RNCM Symphony Orchestra

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RNCM Symphony Orchestra

RNCM Concert Hall, 5 May 2017

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

This was another fine concert by the RNCM Symphony Orchestra, with the programme of music for the evening chosen by the conductor, Manoj Kamps.

There was Sibelius’s fifth symphony at the end, its jagged tones evoking icy colour and bleak landscapes. This was an epic journey, complete with Sherpa dogs and Kendall Mint Cake. Sitong Meng played piano in the middle work, Bartok’s Piano Concerto No 2 in G major, and we saw before our eyes the construction of a monument, such was the force of her performance. No sense in expending such energy on an easy piece. The concert began with a shimmering memorial to Bartok by Witold Lutosławski. It was elegiac but joyful as well.

I am looking forward to the next one already!

Tango Siempre

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Tango Siempre

RNCM Theatre, 3 May 2017

 Tango Siempre

It should suffice simply to describe this show.

There were four musicians, playing piano, double bass, violin and that fabulist instrument, the bandoneon. Julian Rowlands did the honours here.

They played tango tunes, which should come as no great surprise. These were mostly traditional or established tunes, with a few original compositions thrown in as well. Each tune was accompanied by dancing: there were four dancers, two couples, all told. All but one of the dances was choreographed. The sole exception, to a traditional dance-hall tune, was improvised; as it would be in real life. For all the tunes there was an introduction by Jonathan Taylor, the pianist, who had a diverting line in witty patter.

The show provided enjoyable entertainment, nothing less, and you would be hard pressed to improve upon it. It works.

Tour dates can be found here.

La Strada

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La Strada

Directed by Federico Fellini

Italy, 1954

HOME, 21 May 2017

La Strada

The ending gets to you every time.

There is Zampano (Anthony Quinn) drunken and walking to the sea (is he considering suicide? Maybe but no, it is not going to happen this time), collapsing on the sand, looking up to the sky and realising, perhaps, that if there is a God then Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), the saintly woman who loved him, is now in a place which he could never enter. And if not, if there is no God, well then death is a door that he can never open. She has parted from him for good. So he writhes in agony on the sand, alone, racked by – by what exactly?

Well, by his capacity for love, which Gelsomina alone had awakened; by the memory of his betrayal, a betrayal fuelled by despair at being unable to reach her; by all that he had lost when that strange woman – who only he (he now knows) could love, as only she could love him – left his life. ‘Tragic’ doesn’t even come close.

Fellini’s art lies in how the film sets you up for this final devastating moment (those scenes with the sea as a backdrop, say, like the refrain in a villanelle), how he makes it as real as your own experience. A stone cold masterpiece.

Katzelmacher

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Katzelmacher

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

West Germany, 1969

HOME, 18 May 2017

Katzelmacher

This is a pared down film, an adaptation of Fassbinder‘s own play, which examines contemporary (circa 1969) attitudes to women, foreigners, homosexuality, etc.

It may be of another time and country but, you know, ‘Dauer im Wechsel’ and all that.

What strikes me on watching the film now is Fassbinder‘s concern with gossip and rumour. Others have noted this too, no doubt, but it is especially apparent because we live in an era of ‘fake news’. It is the pernicious nature of rumour that Fassbinder focuses on, the way it allows latent prejudice to fester and spread without being checked by facts or truth. Rumour is inchoate ideology. These people are not evil but they are vulnerable because they are credulous and care too much what others think. They are susceptible to hate and indifference. A propensity towards violence is always present.

Katzelmacher is an interesting early film by the great director, and well worth watching on that account, but hardly your average entertaining blockbuster.

Jawbone

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Jawbone

Directed by Thomas Napper

UK, 2017

HOME, 18 May 2017

Jawbone

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if Ray Winstone is in a film, it is well worth watching, ‘for the experience’.

This one, all about a boxer taking on one last desperate fight, is no exception. Jimmy (Johnny Harris) is a fighter who has fallen on hard times. He has got problems with the bottle. He has been thrown out onto the street. His life is a mess.

He turns to Bill (Ray Winstone) and to Joe (Ian McShane): a good dad and a bad dad. Joe is a mover and a shaker, someone who makes things happen. There is something especially sinister about the comfortably off, cash-rich Joe: how is he making his money? What he does here is tempt and seduce (though even this is putting it a bit too strongly) Jimmy into accepting an unlicensed fight; there is no coercion as such. If Jimmy doesn’t want it, he will find someone else, for sure.

