The Filmhouse

Oh, where to start with this? Like many in the film world, especially in Edinburgh, I am still reeling from the shock of the sudden closing of the city’s wonderful Filmhouse cinema, home also to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, also shuttered. The evening before the news broke, I was booking a screening for the weekend. In fact, I am writing this piece at the time I should be sitting in screen one of the Filmhouse to watch a tribute to the late Jean-Luc Goddard, with a screening of A Bout de Souffle (Seberg in that fabulous pixie haircut, the irreplaceable Belmondo, sigh). And then I should come out of the theatre, a satisfied smile on my face, and head into the Filmhouse’s lovely cafe-bar for a post-film relax, drink, chat, food and just plain sit there and enjoy the atmosphere.

It’s not a newsflash to say cinemas have been struggling – we all know it, I’m sure most of us who read LFF are worried about it and trying our best to support our local cinemas, especially the independent and arthouse theatres like the Filmhouse. But the suddenness of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI), the charitable body that runs Filmhouse, declaring itself in administration has taken all of us by surprise. Only a few weeks ago I was busy filing reports from the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) right here on this site, waving the flag for interesting new films and new movie makers. I’ve been going to that festival for thirty years – this year the film festival, the oldest continually running film fest on our planet – celebrated its 75th birthday.

Filmhouse at night

Filmhouse 01

And now this.

Many in the arts are struggling right now – Covid, of course, put a huge torpedo beneath the waterline of many arts organisations and venues and creators on a global scale. The final weekend before that first Lockdown, I was going home from visiting a friend, knowing it may be my last chance for a while (we had no idea just how bloody long then). I passed the Filmhouse about 11 on a Saturday night. Cinemas, theatres and bars had already closed before the Lockdown. The street was deserted save for a couple waiting at a bus stop. City centre on a Saturday evening on a street with theatres, cinemas, bars and restaurants, dead. It was a chilling omen.

Filmhouse Noir

As restrictions have eased, and cinemas returned, then had to close again, then re-open, and the struggle to get studios to get the big film content back out on schedules again so a reluctant, scared audience had more reason to go out to the cinemas again went on (thank you, Chris Nolan for sticking to your guns and supporting cinemas for your release of Tenet), we’ve seen audiences come back, but often not in the same numbers as pre-Covid. It’s a pattern I have seen repeated all over the arts, even here, in the arts festival capital of the world. The Fringe was busy this summer, but nowhere near old levels. It was wonderful to be back to a couple of weeks of film festival, but while I saw good audiences, few of the screenings were quite as busy as before. I’ve seen similar even at book events, from in-store, small scale events to the big Edinburgh International Book Festival (some big crowds for certain names, but again that feeling that the same numbers are not coming back).

Between this and the huge rise in the cost of living, with the worst of the energy price rises looming, it was too much for an organisation that had already suffered through two years of hell nobody anticipated. How many businesses and venues have had the same problems?

For me, personally though, this is a wretched blow. I first encountered the Filmhouse when I moved to Edinburgh as a student in the autumn of 1991. The generous student discounts helped me go see more films, and as film was a part of my college studies, I could bunk off classes to go to the cinema and pretend it was research (any excuse). The lovely cafe-bar has long been one of my Happy Places, one of those spots where I can go when I am having a rough time, and always feel better just being there, even if I’m not going into a film. And, of course, after making it a second home for three decades, it is packed with memories for me.

I met new friends there – the former Filmhouse education officer (outreach was always an important part of their community-minded remit), Shiona, who was a guest lecturer at my college, and who became a friend (taken far too soon from us, but I still feel her presence every time I am at the FH). I felt encouraged to try films I may not otherwise have seen, at least not on the big screen (where the experience is always different). From new European and world cinema that nobody else in town was showing, to classics , from Buster Keaton to a 70mm print of 2001. I went with friends to the film study courses during the winter night, a screening then a lecture, then, of course, a good discussion about it all in the FH bar afterwards. Again it often opened me up to film-makers I may otherwise never have encountered.

