strange_complex: (Vampira)
I saw this last Sunday evening with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and a bonus unexpected [livejournal.com profile] maviscruet. It was put on in a venue I haven't been to before - the Left Bank on Cardigan Road, Leeds, which is a formerly-disused church, now taken over as a community arts venue and in the process of being restored. So far, the roof has been repaired and the place cleaned up, but the budget hasn't yet stretched as far as installing any heating. So the place was completely freezing!

But that was OK. We'd been warned as much on the tickets, so turned up bundled in nice thick coats and hats, purchased hot steaming cups of coffee from the bar in one corner, and sat huddled over our drinks and watching our breath turn to mist. Somehow, given the type of film we were watching, it was all part of the experience and part of the fun. Meanwhile, the seating had been arranged at round cabaret-style tables with tea-lights in stained-glass holders flickering on each one, and once the lights were turned down we were surrounded by ghostly Gothic arches stretching out emptily around us - and somehow the slight desire to shiver, combined with all of that, really added to the atmosphere.

The film itself was played in a silent format, although actually Wikipedia tells me that it originally also had some spoken dialogue, almost bridging the gulf between silent films and talkies. That would explain something which we found confusing on the night, which was why in some places there were modern on-screen English subtitles, but no sign of any intertitles or other means to help the original audience understand what was being said. It wasn't that intertitles had been removed (the best explanation we could come up with at the time), but that there had actually been audible dialogue there in the original film - which makes sense, really, given the release date.

In place of the original soundtrack, though, we were instead treated to a performance of an original live musical soundtrack composed for the film especially by Steven Severin, the original bassist from Siouxsie and the Banshees. His soundtrack was performed via an electronic toolkit - laptop, mixer, etc. - but included things like strings, bells and banjoes as well as synthesised sounds, as and when appropriate to the events unfolding on screen. Obviously, as a soundtrack its function was to support and enhance the film, rather than distract attention away from it, but I thought it did that very well, adding yet more appropriately-atmospheric spookiness on top of the experience of watching a vampire film in a dark, cavernous, wintry-cold church.

As for the film itself, I had seen about the first ten minutes of it once before, but not the whole thing - a shameful oversight, given how much I love and actively seek out vampire films wherever possible. So it was great to just have the chance to remedy that at long last. I could see lots of small, iconic touches in it which crop up in many a later vampire film, too - like the young man arriving at the door of the inn, finding it locked, and being greeted instead by a woman peering out of an upstairs dormer window (e.g. Scars of Dracula (1970)), or the older, wiser man dying, and passing on the task of protecting his young female charge from vampires to an inexperienced paramour (e.g. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)). It's nice to have a better sense now of where some of those first originated.

The story itself is surreal, including things like an extended dream-sequence, and indeed many other events which are generally dream-like in quality. In fact, it seems to bridge different worlds in a number of ways - the worlds of waking and dreaming, of silent and talking pictures (as I've said above), of the modern, urbane world represented by its dapper young hero and the simple rural village where he finds himself, and of the German-speaking and French-speaking communities who apparently inhabit the village where it is set side by side, so that written signs appear in both languages, and the characters have names from both cultures. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and indeed comes across more as a series of vignettes than a coherent story as such. But that, I would say, is its charm.

Talking of charm, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I couldn't help but emerge afterwards swooning and sighing over the film's tall, dark, handsome and extremely smartly be-suited male star, Nicolas de Gunzburg (credited as Julian West). Sadly, this was the only film he ever made, so we are denied the chance of further dreamy gazing at his three-piece suit and slicked-back hair, but he certainly provides value for money in his sole cinematic outing. The young lady whom he (somewhat haphazardly) saves was amazingly balletic too, both in her costume and in her movements - a quality which I also remember noticing in near-contemporary silent film Metropolis. Again according to Wikipedia, the cast mainly consisted of non-professional actors (apparently including Einstein and the First Doctor!), but given that the atmosphere of the film called for quite mannered performances anyway, this wasn't something which particularly stood out to me while watching it.

