strange_complex: (Ulysses 31)
Start of term = busy = also tired when not actually busy = still haven't finished writing up the Starburst Film Festival I attended in late August. Friday and Saturday are covered at the links; the schedule for Sunday is here, with what I did below.

Sunday schedule.jpg

Space-flight and puzzle games )

Interview with Toby Whithouse )

23. Aliens (1986), dir. James Cameron )

Red Dwarf series XI: exclusive first episode preview and interview with Doug Naylor )

Finally, it was time to depart, sad that it had already all come to an end, but already making plans for future fantastic film-related adventures as we bid one another goodbye. I'll certainly come back for another Starburst festival if they do it again next year.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
So! Film festival, day two. Here is the overall schedule for the day:

Saturday schedule.jpg


And here's what I did:

21. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), dir. Gordon Hessler / interview with Caroline Munro / Ray Harryhausen's Lost Treasures )

Interview with Katy Manning (aka Jo Grant from Doctor Who) )

Met Caroline Munro and got her autograph )

Doctor Who season 22 show-makers' interview )

Afterwards, I joined [livejournal.com profile] newandrewhickey, [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva and [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat for the first 45 minutes or so of The Rocketeer (1991), a sort of larger-than-life SF comedy about a US stunt pilot in the 1940s who finds a jet-pack, with Jennifer Connelly as his under-impressed girlfriend. I could see it was good and would have stayed to watch the whole thing if there weren't competing features on the schedule, but there were: two live commentaries from the Tenth Doctor era, marking the fact that his first full season screened ten years ago now. Ten is much more my thing than Six, so off I slipped...

Live commentary on New Who 2.3 School Reunion )

Live commentary on New Who 2.13 Doomsday )

All this time, Galaxy Quest had been playing in another room, which is a pity, because once the Doctor Who stuff was over and I went to join [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat, [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva and [livejournal.com profile] newandrewhickey in the screening, I realised what bloody good fun it was to watch at an actual con. But then again I have seen it multiple times before, and those live Doctor Who commentaries really were great, so I think I made the right choice.

After the film had finished, we went for food at a seriously good pizza / pasta place just down the road. It was nominally just a take-away / sit-in at fixed tables place, but the quality of the food was way better than you'd normally expect for a place like that, and along with the cute student room I was staying in and the well-appointed Co-op just below it, this was one of a number of things that really made me fall for the area where we were staying. Like, on one level, it was just edge-of-city-centre ring-roadish urban redevelopment, with a lot of medium-rise new-builds, but on another it did actually feel somehow quite modern and dynamic and nice to be in. In fact, hell, let's have a picture of it which fails to do justice to the intensity of the sunset on the Friday evening:

2016-08-26 20.27.12.jpg


22. Blood of the Tribades (2016), dir. Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein )

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strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
The tl;dr version of this film festival is that the content was awesome, but the organisation was really pretty poor. It was a first-time event, so didn't have an established loyal customer base, and it hadn't been advertised anything like as effectively as it could have been, so that I know a lot of people who might have wanted to go to it didn't know about it until very late in the day, and in fact it is quite possible that the organisers and guests outnumbered the paying customers. The timing was also frequently off-schedule, leaving us either waiting up to an hour for something to start, or rushing from one thing to another without a chance to get the dinner we'd planned for in between. Thankfully, it was never quite so bad as to mean that I missed anything I'd been looking forward to as a result, but I really hope they get better at both advertising and timing if they run this festival again, as otherwise it is doomed to failure.

Anyway! I'm going to write it up day by day, to keep the entries manageable. This is the overall schedule for the Friday, which true to the organisational spirit mentioned above was released at around 8pm on the evening before the festival was due to begin, i.e. way too late for most people to make sensible arrival plans in advance.

Friday schedule.jpg


Getting there and settling in )

Scream Queens: Caroline Munro and Martine Beswick )

19. Gothic (1986), dir. Ken Russell with intro by Stephen Volk )

20. Dracula A.D. 1972, dir. Alan Gibson )

Thus our first day ended, and it was back off to my snuggly student nest-bed for a rather short night's sleep ahead of day two...

