Category Archives: Film & TV

National Lampoon

These Penguins are not going Cheap

These Penguins are not going Cheap

What is the most traditional thing about Bonfire night in these modern times, no, it isn’t a penny for a guy is it?   The last firework has only just faded from the night sky when we have to look with wonder at the next twinkling spectacle, the premiere of all those bloody Christmas ads.

Once upon a time, the Marks & Spencers ad was the trademark of British advertising quality.   But just as their fortunes have dipped on the high street their ad men have also fallen from favour.  John Lewis has reigned supreme recently.  Proper little tear-jerkers;  not only selling the wares but selling us the wonders of the human existence.  Every year they hit the double bullseye of heart and wallet.

But not this year.  I know it is heresy for a nice middle class woman of a certain age to say this but #montythepenguin is a bit meh.  It just doesn’t it do it for me.  Yes, the payoff is wonderful, and yes it is so the-done-thing that there is scant merchandise on view, but I am a little fed up of seeing children who look like they  might have been shipped off as cute little evacuees in flannelette pjs and dressing gowns.  I know nostalgia from Cath Kidston onwards sells home furnishings everywhere but I want to acknowledge the era I live in too instead of looking misty-eyed to a time that didn’t really exist and conveniently brushes under the hand-woven rug, all the repression of those times.  Just watch Masters of Sex to remember how little control women had over their own lives in the 50s.

Nope this year the ad that has caught my eye, that makes me feel most akin to the Christmas experience is the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation parody, the Tescos ad.  I know this has come as one hell of a statement from me, a life long member of the anti-Tesco club (see here for previous musings on the corporate behemoth ).   Their multiple recent financial difficulties do smack of a huge dose of karma to me.  But flipping heck I love their ad.   We are all becoming a nation of Clark Griswalds, creating ever brighter Blackpoolesque illuminations to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus.  Perhaps we are all trying to recreate the wondrous sight of the archangel Gabriel lighting the skies proclaiming the coming of the Messiah or maybe there is a deep-seated desire to be the shiniest star on the street to compensate for being a sheep (or an ox or a third tree from the left) in our school nativity.  But whatever it is, I do love the effects of the lights lifting the gloom of winter.

I do feel guilty criticising St John of the Lewis,  but this year I am saying it.. shove off Monty back to the South Pole with your £95 price tag and hello Tescos’ light show; it’s cheesy, feel-good and doesn’t take itself seriously at all.  Just how it should be.  I shall enjoy your take on Christmas cheer but just don’t expect to see me in aisle 5 of one of your stores any time soon!


O Captain My Captain



The O Captain My Captain scene from Dead Poets Society flashed through my mind the minute I heard about the sad death of Robin Williams.  I wasn’t only one.  All over social media people were playing the above clip in tribute or even, as in the office of ITV2, recreating the scene themselves.

The film had a huge impact on me when I saw it as very unworldly 22 year old living in London.   I would like to say spurred on by John Keating’s message that life was for living, that I did seize the day,  but on reflection I think it took another 30 years.  Still don’t they say better late than never!

So I had been eager to watch the film again as my own tribute to that funniest  (and hairest) of funny men, and I did last night.

The film seems to have held up pretty well over the past 25 years (maybe a lot better than me).  I was stuck by the precision of Robin Williams’ acting as the inspirational English teacher John Keating.  His look, his manner, his voice, I was right back in the classroom.  I was amazed how many lines from the film had stayed with me and how I could remember that O Captain My Captain came from a Walt Whitman poem.  If if had come up in a Mastermind question the week before I wouldn’t have been able to answer.

Moving performances too from the then teenaged unknowns,  now household names, Robert Sean Leonard or Wilson in House, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles (Will Gardner from The Good Wife).  The only place I thought the film had dated (except for the very obviously late 80s synth soundtrack which jarred otherwise perfect 1959 period piece)  was in our modern age of constant social media, ultra violent video games such as GTA and COD,  underage binge drinking and drug taking that a bunch of boys who went to the woods at night read the poems of dead men would be celebrated by all in education not castigated and expelled.  I tried to read Ode To Autumn, my very favourite poem by my favourite dead poet John Keats (the similarity to name to John Keating can not be an accident) and my, then young, son just sniggered at the perceived rude bits “close bosom’d friend of maturing sun”  “Bosum, mum you said bosum”.

