Falling in love again with creativity

I’ve been filming bits and bobs with my new camera and sound equipment and editing by learning how to use Adobe Premiere Pro (thanks YouTubers). There has never been a better time for the autodidactic/creative in me to acquire knowledge and experiment. It’s as if I’ve fallen in love again with filmmaking, having spent a long time out of sorts with the problems associated with narcissistic/neurotic personality types or “energy vampires” who flocked to the indie sector in droves. I needed time out. During the past year I got my teaching qualification with top marks (I’m officially Outstanding!) and underwent a metamorphosis of sorts. I have worked exceptionally hard during my time in the field as a filmmaker. Teaching, however, requires slightly different sets of skills and endurance; the challenges are on-going and the project never comes to an end. 

My mentor during my training year discussed my aims and ambitions and drew up a its of things that I wanted to achieve. Upon analysis, all of my aims were for creative activities. I will add links to what I am up to in future posts. 

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Scandi-noir & the House of Cards

As I have just finished watching Borgen, my Saturday nights and Sunday mornings just won’t be quite the same. To end 2012 I’d indulged my Danish-noir fetish through every episode of each series of Forbrydelsen (The Killing), so the return of Birgitte Nyborg’s wrinkle-nosed smile at the start of the year came as a welcome antidote to Sarah Lund’s formidable cold-eyed scrutiny.

I discovered that I quite enjoyed a subtitled series; this layer of information, however mistranslated, is akin to an extra bit of gristle upon which to muse and gnaw as the plot unfolds. Anyone who has seen Inspector Montalbano will know what I mean. My family oscillate between being politely curious and occasionally fed up with my Scandi-obsession or Mummy-quirks, as they put it. “What’s so interesting about political dramas?” asks my seven year-old. I can’t really explain without mentioning Edge of Darkness, House of Cards, The West Wing, A Few Angry Men and … Oh dear, I’ve lost her at mention of Edge of Darkness. Perhaps it was a rhetorical question as all she really wants to do is play Moshi Monsters and I’m hogging the computer.

For much of this winter season, my children had at least one parent who would play silly games with them without considering the time the next episode was being screened and changing their bedtime or meals accordingly. However, this is no longer the case; for the past few days my Husband has been glued to Netflix as episode after episode of House of Cards has been streamed into our home via his iPad. I am feeling his loss, though not grieving yet, I am aware that he is as currently obsessed with Kevin Spacey’s direct-address asides as I was with Sophie Grabol’s jumpers and her poor taste in men. I guess herein lies the rub; each of us recognises something of ourselves in these characters.

Pity our poor children.

ImageImage Image

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The Culture Show

I should have gone to bed at an early hour last night, but I stayed up to watch this edition of the Culture Show on BBC2 and I’m so glad that I did. Inspiring and humbling stuff.

Sam Mendes: A Licence to Thrill A Culture Show Special

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The Rivals by James Naughtie

I’m enjoying this unofficial biography far too much. One of the many passages which caught my eye gives an amusing yet critical insight to the nature of the relationship between the PMO & the press:

The 2001 General Election Campaign… Two weeks before polling day Blair captured the lead story in the Financial Times with an interview for the paper in which he sounded enthusiastic about the prospect of euro membership when the circumstances were right. A stream of soothing balm was directed at the City. On the same day the Sun carried an article under Blair’s name which was carefully crafted to sit happily  with the government’s formula but to invite the interpretation  that this was a Prime Minister who would never bounce his country into some foreign currency, an assurance which duly appeared on the front page in a form that made it sound like a sign of relief from Wapping. In Downing Street, the judgement was that the crossover readership would be small.

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Far North (not far enough)

I’ve been looking forward to Far North (2007) for ages. When it first came out I bought tickets to the screening at the BFI Southbank with Asif Kapadia doing a Q& A afterwards.  I didn’t get to go in the end, which had made seeing the film, finally, a bit of an event. This afternoon,  with tasks already completed and dependents occupied, I sat down to watch the DVD.

All the reviews of the film talk of its epic landscape, which is indeed unusually exquisite. The exoticism and sparseness of the location is a metaphor for the loneliness of the characters and the bleakness of their situation. There is very little dialogue and a delicate understated soundtrack, which is wonderfully refreshing. I think that there is an over-reliance on speech in so many modern films and this one, thankfully, doesn’t fall into that category at all.

Michelle Yeoh is superb as the stoical and enduring Saiva. The extraordinarily beautiful Michelle Krusiec plays the trusting Anja who falls for Sean Bean’s Loki. The women’s journey, particularly that of Yeoh’s character is intriguing and draws you in. The film’s barren backdrop allows you to study and observe every physical movement, the aesthetic of each frame and the expressions of each character. 65 minutes into the film I was so intrigued and captivated by the ebb and flow of the on-screen relationships, which had hooked me and was slowly, excruciatingly unwinding, that when the final climactic event came its horror was appropriate, though troubling.

