Archive for the ‘THE MOVIES’ Category

I was there: Shut Up and Play the Hits at Sundance London last Friday

I haven’t always loved LCD Soundsystem. The first time I heard ‘Losing My Edge’ on the dancefloor at Trash in the summer of 2002 I did though, even if I couldn’t begin to describe what I was hearing. I think I maybe even asked the DJ what it was. When I got the vinyl, I played it until it ran out, its ridges scratched (better to have loved and played your record than never to have listened to it at all) beyond spinning. Then, later, after the first album I kind of forgot about them for a bit, nothing else quite living up to the searing disco purity of ‘Losing My Edge’ (as seen at Trash, below). >>>

They supported Daft Punk at Hyde Park in 2007, on that laser-spliced, electrified, era-defining afternoon, but I barely remember them being there among the robots. I think mainman/mastermind James Murphy was having a particularly grumpy tour that summer.

But then they came back with third album THIS IS HAPPENING. I saw them at Brixton Academy in 2010 and they made sense again – and James finally looked right, permanently and appropriately dressed in a black suit, tie and white shirt. (I also met and interviewed LCD and Juan MacLean keyboarder/vocalist/icon Nancy Whang, the first lady of postpunkindiedance in London in 2009 and talked to her about jumpsuits, djing and electropop.)

LCD invented the New New York. They were the scene, along with the YYYs and all the other 00s bands that made the city cool again, partying across Brooklyn, occupying lofts and warehouses and just plugging in and bringing us everything DFA  Records. With friends like Tiga and Soulwax and The Juan MacLean and Peaches and Holy Ghost! who wouldn’t want to participate in LCD’s ironic, post-indie transatlantic electroclash love-in? But now it’s over.

Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD’s last ever gig at Madison Square Garden on 2 April 2011 should be going on release later this year around the UK. It intersperses concert footage with an intense James  Murphy interview by American hipster-scribbler Chuck Klosterman which takes place in the weeks leading up to the gig and a bit of the aftermath – the day after the ‘funeral’ as the singer calls it. The gig scenes are spectacularly rendered and it’s refreshing to see an audience actually dancing, crying, jostling and listening to the band/participating rather than just some bored arms stuck in the air taking crappy pictures on cameraphones.

James knows what it’s like to be a crazy music fan – he was obsessed with Bowie and a studied observer of every great rockstar ever. So it’s important to witness on screen the crowd’s worshipful thanksgiving for his own band, who seemingly, accidentally became brilliant.

And the documentary (which Murphy co-produced) will not disappoint the fans. It includes lines like, “’Losing My Edge’ is not a joke, it’s as serious as a heart attack” (Chuck K), James diffidently musing on his failings and achievements, speaking eruditely on the meaning and importance of Cool and finally, sobbing as he says goodbye to the keyboards/desks/guitars/drums that made LCD. Devastating.

The directors alluded to the fact that there will be a full length concert film at some point (this, at around 2 hours is merely a few highlights of an epic live outing) in the Q&A afterwards, but in the meantime, this poetic tribute to the great American band of our generation will just about do.


GUEST POST: Body Politics and The Iron Lady

This week we welcome a guest post on one of the year’s most talked about subjects so far by the brilliant Amber Jane Butchart – fashion historian, Broken Hearts DJ and blogger at Theatre of Fashion

 

Every politician has to decide how much he or she is prepared to change manner and appearance for the sake of the media. It may sound grittily honourable to refuse to make any concessions, but such an attitude in a public figure is most likely to betray a lack of seriousness about winning power - Thatcher in her autobiography, The Downing Street Years

While The Iron Lady certainly isn’t the only biopic of Margaret Thatcher (she’s been played by both Andrea Riseborough and Lindsay Duncan in the past, amongst others), it’s undoubtedly the most high profile. With Meryl Streep winning a Golden Globe and its Oscar-tipped success, it has revived a contentious era of British politics and at the head of this most acrimonious body politic sits the problematic figure of Thatcher herself. Curiously, in the wake of Phyllida Lloyd’s recent film, Thatcher – icon of individualistic 80s greed, privatisation and anti-union policies – is being reappraised. This is being met with both outrage on the left (Guardian) and a kind of joyful relief on the right (Telegraph). But neither of these reactions is as infuriating as the style coverage on how to get the ‘True Blue’ Thatcher look. Despite the fact that her ‘look’ was anachronistic at the time (as pointed out by Fashion Junior at Large), the idea that British women would blindly appropriate the clothing of one of the most divisive politicians – male or female – of the post-war period is as offensive as it is shortsighted.

