish, schizophrenic and chaotic. As the follow up to his jumbled and only partially successful 2013 Rolling Stones film Crossfire Hurricane, Morgan’s latest suffers from similar failings. Clocking in with considerable heft at 132 minutes, he certainly hasn’t scrimped on detail. Most of the main players in the Kurt story are present and (depending on perception) correct, bar one notable absentee in the form of Kurt’s former drummer, and now full time founding Foo Fighter, Dave Grohl. Interest is undeniably piqued upon hearing testimony from his mother and father, alongside his old bass player Krist Novoselic and former girlfriends, which include the ever candid Courtney Love. They offer a window into the teenage and adult Cobain like never before.

So far, so interesting. It is with considerable disappointment, therefore, that the residual impression left by this documentary is a negative one. Aside from this writer’s considerable ethical issue and umbrage with the work (as outlined below), Montage of Heck is sprawling and undisciplined.

For a band whose catalogue only contains one song that ends on a fade out, this is the antithesis of their focused, no-frills ethos. At times, it is far too digressive and takes those digressive turns in the wrong places. If Kurt’s notes portray concern at violation, then he would be horrified by this work. It is guilty of raiding, ransacking and violating his personal, private moments whilst his corpse gathers dust.

You may not need to see Montage of Heck to have formed the opinion that the Love/Cobain relationship was toxic. You can read enough articles to construct that opinion vicariously. However, to see the home video footage is to really ram the point home. As Courtney openly confesses her heroin consumption during her pregnancy, she also recounts how Kurt stated, ‘I’m going to get to $3m and then become a junkie’. It is all rather sad, and it is the Love material that makes matters particularly uncomfortable, as this slide towards the abyss gathers pace.

It takes a strong stomach not to squirm at the footage of Kurt and Courtney kissing in extreme close-up or wallowing around in the narcotic den that formed their home; blissfully out of their not so pretty (at the time) heads in a druggy haze. Such intimate and frequently unflattering moments are dredged up time and time again. It is increasingly disquieting to witness and exacerbates the feeling that the audience is being subjected to a voyeuristic trip that feels improper; like a Peeping Tom.

It isn’t all negative though. Aside from clips of the familiar (for example, the blistering Reading festival headline performance from 1992), what could have been presented as a whisper of a memory from friends and relatives, is frequently enhanced by the drawings, audio clips and super 8 home video footage (which, for better, or the worse as outlined above, is a treasure trove). It is worth checking out the fleeting sound check footage that hints at the historical lack of love lost between Dave Grohl and Love. It is fascinating. Further, the ad hoc utilisation of animated sequences to provide a bridge to many of the excerpts lifted from Kurt’s diaries and other such voiceover accompaniment is visually arresting and effective.

Montage of Heck, for all of its faults, represents another coup for a filmmaker who is making a habit of securing great access to the great and the good within the hallowed halls of rock history. The debate can rage on as to whether the world needed to peel the curtain behind the public persona of Cobain as it does here. Maybe the elusive enigma that hitherto prompted endless conjecture on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ on his suicide benefited from a lack of video disclosure. Instead of conjuring nostalgia and sadness, the film – either intentionally or not – pops the bubble of romance. In doing so, it shows the dark(est) underbelly of this musical giant. Greg Wetherall.

IN CINEMAS FROM 10 APRIL 2015

Radio On (1979)

images-3Director: Chris Petit

Writer: Chris Petit, Heidi Adolph

104min   Drama | Music  UK

Cast: David Beames, Lisa Kreuzer, Sandy Ratcliff, Sting,

With funding from Wim Wenders and his cinematographer Martin Schäfer, British director Christopher Petit’s first feature could hardly have been shot in colour. Indeed, black and white seems particularly fitting for the sombre and troubled tone of this endearing seventies road movie. With shades of Get Carter, without the stars, it sees David Beames (as Robert) driving from London to Bristol to check out the mysterious death of his brother. Under murky, sleet-soaked skies, the dismal journey has Robert searching for his own identity in a dispondent Britain where he fails to engage with anyone he meets along the way: an ex-soldier, a woman looking for her child and a child punk rocker. Accompanied by an iconic soundtrack comprising David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, Lena Lovich and a wonderful vignette from Sting, posing as a garage mechanic in the depths of Wiltshire; Robert’s failure to communicate with the disenfranchised seems, even then, to reflect the malaise now emblematic of the way we live in Britain today. The journey ends as bitterly as it began, with his Rover stalling and peters out on the edge of a desolate quarry. Raw and chilly, this sneering piece of British cinema raises an idiosyncratic question-mark, that still remains unanswered today. MT

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REVIEWED AT THE AUTEUR FILM FESTIVAL, CURZON BLOOMSBURY

Sundance 2015| 22 January – 1 February 2015 | Winners

SUNDANCE is the first major film festival of the year; a true indie festival coming to you from snowy Utah courtesy of its founder Robert Redford. Setting the benchmark for independent titles in 2015, SUNDANCE focuses on excellence in screenplays and  innovativeness in cinematography: each filmmaker is put their paces before their film can be considered in competition. Unlike the Academy Awards, SUNDANCE is purely about talent. We have highlighted the buzzworthy titles in RED and winners – watch out for them!