Then the film just ended – right there.

I was still blinking in shock, absorbing the narrative and the end credits were rolling. Hang on? I was perplexed: why did it stop dead like the plot of a short film – this wasn’t a feature film ending? Admittedly, I haven’t read Sara Maitland’s book, True North, upon which this film is based, so perhaps Kapadia and his co-writer Tim Miller were being true to that story. Personally, I wanted more on screen.

Far North is one of those films that I will probably ponder for a long time to come. It is an unusual piece of cinema in so many ways, so I hope that my dissatisfaction comes to pass. Watching the film has made me recognise that my own expectations were perhaps too elevated to give it a fair viewing. What would I have made of it had I seen it all those years ago? I’ve done this before: I saw The Piano (1993) and The Hurt Locker (2008) long after everyone had sung all the possible praises out of either film. Critical sycophancy is a pet abhorrence of mine – honesty gets lost in the quagmire of obsequiousness. Neither film stood a chance by the time I got to them, though, the main casualty on each occasion was my hope for a cinematic masterpiece. With the passing of time, I may yet revisit all three films and come to delight in the eloquence of each without the veneer of hyperbole of fawning critics and promulgations of an advertising campaign. I may always have a problem with the ending of Far North, but everything else about it I thoroughly enjoyed.

Who was it that said, “An audience will forgive you anything at the start of a movie, but nothing at the end,” – wise words?

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The Pianist (2002)


I’ve had this DVD sitting in my movie drawer for ages. LOVEFiLM have been very patient with me (thanks guys). The Pianist is probably not the sort of film one would associate with this time of the year, but after all the seasonal frivolity is over a true story likes this serves as a reminder of the power of great filmmaking. Polanski grew up in the Warsaw ghetto and survived – as did Wladyslaw Szpilman. If you haven’t seen it – just do.

The Pianist (2002) trailer

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Cars 2 (unreviewed)

Xmas TV viewing is often a compromise. This year I’ve just steered clear of most televisual fare, but my husband promised the girls that we would ALL sit down together and watch something that wasn’t Merlin (more on Merlin’s series finale in another post). My family chose Cars 2 (2011) as they are all fans of the original.

Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson) takes a backseat in this sequel as Tow Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) accidentally becomes an international super-spy working with British Secret Service Agents as they race around the world trying to thwart the mastermind behind…

Oh God – I’m going to stop there, sod the synopsis – are you ever going to see this film? I doubt it… Suffice to say that this film was NOT what I was expecting. Michael Caine (Finn McMissile) and Emily Mortimer (Holly Shiftwell) play cameo car versions of 007 & female sidekick. Unfortunately, there is such a lacklustre note in Caine’s vocal delivery that I kept wondering if he was just strolling through the script, whilst thinking of the new piece of art he could then purchase with his fee. Mortimer was more enthusiastic, but then with more to prove, and presumably less art on her walls, she delivered a note-perfect, super-smart, but less than sexy Bond-esque female. I really missed Paul Newman’s (Doc Hudson) assured, gravelly delivery from the original; sadly death meant that he was unavailable this time round. You can’t buy gravitas; someone tell producers, please.

The film opened well enough with a visually dynamic sequence on an oil rig: no one can animate moving water like Pixar. Thereafter, it played on so many corny, cultural stereotypes as the film’s plot required trips to Tokyo, Italy (which could also have been Monte Carlo?) and finally London. It was curious to see the Pixar reinvention of each location: I must say that London looked particularly clean, which may be wishful thinking prior to he 2012 Olympics. If I were Japanese or Italian I’d be rolling my eyes and asking where the (estimated) $200,000,000 budget went? Presumably not on avoiding crass oversimplifications? But then I forget who the target audience is, and as I’m not included in that group I shouldn’t make any sweeping assumptions about the intentions of the filmmakers.

John Lasseter and Brad Lewis (why are so many Pixarians called Brad – I’m thinking Bird here) allowed the narrative to plod along, despite the excellent craft on screen. Am I a cynic? Perhaps, but I was hoping for more after my Xmas dinner. I want more from Pixar in general: I’ve come to expect more in particular (see below). If this Cars film had been the first in the series, well let’s just say that a second outing for this franchise might never have been. Disappointed? Yes, I was. Having said all that, my family enjoyed it, but I doubt that they will remember it. It doesn’t have any “moments” of true cinematic value. I can recall the lump in my throat when Shrek tells Fiona that she is beautiful, or the moment when Anton Ego tastes Remy’s ratatouille, or particularly when Wall:E’s fingers grasp Eve’s after she kisses him.

