Wednesday, June 21, 2017

slack bay (ma loute)…

Yes, I know, choosing to go to the cinema on one of the hottest days of the year isn’t everyone’s idea of fun… but that’s what I did this afternoon! I wanted a break from all the sad frustrations and horror of the real world and felt that Bruno Dumont’s film (with a wealth of amazing French stars including Juliette Binoche - say, no more! - Fabrice Luchini and Valerie Bruni Tedeschi) now showing at the Watershed would be just the thing.
I was aware of the film’s background/story and was perfectly content to enjoy the bizarre, over-the-top, ridiculous romp that this film would undoubtedly be…
I wasn’t even put off by the postcard reviews on the entrance staircase that the Watershed encourages from its audience. These are just four of them: “Strange… very odd, macabre and funny”; “I hated it”; “One of the worst films I’ve ever seen” and “Funny, bizarre and clever”!  
I’ll try to outline the plot… albeit very briefly! Postcard-perfect seaside village in northern France in 1910… there’s a working class family (the Bruforts) – a lowly clan of fishermen (who also double as ferrymen to either row or CARRY people across the low waters that surround the dunes; there are the upper-class Van Peteghems, vacating for the summer; and there are two detectives investigating unsolved and mysterious disappearances. These detectives are played (literally) in the guise of Laurel and Hardy characters – one huge and one very slight individual, dressed in black suits and bowler hats.

I’m really not a great lover of slap-stick humour, but I REALLY enjoyed this film (and so, it seemed, did the rest of the audience)… wonderful timing, ludicrous incidents, complete and utter over-acting by all the adult members of the Van Peteghem family (I thought Fabrice Luchini was superb) and an absolutely ridiculous, exaggerated plot – which included good old-fashioned cannibalism plus a measure of gender-bending identity crises!! Don’t ask!
If I had one minor criticism, it would be its length (122 minutes)… I think it could have been 20 minutes shorter and still just as funny/crisp.
The film is theatrically extravagant and, at times, almost Pythonesque… and I know it won’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but I loved it (and laughed out loud on several occasions – sorry!).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

bristol pilgrimage 2017…

If you’re ever on the beautiful island of Iona, the weekly pilgrimage walk around the island is an experience not to be missed.
During the course of my 8-week stay there as a volunteer with the Iona Community in 2012, I bought Jane Bentley+Neil Paynter’s really excellent book “Around A Thin Place” (an Iona pilgrimage guide) and, as well as using it when I was on Iona, I have used it as a resource for my own Bristol pilgrimage version on three previous occasions (undertaken in September 2012, March 2014 and June 2015).
Yesterday, I decided to undertake a fourth ‘pilgrimage’ journey around Bristol (strangely, I thought I’d done more than this… but the blog never lies!).

This time, I broke up my route into eight sections or stops… pausing for reflections taken from the book, together with my own deliberations. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve used a completely different set of locations and, as on my previous walks, the weather was perfect.
As before, I related my stopping points with pilgrimage stops on Iona:
St Martin’s Cross/setting out on the road was Gaol Ferry Bridge; The Crossroads was the Cumberland Piazza (essentially land under the flyovers by Cumberland Basin); Dun I/High Point was the Clifton Suspension Bridge; The Hermit’s Cell was, perhaps a little incongruously, Clifton Cathedral (the Roman Catholic cathedral); St Columba’s Bay was the Harbour/Harbourside; The Machair was Queen Square; The Jetty was Temple Meads station;
and St Oran’s Chapel/Reilig Odhrain was God’s Garden (a grassed area beside the Cut).


