Posts Tagged ‘Music’

England, My England (1995)

Dir.: Tony Palmer; Cast: Simon Callow, Michael Ball, Rebecca Front, Lucy Speed, Nina Young, Robert Stephens, Corin Redgrave, Guy Henry; UK 1995, 158 min.

Director Tony Palmer excels in biopic dramas of composers  Shostakovich (Testimony) and Rachmaninov, turns his talents to England’s foremost Baroque composer Henry ‘Harry’ Purcell (1659-1695). This is no mean feat as Purcell was a reclusive character and little is known of his origins. But he was nonetheless prolific, and conductor Sir John Eliot Gardener certainly does his music proud despite often verging on the pedantic.

Michael Ball leads a sterling British cast in the main role of Purcell in a biopic that works on two levels, scripted by John Osborne and Charles Wood. It unfolds in 1960s London where a British playwright is attempting to construct Purcell’s life with little to go by. England, My England touches on the composer’s involvement with Charles II (Callow) and Mary II (Front) and the subsequent monarchs James II (Henry) and William III (Redgrave). Lucy Speed acts the part of Neil Gwyn and there are such treasures as Murray Melvin, Corin Redgrave John Fortune and Bill Kenright, who has sadly only just left us.

John Osborne, who died before the film premiered, turns his venom on the “Little Englanders” – bankers and merchants – in the more contemporary sequences. One of the settings is the same dressing room Osborne enjoyed when he was a ‘mere’ actor, before Look back in Anger fame.

In England of the mind 1660s, freedom of speech was also an explosive topic, as it would continue to be three hundred years later. The first poet Laureate John Dryden (Stephens) has a word or two to say about while the bubonic plague ravished London, before the great fire destroyed most of the city. The later scenes were actually shot in Bulgaria, as part of the first Anglo-Bulgarian co-production.

Purcell’s life, as far as we know of it, was full of tragedy: his wife Frances (Young) was a prolific breeder before she succumbed to small pox, Henry went to an early grave with tuberculosis – other reports suggesting something more sinister. But the music dominates, and Dido’s lament from ‘When I am laid in earth’ from Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” is deeply affecting.

Had Tony Palmer, now in his eighties and 65 directing credits under his belt, been born in France, he would be famous and probably rich. But sadly his canon is underexposed even though his knowledge of history, music and the arts is encyclopaedic and provides the rich textural references in this enjoyable biopic.

Palmer assisted Ken Russell in his early music portraits like Elgar (for BBC2). Most of Palmer’s features also have a striking visual tone, in this case provided by DoP Nic Knowland who contra-points the 1660 with the decades of the mid-19th century in stunning fashion. The script has so many ideas, comparing and contrasting historical themes, forming a rounded treatise on culture and politics, like many of Palmer’s works about England and the English. Alas, as the saying goes, the prophet in his own land…Here is the film in its full glory. AS


Bernstein’s Wall (2021) TriBeCa 2021

Dir: Douglas Tirola | Wrs: Leonard Bernstein, Douglas Tirola | US Doc, 101′

“the artist can change the world but he can’t necessarily do it through his art” 

Leonard Bernstein became a household name for his ground-swelling score of modern Broadway classic Westside Story. In those days to be a twenty-something Jewish immigrant conductor was unheard of. But Bernstein was determined to bring music to the mainstream and it was this democratisation of his craft and the arts in general that made him his place in history.

Bernstein came from a non-musical background in Boston. His father – whom he described as a cold, authoritarian tyrant  escaped Italy on an ocean-liner and settled in Brooklyn to ply his trade as a fishmonger.

Directed by Douglas Tirola and narrated by the composer himself in modulated engaging tones, Bernstein’s story unfolds in a didactic but fascinating way, enlivened by a wealth of personal photos and archive films – and of course, audio footage in a rich musical score. In these vivid scenes Bernstein comes across as an inquiring free-thinker, his lustrous dark curls framing an opened-faced sensual masculine beauty that only got better as the years rolled by.

Cultural ambassador, artist, teacher, and philosopher, the musician’s gift to the world was his ability to bring classics to everyday audiences who would mostly see his prodigious passionate outpourings on the television during the 1950s when he was known for his CBS arts series Omnibus in 1954.

