things i’ve seen this year and not got round to blogging about (January)

2014 has been exceptionally busy. I haven’t had a chance to blog about all the wonderful things that I’ve been able to experience – and to be honest, I worry that if I don’t blog about them, they’ll be erased from my memory just through so many other things piling in!

So, I have been making the most of living in this wonderful, cultured city – I’ve seen so many widely diverse shows, it makes me feel alive! God bless London!

Death Ship 666

The first show I saw this year, so I did actually manage to get around to blogging about it, before I got bogged down in being such a culture vulture!! See my full blog post here.

The Lost World, Barts Pathology Museum

The Lost World at Barts Pathology Museum
The Lost World at Barts Pathology Museum

Two treats in one – a visit to the amazing Barts Pathology Museum where you can peruse the fascinating and gory exhibits of medical interest in the many cases and jars (from leprous hands to a flashlight that was extracted from an ancient flashlight that was extracted from a soldier that had obviously ‘fallen’ onto it backwards) and a silent film that I hadn’t seen before.

As part of their Silent Film season, the £7.50 entrance fee included popcorn and a Hendricks giin and tonic. The Lost World (1925), based on the book by Conan Doyle (and featuring him at the start), it was the inspiration for Jurassic Park and King Kong. And it was brilliant. The stop motion animated dinosaurs felt way ahead of their time, and the acting was wonderfully non-purposely comedic. I loved it. One of the best moments was after they had carefully and painstakingly gone through the process of capturing one of the huge creatures, the caption “Later in London…” is shown, removing the need for a return journey 🙂 Brilliant!

The Pink Singers, Cadogan Hall

The Time Of My Life
The Time Of My Life

The Pink Singers are London’s LGBT choir, and in January they put on a great show at Cadogan Hall of a selection of songs from some well-known and well-loved films.  There was a great energy amongst the singers, and some fantastic high-points. I may not enjoy “I Will Always Love You” but there was no denying the sheer talent of the MALE soloist who belted out a perfect rendition. the haunting “Mad World” was my highlight though. Beautiful 🙂

Frank Skinner, Leicester Square Theatre

Frank Skinner
Frank Skinner

I was lucky to be given a friend’s ticket for Frank Skinner’s ‘Man in A Suit’ – a prelude to his tour that starts next month. After a seven year break from stand-up, he’s changed a bit. Now a father, teetotal and in his mid-50s, he’s not quite the lad that he used to be in his Fantasy Football days. He was warm and witty and relaxed, rather than outlandish and shocking with loud belly laughs. It’s not often that you get knob jokes and haikus in the same show.

populaire – france (2013)

Rose tries to remember which fingers go where!

I have been meaning to review this film for ages, and just haven’t got around to it!

I saw it at Hackney Picturehouse a few months ago, but it is now going to be available on DVD in less than 3 weeks!

It’s an unlikely subject for an entertaining film – the speed typing contests of the 1950s.

1958 and Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) is desperate to escape her tiny Normandy hometown.  Having taught herself to type on a typewriter borrowed out of the window of her father’s shop, she makes her way to apply for a secretarial job for an insurance firm in the larger town of Lisieux.

Although she can only type with two-fingers, her speed is outstanding, and this fact secures her the role, working for the dashingly handsome and chauvanistic Louis Echard (Romain Duris).

As their working relationship progresses and Rose gains confidence, Romain realises that if she can hit such typing speeds with just two fingers, that if she could type with ALL of her fingers, she should be able to win speed typing contests, thus throwing light and glory on his company.

So, he moves her into his rambling old home and sets her on a strict training regime.  Could Rose get as far as the New York world championship?  Will romance bloom under such pressure?

I absolutely adored this film.  It’s light, frothy, stylish and touching.  Déborah François is a far cry from the quiet menace of The Page Turner  but still plays that understated innocence to perfection.

By contrast, Romain Duris is flash, slightly sleazy and brooding.  The perfect Frenchman – smoking too much and with a wandering eye for the ladies.

