Art Will Save The World (Niall McCann, 2010)

Artwillsave

For his first feature, Niall McCann bravely sets himself the unenviable task of deconstructing former Auteurs main-man, Luke Haines. The Auteurs were hailed as The Next Big Thing by the U.K. music press in the mid-1990s. Their first album, New Wave, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 1993, losing out to Suede by one vote for the top prize. That was pretty much their pinnacle, as things unravelled thereafter with record company pressure and the emergence of Britpop; a “scene” which Haines openly despised and still smarts about in this enjoyable, insightful documentary.

McCann’s film takes its lead from Haines himself; favouring an obfuscatory, back-roads approach to his subject rather than opting for a  formal, linear hagiography. Based on Haines’ memoir, Bad Vibes, the film explores his life and music in the Britpop era and beyond; featuring contributions from assorted friends and associates. The humorous voice-over, written by McCann, is provided by Haines himself. Apparently the director approached Haines after a gig in Dublin and asked if he’d be interested in getting involved in the film he was planning. This turned out to be quite a coup, as Haines’ onscreen presence greatly adds to the film’s sense of mischief. Scenes of him revisiting old childhood haunts, for example, are underscored by his sardonic quips and are as far away from the usual Behind The Music-style biogs as one can get.

By including humorous scenes of actors auditioning to be Luke Haines for the documentary, McCann also seems to be asking questions about representation in a format which we believe to be intrinsically “truthful”. Most documentaries now, of course, feature filmed reconstructions of events, and Art Will Save The World is no exception. However, in McCann’s case, while it’s used to underline factual information, that trope is utilised mostly for comedic effect. Like Haines’ music, the film seems to delight in wrong-footing its viewers, while at the same time acknowledging their complicity by letting them in on the joke.

Naturally the film features Haines’ music quite heavily and one hopes that it may reignite some interest in its subject. These days he seems to have happily accepted his lot as a performer outside of mainstream music culture; but looking back, it appears that he was heading that way all along. After all, songs such as Light Aircraft On Fire, Unsolved Child Murder and his Baader Meinhof incarnation weren’t exactly going to endear him to regular viewers of Top Of The Pops.

Luke Haines continues to write, record, agitate and confound; in typical style, his last album bore the catchy title – Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s and Early 80s.  Thankfully, he continues to work at the coalface of conceptual rock. Long may he pun.

Watch the trailer: 

Ferry To The Mersey

As well as being a film blogger and ardent movie-goer, I am also a huge music fan and sometime musician. So when I was offered a car-cation to Liverpool – the home of The Beatles –  courtesy of Stena Line, I couldn’t say no! The timing couldn’t have been better as not only is Stena Line celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but it’s also 50 years since the formation of The Beatles as we know them today.

The ferry at Belfast Port

We set out for Belfast to catch the 10.30am ferry to Liverpool. As it’s an 8 hour crossing, I was delighted that we had a nice little cabin to relax in. We also had access to the Stena Plus Lounge, where we could avail of free snacks, wine and soft drinks as we kicked back to enjoy the journey.  Being a movie buff, I was excited to check out the onboard cinema, which was showing a couple of recent releases, and which was a great way to pass some sailing time!

The onboard Cinema

Pretty soon the Liverpool skyline appeared in the distance and it was time to bid the boat goodbye. We were staying at the Beatle-themed Hard Day’s Night Hotel, which is only a 10 minute drive from the port, and is a must for any Beatles fan. The hotel is housed in a Grade II listed building in the heart of the “Beatles Quarter”, right around the corner from Matthew Street, home of the famous Cavern Club. As well as the photo’s and murals which adorn the hotel walls, each room features a unique Beatles artwork, while non-stop Beatles music plays in the bar and restaurant. It’s fair to say I was smiling like a Cheshire cat the whole time!