Although classically trained Bernstein developed an eclectic interest in all kinds of music, jazz and opera blurring the lines between class and culture sealing his reputation as an iconic figure whose talent would unify, engage and entertain.

Training at Tanglewood, Bernstein would soon gravitate from Boston to New York where he took to the conductor’s podium with ease and aplomb wafting aside his radical background with charismatic determination, thanks to his supportive mentors Serge Koussevitsky and Aaron Copland.

Romantically it was plain-sailing for the affable family-orientated conductor who fell for Chilean American actress Felicia Montealegre, snippets from their early love letters rendered in graceful black and white graphics. Soon he had a son and a daughter and needed to support them all. From modest beginnings in Carnegie Hall, The New York Philharmonic beckoned in 1958.

Bernstein’s way of engaging his audience was to give a rousing introduction to his dynamic stage performances – offering an entente cordiale in Russia, or laced with a political agenda at home – but always brimming with a febrile physicality as his quivering body conveyed his excitement and passion for music via the orchestra to the audience: “music keeps me glued to life even when I’m depressed”.

Tirola adds political and social footnotes. Felicia, a keen pianist and obedient fifties wife, saying all the right things, yet clearly sharing her husband with another muse, music itself. But also a burgeoning yen for men – an episode which is discretely conveyed in those same black and white graphics. And Felicia admits his confused sexuality clouded their marriage of 27 years although it was undoubtedly happy and fulfilling for a time, his homosexuality is never explored.

Politics and leftist activism takes centre stage during the Kennedy years as Bernstein increasingly warms to his role as conductor for social change, using his reputation and art to promote peace, equality and racial harmony. In Alabama he is seen joining fellow jazz musicians in a peace rally, and visiting Jerusalem to give a rousing speech on the Mount of Olives. And there snaps from his well-publicised and misinterpreted soiree in support of the civil liberties for the Black Panther party – leading to Tom Wolfe’s coining the derogatory phrase “radical chic”. This all caused a vicious backlash on the Bernsteins and a storm of critical hailstones in 1970 his subversive stance drawing suspicion from Richard Nixon.

The film coming to a satisfactory close with footage of Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony in East Berlin in 1989 as part of the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To mark that reunification, he rewrote part of Friedrich Schiller’s text for the “Ode to Joy” movement, and had the choir substitute the German word for “freedom” in place of “joy.”

Tirola’s warm but not hagiographic approach allows for an enjoyable and immersive look back at the conductor’s fascinating life. Of his own musical choices Bernstein talks glowingly of Beethoven although his West Side Story work is almost entirely absent, apart from a few visuals. We are left with the impression of a genius but never a showman, a true artist absorbed and taken over by his obsession – a true conductor if ever there was one – music was the lightening bolt that set Bernstein’s life on fire. MT

Tribeca Film Festival | JUNE 2021



David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020) ***

Dir: Spike Lee | US Doc, 105′

Artists crave new audiences. So Spike Lee has filmed David Byrne’s Broadway stage-version of his solo album American Utopia in a bid to attract a younger following. Will it work? Memorable tunes capture moments in our life, and this is true for all ages who will forge new memories from these golden classics. Byrne created a string of them with his famous Talking Heads band in the 1980s and this musical trip down memory lane will have appeal for all audiences. Playing out in a slick re-showcasing American Utopia looks fresh and funky while also appealing to a loyal fanbase.

Agile as a silver fox Byrne sashays across the stage, an eminence gris on acid with his familiar gunmetal tailoring (and this time bare feet) recalling his Stop Making Sense concert movie directed by Jonathan Demme back in 1984 (now on BFI player).

Distant and slightly surreal the quixotic quirkiness is still there as he juts around in perfect symmetry with his musical acolytes: Glass, This Must Be the Place, Once in a Lifetime,  Concrete and Stone and many more number are there for your enjoyment in this trippy nostalgia-filled extravaganza. Even the Black Lives Matter box is ticked and dovetails neatly into the narrative with a version of Janelle Monáe’s Hell You Talmabout, Byrne exhorting the audience to recall those who  have lost their lives in police conflict.

