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Respect

Director – Liesl Tommy – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 145m

***

Biopic of legendary singer Aretha Franklin’s career up to and including her live gospel recording Amazing Grace – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

There is much to admire in this sprawling biopic of America’s legendary Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. Let’s start with the opening scene in which 10-year-old Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner), known to friends and family as Ree, wanders wide-eyed through a grown-up party with its mysterious intrigues at the house of her pastor father C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker) to sing for the assembled guests, one of whom describes the child’s voice as “going on 30”. There’s a wondrous quality to this, a child walking through an adult world she barely comprehends where her stock is already rising on account of her incredible voice. We too are intrigued by the promise of this world then blown away by her voice.

However, there is darkness in this Detroit house too: her mother Barbara (Audra McDonald) who will leave her for the last time then be announced dead in a phone call, the boy who will shut the door behind him entering her room uninvited and the resultant shame she can’t articulate, her authoritarian father who will tour her round numerous churches from age 12 and micromanage her singing career.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Annette

Director – Leos Carax – 2021 – France, US – Cert. 15 – 141m

****1/2

This musical conceived and composed by Sparks plays out as a very dark opera ending in tragedy – out in cinemas on Friday, September 3rd

Although billed as a musical, this may actually be closer to opera given that even though it starts as a story about two people deeply in love, it veers into very dark territory.

And yet framing all that, and underscoring it throughout, is the sheer pleasure of writing / composing songs… and, for that matter, performing them. The opening song is So May We Start while the closer, as the credits roll, is It’s The End. (For added enjoyment, watch 90% of the audience leave before the last song starts. Or in my case, 10% of my fellow critics.)

The former starts with the band, the brothers Mael (singer Russell and keyboard player / composer Ron, profiled in recent documentary The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright, 2021) and a backing band in a recording studio in an invitation for the proceedings to get going, swiftly joined by the film’s two leads, while the latter ends with seemingly the entire movie cast and crew walking through the countryside hoping we’ve enjoyed the show and asking us to tell our friends if we did so.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

The Sparks Brothers

Director – Edgar Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 140m

****

The rollercoaster career of musical duo Sparks with its successful hits and intermittent lapses into obscurity – out in cinemas on Thursday, July 29th

There’s a story about John Lennon phoning Ringo Starr to say, “you won’t believe what’s on television – Marc Bolan doing a song with Adolf Hitler.” This was Sparks’ auspicious debut on BBC music show Top Of The Pops in the early 1970s playing what is probably their best known track, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, a broadcast estimated to have reached some 15 million people. Everyone was talking about this the day after – that’s mentioned here, and it’s something I myself remember from my own school days: the lively energetic singer (Russell Mael) and the suited, almost motionless, keyboard player (Ron Mael) with the slicked back hair and the Hitler moustache. The Hitler appearance may not have been deliberate, but that image of the duo – the extrovert and the introvert – has become the band’s enduring media image over the years.

TOTP 1974

One gets the impression from passing moments in this film that Charlie Chaplin was an equally formative presence for Ron – and though it’s never mentioned, Chaplin made the film The Great Dictator (1940) in which he played a Hitler type despot as well as a Jewish barber unfortunate enough to look like him…but I digress.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

WITCH We Intend To Cause Havoc

Director – Gio Arlotta – 2019 – Italy, Czech Republic – Cert. 12 – 98m – English Language

***1/2

Winsome if shallow documentary follows survivors from Zambia’s seventies music Zamrock phenomenon as they reform and tour Europe – in cinemas and on VoD from Friday, July 2nd

On the verge of a pan-African trip that will take the narrator through Zambia alongside bassist / vocalist Jacco Gardner and drummer Nic Mauskoviç, intensive research reveals the Zamrock phenomenon of the 1970s which mixed traditional African rhythms with psychedelic rock music of which the band WITCH was the leading proponent. The name later turned in to an acronym for We Intend To Cause Havoc at the suggestion of the band’s then graphic designer. Sadly, many of the original band members are now dead following the AIDS crisis which hit the African continent pretty hard.

At Zanis, the state-owned television company, we enter a 16mm archive that hasn’t been opened for 17 years because the room key had been lost. The music section reveals footage of James Brown performing in Africa but nothing of WITCH even though apparently they were all over broadcast TV at the time – much of what was taped of them may well have been recorded over by footage of President Kaunda on his latest walkabout.… Read the rest

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Animation Dance Features Live Action Movies Music

Coppelia

Directors – Jeff Tudor, Steven de Beul, Ben Tesseur – 2021 – Netherlands, Germany, Belgium – 82m

****

People in an idyllic town must thwart the nefarious plans of a mad scientist in this extraordinary amalgam of dance, live action performers and animation – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Screening Events section

This isn’t the first movie to combine live action with animation nor will it be the last and while it has numerous echoes of movies intentional or otherwise, it’s very much its own vision. First and foremost a dance piece but far from mere ‘filmed dance’, it will appeal as much to admirers of the twin arts of cinema and animation as to devotees of dance. Being entirely devoid of verbal language, it’ll attract to lovers of silent cinema too. (One can imagine the film shown mute with a live orchestra playing the score.)