And then there’s the film festival, headquartered in the FH’s19th century building. The buzz in the FH cafe-bar at 1am, coming out of a late night festival screening was something else, often some of the film-makers would be hanging around happily chatting to people over a drink, nobody wanting to go home, all on a festival high. At a festival retrospective on the works of Powell and Pressburger, I took a dear friend to see A Matter of Life and Death, which she had never seen. Just before the film, the festival announcer produced a surprise: a very frail, elderly man walked slowly onto the stage; it was Jack Cardiff, Powell and Pressburger’s now legendary cinematographer.

He told us of being given his break by them, of working on those movies – surely some of the most beautiful British films ever made – and I swear this very old man grew straighter and younger as he talked to us of those days of post-war British film-making. Remarkable experiences like that happened at the EIFF. Ray Harryhausen chatting to an audience, Dame Evelyn Glennie coming out after a documentary about her, to entertain the audience with a solo music performance using only a single snare drum, French actor Dominique Pinon in conversation, Karen Gillan using her post Doctor Who fame to help get her own Indy film made and then screened at the festival.

Dominique Pinon at Edinburgh Film Festival 05

Kevin Smith at Edinburgh Film Festival 05

New talent like Gareth Edwards standing on stage with his actors at one in the morning after screening Monsters, long before Lucasfilms would tag him to direct Rogue One, young animators at the McClaren Animation strand, quite a few of whom would go on to BAFTA and Oscar glory later with the films they showed us and talked to us about afterwards. Sir Sean Connery, a long-time supporter of the festival, waving from the red carpet at the opening gala, at a venue that was just a few moments walk from the streets where he delivered milk as a boy, before global stardom (often wondered what went through his head when he was back in that old neighbourhood). Kevin Smith running well past his allotted speaking time after a late night screening, and nobody cared because we were all sitting there with Kevin Smith. One year I even got invited into the projection booth and met Sid and Kenneth, the venerable cine- projectors (FH being one of the few places still with trained projectionists and the ability to show actual celluloid); the magic lanterns behind the curtain.

Magic lantern 03

late night at the film festival

The people who worked at the Filmhouse and the Festival weren’t just working there -like many of us who work in arts-related fields, they were there for the love of it all. Most were well-educated and could find much better-paying jobs, but this was a special place, warm, welcoming, inclusive, and the shared love of the medium shone through it all. Being made redundant is hard enough, as I’m sad to say I know too well; the shock, the up-turning of your regular existence, the awful worries about loss of income and how you can afford to live, how hard it may be to get another job. And if it is somewhere like this, that is compounded by the sudden loss of your surrogate family, a place where you didn’t just work, you liked being there, you liked what you did, you cared about the medium, about the people , the audiences, who came to share in it. All suddenly taken from over a hundred staff, just like that.

I really don’t know what the answers are here – we’ve lost a number of arts venue in the last couple of hard years, and I think we all fear losing more. These places enrich our lives, our culture – Filmhouse and the EIFF have been a vital part of my city’s cultural life, their demise is noted on the global scale, with even Variety and Hollywood Reporter lamenting on the sudden closure. And how many other venues are wobbling right now, how many may be finished off by the surge in prices this coming winter? I wish I had a Great Idea to fix it all, but I don’t . All I can say is when you have places like the Filmhouse or events like the film festival, cherish them and support them as much as you can; just like supporting your local, Indy, neighbourhood shops, if we don’t, we lose them, like we lost the Filmhouse, and we have damned well lost enough these last couple of years.

There is a public outcry for something to be done to save both the Filmhouse and EIFF; I don’t know if they will be saved, or if they are, in what form. Fair to say the entire arts community here is still in shock at it all, and there’s no indication yet of what, if any, help may be available, we can only hope. Meantime an online petition has been started asking to save both the Filmhouse and the EIFF; fellow movie lovers sharing the link and signing it would be very much appreciated.

This article was originally penned for Live For Films

EIFF 2019 – McLaren Animation

The annual McLaren Animation award screenings at the world’s oldest continually-running film festival have always been a personal favourite part of the festival for me. Named for famed Scottish pioneer Norman McLaren, who would later found the National Film Board of Canada, this 2019 edition was particularly special – this marked the thirtieth anniversary of the McLarens at the EIFF, and the tenth, and as it happens, final year in the tenure of Iain Gardner, who has been in charge of the McLarens. I’ve really enjoyed Iain’s run taking care of the McLarens – it isn’t just the selecting and screening of interesting and diverse material, it’s the sense of encouraging and supporting and fostering new and emerging and existing talent. During the post-screening Q&As with all of the animators there is a real sense of support and encouragement, and that’s a good thing in any artistic medium if you want to have new blood and new ideas.

