MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2016
Food and Drink: By the end of November, we'd been informed by the Guardian that hygge is basically the Danish word for fascism. It's the sort of news that makes you want to go back to a simpler time: say, the beginning of November, when hygge was merely the latest trendy Scandinavian fad that we'd picked up in the UK. (Advance warning: visit MostlyFilm on Friday December 2nd to find out about the next one.) It partly explains why early in November, I was in a kitchen in Bath attending an actual training course on How To Hygge, purchased for me as a delayed birthday present by The BBG. It was held at The Bertinet Kitchen, which is normally where baking whiz Richard Bertinet teaches his own courses on bread and pastry making. But for this one, he handed over to Signe Johansen, who by the wildest of coincidences has just published a book on the subject of hygge. In brief, that feeling of cosiness that the word implies appears to be largely achieved using booze and fat. Over the course of three hours, we made several dishes - whisky-cured gravlaks, savoury muffins, mussels, spiced madeleines and cherry glogg - and then spent a delightful long lunch around a communal table scoffing them all. This was probably just a one-off session, but the setup at Bertinet Kitchen is really well put together, and I'd imagine the man's own baking courses would be equally entertaining.
Movies: There are certain statements which are so self-evident, it seems ridiculous to even utter them. Here goes, anyway. Abel Gance's Napoleon: now that's a movie, isn't it? It's been difficult to see the 1927 silent classic, though: partly due to its epic length (five and a half hours plus intervals), partly because its triple-screen finale requires a cinema to lay its hands on two additional projectors. Typically, the few screenings it's had in the past have been in concert halls with a live orchestral accompaniment. But now, the latest restoration from the BFI has made the film available to all, with a beautifully recorded Carl Davis score (though he's stolen a lot of it from other composers, in the fine tradition of silent film accompaniment) and a neat digital workaround for the spectacular change in aspect ratio in the final reel. It's amazing to see just how modern this 89-year-old film feels, with its psychedelically rapid-fire editing and unexpectedly mobile camerawork. Its modernity even extends to the acting - sure, most of the cast are gurning it up like silent movie actors do, but in the middle of it all is Gance himself quietly dominating the screen in his minor role as Saint-Juste, as if to say to the rest of his cast "this will look really cool in the future, trust me". Once we hit that finale - which still requires a daredevil move from the projectionist to make it look seamless - you'll be coming out of the cinema wanting to storm the barricades like a good 'un.
Theatre: Three things that are wrong with Lazarus, the David Bowie musical currently playing at the Kings Cross Theatre in London until January 22nd. One: despite its fancy Enda Walsh script and its callbacks to The Man Who Fell To Earth, this is still a jukebox musical, in which a collection of old and new Bowie songs has been used as the starting point for the plotting. The generic antagonist, for example, has to be called Valentine so they can squeeze Valentine's Day into the setlist, which is precisely the sort of nonsense I was yelling at Mamma Mia! for nearly two decades ago. Two: the arrangements of the songs... well, it's hard to describe exactly what's been done to them, but they've been blanded out to sound just like any other piece of musical theatre from this century. The cast give it their all - notably Michael C Hall in the lead, who has the thankless task of trying to make Bowie's songs his own and somehow pulls it off - but the mushy accompaniment works against them at every turn. Three: director Ivo van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld have given the show a similar design strategy to their collaboration on Song From Far Away at the Young Vic last year, using a simple long, thin apartment set with video projections over the top. This would be fine, except that van Hove then insists on staging a lot of the important scenes at floor level in the extreme corners of the set, which are largely invisible thanks to the rubbish sightlines in the Kings Cross Theatre. It's possible that you may be able to see better if you pay more for your seats than the £35 we did, but it's still not really a solution. Having made all those complaints, there's a lot to like in the performances and the visual sweep of the thing, so if you're prepared to ignore those three points you may enjoy it more than I did.