It made me wonder what  Ofsted would make John Keating’s teaching methods.   Would they see enough planning, he certainly demonstrates outstanding knowledge of his subject and it is clear he had high expectations for his class to learn from him.   How though do you measure this ability in exams, and to do it fairly.   For the first time I could see the point in curriculums; syllabuses to be studied and regurgitated at exam time.  How else can you really do it?  Especially as there provides a safely net for parents and students.  Do this this way and you are pretty much guaranteed your result.  Exam Fodder.

The film deals with the culture clash that was to define the 1960s as tradition and conformity made way for personal freedom and emotional expression.   The Old Guard found John Keating’s teaching incendiary.  The revolutionary idea to be yourself, express yourself was, to parents who had made sacrifices to send their sons to the school and therefore felt compelled to map out for their children’s lives into adulthood, to make them accepted, intolerable.   To the Establishment this was treason.    There was no question the Headteacher’s mind.  The blood was on John Keating’s hands.

Not much so much has changed today.  How to educate our children is a debate that rages on still.   Tony Blair swept to power on the platform of “Education, Education, Education”.  You can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about another change to way we school our offspring.   Just the day before I heard the head of Eton College speak of his desire to get rid of all exams up until A-level.  How schools are in the thrall to the University’s desire for grades.  How we fail our children if we “spoonfeed” them their education.  That we have to make them think for themselves.  How the exam system was so artificial.  That we don’t go out into the world of work and get supplied with all the information to do a good job and work individually.  No we work collaboratively and we have to teach children to be able work like this at school.  But I don’t think there is an educator in this country brave enough to free things up to that extent.  No matter how many times Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk asking is school killing creativity is  played on You Tube.

Of course school is so much more than just getting qualifications, it is about socialising and learning about to get on with your peers.  Exposure to new experiences and cultures help you take those nascent steps to building your own tastes and fashions.  It’s about falling in love for the first, and usually the most painful time.   If you are lucky it is about building self-confidence and resilience.   It’s safe environment to learn about the world and how you fit into it, school is where we realise that we might be the centre of our parents’ universe but to the rest we but one part of it, vital and essential but just a part of it like everyone else.

But back to John Keating, despite how the old guard viewed him I think most parents would like a teacher to inspire a life-long love of learning, to impart an appreciation for knowledge for knowledge sake.  Schools have changed beyond recognition from when I was at school.  I am very glad to see the growth of pastoral care and it makes me wish I was going through the education now.  But  I  had some wonderful teachers, but in particular an incredible English teacher, Mr Thurlow, and an inspirational history teacher Mr Hopkinson.   With his tweed jacket and his mischievous twinkling eyes he dropped  left of centre ideas like truth bombs into minds used to only hearing from the Right.  He was the teacher who said there will be a nugget of information taken away by every pupil and never forgotten.  Well he told me mine and only today I retold the tale of the suspicious Russians serfs feeding the revolutionaries to the pigs after mistaking them for tax inspectors.  Pigs that would eat up every trace of the Moscovites, hair, skin and nails and although I am not a teacher I like to think I am continuing on the tradition in my own little way.


A Portrait of An Artist

Today’s blog is a hymn in praise of Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize winner potter,  sublime artist, transvestite and up there for most interesting person alive award.  He is warm, engaging and completely brilliant.

Who are you?  Grayson and his alter-ego Claire is himself  the perfect metaphor for how we all have our different sides to project to the world

Who are you? Grayson and his alter-ego Claire.  A living metaphor for how we all have our different sides to project to the world; that we are all our own works of art

I can not get enough of him, his art and his ideas.  His ability to articulate high concepts to a layperson in his series of Reith Lectures on Contemporary was extraordinary.  He is a natural teacher.   If you didn’t hear the lectures you can download them from the BBC website.

His Channel 4 documentary last year on taste and class was so revelatory.  He looked at working, middle and upper class in turn and through meeting members of the public and observing them in their home environment examined how we use objects to identify which social strata we belong to and why.    That he managed to do this without judgement, his questioning, probing but always with the utmost sensitivity, was remarkable.  We might have moved away from a “know your place society” but those social-economic fault lines run deep in the British psyche still today.    That he was able tackle this fascinating but potentially very tricky subject without putting a foot wrong says everything about Grayson himself.  How he communicates his thoughts and ideas is so thrilling it feels like my mind lights up as I drink in his words.  It may sound a little far-fetched but I can almost feel my synapses buzzing and fizzing with excitement.  The very definition of mind-expanding.