All in all, a beautifully atmospheric film, seen in circumstances which really set it off to its best effect. Very glad to be able to tick off yet another entry in the 'Vampires' chapter of my favourite horror film encyclopedia. :-)

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strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
Bought with the book token I won for participating in the Flash Fiction challenge at Mecon.

This is another sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, and for me a better one than Castle in the Air. Not to say the latter is bad, of course - it's just that this one has more of Howl, Sophie and Calcifer in it, returns to the gingerbread fairy kingdom setting of the first novel which I liked so much (though we're in High Norland now, not Ingary), and has a heroine I can relate to more easily. Actually, there's room to get cynical about just how relatable that heroine is: she's a sheltered daughter of Respectable Parents, who thinks she likes nothing better than escaping from the world into a good book, but actually turns out to be rather more competent and capable than she thinks when circumstances require. In other words, she is DWJ's primary readership with all their fantasies fulfilled. But for all that, she's so likeable and three-dimensional that you can't help but forgive the manipulation and fall for her all the same.

As the title implies, the book centres around a magical house (specifically, the cottage of High Norland's Royal Wizard) where space folds over itself in surprising ways, and from which you can get almost anywhere in the kingdom if you know exactly the right way to turn. It made me realise, actually, how particularly good DWJ is at architecture. There's hardly a single one of her books in which a castle, a mansion, a cottage or a hotel doesn't play a central role in the plot - and as a reader, I can see all of them in rich detail. I would recognise Chrestomanci Castle, Stallery Mansion, Hunsdon House, Derkholm or the Hotel Babylon, Wantchester. And the same goes for the landscapes around them, too. It isn't overblown, but the details of them seep into your mental picture bit by bit as you read - and I love that.

I was slightly distressed in this book to find that four characters ended up being turned into animals and then killed by dogs. OK, so they were evil, and lubbockins, and planning to take over the kingdom - but I'd rather hoped they might at least be imprisoned or exiled or turned into stone or something, rather than actually murdered. It wasn't quite what I expected from the Howlverse. Other than that, though, it's a delightful read, with all sorts of brilliant characters. And it seems I've read enough DWJ books now that I even nearly managed to guess the ending. I can't really say what I guessed or what was actually correct without creating spoilers - but suffice it to say that I was right to think that the little dog, Waif, would turn out to be More Than She Seemed.

In short, highly recommended. If you liked Howl's Moving Castle, you'll like this, but even if you haven't read it, this still stands alone very effectively.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
On Saturday, I reached the grand old age of thirty-two, and went on an outing to Castle Howard to celebrate. I had [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23 and her partner, Vincent, as house-guests for the weekend (en route to a Primatology conference in Edinburgh), so we were able to pile into Anna's cute little retro-style Fiat 500, swoop [livejournal.com profile] big_daz up from Wortley, and head off out into the countryside.

At first, we were guided on our way by 'Ken', the Australian voice on Anna's Tom Tom, but he unfortunately let us down by taking us straight into an all-but-stationary traffic jam going past York. Luckily, however, we had an alternative Yorkshire navigation system available to us: Daz Daz, armed with Local Knowledge and a road atlas. And so it was that we found ourselves bowling through Georgian brick-built villages and along sunlit country lanes, listening to The Cure while our hair whipped around in an invigorating breeze, and only got to Castle Howard half an hour later than Ken had said we would. [livejournal.com profile] snapesbabe and [livejournal.com profile] matgb, alas, were not so lucky, and despite gallant efforts to join us were eventually forced to turn back before they had even arrived. :-(

And this was a great pity, not only because it deprived me of the opportunity to lust over their new purple Ka, but also because Castle Howard is ace! It really is a stately home par excellence, with expansive grounds, beautiful formal gardens, fountains, peacocks, endless opulent drawing rooms, rococo furniture, plutocratic portraits and so on. But I think what I liked best about it was the extensive collections of Classical sculpture (which seemed to go on and on in every hallway and corridor), and the answering neo-Classicism of the building itself and the works of art which adorned it. It began to feel as though you couldn't turn a corner without seeing something Classical or Classically-inspired: which is quite frankly exactly how I think the world should be. ;-)

Anyway, a day like that is probably best told in pictures, rather than words, so here are some of my favourite photos from our outing )

... and if you liked those, you can see the full gallery here.