“It’s been a Hard Day’s Night”…The Beatle-themed Hotel in Liverpool

Give Sleep a Chance! John Lennon artwork in hotel room

“Roll up for the Mystery Tour” – The Magical Mystery Tour Bus

The hotel package we availed of for our stay was The Magical Mystery Package, which includes tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles Story – two fantastic tours not to be missed. The Magical Mystery Tour takes you down to all the places associated with the Fab Four and their songs; it was an amazing experience to stand in Penny Lane, to look through the gates of Strawberry Field and to see Woolton Village where Lennon made his first public appearance with the Quarrymen! We also took in the childhood homes of John, Paul and Ringo (George’s being unavailable that day) and finished up at The Cavern where we were treated to live renditions of Beatles hits over a Beatle drink or two. The Beatles Story is an interactive journey through the bands’ history, which features great sets and memorabilia throughout.

Blue Plaque on the front of Mendips, where John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi

20 Forthlin Road – Paul McCartney’s childhood home

To give ourselves a little break from our Beatles activities, we took a stroll down to the Albert Dock. Situated in the heart of the city, Albert Dock is a wonderful area to browse around, as it houses lots of great shops, bars and restaurants. Grouped around the Marina, this is a lovely location to stop for a drink and it even has its own Yellow Submarine! A short walk from the Dock we took a well-earned break with a rooftop dinner and drinks, overlooking Liverpool’s iconic Liver Building.

Rooftop view of the Liver Building

Sadly, our time in Liverpool was drawing to a close. After saying our goodbyes at the hotel, we headed back to port to catch the evening ferry home. On the way, we decided to take a short drive out to see Anthony Gormley’s installation, Another Place, which is situated on Crosby Beach, about a 15 minute drive from Liverpool city centre. It was a beautiful evening and as the sun was beginning to set, we took in the mysterious figures staring out to sea. This was a perfect way to end our trip; the figures invite contemplation as they stand looking at the horizon, and the view of these cast-iron men dotted along the coastline left me with a sense of peace and calm, as my thoughts turned to our journey home.

Nowhere Man – “Another Place”

Well, it had been a hard day’s night and we would be sleeping like logs courtesy of our cabin onboard, but how can I sum up my first car-cation? Easily –

I was a guest of Stena Line, who provided ferry travel and hotel accommodation on this trip. All opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Photographs courtesy of Ronan Loughman. Many thanks to Stena Line employees Bernadette and Jimmy, who made our outward and return journeys so enjoyable.

Transmissions From The Heart – Silence (Pat Collins, 2012)

After four documentary features, whose subjects have included Gabriel Byrne, Abbas Kiarostami and John MaGahern, Pat Collins has made his first feature film, of sorts. Silence follows the travels of Sound-Recordist Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) who leaves Berlin for the North and West coasts of his native Ireland, to record areas bereft of man-made sounds.

I say it’s a feature film of sorts, because Collins uses the mechanics and devices of documentary cinema to outline Eoghan’s journey.  This is a feature film that feels like a documentary.  There isn’t a narrative beyond us being told that Eoghan is undertaking this trip for work. There isn’t a script as such either, but rather, Eoghan chats with various characters he meets along the way; all of which feels “real” and unscripted. It’s an intriguing idea. Perhaps in using these techniques, Collins is trying to get at some authenticity, some “truth” about the world which pure fiction can’t deliver.

We first see Eoghan about his work in Berlin; recording the ambience of the busy streets, bustling with trams, traffic, cars and people. It’s quite a change then when he lands in Ireland, searching out ever more remote places to set up his mics and recording equipment. There is some humour, in that even in seemingly remote areas, the sound of man’s industry can still be heard; diggers confound Eoghan’s recording attempts in one instance. In one of his encounters, Eoghan tells a man he’s recording places free of man-made sound; “but you’re here”, the man sagely replies, to which Eoghan says, “aye but I’m keeping quiet”.

