Gentlemen. How’s your waltz technique?


I laughed out loud this morning when Shaun Keaveny, on BBC 6 Music’s breakfast radio show, described his dancing the waltz as resembling a woman shifting a wardrobe.

I struck a chord with me.

I couldn’t find the perfect illustration of this so this will have to do.

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My attempt at a waltz with an unnamed lady.

In comparison, my tap dancing is like watching an excited puppy seek attention in a roomful of crushed tin cans.

Darkest Hour: Movie Review.


Dullest Hour more like.

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It was all I could do to stay awake in this admittedly luscious, extremely well acted production.

But usually the Ring Cycle is also both of those things.  It doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable though.

Honestly, it goes on and on and on with little or no light and shade (other than in the sumptuous lighting of almost every shot  – Joe Wright sure can create a filmic canvas, but once you’ve seen 100 Caravaggios you’ve seen a thousand, and there’s a thousand on show here.)

Now, let’s consider Oldman’s performance.  It’s highly celebrated and he is hot favourite for all the acting gongs this season.  But it’s an impersonation (and one that’s been done well on more than one occasion before).

Compared to Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out it is far less engaging in my opinion.  His fear and horror is palpable.

Oldman does capture more than a cliched portrait of Churchill and shows sensitivity and wit, but he’s encumbered by too much screen time, monotonous styling and a sense of ‘wait for it, the big quote is heading this way in 30 seconds,’ time and again.

King George and Viscount Halifax both have to deal with speech defects that may well be historically accurate, but do nothing for either of their gravitas.

In a massively male movie (which is fair enough) Lily James as Churchill’s secretary adds light relief, but Kristen Scott Thomas throws shards of light.  If only she had more screen time.

Christopher Nolan’s magnificent Dunkirk makes a far more interesting exposition of the happenings in the French port in May/June 1940.  By contrast, this is just rather self indulgent, with little in the way of either entertainment or historical insight.

 

Creative Edinburgh Awarded Major Funding Package.


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I’ve been Chair of Creative Edinburgh since 2012, and introduced the fledgling organisation to a large audience alongside Fiona Hyslop in 2011 at The Hub in Leith Street.

It was a grand night with lots of dreams (wandering around the room I heard mutterings of cynicism.  “Another (another) creative organisation for Edinburgh, that’s all we need.”) I paraphrase of course.  But for a while that was a prevailing attitude that we had to overcome.

However,  Janine and Lynsey (our directors) were tough as old boots, rolled their sleeves up, donned creative curatorial hats and said “Stuff ’em, we’re gonna make this work.” (Again, I paraphrase.)

Jim Galloway, of the City Council’s Economic Development team, was not one of the cynics.  far from it.

He saw the light.

He had a modest budget from which to draw, and for six years now he has convinced his colleagues not just to fund us, but to celebrate us, endorse us and commission us for consultancy projects (when appropriate).

We’ve never let him down.  He’s never let us down.

The cynics slowly dropped away (but let’s never kid ourselves, no organisation is free from its critics, though few in our case are particularly ‘open’ with their criticism).

We’ve done a good job.  Of that I am in no doubt.  And when I say ‘we’, I principally mean the executive team of directors (Janine, Lynsey and now Claire) ably abetted by their own teams; currently Anna and Rachel but also Jenny, Holly, Catriona and several more.

We’ve drawn on our members to help us in lots of areas and we’ve created an excellent Steering Group who soon put us right when our ideas go a bit off track.

Our board (past and present) has been brilliant.  An eclectic, multi-skilled bunch of proper personalities with a grounding in good governance (thanks especilly to Mike Davidson for that).

Our members’ jams, meet ups and surveys have kept us informed.

And so we’ve grown.

One, two, three, soon four thousand (I hope) members.

We’ve travelled, literally, the world – all over Europe, North America and Asia so far.

But it’s been tight; very, very tight – financially.

Each year has seen a couple of stale biscuits and a half bottle of red wine line the cupboard.  Half a box of Dairylee in the fridge.

But our funders, and sponsors have grown in variety and commitment.  Each year that Dairlyee has looked more likely to be there on April the 6th, and not snaffled by the bailiffs.

