Film club

Not the most popular flavour of Jacob’s once popular chocolate-coated biscuit, but neither mint nor orange would serve my titular needs.

As mentioned in my last post, whilst in Cambridge at the end of September I took in some of the annual Film Festival.  This was great fun, as ever, and allowed my to renew my acquaintance with the Arts Picturehouse, but offered two particular cinematic delights.

Firstly, I saw Othello transmitted live from the National Theatre – the first time I’d been to see the theatre at the cinema.  This was surprisingly effective and does allow you to get extraordinarily close to the action (and the actors!) and I shall definitely use the cinema to catch plays again (it is even cheaper than the original and would normally involve a rather shorter journey).  The performance of Othello itself was staggering powerful and more than worthy of the five start reviews it had garnered.

My second highlight was a British romantic comedy with the rather improbable title of Dead Cat.  This was enormous fun, not the clichéd nonsense that is so often passed off as romantic comedy, and made for a tiny fraction of the budget.  Since I saw it, it has even won prizes (so, it wasn’t just me that liked it).  Sadly, lacking a major studio the film has no distribution deal and so can only be caught at film festivals – today Cambridge, tomorrow Oaxaca.  It can’t find funding from the BFI as it is not appearing at festivals considered “major” enough and can’t appear there due to the lack of funding.  Given the tosh that weekly fills our multiplexes, I can’t help but feel something is very wrong in the way we fund movies.

My local cinema now, the Harbour Lights, is also part of the Picturehouse group, but is somewhat smaller than its Cambridge counterpart.  It does, however, offer the advantage of reclining seats and a balcony with views across the marina which has been a very pleasant place to partake of a little pre-movie cake (though may become less desirable as winter closes in).

At the Harbour Lights, I have enjoyed a rather fine run of films in recent months with my top tip being What Maisie Knew.  My most recent visit was to see Le Weekend which I was amused to see had been given a 15 certificate.  Given its subject matter I cannot imagine it would be of any possible interest to the under 15s, despite the lure of its fruity language and use of soft drugs.  No, the people who should be kept away are the over-50s who might acquire some highly inappropriate ideas if exposed to the movie’s content.  Perhaps the BBFC could use my input for future classification?

All too often when I do go to the cinema, avoiding the over-hyped blockbuster, the place seems far from full – though this may be as a tendency to visit when normal people are at work.  Nonetheless, I worry that my attendance is not going to keep art house cinema going (despite my economically significant consumption of incidental cake and ice cream).  So, can I exhort the readers of GofaDM to give films whose blocks are far from busted a try – there’s a surprising amount of decent stuff out there, and art house cinema doesn’t even have to be depressing (though it certainly can be, if that is your desire).

Wasting the clock change hour

This poor blog has been much neglected of late as, frankly, I haven’t had the time to ramble textually to a largely indifferent audience.  I shall chose to blame work and the “man” for this, though a wholly disinterested observer may wish to lay some of the blame at my doorstep for my tendency to go out to have “fun” rather than staying in and committing my soi-disant thoughts to print.

Well, today I have been given (along with most of the inhabitants of this fair continent) a free, “bonus” hour – though it will be taken back in March (so it’s more of a loan if I’m honest) – so I felt I had no excuse for not blogging.

Having left Cambridge in a marked manner less than three months ago, this is my second weekend back by the banks of the Cam.  I’m sure a psychiatrist would tell me this is terribly unhealthy and that I should make a clean break, but what do they know?

My first time back was to take in some of the Film Festival (something Southampton seemed to lack, though was merely being incredibly secretive about).  I also managed to meet up with friends, take in some music and a lecture and wangle an invite to formal dinner at one of the colleges (surrounded by alumni and staff, I was somewhat of an interloper – getting in by dint of giving them my piano as part of the move away from Cambridge).  On that occasion, I stayed at Churchill College in one of their student rooms – this was a wonderful (and slightly nostalgic) experience and I would always stay there again if it were possible.  Sadly, during term time they insist on allowing students to stay in their rooms – the cheek of it!

