Friday, 27 March 2009

I made this

The last time I was back at my parent’s home, I had the opportunity to rummage through all my old childhood crap. This was actually at the request of my Mum, who has slowly grown tired of all her spare storage space resembling some kind of pop-culture dumping ground. To my delight, I came across this lovingly crafted homage to Star Wars made in infant school when I was 5 or 6. As I recall, my whole life at that age revolved around The Muppets and this
sacred trilogy.

It’s surprising how easy it is to pick out and recognise characters from the film on the cover and first page. I can’t decide whether it’s my uncanny artistic prowess at such a young age or that the characters are now so genuinely iconic, you could probably pick them out from undistinguishable blobs on a page. I think it’s probably the latter. That’s my teacher’s hand-writing on the cover by the way.

I think I’ve misunderstood a fundamental point to the Death Star and our heroes' introduction to it. They weren’t trying to get in the damn thing!

Proof of my early, active imagination as I surreptitiously place an Imperial stormtrooper on some ladders above the Vader/Obi Wan climatic fight scene. An example of thinking outside the cinematic box at such a young age.

Not sure what I had in mind when I created the red blob surrounded by a shimmering yellow light. Also, my interpretation of an X-Wing looks like a glowing candlestick holder with the bottom missing.

Notice how I deem the destruction of a major threat in the evil Empire worthy of some ‘prizes’ for Luke and co, as if they’ve just won the two-legged race at a school sports day.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Cinema Experience

Being an avid cinemagoer and living in London, I feel particularly spoilt for choice in regards to the diverse range of films available, although cinemas in the West End aren’t really the cheapest places to go if you want to see something (I paid £24 for two tickets recently). I love the Ritzy in Brixton and one of my fondest cinema memories is strolling out of there on a cool, summers afternoon a couple of years ago, having watched a re-release of Antonioni’s The Passenger.

Although I’ve visited what could probably be considered an unhealthy amount of both commercial and independent cinemas in both in London and elsewhere, my all-time favourite is still the The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. Situated deep in the middle of a deprived housing area, home to both a large student and Asian community, the Picture House is truly a hidden gem. It’s a place I visited often during my student years and beyond, taking in some amazing pieces of cinema and genuine classics along the way (Far from Heaven, Morvern Caller, Mulholland Drive, Battle Royale, Y tu mamá también, Memento, Amores Perros.)

Built in the early 1900s, the cinema’s old, murky Edwardian décor, complete with a piano, organ and gas lighting, really provided a unique viewing experience. I mean, how many times could you actually claim to have watched a David Lynch film while sat in a building, the interior of which could have sprung from his own fertile imagination. There were times when I half expected to walk into a screening and instead be greeted to a strobing light and a backwards-talking dwarf stepping out from the cinema’s ancient crimson velvet curtains. This was by no means a luxurious place to watch a film however. A small, cramped counter housed both the snack bar and box office, ensuring chaos on busy evenings, and a packet of wet-wipes were always on hand in the men’s toilet as the taps didn’t work. A security guard was even employed during screening times as the cinema had experienced more than its fair share of robberies.

One of the many reasons why I love film is the notion of escaping your normal, drab surroundings for a couple of hours and being immersed in a world completed removed from your own. The Hyde Park Picture House best exemplified this for me. Whether having the opportunity to hang with a bunch of young, rebellious Californian skaters (Dogtown & Z-Boys), or observe two thirtysomethings wondering around the left-bank in Paris, rekindling a brief romance from the past (Before Sunset), the Hyde Park offered escapism in an area where it was much needed, enhancing the whole cinematic experience in the process. Just don’t get me started on how cheap the price of tickets was!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Dear Diary

I’ve just dug out an old journal which includes some entries on visits to the cinema. There are moments of drama, comedy and horror here, on and off-screen:

Red Shadow
I’m at the annual Leeds Film Festival where an overenthusiastic audience member juggling a days worth of cinema snacks (nachos with the works, popcorn, big-ass cup of Pepsi), trips and falls violently into the steps next to me. Carnage.

Hot Shots
Letting my hand wander to the side of my seat during the film, I find a strange object which, after much touching and groping, I eventually realise to be the foot of the guy who is sat behind me. Unfairly labelled a ‘dirty fucking weirdo’ by my so-called friends whom I mistakenly confess to afterwards.

Smack-head wonders into the cinema, making occasional indistinguishable noises as the film starts, then begins yelling “it’s fucking DeNiro!” as if he can’t quite believe who he’s seeing on the screen in front of him and wants to share it with the rest of the cinema. He exits soon after this.

Exorcist re-release
Regrettably attend a showing with an audience who have just stumbled out of seeing American Pie for the 24th time. Cue lots of uproarious laughter during serious scenes in film. I sit there quietly seething, wanting to scold these ignorant fools and explain how they need to understand the film in its original context, its images and power have been lost/diluted due to years of parody and homage’s, etc. Ultimately do nothing and decide to sit and suffer through it.

Feeling particularly cultured, buy a ticket for acclaimed new Czech film. Grow increasingly confused as cinema begins to fill up with an excited Indian audience, many of whom have brought their whole families along. Realise my mistake when the opening credits to a Bollywood film called Koyla begin.