As we left in the late afternoon (Ken still relegated to the boot in favour of Daz Daz), Anna suggested that we should eat out in the evening. I'd planned to cook us a casserole, but who would cook on their birthday when friends were offering to take them out instead, eh? So we ended up at Jino's, where we guzzled delicious Thai food, and the waiters put a candle in my ice-cream when Anna told them it was my birthday, and then returned home to mine for frighteningly potent cocktails.

Presents were mainly books from my family, but Anna got me a beautiful orchid, while Daz (who clearly knows me far too well) got me an enamel K-9 pendant like the ones shown below (just one, though!), and my parents got me a Tiffany floor lamp to go in my dining-room:

Presenty goodness )

So, all told, an excellent day, and some nice mementos of it to take away with me. So far, I'm enjoying being 32. It feels like a nice solid, self-confident age to be - properly into my 30s, in contrast to 31, which felt a bit apologetic about it. It's also a multiple of eight, which I've always thought of as being 'my' number - not necessarily my lucky number, but just the number that signifies me. As being born on the 2nd of the 8th and growing up in a house with the number 82 will tend to make you think...

Here's to my thirty-secondthird year on this planet, then. I intend to make the most of it.

Holiday snaps

Wednesday, 5 September 2007 15:19
strange_complex: (Hastings camera)
Right - it's time we had this canal holiday in pictures, then.

Warning - there are 86 of them )

strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I've just been out to see the above with [livejournal.com profile] nigelmouse, at a fabulous cinema called the Hyde Park. Leeds City Council inform me that it was originally built as a hotel in 1908, but became a cinema in 1914, and has been one ever since. It's a real treasure, and I could quite understand why [livejournal.com profile] nigelmouse said he often goes there as much for the cinema as for the films.

The film was very much worth it in itself this time, though. It uses a new animation technique, which involved filming the action with live actors, and then tracing over some, but not all, of the frames with animation, and using a kind of 3D equivalent of tweening to fill in the rest. The effect was really quite trippy - movements were realistic enough to make you expect full realism, but still unnervingly not-quite-real, while in some shots it was entirely clear that you were watching an animation, and in others (especially long shots), the line between animation and live action became very thin.

And all of this fitted in very well with the subject-matter of the film - a world of drugs paranoia and double-identities. Much of the story, in fact, is seen through the eyes of a character who is suffering increasingly impaired mental faculties through drug-use, and is hallucinating and confused. Whilst the viewer is allowed to work out what's actually going on by the end of the film, for much of it we're as confused about the nature of reality as he is, and the animation style adds a lot to that.

Definitely worth seeing once: probably even better a second time when you can benefit from being clearer about what's going on than the main character is.

strange_complex: (Augustus)
Now that work is completed on the new Ara Pacis museum in Rome, it seems that Augustus' Mausoleum is at last to get the attention it deserves.

I know not everybody likes the new Ara Pacis building, mainly on the grounds that it looks too 'modern' to fit in with Rome's other monuments. And to be fair, although I've looked at it from the outside, I haven't actually been in, so I haven't quite had the full experience.

What I have seen )

But from what I've seen of the building, I actually rather like it. Of course I love Rome's past, but half of the joy of Rome for me is seeing so many different pasts co-existing and interacting. One era building on and responding to another. I don't see why the process should be arrested now - an Eternal City, by definition, can't be set in aspic. It has to be allowed to grow and develop with each succeeding generation. To me, the new Ara Pacis building is part of a new chapter in Rome's history - a chapter enriched by its responses to the ones which came before. It's a bold statement of Rome's place in the 21st century - and I think Augustus would have been more than capable of appreciating that.

But perhaps what I really like about the Ara Pacis building, and the plans for the Mausoleum, is that they testify to a continuing interest in Rome's past. Even the controversy around the Ara Pacis building proves one thing above all else - that Romans today still care about how Augustus' monuments are presented in the urban fabric. They may not agree about how best to do it, but they do agree that it's a matter of great importance.

So long as that continues, I'm happy.

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