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 …
One of the great joys of being in a new city is discovery. Often, it’s a real pleasure to just get lost and allow yourself to meander and wander until you find a familiar landmark or tempting-looking bar. But, I love the stories that cities have to offer. So, the free tour offered by New Europe was a perfect way to get to know Madrid and also learn a few tales and legends along the way.
After a hearty, early lunch (paella followed by fried fish followed by a brownie with a free beer, all for €12. Crikey) we headed to the Plaza de Mayor where we met Eduardo, our impossibly energetic and brilliantly passionate tour guide.
As well as showing us some of the major sights of the centre of the city, Eduardo told us many stories about the history of key landmarks. I don’t want to spoil the tour for anyone so I’ll only include one aspect of one story: possibly my favourite little tale involved the statue in the centre of the square…
As a political message to the monarchy in the early stages of Franco’s dictatorship, the statue of King Philip III was pulled down. However, when the structure hit the ground it broke open to reveal hundreds of bird carcasses and skeletons. When it was originally built, the mouth of the horse was left uncovered and the body of the statue, hollow. This allowed the birds to fly inside but many could not find their way our and became entombed in the belly of the horse.
This meant that there was a deathly smell pervading the air of the square and the source was only discovered after the statue collapsed and broke open to reveal the macabre mess.
One element of my placement here in Madrid is a personal project. I’ve opted to write a screenplay for a short film. It’s little tales like this; small tidbits of local knowledge which are getting the brain cogs oiled and moving. I’m very excited to start sketching down ideas for what will eventually (I hope) be a piece of film inspired by my time in this increasingly intriguing place.
Incidentally, I’d highly recommend the walking tour to anyone and, if you do decided to do it, I hope that you get Eduardo who was as cheerful as he was informative. The tour itself is free but the guides are freelance and you’re encouraged to make a donation/give a tip at the end. I think you’ll be happy to, too.
Later in the evening, after a stroll through Malasaña, a few of the group went on a cable car (teleférico) up towards Lago. It was a pretty cool journey up and Madrid was lit by the gorgeous sunset. Annoyingly, though, the viewing platform was closed when we arrived. It’s slightly confusing and difficult to keep up with the Easter opening and closing times. But, this will level out next week.
It was really nice to spend the day as a tourist in my temporary new home. The next step will be to make my own discoveries.
The past couple of days have been an intense baptism of just some of the museums and art spaces in Madrid. It’s been fascinating to see a little of the world of Spanish arts and culture. On Tuesday, Laura from The Spanish Culture Network gave us an in-depth talk which touched on the bureaucracy, cuts and difficulties the sector has faced over the past few years. Here in Spain, changes in government usually mean changes in policy where arts and culture are concerned. It’s quite familiar and echoes what we’ve seen in the UK (only perhaps more extreme and confusing, certainly to an outsider).
Despite this, though, the arts scene appears to be bustling; an explosive diversity of forms which you only need to turn your head one way or the other to notice in Madrid. There are festivals galore, even in the ten weeks that we’re spending here. It feels a little like being at an ongoing Fringe festival.
One thing which stuck in my mind was how difficult it is to be a freelancer. There are multiple hoops to jump through and, it seems, endless forms to complete. Rather than go over it all in this post, I’ll include a link to a short film called 036. It’s a brilliant little picture which nicely captures the seemingly Orwellian farce of trying to go it alone as a freelancer.
Here’s the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXWZ3uAEKsw
We’ve been spoiled with free tickets and guided tours of both Tabacalera, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. A highlight was seeing an enormous showcase of Dali originals (I’m quite a fan) and, of course, Picasso’s Guernica in all of its massive glory. One of the most curious aspects was the constant crowd which was gathered in front of the painting. It seemed to be an unmoving, constant mass of people. I wondered how much was reputation and how much appreciation of the artwork itself.
We’ve also already found a favourite eatery, too. At Museo de Jamon (literally translated, Museum of Ham), you can get a generous sandwich (bocadillo) and a good-sized glass of beer for just €1.70. It’s like a butcher’s shop with a bar and it seems to always be full of hungry and thirsty Madridians (I’m not convinced that’s the correct term). You barely have to walk a few yards to spot places which offer cheap (but quality) food and drink. It’s just brilliant. And a little dangerous to waistline and wallet.