This weekend, I am back to enjoy some music – both student and otherwise – and take in a play.  I’m staying above a pub, which offers a perfectly decent room – but which is neither as cheap nor as redolent of days past as staying in college.

Cambridge, unsurprisingly, still feels like home – despite the fact that I am “living” in places I’ve never stayed (or even visited) before.  However, being here without a bicycle feels very odd – I have to walk or use the bus to get anywhere which just feels wrong.  In Oxford (and even Southampton), I can hire a Brompton for £5 per day from a “machine” at the station  – but not in Cambridge where bike hire is substantially more expensive and less convenient (especially on a Sunday).  On the plus side, staying much nearer the city makes a nice change with no need for an 8 mile bike ride home into a strong wind (well, almost always) after a gig.

Still, the sun has come out and I ought to go out and enjoy its rays before Britain is raised to the ground by the oncoming storm, or so the media would have us believe.  They have definitely learned “a” lesson from Michael Fish in 1987, I’m just not sure it’s the right one.  Then again, if by the middle of the week I am forced to forage for scraps in the ruins of our civilisation, hiding from marauding gangs of feral ex-citizens – they will be able to enjoy a brief feeling of smugness at my expense.  Anyway, I better go as with the shift to GMT, nightfall can only be minutes away!

Screen Test

Yesterday evening saw the end of the thirty second Cambridge Film Festival, an event which took rather longer than its name might suggest (in fact, it ran over some 13 days rather than half-a-minute).  2011 had represented my previous personal best at the festival (yes, I am trying to make blog capital out of the recent Olympics) with a total of three films viewed.  However, the arts need our support (now more than ever) and so I felt it was important that I make more of an effort this year.

Despite being away for three-and-a-half days of the festival (in Norfolk and Milan, since you ask), in the last nine days I have managed to see nine films.  My personal best is well and truly smashed (personally, I think it may have a wee bit of a drink problem) and, in fact, this represents the most concentrated cinema going of my life to-date.  The nine films were from seven countries in six languages (subtitles were provided for those not in English, my unaided language skills would have been inadequate otherwise) – and for five of the countries this was my first taste of their cinematic output.  All had something to enjoy though the Estonian take on The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky was very heavy going.  Admittedly, Mr D is not known as much of a funster – I did read Crime and Punishment a few years back and laughs were very thin on the ground – but the production was seriously opaque (so much so that on my return I had to Google the plot to try and work out what was going on: they did seem to have skimped somewhat on the original plot, cast and locations).  Still, if experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want, then it was certainly an experience.  (BTW: What do you get if you want experience?).

For one film, there was even a Q&A afterwards with the film’s producer and one of the leads (acting, rather than electrical).  Sadly, the only question I could think of (but wisely didn’t ask) was how (or perhaps why) a character had planted lavendula stoechas and angustifolia in full bloom out in his garden in Brighton in February: I’m no Monty Don, but this is surely asking for trouble.   Still, I try not to allow small errors of detail spoil my fun – though could also observe that it is quite a hike from Brighton to find a sandy beach to ride your motorcycle along!

In addition to the films, my support has stretched to putting away a really quite impressive number of pots of artisan ice cream and slices of cake.  No-one said that supporting the arts was easy!  Last night, as a bonus, I also nabbed another celebrity for my Heat magazine strand: Simon Shaffer – Professor of the History of the Philosophy of Science and sometime TV science documentary presenter – who was, as is becoming typical of these encounters, somewhat shorter than expected.

Seeing so many films has been great fun and I’m wondering if should see visit the ciname more often without first having agonised over a range of reviews. Spontaneous, moi?  Today I find I’m missing all my friends from the silver screen and the friendly staff of the Arts Picturehouse plying me with sweet delights (though otherwise the foul weather has curbed my desire to go outside).  Perhaps its time to return to the theatre: it should have returned from its summer recess by now – but it has been nice taking my arts locally these last few days.

