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At The Movies: Jackie

At The Movies: Jackie

There is definitely a case to be made that a film about a seminal moment in American history should be made by someone unattached to American history. Jackie’s producers, Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) wanted their director to have as few preconceived notions about the Kennedys, the assassination and The First Lady as possible. This is one of the reasons they chose to work with Chilean director Pablo Larrain. The three envisaged a film predicated on political events without being overtly political, a biopic about Jackie Kennedy, unconfined to the experiences of The First Lady. The result is a movie that intimately explores the universal feelings resulting from bereavement and all its dissonances. It transcends the political to scrutinize the personal.

In case you don’t already know, the film is built around the interview that Jackie Kennedy gave to Time Magazine’s Theodore H. White in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination: ‘For President Kennedy: An Epilogue’. It is also based on her televised tour of the White House. The movie vacillates between the interview, the tour and Jackie’s own account of the assassination and ensuing events.

The movie opens with reporter Theodore H. White drawing up to the White House to meet the cold and reserved Jackie Kennedy. Although he will write the article, she will vet his every word; this will be her story, not his.

Jackie is an expert manipulator and defends her actions throughout: ‘people like to believe in fairy tales’. She sees it as her duty to construct a narrative in which her husband is the Camelot that America needs, and she is his solid, resilient First Lady. She resolves to give him an arguably undeservingly grand funeral to elevate the Kennedy legacy beyond merely that of ‘the beautiful people’.

Seemingly cold and standoffish, Jackie is in fact attempting to cultivate an image of herself that she deems as appropriate for a First Lady: confident and emotionally stable. Yet she is anything but: in one scene she loudly declares, ‘I love crowds’, and in the next we see her in a crowd whilst the camera practically flails around her, revealing her unease; she is floundering, and out of her depth. And there is a palpable contrast between Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the onscreen Jackie Kennedy, performing for the camera as she gives her tour of the White House and the Jackie behind the camera, anxious in her attempt to appear flawless: she has an obvious ‘performing voice’, accentuating her vowels in order to appeal more regal.

Similarly, Jackie’s feelings towards JFK are multi-layered as, obviously, his untimely death left so many things in their relationship unresolved. Throughout the film we are made aware that their relationship was in no way perfect; now that he is dead, this makes her feelings towards him even more confusing.

The cinematography, costume and set design perfectly encapsulate her shock, grief and sense of the uncanny. There is a scene in which she returns to the White House alone after her husband’s death, The house is immaculate, and she would have blended in perfectly with her pink Channel suit, were it not splattered with her husband’s blood- more like a scene from a horror movie than a historical biopic!

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I actually found all of her costumes extremely memorable, which something I don’t generally pay a lot of attention to in a film. But I’m not sure if we can really credit the movie for this as obviously they were all based on the designs from the real Jackie Kennedy’s wardrobe….

But I think it is important to talk about the music: it was composed by Mica Levi, who’s other credits include Under The Skin, a suitably creepy movie about a weird alien/monster type creature played by Scarlet Johansson who drives around in a truck in Glasgow to entice men back to her home before putting them in a trance and trapping them in some sort of liquid abyss…its really weird (but quite good!). So hopefully that gives you a sense of the tone of the music…!

It is not the conventional historic biopic music you might expect, but provides the movie with a feeling of other worldliness. It is almost beautiful and lush but it jars and you get that feeling of something cold spilling down into your stomach, that something is amiss and that something may have just gone terribly wrong…

Interestingly, Jackie isn’t aware of her pyrrhic victories: she tells the journalist that JFK’s funeral should have been bigger and grander, and he has to reassure her that it was spectacular from an outsider’s perspective. The film examines the problems and contradictions of being a story maker and how important this role actually is. (A theme that Hollywood is often accused of being obsessed with- arguably another reason as to why this film has been so highly regarded by the industry!)

