Friday, 30 April 2010

The return of The Wrong People

One of the best albums of the 1980s has finally been reissued. Furniture's The Wrong People, which boasts the wonderful single Brilliant Mind, always sounded out of time, and nearly 25 years hasn't changed that - kitchen sink dramas played to brushes.

Stiffed by the demise of Stiff records and stuck in contractual limbo, it seemed we may never get to hear this way again (my cassettes of this, a second album and a 'greatest hits' compilation screwed up a long time ago). What makes this reissue especially welcome is the care and attention that has gone into it: sleevenotes, lyrics and additional b-sides and demos are all present and correct.

You could find such putative 'hits' as Shake Like Judy Says and Love Your Shoes ('I love your mind/And it makes me want to stay right here in bed') on YouTube but it's startling the punch half-remembered tracks like Make Believe I'm Him ('If you want to/When we make love/You can make believe I'm him') and Pierre's Fight still pack.

At the centre of it is all is one of the most ambitious, and dramatic, pop songs ever recorded: She Gets Out the Scrapbook. How humbling the revelation, from singer Jim Irvin, 'We were a bit afraid of it after we'd written it. I'm still slightly mystified by it.' It shares with the aching I Miss You a beautifully combative air of nostalgia; 'She's been working late/She comes home, gets on the phone/Calls up a few close friends/Gets a bottle of wine or something/And as the evening draws on, they sit and reminiscence/She gets out the scrapbook and they say/Did we really live like this?/Did we really, really live like this?' Yes, we did, and it's still lovely.

Friday, 9 April 2010

One vision: digital cinema

The last couple of films I've seen in London were screened in digital. They did both look great but I am beginning to understand what vinyl purists have been moaning about ever since the introduction of CDs - digital does leech much of the depth and warmth.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend the torture porn of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo if you're not a fan of the books but what could have been an impressive TV drama didn't come out any the worse on the big screen at the Odeon Covent Garden. And the Curzon Soho did full service to Lourdes' populous scenes, and others set in alienating, strip-lit rooms and tunnels.

While those films were well served by digital projection, I'm glad I've seen Gainsbourg and L'affaire farewell - both highly recommended! - on film. It's nothing new for artists to have to suit their message to the medium and manner of delivery to audiences, but does digital mean that the work of directors/ cinematographers will start looking the same rather than reflecting the subject matter, or their own vision?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman - missing in action

The other week, my best friend and I watched Hal Hartley's Trust, separately. I had found the DVD for cheap in HMV, he paid to watch it online. How strange that we should have both returned, unprompted, to this idiosyncratic film that was emblematic of the burgeoning US indie cinema scene in the late 1980s, early '90s. (In another coincidence, I just uploaded my copy of Pilote's Dotinowman, which features dialogue from Trust. Hartley has also popped up recently in reviews of Lourdes, which stars an almost unrecognisable Elina Löwensohn who, some particularly esoteric critics have noted, of course also featured in the director's 1994 Amateur, alongside Isabelle Huppert.)

I followed my viewing of Trust with Hartley's breakout feature, The Unbelievable Truth (1989). (The late) Adrienne Shelley was the star of my double-bill, opposite Hartley regulars Robert Burke and Martin Donovan in Truth and Trust respectively. They're what are usually described as off-beat romances; the theme of trust is central to both, which Hartley seems to associate with elevation somehow. The films are only separated by one year, but Hartley markedly honed his camera style and dry dialogue of non sequiturs between the two. As this process continued, it inevitably produced the almost unwatchable sparse anger of such later films as Henry Fool (1997) and The Book of Life ('98).

And, because I was thinking of Hal Hartley, my mind wandered to another US indie talent who emerged at the same time: Whit Stillman. The scene they were identified with when their films were sold in the UK is probably the main connection between them, an interest in young characters - often New York (sub-)urbanites - and language notwithstanding. Hartley continues to direct while Stillman's last was The Last Days of Disco back in 1998, but they're often seen as lost talents. For me, they'll be forever linked for offering an exciting vision of cinematic possibility.

Stillman is the notably warmer film-maker. His only other two films - Metropolitan (1990) and Barcelona ('94) - are filled with sparkling dialogue and sympathetic portrayals of idiots (they are, he says, only young). An unofficial fan site says he long ago abandoned plans to direct an adaptation of Christopher Buckley's Little Green Men (probably no bad thing) though he may still be working on a film on Jamaican music he wrote about in the Guardian - four years ago! This is a guy who even takes a long break between penning newspaper articles.

Probably the nearest to these two directors' tone in recent cinema is (500) Days of Summer: quirky, natch, sharp (though the dialogue could have done with being a bit wittier) and even bearing a Hartley-esque dance sequence. It would be lovely to have Stillman back but, as one of the main protagonists says at the end of Metropolitan, 'You don't want to over do it'.