Battle in Heaven
Go on my own to see existential Mexican art-house kidnap drama. Opening scene starts in slow-mo and is an extreme close-up of a young girl fellating a sweaty, overweight gentleman who is considerably older than her. Suddenly I’m very aware of being on my own, and that the cinema is eerily quiet. It dawns on me that there are probably people in here with ulterior motives. Eugh!

The Phantom Menace

I’ve read the reviews. I convince myself that all I need to do is to lay low for a while, let the hype die down, then judge the film on its own merits. I mean, it’s Star Wars! The curtains go back and the familiar 20th Century Fox logo appears, followed by the glittering Lucasfilm one. Beautiful. My eyes begin to well up (slightly) as all the memories of the film which first awakened my passion in cinema all those years ago, come flooding back. Any hints of warm nostalgia soon disappear and after 115 minutes, I am convinced that I have just been witness to the biggest disappointment in my life. That night, I make the uneasy transition from boy to man.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Not such a Daft idea

There was much excitement when I read an article in the trades this week, stating that French electro duo Daft Punk will be supplying the score for the belated sequel to Disney’s 1982 cult classic, Tron. If the makers can successfully blend the film’s aesthetic with the retro-digital stylings of Daft Punk, this could potentially be a perfect marriage between movie and music. I’m actually surprised more directors don’t use electronic artists and after having sat through the painfully monotonous piano interludes in Revolutionary Road recently, I’m not sure I want to hear another traditional film score anymore.

There are a number of respected, electronic artists out there (Trentemøller, M83, Sascha Funke and Booka Shade to name but a small few) whose music sounds like it’s been purposely created and conceived to run alongside a narrative. A few have even been getting in on the act. Progressive, breaks/classical house band Hybrid have teamed up with Hollywood composers Harry Gregson-Williams and John Murphy in the past, while Underworld have contributed to the scores for Sunshine and Breaking and Entering. Daft Punk too, are familiar with this process, although in a reverse way. They commissioned a feature-length anime sci-fi film, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, to work as a soundtrack to the tracks on their 2001 album, Discovery. One half of the duo, Thomas Bangalter, composed the frantic and literally nauseating score for Gasper Noe’s Irreversible (2002).

The film music of Tangerine Dream is perhaps considered the benchmark when it comes to electronic scores. Coming from a background within the Krautrock movement in Germany during the late 60’s-early 70’s, the band produced a series of film soundtracks a decade later, the majority of these which still sound fresh and innovative today (my ipod’s playlists are populated by many of them). Their ability to set the tone and mood of a film was often mesmerising, and it’s never more evident and captivating than a scene from the film Near Dark where Caleb and Mae, the film’s two young protagonists, meet for the first time at night, on a blue neon-spilled street.

I’m really eager for more contemporary musicians to follow in the footsteps of these guys. It would also make sense financially, for whoever’s funding a film, to seek out a well-known electronic artist. Daft Punk have got a huge following and I’m guessing there will be a lot more bums-in-seats when the sequel to Tron is released in cinemas, with fans of the group curious to hear what they have produced and how it’s been used on screen.

Come on Hollywood and Britain - start digging deeper when looking for artists to score your movies. There’s an untapped goldmine out there!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Geekly TV Listings

As a young teenager forming a love of cinema, I owed a great deal of my film education and appreciation to BBC 2’s series Moviedrome. This UK show was presented by film-maker Alex Cox (later replaced by Mark Cousins) who, each week, would introduce an eclectic mix of left-field, mostly American genre films. Viewers would be treated to showing of both schlocky, exploitation material alongside films of a more esoteric nature (the latter I grew to appreciate more at a later age.)

It was where I watched, for the first time, a list of film which occupied and awakened my pubescent mind to exciting, alternative (and many occasions) darker cinematic experiences: Escape From New York, Night of the Comet, Brazil, Vamp, Rabid, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Darkman, Trancers, Manhunter, Halloween and later on, La Vie Sexuelle des Belges (The Sexual Lives of Begium) and Spanking the Monkey. Moviedrome was a place where you could watch stuff which was normally off limits to you at the local video shop and all you needed were understanding (or unaware) parents and the ability to set your video recorder’s timer on a Sunday night (school in the morning!) These films were often watched the following day of broadcast, usually with a group of friends all crowded together in someone’s bedroom. They encouraged debate, sparked our imaginations and led us to seek out and rent similar titles, when possible.

Paradoxically, the digital age we’ve living in where viewing accessibility appears boundless, hasn’t necessarily guaranteed the full availability of the types of films synonymous with Moviedrome, especially from the earlier series. Some are still missing from DVD (especially in the UK), terrestrial TV doesn’t have the budget to screen this type of programming anymore and satellite channels appear to show more obvious ‘cult’ films, presumably down to the pressure of screening work which is more accessible and likely to draw a wider audience. I know the internet has everything we could wish for information-wise, but the opportunity for this stuff to be presented directly to an audience, with background information on the history and social context of the film, makes a huge difference.

It’s a shame that teenagers growing up in this era, desperate for something a little different and unique from the normal, generic crap fed to them, don’t have a series like Moviedrome to help shape and guide their undernourished cinematic interests.

Check out Alex Cox's website which includes a PDF of an old Moviedrome film guide: