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20
Oct

Our Daily Bread, by John Crowley

The revolving doors moved him and he stepped out into the street. A great fog had shrouded the city, which smothered its life and deadened its skyline. The wind pressed heavy against the stretching bones of the London Wheel, which sought to see everything but saw only the fractured red glow of the distant towers, whose light seeped through the clouds like the flame of a flickering candle through the crevices of a closing hand.

A raindrop fell from the heavens and came crashing down onto the man’s head. He had escaped the workplace, and headed eagerly to his favourite lunch spot, hoping for a moment of silence and a bite of a sandwich. His spotted blue tie flung itself at his left shoulder, then, having been straightened back into the centre, onto his right. His head sank low into his chest as he cowered to the mercy of the wind.

Monday had thus far been stillborn. The promise of a week of fresh opportunity had seen him stapled to his desk in a way that struck him as surprisingly similar to the previous Friday. For the last three weeks he had established lunch as the centrepiece of his day- where he would leave the office and go onto the streets to consume his food. This had been a major change in his life, for, as far back as he could remember, his home-made lunch had waited for him in the communal fridge. The thick layer of sickly yellow margarine lay beneath the thin ham, squashed between the pieces of bread. This was gift-wrapped by his wife in a cellophane skin, which squeezed the margarine into the corners and dampened the crusts. Enough was enough. Besides, the communal area in which the communal fridge sat was a soulless room. All talk revolved around business, and each individual occupied their space whilst weighing up their competition across the carpet. Crumbs fell from loose mouths as they tried to establish themselves as the authoritative voice on who was next for the chop. A place without conversation would provide the only solace from incessant gossiping.

He drifted towards his chosen café with the other businessmen in a silent parade. They marched in uniform, their mouths hanging open, ready for their feeding. His thoughts fell back to the day he was forced to join them, his office lunch having been marked by the most recent of rumours to grace the room.

“I hear Richard will be fired by the end of the month” someone had said across the carpet in a gloating tone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              He had shuffled in his plastic chair and began to twist the corners of the cellophane wrapper. A cold silence set in, broken only by the constant buzz of the machines. So quietly he had been sat in the corner that no one had noticed his presence, or maybe they had and were trying to undermine him. It didn’t matter, he didn’t care. He retreated further into his cave, and looked forward to the bits of bread that had remained dry. The room now seemed so obviously drained of thought and life that he became numb.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The next day he set out, looking for a place in which he could think clearly and fill the stomach which drummed heavily at his bones. The café he had eventually found had nothing particularly defining about it- the coffee was hot and black, the sandwiches were cold and expensive- but it stood beside St Paul’s Cathedral, looking onto the impressive building with a pious kneel. From the relative quiet of the café window he could peer onto the steps of St Paul’s, looking in as if he wasn’t a part of the life that filled them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Tourists fell from the cathedral like coins from a slot machine; the city’s people staggered in ones and twos as if on pilgrimage, turning their backs to the grand entrance when they got near, while their eyes stared distantly into the lines of shops and businesses that littered the pavement. All around them creatures moved. The pigeons’ tensed, scrawny necks plunged at the floor, scraping their mouths against the pavement to peck at the crusts that had been left behind. And what they left behind the street cleaners came at. Swooping from dark corners of London, their fantastic fluorescent feathers were striking to the passer by, yet distracted them from realising the souls beneath the formless garish green. Into their bins the strewn food from the eateries moved; some unopened, some untouched, but still unwanted. They swept away the food so that they could buy their own. They scrubbed at a diseased floor that would never be cured.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       He walked up the road towards St Paul’s. An advertisement hanging from a shop blocked his view of the marvellous building and he peered round it only to be greeted by a larger sign with an arrow pointing in the opposite direction towards a burger joint. As the entrance eventually manifested itself, the fog had painted a thick grey over the intricate details. The crowds of the stairs had not noticed, and the shimmering gold of the crucifix glinted upon their heads with an approving nod.