Yesterday involved a squid sandwich, an acrobatics circus and more cheap tapas and tankards of Spanish beer. Today, mostly, involves sitting down and a battle with a headache. Totally worth it.
Why don’t you come over here? We’ve got a city to love.
It’s almost impossible to get a feel of a new city in the first few hours. Luckily, my Arts Across Borders placement brings me to Madrid for ten weeks. I’ll be working with a cool gent called Victor Berlin at the Archivo PLAT film archive. I’d advise you to have a look at some of the cinema on the website. You have to sift through to find the movies with English subtitles but some of them are real beauties.
My partner Anna and I are living with Paula, a performance artist from London/Washington/Berlin (and other places she’s forgotten). Our apartment is great. Nice and large but still with a cosy edge. The immediate area is charming and, we’re told, a pretty great place to live. Everyone on our Wave is great. They all have a different set of skills and areas of specialism. It’s going to be fantastic to see their personal projects blossom as the weeks go on.
Yesterday, we got to know Belen, Irene and Carmen from host organisation Una Mas Una. After taking us through lots of the city basics and necessary hangouts and tapas goldmines, we took a walk to the Matedero. This incredible architectural archipelago in the south of the city used to be a slaughterhouse until the mid-80s. In fact, the shells of the buildings remain practically untouched and the interiors only conservatively upgraded.
It’s a place for arts and artists. There’s not really a more simple (or better) way to put it. A hub of creative activity and output. It’s a place I hope to spend more time in and learn more about as the weeks go along.
We had tapas and beer for lunch. It was 11 euros. I had these breaded mushroom things which were incredible. Then some steak. On a Monday lunchtime. I think I’m going to fall for Madrid early in the relationship.
I’ve just come out of a fascinating meeting…
You might remember that in summer I blogged a few times about the progress of a piece of writing I was working on as part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Summer Sublets residency. Well, in autumn this year, that play (Conscientious), will be touring regionally in the UK. I’m absolutely thrilled.
The production is the story of Rebekah who, after a traumatising experiencing being bullied in her first ever job, turns to the journals of her grandfather, a First World War conscientious objector, for guidance and a way out of her new dead-end lifestyle. It’s a monologue which will performed by Rachel Ashwanden, directed by Alex Chisholm and produced by Milan Govedarica.
Today I met with Cyril Pearce, a retired senior lecturer, an author and, as I’ve discovered, an astonishing source of insight and information on the subject of Conscientious Objectors. It’s important to me, and everyone involved with the play, the our CO has not just a credible but a believable and engaging story. We want his plight to be a real one and his political choices to chime with those of real objectors during the war.
Rebekah’s story and the choices she makes in the play are tied inextricably to her great-grandfather’s beliefs and stance. Being able to speak to Cyril and hear real stories is absolutely invaluable. Not only this, but to discuss the philosophy of pacifism with someone who is an expert (and a passionate one) on this complicated and layered part of history has been a thrilling aspect of the research and re-drafting process.
I’m so grateful to Cyril for his time and assistance. He has helped us to transform our CO from words on a page into a fully-formed and (I hope) intriguing character.
Below is the trailer for Conscientious. Look out for it this autumn and come along to one of the dates! Thanks to Jon Foxley-Evans (film editor) and Adam Jareh (sound design) for their work on the trailer.
Last night, during a pretty heady conversation with my friend Nick about tattoos of people’s faces, my phone signal disappeared. As a preternatural worrier, I though it was just me. That I’d been struck off EE’s books for chatting too much nonsense to busy people and sending inane texts and WhatsApp messages to friends who don’t exist in the freelance bubble I now occupy (I work very hard … just not always when you do).
When I arrived home, flustered and to the warm embrace of my WiFi, I took to Twitter. Thank the digital lord, it wasn’t just me. People in their dozens from the Leeds area were berating EE for the apparent signal outage. Oh, the sweet comfort of sharing misfortune with others (OURdenfreude?)
