Just how long is ‘rather long’?

This past weekend was the annual l’Abri Film Festival – an event I went to for the first time a year ago, and thoroughly enjoyed. I’d planned to go again this year, but sadly circumstances overtook me and I couldn’t make it.

By way of making up for missing a slew of quality cinema, on Saturday night a friend took me to their local video store to rent a film so that I’d have at least watched one film over a weekend when I might otherwise have seen five or six.

Obviously, the first comment to make about this is that we went to an actual video store (well, more appropriately, DVD store) – I had assumed all such places had ceased to exist! Not so! On Brick Lane (at the end nearer the 24/7 bagel shops as opposed to the curry houses) you’ll find Close Up (can you see what they did there?), a self-named ‘film centre’ which goes way beyond the Blockbusters of yesteryear.

That would be the American section. (Credit.)

For a start, they have a brilliant shelving system. (Friends will be aware just how important a methodical shelving system is to me…it’s a major outworking of my OCD.) Yes, there’s a new releases section right by the door, but the rest of the many, many films are organised firstly by country/region, then chronologically (e.g. ‘American 1980s’), with dedicated sections to specific directors, actors or authors. (To be fair, my OCD didn’t cope so well with ‘Dickens’ being a similar category to ‘Leigh’, but never mind.) But seriously, how many places do you know with a dedicated Palestinian film section?! Fabulous.

We made our selections with the assistance of excellent advice from the (rather cute) guys behind the counter, who also complimented us on our first choice of three films – Margaret. In fact, his enthusiastic praise of the film resulted in us choosing that one to watch over the others, but we realised we should have paid attention to his other comment – that it was ‘rather long’

Turns out that by ‘rather long’ he meant ‘a three hour marathon of a film that is only available on DVD in the Director’s cut which remained unreleased for seven years’. Half an hour in, Cathers thought to check the length on the box and we then spent some minutes checking that we’d correctly translated 175 minutes into ‘practically 3 hours’. Having begun the film at 9.30, this was going to result in a very late departure from Bethnal Green.

However, that’s not to say it wasn’t worth spending three hours watching it. To be honest, if we hadn’t of checked, I’m not particularly sure we’d have noticed just how long it was. Perhaps it could have been shorter had some of its dreamy New York City shots been cut, but to be honest, who doesn’t like a shot of NYC in the autumn? It’s rather intense, to the extent that the two of us found ourselves yelling at the screen at various points, having a go at both the teenage protagonist and adult characters who had made stupid errors.

I’m trying to work out if Matt Damon was especially hot because he was playing a preppy teacher….

What confused us though, was just how young Anna Paquin (the main character, though surprisingly not called Margaret) appeared to be, given that the film had only been released this year. Turned out the film was actually made in 2005 (also explaining just how young and especially hot Matt Damon looked), but that a couple of lawsuits had resulted in it being held up. That, and the fact that an agreement couldn’t be reached over how to get the film to a more practical theatrical release length. Thank goodness I had access to IMDB and Wikipedia while watching the movie, so I wasn’t distracted throughout it by this pondering.

And the film? Well, aside from a teenage lead whose neck you want to wring on a regular basis, yet is strangely compelling; the film is well worth the three hours. Chronicling the impact of watching an horrific road accident upon a teenage girl, it manages to be both hard hitting and entertaining while assuring you that you never, ever, want to be a teenager again.

Full Circle Friday Fun

First up for your delectation this week is a Tumblr that is both cool and a little creepy. If We Don’t, Remember Me ‘is a gallery of living movie stills, opened since october 2010’. It’s a little creepy in that the very nature of the GIF’s is that they often involve a seemingly still character suddenly turning round and staring at you. Possibly not something to be explored when your screen is your only source of light.

