The venues used for some of the Leeds Film Festival’s screenings this year were just about as memorable as the films themselves. For those of you who didn’t make it along (tomorrow is the final day), here are some photos of the grand Baroque-stylings of Leeds Town Hall, described by Architecture Today as “the epitome of northern civic bombast” —and, slightly further out of town, the hidden gem that is the Hyde Park Picture House, built in 1908 as a hotel, converted to a cinema in 1914, and saved from closure by Leeds City Council who have lovingly maintained it since 1989. It’s Grade II listed, lit by gas, and still has a piano and organ. What more could you ask for? Ultra-comfy seats, a bar and a balcony? Well, you’re in luck because it has those too.
Oh! The films we went to see? Jean-Pierre Melville’s muted and entrancing classic “policier“, Le Cercle Rouge, which has one of the best casts of any
French crime movie you care to name (Alain Deloin AND Yves Montand!) and one of the most masterful jewel heist scenes since Rififi. The second film was also understated but was perhaps more inconsequential than existential. A low-budget Romanian drama from 2001, Marfa si banii (Stuff and Dough —as in, goods and money) was directed by Cristi Puiu, who you might know better for The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005). Combining elements of road-movie, chase-movie, and social realist critique, three twenty-somethings take a trip to Bucharest with what a family ‘friend’ has told them is “medicine”, hoping the promised $2,000 might get them quickly and easily out of aimless and difficult lifestyles. Of course, it’s not so straightforward. Both films remind us in very different ways that a life of crime can be more trouble than it’s worth. Melville suggests that nonetheless, it can be done carefully, with honour, and with style. The thief can be a hero of sorts or at least, a gentleman— even if he is ultimately doomed. For Puiu’s less well-heeled protagonists, there is only naiveté, disagreement and exploitation. All of which makes for very good cinema!
A quick post to say thank you to everyone who came along to Friday’s screening of The Officer’s Wife. It was great to see so many people (over 100 we think) in the theatre, and the Q&A afterwards showed how enthusiastic the audience were about both Piotr Uzarowicz’s film and the work of the Kresy-Siberia organisation. All in all it was an educational, moving, and rewarding evening.
Some people present had experienced directly the privations and the horror of Siberian deportation. Others, of varying age, nationality and background, were there to learn about a largely overlooked (and deliberately suppressed) part of history which the film explores skillfully and without bias, despite the deeply personal motivations of the director. Interviews with survivors, historians and activists are combined to great effect with voice-over narration, animation, and an evocative soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer Jan Kaczmarek, so impressed with The Officer’s Wife that he agreed on first viewing to provide an original score.
Hopefully Trauma film screenings will host similarly worthwhile events in the future.
Tomorrow This evening a new season – hosted by Merlyn Taylor – starts. Coincidentally enough it will explore animated films which deal with stories of war and conflict, including Persepolis by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, and Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies. Hope to see you there!
Last week I was contacted by Eva Szegidewicz of the Kresy-Siberia Group Foundation, a charitable organisation devoted to inspiring, promoting and supporting “research, remembrance and recognition of Polish citizens’ struggles in the Eastern Borderlands of Poland (the Kresy) and in Exile during World War 2”. The foundation was looking for a venue to screen an award-winning documentary titled The Officer’s Wife, which examines the Katyn Forest Massacre of 1940 and its legacy. Around 22,000 Poles were murdered by NKVD agents at Katyn following the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 and the crime was subsequently denied and covered-up (both by Stalin and by his newfound Allied partners in London and Washington, who were aware of Russian culpability but who needed their support in order to defeat the Nazis).
TRAUMA (the film group I help run at MMU) is more than happy to host and raise awareness of this important film which is due to be shown at venues around the UK throughout September. For those of you reading this blog that live in the area, the screening will take place on Friday 21st September at 6pm in the Manchester Lecture Theatre. Everybody is welcome and entry is free. It is
hoped now confirmed that we will have a Q&A session with Producer/Director Piotr Uzarowicz afterwards. New Manchester Polish Consul Łukasz Lutostański will also attend and give a short introduction.
If you want to know more about the history and people of Kresy-Siberia, the Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum is a fantastic example of how collective efforts and internet technologies can be combined to support, educate and preserve documents, archives and memories which might otherwise be lost, forgotten, or disassembled.
