Sunday, 30 January 2011

Friends indeed. The King's Speech

The unlikely friendship between Lionel Logue and George VI is the real appeal of The King's Speech. The very unlikelihood of a bond between an Antipodean liberal and the stiffest of stiff upper lipped Royal is compelling. It shouldn't work and it almost doesn't. But somehow it does, and beautifully.

For what this film promises us on a deep level is that we too might find someone who will see us who we really are. It's a kind of love story played out through a chaste friendship, but is no less profound and meaningful for that. It's the yearning we have not for a return to our mother or father's embrace but for the companionship of a sibling. One who will play with us always.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tutu much. Black Swan - on release

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a good girl and good girls do ballet. She trots to class swathed in snow-frosted scarves and the sort of buttoned up pink coats worn by prim 5-year-olds. Nina is a superb ballerina (and credit to Portman for losing 9 kilos and going up on pointe - ballet's unique form of female torture). But does she have the dark passion to take on classical ballet's most demanding role? Odette/Odlie - the Swan Queen and the Black Swan? That so-tired-it-actually-died-5-centuries-ago virgin/whore claptrap.

This is the narrative thrust of this trash-gothic-campy film in which we see NIna thrust and thrash in an onanistic bed-ballet scene after her lusty svengali (Vincent Cassel) tells her to get in touch herself 'down there'. Which is really what this over blown and silly film is about. It's about Natalie Portman's body - scarred, scratched, feathered and fondled. It's also about her nemesis, a flashy dance rival (Mila Kunis) who dives between her thighs like a hungry cat.

The dance scenes are well filmed, although this viewer got giddy from too many spinning cameras. But what really fascinated me was the packed house at Notting Hill's Gate cinema last Sunday night. What were we all thinking we were about to see? A film about ballet? You're more likely to get an audience to watch a test card. We were there to see the cheap pleasures of soft porn dressed up as art-house cinema. We didn't leave disappointed.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Death Becomes Her - Giselle, Royal Ballet, ROH 19/1/11

Deep are the satisfactions to be found in Giselle currently playing at the Royal Opera House until next month. Set designer John Macfarlaine’s pastoral setting for the maid’s cottage in the first act is little more than a rustic clearing on the edge of an engulfing wood. While his Second Act places Giselle’s grave in a post-apocalyptic blasted forest of tumbled trunks and mangled roots. These are the romantically sublime backdrops for ballet’s first tale of tragic love - nature rendered as a diabolical twin to our heart's own darkness.

Last night’s leads - Leanne Benjamin (Giselle) and Edward Watson (Albrecht) – were a couple we’d instantly place together. Which deepens our shock at Albrecht’s deceit – his two-timing of Giselle with another. These are young lovers who belong together making Giselle’s breakdown and death – a frenzy of tumbling hair, head-clasping bowed stillness as compelling as it is understandable.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Genius of Mozart, BBC Radio 3, 1-12 January 2011

Two thoughts strike me listening to back to back Mozart playing now on Radio 3.

My radio is in my bedroom, so I hear the music from the distance of my living room/office and it sounds like there's a party going on back there. A late 18th century house party. Mozart's music is a witty raconteur endlessly keeping his audience chuckling with delight; hia nudging sauciness, mirth and joy. He's irrepressible - impossible to resist. And even when the music turns towards the shadows as it does in the slow movement of the Clarinet Quintet K 581, there is still beauty - an aching melancholy.

My other thought is about Mozart's unsurpassed invention. Take the sonata for two pianos, K448 of 1871 written when he was 25. Like so much classical music this is built on the idea of a theme and its variations. A simple melody is inverted, ornamented, stretched, shrunk and played with before returning to its original form. This is classic sonata form. It is a journey that yo-yos back to its beginning.

Yet the melody is refreshed and renewed upon its return. And this particular melody and journey improves the spatial awareness center of our brains, known as the 'Mozart Effect'. Sufferers of epilepsy had fewer seizures after listening to this sonata, according to the British Epilepsy Organization. So I'm left marveling at Mozart's joyful invention that is also - hurrah! - improving my brain.