Reminiscent of the wonderful 50s films of Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn, this is a step back into a gentler, more romantic, less trashy time. Although, being French, there had to be at least ONE nipple making an appearance.

The contests themselves are a wonderful riot of noise and colour, with some great characters – who knew that watching women type could be so entertaining!

Girls, save yourself a weekend afternoon, grab a huge mug of tea (wine) and some chocolate and curl up on the sofa.  I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face.

broken – daniel clay (audiobook)


This shocking story is told by Skunk Cunningham (so named because her mum liked the group), who is 11 years old and in a coma.

We do not know why she is there until towards the end of the story, but she tells us of the events leading up to it, starting with the violent beating of teenage neighbour Rick Buckley by another neighbour (Bob Oswald) for something that he didn’t do.

Rick then becomes the ‘Broken’ of the title, and referred to as Broken Buckley throughout.

Bob’s life however seems to continue reasonably unchanged – father to five daughters who are just as thuggishly violent as him.  Drink, drugs and sex help the days pass for the Oswald girls, and they revel in their reign of terror over everyone they know – including Skunk who is in class with one of them.

Skunk wants to enjoy just being a kid, playing too much X-Box with her older brother, forming a crush on her teacher (who also happens to be the boyfriend of their Welsh au pair – needed because their mum ran away to Spain years ago) and riding out in the sun on her bike.

But, living on this rather down-trodden square in Southampton that is lorded over by the Oswalds, Skunk is privvy to more violence, swearing, sex and criminal activity than is good for her.  And yet her narration still has a naivety about it, and a poetic repetition that is somehow childlike, and lures the reader to its shocking and dramatic climax.

This isn’t like a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a contemporary realisation – evident even in the names that have been used (eg Skunk = Scout).  Daniel Clay has made no secret of the fact that this was the inspiration for the story.

I listened to the audiobook, and Colin Moody’s narration was just right – a clever mixture of ‘telling’ what was coming in an ‘unaccented’ voice, and then accents used for actual speech, or when Skunk was narrating.

I usually only listen to books when I’m walking, but I found that as I came to the end of Broken, I was wandering around the flat in my headphones as I had to get to the end.  I had to know what actually happened to Skunk, and whether we would ever see her come out of the coma.

An amazing, horrific, beautiful, powerful, contemporary book, I immediately thought that it would make a fantastic British film – we do gritty SO well.  I looked it up and was so disappointed to see that a film HAS been made, and it should be quite good, but I had missed it being at the cinema by a matter of a couple of weeks – and so it’s not out on DVD yet either!

Gutted…but something to look forward to now!

people, national theatre (live cinema broadcast)

Frances De La tour & Linda Bassett

I don’t think I have ever seen an Alan Bennett play – in fact, until I read Smut with the E17 Book Club last year, I don’t think I had even read an Alan Bennett book!

So, I wanted to see People at the National Theatre – but by the time I thought to book it, the reasonably-priced tickets had all gone for weeks ahead.  So, I was very excited to see that there was a live broadcast being shown at the Hackney Picturehouse as I’m a member.

I watched the Theatre Live series recently on Sky Arts, presented by Sandi Toksvig and had really enjoyed that kind of theatre / live TV hybrid. However, I had no idea what to expect from a National Theatre screening.

Obviously everything is timed, and we got a lovely view of the audience as they were all filing into the theatre, and waiting for the play to start.  Then Emma Freud appeared to tell us that we were now getting to watch a 5 minute film about the play. Now THAT is something you don’t get at the theatre!

Frances De La Tour plays practically hermit-like ex-model Lady Dorothy Stacpoole – current owner of the family stately home that hasn’t been able to afford the upkeep on for many years.  She lives in mainly one room with her faithful ‘companion’, Iris played by the wonderful Linda Bassett.