Byrne is a star. Stars are there to capture our imagination. His allure lies in his unreachability. If he suddenly started sharing his problems or consumer bleats you’d be sadly disappointed. Luckily he remains distant. As he leaves the stage the camera sees him warming to colleagues in his dressing room, and riding home on his bike. For a moment he’s human. MT


Carmine Street Guitars (2018) ****

With Rich Kelly, Cindy Hulej, Dorothy Kelly2018 | CANADA | Doc | 80′

This genial music biopic explores the laid-back vibe of Carmine Street Guitars, a little shop in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village that remains resilient to encroaching gentrification.
Custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej build handcrafted instruments out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, bars, churches and other local buildings. Nothing looks or sounds like the classic instruments they have created with loving dedication. The film shoots the breeze with Rick and his starry visitors who treat us to impromptu riffs from their extensive repertoires and talk about how much they treasure this village institution and its reassuring presence as a little oasis of calm in the ever-changing, fast-paced world of the music business.
Rick’s pleasant banter with these lowkey luminaries is what makes this enjoyable musical therapy for fans and those who have never heard of the guitars, their craftsman or those who have commissioned and cherished the hand-made instruments since the 1960s: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch, to name but a few. A small gem but a sparkling one. MT

Solo (2019) *** ACID at Cannes 2019

Dir: Artemio Benki | Doc France/Czech Rep/Arg/Austria

Psychologists have identified strong links between creativity and mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. Some of our most famous writers, artists and musicians have suffered from mental instability: Virginia Woolf was dogged by depression, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide after treatment, Robert Schumann died in a mental home and even Steven Fry admitted to bi-polar when he famously walked away from a role on the London stage.

Producer and director Artemio Benki explores mental affliction in his serene and sensitive documentary screening in the ACID sidebar at Cannes this year. Solo centres on Martín P. a young Argentinean piano virtuoso and composer who has been receiving treatment for his breakdown four years ago as a patient in the controversial psychiatric hospital of El Borda, the largest and most noted of its kind in Latin America. As a child Martin was hailed a musical genius and went on to be the most talented composer of his generation. But for the past four year he has been struggling to get back to the concert stage while composing his latest work Enfermaria. Solo tells his unique yet relatable story, his fight with creativity and his obsession with being the best in a world where perfection and talent require confidence and persistence to thrive. Martin’s essential focus is to find that safe place between ‘insanity’ and ‘normality’ so he can move on and develop his career and his life. MT



Go Where You Look! Falling off Snow Mountain (2019) Directors’ Fortnight 2019

Dirs: Laurie Anderson, Hsin-Chien Huang Virtual Reality Creation | US/China

Anderson and Hsin-Chien collaborate in three virtual reality installations presented together for the very first time at this year’s  Quinzaine.

If you’ve not experienced virtual reality it really is a transformative experience: Rather like diving you enter a whole new world, but with VR you can’t actually see your body during the process.

Laurie Anderson is a musician, filmmaker, writer, digital arts creative pioneer and, ultimately, a storyteller in the broadest sense. She discovered VR only recently and her new way of exploring narrative territories is a good way to start. New media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, who has a background in in art, design, and digital entertainment. His VR collaboration with Laurie Anderson was awarded the Best VR Experience in at Venice Film Festival in 2017. But they first worked together in 1995 on the CD-ROM Puppet Motel. 

AloftChalkroom and To the Moon, are three poetically linked and complementary pieces presented together, and each lasting around fifteen minutes. The sensory, poetic and technological dimensions of these three pieces are tightly intertwined and and considerably amplify our cinematic experience, and this one takes place in Le Suquet morgue, just to add a  surreal twist to the proceedings.

Rocking a very soigné Issy Miyake rigout, Anderson explains that there are no cameras or lenses involved in Go Where You Look and it all feels very physical and interactive, as the audience very much influence the outcome of each tour. You sit on a stool, pop on a headset and the show takes off. 

