Posts by hutchwp

Sole writer at http://cinemaetc.co.uk

Film review: The Big Melt (Martin Wallace, 2013)

For National Yorkshire Day, I opted to watch this documentary I impulse bought about half a decade ago in FOPP. It has been sat on my shelf since then, with a brief period inside a box, probably wondering if it would ever be unwrapped and why it was bought in the first place.

I was doubtless attracted to it due to Jarvis Cocker’s involvement, which to be honest was the rewarding side of it. I’ve been a fan of his music since my formative years – I was 11 when the seminal Different Class was released – and appreciate his intelligent take on life.

The Big Melt is essentially 70 minutes of carefully-selected archive footage of Sheffield, mainly involving the steel industry, backed by music performed live by a number of Sheffield-related musicians (and some of their friends).

It has the ability to impress but the overall impact is one you have to concentrate on and commit to if you want to get anything out of it. The music keeps on playing but there’s no narrative, so it’s easy to let your mind slip out of focus.

Often I realised I’d been watching the screen and listening to the music, but not actually absorbing what was going on. It had a meditative effect. Maybe that’s what they were going for.

There are interesting segments, including a young woman working in a bomb factory and a short animated film imagining a world without steel, but I’m struggling to deploy an alternative adjective to interesting, despite my misgivings of its use.

For a special occasion is was perfect, and it gave me the impetus to get my surround sound system fixed to enjoy the music properly.

It’s not without merit but only for people who have a genuine interest in the city.

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Interview with British band Dogs, April 2005

I recently unearthed a collection of interviews and articles that I wrote in the mid-00s for Nottingham student magazine The Mic, where I was an editor. The magazine still exists today, which is great to see given I was there at the very start. I’m going to post a few of the articles over the next few weeks in their original format.

Here’s the first – an interview from 2005 with the band Dogs, a British band very much on the rise at the time. They disbanded in 2011, but six years earlier they’d just hit the top 40 for the first time and had taken time out from their soundcheck at Rescue Rooms in Nottingham to speak with me.

Brand new band Dogs are set to take the world by storm with their new LP ‘Turn Against This Land’, which features the recent successes ‘London Bridge’ and ‘She’s Got A Reason’. Luciano Vargas (guitars and vocals) and Johnny Cooke (vocals) turned up early for the Nottingham leg of the sell-out Jim Beam Tour to have a quick chat with The Mic.

You’re currently in the middle of your tour supporting The Raveonettes. How are you finding it?

Luciano: It’s brilliant! 

Johnny: Yeah loving the tour. It’s a bitch! It’s really, really, really good fun but really gruelling. 

Luciano: It started off really well, which we weren’t expecting. We usually start off quite slowly on tours, but we started off with a blinder, at the Zodiac in Oxford. It was really good. The Brighton gig was being filmed for MTV and that went really well as well. Birmingham was probably the best so far -we were really pleased with it. So we’re pretty hot. We’re all enjoying it. Plus there’s lots of free Jim Beam, which is always fuel for the fire. It’s going really well. We’re enjoying it a lot.

You had your single in the top 40 as well.

Luciano: It’s all a bit surreal really. I’m confident with the next single as well, ‘Tuned To A Different Station’. We just had a meeting today about trying to sort the video out. We’re getting so busy now there’s no time to do stuff. We’re flying to the States for the SXSW. When we get back we’re getting picked up from the airport so we can go and play a gig back on this tour. We have to fit the shooting of the video into that schedule, which is getting pretty hectic. You don’t get a minute to breathe.  

Do you prefer recording or playing live?

Luciano: LIVE! I don’t like recording at all. It does my head in. When we recorded the album with John Cornfield he loved getting that live sound, so we used as many as we could. He’s done loads – most of Supergrass’ work and a bit of Oasis. It’s an amazing place to record. Fucking amazing. Oasis were in there at the beginning of the year actually before we were. I mean, they’re fucking crap now, but their ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s The Story?’ albums are hugely influential, on Johnny especially. And to a degree it’s the reason we’re doing this. It influenced us and made us think, “if those oiks can form a band then fucking we can do it as well”.

What are your feelings on being tipped as the next big band by NME?

Johnny: They haven’t said that. Have they? If they haven’t they fucking should.

Luciano: Those magazines always say everyone’s the next big band. They’re always gonna say it. It’s a waste of time.

Johnny: Fair shout though. Thank you very much NME. We’ll take that.

