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!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many films in such a short space of time as I have since arriving in Manchester – and that probably includes four years spent as an Undergrad at the University of Glasgow! Actually, my whole time here so far has marked something of a “cultural revival”. Just this weekend I went to see Steve McQueen’s “Shame” – a complex and difficult film which manages to be aesthetically cold and narratively detached at the same time as arousing deep sympathies for its two troubled lead characters; and then to a small exhibition of photographs by Kevin Cummins, in a little Northern Quarter gallery not far from me. The works on display were mostly of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, another troubled soul who died (by his own hand) at just 23 years old. There were also pictures of Curtis’s personal notebooks, his Vox Phantom – and a few of desolate 1980s Manchester roadways and streets. This was a striking reminder of how much regeneration work has gone on in UK cities in the decades since Joy Division were hanging around. Revealing in a different way was the fact that although each Cummins print was identically and expensively priced (£995 if you’re curious), the photographer has insisted that the dense, glossy hardcover book accompanying the exhibition be sold at only £25 a copy. Maybe that still seems a lot but this is a volume that would usually retail at say, £50, with a gorgeous design by a very hip Swedish studio. So at least fans and admirers are able to go home with something reasonable!
Back in the world of cinema, and I can report with great excitement that all the posters for this Term’s TRAUMA screenings are now “in the press”. My first ever season is all about Scottish cinema, but I must say that the last season – Impaired Cinema, presented by Tony Boffey – is going to be a tough act to follow! Still, I’ll try my best – and a little Whisky in advance of introducing the films to the audience seems only fitting, right? 😉 One of my new jobs is putting the Trauma posters up on various walls around the University and (of course) in our favourite post-screening pub, the Sandbar. Would you believe that the MMU Vice Chancellor has apparently taken an intense dislike to the putting up of “unofficial” and “untidy” posters? This makes finding places to position the very beautiful A3 sheets (designed by resident Graphics Guru, Ben Wissett) tricky. I wonder if in future the sense of a vibrant, colourful, culture-dominated University and city centre so prevalent in Manchester will be replaced by a sterile and polished pseudo-corporate environment where only adverts for “student experience surveys” and private sector recruitment fairs are granted visibility on campus?
At the moment, you often find yourself walking past multiple hoardings around the perimeters of city centre building sites. These are covered in quotes from famous Mancunians and are all about the city and what it means to them. Much of this council-approved street art comes from musicians, including Noel Gallagher and Ian Brown. But right now, I think this quote from a former Manchester University lecturer and one of the 20th century’s most “brilliant historians” is pretty appropriate:
“Manchester has everything but good looks…, the only place in England which escapes our characteristic vice of snobbery.” – AJP Taylor.