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Sheffield Doc/Fest 2020

About a year ago - well, yes, a bit more than a year ago now, ha ha, shut up, I've been busy - anyway, last June The Belated Birthday Girl and I went to Sheffield Doc/Fest for the first time. Over the space of two days we saw six feature-length documentaries, one short film (by accident) and an on-stage interview with Werner Herzog, which you can now watch over on the left there. (See what I meant at the time about Annie Hall cosplay?)

"I suspect it won't be our last," I said at the end of the 2019 festival, having no bloody idea what 2020 would have in store for us. Mind you, let's be honest: the main barrier to future visits to Sheffield Doc/Fest was that it was in Sheffield. And this year, it wasn't. Doc/Fest transitioned to video, making a decent-sized collection of films available online from June 10th to July 10th via their Doc/Fest Selects online platform, together with a bundle of pre-filmed introductions and post-screening interviews. Best of all, the films were competitively priced at £4.50 each. Although if you were some sort of film-obsessed lunatic, you could pay £36 to have the opportunity to get a 30 hour rental of every single film over the space of that month. But who could possibly consider that kind of commitment?

Deep breath.

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Edinburgh Festival Preview 2020: The Festival That Wasn't There

Photo courtesy of the Guardian: finally, it's possible to walk unimpeded across the Royal Mile in August, and all it took was a global pandemic that's killed three quarters of a million people so far.I'm not going to lie to you: the opening chapter of Spank's Edinburgh Diaries Volume Four: 2020-2029 is going to be a sod to write. (First three volumes still on sale, of course.)

We've known since the beginning of April that this year's Festival wasn't going ahead. It's a particular shame, because after last year's nightmare session of accommodation booking, this year's worked out comparatively painlessly, and I was looking forward to reporting on the slightly non-standard approach we'd taken. Our deposits have been rolled over into 2021, so we'll see if arts festivals and shared accommodation are still both workable concepts by then.

But this year, we're staring at a Festival calendar with an enormous amount of free space on it. Or are we? As I've mentioned several times over the last five months, many artforms have hurriedly made the transition to the digital realm. Couldn't the greatest arts festival in the chuffing world do the same?

Well, it could, but in a ridiculously piecemeal fashion. Which is why I thought a preview post might be in order.

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Spank Gold Volume 7: Spank's Edinburgh Diaries 2010-2019

I think that holding this vote in the geographical centre of Edinburgh may have skewed the results a tad.October 11th, 2010. It was close on ten years ago that I wrote the following sentence: "This'll be the last one of these for a little while, I think." In the year or so leading up to that, I'd managed to publish six books via the print-on-demand outfit lulu.com: one collection of travel pieces scraped from the website, two volumes of Edinburgh Festival reviews, and three similar volumes of London Film Festival reviews. I had a couple of vague plans in mind for future books, but I predicted that it'd be a while before I had enough material in hand to create those, so I quickly knocked off some basic ebook editions of the original six in time for Christmas 2010 and left the publishing world for a spell.

In that ten year gap, The Belated Birthday Girl has published nine books: admittedly, to a degree, they're all variations on the same book, but still. Basically, I need to publish three more volumes before her 2021 diary comes out, in order to have any hope of keeping up with her.

I started the process in April. Just finishing it off now.

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Simian Substitute Site for August 2020: Brass Monkey Leith

Brass Monkey LeithMONTH END PROCESSING FOR JULY 2020

Movies: Most of the people that The Belated Birthday Girl and I know fall into one of two categories. Category A are the people who go to the cinema no more than a couple of times a year: Category B are the sort who could happily make a couple of visits in a single day. And I'm here to warn the Category B people that the first time you go to the pictures after nineteen weeks of being locked in your house, it will do your bloody head in. I suspect that the actual film you see won't make much difference: when you've spent that length of time thinking you've been watching films on your telly, and then go into a big room and have your attention forcibly grabbed by one, Trolls World Tour could feel like a life-changing experience. As it happens, our first visit to the pictures since The Invisible Man back in March turned out to be Parasite: Black And White Edition, so I honestly can't tell how much of the impact was down to it being an unambiguously great film, and how much was down to having forgotten what the theatrical experience was like. Thanks to Curzon Mayfair for looking after us: their distancing strategies had the twenty or so people in the audience carefully spaced in the 300+ seater room. It should be noted that pretty much everyone took their facemasks off once they were in their seats, which I suspect was fine on this occasion, but won't be for much longer: it was always likely to become more of an issue if/when Tenet started packing in the crowds. (On that topic, here's what I consider to be my most underrated tweet of the month/year.)

Music: It's been five months since I last did one of these, so I guess that the latest Spank's Audio Lair can double as a Lockdown Playlist. It could easily have been double the length, but I decided to stick with the usual arbitrary limit of ten tracks. YouTube links are supplied below for Spotify deniers.

  1. The Waterboys. Mike Scott seems to be doing a lot of spoken word material in his old age, and I think I like it.
  2. Daði Freyr (Daði & Gagnamagnið). Ah, Iceland, maybe next year, he said ambiguously.
  3. John Foxx & The Maths. I love that Foxx is still making records that are perfect examples of eighties electronic pop, something he's somehow been doing consistently since 1977.
  4. Sparks. The unofficial anthem of the six weeks of furlough I spent writing my next three books. First one on sale next week!
  5. Sufjan Stevens. Suf's gone back to writing over-complicated epics, though this one probably has one section too many for its own good.
  6. Black Bra. I came for the keyboard work of podcaster Jesse Case, but I'm staying for the pollyharveyesque stylings of frontwoman Elizabeth Grace Cameron.
  7. Jarv Is... ...telling more slightly pervy stories about slightly pervy people. Hoorah!
  8. Fiona Apple. More her thing than mine [points in general direction of The BBG], but I'm liking this a lot.
  9. Bob Dylan. It feels tasteless to label a veteran artist's new album as A Good One To Go Out On, but...
  10. Francoise Hardy‎. Presented as a tribute to the late Ennio Morricone, who wrote this tune and its ridiculous number of key changes.

Telly: I had the perfect crime planned. I'd sign up for Disney+ on their seven day free trial offer. I'd do it just before they released Hamilton on the streaming service. I'd watch that and The Mandalorian in rapid succession, and then cancel my subscription before they made me pay anything. Except, of course, Disney cancelled their free trial offer just a week or two before Hamilton dropped. I suppose I should expect nothing less from a multinational whose corporate logo is literal vermin. Still, I paid out my six quid for one month anyway. I raved about Hamilton here before when I saw it in London two years ago, but was slightly sceptical that the filmed version would be more like a regular live stream of a theatre show, only with a four year time delay (it was filmed during its 2016 Broadway performances). In fact, cunning use of inserts filmed during an audienceless performance mean that we get some useful closeup views that a simple live stream couldn't have offered. The cast are all stellar, with the surprising exception of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role: his gulpy I'm-so-sad singing voice is the weakest link in the whole thing. Still, one benefit of a visual record of the show now being available is that Weird Al finally has his video. Meanwhile, The Mandalorian is extraordinarily good fun in a way that some of the more recent Star Wars films have forgotten about: a heady mixture of tones from the darkness of its jailbreak episode to the cutesiness of ***y ***a, and somehow staying coherent throughout. Nice theme tune, too: if ever a piece of music had 'space Western' written all over it, it's this one.

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