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Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2010

This year’s London Film Festival coverage, spanning a total of some 49 films and events, is all down to the dedicated work of a team of five people. Here they all are again to tell you their highlights and lowlights from what they saw. (Or, in one notorious case, what they didn’t see…)

The PipeSuzanne Vega Fanclub

I am surprised when looking at all of this from a statistical point of view, that 50% of the films I saw at the LFF this year were documentaries. Experimental cinema made up 25% of my viewing, with me seeing a mere 25% of films that followed the standard movie format. This could signify something of a new trend for the LFF, on the other hand it could be explained by the fact that I only caught four films this time round. So yet again (and this is the real trend here) I seem to see less and less films at the festival every year, with the usual vague promise of trying to catch more next time (oh for the days when I could get my attendence up to double figures). So what can I deduce from such a small sample.

Firstly the trailer was pants. [See video at top of page - Spank] At my first screening it was shown upside down, and that was as good as it got. What happened to the old one? On the positive side, what a brilliant little cinema the Studio is at the NFT (or BFI, or whatever they bloody call it these days). At that screening the guy sitting beside me said he hoped I didn't mind his beer next to me (what he was really saying of course was don't stick your bloody elbow in it). However it shows what enlightened times we now live in, from the days of the Hot Chocolate (or hot/cold liquid anything) apartheid. Also thanks to Spank and the BBG for using their ticket facilities (lucky escape on the surprise film then).

So beyond that not a lot to add. Well other than 50% of the films I saw featured a Q&A with Sandra Hebron, for which she was wearing a shortish dress and shiny black boots 100% of the time.

Upside Down: The Creation Records Story Old Lag

The 2010 London Film Festival was a different experience for me. In the past I have seen loads of films or none at all. This year saw just a few and enjoyed them very much. So many other things to see and do.

The film I felt I should have reviewed but did not was Upside Down: The Creation Records Story [official site]. Those more familiar with the bands who went through this record factory may well get more out of it than me with my passing knowledge. Certainly it coincided with my early working life. The thing I admired the most about well known co-founder Alan McGee was his championing of the creative and/or the damaged in our society. He was also able to see the shifts in musical fashion and move with them (such as dance) when initially it was in his guts to reject the changes. He also, despite being a vigorous presence, worked with a team of people. The downfall came when those that managed seemed to adopt the rock and roll life style of those that performed, and the grip on it all was lost.

Many thanks to Spank for organising it and everything. Hope you all enjoy the reviews and have a reference database in the future. While Spank was watching The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu I was being guided around select items of Bristol’s graffiti art with a group of Romanians. The world has changed!

BiutifulLesley

I thought that as I've contributed this year, some last thoughts are due, especially as I didn't post opinions on all my highlights at the time.

Films that linger on -

Biutiful [official site]. It's quite extraordinary that Javier Bardem was so stiff, formal, and reluctant to chat at the Q & A, fielding questions directed at him back to the director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who was happy to talk. Maybe, given the story, impending fatherhood is sitting heavily on his shoulders. And yet on the screen he is absolutely magnetic, the contrast totally underlining the true talent of a great screen actor. The story is strong, and Inarritu handles it oustandingly well, but everything must bow to Bardem's interpretation of the Dostoyevskian protagonist. This is tragedy in its purest form. I loved it.

and to compare and contrast

October [trailer]. I chose this film as it is set in Lima, Peru, where I expect to be going in the Spring for a week or two: a good idea to have a glimpse at the lie of the land, so to speak. In fact the film lingers on in its own right, a sketch compared to the Raft of the 'Medusa' that is Biutiful but simple, clear, well told and well acted. Bruno Odar as the lead, a barrio pawnbroker/money lender and frequenter of brothels has a baby dumped on him by one of his women, so sets off to house the child elsewhere and out of his life. Bruno Odar does a great job with this and is the perfect comparison with Bardem above. Both are great, masculine portrayals yet give off such different emotions. As my friend Seapea would say - amazing what actors do, eh!

