Rehearsals begin …
TICKETS HERE: http://conscientioustheatre.wordpress.com/tour-dates/
If you were to get an old 8mm projector, take prints of The Goonies, The Descent and The Blair Witch Project and play them, one on top of the other, simultaneously, you’d most likely end up watching a film very similar to As Above, So Below.
John Erick Dowdle’s latest offering is a horror conundrum. The set up is ridiculous and has more in common with The Da Vinci Code than any respectable horror flick. How we get through so many mentions of the philosopher’s stone without even a single, cursory, knowing little joke about Harry Potter is perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this admittedly bold picture. On the other hand, this film contains some of the scariest sequences in any film I’ve seen on the big screen in quite some time.
I feel like I lay in wait for decent horror films. Few are forthcoming. I also still have faith in the found footage genre (I’m like foolishly-loyal kicked dog in that respect). After seeing the trailer for As Above, So Below, which describes a claustrophobic, introspective journey into the very pits of hell, I was rooting it for. It seemed like it would tick lots of boxes. The trailer largely, though, leaves out the clue-solvey, treasure-hunty parts. A smart, smart move.
The set up is that multi-PhD, history/archeology wunderkind and rebellious adventurer Scarlett is on the hunt for the philosopher’s stone; a fabled gem which can grant eternal life and which is essential in the alchemical arts. After recruiting a gang of (inexplicably good-looking, inexplicably highly-skilled) rogues and after some, frankly, stupid plot points about clues written in aramaic on the backs of tombstones (which astonishing translate into English in perfect rhyming couplets), the team venture into the catacombs below the streets of Paris, followed by a documentary maker, to claim their loot, me hearties.
I’ve been to the catacombs in Paris. And they are creepy. Being surrounded by that much death, that far underground is a breath-stealing experience in itself. After the first (let’s face it: disastrous) attempt at making a horror film in this abundant location (2007’s Catacombs couldn’t even be saved by lead Shannyn Sossamon), I was excited to see what this film might do.
If you’re claustrophobic, this movie will have you wriggling in your seat and breaking out into hot sweats in the first few moments. Several times I found myself looking away from the screen to regroup. It’s rather nasty and, in fact, very skillfully done. The piece also has a smörgåsbord of creeping vignettes and set pieces which strike right to the heart of the sense of the uncanny which, for me, make all and any supernatural horror films effective.
These chilling bits and pieces are what make the film, to some degree, a success. I can’t remember a horror film which has contained, for me, so many “Oh my God” moments. It’s the sense of the unbelonging of certain familial relics, moments and people which work so brilliantly in As Above, So Below; the relentless inescapability of death; the haunting nature of half-forgotten homely items; the intrusion of nightmarish, demonic shades.
And then there’s the plot which, despite the unreal landscape of the movie, continues to provoke forehead slapping, owing to its ludicrosity. The closest I can come to describing my experience of watching this film is this: image standing in front of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Imagine taking in all of its magnificent horror, its uncanny beauty, it’s hellish divinity. Now imagine an idiot is standing next to you. He/she, despite your repeated shushings and attempts to ignore him/her, is pointing at bits of the painting and describing, in much enthusiastic detail, how it reminds him of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The narration doesn’t exactly spoil all of Bosch’s hard work but you could certainly do without it.
It’s a film worth seeing on the big screen. As with much classic horror, just ignore the silly-billy parts and allow yourself to be absorbed into the nightmare. After the poorly received but undeniably interesting Devil (2010) and Quarantine (2008), a pointless but servicable remake of Spanish horror gem [REC], I’m certainly going be looking out for the next John Erick Dowdle film.
What did you make of the film? Leave me a comment below.
Here I am wittering on about ‘Conscientious’. Have a watch!
Rachel Ashwanden discusses Conscientious ahead of the UK tour this autumn.
I’m absolutely delighted to be able to tell you that my play, Conscientious, will be touring the UK this autumn under our brand new company Pillbox Theatre. This is such thrilling news to be able to share. It’s my first professionally produced play and it feels like such a significant milestone. I’m very excited.
The play will be visiting Leeds, Oxford, Hull, Exeter, Bradford and South Hill Park in Berkshire. That’s just for starters and we’re hoping to announce new venues later.