En route to see the new Batman movie, myself and a friend took a slightly circuitous route as part of an effort to remind ourselves that yes, there is an amazing city out there beyond our cosy home in Chorlton – even if it’s not quite so darkly evocative as Gotham. 😉 We stopped to admire some of the old mills, factories and locks between and around Oxford Road and Deansgate, which have mostly now been (or are being) repurposed to become galleries, studios, commercial spaces and flats as part of a continuing redevelopment plan. Visually retaining a sense of social history amidst patchwork modernity, many of the exteriors are as yet unchanged – spiky green weeds protrude from chipped and broken windowpanes amidst beautiful red brickwork covered in flyposters and colourful grafittied chipboard. The names of defunct-factories imprint themselves in giant letters on the area’s memory while underneath, delicate gold might signify the entrance to private apartments and graphic design firms; secure entry only. Even the most compelling of visions can’t escape the contrasts and contexts of transition.
As for The Dark Knight Rises. Well, aesthetically speaking, Christopher Nolan and his crew have created a predictably excellent atmosphere of electrifying gloom. Performances alternate between strong and muted, keeping us generally interested in a twisting and turning narrative full of politics and references to previous film The Dark Knight. J.G. Levitt as new character John Blake is particularly memorable although I’m not sure Marion Cotillard’s Miranda really works (or shocks) as intended. Now and then, everything threatens to become laborious, almost collapsing (appropriately enough) under a crushingly heavy but unevenly balanced symbolic critique that plays out over nearly 3 hours.
The Batman movies always (and increasingly with Nolan) combine socio-political metanarratives and allegories with moments of kitschly sexy cartoonishness. Here, I think that combination goes wrong, forced towards a conclusion that might be heroic or might be ambivalent and contradictory. Being asked to consider economic injustice; 9/11 and the War on Terror; the trade-off between nuclear weapons and environmental responsibility; the culpability of the stock exchange in financial disaster, AND the effects of torture, false prophecy and violent revolution is a lot for any mainstream movie. Doing so at the same time as we follow the gymnastics, jewel-thieving and repartee of Anne Hathaway’s well-played but confused Catwoman is just a little bit too much. Certainly nothing comes close to the perfectly pitched genius of Heath Ledger’s Joker. All that aside, it’s definitely worth seeing!
Last night I was spellbound by something that happened in Church. Actually, a lot of us were. There were DJs, dancing-girls, a futuristic robot… all sorts of strange machinery. At one point, there was even talk of witchcraft – and then a riot broke out. Seriously! You should have been there. But unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the latest attempt at modernisation by the Church of England. In fact, it was all down to the strange but blissful union between a legend of German cinema (Fritz Lang) and a legend of German electronic music (Dieter Moebius). Definitely a contender for coolest 68-year-old on the planet, Moebius performed a live, synthesised, and largely improvised score to a brand new restoration of Lang’s silent sci-fi classic Metropolis, in an event organised as part of Manchester’s annual Future Everything festival. To add yet another layer of spectral atmosphere, the whole thing took place inside the beautiful and spacious chapel of St.Philips church in Salford.
Appropriately then, proceedings were watched over by a rather saintly icon – sadly, not Maria – high up on the stained glass window above the altar, while at the lectern, a majestic eagle spread its wings. Moebius, standing at the other side with only a little workspace, looked calmly up at the screen and then back at his sonic toolkit, feeling his way into the narrative. Somehow, regardless of its age, the film manages to remain timeless. Class, religion, delusion, scientific progress, desire, politics, dreams, technology; all are wrapped up in an easy-to-follow narrative which reveals itself as a sequence of ethereal yet starkly symbolic Expressionist “mindscapes”. Special effects which, decades later, were often still risibly executed (e.g. the use of miniature sets or the appearance and movement of cyborgs) seem effortless: beyond reproach to an audience half-hypnotised by the world that Lang, cinematographer Karl Freund, and special effects pioneer Eugen Schüfftan created. Included in this new version of the film are 25 precious minutes of lost footage, discovered only two years ago at the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, in the archive of a private collector. This essentially brings Metropolis as close as it will get to the way it was when first released over 80 years ago.
The film’s ultimate message, repeated more than once by Brigitte Helm‘s Maria, is that: “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” Of course there is a role for technology in the achievement of societal advances; but we should never let ourselves be enslaved because of it. The feelings and qualities which make us human must move in harmony with what we invent; in precisely the way illustrated yesterday (music and film technology, composer, audience and sentiment) at what was a truly memorable event.