Given that the GIF below is from The Shining, it’s actually surprisingly non-creepy! Many of the stills are from films that are rather niche, but I figured this one might be more familiar…

Continuing a vague photography theme, there’s little more exciting than discovering street art in the grey urban sprawl of a city. The problem is, such joys are difficult and time consuming to find, so fortunately the lovely people behind Street Art Utopia have done an excellent job of compiling many of the best around the world. It’s definitely a website in which you could lose an hour or two – my particular favourite was a creative use of Lego:
Combining the joy of public art and my love of pubic transport, can you imagine my delight when someone posted a link to a story about a Versailles-inspired decoration of an RER train in Paris?! Formidable! Apparently one train’s been done already and another four are planned – so look out for them the next time you’re travelling on a RER C train. (That’s the train that goes from central Paris to Versailles. Suddenly I understand the point of this exercise…) 

If you prefer your Friday Fun to be of a more text-based, literary bent – may I recommend Tales of Ridiculous Things That Happen to me Far Too Often? I like this blog for two reasons:
(i) I, also, have ridiculous things happening to me on a regular basis – so this blog makes me feel a lot less alone in the world.
(ii) The things are actually ridiculous and may make you laugh out loud.
I gain solace from the fact that I have never got stuck in a tiny window while trying to break in to a friend’s house; nor have I caused a man to have a bloody lip thanks to my hula-hooping antics; and I definitely have never got stuck in an under-the-bed drawer. But bless her, the unnamed author has done all of these and brought joy to the internet by sharing them.
Finally, because it wouldn’t be Friday without a musical contribution – and because this gem brings us full circle back to the theme of Films – here’s an interpretation of Baby Got Back, sung by the characters from myriad movies:

On dilemmas and film stars

Last week was pretty epic in its level of interestingness. You can’t complain about a week that begins with a Monday night in the company of famous authors; continues with an evening avec Bishops (ok, maybe that’s not interesting to all, but it is in my world); and concludes on Friday afternoon with half an hour in the company of Robert Redford.

God bless Wittertainment, the BBC and the Sundance London Film Festival – and, most importantly of all, Fridays as days off. Being free on Friday afternoon just over a week ago meant that I was able to listen live to the show (a first, I usually save the podcast for my post vicar school walk home) in response to a tip-off that an exciting announcement was being made. Exciting it was – a live show was taking place the following week, in London, and with Robert Redford. I filled in the form in record time and prayed.

Well, I filled in the form and alerted a fellow fan that they should do the same. Annoyingly, for things like this you’re only allowed 2 tickets and I have two friends who I knew would love to join me. Sadly, the quota filled up too quickly and I was left with the dilemma of which of the two I should take. 

I don’t like difficult decisions at the best of times – this was a bit of a ‘mare. How do you decide between:
Friend 1 – responsible for introducing me to Wittertainment. Never been to a live broadcast. First to know that I stood a good chance of getting tickets.
Friend 2 – massive Wittertainment fan who took me to the Christmas show in 2010 and offered me tickets to last year’s that I couldn’t take up. Took me to The Now Show last month and gave me their spare ticket to World Book Night. Currently storing a lot of my possessions in their home.

See? Tough call. I did what any other sensible person would do – I played them off against each other. Friend 1 said he’d fight Friend 2 ‘to the death’. Friend 2 accepted this challenge, stating that they’d bring peanuts (Friend 1 has a nut allergy). Ultimately though, I went on a ‘first come, first served’ basis – meaning that Friend 1 got it. 

But the guilt was still there and Twitter made it SO much worse. Friday morning’s Twitter stream looked like this:
Me – “Geekily excited about today’s antics. What should one wear to a radio broadcast at a film festival??”
Friend 2 – “not going to be jealous…not going to be jealous…not going to be jealous…not going to be jealous…”
Me: “*Feels bad & struggles to think of suitable response*
Friend 2: “I’m an evangelist, and thus all about the guilt. *mission accomplished* – all is well! Have a great time!”

