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Friday 18 March 2011

A Partnership in Terror - Hitchcock and Herrmann Festival

The collaboration between Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most famous, tempestuous and productive creative relationships in Hollywood to date. To coincide with Herrmann’s centenary in 2011, York St John University is bringing together practitioners and academics working on a range of theoretical, analytical and historical perspectives.

Partners in Suspense will address the sound of The Birds (1963), the working relationship between Hitchcock and Herrmann, including their infamous falling-out over Torn Curtain (1966), Herrmann’s film scores, and the mathematics of editing in Hitchcock’s work. The conference coincides with the BFI’s campaign to Rescue the Hitchcock 9, a major project to restore and showcase Hitchcock’s nine surviving silent films by 2012.

Running alongside the conference for those of us who missed out on seeing these films on the big screen, the City Screen in York will be showing a selection of Hitchcock’s films including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) on 20 March, Marnie (1964) on 22 March and Vertigo (1958) on 27 March.

As part of the conference program, on Saturday 26 March there will be a screening of The Lodger (1927) at the City Screen in York, premiering a new score by Ben Burrows, performed by the Tippett Quartet. Exploring an Expressionist style, Hitchcock described The Lodger as his first true film. A murderer with an obsession with blondes, a love triangle, and with accusations flying, it’s fascinating to see the Director use the camera to tell the story in this Silent Era.

Exploring this dynamic relationship, the conference and concurrent screenings are a fantastic opportunity to experience the work of Hitchcock and Herrmann in the context for which it was intended.

For further information and to book tickets please visit the City Screen York website. If you’d like to find out more about the Partners in Suspense conference, please visit www.yorksj.ac.uk/partnersinsuspense. Box Office: 0871 902 5726

The European Independent Film Festival: Bringing European Cinema to a Wider Audience

European cinema occupies a special place in the heart of the cinema-going public: a Danish film, In a Better World, picked up the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year and films from across the continent are proving popular worldwide. One of the major events celebrating independent European filmmaking and bringing it to worldwide attention is The European Independent Film Festival (ÉCU). Considered the European equivalent to Sundance, ÉCU has established itself as an arena for independent filmmakers to screen their films in front of large audiences of cinema-goers and industry professionals.

In addition to showcasing European independent filmmakers, the festival also provides four foreign categories open to independent filmmakers from the Americas, Africa and Asia. ÉCU will screen a total of 77 films from 26 countries with the support of G-technology by Hitachi, including feature films, short films, documentaries, animated movies and experimental films, all competing in 12 categories for a variety of prizes including the prestigious Best European Independent Film award.

This year The European Independent Film Festival brings its sixth edition to Paris, with the event taking place over the first three days in April, screening at the cinema 7 Parnassiens, 98 Boulevard du Montparnasse (Paris XIV), and at the cinema Christine Action, 4 rue Christine ( Paris VI).

For many filmmakers, ÉCU provides an opportunity to screen their film for the first time in Europe and for some, it hosts the World Premiere. One such film in this year’s programme is the French feature 27m2 by directors Fabien Latrigue and Gabrielle Cserhati, which gives a unique perspective on the housing problem in France. Other moving documentaries include Cairo Exit (Dir. Hesham Issawi), an Egyptian film about the trauma and drama faced by many Egyptian youths on a daily basis – and how tragedy faces those who try and escape their situation and Salam Rugby, a look at women’s rugby in Iran.

The ÉCU Festival is also a place to exchange and discover, with creative workshops, script writing sessions, video editing and staging, along with Meet the Directors sessions in partnership with Access Film-Music, offering opportunities to engage and explore the films with the directors.

ÉCU: The European Independent Film Festival is a great place to discover new independent films from young and talented filmmakers and takes place on 1st, 2nd and 3rd April in Paris, France. For more information please visit http://www.ecufilmfestival.com

Thursday 17 March 2011

Preview: Yerma at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Preview by Rym Kechacha

Born just outside Granada in the heart of Andalucía, the influential Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca was highly influenced by the rhythms and shapes of flamenco. In that cruel way that life often has of imitating art, his inner world was just as tortured as that of his characters- full of longing, isolation and ending in a brutal murder.

The folk song and dance of Andalucian gypsies, flamenco is the expression of all the anguish of a persecuted race, clinging on to survival at the fringes of society. Unsurprisingly, plagued by the struggle to accept his sexuality, he identified strongly with this secretive yet passionate culture. His work seeps with the indefinable energy at the heart of flamenco known as duende. Wild, untameable and roused from the furthest habitations of the blood, the presence of duende is what elevates great art from a mere distraction; but comes with pain, suffering and often death.