BEST FILMS

Grand Jury Prize: DramaticMe & Earl & the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Grand Jury Prize: DocumentaryThe Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle

World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic Slow West by John Maclean

World Cinema Jury Prize: DocumentaryThe Russian Woodpecker by Chad Gracia

Special Jury Prize for Breakout First Feature: Documentary – Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe for (T)error

BEST DIRECTORS 

Directing Award: Dramatic – Robert Eggers for The Witch

Directing Award: Documentary – Matthew Heineman for Cartel Land

World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic – Alanté Kavaïté for The Summer of Sangailé

World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary – Kim Longinotto for Dreamcatcher

BEST SCRIPTS, CINEMATOGRAPHY and ACTING

Best Script: Waldo Salt Screenwriting AwardTim Talbott for The Stanford Prison Experiment

Cinematography Award: Documentary – Matthew Heineman and Matt Porwoll for Cartel Land

Cinematography Award: DramaPartisan 

World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting: Dramatic – Regina Casé and Camila Márdila for The Second Mother

World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting: DramaticJack Reynor for Glassland

AUDIENCE AWARDS 

World Cinema Audience Award: DramaticUmrika by Prashant Nair
World Cinema Audience Award: DocumentaryDark Horse by Louise Osmond

Audience Award: Documentary Meru by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Audience Award: DramaticMe & Earl & the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Best of NEXT Audience AwardJames White by Josh Mond

U .S.   D R A M A T I C   C O M P E T I T I O N

advantageADVANTAGEOUS  / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Phang, Screenwriters: Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang) — In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter, Jules, do all they can to hold on to their joy, despite the instability surfacing in their world. Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim.

Bronze_still1_MelissaRauch__byScottHenriksen_2014-11-26_12-58-37PMTHE BRONZE / U.S.A. (Director: Bryan Buckley, Screenwriters: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch) — In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory became an American hero after winning the bronze medal for the women’s gymnastics team. Today, she’s still living in her small hometown, washed-up and embittered. Stuck in the past, Hope must reassess her life when a promising young gymnast threatens her local celebrity status. Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong. 

DTrain_still1_JamesMarsden_JackBlack__byHilaryBronwynGayle_2014-11-26_11-21-28AMTHE D TRAIN / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel) — With his 20th reunion looming, Dan can’t shake his high school insecurities. In a misguided mission to prove he’s changed, Dan rekindles a friendship with the popular guy from his class and is left scrambling to protect more than just his reputation when a wild night takes an unexpected turn. Cast: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike White, Kyle Bornheimer.

DiaryofaTeenageGirl_still1_BelPowley_AlexanderSkarsgrd__bySamEmerson_2014-11-26_06-23-30PMTHE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Marielle Heller) — Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend. Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig.

DOPE/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Rick Famuyiwa) — Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.

ISmileBack_still6_SarahSilverman_JoshCharles__byEricLin_2014-11-27_03-52-36PMI SMILE BACK / U.S.A. (Director: Adam Salky, Screenwriters: Amy Koppelman, Paige Dylan) —Laney Brooks does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption. Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron, Terry Kinney, Chris Sarandon.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl / U.S.A. (Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Screenwriter: Jesse Andrews) is getting some great reviews, judging by the buzz currently coming out the festival crowd. Greg is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon. WINTER : Audience Award: Dramatic

TheOvernight_still1_TaylorSchilling__2014-11-26_11-05-32AM

THE OVERNIGHT / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Patrick Brice) — In an attempt to acclimate to Los Angeles, a young couple spends an increasingly bizarre evening with the parents of their son’s new friend. Cast: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche.

PEOPLE, PLACES, THINGS/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: James C. Strouse) — Will Henry is a newly single graphic novelist balancing being a parent to his young twin daughters and teaching a classroom full of college students, all the while trying to navigate the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him. Cast: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall, Stephanie Allynne, Jessica Williams, Gia Gadsby, Aundrea Gadsby.

RESULTS / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski) — Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client. Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker.

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SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chloé Zhao) — This complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation explores the bond between a brother and his younger sister, who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home. Cast: John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Irene Bedard, Taysha Fuller, Travis Lone Hill, Eléonore Hendricks.

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT / U.S.A. (Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Screenwriter: Tim Talbott) — Based on the actual events that took place in 1971, when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time. Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Olivia Thirlby. BEST SCRIPT

STOCKHOLM, PENNSYLVANIA/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nikole Beckwith) — A young woman is returned home to her biological parents after living with her abductor for 17 years. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, David Warshofsky.

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UNEXPECTED / U.S.A. (Director: Kris Swanberg, Screenwriters: Kris Swanberg, Megan Mercier) — When Samantha Abbott begins her final semester teaching science at a Chicago high school, she faces some unexpected news: she’s pregnant. Soon after, Samantha learns that one of her favorite students, Jasmine, has landed in a similar situation. Unexpected follows the two women as they embark on an unlikely friendship. Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern.

THE WITCH/ U.S.A., Canada (Director and screenwriter: Robert Eggers) — Another buzzworthy title at this year’s festival is set in New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood. Cast: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger.

Z FOR ZACHARIAH / U.S.A. (Director: Craig Zobel, Screenwriter: Nissar Modi) — In a post-apocalyptic world, a young woman who believes she is the last human on Earth meets a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another survivor appears. As the two men compete for the woman’s affection, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine.

best of enemyU .S.  D O C U M E N T A R Y   C O M P E T I T I O N

Sixteen world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.

3½ MINUTES / U.S.A. (Director: Marc Silver) — On November 23, 2012, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot at a Jacksonville gas station by Michael David Dunn. 3½ MINUTES explores the aftermath of Jordan’s tragic death, the latent and often unseen effects of racism, and the contradictions of the American criminal justice system.