ALOFT is the nearest thing to experiencing a place crash – in the most serene way possible. As the sole passenger in the airline you begin to notice some shafts of light appearing in the ceiling and floor near the cockpit. Gradually the plane starts to fall apart, in a gentle way. Suddenly you’re floating in your seat towards what looks like a town with to connected rivers. The black box floats by, and soon other objects come into view and float by as you head towards a luminous vortex. If you grab them with your gloves paws, Laurie’s voice then tells a story. There’s a lily, a mobile ‘phone and a lump of coal. If you snatch the coal it turns out to be Mars and soon you’re hovering above the Martian landscape. A typewriter appears and you can write your name as the letters floats high up into the black stratosphere. Other experiences include a placid lake. Your hands soon turn into horses legs. 

TO THE MOON uses images and tropes from Greek mythology, literature, science, sci fi space mo- vies and politics to create an imaginary and dark new moon, and a more formal narrative structure. During the 15-minute VR experience, you take off from Earth and soar up towards the blackness which then becomes the surface of the Moon. The eeriest thing is being able to see Earth revolving with Europe stretching before you. You can then climb a lunar mountain before returning – eventually – to Earth, your two handsets guiding you forward, or even speeding you up. You see the Constellations, the Great Bear etc evaporating before your eyes. In Snow Mountain you actually climb the mountain before your virtual body dramatically tumbles away into deep space, Laurie Anderson’s voice chanting about not knowing where we all came from. In the Donkey Ride you the viewer trot along on the back of a donkey through the lunar landscape. Eventually you float up and away into a universe of stars that begins to explode like fireworks.

Certainly different and worth experiencing. Maybe one day virtual reality will be able to re-create experiences that are more personalised. For example you could embark on a world tour, or even be united with a long lost lover or a a friend of family member who has passed on. MT

QUINZAINE | 15 -24 May 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019  


Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking out in America (2018) **** Canada Now

Dir: Brigitte Berman | Doc CANADA | With: Bruce Belland, Kitty Bruce, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Maher, Ron Simon, Tony Bennett, Dick Gregory, Smokey Robinson, Leon Isaac Kennedy, John Burk, Annie Ross, Tim Hauser, Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal, Barry Melton, Dick Rosenzweig, Barbara Dane, Robert Clary, Roger McGuinn, Sivi Aberg, John Kay, Joan Baez, Michael Wadleigh, Gene Simmons, Jim Brown, Charles Strouse

Brigitte Berman chronicles the Playboy founder’s short but controversial foray into television in her entertaining and informative documentary.

Musical interludes and talking heads are deftly interwoven to provide an appreciation of just about everyone who was culturally significant throughout the Swinging Sixties. The initially engaging film increasingly works as a full-on history of US race relations, showing how black people were ostracised from the mainstream cultural offering music-wise.

This is not Berman’s first foray into the life of Hugh Hefner. In 2009 she made a documentary for Netflix: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel. The thrust of this latest film is his TV career which took the form of two TV shows set in his own bachelor pad where sexy women pander to eminent celebrities of both sexes providing the pithy cultural and political counterpoint to a relaxed soirée:”Playboy’s Penthouse” which began in Chicago in 1959 and was known as a ‘talk-and-music syndicated show’. So while David Frost was presenting That The Was the Week That Was in the UK, Hugh Hefner had found a cool way of inviting America into his drawing where an eclectic mix of black and white musicians (culturally unheard of back in the day, along with Jazz on TV) who performed in the relaxed and genial environment. These affairs  include impromptu numbers from Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Count Basie, Samie Davis Jr; Ray Charles and Toni Bennett.

On of the talking heads is Whoopi Goldberg who points out, Hefner “was a pioneer. There was nothing like it in television. And there was nothing like it because he made sure everybody was welcome.” But in the less liberal south stations refused to air this interracial mishmash and Hefner eventually pulled “Playboy’s Penthouse” in late 1960.

The other politically progressive show more focused on rock music and the counter-culture was “Playboy After Dark”, which launched in Hollywood in the summer of 1968 after Playboy’s operations moved to California. This saw Joan Baez;, Steppenwolf; The Byrds; Gore Vidal, Jerry Garcia. Peter, Paul and Mary, Smokey Robinson, and Woodstock director Michael Wadleigh – who looms rather too large. The mood is not as intimate in tune with the 1970s which felt a lot more serious generally and the chat focused on censorship, ecology and race. This time Hefner had graduated to ongoing partner in the shape of Barbi Benton and the summer-of-love vibe was echoed in “Born to Be Wild”. Another black talking head was football and film star Jim Brown who proudly claims “Hefner lets me say all the things I wanted to say,” namely that America’s black population should now focus on“expertise and finance.” Whatever that meant.