The lack of verbal language means that the characters are never named (just like in a ballet where you’d refer to a cast list in an accompanying programme) although tags for a number of them are obvious – several shop owners include a bicycle repair man (Daniel Camargo), a florist, a hairdresser (Jan Kooijman) and a baker of bread and cakes (Irek Mukhamedov) while a dance studio hosts a ballet teacher (Igoné de Jongh) and her child student troupe.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Movies Music Shorts

Stationary Peaceful Protest

Directors – Xhosa Cole, Shiyi Li – 2021 – UK – cert. 15 tbc – 11m

*****

Sax player Xhosa Cole recounts a #blacklivesmatter rally in Birmingham while Shiyi Li provides incredible animated images – from Sheffield DocFest 2021

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of animation at Sheffield DocFest – maybe there is and I’ve yet to find it –  but there IS this terrific little short. The soundtrack is sax player Xhosa Cole’s monologue about driving to Birmingham for a Black Lives Matter rally which people of black, white and numerous other skin hues are attending. Beforehand, he debates whether to take his horn, and does so. At the rally, he runs into his old sax teacher and the pair improvise a duet, defusing a confrontation between a black woman and a black policewoman the details of which he never knows, showing great respect for both parties.

Set against the earnest voice-over are representational images of the narrative veering towards the abstract: Shiyi Li’s kinetic coloured shapes swirl around in a manner worthy of pioneering experimental animator Len Lye, who likewise often set his visuals against jazz music. Li’s imagery flirts with infographic iconography – for example, a walk on foot into the venue traverses a carpet which is also an arrow conveying a purpose, a sense of direction.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Live Action Movies Music Shorts

Blondie: Vivir En La Habana

Director – Rob Roth – 2021 – US – 18m

*****

Watch an incredible collision of cultures as new wave band Blondie tours Havana – from Sheffield DocFest 2021

Shot in several aspect ratios by multimedia artist and Blondie collaborator Roth (Doom Or Destiny music video, cert. 18, 2017; creative director on lead singer Debbie Harry’s memoir Face It, 2019), this is a vibrant, visual account of the band’s March 2019 tour of Havana. There are clips from songs recorded at several gigs here (with Harry sporting a variety of striking outfits) that make you wish you’d been there. For some songs, the band’s sound is augmented by Cuban musicians giving the likes of The Tide Is High a completely new lease of life.

Rather than going the obvious route and simply producing a film of the concerts – which I’m sure would be well-received by the band’s admirers, among whom I number myself – Roth has mashed the digitally produced concert footage up with Super 8 and 16mm footage of both Havana itself and members of the band.

He’s also had a lot of fun augmenting numerous live action shots with 2D animation drawn directly onto the moving images adding another layer to the already complex imagery.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Sound Of Metal

Director – Darius Marder – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 120m

****1/2

A drummer must come to terms with a sudden loss of hearing which threatens everything he has worked to achieve – already out on Amazon Prime, in cinemas from Monday, May 17th

This is a triptych about the onset of hearing loss in the context of rock and roll, a redemptive rehabilitation to the world of deafness in an isolated rural community run by and for deaf people and an attempt after recovering one’s hearing to some extent via surgical implants to come to terms with the fact that life following hearing loss can never be quite the same again. The two hour film splits roughly into three very different sections along these three lines.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) are touring the States in their RV as a two person metal band, she on guitar and vocals, he on drums. Performances on stage are loud and energetic to enthusiastic crowds. In complete contrast to those moments of adrenaline rush, Ruben’s days are comparatively quiet. His morning routine consists of getting up early while Lou is asleep, doing some push-ups, putting on the coffee, dusting the mixing console while listening to 1930s jazz, making two smoothies.… Read the rest

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Music

vs Amp

Colin Webster: baritone saxophone, Fender Twin Reverb and Bassman Amps.

All tracks recorded live. No overdubs, effects or edits.

Raw Tonk Records RT050 / 2021

LP + DL

*****

Remarkable. With no overdubs or other studio trickery, Webster manages to make his sax sound variously like a weird electronic effect, a duck, a didgeridoo, a fog horn, the engine of a prop aircraft, a lawn mower and, in the final moments of the last track, the sound of water disappearing down a plug hole. And that’s just side one!!!

The opening of side two sounds like a double bass (but it’s Colin’s sax). At another point, I could swear I was listening to the mating call of a walrus or the much lighter in tone song of some species of bird.

I realise what I’m writing here is probably open to misinterpretation, so just to clarify, this album is really, really impressive. To my ears, at least.

Buy on Bandcamp.

Note: This review started life as a review on my Bandcamp page after I bought the album. Their allowed word count was too small. I didn’t want to cut it as what I’d written would have lost something.

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Delia Derbyshire: The Myths And Legendary Tapes

Director – Caroline Catz – 2020 – UK – 98m

*****

Docudrama explores the ten years the legendary electronic musician spent at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – on BBC iPlayer from Sunday, May 16th for a year

Part documentary, part drama and part performance art, this is a fascinating examination of Delia Derbyshire, the woman who between 1962 and 1973 worked in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The film does examine her life and career before and after that, but only briefly. After studying mathematics and music at Cambridge, she became interested in music as an expression of mathematics and, as such, knew that the Radiophonic Workshop was the place she wanted to be.

We see Delia (writer-director Caroline Katz) interviewed for a job at Decca Records only to be told that women don’t work in the technical department but there are openings for secretaries. It’s easy to see that as sexism now, but at that time such attitudes were commonplace. She wonders if her interviewer was the person who turned down the Beatles. We see interviewed Dutch video artist Madelon Hoodykas with whom she collaborated in The Netherlands after her BBC period and there’s some brief footage of the LYC museum set up by Li Yuan-chia near Hadrian’s Wall where she spent some time after a disastrous marriage to a man with whom she had little in common with beyond drinking.… Read the rest