He is now tackling identity in modern Britain with the same humanity.    In the past two episodes he has created portraits of his subjects using several different disciplines. (They are currently being displayed at the National Portrait Gallery until March).  As you would expect from this thought-provoking artist, he is tackling a very broad array of individuals and groups.  From a recently released from prison Chris Hulme; a White British girl who converted to Islam (hers was a tapestry hijab showing her life story); a transsexual depicted as an Peter Pan like African statue in bronze; a Christian collective; a gay couple with a mixed race child;  and last week so movingly he dealt with a couple whose husband was suffering with Alzheimer’s .  How who we are are is so wrapped up in the lives and memories of other people, especially in our nearest and dearest,  and what happens when that starts to disappear.  It was profoundly touching and when the wife saw the pot where Grayson had depicted their lives and memories with the family photos cut into shards she said you have got it exactly right.

It seemed that night the whole of Twitter were in tears, there was an outpouring of admiration, love and praise for Mr Perry.  If he wasn’t already a national treasure before he certainly is now and it delights me that a man of his many abilities and intelligence is curating our multifaceted modern lives for future generations with such empathy.

If you haven’t heard or watched him yet please have a look, I promise time with Grayson Perry will enrich your life in so many ways.  The third episode of Who Are You? is on Channel 4 on Wednesday 10 pm

and if you live in Leeds The Vanity of Small Differences, the set of 6 tapestries he created in conjunction with his look at British aesthetics is being displayed at Temple Newsam until 7 December.





As the final treat of the Christmas Holidays I took my 12 year old son and my 7 year old daughter to see the new Disney animation Frozen.

The trailer gave no clues to the story, the comical snowman and the hungry reindeer competing for the carrot over a frozen lake.  However did transpire was a sumptuous piece of animation.  The story of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses living in a far away kingdom, who had to deal with the devastating side effects of  the elder girl, Elsa’s powers.  With the merely touch of her fingers she was able to conjure up snow and ice.  The trouble was she was unable control it and after a playful game getting out of hand, little Anna was nearly killed.  The parents’ way of preventing this ever happening again was to keep  the girls safe by isolating them from the world and each other

The story then evolved into a quest for one girl’s love and devotion to save her sister from a life of misunderstanding and loneliness.

It was great to watch a Disney film with two strong female main characters, and although there was much talk of the redemptive qualities of an act of true love, the denouement was not a romantic act (I will say no more in case you haven’t seen it).  I applaud Disney for continuing to debunk the damsel in distress myth.  That all a girl needs for a happy ever after is to marry her Prince.  It probably takes quite a bit of pressure off the boys too!

I knew that the film was loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Snow Queen, and as I loved his stories as a child, even though I was unfamiliar with this one, I thought it would make a great bed time story for my daughter that evening.

As we read together the story of the Kai and Gerda it was instantly apparent the film bore scant resemblance to Mr Anderson’s story.  In his, the Snow Queen was shadowy malignant figure that entranced Peter and led him away.  She was more like a wicked female Jack Frost.  I could see parallels to the spirit characters of folklore and I could see that C S Lewis’ White Witch borne many of her icy hallmarks, enticing Edmund with her glacial stare and her Turkish Delight.

The story was much less sentimental, much less feel good,  a fairy tale with a darker seam. I know this is nothing new from Cinderella to The Little Mermaid, modern versions of fairytales have been revised and sanitised .  Every edition made happy and brighter as not to alarm and frighten children.

When I first visited Amsterdam I left with two deep impressions, (apart from the beauty of the Van Gogh Museum and the horror of the Anne Frank house, and of course just how all the canals look alike in the dark.. I digress).  We walked along the red light district and I saw the girls in the windows, ordinary women, not tanned, not super fit, not beautiful and definitely not sexy in my view of sexy.  All I could think is why don’t they look like Julia Roberts in Pretty Women? I mean to my 20 something self that is what a sex worker looked like.    The tart with a heart of gold.  A long  way further down the canal I realised that it is Hollywood who is painting the false picture.  The women who are selling their bodies for sex do not have the wherewithal or the resources for even the most basic health and beauty regimes.

