Friday, February 10th

ONE THIS WEEK IN FILMLAND 1
I often think that getting older is a fight against becoming jaded. And this thought occurs often when watching films. So few do anything out of the ordinary, that you haven’t seen a hundred times before. Television has now become the place for long-form narratives, leaving most films with an undercooked set of characters (stack 120 minutes up against several thousand – we could call it, say, the Analyse This vs The Sopranos syndrome). To watch a film like Hackshaw Ridge is to see (once, that is, you’ve got past Mel Gibson’s gratuitous and unsavoury dwelling over flailed and melted flesh and blown-apart faces) a film cleave so strongly to the time-honoured template that you know every plotline and signpost right down to the end credits. Large chunks of predictable dialogue, poor CGI and painfully obvious music leave you wondering just how much time and money it took to make such a mediocre film, one that does no service to the incredible true story that it’s based on.

So this week it was great to see two films that jettisoned most of the rulebook. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is an hallucinatory impression of the time between the assassination of JFK and his funeral procession through a stunned Washington, from the viewpoint – and through the face of – Jacqueline Kennedy. From the first, queasy string figure over impressionistic images of Natalie Portman as Jackie, the music mirrors the choppy, darting way that the film is edited. The score, by Mica Levi, is solemn and vertiginous by turns, and stunningly integrated. Apparently she sent some proposed sections to Larrain before the editing started and he worked with them. Maybe that’s how the jolting lurches, the film’s visual signature, came about.

This is from groovy online magazine FACT: “I’ve just always been interested in those glisses,” Levi says of the warped sound that permeates the score. “It’s something that happens if you slow [your playing] down, you get this glooping and distortion and morphing of [sound].” A glissando, or a glide, also gives the score an extra frill – but it also creates a sound palette for Jackie that is both reminiscent of the 1960s, and reflective of music right now. “Back in the day, especially around this time, a lot of music was quite soupy and there was a way of being indulgent by having a glissando. There’s something quite rich about it,” Levi says. You can stream the soundtrack here.

[I’d really recommend watching a fascinating and beautifully-made documentary found on National Geographic’s channel, JFK: The Final Hours, before seeing the film [on YouTube here]. It examines the three-day trip to Texas that ended in Dealey Plaza, interviewing people who met or saw the First Couple, from 8-year old Bill Paxton (who narrates the film) to 30-year-old Alexander Arroyos, vice chairman of the League of Latin American citizens, whose event on the eve of their flight to Dallas was graced by Jacqueline Kennedy giving a short speech in Spanish, which she’s seen practicing in Jackie.]

TWO THIS WEEK IN FILMLAND 2
I’m not sure what to say about Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, only that it’s absolutely astonishing. Paradoxically it builds up a head of steam while becoming quieter and more static, so that by the last scenes you’re almost holding your breath. No reviews that I’ve read so far have really conveyed what makes it unique, and I’m not going to try. Visually it looks like it’s been shot by a great photojournalist and, sonically, the score by Nicholas Britell is perfect [excerpt here].

THREE SKY ARTS LIVE AT ABBEY ROAD CLASSICS (!)
I can’t tell you how many of the performances in this series are anything but. However, a new low was reached by Bryan Adams, promoting his 2008 album, 11. A self-satisfied cliché-machine, he managed to talk about his own studio in Vancouver (“State-of-the-Art” – aren’t they always?) rather than say anything about the hallowed space of Abbey Road. After 20 minutes of sustained pummeling, the chords of D and G were ready to give up the ghost. The lyrics. The lyrics. The lyrics! Not even Songwriting 101. “She’s got a way of getting inside your soul/She’d breach the walls of Jericho/Make you fall like virgin snow…” And the deathless, “She comes to me like rain falls down my window, Sure as night will follow day.” Anyway, here’s a still of Jerry Jemmott’s exquisite fingers (he was playing with Gregg Allman on one of the programmes) from just before the fade for the end credits.