This year as part of the thirtieth anniversary we were treated to three rather than the usual two McLaren Animation segments, each with ten films, so thirty short works in all, covering all sorts of subjects (autobiography, documentary, politic, humour) and approaches (traditional hand-drawn, CG animation, stop-motion, puppetry and some films mixing methods). In a very welcome touch this year there was parity, a fifty-fifty split between female and male directors. At normal McLaren years there are too many films for me to go into each one individually, and that is more the case this year with the additional screening, so I’ll be sticking to my usual approach of picking out some of the films which I personally enjoyed the most.

Edinburgh International Film Festival - McLaren Animation 015
(some of the animators at the post McLaren screening Q&As – pics from my Flickr)
Edinburgh International Film Festival - McLaren Animation 020

Edinburgh International Film Festival - McLaren Animation 029

Ainslie Henderson – by now a well-kent face in animation circles and at McLaren – had a very beautiful, very emotional piece with Archie. A lovely stop-motion work, we follow an anthropomorphised dog-man (with his own actual pet dog!), the eponymous Archie, in a largely wordless film. Archie receives bad news and a key in the post – the key to this mother’s wee crofting house on one of the Scottish isles; she’s passed away, the old home is now his. Using only the movement of the figures rather than dialogue Henderson deftly conjures up that sudden, shattering blow of learning a loved one is gone, of the bottom falling out of your world, the sad journey back home to a house that is now empty, except not really, because it is filled with memories. It’s warm and sadly beautiful, with some nice little touches – Archie’s wee dog snuggling up to his master, sensing his pain – and I found myself thinking on loved ones I’ve lost and having to blink away years (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one).


(a scene from Ainslie Henderson’s Archie)

Chris and Victoria Watson’s Ladder to You also dealt with grief, in a very different way, with an elderly man, at home, now all alone and missing his wife terribly. He ponders parts of his life and the world, but nothing really works any more, not without her; without her it is meaningless, empty. When his wife’s photograph is blown out the window he follows it with a ladder to try and retrieve this last memento of her, and it takes him somewhere special. Josephine Lohoar Self’s also had that beautifully sad quality to it, a stop-motion piece about a shy young tailor, about a world where everyone wants to conform and be the same while he yearns for difference and encounters love.

Music & Clowns – trailer from Alex Widdowson on Vimeo.

JoAnne Salmon and and Alex Widdowson both impressed me with their biographical films, which were very emotionally warm and honest. Widdowson brought us Music & Clowns, an exploration of caring for a a family member with Down’s Syndrome. The parents talk honestly about the shock and surprise when their boy was born “different”, with his father commenting how as he held his newborn the moment of shock passed and he knew that he loved his boy anyway; he even, as they discuss him, reproaches his other son gently, commenting on how he may not understand everything but he is very empathic to the feelings of others, perhaps more than his brother. They talk about what life has been like, and the concerns of his parents as they get older, wondering how he will cope once they are too old, or passed on, a concern anyone with special needs family members must entertain.

Salmon gave us Chin Up, an autobiographical piece, the title riffing on one of the symptoms of Treacher Collins syndrome, where the bone structure of the face doesn’t form in the regular way, giving her a very unusual appearance (including not having a prominent chin). Again emotional honesty was key here as Salmon used differing artistic style to explore moments of her life – her birth, not being the “normal” little girl they were expecting, of not feeling particularly different until she went to school and having to deal with the unthinking comments of children, of how this affected her sense of self, how art and drawing became an escape for her, which eventually lead her to find animation and encouraged her to apply to study and then eventually create her own works.

Chin Up – Trailer – Animated Documentary from LoveLove Films on Vimeo.

