Reviewed today: A Common Crime, The Intruder, Mogul Mowgli, Screen Talk: Riz Ahmed.
Reviewed today: Eyimofe (This Is My Desire), Sound For The Future, Undine.
Reviewed today: 200 Meters, The Cheaters, Time, Wildfire.
Reviewed today: Chess Of The Wind, A Day Off Of Kasumi Arimura, Siberia, Wolfwalkers.
Reviewed today: All Sorts Of Shorts, The Reason I Jump, Shirley.
Reviewed today: The Painter And The Thief, This Is The Rhythm Of My Life, UK Focus.
Reviewed today: The Disciple.
After close on two decades of dealing with my shit, The Belated Birthday Girl has become an expert at spotting those occasions where I casually skip over the details in a story for either narrative brevity or comic effect. For example, in my recent writeup of our virtual Edinburgh, I compared Christopher Nolan's film Tenet to a Tuesday afternoon in Lincoln town centre. The BBG acknowledges the structure of the gag in that case, but feels that because I stripped down the statement to its barest essentials, it's somewhat disrespectful to the town of Lincoln.
Another recent example is the story I've been telling people about how my pandemic's been going: “earlier this year the government paid me not to work for six weeks, and during that time I wrote three books.“ This is normally the point where she chips in with "well, you didn't actually write them in six weeks. You pulled text off the website that you'd already written, rearranged it to fit book pages and printed it off, and that took six weeks."
It's a fair point, but you know what they say: when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. I like the fact that my time on furlough had a narrative structure: I started on day one with three empty word processor files, and by day forty I had three actual printed books in my hand. Not finished, mind you, as they still needed to be checked for typos and other nonsense, and the covers were just temporary affairs. But I could go into work the following Monday and show them to people (or at least wave them in front of the camera during a video conference call).
Food and Drink: The last six months have seen lots of real world events pivoting to video, but the staunchly traditional Great British Beer Festival has to be the most unexpected one yet. CAMRA came up with a similar idea to the one BrewDog used for their virtual AGM a few months ago - send them £46, and they'd mail you eleven bottles of beer (a standard set of five British favourites from Drone Valley, Grey Trees, Eyam, XT and Oakham, plus another set of six in a style of your choosing) to be drunk in front of your computer during a weekend of guided Zoom tastings. We decided to subvert the Britishness of the event and went for a secondary set of foreign muck from St Bernardus, Duvel Moortgat, de Molen, Schlenkerla, Hitachino Nest and Früh. Cheryl Cade's international tasting session was a jolly and informative affair, while Roger Protz's British tasting was notable for him getting through all five beers in 35 minutes, alarming the people who'd assumed that you had to drink each bottle dry before starting the next one. In addition we had Q&A sessions with hop and malt suppliers, and an entertaining (but hard) informal pub quiz at the end of the weekend. The event was refreshingly clear of beardy beer bores (we had just one, who inevitably wouldn't turn his mic off during a Zoom session), and the whole event was surprisingly educational - when the main focus isn't just banging ales down your neck, as it tends to be in real-life beer festivals, there's a lot of knowledge being passed around. I'm not sure I'd want the GBBF to be like this every year, but it worked incredibly well in the circumstances.
Movies: Five years ago today, one of the items I reviewed in this bit was the world premiere performance of Max Richter's Sleep, his notorious eight-hour piece of music designed to be listened to literally while you were sleeping. So it only seems fair that today, I throw in a quick review of Max Richter's Sleep, a film by Natalie Johns that's effectively a making-of documentary about the piece. Starting from the basic idea - actually the connection of two independent ideas from Richter and his partner Yulia Mahr, who proves herself to be the conceptual thinker behind a lot of his work - we follow its evolution up to an extraordinary open-air all-night performance in a Los Angeles park, with the audience lying in multiple rows of camp beds. Possibly the least interesting thread in the film is the series of interviews with LA audience members, pretentiously set up as if they're dreaming the interview in the middle of the show. But the most unexpected one is the focus on Max and Yulia's home life, and particularly how they were struggling financially for a large part of it. They come across as a lovely couple, throwing around some big ideas while always staying firmly grounded in the real world. If you're okay with watching a film that takes the rhythm of its editing from a piece of music that's intended to make you doze off, then there's a lot to enjoy here. You've missed Sleep's tiny theatrical run: on the night we saw it, there was one other person in the audience, which counts as a success in social distancing terms. But it's currently available on demand from the likes of Curzon Home Cinema, and you'll be able to get it on physical media from October 12th.
Travel: I never really know which category to use for my writeup of the Japan Matsuri each year. I tend to assume Travel is the safest bet because a) people travel to London to see it, and b) it's a festival that's largely about persuading people that they'd like to travel to Japan sometime. Of course, both of those points are less true in 2020. Still, the transfer of this year's Matsuri to the online Japan Matsuri Presents is certainly a lot less surprising than the GBBF's similar journey. Stretched out from the usual one day to a full weekend, we got the same cavalcade of Japanese culture that we would have got live in Trafalgar Square, but with the added bonus that guests didn't have to be flown in from Japan in order to take part. Certainly some of the quieter elements - for example, the Kakehashi Koto Ensemble's hour-long history of the instrument, complete with several full performances - simply wouldn't have worked in the open air. We didn't have to queue for ages for food, because we got to make our own, with a series of Zoom cookalongs to make our own okonomiyaki and sweet pancakes. For me, the highlight was Ura Ura Lockdown, effectively an hour-long fringe matsuri in the middle of the main one: driven by the anarchic spirit we associate with Frank Chickens (whose founder Kazuko Hohki is one of the organisers), we got everything from Hibiki Ichikawa and D.J. Takaki's mashup of traditional shamisen and modern turntablism, to No Cars and their delightfully daft indie stylings. It's all finished now, of course, but there's still some content lying around in the Matsuri site's Discovery Area: maybe it's time you discovered the joy of Radio Taiso.
In a parallel timeline where a bat and a pangolin didn't conspire to bring down the planet (allegedly), The Belated Birthday Girl and I would have been in Edinburgh between August 22nd and 29th for the Festival, along with a dozen or so of our pals.
But we weren't. Which is why the Fringe Society, desperate to make a bit of cash, was reduced to the stunt you can see illustrated here - printing a replica of the 2020 Fringe programme with entirely blank pages, and selling it as a notebook for eight quid. Tony Cowards was, I think, the first person to make the observation that "the financial impact of cancelling the Edinburgh Fringe due to Coronavirus shouldn't be underestimated: potentially it could mean hundreds of comedians being thousands of pounds better off." But there were an awful lot of people out there who'd suddenly lost a source of income. As a result, during August many Festival regulars moved online in an attempt to fill the gap and raise a few quid for themselves, as I've previously documented here.
As I said back then: "even if you can't make it physically to Edinburgh (and most of us can't), there's still plenty of stuff happening. How many of these The BBG and I are actually going to see this year is another matter entirely, of course." Well, here's your answer to that: 23. We put aside a week at the end of August to catch as many of the online shows as we could across all the major festivals - International, Film and Book. Various scheduling issues (including watching the finale of Kodo's Earth Celebration 2020 online) meant that we couldn't stick to our original dates, so our week ended up being August 24th-31st. But we still covered a fair bit, and you can read about it now. It's only a month late.