Some years back John Huston made a great boxing film called Fat City – the novel (recently reissued by Pushkin) is pretty good as well. This is a British depiction of the same sort of world. It is a very decent film. Ray Winstone is, of course, brilliant and there is music by Paul Weller as well.

Frantz

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Frantz

Directed by Francois Ozon

France & Germany, 2016

HOME, 17 May 2017

Frantz

At the end of the Great War, a Frenchman lays flowers at the grave of a German soldier.

The dead man’s girlfriend watches him and is intrigued; she investigates further and then sets out to meet him. So begins this beautiful film, which is spoken sometimes in French, sometimes in German, and which is as much about Europe – the new Europe that has been forged, the war-torn Europe of the near past – as the dramas of these two people and these two grief-stricken communities.

Manet’s painting ‘The Suicide’ serves as a metaphor for a war where Frenchmen have killed Germans, and vice versa. There is a wonderful rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’ as an anti-war, or at any rate an anti-militaristic song; it put me in mind of the similar scene in Renoir’s La Regle du jeu. There is no mention of the Treaty of Versailles here, mind: that would have spoilt the mood of European togetherness and solidarity. This is a beautiful and a very moving film, nonetheless.

The Crucible

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The Crucible

By Arthur Miller

Selladoor Productions & Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Opera House, Manchester

8 May 2017

The Crucible

This play is described as ‘a chilling reminder of the frailty of reason in the face of hysteria’, so can serve as a fitting parable of the EU referendum last summer.

The production stalls slightly at the start but soon gathers pace. By the last quarter you are fully immersed and the human drama – as we see these people’s lives destroyed by a spurious reality – is accelerating still.

Curiously, I can remember almost nothing about the set – it was bare, minimalist – but the people are scorched indelibly in my memory. Eoin Slattery’s performance as John Procter, an unfaithful man with a fatal fidelity to truth, is magnetic.

Miller’s play is an undoubted classic, and will undoubtedly be performed 100 years from now. Human integrity itself – what a man believes, what he thinks is true – is put on the line; and the stakes – life or death – are as high as they could ever be. At the same time there is the epistemological dimension: what is real here?

Overall, this is a very impressive production indeed. Tour dates can be seen here.

Harmonium

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Harmonium

Directed by Kôji Fukada

Japan, 2016

HOME, 11 May 2017

”Harmonium"

What strikes you at the close of this film is its anti-redemptive quality: no one is saved, no one could possibly be at peace, torment awaits all.

It tells the story of a man who leaves prison, determined to remake his life. Or maybe not, maybe he is bent on revenge. Anyway, he is given work by a friend and lodging with his family. He helps the young daughter to practise her music.

The film is at once elegant, brutal and enigmatic. Its treatment of disability is disturbing. In the world it depicts, deception is rife – you don’t trust anyone. Mind, although people wear masks, weakness lets them sometimes slip. You think of the world of Akutagawa’s stories.

Harmonium is a great film, one which I could watch again many times over; it is as dark and dissonant as the human heart.

Mindhorn

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Mindhorn

Directed by Sean Foley

UK, 2016

HOME, 11 May 2017

”Mindhorn"

This is lightweight entertainment, though amusing enough in its way.

Mindhorn (Julian Barratt) is a TV detective from the ‘80s, akin to Bergerac, The Saint, the Bionic Man (the series was actually called The Six Million Dollar Man, of course). Here he (or rather the actor who played him) is brought back to solve a real life crime.

It is a fun film with colourful characters and lots of jokes, some hit, some miss. The memory of Mindhorn is a faux shared experience which we can all buy into.

The Sense Of An Ending

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The Sense Of An Ending

Directed by Ritesh Batra

UK, 2017

HOME, 10 May 2017

”The

This is an adaptation of the Julian Barnes novel.

Webster (Jim Broadbent) has a camera shop and receives a letter. The letter is from a woman now dead and it speaks of the diary of a friend of his youth. This was a friend who killed himself, for who knows what reason, and Webster has always felt that he was to blame. He tries to obtain the diary – he wants answers, needs to lance his guilt.

It is a decent film with fine performances from Broadbent, Harriet Walter and Charlotte Rampling, and it flits deftly from the past to the present, the present to the past (on entering a pub, the youthful Webster hears a burst of Nick Drake). Yet you have to say that Webster gets off a little too lightly. There is a minor irritation of conscience when remembering his former friend’s death. Some ointment is applied – a warm conversation with his ex-wife – and, wonder of wonders, all is well.