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Posts tagged ‘film’

Beats, portraits and tennis coats

As it’s now the weekend, here are three cultural treats of my week…

Hey Daddio, it’s Beat Girl

Swinging cats, strippers and squares all star in Beat Girl (dir, Gréville, 1960), an exploitation film revelling in the seedy side of Soho and the bad deeds of 1950s teens. The soundtrack by the John Barry Seven is the epitome of hip coffee bar cool. Just check out the entrance of the eponymous, rebellious ‘Beat Girl’, Jennifer (played by Gillian Hills) in the opening credits (and a young, zoned out Oliver Reed).

Jennifer is disgusted when her father remarries a much younger French women, Nicole, and sets out to reveal her stepmother’s murky past. One of the movie posters proclaims – “my mother was as stripper, I want to be one too”. Another warns, “this could happen to your teenage daughter”, but the moral panic offers an excuse to linger on lengthy strip scenes, explicit for the time.

The post-war generational divide is addressed awkwardly in the film, with the disaffected young men discussing their experiences of growing up during Blitz and hiding out in the underground, just like the cavernous clubs they now swing in.

In contrast, City 2000 is the obsession of Jennifer’s architect father, offering a rather sterile vision of the future, and her rebellion is a way to get attention from him. Ultimately, after she gets into danger with strip club owner (played by Christopher Lee), she is pulled back into the family unit.

While Beat Girl is not quite “over and out”, it’s worth a watch for the “straight out of the fridge” lingo, Gillian Hill’s pouty, beatnik disdain, and the recurring theme song. You dig.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

For an afternoon treat this week, I headed to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. You can explore some of the chosen photos in this gallery. This portrait photography competition received over 5,000 entries, which were narrowed down to the 60 displayed in the exhibition. There weren’t any portraits which I felt would linger with me long after the exhibition, but I enjoyed seeing the variety of contemporary photos from the famous to family, from friends of the photographers to those they met on the street. Most of the portraits were staged, whether strictly commercial or not, and often full of drama and imagined stories behind their faces.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 M Shed

A sense of discomfort emanates from the winning portrait, Margarita Teichroeb (2011) by Jordi Ruiz Cirera, and as a viewer you wonder why the subject of the piece is covering her mouth and whether you or the photographer should be sharing this moment. Margarita is from a Mennonite community in Bolivia, living without electricity and cars, and where photography is often forbidden. The photographer spent time with them, but they were very uncertain about having their portraits taken (understandable in the circumstances). You can see blurred glimpses of her mother and sister in the background, in the context of the photo, seeming to shield themselves from the camera’s gaze. In comparison the second prize-winner, captures a woman at ease, almost incidentally naked with a chipped mug in her hand.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 is on at the M-Shed in Bristol until 3 November. This year’s prize starts on 14 November until 9 February 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Tennis Coats… at last

When in Tokyo, we wanted to say “sayonara” to the city by going a gig on the final night of our holiday. One of the city’s coolest married couples, the Tennis Coats (Saya & Takashi Ueno), were playing so we headed off to see them, got a little bit lost and ended up arriving just as they were playing their last song. (We hadn’t realised that the main act plays first in Japan, but at least we got to see the support act.)

Serendipitously this week, I noticed they were playing a surprise gig at Cafe Kino in Bristol. Although both feeling a little under the weather, we knew the holiday circle had to be completed. We came away feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy. Memories of our time in Japan, combined with the lovely, mellow but energetic atmosphere the musicians created, delightful tunes and the way that random people took to the stage throughout to join the act. A perfect way to spend a Tuesday evening.

What were your cultural highlights this week?

Injustices unseen

Injustice on Vimeo.

Last year the summer riots in the UK were relayed to me via French and Spanish TV whilst on holiday. Domestic events were given an added critical distance through the eyes of other countries’ media. The shooting of Mark Duggan by police perhaps got lost in the media representation as unrest spread from London throughout England. The story has reappeared in discussions about the inquest into his death. His family have been waiting almost a year to find out what happened and recently the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) requested a change in the law allowing them to use phone tapping evidence as currently they could not reveal all at the inquest.