The play, which deals with issues surrounding workplace bullying and First World War Conscientious Objectors, is performed by Rachel Ashwanden. We’ve worked so hard on the play and we’re both really pleased it’ll reach lots of regional theatres up and down the country. Alex Chisholm is directing (something I am extremely excited about - she’s done such great work previously and having her onboard is just wonderful). Milan Govedarica is our producer and he’s been working incredibly hard to pull everything together.
You can visit the wordpress website here and below I’ve listed the venues and ticketing details. If you live in these areas, please come along and support us! Tickets are on sale for most places now and we’d love to see you there.
Thanks to everyone who’s been involved so far in Conscientious and, in particular, Amy Letman and the West Yorkshire Playhouse for giving us a Summer Sublets residency which got the project off the ground and essentially has made it a real thing.
See you all at one of these venues in the autumn:
1-2 October – Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/125107/workshop_theatre//
6-7 October – Oxford Playhouse
11 October – Hull Truck
13 October - The Bike Shed
13-14 November – South Hill Park Arts Centre
6 December – Theatre in the Mill, Bradford
I wanted to add my twopen’th about the reported UKIP “sweep to victory" and the savage Facebook backlash we’ve seen in response. This morning, I saw someone use all capital letters to exhibit their distaste. CAPITAL LETTERS.
In fairness, it’s easy-peasy to flock to Facebook and Twitter to admonish the perceived fools of democracy. Indeed, earlier, I posted a video of NOFX’s The Idiots are Taking Over with the headline “Good morning, Britain” (fnar, fnar, “What a wit!” you must be saying whilst crying with laughter). The point is, anyone who follows me or whatever it’s now called on FB is likely to like what I write enough to not unsubscribe from my witterings. Meaning that, broadly, we probably enjoy similar attitudes and political ideologies. I know I’ve de-friended several people for veering away from my safely-left leaning world-view. So, it’s an attempt at back-slapping. Of course it is.
This is a serious issue. The fact that right-wing parties have “done well” across the board in Europe is extremely alarming. And, in particular, UKIP’s success is enormously irritating for anyone who’s ever listened to word anyone from that party has said at any point. But, the shock-face emoticon that the media is chucking all over its front pages is equally irritating. It seems to me that UK newspapers treat right-wing parties and figures like a pan of boiling milk. You want to get it good and hot but there’s that tipping point. Sometimes you manage to save it in time and there’s a satisfaction to seeing the foam recede back into the saucepan. Other times, it overflows and makes a right bloody mess.
What this says to me, this whole damn milky mess, is that we need to demand more. Anyone who pompously and deliberately misunderstands the phrase “protest vote” is, for my money, their own worst enemy. I don’t think a protest vote, for most people, is necessarily a conscious way of saying “Ha! Take THAT Labour and Conservative and the other one!” I think it’s a desperate attempt to tip the scales. I simply mean that it’s clear that people have become so disillusioned with Labour and the Tories that they’re looking elsewhere. Sadly, the options are depressingly limited. The fact that around 64% of people didn’t vote must be indicative of this.
On a slight tangent, I think these non-votes should be taken more seriously. Consciously not voting in elections, whilst is not ideal, should be considered a political act in itself. Perhaps adding a box which says “No confidence in any parties” would inspire more people to more eloquently declare their position. I’d like to see that on a bar graph on the news.
Of course, some people will have actively and thoughtfully voted for UKIP. All I can say in response is that I savagely disagree with your point of view and your politics. All I’ve seen and heard from those quarters is what I consider to be ugly, hypocritical and archaic; a scary future awaits us if that trajectory of success continues (which, if I’m entirely honest, I don’t think it will).
We missed the opportunity for an alternative voting system. That’s a genuine shame. But now we’re stuck with the system we have and the parties “we” have voted for. Does that mean we have to sit and sulk and throw web-shit and the social media wall to see if some of it sticks? Yes and no. Yes, we’ll keep doing that because it allows us to pin our colours to the mast, despite the fact that most of the choir we’re preaching to are singing the same righteous hymn as us.
But I think we must do more. We must be more engaged. We must vote for the parties we want to vote for, not just the lesser of three (now four?) evils. We must research and learn about the parties available to us. We must tell the leaders that we disagree with what they are doing. We must, of course, continue posting Stewart Lee clips and watching and sharing videos of Nigel Farage doing dreadfully in interviews and telling our circles that we hate elitism and prejudice of all and any kind. But, we must also take a more active part in politics. And if we can’t be arsed because The Voice is on, then ok. But it seems to me that a country that can’t be arsed will get the government which reflects this apathy.