BEING EVIL / U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Junge) —Millions know the man, but few know his story. Academy Award-winner Daniel Junge (Saving Face) and actor/producer Johnny Knoxville reveal an unprecedented and candid look at American daredevil and icon Robert “Evel” Knievel. Being Evel is a surprising tale about a childhood hero…flaws and all.

BEST OF ENEMIES U.S.A. (Directors: Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon) — Best of Enemies is a behind-the-scenes account of the explosive 1968 televised debates between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr., and their rancorous disagreements about politics, God, and sex.

call me luckCALL ME LUCKY / U.S.A. (Director: Bobcat Goldthwait) — Barry Crimmins was a volatile but brilliant bar comic who became an honored peace activist and influential political satirist. Famous comedians and others build a picture of a man who underwent an incredible transformation.

CARTEL LAND/ U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Matthew Heineman) — In this classic Western set in the 21st century, vigilantes on both sides of the border fight the vicious Mexican drug cartels. With unprecedented access, this character-driven film provokes deep questions about lawlessness, the breakdown of order, and whether citizens should fight violence with violence. Directing Award: Documentary 

CityofGold_headshot2_LauraGabbert_byJerryHenry_2014-11-26_02-27-10PMCITY OF GOLD/ U.S.A. (Director: Laura Gabbert) — Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold casts his light upon a vibrant and growing cultural movement in which he plays the dual roles of high-low priest and culinary geographer of his beloved Los Angeles.

FINDERS KEEPERS / U.S.A. (Directors: Bryan Carberry, Clay Tweel) — Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction and believes it to therefore be his rightful property.

HOT GIRLS WANTED / U.S.A. (Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus) — Hot Girls Wanted is a first-ever look at the realities inside the world of the amateur porn industry and the steady stream of 18- and 19-year-old girls entering into it.

HotGirlsWanted_still1_Tressa__byRonnaGradus_2014-11-27_12-50-07AMHOW TO DANCE IN OHIO / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandra Shiva) — In Columbus, Ohio, a group of teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum prepare for an iconic American rite of passage — a spring formal. They spend 12 weeks practicing their social skills in preparation for the dance at a local nightclub.

LARRY KRAMER IN LOVE AND ANGER / U.S.A. (Director: Jean Carlomusto) — Author, activist, and playwright Larry Kramer is one of the most important and controversial figures in contemporary gay America, a political firebrand who gave voice to the outrage and grief that inspired gay men and lesbians to fight for their lives. At 78, this complicated man still commands our attention.

Meru_still2_ConradAnker_JimmyChin__byRenanOzturk_2014-11-26_03-22-12PMMERU / U.S.A. (Directors: Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vasarhelyi) — Three elite mountain climbers sacrifice everything but their friendship as they struggle through heartbreaking loss and nature’s harshest elements to attempt the never-before-completed Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the most coveted first ascent in the dangerous game of Himalayan big wall climbing. Audience Award: Dramatic 

RACING EXTINCTION / U.S.A. (Director: Louie Psihoyos) — Academy Award-winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) assembles a unique team to show the world never-before-seen images that expose issues surrounding endangered species and mass extinction. Whether infiltrating notorious black markets or exploring humans’ effect on the environment, Racing Extinction will change the way you see the world.

(T)ERROR/ U.S.A. (Directors: Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe) — (T)ERROR is the first film to document on camera a covert counterterrorism sting as it unfolds. Through the perspective of *******, a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned FBI informant, viewers are given an unprecedented glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics, and the murky justifications behind them. BEST BREAKOUT FILM 

WELCOME TO LEITH / U.S.A. (Directors: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker) — A white supremacist attempts to take over a small town in North Dakota.

westernWESTERN / U.S.A., Mexico (Directors: Bill Ross, Turner Ross) — For generations, all that distinguished Eagle Pass, Texas, from Piedras Negras, Mexico, was the Rio Grande. But when darkness descends upon these harmonious border towns, a cowboy and lawman face a new reality that threatens their way of life. Western portrays timeless American figures in the grip of unforgiving change.

THE WOLFPACK / U.S.A. (Director: Crystal Moselle) — Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and recreate meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning worldGrand Jury Prize: Documentary

W  O  R  L  D    C  I  N  E  M  A    D  R  A  M  A  T  I  C    C  O  M  P  E  T  I  T  I  O  N

Twelve films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

CLORO (Chlorine) / Italy (Director: Lamberto Sanfelice, Screenwriters: Lamberto Sanfelice, Elisa Amoruso) — Jenny, 17, dreams of becoming a synchronized swimmer. Family events turn her life upside down and she is forced to move to a remote area to look after her ill father and younger brother. It won’t be long before Jenny starts pursuing her dreams again. Cast: Sara Serraiocco, Ivan Franek, Giorgio Colangeli, Anatol Sassi, Piera Degli Esposti, Andrea Vergoni. World Premiere

chorusCHORUS/ Canada (Director and screenwriter: François Delisle) ­— A separated couple meet again after 10 years when the body of their missing son is found. Amid the guilt of losing a loved one, they hesitantly move toward affirmation of life, acceptance of death, and even the possibility of reconciliation. Cast: Sébastien Ricard, Fanny Mallette, Pierre Curzi, Genevieve Bujold. World Premiere

GLASSLAND/ Ireland (Director and screenwriter: Gerard Barrett) — In a desperate attempt to reunite his broken family, a young taxi driver becomes entangled in the criminal underworld. Cast: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley. International Premiere.  World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting:Jack Reynor 