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strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
I still have a veeerryy long list of book, film and TV reviews to write up, and maybe I'll get to some of those later today. But first, I want to write about the thing I saw last night while it's all fresh in my mind, and that is a contemporary dance production of Dracula by the Mark Bruce Company. As ever for these things, my companion for the evening was the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, and of course for both of us the obvious comparator was the recent ballet version by David Nixon which we also saw together at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. We were in no doubt that both were amazing, but found it much harder to decide which we thought was best. In the end, obviously, you don't have to decide (though it's a fun and often quite useful way to figure out what you think of two different performances individually) - you can have both! But their takes on the story certainly were different, and would appeal to different states of mind.

Where the ballet was very romantic, with a heavy emphasis on unfulfilled longing, last night's version was much more brutal, visceral and ghoulish. As it happens, both chose to open with scenes featuring Dracula on his own, introducing their take on the character, and the contrast between those two scenes encapsulates the difference very nicely. Ballet!Dracula rose smoothly from his coffin in a cloud of mist, completely naked apart from a very small pouch, and strode with perfect poise and balance away from the audience and out through a dark Gothic doorway at the back of the stage. It was basically all about the eroticisation of a supernaturally-powerful male body. Dance!Dracula, clothed in a slightly industrial-looking cropped-sleeved black shirt and trousers, instead performed a number which had him at times revelling similarly in his supernatural strength and power, but at others lapsing into the shambolic zombie-like movements of a reanimated corpse. Meanwhile, strong side-lighting cast dramatic highlights and shadows across his face and limbs, emphasising his non-human nature as a spectral creature of the night.

So, a very different take on the character which persisted and developed throughout the show. Ballet!Dracula was tormented by his own bloodlust, approached his victims like a fairy-tale prince, and had a (cheap, stretch-velvet) billowing cape which he used to convey the batlike side of his nature. Dance!Dracula preferred a trench-coat, didn't muck about when attacking his victims, and conveyed his bestiality rather through snarls and contortions. And obviously the same logic and feel applied throughout the show - for example, in the contrast between the ballet version of the vampire brides, who moved powerfully yet fluidly in fine billowing white robes, and the contemporary dance versions, who did much more snarling and clawing and wore ragged blood-stained dresses (with the obvious implication being that they were too monstrous and inhuman to care about the stains). In fact, there was a lot more blood all round in the dance version. I'm pretty sure we never saw any in the ballet - it was all allusive and impressionistic. But in the dance, punches were thrown, victims bitten and stakes hammered home, all to distinctly gory effect.

Both productions definitely maxed out on the Gothic aesthetic, with wrought-iron arches, dry ice, and a very great deal of black. But this one played around a little more with its temporal setting. The music used was from various different eras, ranging from the baroque to the modernist, while although the costumes centred around the Victorian / Edwardian, they nodded towards something quite modern for Lucy and Mina, and (along with the music) also switched into the early 20th-century jazz era for some scenes involving the vampires. The first of these happened when Dracula caught Jonathan Harker with his brides in the castle, whereupon the audience of course expects anger and fighting, but this was actually played out by the brides handing Dracula a top hat and cane, and him dancing to what I've worked out this morning was Arthur Collins' 1905 hit The Preacher and the Bear, while Jonathan cowered in the corner. This sounds kind of ridiculous, and I wasn't quite sure about it myself at first. But it did work as a way to convey the evil of Dracula - not just attacking his guest, but toying with him via the juxtaposition between the jolly song and his own incongruously brutal appearance, and through lyrics which make it apparent that he treats hunting his human victims as a game. And it really paid off in the second half, during Dracula's attack on Lucy, when the three vampire brides could be seen dancing the Charleston in the background. By that time, the motif had really sunk in, so that the spectre of these ghoulish creatures dancing a jazz number as Lucy died horribly had become incredibly effective and properly unsettling.

There were all sorts of other similarly clever, creative touches along the way as well. Like in the scene where the team of vampire hunters find Dracula's boxes of earth in the cellars of Carfax and crumble holy communion wafers into them. Here, the three vampire brides crouched at the corners of the stage - not really 'there' in story terms, but present all the same - winding up mechanical rats and letting them loose to run across the floor. As with the jazz dancing, on paper that sounds too silly to work, but it really did, conveying the feel of a dank and creepy cellar alive with vermin beautifully. Also very good was the handling of chase scenes, which were generally conveyed by on-the-spot running which was somehow done so effectively that you almost forgot that it was on the spot, and simply embraced the sense of movement. This was done for the carriage ride taking Jonathan to Dracula's castle in the first half, and Dracula's retreat back home with the vampire-hunters on his tail at the end - no mucking about with scenes on trains or boats here, but just a straightforward on-the-spot foot-chase, which nonetheless managed to stand effectively for an epic journey through the night across Europe. In both cases, wolf-headed dancers also appeared at certain points to run alongside the carriage or the vampire Count, helping to build the sensation of a high-speed chase in the same way that Roman artists would put in eagles or hares to show that a person was moving quickly.