My signal was down from 7pm-ish til after 3am (I woke in the night and glanced at my phone to see what time it was). This morning, all was fixed and I’ve been cracking on as usual. For me, it was hardly the most necessary of time periods to make or take phone calls. So, practically speaking, no biggie.
But something unsettled me about this whole C21st circumstance. Yesterday, as well as the temporary/relative digital blackout, I also learned that during my 10 week arts placement in Madrid (which is coming up in April) I won’t have WiFi in my apartment. Nor will I have 3 or 4G on my phone, lest a mortgage for the costs of which I wish to out-taketh. So, it may be tricky to communicate in all of the ways I usually would. It caused several hours of stress and a little anxiety and much bi-lingual Googling of sim card deals (I’m uni-lingual) en España.
On Twitter, EE responded quite merrily with images of Gremlins and Dawson from Dawson’s Creek crying his eyes out. Initially, I was impressed with this and had a wee chuckle about their bon viveur attitude to a mini catastrophe. But some of the responses from people (talking about ill mothers in hospital, being on call from work, having a partner about to go into/in labour) made me reconsider.
This is an obvious thing to say: I think we need our phones. We need 3G and 4G and as 5G approaches at (presumably) breakneck speed, we’ll need that, too. I communicate, more than ever and more than I ever assumed I would, via things like Facebook chat, WhatsApp and Twitter. I’m not particularly proud nor ashamed of this, but there it is. And, another thing, it makes me feel good to send a daft message to a good friend. Or a photo. Or a video of me waiting for some chicken to defrost (true story).
And, crucially, I’m running a small business. I need people to be able to get hold of me by whatever means they deem to be least inconvenient for them. Who cares if my network is down? They need a photographer lickety-split! It’s fair enough, too; modern life is nothing if not fast. Who among us has not set aside a lunch hour to call the bank only to find the lines down and to take it as a viciously-personal affront to us and a callous lack of consideration for our diminishing “free” time?
Five years ago, I could have happily gone on a two week holiday and not even consider checking my emails or Facebook. But now, with the ubiquitous red 1/2/8/49/107 flag telling us someone urgently needs us to see their online correspondence (let’s not underestimate the power of the colour red in this context, nor the draw of that particularly needy icon) I actually think I’d struggle. Also, I have a growing compulsion to share what I’m doing. Not in a tedious or obnoxious way (I hope … right guys?) but just, I don’t know, put up a photo or two. Or make a (much repeated, I’m sure) comment about where I find myself in the world. Sentimental crap, mostly, or attempts at being humourous. But it’s what we do nowadays. Right guys?
My thought is: should we have something in place as a backup? Some mechanisms by which to cope? The next time my network goes down and I do, indeed, need to be contactable for an important, even vital, reason - what can I do to make sure this is possible? Carrier pigeon?
I think we’ve come too far to simply say “We should stop being so reliant on our smartphones and the internet”. I agree with that sentiment. But in order not to be cut out of the majority of the social circles that I enjoy being a part of, it’s not really on the cards. But, equally, things mess up. Systems fail, networks crash, people make enormous mistakes. What precautions are available to us if communication now, now, NOW is a vital part of our lives?
I think it’s fair to refer to Trinity as Leeds’ hottest new food hangout. But that is selling it short because, to be honest, there’s little competition. The atmosphere of the place is great; at once shambolic and street-foodish and neon-funky. It’s somewhere you want to be. Somewhere fun to meet with friends. And with some many scrummy options available, why wouldn’t you make this a permanent part of your Leeds adventures?
As well as the permanent fixtures, the space allows for temporary retailers to ply their tasty wares around the edges. On Monday this week it was all change; out with the old and in with the new. And there are some exceptionally exciting choices to be made, I can tell you!
Fish& is a place I’m already sold on. A regular on the streets of Leeds and at many events, the time-honoured fish and chips favourite is given a mild kick in the pants to bring it up to speed. The food is simple, familiar and difficult to top. That’s two fish and chip places in one space. It’ll be interesting to see how that head-to-head plays out.