I’ve been chatting to quite a few of Bristol’s homeless people over recent months and I found my final stop at God’s Garden particularly poignant. On Iona, St Oran’s Chapel was the place that the bodies of numerous kings were sent for burial – the end of the journey (literally)… the homecoming, as it were. God’s Garden was my final stop before arriving back at home, just up the road. But, for many of the homeless, God’s Garden IS home. Small, rough tents, belonging to these otherwise homeless people, have appeared over recent months. As you might imagine, it’s far from ideal but it does represent the nearest thing to home for many of them. It’s a very tough existence – made all the worse because of the frequent thefts of their ‘belongings’ or people causing deliberate damage to their tents… or even the risk of flooding (from the adjacent tidal Cut). Life is tough… everyone needs their dignity.
Within two minutes of leaving God’s Garden, I passed a roadsign declaring “Home Zone ENDS” (Home Zones are small local residential areas where traffic and pedestrians are mixed together – no pavements). In the circumstances, it seemed a particularly ironic, sad statement.
The day proved to be another challenging and thought-provoking time… and something that I will no doubt repeat in Bristol over the coming years.
This Celtic blessing, from the book, seemed to sum up my day rather nicely:
May God’s goodness be yours,
and well, and seven times well, may you spend your lives:
may you be an isle in the sea,
may you be a hill on the shore,
may you be a star in the darkness,
may you be a staff to the weak;
and may the power of the Spirit
pour on you, richly and generously,
today, and in the days to come.
Photos: just a few photographs from my day.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

my life as a courgette…

Taking a somewhat pessimistic view of the outcome of today’s general election (but, hey, maybe I’ll be proved wrong?!), I decided to cheer myself up yesterday by going to see Claude Barras’s “My Life As A Courgette”.
You might not have come across the film before, but I’m just telling you:
PLEASE, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU SEE IT!
When I tell you that it’s an animation film – only 66 minutes long – featuring characters with enormous heads and that the leading individual is a nine year-old boy who calls himself “Courgette” (well, his mother used to call him that name), then you’d be excused for thinking that my enthusiasm was just a little over-the-top…
Courgette finds himself in a local orphanage after his alcoholic mother’s sudden death. There he meets a misfit group of children, each with their own emotional baggage and traumas to bear. But, with the help of the brilliantly supportive orphanage staff, the children find ways of getting on with their lives - and in relative harmony. Courgette’s world becomes even brighter with the arrival of young Camille…
It’s a PG film made for both children and adults (but, with all the tragic family backgrounds, my gut feeling is perhaps 10 years plus?).
The film deals with very difficult issues… but it still manages to be funny, tender, sensitive, uplifting and very beautiful. The music (by Sophie Hunger) is rather lovely too.
I didn’t (quite) cry, but critic Mark Kermode certainly did… and gave it a five star review.
I absolutely LOVED this film (and so will you)!
PS: When I originally saw the trailer, it came with sub-titles (and, with the pretty rapid dialogue, it probably meant that you’d be concentrating on the sub-titles rather than the animation?)… but the version I saw yesterday had been dubbed in English – which probably made it easier (for me) to digest/appreciate the film fully.

 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

golem…

Moira and I went along to the Bristol Old Vic last night to see Theatre Company 1927’s “Golem”… and we emerged feeling incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such a wonderful piece of extraordinary, inventive theatre.
Our good fortune was at Hannah+Felix’s expense (literally)… they had passed on their tickets to us after another engagement had cropped up (doubly sad, because I know they would both have enjoyed the performance enormously).
The 1927 Theatre production embraces technology, art, design, original film and animation projections (by Paul Barritt) with stunning, slick precision to tell director/writer Suzanne Andrade’s story about mass-technology and its effects on our lives - initially through the ‘character’ of a clay figure called Golem, who comes to life and begins to take on basis tasks that help simplify the life of its ‘owner’… and this Golem, in turn, is replaced by Golem 2… and then Golem 3 (a bit like iPhone 7?).
Technology gradually taking over.
It’s a brilliant blend of acting, music, projections and lighting… breathtakingly clever, witty and stunningly stylish. The acting (and the immaculate timing) is excellent.
The mingling of of live performance with animation and film is quite, quite magical.
As we approach another General Election, it’s perhaps a gentle reminder of some of the shortcomings and losers in this brave new world of ours! You know, the one where corporations and shareholders seem to be the only winners?!
Essentially, it’s a message about anti-consumerism and anti-technology/dreams becoming nightmares… and, obviously, as someone who a) still uses a pen or pencil to write notes, b) doesn’t own an iPad, c) has recently exchanged his BlackBerry for a very basic answer/call/text mobile phone and d) no longer owns a car, I can be excused for feeling somewhat superior and smug! Yeh, right!
It really was an extraordinary, colourful, intoxicating, unique evening of theatre – 90 non-stop minutes full of wonderful imagery and invention… and a modern fable.
PS: The 1927 Theatre Company is on tour with ‘Golem’ until 24 June. Today (3 June) is the last night at the Old Vic, but it’ll be showing at Ipswich, Oxford and Harrogate over the coming weeks. If you get a chance, PLEASE see this production… you DEFINITELY won’t regret it!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