I don’t know whether or not this is an accurate depiction of the real Jackie Kennedy’s reaction to the infamous events, but it is certainly an insightful character study and fantastic portrayal of The First Lady by Natalie Portman (Her voice is absolutely perfect-it would be very difficult to distinguish between Natalie Portman and the real Jackie!). It allows us a glimpse into the way in which people may react to loss, grief and shock, which I found fascinating and moving.

To My Valentine…

Dear Music,

Today is Valentine’s Day, and in the absence of an actual human to confess my love for, you are the de facto love of my life.

From the first single and album I bought (The Grid’s Swamp Thing, and Parklife, both in 1994), you’ve always had my back.

As a teenager I grew up in the Britpop era, soundtracking my formative school years with Ocean Colour Scene, Oasis and Shed Seven. In 1996, at the age of 14 I went to my first gig: Suede at the Cliffs Pavilion in my hometown, Southend-on-Sea. Followed quickly at the same venue by one of my all-time favourite experiences a month later: Blur, who at the time were number one with Beetlebum.

I moved into sixth form and you opened my eyes to the world of metal and punk. The Offspring’s Smash and Nevermind (obviously) paved the way for my obsession with nu-metal, peaking when a friend and I skipped morning classes to buy Significant Other on the day of release.

As I reached 17, I started to go out. It was 1999 and Trance and Garage were everywhere, especially in Essex. It had taken a while, but finally you turned my head with something not based around guitars. I went on holiday to Tenerife after my A Levels with some school friends, and spent every day on the beach, listening to Chicane’s Behind the Sun. I became obsessed with Ferry Corsten and DJ EZ, and for the first time dreamed of being a DJ.

Like any teenager, I associate much of what you offered at that time with the ups and downs in my love life. Generally speaking, I’d listen to your dancier side when things were going well, and metal when they weren’t. I listened to A LOT of metal.

I stayed on this path for a while. My first year at uni mostly revolved around Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows – still one of my all-time top 5 albums – and it wasn’t until the same friend from sixth form recommended some bands to check out, that my tastes took another sideways turn. Those bands? Poison The Well, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday and Finch. Emo had arrived.

It took over. I wouldn’t listen to anything else, with the exception of one summer listening to nothing but Twista. I got my first tattoo (probably the most emo tattoo imaginable), and spent every night in Rock City’s Basement singing as loud as I could, and making some of the best friends I’ll ever have. Sometimes I yearn to go back to those days. No responsibilities, just having fun.

Those same best friends also persuaded me to try something different, and by the time I graduated I was fully immersed in grime and dubstep, and thanks to a housemate I’d even learnt to mix using vinyl turntables. It’s not often you hear a completely new sound for the first time, but I still remember walking into Stealth nightclub in Nottingham and wondering what the hell was going on. It turned out it was Digital Mystikz reloading Coki’s Tortured.

The following 4 or 5 years with you were some of my favourites. My life became a blur of clubs and festivals. Two or three bookings a week, mostly on weeknights, and all over the country – all while trying to hold down a 9 to 5. I got to play at Fabric, Ibiza Rocks, and even at Trouble & Bass in New York. We appeared on line-ups alongside some of today’s music heavyweights. I met some of the DJs I looked upto the most, and had some incredible experiences. One night in Barcelona you really delivered, with the craziest, most fun thing I’ve ever witnessed.

After stepping back from DJing, I still couldn’t get you out of my mind, and found myself working in HMV for 3 years. Working in retail is tough, but being able to talk to the public about you all day made it worthwhile. Having said that, there’s only so many times you can have someone singing at you, hoping you’ll know what song they’re after – particularly the time a guy tried to recite an entire piece of violin-driven classical to me.

What followed were several years when we didn’t see each other much. By this time, I was about 6 years into a relationship. I’d decided to quit retail and get a “proper job”, studying and working in finance. It’s not that I’d completely given up on you, you just played a far less prominent role in my life.