Lauren Orme’s Creepy Pasta Salad was a fun piece, about a werewolf lady with low self-esteem, a man who may (or at least thinks he may be) dead and a ghost (and wondering if he is a ghost does he have to worry about that final electricity bill?), a Goth and the End of the World, and left me with a big smile. Ainslie Henderson, with Will Anderson, had more work in the form of three very brief pieces, My Best Friend (then each segment had a subtitle, such as “explodes”), nice, clean, simple graphics, two friends talking, but they are aware of being in a film, and they ponder the meaning of each title as it appears above them (you can imagine their alarm when it says “explodes”). Matthew Lee’s One Liner used claymation and drawn animation and touches on what used to be a cornerstone of British entertainment culture – the comedy double act, and more specifically who was “the funny one” (that oft-asked question that totally misses the point that these duos really only worked playing off one another).

mad dog trailer from steve boot on Vimeo.

Unsurprisingly given the last couple of years, politics hove into view during some of the films: Steve Boot had Mad Dogs, set in a pub of the same name, the classic British pub, a perfect place for examining what it means to be British in the modern era, using a collection of regulars in the pub who are all dogs, English, Scottish and Welsh (although oddly no Northern Irish), and uses a sprinkling of dialogue from the speeches of famous people among the lines as they all talk about about their sense of identity. Marta Lemos gave us Dear England, which used photo collage and drawn art among other styles, to explore the way British society has been changing, especially since the Brexit referendum, the way some elements now feel they can voice bigotry and hatred openly, the fact that some who came to make a home here, no matter how they fit in, will never be “British enough” for certain types.

I’d love to pick out more of the entries – the styles, the methods and the subjects were all so diverse we really were treated to a smorgasbord of excellent animation talent, quite a few entries being graduate degree films from students, and many of those now out in the world beyond college all still very young. I must mention Fokion Xenos who won the audience vote to scoop this thirtieth anniversary year McLaren Animation Award with Heatwave, which was a wonderful riot of colours and life in plasticine and other materials and depicted, yes a heatwave, on a tiny Greek island, rather timely given the burst of hot weather across the UK and Europe recently! And I have to give a shout out to Samantha Moore’s Bloomers, which documented the people, mostly women, who had worked in a garment design and manufacturing, and the changing fortunes over the years – the film had a very rich texture to the backgrounds, and, astonishingly Moore produced a sheet of silk (one of the fabrics the factory used) on which some of the art had been drawn then animated to give it that remarkable look and feel.

HEATWAVE – Trailer © NFTS 2019 from Fokion Xenos on Vimeo.

As I said, a real diversity of styles, methods and subjects. I’m confident that – as usually happens – we will see some of the McLaren entries crop up in a few months in the BAFTA and Oscar short animation nominee lists.

Manhattan

I claimed a bit of owed time back and left work slightly early to catch a classic screening of one of my favourite movies at the Filmhouse on the way home from work, Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan. I have it on DVD at home in my (probably way too large) film collection, but it’s a different experience watching a movie in the cinema than it is at home. Not just the obvious screen size difference – you concentrate more on the film in the cinema, you’re there in the dark, with an audience all reacting to the scenes alongside you, not at home, pausing the DVD to go and put the kettle on or check your Twitter feed.

And it was still wonderful after all these years – I think Manhattan has one of the greatest openings in cinema, Woody’s dialogue, his writer trying out lines “he adored New York, he idolised it…” over a montage of all sorts of views of the city, from the expensive fashion stores to the family neighbourhood, that iconic skyline and then, as the Gershwin soundtrack soars that skyline erupts with fireworks, all of this in glowing black and white cinematography. New York has rarely looked more beautiful on film, it’s a magical movie moment (what I call a Triple-M, just perfect scenes in a film that live in your mind’s eye ever after and always raise that reaction no matter how often you see it). And then there’s that perfectly composed scene of Woody with Diane Keaton, sitting by a bench by the river next to the Queensboro Bridge, as dawn starts to break. Sublime.

I had a little time before the early evening showing, so I parked myself in the Filmhouse cafe-bar for some food and drink before the screening. The Filmhouse is one of my “happy places”, it’s been a second home for me since I moved to Edinburgh as a student a long time ago, and being there for a movie, the film fest or even just in the cafe-bar makes me content. As I was having my drink I was, of course, reading (always a book in my bag), in this case Simon Garfield’s On the Map, a history of cartography which I picked up in a charity store recently. And right before it was time to close the book and head up to the auditorium what do I read but a paragraph on the first appearances of America on world maps, and the first mention, in the mid 1600s, of Manhattan on a map, here referred to as “Manhattes”, just as I was about to go in to see the film Manhattan. I love little meaningless coincidences like that…

Magic Lanterns

Magic lantern 01

During the Edinburgh International Film Festival last week I saw a film called Cinema, Mon Amour, a documentary about a group trying to save an old cinema in Romania. Afterwards the Filmhouse very kindly gave us a short tour of the main projection booth – we had to be quiet and I couldn’t use the flash as another festival screening was going on below us (we could see it through the wee rectangular window in the booth). The pair of decades old cine projectors are named Kenneth and Sid – even in this bastion of arthouse and international film, the Carry On movies have influence!