And as the bandwagon rolls on the focus is less on the music and fascinating celebrity chatter and more on general social commentary especially from Pete Seeger, beating his drum in the same old way as torpor gradually take hold of the final 20 minutes or so with the umpteenth rendition of “We Shall Overcome”.

It has to be said that this documentary certainly raises Hefner’s profile in a good way. He emerges culturally aware, racially tolerant, innovative and chipper who is articulate, voluable even, and professional and incisive in his interviewing technique.  And for those who remembered the era this film certainly goes down a treat. MT

CANADA NOW | 24 -28 APRIL 2019

The Walker (2015) **** Taiwan Film Festival 2019

Dir: Singing Chen | Doc, Taiwan 147′

Renowned Taiwanese choreographer Lin Lee-Chen has devoted her life to a slow and studied form of dance that embraces modern techniques with ancient religious ritual. Chen’s impressive Taiwanese documentary explores the origins of her method, showing how stealth rather than speed is the essence of the calming dance movements. Lin channels her own inner tranquility and potent physical strength into routines that share her powerful dexterity and calming creativity.

This epic study starts with a deep rumble of drums as the underworld opens and a mystical pearly white Sea Goddess Mazu gracefully emerges leading her dusky spirits forwards. This is one of the eerie yet mesmerising dances Lin has created and is performed by her Legend Lin Dance Theatre. Her work is borne out of a desire to express and share her own inner calm.

Ten years in the making the documentary is an impressively meditative endeavour that illustrates the difference between the Lin’s slow oriental aesthetic and that of the West which focuses on speed. The dance excerpts are visually exquisite, blending calmness with richly vibrant colours and an emphasis on pools of light that highlight the ritualistic dance routines. Another sequence takes place on the seashore and is one of the most sinuous and graceful performances in the repertoire, the costumes billowing and swirling as they gently contour the dancers’ elegant forms. If you’re looking for a comprehensive visual history of Taiwanese dance then this is probably the most appealing so far. MT

SCREENING AT BERTHA DOC HOUSE during the London Taiwanese Film Festival 2019 | 3 April 2019

Picnic (1955) **** Home Ent release


God of the Piano (2019) Digital release

Dir: Itay Til: Cast: Naama Pries, Ron Bitterman, Shimon Mimran, Andy Levi | Drama | Israel 80′

Anat is a young woman who will let nothing get in her way, least of all accidents of nature, in this tightly-scripted and quietly chilling first feature from Israeli director Itay Tal. Prepare to be shaken and stirred.

This study of obsession brings to mind the so-called ‘tiger’ mothers who are so focused on achieving their goals, the well-being of their family is secondary, as long as everything goes according to plan. Sadly these women often come from high-performing backgrounds themselves, and such is the case with pregnant concert pianist Anat (a superbly slick Naama Pries from Laila in Haifa), whose waters break while she’s on stage.

Anat ignores this call of nature until the end of her piece, the liquid slowly pooling round her feet. But when she discovers her chortling baby has hearing difficulties, she takes the sinister step of swapping him over with another child in the hospital birthing room.

Control freaks have been vividly portrayed in arthouse cinema of late, recent examples are Calin Peter Netzer’s Golden Bear winner Child’s Pose (2013) where a mother does her utmost to change the course of law for her son. Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2016) also reworks this thorny theme with a similar cold visual aesthetic and unlikeable central character. In fact, Tal’s film is full of unpleasant types, cyphers whose means to an end makes them frighteningly real in these success-focused times.

Anat’s family are all accomplished musicians including her new son Idam, who plays like a professional pianist from the early scenes – despite his lack of genetic connection with the rest of the family. Her son’s music career gradually becomes the focus of Anat’s days, coaching him as he learns to compose and perform. Even sex with her husband goes out of the window (she is seen half-heartedly pleasuring him with her hands) as she transfers her amorous efforts to composer Shimon Mimran – the only character here with charisma – who gamely offers to help the boy with his composing.

