Blakeson - Writer

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed / Roathbud 2013

It’s always odd when one is affected by the death of someone one has never met, or indeed, never even particularly wanted to. But the passing of Lou Reed, news of which emerged gradually on Sunday, affected me strangely. I suppose it’s because his work has impinged on me at several key points in my life: being bemused and entranced on hearing “Walk On The Wild Side” on Radio 1’s Top 20 show at an impressionable age; finding a vinyl copy of the Velvet Underground’s “Live 1969” double album in Lewis’s department store  in Hanley (surely ordered in error), having read about their influence on the then-burgeoning Punk Rock movement, and playing it over and over again on my rudimentary record-player; later buying “Loaded” on cassette, and discovering it to be full of pop gems and remarkably intense vocal performances; his various TV appearances, whether as a curmudgeonly interviewee, or a performer, e.g. the film of his “Songs For Drella” collaboration with John Cale, which languishes in my recorded-off-the-telly VHS pile, or his startling “Later" performance, accompanied by a pre-fame Antony Hegarty, and a bloke doing Tai Chi…

Perhaps it need simply be said that without Lou Reed, most of the music I’ve enjoyed over the past forty years simply wouldn’t exist.

As part of Made In Roath 2013, there was a special screening of short films, Roathbud Film Discoveries, at the G39 art workshop, introduced by Tom Betts of Chapter Moviemaker. A full house, and a mixed bag, as might be expected – some of the films weren’t quite short enough – but it was good to see some familiar faces onscreen. Offerings included the slickly intriguing La Morta E Bella and Punk’s Not Dad’s star-studded pop video “Monkey Boots”.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

"Free Folk", Made In Roath, etc

I had the chance, as a British Theatre Guide reviewing assignment, to see a full production of Gary Owen’s “Free Folk” at Sherman Cymru late last week, in a touring production by Forest Forge; almost two years after its Welsh premiere, a rehearsed reading by Welsh Fargo. With a rural setting, it’s a tightly plotted, alternately noirish and comic, emotionally satisfying take on the concept of the quest for a place called home.

The start of the local, artist-led Made In Roath 2013 Festival coincided with Cardiff’s high-profile Swn Music Festival, so I took the opportunity to indulge in a little more cultural activity over the weekend. On Saturday night at the relaunched Milkwood Gallery there was a presentation of a short, one-woman play by Rowena Moreno for Leftfield Theatre Company; entitled “Modern Living”. With a “diary of a mad housewife” theme, there were some rough edges, but it was lifted by an intense performance. And on Sunday afternoon I managed to dodge the raindrops to check out the very welcome (I don’t get the whole “buy a wristband and spend the evening running around hoping to get in somewhere” thing) Swn Free Stage in the middle of town and caught some of the acoustic sets by Rhodri Brooks and Aled Rheon. 

Dragon by Phlegm
Part of the Empty Walls Project
For Made In Roath 2013

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Monday, October 14, 2013

"It's My Shout" - the Premiere

Last night I attended the Gala screening of the 2013 crop of BBC Made In Wales films from the It’s My Shout scheme. Having submitted several scripts over the years, I was delighted when my screenplay for “Say It” was plucked from the sub’s bench, another piece apparently having been deemed unsuitable. The resultant film was shown, along with seven others, at a rather glitzy event at the Wales Millennium Centre; a real “premiere” atmosphere, and lots of entertainment in the foyer, provided by commendably enthusiastic young people from across Wales.

In the past, the quality of the films produced has varied somewhat, so I was pleased that my project, through the efforts of director Andrew Pring, and young actors Emily Burnett and Ross Langford, not to mention the crew (there’s also a cameo appearance from former footballer Nathan Blake) turned out very well. Not only that, but all eight films were excellent; even the ones which weren’t to my particular taste were very well executed. Which just goes to show what can be achieved on miniscule budgets, if casts and crews are sufficiently incentivised – in this case by professional mentorship, and guaranteed television exposure. My film even won an award, for best trainee location manager (Eleanor Shaw) - although I don’t suppose I can claim any credit for that.

The star guest was Rob Brydon, a former drama pupil of the scheme’s supremo, Roger Burnell. As well as making a typically amusing speech while accepting the Inspiration Award, he was hanging around in the V.I.P. bar beforehand, and at the after-party, held in the iconic St David’s Hotel. Sadly, I didn’t summon up the courage to chat to him, or even to our elected leader, Carwyn Jones, who was also in attendance. But I was able to catch up with some old friends, which was lovely.

The night before saw another British Theatre Guide reviewing assignment – “Sold”, from Theatre Versus Oppression at Chapter, an avowedly didactic piece about sex-trafficking and associated exploitation. There were some excellent performances, but it was, inevitably, a bit of a wallow in despair; although, obviously, one has to respect the courage of those on whose testimonies the piece is based.


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Friday, October 04, 2013

"Troyanne" / Liberated Words

My latest review assignment for British Theatre Guide was Ian Rowlands’ “Troyanne”, for Company Of Sirens at Chapter. Inspired by real-life stories of accidental family shootings in the U.S. and set in the context of military involvement in the Middle East, it could easily have been a one-dimensional anti-American rant at easy targets; it mostly avoids this, however. And Caroline Bunce is electrifying in the central role, as a bereaved wife and mother.

Yesterday I went to the Arnolfini in Bristol to check out the Liberated Words Festival of Poetry Films – I’d been lucky enough to have one selected for the evening session. The afternoon was taken up with a panel discussion, where various practitioners, mostly academics, discussed their varying theoretical takes on the genre, some of which whizzed straight over my head; in fact, for me, the most interesting films shown in this strand were the most traditional – documentary style adaptations of the works of Bristol-based performance poet David Johnson.  

My film of a Jo Bell poem was part of a highly varied two-hour programme of poetic shorts which concluded proceedings. Some were excellent, others deeply dull. I was mostly relieved that the image quality of my piece – made using entirely free software, and burned to DVD on my home laptop – seemed to pass muster on a big screen.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

"Blue Jasmine"

"Blue Jasmine", Woody Allen's latest "return to form" is something of a triumph. As has been pointed out by most reviewers, Cate Blanchett's role seems to owe something to Blanche DuBois, a character Allen referenced, to hilarious effect in "Sleeper". Blanchett plays the financially and emotionally ruined wife of a disgraced Wall Street fraudster who is forced to flee to San Francisco and impose on her somewhat more proletarian adopted sister, Ginger; she is brilliant as the terminally deluded, self-obsessed, pills-and-vodka-addicted title character.

While not strictly a comedy, the film contains numerous comic asides, largely at Jasmine's expense. Perpetually on the edge, she is both victim and villain, and Blanchett and Allen combine to force us to empathise with our anti-heroine, even as we disdain her selfishness. And, as usual, Allen surrounds his lead with an excellent cast - Sally Hawkins (Ginger), Peter Sarsgaard, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale - even Andrew Dice Clay, one-time objectionable comedian, impresses as Ginger’s bitter ex-husband.

Before the story takes a turn which foregrounds Hawkins' character, Allen's script does come close to being repetitive, as Jasmine constantly tells her story to anyone who she imagines may be listening. The narrative also makes extensive use of flashbacks, which, occasionally, are clumsily signalled. Nevertheless, “Blue Jasmine” is a beautiful piece of work, and it will be a major shock if Blanchett doesn’t join the legion of fine actresses who have been Oscar-nominated for their work in Woody Allen projects.

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