40 Nights in the Wilderness

Well OK, it was only seven nights and it was in Norfolk, so no-one could take me to a high place to tempt me with dominion over all the kingdoms of the world, however, in terms of the world of 21st century communication it was very much a wilderness.

I was staying in a place without wifi, but in this age of 3G (soon to be 4G) communications hadn’t expected that to be an issue.  I possess a modern smartphone which usually allows me to remain in touch, and even blog, when away from the wifi – but not, it transpires, in Norfolk.    Whilst O2 makes up a substantial portion of the atmosphere (though less than in the past), its rays struggle to penetrate the county of Norfolk.  For much of the week, even a weak 2G signal was hard to come by – service seemed even worse than in Wales which, at least, has the excuse of its challenging topography.  I found only three places with a 3G signal: Wymondham station, Norwich city centre and, weirdly, Barton Turf staithes (which was the most remote location I visited – but obviously a priority for O2).

I know that Norfolk and its inhabitants are the butt of many a joke, with the locals allegedly being shocked by the electric light and the wheel – but in the case of modern communications this would seem to be no joke.  Norfolk must lie beyond the hegemony of the iPhone (which is now so ubiquitous that even I have one, which goes to show how far from “cool” Apple has sunk.  Then again, these days it does rather seem to have given up innovation to spend more time with its lawyers) as many of its features are unusable over most of the county.

Still, the isolation was a learning experience for yours truly.  Whilst I am not of the generation that has a panic attack if unable to check their mobile for more than 5 minutes, I found that do like to check on my electronic “life” every couple of days.  I also found that I missed the iPlayer: the radio was once again rendered all too missable.  It would seem that whilst I like to visit the countryside, I’m a city boy at heart (yes, I know that technically I live in the countryside – but I’m only a short, flatish bike ride from a university city and Cambridgeshire seems to be at least 1G ahead of its northern neighbour).  This can, perhaps, be demonstrated by my activities since my return.  With the Cambridge Film Festival in full swing (like the pendulum of a recently wound clock or a busy playground), over the least couple of days I’ve managed to take in films from Québec, Catalonia and Greece – a geographical span of art house cinema which I suspect only a city can furnish.  All the films had their appeal, though my favourite was Starbuck from French-speaking Canada – well, I say French-speaking, but the film did remind me of what terrible French they speak in Québec (which proved quite useful when I visited a few years back, as I also speak terrible French and so managed to communicate rather successfully).  However, before this degenerates into pseuds corner and I mention my plans to take in some Estonian cinema tomorrow, I should allow this post to fade to black.

The Wheelbarrow of Temptation

On Friday night I found myself at a film premiere – only the UK premiere I’ll admit, but a premiere nonetheless.  I say ‘found’ as I didn’t know I was going to a premiere and failed to spot any celebrities or added red carpet (though, the place could have been heaving with soi-disant celebs without me being any the wiser – however, I do like to think I might have noticed extra red carpet).  I only discovered the first-ness of my viewing experience when a short announcement was made just before the film started.  I have subsequently discovered that the film I went to see last Sunday was also a UK premiere.  It would seem that unlike the easily excited folk of London, the people of Cambridge take a much more measured approach to the first viewing of a film – as I have just learned, you can go to a premiere without even knowing.

You might wonder as to (a) this rash of UK premieres in the relative cinematic backwater of Cambridge and (b) the sudden surge in cinema-going by yours truly.  Luckily, the same short clause (no, not a diminutive Santa) will explain both incidents: the last 10 days have been the Cambridge Film Festival (the 31st such, in fact).  As part of my strategy to keep the arts in the UK going, single-handedly if necessary, I felt it was my duty to attend a smattering of the festival’s filmic offerings and consume some artisan ice-cream, though it quickly became clear that I would not have to carry out either of these plans on my tod (apparently rhymed for a fin-de-siècle American jockey) as the cinema was packed on each occasion and many of the flavours of over-priced ice-cream ran out well before the festival did!