The next day I was in the Dutch equivalent of Habitat, it might even have been Habitat.  It was desirable interiors a-go-go and like in Habitat there was a section for those cool toys that are featured in weekend supplements, but you never see in children’s arms.  What I did notice that all the cuddly toys were bears and such like and they all had teeth and claws.  Albeit felt ones but they were still there.  That they hadn’t been airbrushed out of existence.  That children grew up knowing these animals, even in the soft toy form, were able to hunt and kill.

What is the cost to our children to all this lightening up of stories?  In a sentence that will probably make Nigel Farage spit out his pint, is the European way the right one?  Have we protected our children so much from the bad things in life we have made the world look unrealistically cosy, too friendly and perfect?   A world they will not be able to replicate in adulthood, ultimately leading to a life of disappointments as they try to live up to the fairytale.   In protecting their childhoods from any darkness have we damaged them by not realistically preparing them for how the world really is?  Mostly wonderful but inevitably  with bumps and swerves in the road that have to be endured and survived.  That no one can rescue you but yourself.  Frozen went some way to getting the message to our daughters but in these hyperpink worlds we are creating for them to live in, there is still much more work to be done.


Title Contender

These might be up there for my favourite opening credits ever, witty and so tongue in cheek.  All the old corny cliches for sex, the train going into the tunnel, the champagne popping , the fireworks, they are all there.  The Neon Bingo sign makes me laugh out loud every time.

But what comes after is one of the best, well-written, well- acted dramas I have seen in a long while.  The period styling of the mid 60s puts it on a par with Mad Men and the story they are telling is electrifying.  Masters of Sex (Channel 4 10.00 pm Tuesday) is about the pioneering scientific studies done by Masters and Johnson in the human sexual response.

It is how they then weave the individual stories of the characters to illuminate the research are breath-taking, every issue from the time is there, from the right of a woman to be able to control her own fertility to how homosexuality was still considered deviant behaviour.  A central theme is how does an intelligent woman make her mark in the world and still manage to be a mother.  A theme that still chimes today.  And last week’s episode debunking Freud’s infantile views on female sexuality should be taught as a masterclass in screenwriting classes everywhere.

Michael Sheen is wonderful as the very buttoned up academic Bill Masters and Lizzie Caplan lights up the screen as Virginia Johnson.  If you haven’t tried it already, give it a whirl, I promise it will leave you gasping for more.



This is genius.  Some tv producers must have watched The Royale Family and thought why we don’t we film telly addicts watching their favourite shows for real.  Thus Caroline Aherne voiced the first series and now it’s Dave’s (Craig Cash) turn for series 2.   It’s that simple and it is so watchable for the same reasons other Channel 4 documentaries such as 24 Hours in A&E and the Educating Series have been.  It shows all the beauty and pathos of humanity in our most mundane moments.   You can be roaring with laughter one minute and crying the next .  Viewing everyone shed a tear for Mushy the boy with the stammer on Educating Yorkshire was even more moving than watching the original transmission.  I confess my screen went very blurry for a second time.  Sadly I can’t find the Educating Yorkshire clip (another outstanding show) but here is a taster, if you haven’t already discovered the delights of Stephanie & Dominic, Jean & Leon et al goggling at the box.


The White Queen

I am weeping already.  Tonight at probably around 9.30pm Richard of York is going to give battle in vain.  It’s fair to say I am dreading it.

If you haven’t watching The White Queen BBC1 Sunday nights at 9.00 pm what have you been doing?  It has been the most wonderful, glorious historical drama based on the War of The Roses, which I now know was called the Cousins War at the time and was one of the bloodiest periods of English History. So it is educational as well as hugely entertaining. Double Whammy!  This time though it most originally and refreshingly told from the female perspective.  Women may have living with little control in their own futures, but this drama shows you just how much  power they held as wives, daughters, sisters and mothers.   Margaret Beaufort (played by Amanda Hale) mother of Henry Tudor is scarily ambitious for her son, believes she is on a mission from God and demonstrates political nous Machiavelli himself would have been proud.