HOMESICK/ Norway (Director: Anne Sewitsky, Screenwriters: Ragnhild Tronvoll, Anne Sewitsky) — When Charlotte, 27, meets her brother Henrik, 35, for the first time, two people who don’t know what a normal family is begin an encounter without boundaries. How does sibling love manifest itself if you have never experienced it before? Cast: Ine Marie Wilmann, Simon J. Berger, Anneke von der Lippe, Silje Storstein, Oddgeir Thune, Kari Onstad. World Premiere

Ivy_headshot1_TolgaKaracelik_byunknownIVY/ Turkey (Director and screenwriter: Tolga Karaçelik) — Sarmasik is sailing to Egypt when the ship’s owner goes bankrupt. The crew learns there is a lien on the ship, and key crew members must stay on board. Ivy is the story of these six men trapped on the ship for days. Cast: Nadir Sarıbacak, Özgür Emre Yıldırım, Hakan Karsak, Kadir Çermik, Osman Alkaş, Seyithan Özdemiroğlu. World Premiere

PARTISAN/ Australia (Director: Ariel Kleiman, Screenwriters: Ariel Kleiman, Sarah Cyngler) — Alexander is like any other kid: playful, curious and naive. He is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world filtered through his father, Gregori. As Alexander begins to think for himself, creeping fears take shape, and Gregori’s idyllic world unravels. Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara. World Dramatic Award for Cinematography.

PRINCESS / Israel (Director and screenwriter: Tali Shalom Ezer) — While her mother is away from home, 12-year-old Adar’s role-playing games with her stepfather move into dangerous territory. Seeking an escape, Adar finds Alan, an ethereal boy that accompanies her on a dark journey between reality and fantasy. Cast: Keren Mor, Shira Haas, Ori Pfeffer, Adar Zohar Hanetz. International Premiere

THE SECOND MOTHER / Brazil (Director and screenwriter: Anna Muylaert) — Having left her daughter, Jessica, to be raised by relatives in the north of Brazil, Val works as a loving nanny in São Paulo. When Jessica arrives for a visit 13 years later, she confronts her mother’s slave-like attitude and everyone in the house is affected by her unexpected behavior. Cast: Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli. World Premiere

SlowWest_still1_MichaelFassbender_KodiSmitMcPhee__byNA_2014-11-26_10-36-58AMSLOW WEST / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: John Maclean) — Set at the end of the nineteenth century, 16-year-old Jay Cavendish journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. He is joined by Silas, a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw along the way. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann. World Premiere. World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic  WINNER

STRANGER LAND / Australia, Ireland (Director: Kim Farrant, Screenwriters: Fiona Seres, Michael Kinirons) — When Catherine and Matthew Parker’s two teenage kids disappear into the remote Australian desert, the couple’s relationship is pushed to the brink as they confront the mystery of their children’s fate. Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown. World Premiere

THE SUMMER OF SANGAILE/ Lithuania, France, Holland (Director and screenwriter: Alanté Kavaïté) — Seventeen-year-old Sangaile is fascinated by stunt planes. She meets a girl her age at the summer aeronautical show, nearby her parents’ lakeside villa. Sangaile allows Auste to discover her most intimate secret and in the process finds in her teenage love, the only person that truly encourages her to fly. Cast: Julija Steponaitytė, Aistė Diržiūtė. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM. World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic – Alanté Kavaïté

UMRIKA / India (Director and screenwriter: Prashant Nair) — When a young village boy discovers that his brother, long believed to be in America, has actually gone missing, he begins to invent letters on his behalf to save their mother from heartbreak, all the while searching for him. Cast: Suraj Sharma, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang, Prateik Babbar. World Premiere. World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic 

Sembene_still4_OusmaneSembeneandSambaGadjigo__byLisaCarpenter_2014-11-26_11-18-17AMW  O  R  L  D    C  I  N  E  M  A    D  O  C  U  M  E  N  T  A  R  Y    C  O  M  P  E  T  I  T  I  O  N

Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working today.

THE AMINA PROFILE / Canada (Director: Sophie Deraspe) — During the Arab revolution, a love story between two women — a Canadian and a Syrian American — turns into an international sociopolitical thriller spotlighting media excesses and the thin line between truth and falsehood on the Internet. World Premiere

CENSORED VOICES / Israel, Germany (Director: Mor Loushy) — One week after the 1967 Six-Day War, renowned author Amos Oz and editor Avraham Shapira recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. The Israeli army censored the recordings, allowing only a fragment of the conversations to be published. Censored Voices reveals these recordings for the first time. World Premiere

ChineseMayor_still4_Genglookingatthecity__byqi_2014-11-25_04-17-01PMTHE CHINESE MAYOR/ China (Director: Hao Zhou) — Mayor Geng Yanbo is determined to transform the coal-mining center of Datong, in China’s Shanxi province, into a tourism haven showcasing clean energy. In order to achieve that, however, he has to relocate 500,000 residences to make way for the restoration of the ancient city. World Premiere

Chuck Norris vs Communism / United Kingdom, Romania, Germany (Director: Ilinca Calugareanu) — In 1980s Romania, thousands of Western films smashed through the Iron Curtain, opening a window to the free world for those who dared to look. A black market VHS racketeer and courageous female translator brought the magic of film to the masses and sowed the seeds of a revolution. World Premiere

DarkHorse_headshot1_LouiseOsmond_byDozWilcox_2014-11-25_04-47-10AMDARK HORSE / United Kingdom (Director: Louise Osmond) — Dark Horse is the inspirational true story of a group of friends from a workingman’s club who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed themselves a racehorse. Showing how animals can unite the community in a common interest and cause, Osmond’s film has been well-received at the festival’s first showings. World Premiere