And another pair to compare and contrast

Black Swan [official site]. I deeply hated this film, and I don't think I was alone, it's the only film I saw this year that didn't get clapped at the end of the screening. I have liked Aronofsky's work in the past, like Natalie Portman, like ballet and the dance, and have no problem with the subject matter of achieving maturity and artistic expression by exploring the dark side of morality and sexuality. I felt Aronofsky didn't 'get' the world of ballet, and couldn't film dance. There's a lovely morning stretch that Natalie Portman does, and a nice series of jetes across the studio, but it is possible to film the arduousness of dance and still show its magic. I sense that for Aronofsky it doesn't have any magic, just a load of neurosis and hysteria, which he depicts over and over again. Much too New York American gothic for me.

Boxing Gym [official Facebook page]. Last year Frederick Wiseman gave us La Danse, a portrayal of the Paris Opera Ballet. And Frederick Wiseman does get it! He showed us the dancers in action and in the company, as people who get on, and negotiate with the management. He showed us the realities of the administation of this rarified world. It made sense, this is how people work together. This year he gives us Boxing Gym. Boy, can this guy film movement, physical exertion and drive without compromising character and social atmosphere. Again it's a documentary, pretty relentlessly in the gym, only a few moments of outside relief, and you do leave the screening feeling that you've done a 90 minute workout yourself. I would rather watch this 10 more times than Black Swan once more.

And finally

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu [trailer]. Marred again by misfortune, but not so disastrously. For the first fifteen minutes or so the row in front was nearly empty - perfect - but then two young women were shown to the seats in front of me. My long legged next-door neighbour (a stranger) took umbrage and pushed his knee into the seat in front, preventing the girl sitting there from being able to relax and recline as the seat had been designed to do. For the next hour and a half she - obviously well brought up, probably the daughter of the unfortunate Romanian Ambassador - sat up straight and long backed, occasionally leaning forward to give herself a bit of relief - which meant I had to bob around to read the subtitles - which obviously irritated the person behind me, who left halfway through the film! In the last hour my neighbour relented, withdrew his knee, the girl in front was able to recline back in her seat, and I could read the subtitles, end of quite unnecessary problem.

As I related in my earlier post about the first showing of this film, the subtitles matter! But it was all well worth it. The sight of the outrageous displays communist dictators would put on to impress their allies, enemies and the world in general are truly amazing. I'm old enough to remember televised May Day parades, and am curious as to what the younger generations make of the might of the masses. One little gem among many in the film - I loved the slight glances the Queen and Philip exchanged - (what have we got here?) - cloaked with strictest etiquette as they welcomed Ceauşescu as head of state. As I said before, very tasty. I'm really pleased I was able to see the whole film, sound tidied up, and with the so important subtitles. I'd love to add it to my collection, a worthy archive for my archives.

What a lot of writing from me!

Meek's CutoffThe Belated Birthday Girl

Top 5 + 1
1. Meek's Cutoff
2. 13 Assassins
3. Waste Land
4. Submarine
5. Amigo
+ 1. Carlos

Bubbling under
Dhobi Ghat, Tabloid, Mars, Pink Saris, Home for Christmas, Howl, Sawako Decides

Disappointing
Chongqing Blues, Womb, Route Irish

Hated
Cold Fish

I've put Carlos as “+1” partly because technically we didn't see it in the festival, and partly because it doesn't seem to make sense to compare it to any other film. At five and a half hours, and being basically a TV mini-series shown on a big screen, it's just a different beast. It's certainly the most ambitious thing I saw over the two weeks, and maybe the only true stand-out. But leaving it out makes a Top 5 easy to pick.

Miike came through again with 13 Assassins, but it wasn't quite good enough to knock the excellent Meek's Cutoff from the top spot. I really must see that in the right aspect ratio some time.