the red turtle…

Moira and I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Michael Dudok de Wit’s “The Red Turtle”. It’s a co-production with Japanese animation giants Studio Ghibli (Isao Takahata is artistic producer)… so it immediately ticked LOTS of boxes as far as I was concerned!
It’s a stunningly beautiful film – with Dudok de Wit mixing hand- and computer-drawn images throughout – and it’s also completely wordless! Laurent Perez del Mar’s breath-taking score perfectly complements the minimalist visuals… making words completely unnecessary!
The film is about the unlikely ‘friendship’ between an island castaway and an enormous sea turtle. The shipwrecked man, on a deserted island, struggles to construct a raft, but every attempt to leave is thwarted by a huge red turtle that seems intent on having him stay.
This is one of those films that you just have to see for yourself… it’s an enigmatic masterpiece.
Everyone who sees it will no doubt have a different ‘take’ on the film. I certainly don’t intend to try to explain it (I’m still trying to come to terms with bits of it myself) but I’ll just say this: the man sets out to foil the creature’s attempts to prevent his escape but, in doing so, the man finds himself being instructed in the ways of companionship, respect for the environment and ultimately being led to understand that nature must take its course.
But don’t just take my word for it… I’ve just read Mark Kermode’s five-star review in The Guardian and he ends his piece as follows:
“Seamlessly combining analogue and digital animation…, they compose a visual symphony that seems to comprise a history of cinema itself; from monochrome nights to richly hued days; from porous green trees to luminous blue seas; orange sunlight to pearlescent moonlight…
Integrating his cues with the natural soundscape, the composer utilises wood and bamboo percussion, gentle flutes and soaring strings to negotiate the film’s kaleidoscopic tones. The melodies have a nursery rhyme candour, yet encompass themes of longing and anguish, despair and delight, love and death.
I could say more, but this is a film that respects the sound of silence. It is a work of art which transcends boundaries of language, culture, geography and age. It is simply magnificent”.
It’s a poignant, powerful, gentle, charming and rather wonderful film – which I strongly urge you to see.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

april-may 2017 books…

Old Filth (Jane Gardam): This is the second book I’ve read from Gardam’s “Old Filth” trilogy… in fact, this particular book was the first to be published (in 2004). Filth (the name given to him by his colleagues at the Bar – ‘Failed In London Try Hong Kong’!), in his heyday, was an international lawyer with a practice in the Far East. He was born in the mid-1920s and, after a childhood in Malaya, was one of many children sent ‘Home’ from the East to be fostered and educated in England at the onset of WW2. It’s a beautiful, poignant and, frequently, very funny book about the ‘glory days’ of the British Empire… and about ageing and relationships. Gardam is a brilliant writer and this is one of my very favourite books.
Gut (Giulia Enders): The book cover describes it thus: “the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ’. In 2012, Enders (who was then studying for a doctorate in gastroenterology) won the first prize at the Science Slam in Berlin with her talk “Charming Bowels”! She duly received offers to write a book on the subject and “Gut” is the resulting publication (“a publishing sensation” as The Times describes it). It’s an absolutely fascinating book – hugely entertaining and informative – covering all manner of things from the basics of nutrient absorption to the latest science linking bowel bacteria with depression. A thoroughly enthralling book, but one which, ultimately, I was somewhat relieved to have finished… there’s only SO much talk about poo, vomiting, constipation et al that one can take! A pretty wonderful book, nevertheless… and beautifully illustrated too (yes, really!)! 
The Cubs And Other Stories (Mario Vargas Llosa): Llosa, born in Peru in 1936, is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and this a collection of early writing in a volume of seven short stories… essentially related Llosa’s “domain of male youth and machismo, where life’s dramas play themselves out on the soccer field, on the dance floor and on street corners”. I have to admit that I sometimes struggled to come to terms with the author’s writing style (especially in ‘The Cubs’). Not exactly my cup of tea. Sorry!
Botanicum (Katie Scott and Kathy Willis): This is a rather stunning book that celebrates the world of plants. Text by Kew’s Director of Science, Professor Kathy Willis, and lavishly illustrated by Katie Scott. It describes itself as a “museum” which is “open all hours”. As you would imagine, it’s very informative and Scott’s drawings are very beautiful (if I have one gripe – and I’m sure it’s just me! – I do think SOME of the coloured illustrations have a rather “Walt Disney”, almost cartoonish, quality about them, which wasn’t to my personal taste… but a very lovely book nevertheless.
Last Friends (Jane Gardam): This is the last book of Gardam’s ‘The Old Filth’ trilogy. I’ve REALLY enjoyed all the books and will certainly be seeking out more of her books over the coming months. ‘Last Friends’ is continuing story about love, memories and ageing (see above!) – this time, adding Veneering’s story to the mix (Veneering was Old Filth’s chief “rival in law and love”… who later became a good friend). Gardam’s gift for the gradual uncovering of events and people’s stories (and the sheer beauty of her writing) are some of the real joys of all three books. Highly recommended! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I’ve just voted…