Nearing the cafe, his thoughts fell upon his home. Shortly after his departure from the daily office feasting, his manager had called him into his office. His round table invited the pilgrim and he took his seat accordingly. The news came in a quick, cold thrust. The next three weeks would be his last; he was surplus to requirement; the machine had jammed and he would have to be shredded. It was possible that he was now liberated, but his real talents would not be able to feed his family and so he would simply wander into a similar job, with less pay and thinner walls.                                                                                                                                                              His eyes refocused on the world around him. The chosen café stood before him, decorated in slogans and prices. But though the red glow inside seemed inviting, he felt a sudden panic rush over him. The faces around him became diffused with the dead eyed stares of his co-workers, the red light pulsated and he became suffocated. He felt as if there were a deadweight, compressing and compacting him into the tightly canned crowd. His anonymity had been violated, and the idea of impending conversation came at him like a tube in a tunnel. He felt the cellophane wrapper coming over him, squeezing him in to the corners, and sealing in the air. His thoughts could not grow and live in this atmosphere. Where did one escape in a world in which every nook and cranny was filled with people and things and ideologies?

The rush of the wind came at him, whipping at his exposed ankles where the raised socks did not meet the upended trouser legs. He turned to face his accuser, and before him stood the grand entrance of St Pauls. The bells chimed with a heavy a blow which resonated across the square, causing a frenzy of movement like sheep called to order by their shepherd. And he, feeling the hysteria within him, quickened his step towards the doors without a thought for where he was going.

A small queue of tourists sifted through the internal entrance, and he came to the till. The worker serving was small and timid, with a vegetating brow, curling around his spectacles. Despite the incense that wafted into the passage and the dim hum of an organ, the worker did not seem to be consumed by the spiritual air. His stubby fingers jabbed at the till; sighs leaked from his mouth as he received yet another fifty pound note for the twelve pound price. The cash register and his worker were caught in a limbo between the two congregations, pulled this way and that; they existed only in the waiting room, praying for their number to be called. The worker was handed a sweaty twenty pound note, and gave a ticket to the man. The till’s teeth clamped shut with a menacing snarl and the queue shuffled forward once more.

The revolving door moved him and he stepped into the grand hall of the cathedral. A crisp packet tussled with the sole of his shoe, eventually escaping, and was carried off by the wind, scattering crumbs among the masses like communion to the hungry. A smell of blown-out candles hung in the air. Large groups of tourists clustered around statues, the flash of their cameras beating at the weary brows of forgotten saints. The man hovered near the back aisles wondering whether to go in further, but the price of the ticket was worth at least three lunches and he was compelled to go in by guilt. He slowly began to tip-toe through the endless rows of old wooden benches, his feet occasionally interrupted by piles of shopping bags scattered around the legs of the pilgrims as they hung to the benches like carcasses; their hands nailed to the wood, their heads dropped as if in deep thought. And all around them were icons of the forgotten martyrs; their faces caught in the stained glass windows, their bodies lying solemnly in marble shells. He walked up the long passage which was shaded from the glare of the electronically motored celestial lights. An elderly man lay beside him, fashioned in a cold hard stone. Pain and anguish crept through the furrowed brow on his pious face, but his lips sank softly towards his chin and there seemed a sense of equilibrium in his dead state. Of course the sculptor had intended this, but to the man it nonetheless seemed to represent a truth and reality that was forgotten.

His legs stirred again and pushed him towards the magnificent altar. The thick slab of marble was draped in golden covers and blood red sheets. And on the altar grew tusks of white candles, grasped tightly by their effulgent golden stands. Though they were not alight, the dense beams of the stands burned in the face of Christ, who drooped from his crucifix in the middle of the waxen towers. The gleam dissolved his features from afar, but the man could not take himself to move closer to discover the face on the cross. Eventually the glow around the altar became too intense, and he dropped his eyes from the crucifix and stared at his feet.

Despite the decadence and beauty of the place, he did not want to stay any longer and was reminded of his hunger as his stomach began to rumble. He would drop back into the flow of the crowds, like a pebble into a canal, and eventually find himself back in his work chair. He trudged towards the ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ signs, motivating himself to take another step with the slim chance that he could buy a ‘St Paul’s Sandwich’ in the shop. But as he came closer to the exit, he began to notice a small cove hidden away from the main hall. It was striking because it was cast in darkness, with only a dim light flickering. The darkness and emptiness grasped the man by his hand and led him in.