Luciano: Gladly.

Johnny: It’s still early days for us and it could still be a hit or miss affair, if we don’t reach out to the people. At the end of the day it’s not about how much we like ourselves and believe ourselves or value ourselves, it’s how much other people do. That will keep us in this job. Otherwise its back to driving vans. What we won’t do is compromise and change ourselves. If they want to join in with that and they get it we will be eternally pleased and thankful. It’s looking good. The signs are good.

Three years ago guitar bands were none existent, now they’re all over the place.

Johnny: It was a dire state wasn’t it?

Luciano: All you had was bands like Feeder.

Johnny: There’s a lot of wet-fart music about. Like Stereophonics. They saw the bit of carrot and they chased it. They weren’t like that and all of a sudden a new trend comes along and they thought, “Oh I’ll tell you what, it’s a 4/4 with a Strokes guitar”, and they followed. They’re playing catch up. Then you’ve got bands like The Futureheads, Bloc Party and Maximo Park giving it some fucking attitude. Thank the lord for British music at the moment. I’m really excited about it.

Luciano: The whole deal with the next best thing is that for some people the next big thing is The Polyphonic Spree. That’s the whole point you’ve got to remember and not get carried away with it.

Johnny: Some cocks thought Keane were the next big thing.

Luciano: Also, when someone slags you off I don’t think it matters. You’ve got to realise that some people like you and some people don’t, and the more people that like you the better.

Johnny: Be it 200 or 200000, if they get it then it’s a bit of fuel to make you stamp your foot and sing songs. As long as they let us keep doing what we want to do then that’s terrific.

‘Tuned To A Different Station’ is released on 2nd May, and proceeds the album ‘Turn Against This Land’, due out on 16th May.

Film review – The Great Hack (Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, 2019)

Unless you’re 100% informed about Cambridge Analytica, you really need to watch this film. It covers a lot of what is already known to those who followed the Facebook-Cambridge-Analytica scandal at the time, as covered in The Guardian by Carole Cadwalladr in her whistle-blowing article “The Great British Brexit Robbery”.

Cadwalladr is interviewed here, along with Cambridge Analytica’s ex-director Brittany Kaiser and ex-employee of Cambridge Analytica Christopher Wylie. Kaiser does her best to paint a sympathetic picture of herself, though I struggled to forget that she was at the heart of everything that happened (thanks to the reminders in the film). As a source, Wylie’s credibility is questioned, though he features lightly. It is an example of how well the film does at keeping the viewpoint as balanced as possible.

Importantly, the film doesn’t end trying to imply that the earth-shattering revelations brought about by the Cambridge Analytica scandal have been resolved. The implications of this scandal and the continued work that seems to be going on at so many of the large technology companies feels like it’s getting worse by the day.

It’s a slightly disjointed film that, at times, doesn’t know what it wants to do with the subject matter. It may have been better-served as a four-part series, focusing on each of the subjects for an hour. The story of the New York media professor David Carroll and his hunt for his own personal information is probably the most interesting but isn’t mentioned for a long portion of the film.

I’d also like to see more prodding of current or ex-Facebook employees, who are clearly implicated in the accusations but continue to avoid the spotlight.

Regardless of its shortcomings, this is an important film to watch. It’s also one you might need to see quickly in case it unexpectedly disappears from Netflix. It might well be the most disturbing horror film of the year.

 

A personal note on fatherhood

Whenever I’m feeling like there’s a lot going on in my mind, I go for a run. Once I’ve got my rhythm going, it gives me a unique chance to clear my mind away from distractions.

Recently, I’ve been going on a lot of runs.

One of the most joyous things that has ever happened in my life is the birth of my first child. Now 18 weeks old, she is at the age where things are developing fast. One day she’s singing back at me, trying desperately to mimic my mouth to replicate what she can hear. The next day she’s trying to roll over from her front onto her back (something I’m sure will cause increasing panic as her proficiency develops). The excitement experienced every day is a feeling I hope I never tire of.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a father when you feel like this. My company afforded a generous paternity deal for me, meaning I got two weeks off plus my saved annual leave – about six weeks in total. Regardless of this, it’s heartbreaking to say goodbye in the morning to my beautiful wife and child and know I won’t see them for nine hours. WhatsApp videos from my infinitely-understanding wife get me through the day; I know she’s fully aware of how I feel.

I simply don’t understand people who are glad to get away from their children by going to work.