Whilst snide Twitter epithets are incredibly therapeutic, I’m put in mind of a conversation that I had with someone I very much respect and admire. In the early days of using Twitter, I said to him “It feels as if it’s quite a left-leaning medium”. He scoffed at this and laughed at my idealism saying, about its inherent selectability “You’re just feeling the elephant’s trunk”. He was right, of course. And while blindfold elephant-trunk feely is a fun game, sometimes we have to look beyond and do something about the things we’re unhappy with.
I realise the irony in posting this, by the way. I’ll now sit and wait for the redundant, self-affirming Likes to come rolling in.
The Spanish for clapperboard is claqueta. I love it. onomatopoeia across borders.
Well. A lot has happened since my last post. I mentioned, earlier in the month, that part of the reason I’m in Madrid on the Arts Across Borders placement involves a personal project. Mine, I decided, would be a screenplay based, in some way, on being a stranger in a foreign place; i.e. me in Spain.
Last Wednesday I met Judith Viloria (pictured), an actor based here in the city. Before meeting her, I’d been playing around with an idea I had and had started pencilling down a framework for.
The idea was a for bilingual short film (or cortometraje en Español). The premise would be that the main character would speak limited English and use this ability to outline a framework of a story using simple sentences, like those one might learn early in a language course. As the film progressed, though, the idea would be that the story would be fleshed our using Spanish.
Judith has been an amazing to work with - even this early into the process. She has agreed to be involved in the project and, more excitingly, will be ad-libbing dialogue based on the narrative framework I provide, including translations of key lines which I outline in pre-shoot meetings.
I’ve managed to finish a first draft of a script and we actually begin filming some of the scenes tomorrow. It’s all happened incredibly swiftly - but I’ve been working really hard on the concept and the idea.
As someone whose Spanish is improving but still very limited, part of what I’m interested in capturing is the non-linguistic communication that film provides. We can see that a character is passionate /upset/angry/delighted in their body language. And with languages which share many roots of words there are crossovers and familiarities which, again, will allow us to tune into the content without being fluent.
I’m curious to see how much of the narrative is clear to a non-Spanish speaking audience. How much is lost or gained because of a “language barrier”. In fact, seeing the lack of linguistic clarity as a positive and a fact which necessitates other means by which to tell a story.
The only lines which will be subtitled in English when Judith is speaking in Spanish will be those lines which have already been spoken, earlier, in English. So, they’ll provide a little more context but no more linguistic content. To be clear, then, although Judith’s English is outstanding, I’ll be directing her mainly as she speaks in a language that I am far (far) from being fluent in.
My experience in Spain, so far, has been so wonderful. My inability to communicate clearly, eloquently, intelligently in another language is both frustrating and fascinating. It’s part of the impetus for the script.
I’m really thrilled to have the space and time to work on this project. The title of the film is Sueño con una tarde de verano (I Dream of a Summer Night)*. I look forward to reporting on its progress.
Thanks so much to Sean, Katie, Nicky and Jennifer from the programme who’ve all offered to help to make the film. It’s very much appreciated - I can’t wait to work with you all! Thanks, too, to Belen and Carmen at Una Mas Una who have been amazing and supportive and keep going above and beyond to help us all!
* The actual translation is “I dream of a summer evening” but, linguistically, it doesn’t make sense to say sueño con una noche de verano in Spanish because ‘noche/night’, unlike in English, would not be used interchangeably with evening.
At the end of our Arts Across Borders placement, many of the participants will be showcasing some of our work. Huge thanks and credit to musician Catherine Wallace (also on the placement) for organising and establishing a fantastic contact at lightning speed, we’ll be holding the event at Espacio Oculto in Usera, Madrid.
Yesterday we met with Carmen (pictured) who works at and runs the space. She has been extremely helpful from the word go and is helping us to put together what we hope will be a great evening of entertainment and art.
It’s such a brilliant, exciting place with so much potential. It’s great to see a space where artists can bring their work and ideas to the wider public. Regardless of the financial cuts and troubles, Madrid is clearly a city which hungers for art in all its forms. There’s a great appreciate, respect and sense of nurturing when artists are concerned.
The event (as yet untitled) will include musicians (Catherine among them), visuals and film. There will also be workshops in the run-up to the week (ncluding a life drawing class and a miniature model-making session). My film short Closet will be showcased on the night, too. It will, in effect, be its international premiere which is really quite exciting.
More details as they come …