I got married. And divorced soon after. I was devastated, and to some extent always will be. And this is where I fell for you all over again. As I battled with my emotions, and in particular the onset of fairly acute anxiety, I became more and more reliant on you. Anxiety can do strange things to your body. It doesn’t manifest itself like a normal illness. For me, I felt short of breath all the time, with a constant tightening of the chest, and non-stop pins and needles. The most uncomfortable sensation however, was the tingling pain I would get in the ring finger on my right hand. Even now, when things are getting to me, I still get it. It doesn’t hurt, but it sure as hell isn’t nice. And it’s when this starts happening that I know I need to turn to you.

You’ve become my crutch. You’re my main coping mechanism. I’m now at my happiest when on the dancefloor in a club, at a gig or festival with my friends and family, or behind the decks (at home or in a venue). I’m lucky enough to work at a creative agency, where you’re always present. When not at work or home, I’ve always got headphones in, usually listening to radio shows (Radio 1, NTS, Radar). I eagerly anticipate every Friday to see what new delights you have in store for me, and at the moment I don’t have enough hours in a week to listen to everything I want to. A nice problem to have.

Right now, I’m probably too dependent on you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re the reason I’m writing for this blog. You’re the main reason I go out at night. And you’re definitely why I’m always excited for my next night out.

For all of the reasons I’ve listed above, and many more, I want to say thank you. I genuinely feel like you’ve saved me. I could have allowed myself to wallow, and never feel better. But you give me a reason to feel again. Life is still hard at times, but you never fail to lift me, whether I need it or not. I know I genuinely couldn’t live without you, and I’ll be forever grateful for the part you’ve played in getting me this far.

And so Music, Happy Valentine’s Day, and here’s to many more years of happiness!

Lots of love

George x

Friday Feeling: 80’s bangers playlist

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Friday has arrived and the weekend is tantalizing close. You only need to power through a few more hours, and the Friday Feeling Playlist is here to help.

Last Friday I went to see Bianca Del Rio at The Troxy in Limehouse. It was a rip-roaringly funny evening, and to help get the crowd in the mood beforehand they were playing some 80’s classics.

I was a little surprised to discover I still remember every single word to the Theme from S’Express – which is an absolute tune – and in honour of that record, here are ten other 80’s bangers. Whitney, Grace Jones, Spandau Ballet… they’re all here.

Enjoy your Friday and let the Playlist get you ready for the weekend.

 

At The Movies: Lion

At The Movies: Lion

In 1985, the tiny 5-year-old Saroo pads onto a train at his Indian hometown of Khandwa, curls up and falls asleep. Several days later, the train arrives in Calcutta, stranding Saroo utterly helpless; unable to speak the local language, unable to pronounce the name of his hometown and unable even to recall the name of his mother ‘she’s called mum…?’. As serendipity would have it, he is adopted by an Australian family in Tasmania and quickly adapts to a Western privileged lifestyle. He has just began to hew out a successful life for himself when, 25 years later at a University party, he samples julebi (an Indian sweet) and experiences a Proustian moment. As a result of this, he resolves to find his family in India and thus begins his search-capacitated by Google Earth (in a entirely unBlack Mirror-esque way!)

Such a story must, surely make for a riveting drama. And to a certain extent, it does. But I’m not sure whether it is the film itself that should be lauded, or simply the unbelievable true story. It would be very difficult not to ask yourself ‘Why did his brother leave him in the station by himself?’, ‘Where is his family now?’, ‘Are they still looking for him?’, ‘Will he ever get back to them?’ and ‘How would they react if they saw him now?’. The urge to discover the answer to those questions was for me, a good enough reason to keep watching the movie. But as I was watching it, I thought it could have been a better film had the desire to have those questions answered been more urgent.

It would have been fascinating to compare Saroo’s life in Australia to what it could have been had he stayed in India. And to a certain extent, the film does allow for this: we first see the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) on a surfboard in the middle of the tranquil Australian ocean. We then shift to a scene in a modern glass restaurant in which he clinks champagne glasses with his family to celebrate his acceptance to University. Clearly, such moments are far removed from his life in India in which him and his brother sold coal that they had nicked from a train in order to support their family!