And so, yesterday, it was with a mixture of relief and joy that we found out Creative Scotland (who I also have to say have been an increasingly amazing source of support and vision) announced that we, and our great friends and partners at Creative Dundee, had been granted Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO) status along with 114 others.

This is a game changer.  Our funding will now be greater than ever before, and ‘guaranteed’ (so long as we deliver) for three years.

It doesn’t mean we don’t need Jim and the other supporters we have taken on over the years, quite the opposite.  And hopefully some of this recognition will rub off on them.  I particularly have to single out Anderson Strathern, Codebase, FreeAgent, CGI, Chris Stewart Group, Federation of Small Businesses, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Whitespace,The Skinny and others.  Thank you all.  Please continue to support us as we grow.

We wil be doing more, but not haphazardly.  We have a plan to help develop, educate, meet, grow, focus and spotlight the creative industries in Edinburgh.

We’ll work closely with our friends in Dundee.  Gillian Easson has done an amazing job there and she too has been recognised as an RFO.

My heart goes out to those organisations that lost RFO funding (and those that were reduced).  Sadly in this habitat there are always winners and losers.  May you live on and return renewed and invigorated to the fray.

For me, this is a bit of a career highlight.

I’ve known, since I met Janine and Lynsey, that this could, and would, work.  They leave a great legacy and are both still heavily involved (formally and informally).

We have a strong, committed, enthusiastic executive and governance team.  We have committed members.  We now have more robust funding to underpin our vision.

As Jeff Bezos says. “This remains day one.”

The Lover at The Lyceum Theatre (until Feb 3rd.)


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This, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a stellar line up of theatrical co-producers; The Royal Lyceum Theatre Co, Scottish Dance Theatre and (clears throat) Stellar Quines.

Indeed, it’s the first time (outside of the Festival) that The Lyceum has staged dance since 1972.  It’s been a long wait.

I’d have to say to begin with that it’s a bit of a Marmite piece; if you’re looking for ribald comedy you’ll have to wait for next month’s production of The Belle’s Strategem, and if in your face, angry drama is your bag this won’t get you going.

Instead, we’re served an extremely original, thought provoking reflection on love (or is it lust), class, race and sexual politics in 1930’s Indo-China-Vietnam – a French colony (interestingly explored in its dying days in Francis Ford Copolla’s brilliant Apocalypse Now – but only in the Director’s Cut).

The colonial setting brings with it an interesting role reversal of what you would expect; it’s about an affair between a privileged, but poor, 15 year old French private school girl and a rich, 27 year old, Chinese man (dancer Yosuke Kusano).

Despite his worth the Chinaman is nevertheless the poor relation because of his skin colour and he is toyed with by the adventurous and lusty young girl (played by dancer Amy Hollinshead).

The play is carried by the girl, now in her middle age, reflecting on her relationship both with the man and her two brothers and mother.

As a woman (played with a calm steeliness by Susan Vidler) she views the relationship and tells the story of how love and money become inextricably intertwined.

Despite their impoverishment the brothers still maintain a life of hedonistic, and at times violent, pleasure that often threatens to invade the lovers’ space.

What makes this such an interesting production is the way in which dance, drama, music and sound combine to present a unique theatrical experience.  The dance is never less than engaging with a subtle snakelike quality to both the sexual relationship and the general storytelling.

It’s the Woman’s narration that is the biggest trick in the bag for Dramaturg, David Greig and co directors Fleur Darkin (Scottish Dance) and Jemima Levick (Stellar Quines). Not only does she tell the story from the stage but she voices (through clever lip synching) all of the characters from her youth (affecting a younger timbre to her voice) but she also delivers large sections on tape and in whispered asides projected from the rear of the theatre.  It’s highly engaging and very unusual.

The slow, extremely deliberate pace of the language is often in contrast to the music bed and the dance.  (At times it reminded me of the extraordinary 2015 puppet movie, Anomalisa.)  Throughout, you could hear a pin drop in an engrosssed audience.

It’s a refreshingly original, albeit languidly paced production with much to savour.  Just remember if it’s action and belly laughs you’re seeking, seek elsewhere.

Fire and Fury. Inside the Trump White House.