I won’t deny I found it hard to follow at first.  Everyone seemed to be called Edward, Henry, Richard, Margaret or Elizabeth.   Where there no other names in Medieval times? Luckily the Earl of Warwick was also called the Kingmaker, which helped him stand out a bit but there was so much double-dealing and swapping of allegiances it made my head spin!  Thank God for internet on phones these days,  a quick consult with various historical websites before every episode and suddenly I got it, I understood how everyone thought they had claim to the throne.  It was as if I could spot the money every time in a con man’s game of 3 cups, no matter how fast he moved them around.

The whole cast has been wonderful, full of the next generation of British Acting talent.  It was brave of the BBC to commission a 10 episode drama containing very few star names.  But I am so glad they did.  I will admit thought at the start I watched for Janet McTeer as Jacquetta, the White Queen’s mother, another compelling performance (if you haven’t seen her in Albert Nobbs I recommend you rent it out straightaway, she is a joy and delight in every scene). Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson has been excellent as the titular Queen, a commoner whose radiant beauty helped her rise to be Queen of England (some things never change even in 600 years!) but as you might have guessed my eye has been most caught by Richard of York, better known to the world as Richard III, played brilliantly and with increasing intensity as his proximity to the Crown drew ever closer.

Played by Aneurin Barnard,  Richard, Duke of Gloucester is no bunched-back toad or bottled spider of  the Shakespeare play.  He is much more Edward Scissorhands than Richard Twisted Limbs. The loyal brother of  Edward IV, I feel the Ricardians, so recently delighted with the location of his skeleton in the car park in Leicester, would feel this is a much fairer portrayal.  Still there are moments of great complexity and ambiguity of character. For example when he married Anne Neville, daughter of the aforementioned the Earl of Warwick, there was a sense of uneasiness, was really he rescuing her from his increasingly unstable brother George, Duke of Clarence or was he thinking of himself and the riches he would gain?  As an audience member you are never quite sure, is it duplicity or affection? I guess we will never know.  As always the truth is probably somewhere in between.  My view, for what it is worth, is that he was a good man but becoming King made him act in ways he wouldn’t have ordinarily to keep the Crown.  It is this beautiful nuanced performance, this uncertainty, constantly keeping the audience on its toes to try to work out his motives makes me think that Aneurin Barnard has a very big future ahead of him.  I am definitely putting him on my one to watch list.

And just because I love this Horrible Histories song so much, here it is again, the song that first made me realise that the history books “might have been telling it wrong” and that Richard III “was a nice guy” after all!


Square Eyes

There are so many great new TV shows at the moment that my eyes are in great danger of turning distinctly square-shaped.

The Returned Sunday Channel 4 9.00 pm

Camille – just your average returned from the dead teenager

Spooky goings on in a small French town.  Comparisons have been made to Twin Peaks but this eight part story of much loved family members inexplicably returning from the dead has a look all of its own.  The colours all seemed tinged with a greeny grey, as if touched with embalmer’s brush.  Eerily gripping from the dramatic opening sequence, it’s a must watch.

Dates Channel 4  – Tues & Wednesday 10.00 pm

The first three episodes of this acutely well observed comedy aired this week.  I strongly recommend catching up on 4OD.  It’s a simple premise.  Each night two people meet for a blind date.  The resultant conversations are pitch perfect, I haven’t been on a date in 20 years but it brought all back.   The nerves, the butterflies, that cringey combination of  toe-curling awkwardness coupled with that desperate need to be liked and not rejected.  It is all there and played out to perfection.

So far the acting has been outstanding, Well Mellor, Sheridan Smith, Neil Maskell (fast becoming my favourite actor of the moment) and Ben Chaplin were superb, but Oona Chaplin (The Hour, Game of Thrones) as the gorgeous but witheringly disdainful Celeste/Mia has been a glory to watch.  In turns, mean, bitchy, breathtakingly insulting, engaged, drawn in, interested.  It all flitted across that beautiful face like clouds scurringly across the sky on a breezy day.

Mia: less date night more fright night

I can’t wait for next week’s instalments.

The Fall – BBC 2

This is one series the iplayer was made for.  A police procedure that didn’t break all the rules.  For once there wasn’t a maverick cop, a tortured genius battling against their demons to find the killer.  No, we knew who he was from the get go and there was a woman on his case.  And what a woman.   Detective superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) was brought in from the Met to Belfast to review a stalled murder case of a young, professional female.  Gillian Anderson’s Gibson is a woman on the top of her game, intelligent, confident and very in control of her emotions and her working environment.  If that wasn’t enough her silk blouses have over taken Sara Lund’s jumper as the lusted after wardrobe item.