Silence tries to locate this idea of “keeping quiet” amid the multi-platform-everything-all-the-time 21st Century we now find ourselves in. It’s a film which searches for space to reflect, for meaning, for the opportunity to journey inward. It’s a meditation on time, memory and loss. Is Eoghan somehow trying to find a way to extend the present, or to hold onto the past, by recording it and playing it back? Nothing is made explicit, the film’s power works on a slow, steady accretion of detail and observation.

While Richard Kendrick’s beautiful cinematography is worthy of mention, it is also worth remarking on the soundtrack and sound design. Fittingly, and perhaps obviously, Silence is also a film about sound – the sound of the natural world, the sound of our urban busyness, the sound of people sitting in houses talking and sometimes singing.  The sound of us.

Silence is on current release and is also available to buy or rent from Volta.ie

Watch the trailer

The Best Fictional Bands in Films?

A major hit of nostalgia was shot into my brain recently when I read that Breaking Glass (Brian Gibson, 1980) is to get a DVD release this month, 31 years after it was first released in September 1980.  31 years? Crikey, I saw this in the cinema when it first came out!! Yikes. All the songs played in the film by the fictional rock star, Kate and her band Breaking Glass, were mainly written by the film’s star, Hazel O’ Connor. I was getting seriously interested in music at this point (well, mostly Bowie and The Police) so I lapped up anything and everything going. I even bought a few Hazel O’ Connor singles on the back of the film’s release! Oh well, I was young and easily impressed. It would be fun to see the film again now though.

Anyway, it got me thinking – and this is the perfect idea for a Friday post –

Who are the best fictional bands/artists you’ve seen in films?

I have listed the my choice of films below, with links, in no particular order. I’ll kick off with Hazel, for old time’s sake.

Who have I missed and who would you include?

1. Breaking Glass – Hazel O’ Connor plays Kate, who with her band, Breaking Glass, achieves the fame she’s always craved, but at what cost? Was Lady GaGa even born when this came out? Here’s Eighth Day –  

2. Grace Of My Heart – Alison Anders’ wonderful film from 1996, loosely based on the life and work of Carole King. The soundtrack features some heavy-hitting songwriters, such as Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, who provided this superbly crafted period song for Denise Waverly (Illeana Douglas) to perform –

3. That Thing You Do! – Also from 1996, Tom Hanks’ directorial debut charting the rise and fall of Beatles-style Beat Combo, The Wonders. This is their big hit! Great film too.

4.  That’ll Be The Day / Stardust – Well ok, I’ve snuck in two films here; but they go hand in hand, as they chronicle the life and times of fictional superstar Jim McClaine (David Essex) and his band, The Stray Cats. With great star turns from Ringo Starr (That’ll Be The Day) and Adam Faith (Stardust). Allied to Essex’s own real Star charisma, these are two of the best films there are about the Business of the thing we call Show. Watch out for turns from Keith Moon and Dave Edmunds as band members –

5. The School of Rock – Ok dudes, I’m going to finish on a real face melter. I absolutely love The School of Rock (2003). Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Jack Black as failed musician Dewey Finn, who seizes one last chance at the big time by impersonating his teacher friend Ned Schneebly, and turning his class into a kick-ass, hard rockin outfit so that he can take part in a school’s Battle of the Bands competition, to get revenge on the band who dumped him. It’s top class from start to finish. Here’s the band in action, and remember, you’re not hardcore until you live hardcore! – Happy Weekend! 

Thanks to suggestions from commenters, I’m adding a few more bands to the list.

7. The Committments – Alan Parker’s film of Roddy Doyle’s hilarious novel about the titular Dublin Soul band was a huge success. Here’s a tune from it –

8. This is Spinal Tap – A classic –

9. O Brother, Where Art Thou? – How I could have forgotten The Soggy Bottom Boys from The Coen Brothers’ wonderful movie, I’ll never know.

10. Star Wars – The Cantina Band from George Lucas’ Star Wars seem to have a huge online following! Thanks to Ronan for pointing this one out to me – I can’t find a clip from the movie, but this is the tune they play in the Cantina scene.