I’m reading this mind spinning book and one third of way through I think I have the measure of The Donald.

Basically it’s pretty easy to get a gig as a special advisor to the POTUS.  You don’t actually need any talent.

Anyway. I have spotted the main flaw in his presidency and so I’d like to share a bit of consultancy advice that I’ve used in first year advertising lectures in the past.

It’s a familiar statement that many of you will know but if heeded could transform his premiership.

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Can I have a job now please Mr President?

Molly’s Game: Movie review.


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It’s always a treat when Aaron Sorkin brings a new script to our screens, large or small, and his output (aside from West Wing) has been quite thinly spread over recent years.  For me, the high point was The Social Network, but Steve Jobs was pretty damn fine too.

And it’s an unusual move for writers to become directors (albeit Martin McDonagh has done so to remarkable effect).  This is Sorkin’s directorial bow and he makes a pretty decent fist of it.

It’s a good, but not great, film that moves along at typical, for Sorkin, high pace, almost matching that of Tom Lehrer’s, The Elements.  And that is both its strength and its weakness.  It’s kind of exhausting keeping up with 140 minutes of non stop verbal action.

The story concerns the real life of Molly Bloom; Olympic skier turned (illegal) poker madame.  My first gripe is the huge dependence on narration from the central character (played superbly by Jessica Chastain).  It’s a tiresome devise that too often intrudes.  It doesn’t kill the movie but, for me, it hampers it.

The second is that it’s just too one-paced.  It lacks light and shade.

But it’s also absorbing, interesting and full of surprises.

Chastain puts in an an Oscar nominatable performance (but it’s in no way winnable, given what Frances McDormand has put down in Three Billboards as a marker).

Idris Elba had the ladies in my company quite hot and bothered and puts in a decent shift as Chastain’s legal representative.  He’s needed because her early cleaner than clean rules of engagement gradually become blurred and loose.

It’s a great yarn and it holds the audience throughout.  But will I remember it a year from now?  Not particularly.

 

Yo Mae Leh by Invisible Minds.


This song has been haunting me since its release on 30th October last year.

Gorgeous is the only word I can find to describe it adequately.

It’s from an anonymous bunch of musicians, and more is promised from them.  Listen carefully and you will hear that the title is the lyrics.  I put them into Google translate and it detected Japanese; and the translation?

An entirely unhelpful ‘Yes h’.

Anyway enjoy it.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Movie review.


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You couldn’t get more mid-American than Missouri.  You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the state capital is Jefferson City.  It’s an unremarkable state and Ebbing is an unremarkable town (made up it would seem); it’s not trailer trash, it’s not deep south.  It’s just a nondescript, middle-class, American provincial town frequented by the usual mish-mash of not quite Hillbillys, not quite racists.  They’d have voted for Trump in big numbers; if the place existed.

It’s here that Frances McDormand (just like in the unremarkable town of Fargo) stakes her claim for a place at the top table in the pantheon of greatest living actresses.

It’s here that Martin McDonagh cements his position as the greatest living comedy writer. (As if In Bruges wasn’t enough, he’s got his theatre canon of work to bolster those credentials – The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore are both comedic masterpieces.)

And it’s here that both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson put in career defining (and probable Oscar winning) performances.

To say that Frances McDormand has everything you need to be the complete actress is an understatement; she’s hilarious, brutal, droll, moving, sympathetic, antagonistic, bombastic, arrogant, crazy, vulnerable, arch, facetious and deadpan.  And that’s only in the first 20 minutes. This will unquestionably win her, her second Oscar.

And Martin McDonagh will pick up his second for best original screenplay (14 years after winning best short in 2004) and maybe even his third for best director.  He already has no fewer than four (yes 4) nominations at the BAFTA’s and I expect him to win at least half of them – because this is writing and direction of the very highest order.

He’s moved on since In Bruges.  Sure the C bomb is dropped very early in the first dialogue scene and turns up several times more.  But this is not the full pelt filth that Colin Farrell deployed to intense pleasure in the former.

This is a subtler, equally dark but even more brutal exposition.  Each word seems to have been crafted on a lathe.  I gasped several times at the sheer dexterity of his writing delivered by masters of their craft.