Then at the end, the eventual fate of the brides was to be captured by a vampire-hunter each and strung up on the wrought-iron Gothic arches of Dracula's castle, in a way which visually resembled both the impaled victims of the real Vlad III Dracula, and (as [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan pointed out) the three figures of the Biblical crucifixion scene. Dracula himself, meanwhile, succumbed to the wiles of Mina, who embroiled him into an increasingly-frantic dance as the sun rose, so that eventually he could not escape its rays and crumpled defeated onto the floor. I always have a lot of time for Dracula productions which let Mina herself kill him (as for example in the version we saw at Kirkstall Abbey last summer the one I saw in Belfast in 2005 and of course the original 1922 Nosferatu), but with or without that the ending of last night's performance was certainly stronger than the ballet version, which I noted at the time slipped into a bit of an anti-climax after its wonderful love-duet between Dracula and Mina.

As for this production's take on the story, what I've already said above will indicate that it included some departures from the novel, but on the whole it was pretty true to the outlines of Stoker's novel. This is of course for largely the same reason as the ballet version - both stories were told silently through the medium of dance, so they relied on their audience knowing the basic story already, and any major departures from the original would be confusing. Like the ballet, though, it only had a limited time to get its story across, so some trimming was necessary. The Demeter was in this time (and was very well done), as was an excellent montage of vampire!Lucy feeding on little children, but Renfield and the asylum were out, and perhaps most surprisingly of all there was also no identifiable Van Helsing figure. Of course, this being a silent drama, none of the characters had in-story names, but the vampire-hunters were represented by three men - a doctor, a priest and a flamboyant wealthy gentleman, all of whom were suitors of Lucy and all of whom took a more or less equal role in the business of vampire-despatching. Obviously, the priest was the one whipping out crosses and communion wafers, while the other two map fairly closely to Dr. Seward and Lord Godalming, but Van Helsing was neither a priest nor a suitor, and also definitely was an outsider from the point of view of the rest of the group.

The dance style itself sometimes came quite close to ballet, including things like male-female duets in which the male dancer does a lot of lifting and supporting of the female dancer, dancing on pointed toes, etc. But there was a lot else in there this time - jazz-dancing moves, as I've mentioned, gypsy dances in a village on the way to the castle, ballroom-style dancing and all sorts of leaps and contortions which I suppose come under the general heading of modern dance. Like the ballet version we saw, this one also took advantage of the strength of its male lead to show the famous scene in which Dracula crawls head-first down the wall of his castle - but although it was clever and impressive, in all honesty this was something which the ballet version did better, both in terms of how the scene had been set up and the actual execution of the move. I think that is probably representative of the general difference between the two as performances, actually. I found myself more often wide-eyed in wonder at the technical skills and grace of the ballet performers than I did the contemporary dancers. But that is simply a matter of different genres, really, and both very definitely deployed the capabilities and motifs of their formats very well indeed to tell the sorts of stories they wanted to tell.

In the end, I mainly just want to see both of them again, which unfortunately isn't possible for live performances. I missed certain aspects of the ballet in last night's contemporary dance version - especially the homoerotic tension between Dracula and Jonathan Harker, and the vampire brides' sheer exuberance in their own femininity and vampirism. But I did enjoy the visceral brutality of this performance, and the clever creative touches like the mechanical rats and the impaled / crucified brides, while its Lucy was absolutely amazing and did get the exuberant enjoyment of her own vampirism which had rested more with the brides in the ballet. The romantic emphasis of the ballet probably reflects not only the tendencies of the genre (for all that it certainly pushed the boundaries of what ballet does very hard indeed), but also the fact that it was first developed in the 1990s, in the wake of Bram Stoker's Dracula with its Mina / Dracula love-story. By contrast, the Mark Bruce Company version is more obviously a product of the early 21st century, and reflects the grungy, visceral aesthetic which horror films have taken on in the interim (Hammer's The Woman in Black springs to mind, for example). I have room in my heart for both - though not, I should stress, for Bram Stoker's Dracula itself, which is Just Rubbish.

I included a trailer video of the ballet version in my previous review, so I shall finish by doing the same here for the Mark Bruce version:


See it if you possibly can.

