Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Captain Beefheart In Cardiff

25th October, 1980. My first month in Wales. A phase of intensive gig-going is already in full flow - a principal reason for coming to Cardiff in the first place was its prominence in the music-press concert-listings; I’ve experienced the mighty Slade on my first night, and The Skids a few days later. Prior to starting university, I’ve already noted that Captain Beefheart will be playing at the Students Union Great Hall. I’m familiar with Beefheart from listening to John Peel, although I’ve never fully understood what I was hearing – perhaps seeing the great man live will put it into context. Supporting are the Comsat Angels :– atmospheric post-punk guitar music, absolutely my kind of thing, and excellent. Eventually, the Captain himself takes to the stage. For the next hour or so, I have little idea of what’s going on. It sounds like someone throwing a blues band down the stairs. A couple stood in front of me are smoking something which makes me feel weird. My chewing-gum disintegrates. Beefheart periodically brings out that least punk rock of instruments, the clarinet, and toots, apparently at random. At one point, he introduces a guest guitarist (“Gary Lucas!”) who looks the dead spit of Graham Parker, and plays some remarkable solo slide guitar. The acoustics are dreadful, but the Magic Band is obviously virtuosic without being showy, and I discern a few familiar tunes – “Hot Head”, “Big-Eyed Beans From Venus”. When it’s over, I wander back to my accommodation, my head spinning, not entirely sure that I’ve enjoyed myself, but convinced that I’ve witnessed something extraordinary. And, as it turns out, unforgettable.
R.I.P. Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart; January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010


A low-key, semi-improvised relationship drama, with added space-monsters, Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” is pretty much pre-designed to push all my cinema-going buttons; even before taking into account the seductive back-story of its shot-on-the-fly, ultra-low-budget (apart from the thousands of £££s worth of computer equipment) production process. I was relieved, therefore, when it turned out actually to work spectacularly well on a number of levels. The perfectly named Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able play the cynical photo-journalist and leggy blonde heiress (cf “Roman Holiday”, “It Happened One Night”) struggling to make their way across a Mexico infested with huge, octopus-like alien creatures, contending with all sorts of Hollywood screenwriting bullet-points along the way (the ticking clock, overcoming obstacles, emotional growth etc). There’s much political subtext, both subtle (neurosis over border control), and unsubtle (the American response to the crisis is to bomb the aliens, killing mostly civilians; and the whole problem is America’s fault anyway, obviously); and the cinematography is highly impressive without being showy enough to distract from the engaging performances and tense narrative. There are longueurs, although these are mostly spent waiting for bad stuff to happen; the pay-off comes when Edwards opts for a bravely subtle ending rather than an explosive climax. A skilful manipulation of clichés to create a thing of beauty.

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