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Shorts 2

I heard Nadine Shah on the radio recently, and had to stop what I was doing and wait until they announced who the singer was.   Her voice was so strong and quite deep, and she sounded visceral. Not lacking in precision or control, but as if she’d really lived the lyrics.  I can’t stand this current trend for whimsical, girly, twirly nu-folk shit.  Folk music, real folk music, is sung with real passion.  What I object to is women who are styled like little fairies, and who sing as if they are prepubescent. 

J and I went to see Nadine Shah in concert.  She’s half Pakistani, half Norwegian, brought up in Tyneside.  She was wearing tight trousers, a tight top and a jacket.  She was incredibly sexy.  She was funny, warm and rude.  She’s descibed as being like Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, and that’s definitely true, but she’s also earthier.  

She could eat Zoey Deschanel for breakfast.

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I saw Chimerica recently at the Harold Pinter theatre.  I came out feeling extremely positive – it’s an exciting piece of theatre.  The set really is extraordinary, and usually if one is commenting on the set, the production must have been pretty insignificant.  But in this instance, the set and the production are of a very high standard.  It’s a piece that exercised my brain, made me concentrate on keeping up with the ideas.  It wasn’t until later that I started to feel it had all been a bit…hollow.  I think it was because the Western characters felt a bit like cyphers.  They didn’t convince as real people, with complex emotional hinterlands.  The love story was just cheesy (although when the characters were less emotionally involved I found their relationship credible – awkward and hesitant and funny).  Some lines felt lifted from a bad movie (‘I love you, and I think I’ve been in love with you for a very long time’), and the revealed pregnancy at the end was cliched and unconvincing.

Zhang Lin seemed a much more believable character.  I found his emotional statis compelling, the tragedy deepened when we learn, or remember, how the events of the Tiananmen Square uprising have been utterly excised from Chinese history and public discourse.  He cannot grieve, because what happened to him did not happen to him.  He is completely lost.  This storyline has enough poignancy, it does not need to be made into melodrama by turning Zhang Lin into ‘Tank Man’.  Perhaps it was supposed to be representative, but it felt heavy-handed.

I’m not sure I learnt much that was new to me, not because I’m any kind of expert in Chinese politics, but because we were not presented with viewpoints that would suprise us.  That doesn’t make them untrue, or even cliched, but I would like to have had some of my preconceptions challenged, rather than reinforced.  I hadn’t, however, thought much about Tiananmen Square since not long after it happened.  It was therefore important to be reminded.  Particularly because the Chinese public are not allowed to be.

It’s a very impressive piece of writing and staging.  I enjoyed it a lot.  The playwright is still very young, and what lies ahead must be work of even more sophistication, deftness and emotional maturity.

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What a perfect night for a bike ride.  Summer’s final hurrah.

Crowds milling gently outside pubs.

Restaurants with awnings open, tables outside on pavements.

Windows throwing light on to the streets.

Two men sitting outside, drinking coffee together, smoking.

Inside, a tableau of men, one sits back in his chair, sated, arms outstretched over adjacent chairs.

The black and white tiled splendour of the Deco hotel, unexpectedly exotic and out of time.

New lovers kissing self-consciously, not yet at ease with each other.

The sound of laughter.

Three Chinese girls, beautiful, holding their cigarettes like pencils.

A city suddenly relaxing, exhaling, imagining itself a continental place.

Streets without traffic.

The coolness of autumn under the warmth, shining my cheeks.

 

 

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I first saw The Thin Red Line when I had just left university.  I don’t remember why I wanted to see it, perhaps I’d read a good review.  It seems an odd choice for my 21 year old self.  The film was unlike any other film I’d seen before then, and perhaps set some sort of standard for me.  Four or five years ago was The New World, with the same tropes and style.  Pocohontas was wrestled out of Disney’s clutches and given a story that, whilst flawed and no doubt also romanticised and fictionalised, attempted to capture the terrible strangeness of Europeans’ first encounter with America and its native inhabitants.

I went to see The Tree of Life last night, alone.  I prefer to see alone films that I know will affect me deeply.  I prefer to leave the cinema in silence, walk home in silence, and remain in the world created by the filmmaker for a bit longer.  So it was last night.  It’s a masterpiece.  It walks the tightrope of pretension (all of Malick’s films do) and perhaps there are moments of portentousness.  I think he is allowed that, because of the emotional truth of his filmmaking, and because he has earned this.  Malick reminds the audience that cinema is above all an artform.  It has become a deeply conservative artform, both in outlook and in structure.  He doesn’t care about straightforward linear narratives, or about reality, or worrying that the audience won’t ‘get’ what’s going on.  His vision is clear, and his execution is unflinching.  The result was visually arresting, emotionally devastating and unlike anything in mainstream cinema at the moment.  I say mainstream, because I went to see the film in my local multiplex (I know, I should be supporting local independents, but on this occasion it was convenient and I could use my student discount).  And the fact that alongside Tree of Life were the usual Hollywood offerings, dull and brainless, made the experience all the more heartening.  This is a filmmaker who expects that his work will be widely available, and that people will want to go and see it.  It’s not niche.  It’s got Brad Pitt in it, and Sean Penn.

Not every film requires a directorial signature that is so unmistakeable.  Some films are fine to be told as a story, beginning, middle and end.  Some films are designed just to entertain, and that’s also important.  But some films are made to remind us that cinema is not the poor relation of other artforms.  It can change us.

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