So, why do I need some time to contemplate when I’ve got such joy in my life? Well, my positivity at being a father is currently counterbalanced by what’s happening with my own father, who this week is entering a carehome specialising in dementia support.

Life can be cruel sometimes, but snatching away the relationship between a girl and her grandfather when she’s only 18 weeks old is particularly tough to stomach.

My father would have loved to have a granddaughter. Of course, I get to experience the excited conversation of telling him he’s a grandfather over and over again. No matter how frequently I see him, he’s always pleasantly surprised to learn his son now has a child, even if he still hasn’t worked out that she’s female.

He was a proud man and the feeling of him losing his dignity isn’t something worth dwelling on. It is hard for everyone, but the move to a home is the best way to ensure his health and that of my mother. It’s best for me too.

It’s funny that I slip into the past tense when I talk about him. He isn’t the man I used to know at all. It reminds me of the scene at the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films of all time. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet portray an estranged couple who have agreed to have their minds erased so they can forget about each other. Clementine (Winslet) goes first, with the narrative following Joel (Carrey) inside his mind as his memories disappear. Partway through his procedure Joel decides to reverse his decision and preserve his memories of his lover, but it is too late. Michel Gondry’s brilliantly-visual realisation of what this would be is a vibrant representation of dementia. Or maybe I’m just convincing there’s a version of him fighting what’s happening to help me cope with a horrible situation. Romanticising the horrible is completely human nature.

Whilst my father’s present mind is all but gone, his legacy will live on thoroughly through me. As I approach the everyday decisions of bringing up my own daughter, I can think back to my own childhood. What did he do right? What did he do wrong? I can learn from all of his decisions and prepare myself for what lies ahead. Nobody is perfect, but all we can hope for is to do the best we can, and – to paraphrase Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird – ensure our children are the best versions of themselves that they can be.

Sometimes life deals you a horrible and unfair hand, and all you can do is deal with it the best you can.

Some say life is made up of fantastic memories shared with loved ones.

If you take away your memory, what are you left with?

Disney’s Fantasia 2006 – The film that almost was

When production on 1930s short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was nearly finished, Walt Disney knew he had something great on his hands. He also knew he had something costly on his hands. It was originally conceived as an elaborate Silly Symphony short cartoon, partly to explore Walt Disney’s love of classical music and partly to reignite public interest in the waining Mickey Mouse. The blend of high-quality animation and Paul Dukas’s memorable classical symphony proved this was a cut above the usual fare, though it came in at a budget of $125,000, which would never be earned back were it to be released as a standalone short. [1]

Using the Mickey comeback as the starting point, production was vastly expanded. Thousands of artists and twelve directors were tasked with creating eight additional segments to accompany the first short. [2] Seven made the final cut (including the intermission segment) and were included in the original theatrical release of Fantasia, Disney’s third animated feature film. It was released to much fanfare in 1940, garnering immediate and sustained critical success. It has gone down in the history books as a masterpiece.

The original plan to re-release Fantasia every few years with a new short segment replacing one of the original shorts never came to fruition, although work was started on some newer segments. [3] One completed short, titled ‘Blue Bayou’ and based on Debussy’s Clare De Lune, found its way into the 1946 package film ‘Make Mine Music’ (though with different music as backing). Indeed, both ‘Make Mine Music’ and the subsequent ‘Melody Time’ are spiritual successors of ‘Fantasia’, using the basic concept – a series of unrelated short films set to music – as their starting point. Had Disney released these films with a Fantasia prefix, they would surely be more likely to be better understood by the modern public.

Fantasia 2000

Alas, it wasn’t until 1999 that the sequel proper was released, in the form of Fantasia 2000. This time, seven new segments were included alongside the inclusion of the now-iconic short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Critically it fared well, though it wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece. At the box office, it recouped its money and made a small profit.

There were some real triumphs here, although my favourite segment has to be The Firebird, which provides an emotional closing for the feature.

A third Fantasia film?

A further follow up was started in 2002, with a working title of Fantasia 2006. However, by 2004 the film was shelved. The reasons for cancelling the project were never confirmed, but looking at the facts the reasons aren’t hard to deduce.

From Fantasia 2000 onwards to the cancellation of its sequel, Walt Disney Feature Animation released seven films: Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home On The Range. In that same time-span, Pixar released Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. That doesn’t include Toy Story 2, a film that dwarfed Fantasia 2000 at the box office and was released just three weeks earlier.

