"Cinderella? Is that the one with all the buggery?" Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Rob G is in the house. He arrives by train with Grizelda at lunchtime shortly after Liz flies up, and together with Jon (who's been sleeping on the kitchen floor since Monday) the four of them make up the second wave of Spank's Pals to hit Edinburgh. The entire crew meets up in a central pub for lunch, except for Rob D, who has heard the call of the mountains and is currently hiking somewhere in the middle of the worst rain we've seen so far this week. Nick and Charmian hand over their keys and depart the narrative as scheduled: meanwhile Christine is hanging on an extra night for the Annie Nightingale shindig, while Old Lag suddenly decides to stay a couple more days himself. This means we have ten people in the flats and only eight keys, so Old Lag tries to find an unscrupulous locksmith who could make a couple of key copies. (Unsuccessfully, I'd like to add, for the benefit of any Napier staff who may be reading this.) Old Lag: "I should ask a cabbie about this. They know where to find unscrupulous locksmiths and ladies of the night." Spank: "But if you could find a lady of the night, you wouldn't need an unscrupulous locksmith..."
The newbies are pointed in the direction of the flats and Jon, Old Lag and myself make it into Lovers with seconds to spare. It's the fifth film to be made under the rules of the Dogme 95 collective: the first two films you may already know (Festen and The Idiots), the third was premiered here last week (Mifune), and nobody seems to have the faintest idea what the fourth one is. As ever, the idea is to remove all trace of artificiality and directorial influence: hand-held camera, natural lighting, no music except for that generated on set at the time of filming, all in aid of emphasising the story and performances rather than the director's ego. Lovers is the first Dogme film made by a non-Danish director: French actor Jean-Marc Barr helms this one, and it's a typically French tale of two lovers in trouble. Yugoslavian arts student Dragan (Serge Trifunovic) calls into a shop to buy a book, and within a couple of minutes the shop assistant Jeanne (Elodie Bouchez) has asked him out. They strike up a relationship despite their wildly differing natures: but there's the ever-present threat of deportation for Dragan, who's living in Paris as an illegal immigrant.
The Dogme rules serve the story well: just as well, as this isn't the most original tale in the world, meaning that it's all in how it's told. Unlike the previous films which try to tell a large-scale story using small-scale means, Lovers focusses on the tiny universe created by two people to the exclusion of the rest of the world, and the intimacy gained by chasing them round with a tiny digital video camera is very effective. The performances are both fine, and the grainy wobbly look of the camerawork is vaguely reminiscent of French nouvelle vague films of the sixties. Nothing staggeringly original to look at, but pleasant to watch, and yet another example of how I could be using my DV camcorder to make full-blown movies, rather than using it to take pictures of Old Lag dancing.
Stuck in a cafe in the pouring rain after the movie, we have to make a quick decision on what to see next. Jon scans the daily diary, picks up on Dirty Bird Productions because they've got a slightly rude-sounding name, and then discovers that they're performing a play by one of the writers of Strictly Ballroom. Sold! Andrew Bovell's After Dinner is set in a Melbourne restaurant and follows five singles (three women, two men) on a night out. Dympie and Paula (Michelle Doake and Rachel Cleland) are taking workmate Monica (Catherine Jones) out to try and take her mind off the recent death of her husband. Gordon (Justin Green) has been paired up with friend-of-a-friend Stephen (David Terry) in an attempt to get him out of his shell. The boys and girls are sat on adjacent tables. Drink is consumed. Attempted coupling ensues.
After Dinner turns out to be one of those little gems you fall over by happy accident (although apparently it played here last year as well, to great acclaim). The characters are nicely defined in the early stages of the play, and then it's just a question of bringing them together in varying combinations and seeing what happens. Big dirty laughs and poignant moments happily co-exist next to each other: God knows what the young kid in the front made of the bits where Monica and Stephen talk about the hell of their respective sex lives. Enthusiastically acted by all concerned, it's definitely worth catching.
The big event of the night was Annie Nightingale at the Book Festival. (Grizelda may disagree, having spent part of it being very ill following the evil pizza described by Rob G below.) An interesting attempt at trying to do something other than the typical book reading, but I'm not sure it was entirely successful. For those of you who don't know, Annie was Radio 1's first female DJ: she's carefully reinvented herself over the years, currently holding a fairly solid position as an expert in dance music. (Her chill-out slot is possibly the first time a DJ's been given a Sunday morning 4am slot and made it seem like something other than a demotion.) Her autobiography, Wicked Speed, is the basis of the performance tonight.
The event is held in the Spiegeltent, and is a combination of reading, interview, audio-visual freakout and rave. The first part is a series of readings from Wicked Speed accompanied by video displays from Vegetable Vision, who do the video stuff for the Chemical Brothers' gigs. Accompanied by a trancey backing track, part of the book's read by her live, part on tape. It's an interesting idea, but it needs to be a lot more slick: there are a couple of awkward transitions between sections, notably a horrific two-minute section of dead air while the Vegetables desperately try to cue up a John Lennon video (accompanying a story about her first interview with the Beatles). Annie doesn't seem particularly happy reading, and is more comfortable in the Q&A that follows, where she's interviewed by neighbour Simon Fanshawe.