This afternoon, I sent off my postal vote in connection with next month’s General Election.
I’m a member of the Green Party but, somewhat controversially (many would say… especially my Green Party friends), I voted for Karin Smyth – our local Labour Party candidate (and the sitting MP).
I did so NOT because I think the Labour Party has proved to be an effective Opposition – far from it – but because I felt it was the most effective way, locally (under our ridiculous first-past-the-post electoral system), to ensure that the Conservative Party didn’t sneak in through the back door.
I actually think the chances of this are extremely slim (it’s been a Labour stronghold since 1935) – although if UKIP’s vote collapses (they came third in 2015 with over 8,000 votes), then the Tories could feasibly win if all former UKIP voters changed to the Conservatives (Labour beat the Tories by just over 7,000 votes last time).

At the beginning of November last year, I blogged about my fears (given the state of the Opposition) that there was going to be a General Election“very soon”. I felt that the ONLY way to prevent a Tory landslide at the next general Election was “for the opposition parties to work together in order to try to maximise their chances (they might not win an election but, at worst, they might secure a far more effective Opposition)”.
I went on to say that in order for this happen, it would “require Labour, LibDems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru to work together (in England and Wales) and to decide which party stands the best chance of winning each individual parliamentary seat (and to concentrate their limited resources/budget accordingly). Sadly (in terms of true democracy), this will mean that the Green Party, for instance, should only contest perhaps a total of say six seats; the LibDems say 75; Plaid Cymru say 20? In all the other constituencies (and, yes, that would include mine), this would mean the electorate making a straight decision between the Tories and Labour (with UKIP perhaps eating into more Tory votes than Labour!).
It’s far from ideal, but it might be the ONLY way the Labour Party (and the country!) can avoid utter disaster. It would also mean that the Labour Party would agree to incorporate LibDems/Greens/Plaid Cymru policies within its own manifesto (and include members from the other parties within its own Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet)”.

Sadly, despite the Green Party pressing other political parties to enter into some form of election pact, no such arrangement has been agreed. In my view, even despite the lack of any official agreement, I firmly believe it is quite ludicrous for the Green Party to waste its very limited financial resources (don’t get me started on funding for national parties!), for example, here in South Bristol (where it gained support from less than 12% of constituency voters in 2015)… instead, again in my view, they should be concentrating 100% on winning Bristol West (a distinct possibility according to the local media). Bristol West is one of only a handful of seats throughout the country that the Greens have ANY chance of winning. Unfortunately, any such Green victory would be at the expense of Labour!
So, far from ideal, but frankly, there probably isn’t a single current Tory seat in our local area that the Conservative Party is likely to lose 
But now the die is cast… the deadline for candidates to be in place has passed (on 11 May). I just find it staggering that the Opposition parties haven’t been able (or even shown any desire… apart from the Greens) to allow a constituency-by-constituency arrangement for current Tory-held seats or identified ‘marginals’ whereby only a single opposition candidate from the national parties stands against a Conservative candidate.  

So, it’s now all down to the electorate (and you probably know my views on democracy!). If EVERY voter – well, realistically, those living in perhaps the hundred(?) where the outcome might be in doubt, under the first-past-the-post system - made a careful judgement and only voted for the opposition candidate most likely to have a chance of winning against the Tory candidate, then the outcome could be VERY different… but I’m not holding my breath.
I would love the opinion polls to be wrong yet again and for a non-Tory government to be in place come 9 June, but I very much doubt it.
I fear the worst!