However, I think more could have been made of these comparisons. The second half of the film is predicated on Saroo’s exigency to return to India. For him, India appears to be a distant memory, the prequel to his real life. Yet for us, this is not a distant memory at all- we just watched it! So I think it might have been interesting to explore the story from Saroo’s point of view. For example, the temporality didn’t have to be linear. Perhaps the story could have started when he first met his adoptive parents and vacillated form the past to present day…

Although…thinking about it… I feel like maybe I’m trying to Hollywood-ize the movie a little too much… And there were actually so many things I really loved about it!

Saroo appears totally incognisant about everything to do with India: at one stage he asserts defiantly that he (obviously) supports the Aussie football (Rugby..? :/) team over the Indian team. Perhaps he doesn’t want to think about his childhood in India because he hasn’t really come to terms with what happened yet or perhaps he feels guilty about leaving his family (probably both!). But we get a subtle sense that Saroo is uncomfortable when it comes to India, and it is to the film’s credit, this isn’t overplayed. And Dev Patel’s performance certainly aids in this- he has come a long way since Skins!

Similarly, the ending could easily have been overblown and schmaltzy but it wasn’t at all. And I found myself genuinely moved.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. And, just because it has to be said, the kid playing Saroo is fantastic and absolutely adorable:

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I guess one of the reasons I’m being so critical about Lion is because I’m comparing it to some films that weren’t nominated for Best Picture but that I think were far more deserving than this eg. Nocturnal Animals and Jackie. But I’d still recommend checking out Lion if you haven’t already.

At The Movies: La La Land

At The Movies: La La Land

I appreciate that not everyone has to be be this obsessed with La La Land:

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But I’ve been struggling with some of the accusations made against this masterpiece: ‘it lacks plot!’ ‘Ryan and Emma can’t even dance- or sing!’, ‘its totally overrated!” and, worst of all, ‘it was okay’….

Although I understand that these (first 3) do contain elements of truth, for me, they are irrelevant.

As is inevitably the case with films which receive masses of hype, La La Land has also been hit by a flurry of backlash from those whose high expectations cannot possibly be met. And so I think that one of the reasons I love this movie so much is because I went into my screening without any pre-conceptions.

I was lucky enough to attend a screening of La La Land a few months ago, back when there were no reviews, and only one rather short enigmatic teaser to go by…

So it was with a jolt that I was launched into this exuberant musical reverie. As you probably know by now, the film opens with queues of frustrated passengers caught up on the LA highway. Chattering LA-ers, the beeping of car horns and the cacophony of sounds coming from car radios give us the impression that this truly is a city bustling with music. Director Chazelle takes inspiration from his own favourites, “…like in Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Rear Window you’re hearing Italian opera coming from one apartment window and Frankie Vali from another and jazz from another. But this is Los Angeles. The cacophony of sounds is coming out of cars. And I loved the idea of presenting the soundscape of the city that way”. Fed up of waiting in line, one by one the drivers exit their vehicles and in a spectacular explosion of colour and sound, jump on top of their cars, proving that a bit of madness is key.

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Interestingly, the very first edit of the film opened with an overture of credits before the camera swooped down to reveal Mia and Sebastian’s meet cute in their cars. But I think that by announcing the film by way of this spectacular 6 minute (made-to-look-like-a) vast singe shot, Chazelle assures us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA, on music and ambition.

I left the cinema feeling euphoric, unsure of whether to cry, run around, or just immediately book a flight to LA and try to live out the movie in real life!

So I think that to point to the ‘lack of plot’ would be to miss the crux of the film. As my friend (Mark) pointed out yesterday, there is no way that, after watching the opening car sequence, you would expect to find a thriller filled with twists and turns. Clearly, La La Land tells a pretty simple ‘boy meets girl’ story, but tells it with overwhelmingly breath-taking panache.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone do not dance to perfection, but the camera does; it swoops around them, capturing a sense of movement and excitement that may not have been possible had we been solely focused on the finesse of their movement. And where their dancing lacks, their performances more than make up for- Emma Stone is captivating throughout. Each minute facial expression reveals what she is thinking at every second. What more could the casting directors in her audition scene possibly have wanted from her?