Peacocks – which has recently gone into administration – with their Thatcher-inspired moodboard. Found at Fashion Editor at Large.

Frustratingly, it’s often laziness on the part of fashion editors who have become reliant on film releases to create a hook for weekly style features. It’s not too much of a stretch to find replacements for the items they want to push: if it’s pussy-bows you could try Jane Fonda in 9 to 5  or the queen of flouncy blouses, Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers. And if you’re really adamant that it’s 80s tailoring and pearls you want then look no further than Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl (1988).

Jane Fonda in 9 to 5, Prunella Scales in Fawlty Towers and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl

I have written before about the dangers of ignoring politics in favour of aesthetics. But the fashion industry likes to reappropriate subjects as its own, ignoring any overtly political or social issues – remember Steven Meisel’s oil slick shoot for Vogue Italia? Or the poverty/luxury debate sparked by this Vogue India fashion shoot? How about homelessness at Antidote magazine which successfully forged a real-life Derelicte? The lack of social responsibility within the industry is at best misguided and at worst sickening. The issues underlying such images need to be addressed, and ignoring this is unforgivable, no matter how pretty the pictures.

Right: Let them eat Blahniks – The Marie Antoinette of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos’s shoes are the ultimate modern day symbol of fashion excess and power. Now found at the Footwear Museum of Marikina.

Thatcher formed a murky backdrop to my childhood, always looming in the shadows like a Harpy of Greek mythology (which are conveniently also known as ‘that which snatches’). My father was ardently left-wing, to the point where as a teenager I spent certain weekends avoiding the town centre where he was dressed as the ‘Capitalist Fat Cat’ (complete with pointy ears and tail) while selling the Socialist Worker. As you can imagine, Thatcher didn’t go down too well in our household and as a result I’m finding the flurry of opinion pieces, style guides and ‘what she meant to me’ features quite hard to stomach.

But fashion editors aren’t the only group to reclaim female politicians for their own sartorial ends. The politics of bodies denotes that women in power are judged by their looks and appearance far more than their male peers. Thatcher biopics from The Iron Lady to Margaret and The Long Walk to Finchley all feature her image change (losing the hats and adopting more suits) as a pivotal moment in her career. Current male PR-spun politicians of the Blair/Cameron ilk clearly see image as important, but the emphasis on appearance as the defining aspect of this unfortunately remains a female preserve.

RIGHT: Somewhat ironically in this Guardian piece that criticises Mensch’s alleged surgery they’ve commissioned one of the most air-brushed pictures of Mensch in existence.

The idea of dressing for success is nothing new, so it continues to surprise me when clothing choices are consistently used to undermine female politicians. Women are chastised on both sides of the political and style spectrums: Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel are both regularly criticised for their dress sense (too dowdy), while Louise Mensch* and former-beauty queen Sarah Palin are condemned for being too image-conscious. (Clearly that’s not the only criticism one could levy at Sarah Palin. But it’s where a lot of people like to start.) Not to mention Theresa May’s animal print shoes which have been stealing headlines for a decade. And it doesn’t help when other women get in on the action. Mary Portas recently called the four women in Cameron’s cabinet ‘an ugly bunch’ in need of a make over. Ann Coulter, the only female in history to be more gun-loving, racially-paranoid and far-right than Sarah Palin credits her success to her cheerleader looks, claiming, “I am emboldened by my looks to say things Republican men wouldn’t.” While Jane Law, costume designer for The Iron Lady, makes the hideous distinction between intelligence and fashion, claiming Thatcher “had other priorities. She was very cerebral.”

Right: Katherine Langley, a congresswoman in the 1920s whose blue and red dress caused a scandal in the House of Representatives, with a reporter claiming, “she offends the squeamish by her unstinted display of gypsy colors on the floor.” From Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion found at Forbes

The wives of powerful men are also in the firing line; Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama use their much-lauded fashion credentials to further their husband’s campaigns, whereas the sartorial choices of MPs’ husbands is rarely, if ever, called into question. Where male politicians are concerned, the majority of coverage can be boiled down to the tongue-in-cheek reporting over Rick Santorum’s love of the tank top. And of course there’s nothing like the flamboyance of a dictator to raise eyebrows; the decision of Mobuto (former dictator of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to ban everyone except himself from wearing leopard print hats didn’t get nearly as much coverage as it deserved, while Gaddafi fashion was often just a stone’s throw from the style spotlight. The Arab Spring really has turned international politics into a much greyer world.