DREAMCATCHER/ United Kingdom (Director: Kim Longinotto) — Dreamcatcher takes us into a hidden world seen through the eyes of one of its survivors, Brenda Myers-Powell. A former teenage prostitute, Brenda defied the odds to become a powerful advocate for change in her community. With warmth and humor, Brenda gives hope to those who have none. World Premiere – World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary – SEE OUR ROTTERDAM REVIEW

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD/ United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Jerry Rothwell) — In 1971, a group of friends sails into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world’s imagination. Using rare, archival footage that brings their extraordinary world to life, How to Change the World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

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LISTEN TO ME, MARLON / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Stevan Riley, Co-writer: Peter Ettedgui) — With exclusive access to previously unheard audio archives, this is the definitive Marlon Brando cinema documentary. Charting his exceptional career and extraordinary life away from the stage and screen, the film fully explores the complexities of the man by telling the story uniquely in Marlon’s own voice. World Premiere

PervertPark_still1_BillFuery__byLasseBarkfors_2014-11-20_07-06-45AMPERVERT PARK/ Sweden, Denmark (Directors: Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors) — Pervert Park follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed. International Premiere

THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER / United Kingdom (Director: Chad Gracia) — A Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life by revealing it, amid growing clouds of revolution and war. World PremiereWorld Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary 

RUSSIANWOODPECKER_still2_FedorAlexandrovich__byArtemRyzhykov_2014-11-20_05-25-34PMSEMBENE! / U.S.A., Senegal (Directors: Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman) — In 1952, Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese dockworker and fifth-grade dropout, began dreaming an impossible dream: to become the storyteller for a new Africa. This true story celebrates how the “father of African cinema,” against enormous odds, fought a monumental, 50-year-long battle to give Africans a voice. World Premiere

THE VISIT/ Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Finland, Norway (Director: Michael Madsen) — “This film documents an event that has never taken place…” With unprecedented access to the United Nations’ Office for Outer Space Affairs, leading space scientists and space agencies, The Visit explores humans’ first encounter with alien intelligent life and thereby humanity itself. “Our scenario begins with the arrival. Your arrival.” World Premiere

N  E  X  T

Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema. Presented by Adobe.

BOB AND THE TREES/ U.S.A., France (Director: Diego Ongaro, Screenwriters: Diego Ongaro, Courtney Maum, Sasha Statman-Weil) — Bob, a 50-year-old logger in rural Massachusetts with a soft spot for golf and gangsta rap, is struggling to make ends meet in a changed economy. When his beloved cow is wounded and a job goes awry, Bob begins to heed the instincts of his ever-darkening self. Cast: Bob Tarasuk, Matt Gallagher, Polly MacIntyre, Winthrop Barrett, Nathaniel Gregory. World Premiere

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CHRISTMAS, AGAIN / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Charles Poekel) — A heartbroken Christmas tree salesman returns to New York, hoping to put the past year behind him. He spends the season living in a trailer and working the night shift, until a mysterious woman and some colorful customers rescue him from self-destruction. Cast: Kentucker Audley, Hannah Gross, Jason Shelton, Oona Roche. North American Premiere

CRONIES/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Larnell) — Twenty-two-year-old Louis doesn’t know whether his childhood friendship with Jack will last beyond today. Cast: George Sample III, Zurich Buckner, Brian Kowalski. World Premiere

Entertainment_Still_2_16bit__1_ENTERTAINMENT / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Gregg Turkington, Tim Heidecker) — En route to meeting with his estranged daughter, in an attempt to revive his dwindling career, a broken, aging comedian plays a string of dead-end shows in the Mojave Desert. Cast: Gregg Turkington, John C. Reilly, Tye Sheridan, Michael Cera, Amy Seimetz, Lotte Verbeek. World Premiere

H. / U.S.A., Argentina (Directors and screenwriters: Rania Attieh, Daniel Garcia) — Two women, each named Helen, find their lives spinning out of control after a meteor allegedly explodes over their city of Troy, New York. Cast: Robin Bartlett, Rebecca Dayan, Will Janowitz, Julian Gamble, Roger Robinson. World Premiere

JAMES WRIGHT/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Josh Mond) — A young New Yorker struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges. Cast: Chris Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, David Call. World Premiere. BEST OF NEXT AWARD

NASTY BABY / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sebastian Silva) — A gay couple try to have a baby with the help of their best friend, Polly. The trio navigates the idea of creating life while confronted by unexpected harassment from a neighborhood man called The Bishop. As their clashes grow increasingly aggressive, odds are someone is getting hurt. Cast: Sebastian Silva, Kristin Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis, Reg E. Cathey. World Premiere

THE STRONGEST MAN / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kenny Riches) — An anxiety-ridden Cuban man who fancies himself the strongest man in the world attempts to recover his most prized possession, a stolen bicycle. On his quest, he finds and loses much more. Cast: Robert Lorie, Paul Chamberlain, Ashly Burch, Patrick Fugit, Lisa Banes. World Premiere

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Sobel) — A naive California teen plans to remain above the fray at his Nebraskan family reunion, but a strange encounter places him at the center of a long-buried family secret. Cast: Logan Miller, Robin Weigert, Josh Hamilton, Richard Schiff, Ursula Parker, Azura Skye. World Premiere

Tangerine_still1_SeanBaker__byRadium_2014-11-26_03-37-07PMTANGERINE / U.S.A. (Director: Sean Baker, Screenwriters: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch) — A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart. Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanyan, James Ransone. World Premiere – 

SUNDANCE RUNS FROM 22 JANUARY UNTIL 1 FEBRUARY 2015 IN PARK CITY, UTAH, AMERICA

No Manifesto: A Film About the Manic Street Preachers (2015)

Director: Elizabeth Marcus

With James Dean Bradfield, Richey Edwards, Sean Moore, Nicky Wire

96min  Biopic Documentary  UK

Better known for her work behind the scenes in Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 11, Elizabeth Marcus’s directorial debut, 12 years in the making, is a biopic of this popular Welsh band, whose original intention was to sell 16 million copies of their first album before splitting up. Of course this never happened and here Marcus tells their story from their 2005 ‘Past-Present-Future’ tour right through to the present day workings of the band.