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strange_complex: (True Blood Eric wink)
I've been having a pretty lazy, undemanding weekend - much needed after the last month and a half of zipping around the place and being intensively driven and intellectual all the time. I slept in till midday today and yesterday, and have been spending most of my waking hours lying on the sofa in my dressing-gown, drinking coffee, reading the internet and watching the snooker (which is throwing up a lot of surprises this year - but mainly nice ones as far as I'm concerned).

The only thing I can be said to have 'achieved' this weekend is to make the attached icon, which took me through quite a steep learning-curve with Adobe ImageReady (it's only the second animated icon I have ever made), but which I am now really proud of and very slightly in love with. I believe I have tipped over in this last week from thinking that True Blood is a pretty cool show which I'm careful never to miss an episode of, into full-blown squeeing fandom of the type which causes one to join fan communities ([livejournal.com profile] trueblood_lj seems to be the main one round these parts) and conceive crushes on regular characters.

[livejournal.com profile] lefaym made an excellent post a few weeks ago pointing out some of the many things which True Blood is getting right - well-realised characters; complex situations without simple solutions; and prominent black, female, queer and working-class characters whose lives and experiences are taken seriously and explored without the suggestion that they should somehow be ashamed or self-loathing about their under-privileged identities. I can't really improve upon [livejournal.com profile] lefaym's analysis, but I will also add that another big draw for me is the dialogue. It's sometimes very powerful, it does a brilliant job at revealing character and pushing on the plot without ever feeling forced, but most of all it regularly manages to be crackingly laugh-out-loud funny. There are a few quotations here, but TBH they don't really work out of context. They work because they all fit so well in the mouths of the characters they come out of, and in the structure of the scenes where they occur - and that is precisely why this is such a good show and so satisfying to watch.

Anyway, I did manage to get myself up off the sofa and dressed and over to Manchester yesterday evening for [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau and [livejournal.com profile] biascut's house-warming party. It was lovely to see them all set up and bright and cosy in there. I last saw the house on their first day in it, when it was mainly all boxes and make-shift furniture, but they have already made a massive difference to it in only two months, and it feels properly like their own glorious domain now. Filling it up with bright, interesting people and food and wine last night was the icing on the cake, really - as a house-warming should be.

It was also nice to discover that the trains between Leeds and Manchester really do mean that I can breeze out of the house on a summer evening with nothing but a little money and my house-keys in my pocket, sail over the Pennines in fading sunshine, spend a decent evening with fine people on the north edge of the city centre, and still be back safely curled up in my own bed by 1 in the morning. I've not really tried doing that before, but it opens up new social opportunities now that I know how easy it is.

Now it's about time I watched my recording of last night's Doctor Who so that I can find out what everyone's posts and comments about River Song's identity and Amy's developing character actually mean. Oh, it's a hard life...

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strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
Yesterday, I enjoyed a splendid day out in Manchester. I caught the train west across the Pennines in brilliant sunshine, reading Robert Harris' Pompeii as I went (and noting down the page numbers of all the things in it that annoyed me), and met up with [livejournal.com profile] angeoverhere and [livejournal.com profile] johnnydefective at the station. We proceeded for lunch at a delicious dim-sum place, where ladies with trolleys and trays kept bringing round more and more delicacies, and we just said 'yes' to whatever we wanted. Conversation encompassing jobs, houses, incoming babies, geeky T-shirts and the crazy antics of mutual friends flowed across the pork dumplings and on through town to the Art Gallery, where we enjoyed a post-prandial hot beverage while M's chair vibrated inexplicably.

At 2pm, there was a changeover of personnel: [livejournal.com profile] angeoverhere and [livejournal.com profile] johnnydefective departed to buy curtains, while I rendezvoused with [livejournal.com profile] miss_dark, [livejournal.com profile] vonheath and [livejournal.com profile] foxy76 for an afternoon of Art and Cake. We had a marvellous time wandering through the galleries discussing severed legs, decomposing eyes, family secrets and ugly crockery, interspersed in a most civilised fashion with further refreshments in the cafe. My favourite gallery was, predictably enough, the Victorian pre-Raphaelite section, which had lots of delicious Classicising scenes from the brushes of Alma-Tadema, Albert Moore and the like. I came away with postcards of this gloomily erotic Sappho by Charles-August Mengin, this Delphic Sibyl (who reminded me of [livejournal.com profile] thebiomechanoid) by Burne-Jones, and this Chariot Race by Alexander von Wagner, which was inspired by Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur.