Magic lantern 02

Quite nostalgic for me to see these and hear them – the whirring sound of anaologue projectors is part of my childhood memories of cinema, and at home we had a Super 8mm cine camera as well as our 35mm still cameras, and we screened them quite often on long winter’s nights for the family. There’s something satisfying about old analogue tech like this, you can see it moving, see how it works. The Filmhouse must be one of the last cinemas in the city that retains the ability to show actual film prints as well as digital and properly trained projectionists. They were telling us about their skills, from being able to change from one projector to the other seamlessly mid-film, fixing broken celluloid to adjusting focus, ratio and even speed for different formats and eras (early films shot on hand-cranked cameras require a lot of skill to adjust the film speed, since their shooting rate varied as cameramen’s arms got tired. Lovely to see these magic lanterns which paint stories on a screen using nothing more than light…

Magic lantern 03

Magic lantern 04

Night Will Fall

Back in the autumn I went to my second home, Edinburgh’s wonderful Filmhouse, to watch a remarkable documentary, Night Will Fall. Actually it’s more a documentary about a documentary – as World War Two faded into its final days in 1945 and the Allies liberated the concentration camps, camera teams were sent in to record and document the hideous atrocities, partly for evidence for the planned war crime trials, partly because even then they knew some people would say it never happened, or it had been exaggerated. The British team had film reels from British, American and Soviet teams and decided to also make a full length documentary film (appropriately, given British cinema in the 20s and 30s was the birthplace of modern documentary film). Sadly for various reasons, some political, the plug was pulled just after the war and the film, which was two thirds complete, was left in limbo, unseen, for decades, despite a script by Richard Crossman (later the famous politician and diarist) and having involvement by Alfred Hitchcock. Seven decades on and Andre Singer has made Night Will Fall, telling the story of this project.

night will fall film poster

And while I note this as one of the most impressive films I saw in 2014, I must also say it was, quite simply, the hardest film I have ever sat through. I’ve watched every kind of horror film there is over the decades, but this was true horror, the sort it is hard not to turn away from, the sort that makes you spiritually and physically ill. I have never seen an audience leave a cinema in a silence that roared so loud. Obviously given I knew this was about the Holocaust I knew to expect this going in. But you can’t really prepare yourself for it. In one scene we see captured German guards forced to clear up the piles of bodies of the murdered they hadn’t had time to bury or cremate before the Allies reached their camps (the soldiers could smell them long before they saw them, the stench of the dead and of the diseased, weakened survivors, giving lie to German civilians nearby who pretended they didn’t know what was going on). You see them picking the bodies off of piles, hoisting them over their shoulders, the arms and heads loll horribly, like a marionette with the strings cut. This was a person. This obscene thing was once someone’s dad, mum, aunt, sister, brother, son, daughter, reduced to this thing after abject, long suffering… It’s beyond vile. And those are just the remains that can be seen, not including the ones who went up the chimneys from ovens designed for human bodies…

Why the hell did I subject myself to watching something like this, you might ask? A few days before I saw this in the cinema Nigel Farage and his odious Ukip band of bigots made a deal with a far right Polish party. A party whose leader denies the Holocaust (among many other reprehensible beliefs he holds on women and other groups). This was not even for ideological reasons, Farage cosied up to this bastard and his party simply for money-grubbing reasons, to get funding for a group of like-minded parties in the European parliament. I was already considering going to see this, but that decided me – when a British politician is making deals with right wing Holocaust deniers it makes it all the more important more of us see this film, not matter how horribly hard we find it to watch what monsters in a human skin can do to others. Because we need to be reminded where their kind of bigotry leads to – first of all it is treat them different because they are ‘different’ from us, so it becomes acceptable to talk about them like that in public, in the media. Then demand legislation to legally differentiate their rights from other citizens. And then what? Smashed windows? A new crystal nacht? Then it is okay to treat them any way you want, remove them from society, put them in camps… We have been down this road. We know that small starts like that sort of xenophobic bigotry can lead to the most awful acts imaginable.