Movies for children should have scenes or themes which stay with them. Otherise, what’s the point of making them (the movies, not the children)? Homogeneity and blandness should not be served up by filmmakers. Our kids are being educated through every cultural experience to which they have access; surely it is implicit that any product made with such a high level of expertise should contain elements which positively resonate with its audience? Kids aren’t stupid: I can still remember feeling short-changed when films with great production values failed to delight or stimulate me because of a  weak script or poor exposition. Cinematic spectacle and content must be balanced. Whether you are five or eighty-five you should be challenged, moved, amazed and educated by your interaction with movies. Cars 2 was what I consider to be a mere time-filler: my enthusiastic six year-old nearly fell asleep during it, and that perfectly sums up the calibre of the film.

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You can’t please everyone

Finding the perfect family film has always been difficult for us lot. Tastes vary from political thrillers to action & sci-fi to art-house, Pixar & Disney, horror, slapstick, film-noir & the nouvelle vague. We are a motley crew ranging from 5 years to forty-seven and we hardly ever agree on anything 100%, with the exception of last night’s viewing. We all sat together, we all laughed, sniffed at the sad bits and cheered when the hero won through. What were we watching? The Karate Kid (2010) – the one with Jackie Chan and Jayden Smith. I have to admit that I was a bit dubious about it at first: the choice was one made as a compromise following 20 minutes of heated debate. But we were eventually won-over by the central performances and the obvious enjoyment that the film gave all of us across many different levels. It proved to be an ideal family film and no one is more surprised about that than me.

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Mightier than the sword

Today has been very satisfying on a multitude of levels. I got up early, cooked carrot & tomato soup (I make fantastic soup, by the way, from fresh organic ingredients) and put a roast on for lunch. Then collected my notes, my thoughts and sat down to write. Sometimes nothing happens and I stare at a blank page, make umpteen cups of tea or coffee, pace about, chew fingers and generally distract myself with daytime TV as a gnawing wave of guilt engulfs me. Not so today.

Boots has been undergoing a transformation in my head (where I do most of my writing these days) for about a year. My job and my family commitments have left me with very little time for my creative self. I’m forever encouraging my students to take time to explore their own creativity above and beyond the constraints and demands of academic work, but I never take my own advice. That’s rather too Jean Brodie for my liking; less, “Creme de la creme,” more, “Do as I say, not as I do.” As I now teach part-time, I really ought to watch myself before I fall prey to charges of hypocrisy (or I back the wrong side in the Spanish Civil War). But I digress…

The phone rang, the doorbell rang (numerous times) and the children were pretty noisy, but once I’d stepped inside the world of my characters I managed to stay there. Discipline is the only way forward when you are writing. It isn’t the creativity that dries up, it’s the dogged, tenacious, bloody-minded hard graft – that’s what writers-block is, nothing more. In her wonderful book, Screen Language, Cherry Potter devotes a whole chapter to the procrastination process that writers go through. “No-one will want to read what I write.” So thinks the procrastinator, followed by, “The kids are bothering me and the ironing needs to be done…” and so on. Potter’s observations hit home with the precision of someone who has herself used these excuses to not achieve her writing goals. She then goes on to give tips as to how one can overcome all of that. I’m so glad I read her book and admitted the truth to myself some time ago. It made today easy & maybe tomorrow, too? Whereas in the past I had a lot of time to allow a fairly organic writing process to take place,  nowadays I have to work at it every day. I must note down ideas, or they’re gone; I draw sketches, take photographs or make film notes on whatever recording device I have to hand. There’s a constant process of refinement, analysis and working out the puzzle. Making films is all of this and more, but it’s real life in all its boring, ugly, chaotic and challenging forms that keep it interesting.

Just watched Tell No One (2006) on iTunes: an excellent thriller with one of the most amazing stunts that I’ve ever seen. Who needs green-screen when you have pin-point accurate stunt driving and a very nimble stuntman? Cherchez la femme should always be this good.

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Zero-tolerance approach

Last October, Rupert Murdoch gave the inaugural Margaret Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies during which he said:

“A free society requires an independent press: turbulent, inquiring, bustling, and free. That’s why our journalism is hard-driving and questioning of authority. And so are our journalists. Often, I have cause to celebrate editorial endeavour. Occasionally, I have had cause for regret. Let me be clear: we will vigorously pursue the truth – and we will not tolerate wrongdoing.”

– as quoted in an article by Patrick Foster in The Times, Thursday January 6th 2011

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