Her arch-deacon sister (Selina Cadell) is trying to persuade her to give the home over to the National Trust, but Dorothy abhors ‘people’.  The thought of them traipsing all over her family’s precious land and property, just for the experience – although not actually experiencing it – is more than she can bear.  She is also being ‘wooed’ by an auctioneer (the fabulous Miles Jupp) who believes he can offer her more than just an attic sale.

When she has a surprise visit by an old friend from her modelling days, Dorothy wonders whether he could prove to be her rather unconventional salvation – much to the disgust of her sister.

I absolutely loved this play.  The mixture of ‘very proper’ and ‘downright improper’ reminded me very much of “The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson” within Smut.  Parts of it seemed quite farcical, but the contrast of those moments with the deeper, darker ones felt very well-placed, very Bennett.

De La Tour commanded the stage and made Dorothy feel completely real – aided and abetted by the beautifully comedic timing of Linda Bassett.

I have to say that I think the screening of this was fantastic, and I may have enjoyed it more than if I had seen it live in the theatre. Unexpectedly, there were many cameras, given shots from many angles, close-ups and panning shots.

The stage set was wonderful, and I believe I may have missed a lot fo that from the ‘cheap seats’.  I think I may also have lost a lot of the emotion in the performances, seeing them from afar.  the cameras kind of directed you to where you should be looking.  So I think that this was definitely a total success for National Theatre Live.

I have actually already booked to see the live screening of The Audience with Helen Mirren, so I am looking forward to that even more now.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theatre, and the whole experience of it, so don’t believe that live screenings can replace the feeling of ‘being there’, but now that I have been to one, I am happy to acknowledge that it is a very, very enjoyable second best!

People is showing at the National Theatre until 15th May 2013.

harry gregson-williams talk, barbican cinema

Harry Gregson-Williams
Harry Gregson-Williams

Me and my lovely mate were meant to be going to see In The Beginning Was The End at Somerset House last week, but someone forgot to book the tickets!  I have to book to go and see that on my own now, as there only seem to be single tickets left.

Anyway, we already had the evening booked out together, so decided to see what else was on that night.  There was a talk on at the Barbican by a film composer – not the normal kind of thing we would have gone to, but we’ve been going to a lot of silent films over the past couple of years, and so film music has started to have a little more relevance to us.  and we’re both members of the Barbican, so it was just over £8…you can’t go wrong really, can you?

At first, we felt a little fraudulent – Harry Gregson-Williams (who I had never heard of) actually attended the Guildhall School, which is next to the Barbican, and I think the majority of the audience were budding musicians and many hopeful composers.

And us.

On the stage was a beautiful piano, a 16-piece choir, electric violinist Hugh Marsh and a huge amount of ‘mixing kit’.

Any discomfort we felt about being intruders soon disappeared when Harry started speaking.  His passion shone through and he was absolutely fascinating, as well as coing across as a thoroughly likeable chap.

Although he now resides in LA, he is originally from Sussex, and is an ex-choirboy.  He came across as a kind of cross between Hugh Grant and Eddie Izzard, and I don’t quite know what that might conjur up for you – but it was all good, honestly (and it helps that he was rather cute to look at too!) 😉

His scores include the entire Shrek series, the Chroniclaes of Narnia 1 & 2, Bridget Jones Edge of Reason, Arthur Christmas, the Total Recall remake, Cowboys & Aliens, Flushed Away and Gone Baby Gone (which I finally watched last weekend – brilliant film, and have only just seen that he did that score too!)

He gave little demonstrations of how he goes about composing, and played same scenes from the films, playing some of the soundtrack live, explained a lot of the process and relayed a lot of vignettes of his experiences.

I was really moved by his tales of Tony Scott who he seemed to work with a lot, and obviously held in high regard before his sudden suicide last year.

And then he played a scene from a film that I have always cried at, and always been annoyed with myself for crying at – the kidnap scene from Man On Fire, which is inexplicably a firm favourite film of mine.