Throughout the film, we can see clear parallels between La La Land’s Mia and Sebastian and Whiplash’s Andrew (Milles Teller). A clear theme is emerging in Chazelle’s work: clearly, he lauds tenacity and determination.

**Spoiler!!**

For me, the ending wasn’t unsatisfactory because the film wasn’t primarily about Mia and Sebastian’s relationship with each other; it was about the way it fostered their ambitions. So I don’t think it was necessary for them to stay together for their relationship to be perfect. It was perfect.

This week: 6 new tracks to tickle your ears

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This is a little later than I intended, but today was my first day back at work (not as horrendous as I thought it would be) and then my new puppy (Max the Yorkiepoo) decided I wasn’t allowed to blog until I’d played with him. A lot. He’s adorable, so its all good.

Anyway, here are six new tracks to tickle your ears. These are songs I’ve only listened to a couple of times but liked a lot; this playlist acts as my main listening guide for the week and hopefully they’ll appear on Sunday’s A List 

Let me know what you think of the tracks and/or if there’s something you think I’ve missed. Astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com.

 1. The XX – Dangerous 

The XX released their third album I See You on Friday, and Dangerous is the opening track. It’s a tremendous statement of intent; ‘I won’t shy away’ they sing, ‘I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared’. It could easily be the band discussing their own shift in style; here is a brave and rather brilliant track – horns and all – that verges on a dance track. I’m slightly blown away by their ambition, execution and all-round brilliance.

2. The Black Madonna – He Is The Voice I Hear 

The Black Madonna became the DJ to see in 2016. She brought the party like no other; her eclectic picks were more than matched by her superb dancing and extensive knowledge of all dance music ever. But as this (brilliant!) Resident Advisor film shows, life on the road can take its toll. So when I first heard He Is The Voice I Hear, I wondered if this was her ode to the journey she took last year; a weird and wacky ride that takes in strings, disco-beats that could easily come from a Moroder track and a jazzy piano part. This sounds like creativity meets exhaustion; the kind of song that can only be written/produced in the small hours when there’s no one else to relate. It sounds to me like a lullaby for insomniacs. I could be entirely wrong, but I’m refusing to read anything else about it because, well, I like my explanation and I’m sticking to it.

3. Dan Croll – Away From Today 

Every Friday I get an email from Communion telling me what they think is awesome. I have waited patiently. And finally, here is a track I rather enjoy. Away From Today is a slightly disorientating indie pop track that could easily have been take from Bombay Bicycle Club’s back catalogue. It plays with the senses a little, never quite settling. But for the ridiculously abrupt ending, I rather like this.

4. FREAK – Cake 

Loud, thrashy and suitably angry, FREAK came onto my radar in the second half of 2016. Hailing from Chelmsford, this young man has bags of talent and he kicks off 2017 with a bang: Cake sticks to his – very solid – formula. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to see him live in the next few months.

5. The Paper Kites – Breathing Fighting Love 

The Paper Kites released their last album – twelve four – all the way back in 2015. The album’s concept was to write in the early hours of the morning (hence the name) and it produced – in parts – a creeping and slightly disconcerting edge to their work; in particular I was a big fan of album opener Electric Indigo. Now they’re back with two track that evidently didn’t make the cut for twelve four. Breathing Fighting Love is a very solid track that reminds me of some of the darker Fleetwood Mac tracks.

6. Bonobo – No Reason 

We finish with a superb piece of electronic music. Back in December 2015 I became slightly obsessed with a track by Rufus called Innerbloom; so much so that it was one of my three most listened to tracks in 2016 (according to Spotify). No Reason is from a very similar mould; mournful vocals are matched by elegant electronic touches; it’s a claustrophobic listen that leaves you wanting to curl up in a blanket and hide away from the world.

The A List: 15th January

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Introducing The A List: my favourite 10 tracks at the moment.