Womb was without a doubt the worst film I saw in terms of script, acting and direction, but at least it wasn't an unpleasant experience watching it, which is more than can be said of Cold Fish. The fact that I've liked, to varying degrees, other Sion Sono films I've seen in the past, and so had been looking forward to Cold Fish, only made it more disappointing to dislike it quite so much. And as it was my last film of the festival, that added insult to injury. Which you could say the film did to its characters. What a shame I didn't stop a day earlier with Sawako Decides.

So, grand total of 27 feature films (+ Carlos), 2 shorts programmes, and 1 interview. Nice to get an interview back in there after last year, and Aronofsky made a good interviewee – although I'm still not convinced that I want to see Black Swan. I'm intrigued by some of the things said about it, but I can't quite get past the fact that it's about ballet dancers.

It's a real shame that the plans for the new BFI centre have been killed off by the Tory government cuts. But they seemed to handle the Vue better this year, and I have the impression of a few more intros and Q&As, but I wasn't actually counting, or anything.

SubmarineSpank

It’s a bit late this year, isn’t it? Two and a half weeks after the Festival finishes, I finally get around to publishing the wrap page. All my own fault, I’m afraid. Having committed the team to providing their contributions in time for a November 5th deadline, I suddenly found myself in Gibraltar on business for a week, trapped in a hotel with the most ludicrously overpriced wifi in the world. Which is the reason why this is only getting to appear on the internet now. (Just ignore that I’m actually writing this in the departure lounge of Gibraltar Airport, okay?)

Anyhoo: my 22nd London Film Festival, and my first one on Twitter. Aside from being able to find out what the Surprise Film was without the discomfort of being there, the new cross-promotion strategy appears to have paid off in unexpected ways, with quite a few traffic spikes that can be traced back to specific reviews. Some interest in The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople, driven by a link on drummer Dale Griffin’s site; a fair bit of interest in Dhobi Ghat, sparked off by a reference on a Bollywood discussion board. And, in the case most directly attributable to Twitter, an avalanche of fans of the Japanese band SMAP: drawn here first by the reviews of 13 Assassins, and then reappearing like Candyman when I tried mentioning the band’s name five times in a row. On top of all this, Lesley’s favourable review of Sensation got her a mention on the film’s official Facebook page, which has amused her no end. Thanks to all of you for visiting: feel free to come back any time.

As for my highlights of the Festival: in descending order of merit, my top 5 this year were Submarine, 13 Assassins, Mars, Surviving Life and Waste Land. (An honourable mention goes to the animated short Love Mouse: if you still haven’t seen it yet, watch parts one, two and three on YouTube now. That’s an order.)

The lowlights are somewhat unfairly dominated by the debacle surrounding David Gatten’s Journal And Remarks: the worst organised event I’ve ever been to in the London Film Festival, possibly the worst organised event I’ve ever been to in London. My half-hearted Twitbitching to the BFI eventually resulted in a similarly half-hearted apology: however, as yet there’s been no response to my follow-up snark, so I don’t know how many other people were prevented from getting into the film. Of the films I did get into, Womb, Cold Fish, Route Irish and Chongqing Blues make up the rest of my bottom 5.

So that’s it for another year. Thanks once more to Sandra Hebron and her LFF team: to our excellent 2010 review crew of The Belated Birthday Girl, Suzanne Vega Fanclub, Lesley and Old Lag: to the rest of the Pals who joined in but made less of a noise about it, notably Helen, Grizelda, Susan, Jon, Ela and Seapea: and to all of you out there for reading this stuff as we write it day in, day out.

It’s astonishing to think that a mere two weeks after just missing out on paying £30 for a Closing Gala ticket, I was watching Made In Dagenham in the most expensive cinema seats in Gibraltar. Which cost £5. Still, let me apologise once more for my trip to Gib delaying this round-up for so long. It was strictly business, honestly: I wasn't just out there visiting relatives. Being a monkey, and all.

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