Simian Substitute Site for December 2021: A Monkey Christmas

MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2021

Books: Those of you who’ve been on the edge of your seats since last month, wondering which of our shortlist of five audiobooks we ultimately chose: you can relax now. At first glance (or whatever the sonic equivalent of glance is), I’d assumed that Stanley Tucci’s Taste would be a similar mashup of memoir and food writing to Grace Dent’s Hungry (which we enjoyed earlier this year), but with more of an actorly bent. That’s not quite what it is, though. Dent is using memories of meals as a literary device to connect her past with her current role as a restaurant critic. With Tucci, though, you feel like food is an inseparable component of his existence: every major event in his life is associated with something he ate or drank at the time. Frequently, we get recipes - which, to be honest, is where the audiobook format loses out over the printed page. The compensation for this is Tucci’s warm and wry reading of the text, even if he is a little too pleased with his own jokes sometimes. Still, one of those jokes looks like it’s going to be joining the lexicon at Château Belated-Monkey: his insistence that meatless meatballs should be referred to simply as ‘balls’.

Music: A new Covid variant's doing the rounds, and at the time of writing people still can't quite agree on whether we're just as doomed as before or even more doomed. The perfect time for us to see three crowded gigs in the space of a fortnight, then. Jarvis Cocker started us off at the Albert Hall in Manchester, for reasons to be clarified later this month. Technically it was a long delayed promotional show for last year’s Jarv Is... album, but he covered all the other bases of his career too: some Pulp deep cuts, a few solo favourites (people do enjoy singing along to Running The World for some reason), and even a couple of French classics from his current oddity Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top. The following week saw a similarly delayed show finally happen after two postponements and a change of venue – Mary Coughlan at Islington Assembly Hall, also mixing up her new-at-the-time-the-gig-was-originally-scheduled record with plenty of older material, including a hefty chunk of her 35-year-old debut. Finally, the gig where we took the biggest chance was a show at the London Jazz Festival featuring percussionist Sarathy Korwar, who we only went to see because one of his many collaborators on the night was cellist Abel Selaocoe, star of our favourite/only Prom this year. Korwar turned out to be a terrific bandleader, as well as our gateway into a few of his other bandmates, such as poet Zia Ahmed and Melt Yourself Down vocalist Kushal Gaya, who brought the house down at the end by coming on stage carrying his sleeping toddler, compete with massive ear protectors.

Theatre: Mind you, that delay of over a year to see Mary C pales against the two years plus we’ve been waiting for The Shark Is Broken. First mentioned on these pages in August 2019, it was one of the hits of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and as such had pretty much sold out by the time we got there. A London transfer was always on the cards, but that pesky pandemic has delayed it until now. It’s set in 1974, as three actors – Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas) and Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) – sit in a boat while the film they’re working on together hits yet another delay, because Bruce the mechanical shark has malfunctioned again. Guy Masterson's production has acquired a few production curlicues since its run in Edinburgh - I'm pretty sure Nina Dunn's astonishing video backdrop wouldn't fit into Assembly George Square Studio 3 - but it's still basically a showcase for a study of three personalities clashing under pressure, all of them blurring the line between the stars themselves and the roles they played in Jaws. You could argue that the play's a little too keen to shoehorn in old movie set anecdotes (a flaw it shares with the novelisation of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), and some of its ironic foreshadowing is aggressively on the nose. But it's all carried off by the wit of the script, co-written by Joseph Nixon and Ian Shaw, with the added gawp value of the latter playing his dad on stage. On the night we saw it, though, Shaw was replaced by his understudy Will Harrison-Wallace, who did a spectacular job in the circumstances: particularly when it gradually dawns on you what the final scene's going to be, and how difficult it must be to perform even with Shaw's genetic advantage, never mind without it.

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BrewDogging #74: Chancery Lane

See what I mean? If it wasn't for the inevitable neon red glow at the back of the room, that'd be a PUB.Regular readers will know how Collabfest works. Every year, in the autumn, each of the BrewDog bars goes into collaboration with a local brewery, and they make a beer together. And then over a single four-day weekend - this year it was October 21st to 24th - all those beers go on sale in BrewDog bars simultaneously. Some years it clashes with the London Film Festival, some years it doesn't, but either way The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been to every Collabfest since 2013. (Even last year's, which was undertaken at home with cans because of the you-know-what.)

As always, the problem is that no single bar is capable of selling every single Collabfest beer simultaneously - this year there were 66 on offer in the UK - so a schedule has to be drawn up saying which beers will be on offer in which bars over the four days. Because The BBG is privy to Secret Knowledge, she had a spreadsheet with precisely that information on it, which we used to plot out which of the bars in London we'd need to visit on particular days to maximise our beer intake. And it was while poring over this spreadsheet that I found myself asking the following question:

"Wait, there's a bar in Chancery Lane now?"

This is how far it's gone now - BrewDog are opening bars and we're not noticing.

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Simian Substitute Site for November 2021: MONKEYSEXPLOSION

MONKEYSEXPLOSIONMONTH END PROCESSING FOR OCTOBER 2021

Books: We’re in between books in our current Audiobook At Bedtime experiment: so rather than a review of a full one this month, here are five whose free previews we’ve listened to while working out what to buy next. Animal by Sara Pascoe: an interesting mix of tones, alternating between standup act and serious study of gender politics, and from the sample it’s hard to tell which will ultimately predominate. Taste by Stanley Tucci: a kind of Hollywood variation on that Grace Dent book we listened to a few months ago, with Tucci charmingly telling the story of his life in terms of food. Sidesplitter by Phil Wang: another comedian’s book with an agenda – looking at the impact being mixed race has had on his life – but this one feels more like a standup act on paper. Rememberings by Sinead O’Connor: she’s quite open from the beginning about the areas of her life this book is going to cover, but she does it with sufficient reassurance that it won’t be a humourlessly grim retelling. Windswept And Interesting by Billy Connolly: the voice is a bit croakier than it used to be, but he’s lived the life and kept the stories, and on this evidence seems to be trying to tell them all as quickly as possible. Which one will we choose? I’ll let you know. The main lesson we’ve learned from this exercise is that comedians are happy to have free previews for their books that can last the best part of an hour, but actors and musicians are a bit stingier.