The documentary makes the point that this happened in a civilised, educated, Western society in the heart of Europe, and given the right manipulation of people’s opinions this could happen anywhere, again. And right now every country sees a rise in these right wing movements attacking immigrants, multi-culturalism, the place of women, gays, anyone who they think is ‘different’. And there is Farage, his “cheeky chappy with pint and ciggie” mask revealed for what it is, an odious little creature who happily makes deals with a party of Holocaust deniers, for which there can be no forgiveness (and why has this not been more widely debated in the media?? How can any UK politician get away with doing that in this day and age??). There is an old adage about dreadful events which we, as individuals are powerless to prevent – but if we cannot stop it (and obviously we cannot stop an even that happened decades ago) we can still bear witness. We bear witness so that it will be remembered and not allowed to happen again. And so I watched Night Will Fall, all the way through, hard as it was. On January 24th, as part of Holocaust Memorial Day, Channel 4 will be screening the film on British television. It is difficult to watch, I know, but please try. And Farage, perhaps you should watch this then explain to the entire British electorate why you are making friends with scum like your Polish Holocaust denying party chums.

From Belle Epoque Parsian adventures to a Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Over the long holiday weekend I managed to catch up on three different films in three different Edinburgh cinemas, starting with Luc Besson’s French-language movie adaptation of the great French comics artist Jacques Tardi’s wonderful Adele Blanc-Sec graphic albums, sitting in the Art Deco delights of the lovely Cameo, sipping beer (as the auditorium is licensed and you can take in your drink from the bar, very civilised). It is a fab adaptation of Tardi’s work, taking the plot of two of his graphic novels (a magically revived pterodactyl from le Jardin de Plantes) and Adele’s quest to find and bring back a mummy who was supposed to be an especially gifted doctor to help her critically injured sister) and very effectively interweaving them into a hugely enjoyable adventure romp split between Egyptian tombs and the beauties of Belle Epoque Paris. I loved the comics (now being translated into English by Fantagraphics), they give a cracking adventure yarn much like Herge’s immortal Tintin, except aimed at an adult audience. Highly recommended and hopefully there will be another – certainly they seemed to set it up so there might be another and there are plenty of the comics to borrow plots from. Oh and I did like the ancient Egyptian’s joke about pyramids and the Louvre.

On the holiday Monday I went to catch Ken Branagh’s big screen adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Thor – as one of my comics chums remarked Thor is a character who could so easily end up being ridiculous cheese if not handled correctly. And a number of folks wondered at a director best known for highly regarded Shakespearean works helming a major summer action/comics hero movie. But in truth Brannagh handles it perfectly – he understands myth and how important that is (remember Thor isn’t just a superhero in a cape, he is a god) and also borrows from Joseph Campbell’s idea of the journey of the hero. Add in some romance, some good character development, some enjoyable action and some humour, not to mention some spectacular visuals (not least Asgard and the rainbow bridge). A smart, well made comics flick for grown ups and a good start to a summer season of cinema that is heavy with comics related releases.

The stand out for me, however, was a visit to my beloved Filmhouse, long my second home in Edinburgh, for the budget matinee afteroon. I went to see the latest film from acclaimed (and often decliamed, I suppose!) director Werner Herzog, a documentary on the Chuavet Cave in southern France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The cave was only found in 1994, sealed for millennia after landslides covered up the original, large entrance used in paleolithic times. Within the explorers found a beautiful cave of exquisite stalactites and stalagmites, mineral deposits that had taken thousands of years to form… And the earliest human artworks… Beautiful art painted deep inside the cave system, some 32, 000 years old. When prehistoric humans first started painting here the great ice sheets covered most of Europe beyond; there was no English channel and you could walk from Paris to London (if they existed) with dry feet; now extinct animals roamed the land like wooly mammoths, wooly rhinos and cave bears and there were two distinct species of humans in Europe. Only one of which made intricate artwork – not the neanderthals, but the homo sapiens. Our direct ancestors.