This was a troubling lack of success in what is considered as a transition phase for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Financially, they were going through a string of failures akin to the 1980s, just before the renaissance in the late 80s and through the 90s. As such, the third Fantasia film was cancelled. Now was not the time to take risks with passion projects.

Does any footage survive?

More than just fragments of shorts, Fantasia 2006 was far beyond the planning stage and well into production when it was called off. Not wishing to waste their efforts, the various production teams were tasked with finishing their segments, with the proposal that each would be released independently as short films.

Perhaps the most celebrated of the shorts is Destino. This was first conceived as a collaboration between Walt Disney and surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Dali and studio artist John Hench had made just 17 seconds before production was shelved in 1945, though this was enough time to have a basic concept scoped out in the form of storyboards. 58 years later, production was finally finished by a team of animators under the direction of Dominique Monféry. It’s visually stunning and an conceptually mind-blowing piece of art history as well as a work of art in its own right. It has been criminally underappreciated, partly due to the fact it is so hard to track down. If you want to find it now, you will need to purchase the Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray and navigate to the bonus features menu. It is seven minutes well spent.

Five-minute short Lorenzo was released in 2003 with the live-action Kate Hudson feature Raising Helen. It’s a bizarre short about a cat with a cursed tail, which develops a life of its own. The tango track “Bordoneo y 900”, performed by Juan José Mosalini and his Big Tango Orchestra, was used as the soundtrack, moving it further away from the original concept of classical music for Fantasia 2000. It hasn’t gone down as a must-see short, and it is arguably more charming than breathtaking. To find it now and enjoy it in the best quality, USA readers need to hunt down a copy of Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection on Blu-ray.

Pixote Hunt had already contributed the Symphony No. 5 segment to Fantasia 2000 (along with directing the interstitial segments), and was also the man behind One by One. The eventually-released version ended up using a song that was intended for original The Lion King film but was cut late in the production. It did end up being used in the stage musical before being used again in One by One. It’s a lovely little work of art that centres around a child feeling inspired to make and fly kites in his local village in an unidentified African country. The music isn’t integral to the film and it feels like it was a pairing made to suit its inclusion on the Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride home media release. Had it been included in the Fantasia 2006 release it would undoubtedly have been paired with some equally-fitting classical music, but the fact the animation was finished is still a blessing.

The Little Match Girl is the most memorable of the finished shorts. An eight minute story told without any dialogue that still maintains your interest is usually the mark of something very special. It is set to the third movement of Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Alexander Borodin, meaning what you can see is very much exactly as it was imagined for Fantasia 2006. It’s a achingly beautiful animation, and marked the last use of CAPS (Computer Animated Production System) by Disney following its extensive use throughout the 1990s in their renaissance period. USA readers can find The Little Match Girl as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray of The Little Mermaid or as part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection from 2015.

Other than these four finished shorts, we are left to speculate what else would have been included in a final feature release. I’d guess that Disney wouldn’t break mould with the format of live-action inter-segment introductions to break up the short films, so there would be some of that in there. It wouldn’t be a Fantasia film without the inclusion of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Siberia-set short film Glago’s Guest was completed around the same and could have been included, although it has been seldom seen by viewing public (including myself) so this is mere speculation.

Probably most exciting to Disney aficionados would be remastering and recutting the short Clair De Lune, which, as previously mentioned, was an unused short from the original Fantasia film. It was later edited with a different soundtrack and retitled Blue Bayou, which was included in the Disney feature Make Mine Music. Putting the original classical score together with the existing footage would top off something of a celebration of the past for the studio.

So there you have it. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. Its hard to argue that their eventual switch in concentration has helped ensure they got back into the hearts of a generation of children. With Moana, Zootropolis, Big Hero 6, Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, we’ve had so much enjoyment out of the studio in recently years. This wouldn’t have been possible if the studio had folded with one too many passion projects in a period in which they were struggling. 2006 wasn’t the time for looking to the past when everyone around was looking to the future.

[1] LA Times article – ‘Fantastic ‘Fantasia’: Disney Channel Take a Look at Walt’s Great Experiment in Animation’ – http://articles.latimes.com/1990-08-26/news/tv-552_1_walt-disney

[2] Grand Rapids Symphony article -‘A Look Inside Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000’ – https://www.grsymphony.org/blog/posts/a-look-inside

[3] D23 – The Official Disney Fanclub article – “15 Fascinating Facts About Fantasia.