Food and Drink: I was given a lovely present for Christmas 2019, and this month I finally got to open it, in a manner of speaking. When I first received my voucher for a one-day beer-making workshop at London Beer Lab, I assumed that I’d be using it not too long after the post-Christmas Dry Veganuary that we’d already planned for the start of 2020. Three lockdowns and one actual case of Covid later, The BBG and I got to visit Brixton and get our voucher’s worth. The setup’s simple: upstairs from the LBL taproom is a brewing area with half a dozen small kits, each capable of brewing around forty pints. You pick a recipe from a selection offered to you, and over the next five hours or so you're helped through the process of making a beer using it. To be honest, when we did all those brewery tours back in 2016 and got to the bit where they explained to you how brewing worked, I always tended to glaze over a little bit. It turns out that getting hands-on experience in the process makes it a doddle to understand: who knew? There are quite a few points during the five hours where not much is happening, and LBL craftily fill these gaps with some beer tastings and an extended opportunity to taste and smell some of the basic ingredients, so it all makes for a gloriously enjoyable afternoon. When it's all over, your beer is left to ferment for a couple of weeks, and if it turns out to be non-poisonous they'll put it on sale in their taproom. So keep an eye on London Beer Lab's Untappd listing from around the middle of November, and see if a black double IPA turns up on the taps. Hopefully it should be obvious if it's ours.

Movies: October was all about the London Film Festival here, and if you weren’t already aware of that you’ve got some catching up to do. On our final day, one of the highlights was Train Again, an experimental short film by Peter Tscherkassky, which I described at the time as  “a whole archive’s worth of footage of trains from the Lumiere brothers onwards, layered on top of each other and intercut at stroboscopic rates, accompanied by an industrial soundtrack of railway noise and climaxing in a montage of crashes.” So naturally, afterwards we were keen to find out if there was any more of this stuff available: and just one week later we found ourselves in Dalston's fashionable Cafe Oto watching a whole programme of Tscherkassky's films. The nice thing about Cafe Oto is, it's a performance space that isn't in the least bit designed for film screenings: which meant that the audience had a huge 35mm projector in the room with them, giving a weird illicit feel to the whole evening, like you were watching stag films or spy footage of a villain's secret lair. Having the films on 35mm turns out to be important. You could watch shorts like Outer Space and Instructions For A Sound And Light Machine on YouTube blown up onto a big screen, but when you're dealing with movies constructed out of single-frame edits, they have to be on celluloid or they look like a huge glitchy mess. For my money, Tscherkassky's latest (the aforementioned Train Again) is his best work, but the four earlier films in this programme show you how he built up his process over the space of two decades. Your chances of seeing these films again in a cinema are vanishingly small, but you can always compensate by purchasing the just-released album of Dirk Schaefer's pulverising soundtracks.

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London Film Festival 1989-2021: An Index

Because Films Inspire... some sort of hideous trainspotter impulse, apparentlyI started going to the London Film Festival in 1989, and I've been there every year since. Thanks to a combination of Spank Gold articles (after-the-fact writeups of the 1989-1997 festivals), reposts (pieces written for the old site between 1998 and 2005) and live blogging (since 2006), I've got a record of every single film I've seen at those Festivals.

Trying to pick your way through all of those is obviously going to be hellish, hence the index below. Similar to the equivalent index I've assembled for the Edinburgh Festival, each year links to the relevant piece on that particular LFF, including a roughly chronological list of what I saw (plus, of course, any additional films reviewed by Spank's Pals). As a bonus, you get a thumbnail-sized history of programme cover designs.

This will be updated each year after the LFF, so most of the time this page should be resident at the top of the LFF folder on the site. Have yourselves a good old browse through, and try not to think too hard about how much the tickets for all this lot have cost me over the last couple of decades.

[updated 28/10/2021 to include 2021 reviews]

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Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2021

When I was going on the other day about all the different formats of the London Film Festival 2021 trailer, with their 4:3, 16:9 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios, it turned out that I'd missed one: the 9:16 version used on electronic poster sites, like the one outside the entrance to BFI Southbank. (Yes, that's what it sounds like outside BFI Southbank on a Sunday night nowadays.)

Anyhoo: the festival's over now, so this is probably the last chance I'll have to watch that trailer, having already seen it before the vast majority of the 35 events I attended this year. (Fun fact: only five of those events are in the trailer.) Taking Clare Stewart's programme categories for my usual overview - and given the latest news, let's see if the same categories start appearing in Sheffield DocFest 2022 - I saw...

Galas - 0
Special Presentations - 6
Official Competition - 0
First Feature Competition - 2
Documentary Competition - 3
Love - 4
Debate - 1
Laugh - 1
Dare - 1
Thrill - 1
Cult - 0
Journey - 3
Create - 2
Experimenta - 2
Shorts - 2
Expanded - 2
Family - 0
Treasures - 3
Events - 2

A lot of Special Presentations this year - as The BBG has noted, a smaller programme probably means that a higher proportion of the big films are counted as Special. But which were the goodies, and which were the baddies? I'll tell you in a bit. First off, though, here are a couple of the regulars to give you their thoughts.

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