And then Friend 1 decided to be all gracious and tweet:
“Looking forward to seeing @Wittertainment live at Sundance London today, courtesy of @LizaClutterbuck.” 
Because that didn’t rub her nose in it, not at all…

In the end, my decision was kind of justified in a twist of Christian small world-ness. Another response to my excited tweet was from a fellow trainee vicar who had tickets too. We were right behind him in the queue to get in and it emerged that Vicar School Friend and Friend 1 had once worked together but hadn’t seen each other since. What a coincidence.
Photo from here
Dilemmas and friendship issues aside, it was an excellent afternoon. If someone could find out how Robert Redford has managed to stay so well preserved, and sell it, they could make a heck of a lot of money! He’s 75 and doesn’t look a day over 50. He was great to listen to too (you can download the podcast of the programme here), witty, politically knowledgeable (in the right way), and a great story-teller. I clearly need to have something of a Refordathon in order to fully appreciate his brilliance. (And find some way of making a Clutterbuckathon a possibility – suggestions are welcome.) 

500 Days of Ranting

Nil desperandum readers, I’m not proposing a 500 day rant – promise! (Though actually, thinking about it I have a couple of other rants brewing, but perhaps I’ll save them for a lot later…)

A couple of weeks ago I gave in and tried watching a new show that I’d resisted – despite it containing many of the things I like in televisual entertainment: intelligent humour, hot men and dorkiness. The major stumbling block for me was Zooey Deschanel, an actress who is (at least in the world of Wittertainment) the definition of ‘kooky’, particularly (but not exclusively) as a result of her role in (500) Days of Summer.

However, a friend insisted that it was worth watching New Girl and, once I realised it was under half an hour, I thought I’d give it a shot. Episode 1 was quite pleasing; by the end of episode 2 I realised I actually cared about the characters and was actually noting when episode 3 would air. At the end of the third instalment, I tweeted: It’s taken 3 episodes of New Girl, but I think I’m now ready to forgive Zooey Deschanel for the hideousness that was 500 Days of Summer. The use of ‘hideousness’ proved to be rather divisive amongst my followers – some agreed, others came to the film’s defence.

Let me share my case for the prosecution:

When the film came out, I was keen to see it. It seemed like just the kind of thing a hopeless romantic like me would want to watch, plus it had the fabulous Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it, who I’ve loved ever since 3rd Rock from the Sun. I distinctly remember a male friend (whose opinion in films I value) telling me that he enjoyed it and he was sure it was my kind of thing, yet somehow I didn’t get round to watching it for well over a year. In fact, I think it was my first rental when I joined LoveFilm.

I was massively disappointed.

It’s not often that I viciously hate a film, but this is high on my least-liked list. On the plus side, it’s well shot; includes an excellent karaoke scene; and is yet another film that highlights my need to get myself to San Francisco asap. However, its (many) negatives outweighs these (few) positives:

  • The female lead – the ‘Summer’ of the title – is a mean, manipulative woman who exploits a man who’s hopelessly in love with her. She leads him on multiple times and breaks his heart again and again.
  • The male lead is, quite frankly, an idiot. Summer makes it clear on other occasions (when she’s not leading him on) that she’s not interested, yet still he spends 500 days obsessing over her. 
  • At the end of the film, when he’s finally gotten over Summer, he meets a girl called…Autumn. Honestly! I ask you. 
Several good female friends agreed with me that it was dreadful, yet a couple of male friends insisted that they’d liked it. Thinking about it, these guys are both hopeless romantics who would definitely emulate the film’s plot given half a chance, they are both idiots. Pre-Twitter debate, I’d decided that men loved it while women hated it – but those that decried my verdict on it were all female. Those that came to its defence were male. Curious. However, I must at least be right in my opinion as I discovered that Mark Kermode also disliked it – so I must be right!

Anyway, a warning: if you are a hopeless romantic, yet like to be treated fairly, with respect and without manipulation, don’t watch this film – you’ll only get angry and want to throw things at the screen. If you like a bit of mindless entertainment and have been missing quirky, apartment-based comedy since the end of Friends, then watch New Girl – episode 4’s on at 9pm on Friday night.