Original Fry Up Material was a tempting option. Fry ups and burgers. What more is there to (a very unhealthy) life? The nosh is made in front of you on a BBQ-style grill and the chaps were in high spirits, despite how busy they clearly were. I’ll be heading back here, for sure. I’m particularly enticed by the Sweetsmoke burger which includes whiskey cured bacon. Ok. You got me. Let’s dance.
Next up, you’ve got the lovely folks at Crepe Lucette. Aside from the good old Nutella fest and the sugar and lemon classic, these fryne folks (that was supposed to be a pun on “fine” and “fry”. Didn’t work) are serving up specials with ingredients such as hot smoked salmon and beef bourguignon. Holy moly.
Donostia Social Club, in their cool blue van, dish up some amazing-looking tapas. There’s the option to sit at the “bar”, too, and pretend you’re chowing down in the Basque country. Meats, cheeses, chilled gazpacho and hot pintxos. What more could one hungry belly want?
After much pacing and much drooling, we decided to go for Dogtown Hotdog Co. Let me explain why: A Giant Bock (“mahoosive pork bockwurst”), add-on beef and bone marrow chilli and a side of Tater Tots*. That’s why. And my word was it delicious.
I’ve actually become suspicious of places who specialise in one item of fast food (burgers, hotdogs etc). In my experience, this simply allows them to churn out plate after plate of what should be high-quality, perfected food but is disappointing, neglected, over-cooked and under cared for. Not so with Dogtown. Our order was our order. The staff were polite, attentive and - best of all - excited about our choices. The food was unbelievably tasty, too.
I love the atmosphere at Trinity Kitchen. And the variety of food not only speaks but sings to me. If I had a complaint it would be the pricing. It’s not as if the meals are extortionate. They’re really, really not. And if you’re making a night of it, they’re actually very reasonable. But, if I’m nipping to Trinity (or through, even) to pick something up, I’m unlikely to stop at the Kitchen to eat because I may only have £3 rattling around my pocket.
I’m very hopeful, though, of deals and specials. This place is tremendously exciting for foodies and shoppers alike. Get yourself down to Trinity Kitchen as a Christmas treat. Yum. YUM!
*Do you remember Oven Crunchies? Ok. Tater Tots are Oven Crunchies. Massive revelation and a filling-in of some American culture knowledge gaps.
I missed Love Eternal at its first LIFF27 screening so I was glad of the repeat, making it my final film of this year’s festival. As every year of the Leeds International Film Festival is, it has been an immense adventure in cinema. My brain feels as if it has been washed in celluloid (or dipped in digital, at the very least). The two or so weeks have flown by but, equally, there has been many months’ worth of cinema on offer. It has been a real treat for the city.
Based on a novel by Kei Ôishi (writer of the Ju-on/Grudge novels), Love Eternal has troubling and fascinating premise at its heart. After witnessing the death of his father as a young boy, recluse Ian becomes entirely dependent on his mother and sits in his room, alone, observing the world through his telescope. When his mother dies she leaves him a manual for life, allowing Ian to function, loosely, in society.
Ian develops an obsession with death and, specifically, with suicide. After reconsidering his own suicide-by-car-exhaust when a group of people arrive to carry out exactly the same act, Ian steals one of the bodies of the women who perish, along with her suicide note.
Thus begins a strange journey for Ian where the bodies of recently dead women become life (or death) partners to him. He converses with them, negotiates and, in some of the most uncanny cinematic scenes I’ve seen in a while, grooms and washes them.
Throughout the picture, Ian asks us to accept that he is “not human” and we begin to believe him. There seems to be little aggressive or malicious about Ian and an empty sadness is his defining characteristic. This makes his actions even more curious and, in the most macabre way, intriguing. There’s an element of the Norman Bates about the character which is inescapable in this arena. But director Muldowney manages to retain a frosty originality at the heart of his film.