Few attempted to paint a picture of the indescribable as earnestly as Lorca, and few did as much for such a previously marginalised art form. The publication of his book, Romanceros Gitanos (1928), made gypsy culture and flamenco mainstream, beginning the world’s love affair with the ruffled skirt and Spanish guitar. With his trilogy of rural plays, he revived Spanish theatre and attracted notice as a dissenting and modern voice. His tumultuous, and some say sexually tense, friendships with Salvador Dali and Luis Buñel, also part of La Generación del 27, resulted in collaborations such as the play Mariana Pineda (1923-25) and Un Chien Andalou (1929). These early experiments in surrealism were well received as indicators of the artists’ capabilities, but also became the catalysts for their permanent estrangement. This creativity was halted abruptly at the hands of General Franco’s fascist regime, when Lorca was mysteriously killed in Granada in 1936 and his work was banned from performance in Spain for 20 years.

Yerma (1934), the first of Lorca’s plays to be staged at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, is the tale of a woman’s unbearable yearning for a child. This version directed by Róisín McBrinn from a new translation by Ursula Rani Sarma is performed in English and not set specifically in Spain, but instead in an archetypal rural community which is oppressive with tradition and duty.

Lorca devoted much attention to all aspects of the theatre - a dedicated pianist and admirer of dance, the physical and musical life of his works was extremely important to him. He asked his actors to feel the motivation of the characters in their bodies and was deeply concerned that the rhythm of both the prose and verse of his work was powerful. His reverence for the ‘cante jondo’ (deep song) of flamenco winds its way into his plays, making the text read like poetry; but this is not always useful for every director’s interpretation. The washerwomen, who become almost like a Greek chorus with their cryptic commentary, the earthy rhythm of their lyrics and the repetitive action of washing their clothes has the potential to devolve into a song and dance interlude; something the production’s movement director, Yael Loewenstein, is keen to avoid. Despite having a highly trained dance background, she wants no gesture on stage to appear as a dance, instead using the breath of the actor to inform the movement. This results in an organic response that grows and develops with each performance and never remains static. Yael says, ‘We have feelings all the time, and they constantly change. That is why I think we like going to the theatre- overall, meaning is the guiding force.’

Yerma continues at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until 26 March. For further information please visit www.wyp.org.uk. Box Office 0113 213 7700

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Sharon Kivland’s Je suis malade de mes pensées @ Domo Baal

Review by Tiffany Jow

Comprised of items from Sharon Kivland’s personal archive of French magazines, postcards, advertising leaflets and objects from a variety of time periods, the artist copied, re-worked and embellished each, tying them together with a narrative that strives for seamlessness but is constantly cut short or interrupted altogether. The resulting works, titled Je suis malade de mes pensées (2010), dissect memorabilia from periods of enlightenment through a contemporary lens. Kivland’s execution is more amateur than professional, yet is consistently genuine, imbuing the collection with a kind of childlike candidness on the realities of modernism.

The exhibition begins with an excerpt from Émile Zola’s Nana (1880), a favourite of the artist, who has edited the novel down to a mere paragraph that speaks only to light, lighting effects and metaphor used in the original text. Its final sentence reads, “The hair, the most beautiful hair, still blazed like sunlight and flowed in a stream of gold.” The following work, La dormeuse (green) (2011), is a print illustrating the tale’s depressing conclusion, where its protagonist Nana Coupeau perishes. Here, the beautiful courtesan is a clearly a corpse, though life seems to thrive in her shining, sun-kissed hair that cascades toward the bottom of the frame.

In a second room, presumably, a second thought bubble, a desk is laid empty except for a quartet of leather elbow-length gloves and a copy of Esther Leslie’s book A Wind of Revolution Blows, The Storm is on the Horizon, which Kivland illustrated to accompany her 2008 exhibition of the same title. The text, which uses the writing of Walter Benjamin and Karl Marx to underline the objectification of women in 19th century France, sets the stage for the forthcoming illustrations of femininity in different contexts. Three long, white gloves are placed in front of the books, each imprinted in black with the revolutionary slogan “liberté,” “egalité” and “fraternité.” The last glove is pink, its red lettering spelling out, “ou la mort.” Nearby, Kivland demonstrates her limited skill in water-colour in Mes Bonne Années (2009), by taking found postcards and studying their scenic images, then attempting later to paint them from memory. The result - a poorly-executed, overly simplistic painting - is displayed below the back of the original postcard, each covered in cursive handwriting wishing the reader a wonderful year.