This story about race and the police got me thinking about a shocking and inspiring film that I watched recently at the Bristol Radical Film Festival called Injustice (Fero & Mehmood, 2001). The documentary looks a 30-period from 1969 to 1999 when more than 1,000 people, the vast majority black British, died in police custody in the UK. The film concentrates on a number of cases, including Brian Douglas, Shiji Lapite, Joy Gardner and Ibrahim Sey, and their families and friends who are still seeking justice.

Injustice does not only question the British justice system but also puts censorship, media representations and documentary-making (production and distribution) under the spotlight. The film was pulled from general release in 2001 after legal threats from the Police Federation. Moments before its launch at the Metro cinema in London, solicitors representing the Police said they would sue for damages if the film were shown. Similar cancellations occurred all over the country but, showing the depth of feeling, at the Conway Hall in London spectators barricaded themselves to watch. In response Fero was forced to rethink his means of distribution:

“After the film was pulled from cinemas, following its UK release in 2001, I decided to organise screenings across the country and internationally, as part of film festivals and at private showings in small independent venues. As a filmmaker, having your work seen and appreciated is essential, and the response from audiences and the media across the globe has been very positive and encouraging for those it sought to help.”

At the screening in Bristol, I hadn’t realised the film’s censored history. Of course distribution is paramount to the representations that the majority of us see and after watching the film, it occurred to me the valuable contribution this film could have made to the TV landscape. Fero said that he asked BBC, ITV and Channel 4 if they wanted to produce the film but concerns about libel were raised and also that the story wasn’t ‘new’. (see BFI article) Actually the power of the film is that it doesn’t show ‘new’ stories but catalogues the experiences of family after family over 30 years. To a large extent these ‘ordinary’ families, whose lives had become a struggle for justice, speak for themselves. Refreshing in a commercial TV landscape post-docu-soap.

In the vérité tradition of documentary with narration by actress Cathy Tyson, the filmmakers clearly are involved in the families’ campaigns and stories. Interviews with those involved are intercut with still images of the victims and their campaign for justice.  A pattern of shared experience emerges as their stories unfold making uncomfortable viewing.

Mediated representations can alter not only the coverage of stories but the stories which get told. Certain claims were made about those who died – often re-articulations of racial discourses (drug-dealer, gang member, illegal immigrant) and then the story does not get as much coverage as if it were a more ‘media-friendly sympathetic’ (and white) victim.

Police voices are absent from the film (other than a statement at a police conference saying how distressed police officers were after a killing in police custody and at a protest for Brian Douglas). Fero said that he asked the police for their input but they refused:

“Even if we had got the interviews I don’t think we would have used them, because everywhere the families went they faced brick walls and visually we wanted to get that into the film.”

Now the film is on Vimeo, so we can watch, make up our own minds, share and discuss. I’m pleased that the Bristol Radical Film Festival screened this film and would recommend watching it in the communal cinematic space if you get the chance. Let me know what you think.

Ken Fero is currently working on a new film called “Who Polices the Police” about the IPCC. You can also get involved with the campaigns at United Friends and Family Campaign Central.

Want to read more?

Article about the Bristol Radical Film Festival in the Birmingham Post.

Useful article in Sight and Sound called My Tears Will Catch Them from 2001.

In-depth interview with Ken Fero in The Multicultural Politic.

Film blog on the Guardian on why Injustice did not get a cinema release.

Valentine’s Day Movie – In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)

I don’t really do Valentine’s Day. The only nod to cupid was going to see Casablanca (1942) at the movies. And how could I not, as my other half – a huge film buff – hadn’t seen it. Since then, we’ve got a Valentine’s tradition of watching romantic movies – but at home – no listening to noisy couples in the cinema or meal surcharges for us canny lovers.
And this year’s picture is one of my favourite films – In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000). Although the pre-titles warn that this is not going to be a romance with a Hollywood ending…

‘It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.’