This thrilling psychological drama refined creepy.  It was scary and chilling and very very watchable, so much so it a second series has already been commissioned.  If I haven’t persuaded you, watch this trailer it really sums up how original this series was (and the music is hauntingly beautiful.

So if you don’t hear from over the next few weeks, now you know why!  Happy watching, if you watch I hope you enjoy them too.  Let me know what you think!


Stoned Love

You might remember my blog detailing the reasons why I wouldn’t be getting a ticket for Heaton Park for the long awaited Messianic return of the Stone Roses.  (click here to read it).  Well on Wednesday I went with a friend (who was at Spike Island) to see the Shane Meadows documentary, The Stone Roses: Made of Stone.  It is fair to say after watching this beautiful love letter from an ardent fan of the Roses, I was ready to hitch down to London this weekend and get a scalped ticket for Finsbury Park.

Adored.  That is what Ian Brown sang isn’t it?  Adored.  And that is what they are, still.  Even Liam Gallagher was on screen to give praise.  They maybe older, grizzlier, wiser and for the most part calmer, but they are still revered and worshipped by an army of fans that never gave up the dream of seeing them back together and Shane Meadows has captured the hope, the fears, the euphoria (and the downs) of the reunion last year.

Shane Meadows may not have made a documentary before, but as the director of some of the finest social realism films of recent times, (Once Upon a Time in the Midland, This is England) I am glad he was behind the camera.

This is a fan’s film, it can’t be repeated enough a glorious love letter to the Stone Roses. There was some incredible footage of John Squires and Ian Brown as Scooter Boys in Great Yarmouth in 1978.  There was film of The Stone Roses’ first gig, with Ian Brown in a buttoned up silk shirt dancing on stage not unlike a young Morrissey.  There were flyers and posters and artwork galore.  There is behind the scenes footage of rehearsal, and coverage of the free warm up gig in Warrington, where the fans tell the story of their devotion and love.

And the four of them back together again.  The camera looks upon them as we would, with wonder and amazement and deep joy that John Squires, Ian Brown, Mani and Remi are together again.  There is the build up of the warm up gigs, and incredible footage of Heaton Park.  Shane Meadows using a spilt screen in a way reminiscent of the Woodstock film.

My friend and I sang all the way through and we clapped and cheered at the end.  Stoned Love?  You bet I have and if you have too, this is a film you have to see.


My ideal weekend….or why i love watching films so much.

A couple of weeks ago, on a very sunny weekend, I sat in a darkened room in London with around 50 other strangers and watched clips from films, most of them,  unjustly, long forgotten.  I was attending the Guardian Masterclass in Film Appreciation hosted by my favourite film critic, Danny Leigh (co-host of Film 2013), with other sessions presented by Xan Brookes and Peter Bradshaw the Guardian Film Critics (I must start listening to their podcasts) and Catherine Bray also from Film 2013 and editor of

We looked at the lives and works of 10 (and a half) giants of the screen*, and it was everything I could have hoped for and so so so so more.  I learnt so much.  About film-makers I didn’t know about, such as the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, and cinematographer James Wong Howe.  I learnt more about directors I was already familiar with; Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Michael Haneke and Nora Ephron. I learnt there are some films that you know already, that have been part of your own family film history  but you never knew the director’s name, such as Douglas Sirk, and Imitation of Life.  A film viewed by my mother’s side as I began to fall in love with watching stories unfold on the screen.  Imitation of Life is about class and race and most importantly about the unfathomable depths of unconditional love a mother has for her child.  It was certainly a story that resonated with my own mother because she had recanted the plot to me hundreds times before.  Danny talked on a number of occasions about the emotional impact of films, how the editing can make your heart thump, or how a scene can remind you of falling in love.  How certain stories chime with you because of experiences in your life. This for me watching Intimation of Life with my mum (and other such wonderful  melodramas as Gone with the Wind, Mildred Pearce,Little Women) is cinema as an heirloom, as memories and emotions to be handed down from generation to generation as importantly as furniture or valuables.  This weekend I took my own son to the cinema as a treat for him finishing his SATs.  We went to the Everyman Cinema, newly opened in Leeds, and relished Star Trek Into Darkness (Benedict Cumberbatch was truly magnificent as always) on those delightfully comfy sofas.  Harry whispered to me during the opening credits that this was the best 3D experience he had ever had, and I thought on the way home, perhaps this would be a treasured memory for Harry too.  I guess that is up to time and Harry though.  It was certainly a wonderful experience for me.