Travelling from the Band’s hometown in South Glamorgan, the action travels to Europe and the US, consisting of a collage of interviews with band members James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore intercut with musical moments, live footage of rehearsals and impressions from enthusiastic fans. Those expecting a filmed concert such as we’ve seen recently with the biopics on Morrissey, Peter Gabriel and Duran, Duran, will be disappointed: the focus here is very much on the band members themselves as they share their thoughts, observations and hopes for the future and emphasis is put on the creative process with a ‘no holds barred’ approach. The band gave unprecedented access to Marcus and her crew and she offers up a fascinating and intimate insight that will appeal not only to fans but to anyone interested in popular music and the making of it. MT

No Manifesto will be released on 30 January with one night showings at Cardiff Chapter Cinema and Manchester Cornerhouse Cinema on January 30 and 31 respectively and at the Curzon cinemas London. A DVD release will follow in mid February 2015.

 

 

20 Hot Titles for 2015 | Indie | Arthouse film| Part 1

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP-2THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: The main reason to see this moving and ambitious biopic of our most famous living scientist Stephen Hawking, is that Eddie Redmayne’s is pure dynamite as the man himself. Combing through endless footage of the Professor Hawking’s voice recordings and photos, he literally inhabits his very being from early life at Cambridge right through to his epic achievements in the realm of Science. Co-Written by his wife, Jane Hawking. touchingly played by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman). Out on 1 January.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: If you’re ready for a grown-up thriller with a gripping storyline and fabulously crafted-performances, look no further this tightly-plotted, New York-based slow burner from J C Chandor (All Is Lost). Set in 1981, during the city’s most dangerous year for crime, if tells the story of an ambitious immigrant’s bitter fight for survival in a precarious and competitive world. Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davies) and Jessica Chastain star.  23 January 2015

Altman_1ALTMAN: There’s nothing to beat an absorbing biopic on a prolific film director, and this one eclipses them all. Ron Mann charts the story of Robert Altman’s career from his lucky first break, to his far-reaching TV work and finally his outstanding contribution to independent cinema. A pithy, poignant and highly-entertaining portrait. Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Elliott Gould and Paul Thomas Anderson reminisce to add ballast. T. B. A.

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THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: Peter Strickland’s edgy and inventive seventies-themed drama tackles the delicate subject of sexual dominance and submissiveness amid butterfly buffs in a  seventies-setting deep in the Hungarian counrtyside. Sidse Babett Knudsengarnered Best Actress for her portrayal of a lesbian with performance fatigue in this unsettling but yet darkly comic treasure. 20 February 2015

whitegodWHITE GOD (Feher Isten): ‘Superiority has become the privilege of white Western civilisation and it is nearly impossible for not to take advantage of it’. With this premise Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s invigorating drama WHITE GOD scratches at the edges of horror to create a richly inventive fable where dogs take over the city of Budapest. Starting out as gentle and harmless, the narrative gradually darkens into something morbid and frightening. No shaggy dog story here but certainly one to salivate over. 27 FEBRUARY

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THE LOOK OF SILENCE: Following on the heels of his devastating documentary about man’s evil to man, Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE is in some ways even more affecting. For a start, it’s running time of under two hours makes it a more manageable to engage with. Don’t be fooled though. Oppenheimer probes the killers much more harshly this time and elicits some unsettling revelations from the perpetrators and those affected by the terrifying regime in Indonesia. T. B. A.

downloadMACBETH: Roman Polanski was the last director successfully to adapt this most dark and sinister of Shakespeare’s plays. Here, Australian director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) casts Marion Cotillard as the chilling chateleine of Cawdor Castle playing alongside Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth as the fatefully ambitious couple whose ‘follie de grandeur’ leads them depose of Scotland’s King Duncan. T.B.A

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IT FOLLOWS; David Robert Mitchell’s latest film has emerged by general consensus amongst critics to be the most heart-thumpingly horrific indie thrillers of recent years. Simple in concept, this low-fi outing is inventive in creating a fairytale atmosphere in a modern-day setting. A must-see for all audiences. 27 FEBRUARY 2015

1001 NOITES: Tabu director Miguel Gomes is back with a re-working of the fabulous legend of Scheherazade locating his film in crisis-ridden present-day Portugal. Shifting between imagination and reality, the narrative takes on familiar elements to the original but  retains the same teasing quality that Scheherazade employed on the King. T.B.A.

PHOENIX 2013

PHOENIX: Christian Petzold’s heart-wrenching drama works cleverly as both a wartime love-story and an evergreen metaphor for regeneration and identity. Starring regular collaborators Ronald Zehrfeld (In Between Worlds) and Nina Hoss (Barbara) who gives the best rendition of ‘Speak Low’ known to mankind, it has also one of the most devastating climaxes of recent years. TBA

RELEASE DATES FOR ALL THESE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY.