The space was stripped of any of the magnificence of the rest of the building, and only a single candle struggling in the dark could be immediately perceived. By the candle knelt an old woman, her face was tightly wrapped in a headscarf and so her features could only be seen where the flame was stirred so as to catch fleeting glances of her stony face. The man stood piously behind her, staring at her still body, wishing not to disturb her moment of silent devotion. She, who had probably only a mitre in her purse, seemed so rich in her simplicity. Her mouth gently opening and closing, her eyes drawn; she could speak freely in a world where conversation had become a means to an unperceivable end. While all around the cathedral, hordes of bodies buzzed but said and felt nothing, she penetrated their noise with her delicate mutterings.

The natural flame curled and stretched in the darkness, burning strongly but being flung from left to right as if it were despised by the wind. Despite its movement, the flame looked only at the woman, and lit her face in obsequious deference. He was consumed by a need to speak to something, to translate his fears into words and incantations; to alight a flame that burned for him. But in his life, only the flashing screen of his office computer was illuminated, preventing the gentle darkness from drawing him in and pulling forth threads of thought and contemplation. His family would of course always be there, but his voice called for an ear which did not judge and did not know him.

Despite her age she looked defiant in the face of the wind. Her back refused to stoop or cower and her stomach seemed full and satisfied. His thoughts fell to the hollow frames that trudged the streets of the city, brandishing coffee cups like symbols of devotion to a noble cause. God was absent in his life and he had concluded so at an early age- his reasons were honest, but there lay something in him that yearned for belief. There was something missing in the casino of the market world, where happiness was measured in fleeting successes and failures, where the blinding lights grabbed hold of lust and desire and made one forget about anything else. He could not find a cause, a way to satisfy his hunger, a flame to light his path. He had not found it in religion either, where from a young age he was taken by his parents and forced to recite words that did not speak to him. But this old lady, whom he did not know, had a tangible atonement in all her simplicity and silence.                                                                                                                                                                                                       He began to feel he had lingered too long and risked disturbing the old lady from her prayer. His eyes fell to his watch, whose hands seemed to grasp at the half hour mark and sentence the man to his office space. He turned through the gift-shop, ignoring the claws that grabbed at stationary embellished with Christ’s face on, and left through the grand wooden doors. A solitary piece of paper with the ‘Our Father’ written on was conjured up by the wind, sucking it towards the exit, but as the man left, the doors slammed, and the paper was cast quickly into the corner.

All around him was fog and cold and sterility. The synthetic red light of the distant towers seeped through the grey and he stepped towards it as hunger grabbed hold of his being, turning the cogs from within.

20
Oct

The Other: A Dramatic Monologue

No, I am not a murderer. I am someone miserably trapped within the suffocating layers of colonial oppression. You might be a policeman interrogating me about my sole crime but even you are a victim. You are also a prisoner of a vicious and pitiless system that believes in killing innocents under the pretext of civilization.

My sincere apologies being for such a rude host; you are after all in my prison cell. I have some dates left over from the journey. Here you go, one for me and one for you. Firstly I must thank you for listening so patiently to me. You might not understand what I am saying but your continued presence by my side tells me that you are a moral man stuck in an immoral situation. To put your mind at ease I will declare to you that I am guilty. But before I declare what I am guilty of I will first beg you to show me further kindness and continue to listen to me.

From the frown lines on your face, I deduce that you are torn between compassion for the Arab jailed in front of you and your justice system which ensures that I face death sentence. I assure you that you have as little choice as I do. There is nothing wrong about that, it is how colonizers and colonized live together. Boundaries both geographically and culturally must be demarcated to ensure the sense of otherness perpetually hangs in the air. Ethnic segregation you must agree has structured our society and will continue to do so. Why you ask? In my opinion it is do with religion on our part and injustice from your side. I know the word injustice unsettles you but you must understand that when you came to Algeria you bought the best lands and left the worst for us. My tribe was hit frequently by famine and forced my family members to seek work on your farms and vineyards. I grew up with the stench of resentment and bitterness hanging around me. There were no roads, electricity and hardly enough food to feed the entire tribe. You see, large family is a sign of prestige for us so it meant there was very little to eat. By the time I was old enough to understand who the thief was and who had been robbed we were dispossessed of our tiny land. The main reason being we did not accept your laws regarding ownership of our land. Hunger is a powerful weapon. One time, we only had piles of wild-lily roots which we boiled and ate. Borrow money? From where could we have borrowed tell me kind officer. If we borrowed from you, you had interest rate rocketing to the sky. For some the only way out was to convert to your religion and denounce Allah and his Prophet and gave their children Latin names. I wonder what they were thinking when the call for prayers was recited five times a day. It must have been humiliating for them, nonetheless a necessary evil.