Some of the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful – and so well executed and so well preserved there were suspicions it may be an incredibly elborate hoax, but carbon dating plus the mineral build up over some artworks has proven their authenticity (although some still argue over precise dates). The ancient artists were astonishing – not only working in a dark cave with only firelight to see by, but cleverly using the cave itself, using the curves and protrusions of the walls and outcrops, suiting their animal depictions to the contours to give the maximum effect of animals

Edinburgh, wet, dark night

I was off at my second home, the Filmhouse this afternoon, to catch some of the annual French Film Festival. I was taking in some short films today; as usual with a collection of shorts, be it movies, prose stories or whatever, it’s a mixed bag, some good, some so-so, some quite interesting, some that seemed meandering and had no point, others that were nice little examples of a brief but well contained tale or experience (because not all of them were narratives). I think my favourites were an old one from the 70s (judging by the film stock and the vehicles. I later found it was actually made in 76), C’était un rendez-vous , which was simply a high speed drive through the streets of Paris as dawn was breaking, coming up the the Place d’Etoile, round the Arc du Triomphe, down the Champs Elysee, Place de la Concord, roar along the Rive Droit alongside the Ports de Lyons gate of the Louvre then turn and through the Louvre (no IM Pei glass pyramid visible back when this was filmed) and eventually, judging by the increasing slops heading into the Montmartre region and stopping near Sacre Couer at the end (I was quite pleased I remembered my Parisian geography and could follow where he was going for the most part). Camera position stays fixed all the way through and the car never stops (alarmingly at some points!), very simple but really cool. Just found what looks like the whole thing on YouTube, so have a look:

I was also drawn to the short films session because they were showing the first short animated work by Sylvain Chomet, creator of two of my favourite animated features, Belleville Rendezvous and The Illusionist. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is a bit rougher than his later films, but still interesting and you can see some of his styles and approaches (the Ralph Steadman influence is visible even here). Fun to see. Again it seems to be available online, so here you go:


La vieille dame et les pigeons
Uploaded by XLanig. – Independent web videos.

Came out the Filmhouse to find night had fallen and the earlier drizzle had turned to much heavier rain, so decided to catch a bus rather than walk home, while I was waiting by the stop outside the Usher Hall I had the urge to take a pic as the area has only recently been opened up again after some construction work revamping it, so the space in front of it is now opened up, with illuminated signs for upcoming events. With the lights reflecting off the wet streets I felt like getting a shot, but lacking the tripod I had to improvise, bracing the camera against a nearby post, so it isn’t quite as sharp as I’d like, but you take what you can get. Colour didn’t work well for it, but black and white seemed to suit it much better:

waiting for a bus

and while I was at it I took a quick one of the Usher Hall with it’s brand new modern extension, again with the lights reflecting on the wet paving stones:

Usher Hall, wet November night

Evelyn Glennie at the Filmhouse

One of my favourite musicians, Scottish virtuoso and solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie, will be at the Edinburgh Filmhouse for a return visit to coincide with a screening of the documentary about her, Touch the Sound. For Evelyn the title is highly approriate – she started to lose her hearing when she was a young girl and yet still continued to learn music, attend music college after leaving school then blaze an internationally successful career as a solo percussionist, a role in music that’s all but unheard of. She feels the music, the vibrations of the instruments, the feel of the material and she creates an astonishingly diverse musical world from this very physical method of listening and playing (she’s very physical on stage, I’ve seen her live several times and she’s a dynamo) from classical to folk to jazz to improv music played right on the street.

I saw this documentary a few years back at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and it was an incredible experience, touching, moving, inspiring, as music (or any real art) should be. Afterwards, in front of a sold out audience Evelyn came on with the director for a Q&A session (always one of the pleasures of Film Fest screenings, that often some of those involved will be there for a talk before or after the movie). Then one of the simplest of instruments was produced, a snare drum. The lights went back down in the cinema except for an uplighter shining up through the clear skin of the snare to Evelyn standing over it and this amazing woman improvised an incredible musical set using just a pair of sticks and a snare drum. Watching and listening to her it strikes you that sometimes some people were just born to do something, regardless of obstacles placed in their way, such as deafness; her music is inside and no lack of hearing can touch that. The screening is on Tuesday at 6 with Evelyn on hand, if you haven’t seen it I encourage you to experience it.