Dreams of a Life

Last week I took advantage of something rare and wonderful – a ‘cheap’, nearly empty, quiet, viewing of a quality film in London’s West End.

I’ve recently discovered that if you go to a screening at one of the Curzon chain of cinemas before 2pm, then it’s much cheaper than is usual in London-town. [i.e. £7 at the Soho Curzon, which is a veritable bargain.] I resent paying through the nose to watch films, especially when the quality of the experience is so dependent upon total strangers. Going to screenings at 11.30am means that the audience is sparse and basically consists of students (who must be responsible as they’re actually awake), freelancers and others who exist in a world where a morning film is a viable activity. The other good thing about Curzon is that they show films at the more art house end of the spectrum – like semi-obscure documentaries…

Dreams of a Life had first come to my attention thanks to an article in the Observer last October, but it wasn’t the first time I’d come across its subject – Joyce Carol Vincent died in 2003, but her body wasn’t discovered until 2006. Carole Morley’s film was the result of her determination to find out who Joyce was and how it could be possible that her death went undiscovered for so long.

The story rang a bell. Joyce died in a bedsit in Wood Green. For most of the nearly three years that her body lay there, I lived just up the road in Muswell Hill. Wood Green was where I went shopping or to the cinema. I would have walked through the Shopping City complex (where her home was) countless times, passing just metres from her front door. When her body was discovered (by the housing association representatives sent to repossess the flat), news of the grim discovery rocked the community.

And so it should. Joyce was discovered with the TV still on and wrapped Christmas presents by her side. How come the recipients of the gifts didn’t look for her? Her family refused to participate in the film, but it was evident that they’d been estranged for some time. Didn’t she have friends or colleagues who would notice her absence? What the film revealed was that she’d always been secretive, and seemed to have spent much of the previous three or four years cutting herself off from what friends she’d had and moving into a job where she was pretty much anonymous.

But this was a woman who had had friends. In the 80s she dated someone who was Isaac Hayes’ agent; she recorded songs; she’d even met Nelson Mandela! Time and again the friends interviewed in the film despaired as to how she could have become so cut off from the world that her death went unnoticed.

It’s not a cheery film to watch, and it made me ponder two things:
1. How long would it take people to notice that I was missing?
2. Who in my circle of friends might disappear without someone noticing?

In answer to the first question – not very long. I have colleagues and flatmates who would ask questions. True, it takes a gap of more than a week between phone calls to attract parental concern, but if this was combined with no tweeting or blogging, then I think concern would arise sooner. Basically, I’m very lucky to have lots of people around me and great relationships.

The second question is an interesting one. In an age of virtual relationships, how soon do you notice if someone stops tweeting or updating their Facebook status? Does it get lost in a mire of pointless information? When do you remember to look at their profile, or phone them up? After a week, or a month, or a year? Or, do you think of them sporadically, intend to get in touch, and then never quite manage it – until it’s too late?

There are friends of mine whose way of dealing with stress or uncertainty is to take themselves out of life for a while – whether it’s travelling around the globe, or disappearing into a retreat centre. It wouldn’t be easy to tell with them if they were simply off-grid, or whether something was seriously wrong. What about people whose way of dealing with pain and anxiety is to cut themselves off from others? This is what Joyce seemed to do after a series of abusive relationships resulted in her living in a refuge. Was she too ashamed of what had happened to face her one-time friends? Can we ever stop people from having that reflex?

The bottom line is that little could have stopped Joyce from dying, but that as a whole, society failed her. After she had cut herself off from her support network, she was left with no one. (On a recent visit to hospital, she’d listed her next of kin as her bank manager.) But surely someone should have realised something was wrong? The neighbour who noticed an odd smell? The council tax that was never paid? The staff member that never turned up? It’s a damning reflection on our world…