The hunger gnawed my insides and screamed for change. My hunger turned into a weapon, something I craved to fight against. So I decided to leave my village for the city. My plan was to learn a craft and hopefully send money to my family. I was ready to embrace your countrymen in order to support my dwindling tribe, more than that I had too much pride to be reduced to an illiterate statistic. I did not know my worth until I migrated and saw myself as how you see me. I was and am a faceless Arab who will never learn your ways. No matter how many times you teach me the four rivers of France or how to wear black leather boots instead of my sandals and jellaba, I cannot become what you want me to become. In the city, I worked alongside your people but never formed any friendships even though we all were equal when it came to craftsmanship. I still brought them coffee and carried out menial tasks that were beneath the other workers. The chasm between us revolved around cultural differences and when they made no move to understand who I was, I stubbornly refused to embrace their way of life as well.

Even though I received no proper education mainly because it was extremely difficult for us to enter the education system, I learnt French albeit broken sentences and picked up that our work was threatened by mechanisation. Cooperage was a dying art and our boss refused to increase our wages in order to maintain a margin of profit. It was difficult for any of us to change trade especially when it had been awfully difficult for me to convince my boss to hire an ignorant Arab. Petty money, long hours and building fatigue accumulated our anger but everyone’s hands were tied. My resentment grew and I had no desire to hold it back.

Please help yourself to some of the bread if it is still soft. I hope you understand that I am narrating to you glimpses of my life which will explain to you the reason for my guilt. The last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable. Shall I continue? Thank you, dear officer. I woke up one day never to return to work. I never gave my boss any explanation for resigning and he never came looking for me. I felt like a slave who was suddenly free. For once in my life I had no one to answer to and no one to support. I was nothing but a dreamer and my heart leapt with youthful glory underneath the blazing sun with hope and the decision to fight back: free Algeria became my daily prayer.

My fight was not against an individual or any political party but against oppression and mass killings of innocents. I was a lowly worker who was willing to do anything to regain the once lost land that had been wrongfully snatched from us. Now, in the city I shared my room with another man who after I resigned from my job started asking me about the French I had worked with. He showed me how I was treated like a second class citizen in my own country and something must be done about it. I was pumped with contempt and anger to the point I was more than ready to hit back. My disadvantage was that I had never received formal education but because of work and my youth I was physically fit.

It happened so that my roommate kept me up all night asking me about my family, my opinion on French Algeria and what I thought of justified killings. I was never a philosopher but I knew one thing, I was not going to compromise any further. It was all or nothing. My answer registered a faint smile on my companion and he handed me a slip of paper. On the paper was a time and address that I had to visit the next morning. Looking back, I was extremely afraid to question him about what he wanted me to do or what will happen if I went there. At the designated place, the metal door opened slight and a messenger bag was slipped with a scribbled paper of further instructions. I did not even have a chance to see who had placed the bag or if I even trusted my roommate to pick it up. Yet, somehow I did. I took it and went to the place that I was instructed to drop it off. It was a bustling market square with majority of Europeans decked out in their colonial supremacy. The sun scorched the back of my head and fear trickled down my spine but I soldiered forward. I kept reciting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and thinking of my dispossessed family. This was for my people, there was no going back.

I notice that you have turned your face away from me. I think you also know what I am about to say next. I am deeply sorry if I have caused you pain with my account but you must understand that it is a lie to say Algeria is French. Yes, one some level I was aware that I was carrying a monster in my bag which blew up the entire square and the people in it. Not only your people were killed by me, but sadly mine too.  My fight had spiralled into this monstrosity which I have never stopped blaming myself for.