 

 

 

20,000 Days on Earth (2014) | DVD release

Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard

With Nick Cave; Warren Ellis, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone

Documentary UK

Far from being a vanity project for musician Nick Cave, this is very much a tribute to the visually inventive talents of British filmmakers, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Brighton is also a prominent character seen through lowering skies as angry clouds drift by giving the piece a tormented and even impressionistic feel. Quite rightly so: it’s what you might expect from the life of an prodigiously creative (song)writer who has seen years of drug abuse and soul-searching finally to have come to rest in this prosaic Sussex coastal town with his wife and twin boys.

Thankfully, this is not a talking heads documentary. Most of the time the camera follows Cave: waking up in bed (fully clothed); venturing out in his comfy Jaguar; driving to his recording studios in a windswept seascape; performing and writing in the company of his fellow band members. Through confessions to his analyst a great deal is learnt about his formative years in Australia, his relationship with his father, who appears to have been a strong influence in his idyllic sunny childhood. One of the most memorable episodes is a magical sequence of dreamy prose where Cave describes his ‘love at first sight’ meeting with his wife, who remains an enigmatic presence.

20,000 Days of Earth feels like an intimate stream of consciousness from the musician himself: a biopic film noir with Cave as the charismatic villain. With his Goth hair and ghoulish persona, Cave emerges as both intellectual and rakish; outlandish yet extremely down to earth. But even if you haven’t heard of him or fail to appreciate his music: this is a film to watch and to enjoy. By the end we really enter his world and feel a understanding: and that’s the success of this watchable rockumentary. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 19 – 27 SEPTEMBER 2014

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 SEPTEMBER 2014 and from 20 October on DVD

 

 

Northern Soul (2014)

Director/Writer: Elaine Constantine

Steve Coogan, Antonia Thomas, Elliot James Langridge, Jack Gordon, Lisa Stansfield, Ricky Tomlinson

102min   UK     Drama/music

I remember the Seventies, and so does photographer turned director Elaine Constantine. Evoking her version of ‘up North, her memories are of rowdy disco nights with ‘yer mates, tentative snogs on the dance floor, of ‘fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that. A time of power cuts and miners’ strikes , of  T.S.O.P and Tamla Motown.

The narrative is linear and directionless, yet through it all emerges the essence of moody isolation and loneliness. A time when parents were angry and disciplinarian and kids felt fearful and frustrated. ‘Yer mum and dad’ weren’t you friends in those distant days, they’d sooner rap you on the back of head with a spoon and send you up to bed.

Elliot James Langridge is brilliantly cast as the lanky teenager John (he probably has acne but you can’t tell through the dim lighting), misunderstood by his parents and at logger heads with his teacher, Mr Banks, at the local Comp (although it’s unlikely he’d have given him the ‘f’ sign). Steve Coogan plays Mr Banks with swagger and savvy: he was there too and manages to rise above the teenage angst. When John meets Matt (Josh Whitehouse) down the ‘Youth Club’ they immediately bond and together discover a world of disco dancing, music gigs and girls – cue Antonia Thomas as ‘the nurse’. Although they all get on together superficially, there is little real camaraderie or chemistry between these underwritten characters, and this is where it all feels slightly unconvincing.

Where Northern Soul works best is in the club scenes where the old hits blare and the alchemy of the seventies gets a chance to percolate and produce a visceral kick that takes us straight back to our early teenage years. Originally intended as a musical documentary, it would certainly have worked better that way: Constantine certainly knows how to create a cult classic feel and mix the vibes that rocked those furtive pubescent years, wherever you were. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 OCTOBER 2014

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Finding Fela (2014)

Director: Alex Gibney

119min   US   Documentary

Well-known, prolific documentary-maker Alex Gibney has recently given us Mea Maxima Culpa; Julian Assange in Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets and Lance Armstrong (The Armstrong Lie). This time he turns his camera on the Nigerian political activist and prolific musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

Born into a Nigeria’s elite in a wealthy and educated family in 1938, the enigmatic and colourful Kuti and his feared band, the Koola Lobitos, dominate the music scene in Nigeria in the 1970s and 80s with his self-styled ‘Afrobeat’ – music: a mélange of jazz, soul and funk beats, the best known of which is the album “Zombie”. Gibney scrabbles around piecing together patchy footage of this maverick music-maker, flitting between his political life and ‘art’. Often tuneless and meandering on for hours, the musical tracks and performances of this trance-like genre never really reach a climax yet somehow these rhythmic vibes lead listeners to the mysterious, exotic heart of deepest, darkest Africa conjuring up a world largely unknown to audiences in the sixties and seventies.

Gibney’s film takes on this meandering style, sprawling through the life of the man he calls ‘a visionary’ but also who appears sinister and dark.  Told alongside excerpts from New York choreographer Bill T Jones’s lively Broadway musical ‘Fela!’, which offers much information about his band’s dance methods and style, Gibney fills in the gaps with archive footage and interviews (from Paul McCartney) which are more formal in nature, telling of his family background in Lagos (where he learnt to play classical piano) and subsequent performances at his ‘Shrine’ club in the capital, although there is scant information on his musical influences apart from a cursory mention of ‘Jay Z’ .