jemmott

FOUR DAVID BYRNE ON THE ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG SHOW
On seeing the exhibition at Tate Modern, Byrne wrote:
“We began to ask about the place where Bob spent some of his formative years, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina… Here are the basics of the school’s philosophy. John Rice, the founder, believed that the arts are as important as academic subjects; there was less segregation between disciplines than you’d find at a conventional school; no separation between faculty and students; no grades; no compulsory classes. Here’s what now seems like a really radical idea – manual labour (gardening, construction, etc) was also key. No one had outside jobs; they all chipped in to build the actual school, and helped serving meals or doing maintenance. I asked the curator, Achim, if these new ideas about progressive education were what was primarily responsible for the explosion of creativity in this tiny school. He said, yes, those factors were influential, but just as much were other factors – the fact that many of the faculty were refugees (those pesky immigrants!) from the rise of nationalism and intolerance going on in Europe at the time.”

Here is a link to the story of the cover that Rauschenberg made for Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues.

FIVE EVEN MORE MUSIC TV
The Channel 4 series, The Great Songwriters, has been hit and miss – Ryan Adams was a little dull, Bill Withers was interesting (but the programme featured his daughter performing his songs rather pallidly), Jimmy Webb strangled his own creations and Carly Simon was fine-ish. The Barry Gibb one was fascinating, though, as Barry, like Tom Jones in his autobiography, was straightforward and honest about failure as well as success.

Can I ask you about “Islands in the Stream”?
“Islands in the Stream” was written with Diana Ross in mind, as we were finishing up that project, which proves that R ’n’ B and country music are alike in many ways – we didn’t think of it in terms of Kenny Rogers. Kenny called up and said, would you do a couple of songs for me? And, once again, Maurice said we should be recording this song, but I believe if we’d recorded that song we wouldn’t have got on the radio. Because it was post-Fever, and that was our fate at that point, but hey, we thought we were finished in 1972!

It was Eric Clapton who said, “Why don’t you do what I did, and record in Miami? You make a record on American turf, you become Americanised…” So we did… The Eagles had brought out “One of These Nights” (also featuring a lot of falsetto as it happens!), and everyone was[recording] next door to us. Crosby, Stills and Nash were sitting in our studio as we recorded… not in the control room, on the studio floor! And Steven Stills played timbales on “You Should be Dancing”. Those experiences were phenomenal!” [ed: Which led to their post-shooting soundtrack work on Saturday Night Fever – where, in fact, John Travolta had actually been dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs tracks during the filming.]

AND FINALLY… THINGS I FORGOT TO POST IN 2016, PART 1
A wonderful piece on an extraordinary event: George Foster was at Albert Ayler’s appearance at the London School of Economics in 1966, and this is his fascinating account of how shabbily the establishment and the BBC dealt with it. The International Times printed this (below), and you can read the piece, published by London Jazz News, here.

! Ayler.jpg

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Comments

  1. mikewatsonditko@yahoo.co.uk says:

    Hi Jim, some interesting views expressed

  2. I know what you mean about “getting older is a fight against becoming jaded”. This is how Julian Barnes expressed it in “The Sense of an Ending” when the narrator tells us: “Sometimes i think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” As for films, one reason to be cheerful about BAFTA was the win for 13th as best doc. Ava DuVernay has made an Alternative History of USA, from the viciously racist movie Birth Of A Nation to the politics of Donald Trump. It’s a horrid story yet the interviewees are so articulate and the use of music is powerful and apt. I’m gonna shock you by confessing I found Hacksaw Ridge quite moving. Andrew Garfield makes this extraordinary story convincing, despite all the CGI and music and explosions. Clearly Mel brings some difficult baggage with him, but I found Apocalypto an impressive re-creation of pre-Columbian America, preferable to the pantheism of Malick’s The New World. You’re right about Moonlight. It’s extraordinary how much tension Jenkins instils into scenes where very little is happening.

    • Must see 13th, thanks for the prompt, Mick. And I’m with you (just) on Apocalypto. But Hackshaw Ridge I can’t budge on. I really hated it. All of it. Garfield was fantastic in 99 Homes (a film that people only seem to have seen on planes, it had such a small and short release), but here I felt he was bogged down by the clichés (sweet gingham-clad girl at home, barking Sergeant Major, see-it-all-before training, ridiculous number of explosions…).

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