His explanation of all the layers in the music for that scene that he put in, far from making it seem less impactful had the total opposite effect.  Especially as I had forgotten that the starting music is Debussy’s Clair De Lune which I chose for my uncle’s funeral last year.

So, I sat in a packed theatre, during a fascinating talk, watching a 3 minute clip of a film with tears rolling down my face.

Dead classy!

Anyway, it was a brilliant evening, totally different to anything I have been to recently (or maybe ever) and I will definitely look out for more interesting talks going on, even if I have never heard of the person speaking!

aelita: queen of mars (with minima)

Aelita’s confidante and perspex beardy-man

Last weekend, I spent another lovely evening at Hackney Picturehouse.  I actually went slightly early and did my homework for my creative writing course, which consisted of  ‘observing’ people in a crowded place.  It really is a great place to people-watch…but then I end up people-watching all the time (it’s just a nicer way of saying I’m nosey really, isn’t it?)

Anyway, I digress (as usual).  I had never heard of Aelita, but enjoyed Minima‘s live score to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari so much before that I was willing to watch anything with them playing 🙂

Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita was first released in 1924, and is set in 1921.  It was apparently the first science-fiction film to come out of the Soviet Union, but to be honest, the ‘sci-fi’ bit of it isn’t the main story.

A strange radio transmission is being received across the world, and one of the recipients is an engineer called Los.  Newly-married to Natasha, the message intrigues Los and he starts day-dreaming of its origin.

We cut to his dreams, which are of the woman of the title – Aelita, Queen of Mars.  Although Aelita is supposedly the Queen, she doesn’t really seem to have much power – that is down to the Elders.  One of the inventors has built a special ‘viewing machine’, which he shows to Aelita, and she becomes obsessed with Earth, and especially one man – Los himself.

Meanwhile, Los & Natasha have been told that they have to take in a lodger, Elrich.  Unknown to them, Elrich is married, and his wife is currently working on Los’ colleague, conning him out of his money.  Elrich too is abusing his position and stealing from the State (the political messaging in the film is unmistakable throughout!).  However, Los becomes fixated on his misguided suspicion that Natasha is having an affair with Elrich, and this in turn pushes him into day-dreaming more about Aelita.

This film is absolutely bloody bonkers! 

I could see echoes of Dr Caligari in it, especially in the Mars-based sets, and I could also see shere it probably influenced some of the scenes that came a few years later in Metropolis.  Some of the Mars costumes were truly odd – one girl had trousers that looked like bird cages, and there was a large amount of perspex in the costumes of the Elders – some great perspex hair and beards (see above).

However, there were a lot of scenes where me and my mate looked at each other and just said “WTF??” — I think the total surrealism of it all added to its appeal though, as I have been thinking back over it a lot over the past week.

As for the live score, Minima were once again fantastic – atmospheric, haunting, spot-on!  I especially liked the dog bark that one of them managed (was it the cellist??)

I have already booked tickets for me and my mates to their double-bill at the Prince Charles Cinema next month – Dr Caligari again but also Nosferatu, which I have never seen 🙂

the extraordinary adventures of adèle blanc-sec – france (2010)

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

I saw a trailer for this film when I watched Potiche recently – and was surprised that I had never heard of it before.  It’s a Luc Besson film after all!  So I immediately put it to the top of my Blockbuster list!

Set in 1912 Paris, we first join Professor Espérandieu as purely by the power of his mind, he hatches a pterodactyl from the egg held in a museum there.  However, this is just a test-run for him – the real project is to help Adèle Blanc-Sec in her quest to cure her sister.

We then meet Adèle in a tomb in Cairo where she is looking for the mummified remains of a Pharoah’s doctor to bring back to Paris.

We watched this as a family, and we all really enjoyed it.  It’s a proper family ‘caper’ – but especially great for girls to watch as Adèle is a brilliant feisty, confident role-model type.  Think something of a cross between The Mummy and Night at The Museum.

