Monday, 31 December 2007

Red Cross

I've been listening to John Fahey a lot over the last year or so. And rounding out my collection; the collapse of the dollar has meant that it is now quite realistic to buy from the USA without paying the earth. I've picked up several of the earliest pressings, although not, sadly, that first 1959 Blind Joe Death...

But I certainly don't buy just for the sake of collecting; and several Fahey albums have been more or less permanent fixtures on my turntable. Red Cross met a divided response on release and that response would probably have been considerably more negative had it not turned out to be his last recording. But there is some wonderful playing on it, surely the best of his late period with the electric guitar; he does seem to have finally allied his 'American Primitive' music to the spare stark style that was in part necessitated by his declining health.

If I were to have to pick a single track it would have to be 'Summertime'. Sometimes a song has become such a standard that you despair of ever hearing a fresh version, but this one certainly is. You wonder at first if it's going to be the aural equivalent of that Turner Prize piece '24-hour Psycho'. But despite it's absolute minimalism there's that wonderful hint of syncopation that marks so much of John's reworking of the familiar.

Given the seasonal time of year, it would be remiss not to mention the Christmas albums, and to simply say that my favourite is the first, 'The New Possibility'.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Marilynne Robinson's novel, that is. I'd seen Bill Forsyth's film and found myself quite haunted by it, but never quite got as far as reading the original book. I supposed that I should have, as I have been recommending it to others, in particular to a cousin who's family had a tragic past not altogether dissimilar to that of Ruth and Lucille. She's about to read it and I've sent it to my sister as an anniversary present, so I've finally had to sit down and read it myself.

It's difficult to know what to say, beyond that it entirely lives up to its critical reputation. I found myself drawn into a dark, bleak world that measures the humans' will to survive. It's a cliché I know, but I really wasn't able to put it down until I had finished it, and even then it seemed as though a ghost remained. It was not an easy read either, the language is very 'scrupulous' and the imagery as dense as the trees that surround Fingerbone.

And a curious coincidence; the town where our family tragedy occurred is Billings, Montana, and there it was on the page, (temporary) home to Aunt Sylvie.

A word of praise too for the film. It never got beyond the arthouse circuit when it was first released, it's never made it to DVD, the video has long since disappeared, although apparently C5 have shown it as an afternoon film recently. It's dominated by the scenery, and the wonderful performance of Christine Lahti, who stepped into the role of Aunt Sylvie when Diane Keaton withdrew citing artistic differences (and taking some of the funding with her). Bill Forsyth is an underrated film-maker, and 'Housekeeping' is a genuinely great film. Those who've already encountered it will know that the original novel needs no recommendation whatever.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Cinema City

We have a new Arts Cinema. Well, not exactly a new one, rather an old one renewed. And, as is the wont of the times, it's now an Arts Multiplex. Things have come a long way since the days of single screenings of films at the Noverre, and then out at the University. The rebuilding project has not been an easy one. Vast financial overruns are probably the main factor in seeing the cinema pass from the management of a local committee to becoming one of the Picturehouse Cinema 'chain'.

Two days on from opening and I went to see 'The Singer'. But I was just as interested to see the cinema itself. We were in screen 2, and I'm not sure if that was the medium-sized or the small room. For a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon it did well to be one-third full, but I doubt if it would have been big enough for an evening audience. It didn't feel small or cramped though, and the seating was very comfortable. The biggest problem though was the poor arrangements of the seats, not staggered at all. Coupled with a relatively low screen, it proved quite difficult to see all the subtitles. And that's not good for an arts cinema. The sound system was excellent. The projection is all digital, and I'm not sure about that yet. For personal preference I would sit right at the front (that would solve the sight-line problem), but I do find the colours very strange when I get up too close with these new systems. But it's like so many things that change; initially you hate it, then you don't notice any more. And when you go back to seeing a film projected from celluloid again, you wonder how you ever put up with it. So we'll have to wait and see.

The wonderful café has gone too. The new bar is very trendy, minimalist, chrome, no beer whatever; the sort of place you'd order a cocktail I suspect. And a small restaurant, which looks quite posh and is, I suspect, quite pricey (I didn't dare look!).

The staff were all friendly and helpful, although there did seem to be a certain amount of chaos. Inevitable really, so soon after the re-opening.