There’s a dwarf, yes.

There’s an idiot, yes.

But I ain’t telling you no more than that.  I saw it without spoilers so you deserve the same respect.

It has a breathtakingly bold finish, I’ll tell you that; spoiling nothing.

This is cinema at its absolute finest.  The best film I have seen this year by far (and I thought Dunkirk was truly outstanding).

Go Martin.

 

Where in the world are all the ‘Shitholes’?


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Is the United States uniquely sparklingly clean?

Is the UK?

Is anywhere?

And conversely can nations as a whole be completely written off as Shitholes?

The Trumph seems to think so.

Various African nations, Haiti and El Salvador seem to be his notion of complete ‘shitholery’.  To brand a sweep of nations universally unworthy of admittance of their citizens to the snparkling cleanness of the USA has crossed even lines the idiot has yet to breach.

A quick trawl of Wikipedia reveals that Shithole Haiti has given us Franketienne a writer nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009 and Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada.  Wycliffe Jean (Grammy Winning hip hop artist also hails from those ‘shithole’ shores.

Ana Sol Gutierrez is a Salvadorian US politician and where would one start on the list of astonishing and influential Africans?

The outcry from the United Nations and consulates around the world is heartening.

Perhaps a slip of the tongue (a little racist Freudian moment) will accelerate the downfall of the most risible President in modern times, if not ever.

 

 

Get Out. Movie Review.


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Once in a while a movie comes along that takes a genre by the scruff of the neck and vigorously shakes it into a new shape.

This is so with Get Out, a horror movie (so the marketing blurb says) that lobs a few horror tropes into a lean and mean 104 minute thriller.  But it is really a social observation on the insidiousness of racism.  It comes out the other end as a unique movie offering.

It borrows from Pacific Heights, Psycho, Michael Haneke’s astonishing Party Games and sub-horror-porn like Saw without ever being any of them.

Without resorting to spoilers its one gigantic twist from start to finish that realises the fears of a young black American guy on a trip to the country to meet his wealthy WASP girlfriend’s family on a celebration weekend.  Every sentence uttered by every character becomes a retrospective clue as to what the outcome will be.

Given it’s described as a ‘horror’ you can expect a deal of nasty stuff in a climactic ending.  What director and screenwriter Jordan Peele (amazingly a debut outing) most cleverly does is apply Hitchcockian tension so that 89 minutes of tension are realised in a mere 15 minutes of terror in such a way that the nasty bits don’t (as so often is the case) outstay their welcome.

Superb performances all round from the five principal actors, but especially boyfriend and girlfriend Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams (Girls).

It’s should be no surprise that this has been both BAFTA and Golden Globes nominated, but it is because this genre rarely reaches this level of critical acclaim.

It’ll get Oscar nods too.

Swing Time By Zadie Smith: Book Review.


 

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Zadie Smith is one of my go-to authors. Of her five published novels I’ve read four of them (NW being the exception).

She captures a small class of striving and/or educated London black people (led by women) that must strongly appeal to sociologists and social workers alongside the creative ‘set’ that find favour in the modern day Labour party.  This particular novel straddles all of these groups with its focus on dancers and musicians as its central protagonists.

It’s a type.  she knows them well.  And, let’s face it, Smith’s work feels deeply autobiographical.

It’s a million miles from the Scottish, suburban, middle class, extremely white community that I live in; although my circle does have feet in Smith’s more creative circles.

I shouldn’t really connect with her work but, like many others from outside that ‘set’, I do, strongly.

And that’s because of the sheer quality of her writing.  Let’s face it, there’s a reason she has won more awards than Usain Bolt.

To define her writing would be to say she overlays great story writing with poetic largesse and great character studies.

They spellbind.

Usually.

Swing Time, her latest, long listed for the Booker, somehow misses quite a few beats – despite its subject matter being music and dance.  Maybe I took too long to read it, but parts of it really did not connect with me at all.

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Swing Time, the movie by George Stevens that inspired the book title.

It concerns the life of a young (pretty untalented) wannabe dancer who ends up as travelling PA to a global pop star phenomenon called Aimee (the choice of name is probably deliberate although Aimee is no Winehouse; more a cross between Adele and Madonna with some Angelique Jolie thrown in).