Cinema going has the advantage that the audience are, on the whole, significantly younger and more attractive than accompany my more regular dalliances with the Arts, but this is coupled with the downside that the auditorium is much darker and so you can’t see them as well (the Lord giveth, and He taketh away).   The Cambridge Arts Picturehouse also allows you to take a drink (alcoholic, if such is your heart’s desire) into the auditorium – and even to take real glasses (of the drinking as well as vision-correcting variety) with you and they offer a range of rather decent cakes.  All very civilised, though sadly they do still feel the need to offer the more traditional cinema-fare of popcorn – a noisy, odiferous snack which I had always thought lacked any redeeming features.  However, on my recent visit to the Gilbert Scott, they provided sea-salt and black-pepper flavoured popcorn as a bar snack and this ‘gourmet’ popcorn was decidedly moreish, so I have subsequently found myself unable to tackle the subject of popcorn via blanket condemnation (though I still so treat blankets – I refuse to have them in the house, and view them as an obsolete bedding technology since the development of the duvet).

I took in three films during the festival – each of which had at least one of France or Time Travel as a theme. I also maintained this thematic unity in this week’s visit to the theatre – a little Molière for anyone keeping track (though I have no pr0of that Network Rail are regular readers).

My first premiere (which feels like something is being squared) was the French comedy “Romantics Anonymous” which was extremely funny – I have rarely laughed as much during a film.  It was also pleasingly brief – the viewer is provided with a decent amount of change out of 90 minutes – rather than being padded out as so many films (and, indeed, blog posts) are.  However, as is becoming a bit of a leitmotif of GofaDM, I did feel the subtitles were slightly dumbed down – and I last studied French in 1982, so I would hardly be considered a fluent French hearer.

My second film had a start time of 2230, and so I found myself in the curious (and very unusual) position of leaving the house at 2145 to go out for the ‘evening’.  This just feels wrong!  A feeling which may have been compounded by the fact that I had earlier been to a matinée performance at the theatre (the aforementioned Tartuffe).  This movie was the second UK showing of “Dimensions” (the first was the day before), a microbudget movie set (and largely made) in Cambridge.  The lack of budget was not particularly obvious (I’m also not sure quite how small microbudget might be) and certainly the credits were as long as with a normal film, though an awful lot of the people mentioned did share the same surname (which might explain some of the budget savings).  The film was interesting and entertaining – and I notice that the folk of Cambridge in the 20s and 30s were significantly more attractive and better-dressed than they are today – though I did manage to guess most of the major plot twists rather early on (I feel the opening credits give too much away).

My final film was “Midnight in Paris” – Woody Allen’s latest offering – which I absolutely loved.  The film was great fun, everything ended as it should and the music was wonderful.  I was also left with a very strong need to visit Paris again – and overheard conversations on leaving the cinema suggest the Paris tourist industry will do rather well out of the movie – though I think I may wait for the Spring-time (yes, I am a slave to cliché).

I must say that I rather enjoyed my flick-fest – and have resolved to see the inside of the cinema more often in future.  This coming week I think I shall go to see the new take on Tinker, Tailor etc – and I hope that the cinema will be offering stoned fruit (by which I mean fruit that bears a stone, rather than a drug-addled homosexual) so that the audience can join in – or perhaps I should bring my own plums to be sure.

Ah, I suppose you’ll be wondering about the title.

** Spoiler Alert **

The phrase came to me while watching Dimensions in a scene involving a wheelbarrow (and temptation) and I loved it so much that I just had to use it.  I think it may be the title for my much anticipated autobiography – a searing exposé of my life and loves.  It is only waiting on the 6+ figure advance – and, for the avoidance of doubt, all of those figures should lie to the left of the decimal point and should be in base 10 (or higher).