Every Sunday I’ll be posting a new A List, and it’ll give you an insight into what I’m loving right now. I’ve implemented a couple of rules (at the bottom, if you’re interested), but this is mostly a chance for me to take stock of what tracks are working for me – and why.

Early January is often a pretty quiet time for new music, but with new albums from You Me At Six and The XX, and new singles from London Grammar, Ed Sheeran and others, there’s been plenty to listen to.

Here is this week’s A List:

1. Army of Bones – Don’t Be Long

An unexpected indie treat. The lead singer in AoB was in the Christian rock band Delirious? and Don’t Be Long is obviously from musicians with a fine idea of what makes a good track. Strong pulsing guitars and a polished melody makes this a fine January listen.

2. Ed Sheeran – Shape of You 

First Friday of January and Ed Sheeran re-stakes his claim to be pop’s number one man. He released two singles that have broken all sorts of streaming and sales records, taken numbers 1 and 2 in the UK charts and helped to shake off the January blues. Shape of You was easily my favourite of the two singles; it’s a straight up pop banger with the same confident swagger that Bieber, Major Lazer and others have recently demonstrated (often with Sheeran-penned songs). That it was originally meant for Rihanna only makes me like it more.

3. Code Orange – Bleeding in the Blur

A nice chunk of dirty rock and roll, with waves of feedback and a dark, menacing vibe. This is my first introduction to Code Orange, but I look forward to hearing more of their stuff.

4. Julien Baker – Funeral Pyre 

A desperately sad track that revolves around drinking gasoline and the impact that has on relationships. It’s a little haunting – especially her beautiful vocals – and seems to sit in that rather marvellous spot in between country, folk and acoustic rock.

5. Kiesza – Dearly Beloved 

I was a massive fan of Kiesza’s 2014 single Hideaway and the accompanying one-take video, so it’s great to have her back. Dearly Beloved is a cheesy cocktail with a small slice of funk thrown in. It walks the tightrope of ‘too cheesy/brilliant’ a little brashly, but it’s working for me at the moment.

6. VANT – DO YOU KNOW ME? 

A welcome re-release of DO YOU KNOW ME? A protest record in support of young people today. “I’m down, I’m tired, I’m broke, I wanted something more” they sing, and it’s clear from their Radio 1 plays that they’re striking a note with younger fans. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing VANT a few times in recent years – full disclosure, I was at the Scala gig that they filmed the DO YOU KNOW ME? video at – and they’ve really grown as a live band. Their debut album comes out in February and I fully expect them to be massive by the end of the year.

7. London Grammar – Rooting for You 

A rather beautiful and minimalist single marks the return of London Grammar. This track is all about the vocals; they soar in parts but betray a vulnerability matched with inner strength in the quieter moments. I went to see London Grammar a couple of years ago at Brixton Academy and it fell very flat, but hopefully with more songs – and some more experience of being on stage – they’ll be back bigger and better this time around.

8. You Me At Six – Spell It Out  

I’m going to write a longer piece on YMAS’s recent album later this week, but in my opinion Spell It Out is the record’s highlight, capturing a darker edge to the band and growing throughout. There’s some nice guitar work throughout and the transformation into Audioslave at the 2.30 mark is rather good fun.

9. Kehlani – Undercover 

I’ve gone back and forth on this track a few times. Part of me loves the slick r’n’b meets pop feel, a well-trodden path to the charts. But part of me dislikes the obviousness of the track, particularly the chorus. At the moment the first part of me is winning…

10. The XX – Say Something Loving

The XX are one of the very few bands I can think of that have yet to put a foot wrong. If you haven’t read it, you should check out the brilliant Pitchfork cover piece on the band and their new album, which you can find here

You can listen to all ten tracks here:

I’ve given myself a couple of rules:

  • I have to really like these tracks already. That usually means I’ll have given them 4 or 5 plays before they make it this far. If there is a lag between me posting a song and it appearing on here, that’s probably why.
  • Tracks can stay on the A List for a maximum of 4 weeks. I have a habit of overplaying records and then liking them less, and if I keep something in circulation for more than 4 weeks, that happens more regularly.