Right: Indira Gandhi’s saris were made from khadi, a fabric imbued with political significance in the fight against British rule when workers were encouraged to weave their own cloth as an aid to economic empowerment. From Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion found at Forbes

Robb Young addresses these issues in his book Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion, celebrating the sartorial choices of female leaders throughout history and demonstrating that clothing can be used to uphold beliefs and signify strength and unity, rather than merely becoming tabloid fodder. And I look forward to the day that his statement in Forbes that, “the right fashion on the right politician in the right circumstances can be mighty powerful political currency” gets recognition from male MPs too.

Right: Benazir Bhutto compromised her wardrobe when she became Pakistan’s first female prime minister, trading western-style clothes for the salwar kameez (tunic and trouser suit) with a draped head scarf, instead of the burqa as favoured by her predecessor. From Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians & Fashion found at Forbes

The problems with Thatcherism and her reign are manifold. High on the list would be Section 28, her refusal (along with Reagan) to boycott the apartheid regime in South Africa, financial deregulation (that has since led to the banking crisis), the rise in childhood poverty and decrease in social mobility; and this was while she was in power (the notorious milk snatching happened 8 years before she even became PM). It’s the nature of humanity to be nostalgic and revel in the retro, which is why 22 years after she left office the time seems ripe (for some) to reappraise Thatcher and all that she stood for. But this will never be an easy transition with someone so divisive, which could be why the campaign against a state funeral is gaining such momentum; as someone who was committed to ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’ it seems grossly unjust that the taxpayer should foot the bill. For those interested, you can sign a petition here or here.

*On Women’s Hour Louise Mensch derided criticisms of her controversial GQ shoot, condemning the reaction as sexist; arguing that Cameron, Clegg and other male MPs are professionally styled for similar features and it’s unfair that this goes unnoticed. I’m not a huge fan of Mensch but this is a salient point.

This blog was originally posted by Amber Jane Butchart at Theatre of Fashion.


Where are all The Women?

2011 will go down as the year I finally saw legendary lady-led comedy The Women (at the ICA last week). At last!

Isn’t it weird when a new book or film made by/ about women comes out and it’s funny and popular, and it’s like SHOCK HORROR CALL THE NEWSPAPERS!? For me, The Women is proof that some ladies have been funny since at least 1936*. With a starry (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell), all-female cast of 135 and a lady screenwriter, this classic Hollywood movie is not available on DVD in the UK, is absent from Best Ever Comedies lists and suffered the indignity of having its legend sullied by an abominable contemporary remake a few years ago. This ludicrously stylish (‘Gowns by Adrian’) and hilarious lost-classic belongs in the comedy canon alongside Clueless or Bridesmaids and slotted instantly into my list of most-loved films.

Based on the 1936* play of the same name by Vogue writer and politian Clare Boothe, the subtitle of the film claims that it’s all about men, but it’s not really. At the centre of The Women is Mrs Stephen (Mary) Haines, a happily married, horse-riding mother of one who seems to have it all. The film opens in a sumptuously OTT beauty salon where a manicurist who’s a cross between Lady Gaga and Frenchy from Grease is hawking ‘Jungle Red’ nail polish (hot colour of the season and the perfect shade for all of those claws-out ladies) and gossiping about Mrs Haines’ husband’s affair with a shopgirl. Perhaps the Haines’ marriage is not as perfect as it appears… And the scene is set for two hours of slapstick silliness, gossip, divorce and sisterly backstabbing.

It’s not all female trouble in The Women though – genuine friendships and social comment even out the countless LOL moments so that it’s always more than just a riotous pastiche of women’s relationships. The central gaggle of rich Park Avenue ladies living off an ‘independent income’ (family money) or their husband’s wallets are propped up by visible world of practical 1930s New York career women working in shops, as journalists, as actresses who are all doing their best to maintain an appearance of femininity and respectability. At one point, arguing with her mother about her impending divorce, Mary Haines says of her husband, ‘We’re equals, we married as equals, it’s different for our generation’ which sounds quaint to the 21st century ear, but made me wonder what the story meant to the women who saw it on stage or in the cinema at the time (it was very popular indeed).

So The Women is hilarious and the cast is divine in their miraculous lipstick and feathery false eyelashes, but the real treat comes in the form of its lavish sets and costumes. Chief sequin-dazzler Adrian was at the campest of his powers for MGM with this picture and scenes in flashy department stores, nightclubs and Upper East side apartments provide elaborate backdrops for his glamorous designs. The whole film is in black and white apart from a colour interlude (which is quite a shock after all the grey) featuring a fashion show when The Women go shopping to take their minds of their domestic troubles. That they saved the tiny colour bit for the fashion show says a lot about the film. Such joy.