There’s something of Edgar Allen Poe in Ian’s admiration for and fascination with the lifeless body. There’s an atmosphere of necrophilia in parts of the picture which, again, unsettles enormously. When Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh) enters the story we see a glimmer of hope for Ian; a chance for him to regain his humanity. But as this conventional-unconventional love story emerges, we’re lulled into forgetting Ian’s actions, somewhat, and we’re tempted to forgive him. Or, at the very least, to consider him as a victim as well as a perpetrator.
The differences between assisting suicide, suffering suicide (i.e. doing nothing to prevent it) and murder are blurred in Love Eternal. The question of where the line is drawn is posed as Ian agrees to a suicide pact merely, so it seems, to observe death and to steal away another deceased companion. When the act goes wrong, however, and the young woman wakes up from the sleeping pills before the fumes kill her, Ian’s decision reveals a much more sinister and determined edge of his psyche. This is a film with many sides.
The subdued tone of the movie is linked with Ian’s state of mind and the performances from both Pollyanna McIntosh and Robert de Hoog, particularly when they are sharing the screen, are quite wonderful. Despite its troubling and difficult subject matter, this is a well composed and watchable piece of cinema.
So, that’s the end of my Leeds International Film Festival coverage. Look out for the special events coming up in December - a whole host of cinematic goodies, some more Christmassy than others!
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Screenwriter: Brendan Muldowney, Kei Ôishi (novel)
Producer: Conor Barry, Manami Fukawa
Leading Cast: Pollyanna McIntosh, Amanda Ryan, Robert de Hoog Cinematographer: Tom Comerford
Film Editor: Mairead McIvor
Original Music: Bart Westerlaken
I once saw a man cut a spaceship in half with a guitar. Granted, it was at a Night of the Dead event at the Hyde Park Picture House, at around 2am, in a film called Wild Zero. Since that point, though, I began to understand (or not) the boundlessness of Japanese cinema. You think you know where you are (Oh, it’s a zombie movie) and then the lead protagonist is suddenly running around in his underpants, shooting fireballs from his eyes.
HK: Forbidden Hero is … well, it’s … ok, the film … Right. I’ll just explain it, shall I? Kyosuke Shikijo (Ryohei Suzuki) is an awkward and weedy (though inexplicably handsome and buff) schoolboy. The son of a maverick cop and an S&M mistress (who met when he was supposed to be busting her most recent client but ends up being bound and whipped and enjoying it), Kyosuke battles with keeping his sense of perversion and justice aligned - don’t we all? And then it gets weird. After meeting (the alarmingly young-looking) Aiko (Fumika Shimizu) and falling in love with her, Kyosuke attempts to rescue her from an idiotic and violent gang.
In order to disguise himself, Kyosuke mistakenly puts a pair of panties on his face which, much to his surprise gives him superpowers (well, it would be a surprise). As the film progresses, Kyosuke realises that the pants have to have been worn in order to give him his powers (laundered is apparently fine, just not brand new) and that his strength stems from being a “pervert” but, in actuality, he’s not a pervert and, later, a fake version of his superhero self who in fact is a pervert demonstrates what being a real pervert is all about (being humiliated, having people think you have small genitalia, rubbing your nipples at lightning speed etc). It’s this kind of thing for 90 minutes.
HK, which stands for Hentai Kamen (which translated, as far as I can gather, means ‘pervert mask’) literally uses his mankini-clad crotch to thwart his enemies and save Aiko time and time again. The film, which openings with a witty imitation of the Marvel Spider-Man credits (the seams of panties standing in for spider web) has a broadly-comic first act. It is funny and silly and manic. But, as the plot develops (there’s gold buried under the school and the long-haired, chicken-chomping villain has to defeat the school martial arts team to get at it) I found myself completely at sea and, surprisingly, a little bored.
The film is like a cross between a spoofish superhero film (a la Super and Kick Ass) and an episode of Power Rangers. There are specific cultural ingredients to the film which may leave audiences who are more familiar with non-Japanese cinema entirely baffled. But, there’s plenty to chuckle at in the first half of HK: Forbidden Superhero, if little else to engage with. If you have a penchant for Manga, this is a film worth seeking out. If not but you fancy a totally different cinematic experience; why not?