What emerges is a mercurial personality who seems rebellious and provocative by nature, highly duplicitous yet rather traditional; peddling an anti-establishment populist agenda for human rights in his country yet at the same time cutting a large swathe through Lagos’s nubile scene and marrying 27 women in one ceremony, behind the back of the woman he was already happily married to at the time (and father to her children).  Yet women had a benign influence over him from early on: his strong mother (an feminist lawyer whom he worshipped) and his long-term lover Sandra Izsadore, an African-American Black Power campaigner, give interviews and seem to be articulate and highly appealing individuals. His academics brothers trained as doctors and seem very calm and serious. Gibney compares him to Bob Marley, but there is little of Bob Marley’s charm, infectious charisma and musical legacy to this figure, whose music seems largely unknown in the West for obvious reasons that will emerge: coming away you feel unengaged and slightly bemused in contrast to the positively uplifting experience of Marley (2013).

More than anything, Fela Kuti comes across as a confrontational figure who used music as a ‘weapon’ against the Government who reacted to him aggressively with frequent episodes of police harassment and violence – one of which left his 82-year-old mother fatally injured and many of his family members and acolytes hospitalised. After a brief exile in Ghana, he formed his own party “Movement of the People” he fail to gain election. Often arrested by Nigeria’s corrupt military government, he chose to remain in his native country. Dabbling in traditional ‘witchcraft’ and other arcane practices he later developed AIDS, dying in 1977. His funeral was attended by 1 million Nigerians. MT

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REVIEWED AT SUNDANCE UK APRIL 2014

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) DVD

Director/Writer: Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, Reginald Harkema

98min   US   Music documentary

SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER is unexpectedly brilliant – really witty and visually interesting. They’ve found a way of animating old photos and turning them almost into films – and almost into 3D films, at that. And it’s a great tale of the transformation of a bunch of mundane suburban kids into glam-rock gods. Part of the general speeding-up of lifestyles that happened in the 60s.

It is well-paced and made with some artistry: I think they’ve seen Julien Temple docs like London – the Modern Babylon and used that “tiny scraps of film” technique, plus the aforementioned doctored photos. And it’s all done in voiceover, which is a way of getting round watching ancient-looking rockers being interviewed, I suppose. I don’t think you would need to like Alice Cooper to enjoy it, as it’s a bit of a social/cultural document; entertaining and funny. Also, it emerges that Alice himself always looked like an emaciated 70-year-old – even when he was a teenager! Ian Long.

IAN LONG IS HEAD OF CONSULTANCY AT EUROSCRIPT.CO.UK

DVD out on May 26

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The Life and Works of Richard Wagner (1913)

THE LIFE AND WORKS OF RICHARD WAGNER

Dir.: Carl Froelich, William Wauer; Cast: Giuseppe Becce, Olga Engl, Manny Ziener, Ernst Reicher, Miriam Horowitz: Germany 1913, 96 min.

Whilst this newly restored version of the silent film was accompanied at the piano with a new score by the composer Jean Hasse, the original production had no music by Wagner at all: Cosima Wagner, still alive in 1913, wanted the princely sum of half a million Reichsmark if she allowed her husband’s music to be played. But the directors got lucky: the main actor, Giuseppe Becce, who bore an astonishing resemblance to the real Wagner, happened also to be a gifted composer. The narrative shows Wagner as the victim of circumstance, mainly his debtors and other, jealous composers, like the Jew, Giacomo Meyerbeer, who is shown as dubious and without any real influence. Wagner’s womanising is romanticised, everything is motivated by his art. There is an involuntary funny appearance of the Russian anarchist Bakunin, who looks more like Rasputin than a revolutionary. The film relies mainly on excerpts of Wagner’s work, which is not very surprising, since film was at the time before  WW1 mainly filmed theatre. The production design (by Wauer) is highly imaginative and the camera tries to be as mobile as possible. Performances are over-dramatic and histrionic, but again totally in harmony with the practice of the era. Overall, this very sanitized version of Wagner’s life is often monotonous, showing no ambivalence, reducing the film to a hero’s portrait.

Wagner Triebschen closer

Richard Wagner will always be a controversial figure – not so much because of his music, which is after all a matter of taste, but because of his virulent anti-Semitism, making Adolf Hitler (“You can’t understand National Socialism without understanding Wagner”) his number one admirer. When Hitler saw Wagner’s first opera “Rienzi” (which ends with the total distraction of the hero’s world) he exclaimed “Exactly, how it should be, never give in, better to die than to survive”, expressing his fatal ‘all or nothing’ attitude, which saw any compromise as weakness.

It is ironic that one of the directors, Carl Froehlich, (WAGNER being his debut), ended up as the leader of the “Reichsfilmkammer”, where he controlled the German film industry between 1939 and 1945, not only being the chief censor, but deciding who could work and who not. His co-director of 1913, William Wauer, fell into the latter category: he was forbidden to work. Froehlich was later imprisoned by the Allies, and was second only to the infamous Veit Harlan in the numbers of films the directed or produced which could not be shown during the first years after the war (with West Germany being ‘needed’ to fight communism, ‘cleaned up’ versions of these “Verbotsfilme” were shown later to full houses). Froehlich was also the producer of “The Choral von Leuthen”, a pro-German propaganda film, which was produced in 1932, but had his celebrated premiere in 1933, attended by Hitler, after he became Chancellor. But Froehlich also produced “Mädchen in Uniform” (1931), a very progressive film. Equally strange, his “It was a gay ball night” was premiered in the USA in November 1939, two years into the war. AS

THE LIFE AND WORKS OF RICHARD WAGNER IS AT THE BARBICAN DURING A SEASON OF MUSIC-THEMED FILM EVENTS DURING JANUARY 2014

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