Some nice anecdotes come out of the interview, including a story about her recent attempt to visit the Iranian embassy for a visa. Trying to look as respectable as possible, her image is completely blown by a passing fire engine which offers to take her for a ride. They even offer to hoist her up to the second floor window where the visa office is, although she declines ("they'll probably think it's the SAS all over again"). Lots of talk about the various bands she's hung out with over the years: she has a special affection for the Who because of the sense of danger at their gigs ("you felt they could just kill you from the stage if they felt like it... I only feel like that with the Prodigy these days"). Christine has an interesting theory that Nightingale's only really defined herself in relation to the famous people she's surrounded herself with, and there's no real personality there at the centre: Old Lag has an even more interesting theory, but libel laws prevent me from revealing it. Still, an entertaining evening, and the subsequent DJ set keeps Spank and a couple of the Pals frugging away until we're physically thrown out of the building at 1.30am.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Liz - "I'm not like this on the telly, am I?" Craig Charles asked a woman in the front row after a particularly vile morsel. At his best he is clever and sensitive. This was not his best. I wasn't expecting an evening of poetry at this late night revue, but I became bored by the tastelessness of it. I was especially unlucky to find a thirty stone local and his friends had come to sit next to me, forcing me into a "man sandwich" with the nice young man on the other side. The heavyweight then spent the evening whistling, shouting and heckling (he thought): Charles couldn't see the man up in this elegant gallery, but was spot on when he said "I see the lower end of the gene pool is here". He did this so much that Charles eventually said "this is not supposed to be a conversation". He was pissed (self-admitted) and cocky, but still managed to deliver beautifully a love poem to the woman in the front row and her cleavage. This was the only thing in the evening that was worth the trip. We were then pulled back to reality when he said that he pulled many women with this poem. Maybe I'm growing out of stand-ups...
Jon - The latest Dogme film is Lovers, directed by Jean-Marc Barr. It stars Elodie Bouchez and Serge Trifunovic as French bookseller Jeanne and Yugoslav emigre artist Dragan. When all is said and done, it is a fairly simple tale of boy meets girl. The Dogme production values do not detract from, and often add to, the film, but I was not convinced that the plot was strong enough to make this a good film.
Old Lag - Lovers features Elodie Bouchez in an interesting collection of bras. Jon says she is a rising star in France, in which case she is the latest in a long and honourable line of French pixie women. Jon also pointed out that she was a star in a highly enjoyable film we saw at the London Film Festival two or three years ago: cannot remember this or (annoyingly) the name of the film, but basically it was the first fictional film about the rave scene [Pretty sure it was Clubbed To Death - Spank]. Spank explained that Lovers had been filmed under the infamous Dogme 95 manifesto of minimalist film-making. Can testify to this: having been forced to sit six feet from the screen it was practically possible to see the silver molecules oscillating in the image. A delightful and searingly intimate love story: not a dry eye in my row.
Jon - Picked out from the daily listings handouts in a coffee shop after Lovers, After Dinner proved to be an entertaining and amusing way to fill a hole in our schedule. Well-acted by its five-strong cast, it is an Australian comedy set before and after dinner at an evening out.
Old Lag - After Dinner had all the hallmarks of the "cheesy twiglet, have an olive" variety play, as seen in Mike Leigh's groundbreaking Abigail's Party. Having played the male lead in an am dram production, there was yards of bland, inconsequential and unlinked script to learn. Here, just when you felt you could not take any more of the inconsequential chit chat from the three female protagonists on a night out in Australia, it exploded into an excellent small play in many ways. The drama brought in two men to join the women. Not immediately obvious characters, who developed or told their stories in non-obvious ways. A simple plot, more about the characters: and their interaction generated much laughter and thought, with as realistic an ending as you could expect given the time. Lots of energy, buzzing dialogue, excellently played by all the cast.
Jon - Annie Nightingale proved to be a disappointment to me. The book reading, while not uninteresting, was not particularly intriguing or insightful. The musical evening that followed was modern dance music, which is not my scene. In the end I decided to leave and take the opportunity to see a midnight play at a nearby venue. The Sheryls Save The World was another Australian piece of theatre. More of a musical revue than a play, the plot was merely a device upon which to hang a series of songs and comedy sketches. This is not to demean what turned out to be an amusing, and often hilarious, entertainment, performed with enthusiasm and commitment by its cast of six.
Rob G - Pizza Napoli, Hanover Street. To quote from the menu, the Pizza Rusticana is "an internationally renowned pizza recognised by our chef as his most famous work of art". Well, I don't know what to say. The prawns were smothered in Marie Celeste sauce, the avacado vinagrette was solid and unripe, and the pizzas were industry standard. The service confirmed Italian stereotypes. The final comment on the meal was made by Grizelda's gut. An evening never to be repeated...
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