[Note: I have asked the BFI who have the film in their archives if they’ve considered putting it onto DVD. No reply as yet!]

Here’s the original trailer :

And the funniest fight ever featuring Rosalund Russell as Mrs Stephen (Mary) Haines’ cousin Sylvia here.


PRE/VIEW: Underwire Festival

Our much-loved Bird’s Eye View Festival might be taking next year off, but it’s good to know that there’s another team of ladies in London who are passionate about promoting women in the film industry – the Underwire Festival is a new short film festival dedicated to showcasing the raw cinematic talents of women that’s running at venues around Bermondsey over the next few days. Now in its second year, co-directors Helen Jack and Gemma Mitchell have put together an eclectic programme of talks, networking opps and screenings that confidently showcases women working in front and behind the camera.

Tonight Phoebe and I went to the sold out launch event at Shortwave Cinema and met Helen (she and Gemma both wore matching UNDERWIRE Tatty Devine necklaces in silver) who’s been working on the project alongside her day job in film who told us that they’d been seriously impressed by the quality of the films that were submitted this year. The launch screening tonight of mostly London-made shorts under the banner ‘The XX Award‘ illustrated a broad ange of creativity and inspirations, with soapy social commentary, documentary and a little bit of horror all represented in the five films shown. Women are still notoriously underrepresented in the industry, especially in non-acting roles, so festivals like this one are essential for emerging talents to get noticed. Get a ticket – if there are any left!

Underwire Festival, Shortwave Cinema & Bermondsey Square Hotel, 23-26 November 2011.


W.E. love Madonna: part 2

Continued from W.E. love Madonna: part 1>>

So I thought I’d finished with Madonna at about 1 o’clock on Monday but I then couldn’t stop thinking about W.E. all day yesterday either.

For any megafan the film should be satisfyingly self-referential (which somewhat makes up for the patchiness of the rest of it). Interestingly, the  plot which is woven into the Wallis/Edward story is set in 1998, the year that Madonna’s major comeback (after Lourdes) album Ray of Light was released with its radiant and hopeful cover shot by Mario Testino. 1998 was also the year after Princess Diana died. And the year of the real-life auction of Wallis-Edward belongings in New York around which W.E. pivots.

Ray of Light opener, ‘Drowned World/Substitute for Love’ was a quiet manifesto about the importance of family and home – an unusually personal theme, compounded by a video (below and above) where she heads out to a party alone, is chased by paparazzi on motorbikes, swooped upon for photographs and generally harassed by strangers. The set-up and message of both the song and video aren’t subtle, but the subject of a lonely, vulnerable woman who everyone wants a piece of was still close enough to Madonna’s real life for us to allow her the space to say something about it.

‘Some things cannot be bought’.

Madonna brings much of her experience of the darkness of fame to the character of Wallis  Simpson in W.E. and there is a real empathy and understanding in the retelling – and a desire to reveal and make things beautiful in the process. Even Madonna needs a female rolemodel (scary thought) it seems.

Sometimes I forget that Madonna used to be thought of as a feminist – albeit in a material-girl, totally 80s kind of way. Over the past few decades she’s inspired more debates than any other female star around what women in pop culture/public life can and can’t be or do. We’re endlessly fascinated by her partly because she’s always been deliberately provocative and controversial and partly because she’s constantly changed her look, making herself into an unreal everywoman for whoever’s listening/watching.

Towards the end of this interview for the BBC at the W.E. premiere at Venice Film Festival last month, Madonna makes a point of asking where are the female directors? In the midst of all of the media’s cynicism around her first proper writing/directorial effort, Madonna raising this question is important because it’s true that women are and have always been seriously underrepresented in the most prestigious role in filmmaking: the director.

To paraphrase Ms Ciccone, without more women behind the camera, films will continue to neglect the female point of view to our detriment. There’s no word yet from Madonna about how she might – I don’t know – donate some money to Bird’s Eye View here in the UK or similar women-in-film organisations elsewhere, but in the meantime we’ll have to make do with one movie told from her perspective. The story of a rich American lady marrying into the British aristocracy might not be a universal one (erm), but it’s also a (complicated) love story, and one which is told well, by a woman for a female audience.

Plenty of rubbish films get released every single week and when this comes out in the Spring it won’t be one of them. Once again Madonna’s dared to do exactly what she wants and has almost got away with it: good.

Important notes for filmfans: the cinematographer who worked on W.E. with M is Hagen Bogdanski whose previous credits include The Young Victoria and The Lives of Others – not bad. On Sunday night in the Q&A she also said she’d been inspired by the look and feel of the sublime Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose and Tom Ford’s A Single Man. And you can tell.


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