A third room, the most comprehensive yet, focuses entirely on images of women. Mes plus belles (bretonnes)(2010) is a series of images from French women’s magazines that were published during a period of social change. The images are cropped in the manner of a headshot, which the artist has reprinted in black and white then painted over in attempt to restore the image to its original colours. In doing this, however, each subjects’ red lips, pink cheeks, lined eyes and curled hair is embellished to the point of deformity. Hairstyles from post-war France trade journals comprise Mes plus belles coiffures (2011), where re-printed images take a view of the back of a woman’s head, showing off the exquisite detail of braids, curls, knots and wraps. A final pair of works, Mes negligées (I) and Mes negligées (II) (2010) consist of the artist’s reproduction of vintage fashion sketches, where she copied drawings of inexpressive women in stereotypical costume and poses. Kivland juxtaposes the drawings with words from the negligees, the lessons of femininity, which she reproduced by hand on the pages of a school exercise book.

Kivland’s mixture of works intentionally use plurality as means to an end of multiple interpretations. The exhibition embraces its points of failure and success, frankness and ambiguity, authenticity and reproductions, making for an often ironic, critical commentary on the progression related to periods of social change.

Sharon Kivland’s Je suis malade de mes pensées continues until 9 April. For more information please visit www.domobaal.com.

Image courtesy Domo Baal

Tuesday 15 March 2011

What happens when we die? Stardust - Some Thoughts on Death at St Mungo's Museum, Glasgow

Review by Alistair Quietsch

The latest show at the St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life, Stardust – Some Thoughts on Death by Gillian Steel, is a curious, almost scientific rumination on death. It took Steel a year to document all her findings, 100 interviews and over 50 recordings of conversations on the topic, pragmatically giving each person 10 questions to answer in regards to death and possible events thereafter.

As the introductory quotation reads: “this exhibition reflects our capacity as human beings for monumental faith, as well as existential insecurity” it foreshadows an exhibition with no overall outcome or resolution, which in regards to the theme, is perfectly fitting. Throughout the show there are DVDs playing the documentation of the Stardust Symposium, an event attended by 50 people from varying religious backgrounds discussing the subject of death, and monologues on research and experiences. A running video piece with selected voiceovers of interviewees in the past seems to be the strongest attraction in the space since it clearly sounds the scope and range of beliefs in regards to the subject, with the disadvantage of having a seemingly last minute video flung together as backdrop. One man, after pondering slightly, simply states: “It probably helps to have that belief; that there is something there,” however there are never any resolutions or consensuses within the soundtrack, as the supporting blurb concedes. The show allows the viewer to experience outside opinions on the subject and leads them to question their beliefs on the theme, since that is all it can be for most of us.

James Anderson, who is discussing the evolution of grief from his experiences in the field of psychology, has a unique video monologue. Much like humans, some apes have been known to visibly grieve so much that they themselves perish from the sorrow, and he anecdotally quotes a story: “concerning a guerrilla who was trained in American Sign Language.” Coco the guerrilla was in discussion with the trainer and they asked, “What happens when guerrillas die?” Coco replied “Trouble. Sleep.” The trainer then asked, “Where do guerrillas go when they die?” to which Coco replied: “Hole in ground. Bye.” It is interesting that there is no metaphysical aspect to Coco’s viewpoint and it calls into question some of our own beliefs in higher beings and spaces between this life and another. Again relating to the quotation in the introduction that the creation of a belief system surrounding death could sometimes be the pacifier for our own anxiety towards our end.

That video leads nicely on to another strong voice in the exhibition: Joseph Cameron with Benjamin “Bodhiprem” Shapiro. It is an interesting document as it tries to illustrate the innocence of youth in light of an older mans perceptions of death (Joseph being 8-years-old talking to a 75-year-old retired grievance councillor working for the Buddhist Hospice Trust.)

Joseph sits; shoelaces untied, dangling his feet from the large chair engulfing him, asking only 5 simple questions, one of which being “What do you feel you need to do with your life before you die?” to which Shapiro just laughs, then replies with an answer regarding focused involvement in the moment. Shapiro’s answer is interesting though not only for his response but for his way of responding. Steel puts his laugh down to giving himself time to think, however, there is a deeper point to his dispelling the worry over death by laughing and abandoning it for enjoyment of the moment. “Unless you know you are going to die, your life would be meaningless.” states Shapiro.

At the end of the show there is a large publication, which is a weighty run-through of the research but the real value of this publication is Steel’s voice within the show. Working mostly as a statistics log, scientifically tallying belief in brackets: 36% believe in life after death, 38% have anxiety towards death and so forth. The publication though is a clear indicator of her obsession with the subject and even tells how her immersion in it became a strain. She makes good observation that there is the lack of any elderly close-to-death points of view and younger voices from children.