Sex with Mimran seems to satisfy Anat more than anything else in her life: it’s as if she’s finally been fed after starving for years. But rather than trusting her intuition and taking things further with this interesting man, Anat suppresses her own needs and rushes off to promote her son to the next stage of his career.

Alarm bells ring when the local hearing-impaired centre tries to get in touch, Anat eradicating any further communication from them, even visiting the clinic to make sure they strike Idam’s records from their books. Anat’s father is a fiercely competitive man and his reaction to Idam’s talent is quite chilling: rather than encouraging the boy he seethes with anger at Idam’s perfect performance of a piece he wrote at the same age. Although we cannot like Anat’s character, we start to understand her motivations, and the strain she’s under to compete in this unforgiving family environment. A slick and enjoyable thriller and a brilliant debut from Itay Tal. MT



The Last Waltz (1978) **** Home Ent release

THE LAST WALTZ is deeply personal yet timeless in its universal appeal. Martin Scorsese’s love song to rock music is a resounding one, and arguably the best concert film of all time. Dated in its Seventies look, but endearingly so, the doc has been remastered onto bluray, and the result is stunning. The film showcases the legendary rock group The Band’s final farewell concert appearance. Joined on stage by more than a dozen special guests, Van Morrison,  Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell perform their iconic numbers to dazzling effect. The Last Waltz started as a concert, but it became a celebration. In between numbers, Scorsese chats to members of The Band, filmed by master DoPs Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond. Scorsese’s message to the audience, “this film should be played loud” MT




The King (2018) **** DVD release

Dir: Eugene Jarecki | US | Musical Biopic with Alex Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Ashton Kutcher, Lana Del Rey, Emmylou Harris | 109′

Using Elvis Presley’s life as a metaphor to explore America’s modern malaise from so-called dream to disaster, Eugene Jarecki’s Sundance Grand Jury Winner heads across the States for a musical mystery tour in the legendary star’s vintage Rolls Royce, four decades after his life as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century ended in a heart attack, aged 42.

Although Jarecki adopts a novel approach to the life of the legendary singer and entertainer, the results are sprawling, spirited and great fun in a biopic that gazes deep into the soul of a nation in flux and features an eclectic cast of stars and well known places from Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Graceland, Memphis, Las Vegas and New York.

Enlivened by archive footage, musical interludes and enlightening observations from Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin, ex-band members and those associated with Presley’s life, Jarecki cleverly draws a comparison between the star and President Trump  showing how these two  transformative figures made a terrific impact on the US culture. In Presley’s case his musical style created a bridge to ease racial tension which sadly ended in disappointment, particularly in the southern states, due to the pursuit of financial above humanitarian goals (Presley always chased the money in his career choices, and when once purportedly asked by President Reagan whether he would choose a new swimming pool or to help kids with AIDS, he went for the swimming pool). On the face of Jarecki’s seems like an inspired and persuasive viewpoint: whether it stands up beyond this cursory glance, remains to be seen and sometimes his approach feels as it Elvis has been slotted in to meet the needs of his argument. 

Needless to say, the musical soundtrack is astonishing (shame the excerpts are so short) and Jarecki’s wide angle images of the glittering skylines and sweeping landscapes of Route 66 make this an enjoyable romp as well as an informative biopic of the “King of Rock and Roll” MT

ON DVD FROM 1 October 2018


EmiSunshine and The Rain; Leo “Bud” Welch; STAX Music Academy All-Stars John Hiatt; Loveful Heights; Immortal Technique; The Handsome Family; Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers; M. Ward ; Justin Merrick and the STAX Academy All-Stars; Lindy Vision; Robert Bradley



Ciao! Manhattan (1972) | Bluray release

Written and directed by Factory regulars John Palmer and David Weisman this cult film is a semi-biographical take on Sedgwick’s life and captures a seminal time in history, namely the groundbreaking 1960s New York art scene. 

If you’re keen on watching a mash-up of a black and white Sixties-set musical thriller and the final early Seventies knockings of the wasted Sedgwick, sporting a surgically enhanced chest and cavorting around half naked and half cut, then CIAO, MANHATTAN will appeal.