It’s very Luc Besson, very stylised, with some gorgeous scenery – and it is incredibly funny. The mummies are hilarious 🙂

I think it’s based on some French comics, and you could see that in soe of the scenes.  There is a lot of CGI, and it’s a little hit and miss – some of it is done very well, but some is a rather less impressive.

Louise Bourgoin who plays Adèle is fantastic – beautiful, expressive and totally believable.  The Girl just wanted to be her!

I am really surprised that this has only got 6.1 on IMDB.  I think it deserves far higher.  I know it’s not Oscar material, but it’s extremely entertaining, totally harmless and very fun.

My rating – 8/10

robin hood (with royal philharmonic orchestra), cadogan hall

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood

On 12th July, I went with a few friends to the gorgeous Cadogan Hall, just off Sloane Square to see the 1922 silent classic Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks (senior, that is!).

The film was accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the composer of the live score, John Scott.

One of my friends had asked me if I had seen the film before, and I said that I vaguely remembered seeing it, and the only lasting impression I remembered was that it was very ‘fast’ – speeded up, like the end of the Benny Hill show.

This certainly wasn’t like that, and so I was confused as to what I had seen, until I read the blurb in the programme.

Composer John Scott (he seemed a lovely man, and after the performance, he asked Douglas Fairbanks’ granddaughter who was in the audience, whether she thought he would have approved!) originally turned down the idea of creating a new score for the film when approached in 2006 by the City of Nottingham.

One of the reasons he gave was “I found the film unbearable, all the characters moved in a stilted way, far too fast and the whole effect was quaint and unreal.”  So perhaps my memory of the film hadn’t been wrong after all. they then slowed the film down to ‘real time’ action and John Scott realised that the film was now a very different subject, and that he would be able to compose the new score.

The film was actually far more lavish than I had been expecting – it apparently cost a rumoured $1million…in 1922…and at the time was the most expensive film made.

The sets were absolutely amazing for the time, including a full-scale castle built especially for the film.  The jousting scenes at the start included a huge number of extras, animals and grand costumes and sets.

The film was often suprisingly dark, often laugh-out-loud funny (sometimes even intentionally!) and literally had Robin and his merry men skipping around the forest in their tights.  Yes, literally.  Grown men skipping.

The athleticism of Douglas Fairbanks was also a wonder to behold.  Whenever they rushed off to their horses, he literally leaped over rocks, bushes, etc and jumped straight into the saddle, while the rest of the men put on a brave show of trying to heave themselves up via their stirrups while he got a head start on them.

And the score – it was faultless.  Sometimes I glanced down from the screen and was almost shocked to see a full orchestra there playing, as I had momentarily forgotten that it was live, so seamless were the action and the music.

It was a fabulous evening in gorgeous surroundings, and a film that I am glad I now have a better memory of, with a faultless live score – I loved every second!

I wonder what will be my next silent film with live score experience…

I will levae you with a non-slowed down clip…pretty gruesome, aye?

piccadilly (with igor outkine)


The monthly silent film showing by Filmphonics at Hackney Attic (the top floor of the fantastic Hackney Picturehouse) was British film Piccadilly from 1929.

You may remember that we went to see The Cabinet of Dr Caligari last month, with live score by Minima.  I had never heard of Piccadilly before, and was looking forward to seeing a late 1920’s London!  This time, the live score was performed by Igor Outkine, a Russian accordianist.

Piccadilly is a slightly odd film really – it follows the story of Valentine Wilmot, owner of the successful Piccadilly club in Piccadilly Circus.  A lot of their success is said to be down to dancers Mabel and Vic.

On the night that we join them, a disgruntled customer causes a disruptive fuss about a dirty plate which sends Wilmot scurrying off to the kitchen and scullery in turn to find out how this happened.  Whilst there, he sees a Chinese dishwasher (Shosho) dancing on the table.  He fires her immediately.