Ignored by her thrusting Labour politician mother, spurned by her childhood bestie (a low grade touring musical theatre dancer) and living a lie with her African lover our main (unnamed) protagonist recalls four decades of her life from lowly roots in London to the aforementioned glittering lifestyle that takes her to New York and Africa.

In parts its funny (not many) in parts poignant but, sadly, in most parts (particularly the African sections) it’s turgid, drawn out and uneventful.

I so wanted to like this exploration of humanity – it touches on many important emotions; most of all estrangement and lack of engagement with family and/or friends.  but it just couldn’t root in my brain.  I didn’t much care for the narrator.  I found the African sections boring and the whole a bit disjointed and the story?  Meh!  All a bit of a 21st century collection of tropes and news stories stitched together by a woman we don’t much care for.

Lacking in dramatic tension and not her best.  Start with White Teeth or On Beauty if you want great Smith.

 

Creeped out!


In an interesting twist of fate Radiohead are suing Lana Del Rey for copying Creep in her song Get Free.  I say interesting because The Hollies previously sued Radiohead for exactly the same reason, accusing them of copying ‘The Air that I Breathe” in creating Creep.

Have a listen for yourself.  I have to say, both have a point.

 

 

 

The best song I’ve heard in a long, long time. (But it comes with a strong Parental Advisory warning.)


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You heard Baxter Durie’s Miami yet?

I know, it’s been out a while and I only heard it as background music on its single release.  But now that I have the album and a new pair of amazing Bose headphones its menace becomes clearer.

On 6 Music I heard some chat about it that a parent was using the phrase ‘I’m the sausage man’ to scare their kids.  I think that may be going too far.

Anyway it’s a deeply poisonous piece of writing that Nick Cave would either be giving his right arm for or covering on his next release (perhaps a future Grinderman staple).

The lyrics are incredible.

The throbbing repetitive baseline is addictive but set against the string arrangement it’s unique.

The contrast between his, frankly, satanical voice and his angelic foil, Madeleine Hart, is breathtaking.

And then there’s the video…

[Female choirs]
Welcome to Miami now
Broken promises are here
I don’t know you don’t know
Welcome to Miami now

[Baxter Dury]
I don’t think you realise how successful I am
I’m like a shipping tycoon
Full of promise and cum
I’m a salamander
Short riff lover-boy
Causing grief to the bleeding eyes
I’m the turgid fucked up little goat
Pissing on your fucking hill
And you can’t shit me out
‘Cos you can’t catch me
‘Cos you’re so fat
So fuck ya
I’m Miami

[Female choirs]
Welcome to Miami now
Broken promises are here
I don’t know you don’t know
Welcome to Miami now
[Baxter Dury]
I don’t think you know who I am
I’m the sausage man
The shadow licker
I’m the tiny little ghost
That features in your despondent moments
The timeless whisper
The glassy dude
I’m the science of all that’s wrong
And I’m making you think that you doubt
Everything you love
But I’m here to stay
I’m Miami

[Female choirs]
Welcome to Miami now
Broken promises are here
I don’t know you don’t know
Welcome to Miami now

[Baxter Dury]
I’m the great sleeper
I’m the bookkeeper
I’m the vicar
I’m the main course
I’m Morgan Freeman
I cut master Neon Angels
I’m the night chef
The eye doctor
Mister Maserati
I’m king of the migraines
Soiled Lord of Tears
I’m the urban goose
I’m a river of dead fish
I’m Miami
[Female choirs]
Welcome to Miami now
Broken promises are here
I don’t know you don’t know
Welcome to Miami now

Good start to TV New Year


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I was late getting to it but Season three of Black Mirror is brilliant in parts.  The best part being the stunning closing episode which takes a sideswipe at hate crime. As innocent as people may think it is to dis the likes of  Katie Hopkins (clearly the target at the start of the show) online Charlie Brooker ingeniously turns this into something truly spectacular.

A police procedural starring the excellent Kelly MacDonald and Faye Marsay that has more ideas in its hour and a half than most box sets do

A Netflix must watch folks.