And the prize for strangest and most unpredictable film I’ve seen at LIFF27 goes to …
Director: Yûichi Fukuda
Screenwriter: Keishû Andô manga, Yûichi Fukuda, Shun Oguri
Producer: Koji Hyakutake, Takahisa Miyaji, Tomohiro Kobayashi
Leading Cast: Shunsuke Daitô, Narushi Ikeda, Nana Katase
Cinematographer: Tetsuya Kudo
When Michael Haneke released an English language shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 psychological thriller Funny Games it felt like a deliberate book end to the so-called torture porn horror movie craze. Since then, a few films in this shallow-reaching genre have trickled through (Saw XX, anyone?) but, mostly, movies whose sole preoccupation is the aggressive disassembly of the human body have run, screaming, for the hills.
Big Bad Wolves is a curious piece in this context. Its central focus is, indeed, the kidnap and torture of an assumed child murderer. But from the opening, we’re aware that we’re dealing with slick direction, attention to detail and an admiration for folklore and fairy tales. We’re awash in greens and reds and blues; children hiding in wardrobes and the childhood sanctuary/parental nightmare of the abandoned house in the woods. All of which, far from the head-smackingly dull and gore obsessed borefests churned about by the likes of Eli Roth and his disciples, very much drew me in and made me feel if not excited then hopeful about what was to follow.
The plot is flimsy and simple: a teacher, Dror (Rotem Keinan), who is assumed to be a serial murderer of little girls, is kidnapped by the father of one of the victims, Gidi (Tzahi Grad). Failing to get at Dror first, last-chance-saloon cop Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) becomes involved in the scheme; desperate, too, to get a confession out of Dror in order to save his own career.
The bulk of the film sees Dror tied up in a makeshift torture chamber underneath Gidi’s new and isolated cottage. Bring on the flesh tearing, right? Well, sort of. The picture manages a series of ever-increasingly predictable (though never any less effective) double-bluffs and Kansas City Shuffles. A sequence of interruptions prevent Gidi from really going to town on Dror. Again, an indication that directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado want to do much more than simply repel and repulse us. These domestic interruptions are comic and feel both like Dror’s saviour and our own.
There’s pitch black humour in this movie which, again, reassures us that we’re in relatively safe hands; that these filmmakers (unlike those involved in the Hostel franchise) haven’t apparently seated cruelty and sadism at the heart of their work. We’re sort of in on the joke rather than out in the cold. But, even as I was anticipating the hammer to the fingers in an early scene, I had a revelation: I’m just not enjoying this.
I love horror films. I really, really do. But in these all-too familiar episodes of ramped-up tension before the inevitable, plasticinic viscera to follow, I don’t feel excited or nervous or chilled. I just feel uncomfortable and impatient and that this really isn’t worth my time nor emotional energy and I’m just fed up. A little like Morrissey must feel doing any interview, ever.
Big Bad Wolves achieves much. There are some cleverly constructed setpieces and, in particular, the relationship between Gidi and his father is brilliantly drawn and bleakly surprising. The end of the film, too, is satisfying and creepy. The photography is wonderful and I’ll be seeking out more work by director of photograhy Giora Bejach. The hulking bulk of a soundtrack brings and awful lot of menace to proceedings, generating and enforced feeling of unease from the moment the tapes go up.
I found it annoying, though, that despite all of the work and love that’s gone into this film, the draw is torture. Yes, Big Bad Wolves manages, on the whole, to avoid outright gratuitousness. Yes, the filmmakers seem to understand the difference between real brutality and cinematic torture and riff on this knowledge. Yes, the double bluffs and near-misses are essentially there to teach you naughty torture porn gluttons a lesson. But, once you’ve had that chiding from Haneke, you really don’t need it from anyone else.
Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Screenwriter: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Producer: Tami Leon, Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi
Leading Cast: Guy Adler, Lior Ashkenazi, Dvir Benedek
Cinematographer: Giora Bejach
Film Editor: Asaf Korman
Original Music: Haim Frank Ilfman