I also bought one more postcard of a work which had stopped me in my tracks as we were going round the gallery with its sheer preposterousness )

It wasn't until I got home and actually looked at the back of the postcard that I realised it was in fact by my favourite Bad Artist ever, William Holman Hunt, who also produced this brilliant piece of creative anachronism )

That one, I'm happy to say, hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, so that I have had the pleasure of seeing it, too, in all its canvassy glory. I now feel flushed with the desire to go on an ironic Holman Hunt pilgrimage, seeking out, viewing and *koff* 'appreciating' all his works in galleries across the globe.

Anyway, after having our artly fill, [livejournal.com profile] miss_dark, [livejournal.com profile] foxy76 and I went on a very profitable shopping trip to Primark, and then wended our way eastwards again, discussing weddings and offering advice to my sister about carrot cake icing as we went. I had at one point intended to go out to Wendyhouse in the evening, but I realised that being in a fit state to do some work today wouldn't be a bad idea, given that our students arrive tomorrow, so I forewent the pleasure. And so I have spent today finishing off my curtains, doing washing and writing documentation for my new courses in a very pleasant and relaxed fashion.

Ten-minute update

Wednesday, 9 November 2005 10:18
strange_complex: (Computer baby)
I'm rather behind with documenting things I've done recently, and a combination of tiredness and busy-ness makes this unlikely to change soon. So, in the 10 minutes before I have to go and give a lecture, I present a really rushed outline of what I've been up to in the past few days:

Friday: went to Brum to see Andreas Scholl with La Mia Mama. The concert was entitled 'Senesino, Handel's Muse', and consisted entirely of arias originally written for the castrato Senesino (with a few instrumental interludes to give Scholl's voice a rest). Since Senesino was a contralto rather than a soprano, these can now be sung by Scholl, and he did so brilliantly. My stance on Scholl is that although I recognise his technical brilliance, my personal taste is such that I'm not actually that bowled over by the tones of his voice, especially when it is in the centre of its range (both in terms of pitch and volume). There's a slight rough, rushing sound around the edges which I'd prefer to do without. However, when called upon to swell and fade a long note, hit unusually high notes or perform complicated ornaments, the rushing sound vanishes, and he suddenly becomes some kind of vocal deity, causing jaws to fall in astonishment. Overall, I prefer the very pure sound of Robin Blaze's voice. But I admit that Scholl does beat Blaze when the stakes get really high, and he will always be more suited to operatic work for that reason.

Afterwards, we queued like a pair of fangirls for autographs, and I also bought the CD which Scholl has already produced of the evening's programme. Then went home and bought 'The Last Castrato', a collection of recordings made in the early 20th century by a man named Alessandro Moreschi. This was in response to the pre-concert talk, which had been all about castrati, and had revealed to me that there exists not one tiny snippet of this guy singing, as I'd thought, but in fact a whole plethora of the stuff. It also made me realise that, although not necessarily to modern tastes, he was a better singer than I'd previously believed. It'll take a while to arrive, since it's coming from America, but I can't wait to become more familiar with this voice.

Saturday: woke up in Brum having spent night with parents. Sat over coffee watching Dad replace the batteries in his 30-year-old Grundig 'Yacht Boy' radio, and explain how everyone in the country had been sent little stickers saying '3' and '4' like the ones on it when the change was made from the Third Programme and the Home Service to Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Then proceeded up to Manchester for [livejournal.com profile] angeoverhere's 30th birthday, where I caught up with some of my Bristol buddies and met some new faces from B'ham, Leeds and Manchester itself. We hung out for the afternoon in a gay bar called Taurus, and then headed for a Syrian restaurant in the evening, while Manchester made a fine attempt at exploding in celebration of Bonfire Night. Slept pretty well, and then had lunch together the next day, before heading back down to Oxford on the Sunday to finish off a lecture in a panic and deliver it on the Monday. It went fine, though. They always do.

Have also started to watch Imperium: Augustus recently, having finally worked out how to switch the Dutch subtitles off. It's very, erm... special, and will be blogged in detail later. And had a quick look on Monday at The Masque of the Red Death, realised the costumes aren't quite as amazing as I'd remembered, but have still had some decent ideas for the ball.

Well, it's lucky I'm such a quick typist (although I'm sure this is full of mistakes). Now for that lecture!

Edit: some small editing after the event to fill in details, clarify points and correct errors.

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