Also on the weekend I learnt about the magical art of the editor and we were shown clips from Scorsese classics Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, as he had a very close and creative partnership with Thelma Schoonmaker. It was so good to see these again.  The  chosen scene from Goodfellas’ was the one which so evocatively uses the ending of Layla, the wailing guitar accompanied by the melancholic piano whilst we are shown the gruesome results of double-crossing the mafia.   That music has stayed in my head all week, providing me with my own soundtrack, albeit to gentle rhythms of domesticity, making packed lunches and despatching the children to school, yet these images seemed incongruously inappropriate compared to those of wiseguys deep frozen in refrigerated lorries.  Martin Scorsese was one the first to use this juxtaposition of image and music, the gentle music seems to make the violence more intense, more graphic, more brutal.  He came up the idea simply because of all the music he heard playing in the street from surrounding apartments and restaurants when he was growing up.  Why do I spent any time watching films not up to this standard, maybe it was better to re watch masterpieces over and over than to watch junk just because it was unseen.   I guess there is a close analogy with food, the gourmet meal and Mcdonalds, I guess sometimes you just feel like a Big Mac (or should I say royale with cheese!).  This was brought home hard last night when I was made to watch Salt with Angelina Jolie, a nonsense espionage action piece. Eating the cardboard box the big mac comes in would have been more satisfying.

If you can’t remember just how sublime that scene is, here it is again, try to watch for the magical editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, but she is so good, it is nigh on impossible, it as her work transports you through the narrative.

It really does seem that way to me, it is done so well it appears invisible and yet it is in the editors’ suite that the film is made.  Danny Leigh said he saw the editor rather like the drummer in the band, there to give the foundations, the rhythm and pace of the film.  As with so much of the art of film-making my head finds it impossible to comprehend these concepts,  where does the director end and the editor begin, how does the writing on the script become a real world?  I can only marvel at the creativity and imagination of these people and be so grateful they produce these works that I can relish and enjoy so entirely. It is said Cinema is the newest art form.  For me it is the closest thing to magic being real.

All the speakers were so generous with their time and knowledge and very open (and kind) to our comments and views.  But the most fulsome praise must go to Danny Leigh.  Just as he is on Film 2013, he is warm, likeable and so incredibly knowledgable, encyclopedically so. His recall of movie scenes was at lightning speed.  A statement from the floor about any film would lead to a momentary hand to the head and then he would produce a description or analysis of that scene, always extremely pertinence.   He is so eloquent too,  his own use of language, extensive, funny and so descriptive, verged on the lyrical, just hear his description of Marilyn Monroe as “Cinema in a Woman”.  That tells you everything doesn’t it?  Of all the millions and millions of words used to describe the most enduring of all sex symbols, has she ever been summarised so beautifully?

Cinema in a Woman

If you are ever stuck for a a couple days’ entertainment I can’t recommend this weekend highly enough.  Danny took opinions from everyone about people working in film that could be used on the next masterclass.  Suggestions included Pedro Almodovar to Billy Wilder, from Jane Campion to John Huston, and lots of  world Cinema.  Every one sounds so tantalising, two more suggestions and Danny was creating the idea of a session comparing the films and professional rivalry of Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. (Mine would be the films and lives of Powell & Pressberger but that is a whole other blog!)  Yes I want to rebook, before this course I thought I knew something about film and film-making, I realise I know so little, but I want to know so, so, so much more.  Right if you will excuse me I have some film watching to do, off to rearrange my Lovefilm list right now.


*  The full list of the 10 (and half) Screen Giants we looked at were :- Henri-Georges Clouzot, Terrence Malick, Douglas Sirk, Buster Keaton, David Lynch, James Howe Wong, Nora Ephron Thelma Schoomaker, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Haneke, Elizabeth Taylor and I have new respect and admiration for all of them.