Edith Minturn Sedgwick was born in California in 1943, studied at Harvard, rose to fame in 1965 as an actress in Andy Warhol’s films, was briefly married to Michael Post and died from a barbiturate overdose in her parents’ home at just 28.

On the plus side, the film perfectly recreates the star’s own chaotic life and also features other contemporary ‘heroes’ such as Holzer and Viva. Rather than a liberated woman of her generation, she emerges disillusioned and delusional. With its soundtrack featuring the music of Ritchie Havens and Kim Milford, this is a redolent portrait of a shooting star who crashed and burned, yet her fame remains. MT


Hearts Beat Loud (2017) **

Dir.: Brett Haley; Cast: Nick Offermann, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Colette, Ted Danson, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner; USA 2018, 97 min.

Best known for his comedy drama The Hero (2017, Brett Haley’s latest HEARTS BEAT LOUD adds music to the formula, but a minimalist storyline and cardboard characters make it hard going at over 90 minutes.

Frank Fisher (Offermann) is one of those life-long middle-aged loafers unable to let go of his dream of a music career. Meanwhile his relationship with his daughter Sam (Sasha Lane) is fraught by efforts to talk the budding medical student into postponing her studies to join him in his musical endeavours. But Sam is a smart cookie and the death of her mother in a cycling accident, leaving Frank in charge of her education, has taught the teenager a lesson – to ignore her father.

Since the death of his wife, Frank has had a series of unsatisfactory relationships probably due to his role model in mother Marianne (Danner), who has recently been arrested for shoplifting. Things with his landlady cum girlfriend Leslie (Colette) are even more strained, and his record shop has gone bankrupt. Only his old friend Dave (Danson), who has run a bar for over thirty years, seems to understand Frank, since he too lives in the (Woodstock) past. Somehow Haley must have felt that his old-fashioned musical numbers needed some contemporary characters to re-invent them but the ones he has created don’t really move the narrative forward, since they’re all entrenched in their cliché-ridden existence. DoP Erin Lin tries for a sort of melancholic nostalgia with brown and light blue dominating the picture, but this can’t save an undercooked script which might have worked better as a thirty-minute vignette AS


The Ballad of Shirley Collins (2017) | Home Ent

Dir: Rob Curry | Tim Plester | Musical biopic Doc | UK | 94′

Rob Curry and Tm Plester (Way of the Morris) retain a 1970s aesthetic for this lyrical paean to Shirley Elizabeth Collins MBE (born Sussex 5 July 1935) the English folk singer who, along with her sister Dolly, is widely regarded as the mainstay of the English Folk Revival of the 1960s and 1970s. After leaving school at 17, she often performed on the banjo and recorded with her sister Dolly, whose piano accompaniment created unique settings for Shirley’s plain and often plangeant singing style. She first met Communist activist and eminent ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax at a party Ewan MacColl held in the early 1954, fell in love and followed him back to Kentucky in 1959 where he had been under surveillance during the McCarthy witch-hunt. The two made recordings under Atlantic Records under the title Sounds of the South (some were re-enacted in the Coen Brothers’ Oh Brother Where Art Thou). But the focus here is largely on Shirley and her life experiences up to the present day, and there’s a distinct feeling of loss and redemption that runs through it.

Shirley Collins comes across as vulnerable but warmly down to earth telling how she briefly lost her singing voice after a relationship ebded, but she has certainly recovered it now – she looks and sounds stunning at 82 – as she performs informally. Shirley is also a lively raconteur adding a touch of wry humour when recalling letters to her family back home, written from her time in Mississippi with Alan, which she describes as ‘quite domestic’: “I must finish now as I have to go and syringe Alan’s ears”.

Narrated by Hannah Arterton (The Five) and enlivened by original black & white footage, audio archives, and colourful filmed excerpts from Arundel and the countryside around East Sussex where she grew up, this enjoyable and informative biopic raises the profile of this little known era of English folk singing with a distinct pagan feel to it. THE BALLAD OF SHIRLEY COLLINS is fascinating and gorgeously framed and captured in Richard Mitchell’s limpid visuals. MT


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