Meanwhile, the disruption to his dance has vexed Vic so much, that he plans to leave Piccadilly for Hollywood, and tries to get Mabel to go with him, declaring his love.  Mabel however is already in love with Wilmot, and tells him no. Vic then goes to quit, but Wilmot fires him first.

The film then follows the story of how Wilmot encourages Shosho to dance at the club, the conditions she enforces and increasing Mabel’s jealousy.

The film includes scandal, racism, dancing and eventually murder.

There are lots of close-up shots of eyebrow-raising (mainly from Valentine), sly looks (mainly from Shosho)  and shock and horror (mainly from Mabel).

The whole film felt quite long, and there were parts that just seemed really random, with long shots of not very much, giving no progression to the story – in fact seeming to get in the way of it at times.  I often found that I was busy giggling at some random thing that someone had done in a rather bizzarre manner.

Igor Outkine played an accordian the like I had never ssen before, and he told us right at the start that he was improvising. His accordian was an electric one (I assume), and sounded of many, many different instruments, from drums to piano to trumpet – which was very effective.

However, I am not sure that Piccadilly is a particularly easy film to improvise a soundtrack to, as it flicks through emotions and moods rather quickly and has a LOT of scene cut-aways (you will see what I mean in the clip below).  It was also almost TWO HOURS long and he played admirably without a single break.  Pretty amazing really.

Anyway – for £20 including a rather bloody good homemade burger, chips and coleslaw and a nice glass of wine / £9 without food & drink (or £18 / £7 for members like me!) it was a really good evening out, and we will probably be going along to the next one.  The Great White Silence on Sunday 24th June.

I will leave you with this. Charles Laughton played ‘the disgruntled diner’ in the film.  And if I hadn’t seen this, I never would have known that Monty Python’s Mr Creosote was actually BASED on someone already dreamed up.  He was, wasn’t he?

the silent house – uruguay (2010)

The Silent House

I had never actually heard of this film before, but wasbrowsing the World Cinema section in CEX in Walthamstow a couple of weeks ago and it caught my eye – and for a couple of quid, you can’t really complain!

This is a rather claustrophobic horror story (but only a 15 rating, so not particularly gruesome – more of a thriller than a horror really) set in one location, a small, isolated, ramshackle cottage and the immediate grounds that it nestles in.

(Probably) teenager Laura and her father (Wilson)  have been tasked with tidying up the cottage and garden to get it ready for sale.  The film begins early evening, following them as they walk across the firld to meet the owner (Nestor) who is is Wilson’s friend.  He lets them in, shows them a couple of old chairs they can sleep in for the night and promises to bring them back some food.  He also warns them not to go upstairs as the floor is unstable and he doesn’t want them to have an accident.

The film has barely any colour, grim & grainy and shot on a ‘home-movie’ style handheld, almost shadowing Laura.  You feel like you’re permanently sitting on her shoulder! And she goes around the house with a lamp or torch most of the time, so there is a ring of darkness just to the edge of the shot.

The main reason that this film is unique though is because it appears to have been filmed all in one continuous take, making the film in real time.  There are a couple of moments where I thought “Could that have been edited?” but they definitely site it as a one-take film, which is pretty amazing really – and worth watching even just to see how they did it!  It certainly gives this a completely different feel to your usual horror film.

It was quite engrossing, but as I said, really rather claustrophobic.  I must admit, i enjoyed it quite a bit, BUT it did have times where nothing much seemed to be happening.  There was a lot of time spent with Laura holding up her gas lamp, just looking at various pictures and bric-a-brac in rooms.  I guess this is because of the ‘real time’ and one take aspect of it – they probably needed time to prepare for the more ‘action’ scenes.

I think the one thing that disappointed me though was the ending, I’m not exactly a thickie, but I really didn’t understand it.  I understood what it was trying to say, and what had come before, but how it all actually worked within the confines of the film slightly alluded me.

If anyone nearby wants to borrow the DVD though, it’s worth a look and you’re more than welcome 🙂

My rating 6.5/10

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