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, the film depicts the relationship between, secretary Mrs Chan, (Maggie Cheung) and Mr Chow (Tony Leung) who discover that their spouses are having an affair. The elements of repressed desire and social pressures are reminiscent of that classic of unrequited love, Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945). With an unusual twist, In the Mood for Love’s couple imagine how their partners began their deceit and rehearse how to confront them, determined not to become like them. However, as Mr Chow says, ‘feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.’

When I first watched the film, I was blown away by its sheer elegance and poignancy. Indeed it would win a place in my top 10 films of all time. Director Wong Kar-Wai (whose oeuvre includes Days of Being Wild (1990) and 2046 (2004) which make up a trilogy of sorts with In the Mood for Love) and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Doyle produce a stylish dance of repressed desire, loss and regret.

In an interview Wong Kar-Wai likened In the Mood for Love to “a dance, a waltz between these two characters”. Coincidence brings them together but later social mores and repressed desires means they dance past each other. Their lovers’ song, Yumeji’s Theme, composed by Shigeru Umebayashi, stays with you long after the movie has ended. On re-watching, I found that while I looked forward to the moments when their theme comes in and the ‘dance’ begins again, it was tinged with a sense of melancholy that they would come achingly close to each other but not quite meet.

A key scene which illustrates the stylistic elements (music, lighting, time shifts, repetition, film noir shading) that recur in the film is when Mr Chow and Mrs Chan pass on the stairs to their apartment.

Mr Chow is shot to left of the screen in film noir shadows, then their theme starts up as Mrs Chan walks down narrow darkly lit steps to get noodles in slow motion. As she returns up the staircase in the dark, the camera slowly lingers on a street light. Mr Chow goes past leaving the viewer unsure if they’ve seen each other off-screen. A simple visit to the noodle stand becomes a beautiful dance of anticipation and these choreographed scenes recur throughout the film.

In the Mood for Love visualises and plays with memory. Its original Chinese title, also a song from a 1946 film, meaning ‘the age of blossoms’ or ‘the flowery years’ is a metaphor for the short-lived time of youth and beauty. Indeed the film shows the transience of love and how we may attempt to hold on to these lost moments. Many of the shots are blurred around the edges, as though we’re watching the past unfold through the haze of memory. The slow motion cinematography works to freeze the couple in time as in still photography. This emphasises their loss; as we can only remember those happy moments of the past, not relive them. The colour of the film too is steeped in memory, muted with a warmth like an old 1960s photograph.

Their loneliness is represented through the claustrophobic setting – though close to each other, they are far apart as they cannot express their feelings because of social propriety and their own repressed desires. The Age of Blossoms plays on the radio – a dedication from Mrs Chan’s husband – after the cuckolded couple have ended their relationship, signifying the end of her blooming youth. As the Age of Blossoms plays, the camera cuts from Mrs Chan’s room to Chow’s and back again.  Her gossipy landlady tells her it’s good to enjoy herself when she’s young but not too much – a warning to end her relationship with Mr Chow.

The film slows time down by focusing on simple details, such as the smoke from Chow’s cigarette or raindrops, which heightens the emotional tone. Just as the couple are restrained in their affair (their love scene was filmed but edited out), the camera shows restraint by holding back. Their loneliness, distance from each other and from society is shown through the camera work. The camera peeks at the couple from under the bed, from the wardrobe and through bars, shadows and doorways. The camera hangs back in the scenes in the apartment as though we’re on the edges of the action.
The viewer often sees characters talking to someone off-screen – showing the separateness between individuals. Mirrors too are used to emphasis the difficulty in making connections (for instance, when the couple get caught in Mr Chow’s room together we see them through mirrors).

I would love to watch this lovers’ dance unfold in all its lingering detail on the big screen! I hope I’ve convinced you to watch but if you need more encouragement here’s the trailer.

I haven’t even mentioned a feature of the film that is breath-taking – the costume design and Maggie Cheung’s manifold cheongsams. Look out for a blog coming soon … (The film’s fashion is so pitch perfect that even my boyfriend mentioned it!)

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on In the Mood for Love or any other Valentine’s Day (or anti-Valentine’s) movies you love.