However the pay off is the massive collection of completed questionnaires on the subject. Here you can read the confessions of participants, their desires and dreams for the perfect end to the story. It is an interesting recurrence that we want to have friends gathered around us, be outside in the woods or lakes and peacefully close our eyes. However the best reply to: “How, where and when would you like it to end?” was simply a score-through line.

Stardust – Some Thoughts on Death continues until 30 June. For more information please visit the St Mungo Museum website. You can follow the Online Stardust Symposium on Facebook here.

Image: Courtesy of Dorothy Martin Ross/Gillian Steel

Monday 14 March 2011

Yohji Yamamoto @ the V&A, London

Review by Tiffany Jow, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

These days, it’s trendy to pay respect to Japanese fashion within an exhibition context. Last autumn, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York’s Japanese Fashion Now highlighted the region’s radical contemporary tendencies, while the Barbican’s recently closed Future Beauty surveyed the country’s fashion history from the 1980s to present. The pantheon of designers is as expected: Hanae Mori, Issey Miyake, Takado Kenzo, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto are consistently embraced as group, effectively merging their individual talent into a single aesthetic intended to be representative of Asian avant-garde design.

The Victoria and Albert Museum responds to the grouping with its current offering, Yohji Yamamoto, the UK’s first major retrospective to focus solely on the Tokyo-born enigma. Designed by Yamamoto’s long-time collaborator Masao Nehei, the V&A’s Gallery 38 is transformed into a brightly lit industrial showroom, featuring vignettes of mannequins juxtaposed with video footage of runway shows, short films and interviews. Profoundly influential and tastefully provocative, the multi-talented designer used fashion to challenge conventions, defying expectations with his unwavering avant-gardism as expressed in collaborations with Wim Wenders, Pina Bausch and Takeshi Kitano.

Through a throng of multimedia, the exhibition explains Yamamoto’s career chronologically. Viewers learn of his mother, a seamstress, and his decision to leave a career in law for fashion. Following the debut of his women’s label in 1977, he and friend Rei Kawakubo show in Paris only to be met with hostility, epitomized in a WWD spread where photographs from their collections were loftily crossed out. Yamamoto’s innovation prevails, demonstrated by his work for the Bayreuth Festival’s Tristan and Isolde (1993), modern dancer Pina Bausch (1998) and his seasonal catalogues, in which he and art director Marc Ascoli evoked the feel of a collection rather than merely depicting each new look. The user-accessible look book showcased in the exhibition could easily be mistaken for a magazine.

Yamamoto’s hallmark themes of countering stereotypes and indulging in the androgynous lay bare in video footage of past collections. His fall 1998 Male/Female show comprised a menswear collection modelled by females, including Vivienne Westwood and Charlotte Rampling, while his spring line investigated tradition and rituals involved in marriage. Titled Playing with Tradition, the designer put his brides in geometric suits, sandal-like flats, oversized headgear and multi-layered gowns, which models theatrically dropped in pieces to the ground to reveal form-fitting evening ensembles. For his July 2002 collection, near the end of haute couture week in Paris, Yamamoto presented his ready-to-wear collection that would normally be shown in October in response to a press remark about the ‘couture-ness’ of his work, and the following season presented Men in Skirts, a menswear collection where trousers were obsolete.

Viewers can see looks from the videos across the room, where groups of Yamomoto-clad mannequins stand at eye level separated by the theme of their design. The craftsmanship, expert tailoring and couture influences of Dior and Balenciaga are made apparent by the intimate encounter the arrangement provides, which is curated in such a way as to show that black was not the only colour in the designer’s repertoire. Rich textiles and exotic fabrics, moulded and draped as they are, comprise creations that walk the line between fashion and sculpture.

The exhibition strives for a positive portrayal of the designer, editing out his declaration of bankruptcy in October 2009 (a Japanese company is currently working with Yohji Yamamoto Inc. to aid in its resurrection and resolve debt). Further, the looks on view are consistently extreme, standing in stark opposition to the fitted black suits and white t-shirts Yamamoto is known for. His work’s wearability is lost in the attempt to characterize the designer as a forward-thinking avant gardian. Surprisingly, the execution of the show’s design, with its messy wall painting job, blaring spotlights and hand-drawn ‘sketches’ on the walls, led to an overall unfinished quality of the presentation. Yet somehow, this ultimately mattered little. Once immersed in the wonder of Yamamoto’s world, his powerful genius speaks for itself.

Yohji Yamamoto continues at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 10 July 2011. For more information, please visit www.vam.ac.uk

Image: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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