After the bomb implant, it was dangerous for me to go back to my apartment so I lived in an abandoned well for a number of days until the heat died down. The dominating presence in the streets was that of soldiers wearing green fatigues with trained dogs ready to jump at any suspicious Arab. It was exceedingly difficult to get out of the walled city at that time but I managed to pay for my passage back to the mountains. I was disillusioned and confused by my actions and my guilt was a parasite that ate my youth away. By the time I arrived back to my village, I was a shrunken man with no hope for the future. I was a bomber who did not know how many he had killed. The uncertainty was worse than any punishment.

Have you experienced suppression so extreme that all you can do is cry out in rebellion? The pain etched on your face shows that you are my companion in such times. I am a simple man, but I have the right to think. And I think that it is better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knee.  So, when I went back home to find out that my village was suffering the worst famine to date due to the harsh weather conditions, my despondency grew. I could do nothing but mourn the loss of what I had never really experienced: freedom. Such mental condition can make a man go crazy. I was half deranged with guilt and anger.

A week after my homecoming, I was startled awake in the middle of the night to hear one my family members slinking away in the night. Due to the dense snow and chilly winds, it was unusual for outside trips at such a time so I followed him. He led me to a boulder at the foot of the mountain that cuts our village from the world and there he waited. I held my breath and waited with him. After a length of time, we were joined by a dark figure who exchanged greetings with my cousin. I was unable to hear their conversations without revealing myself but I knew who he had become. He had betrayed his land, his tribe and his family. My cousin was a harki[1] and he must be killed. Allah knows and see everything!

My fight against colonialism came in the form of my cousin and I killed him in the bright daylight for my entire tribe to witness. I slaughtered him with my billhook and showed everyone how far the enemy had infiltrated our lives. My tears flowed as I saw his head separated from his body. They flowed for him and our land which was gushing with the blood of my people.

So, no I am not a murderer but a rebel. By rebelling I acknowledge your power over me but through my account I am making it clear to you that your power is dependent on my subordination. You are the guest in my land and you will leave, I promise you.

I may not believe in your justice but I believe that what I did was wrong in planting that bomb. For that crime I should be punished. I want a huge crowd of spectators hissing and cursing me when I am executed. It is only fair that I receive the same amount of hatred that I feel for them. Hatred manifests into evil. Me, I am a slave. But if I am evil, I am no more enslaved. Death is my liberation and nothing remains for me in this hell. Nothing but to be reborn or die; I choose death.

20
Oct

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Review

 

catching_fire_lead_2-175x150I’m just going to come out and say it – I really despised the firstHunger Games movie. It was possibly the most excruciating two hours I have ever spent in a cinema, although there are mitigating circumstances – the film coincided with the worst (and only) migraine I have ever had. As a result, the constant use of shaky-cam, aggressive surround-sound and generally epilepsy-inducing sequences of light and noise made for an experience that I imagine was pretty close to unanaesthetised cranial surgery.

However, my own ill health should not be enough to condemn a series, so I went into The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with a relatively open mind, and for the most part, was pleasantly surprised. The action is less reliant on shaky-cam now, and there is generally less time devoted to the actual “hunger games” section of the film this time around. The strong point of both films is the attention to detail in the creation of a society and culture, so it was nice to see more screen time devoted to it.

The action sequences are, of course, unavoidable. Being targeted squarely at a mid-teen audience, a 12A rating was absolutely necessary for the film to be a financial success. It is a credit to the film’s creators that it includes scenes of suffocation, drowning, throat-ripping, skin-blistering, public execution, public whipping, more public execution, child-murder and nudity while still obtaining the 12A rating. Unfortunately, the necessary reliance on quick-cutaway shots from the deaths meant that some scenes lacked the emotional punch that would have been possible with a higher age rating.

untitled-300x222The film’s world-building is fantastic, and its action scenes are generally acceptable. The acting is much more of a mixed bag. Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen) is a relatively competent

actor, although her role consists pretty much entirely of pouting grumpily and being indecisive. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is a character that has such a perfect union of clichéd lines and awful acting that he becomes almost charming in his incompetency.

The adult actors, on the other hand, are almost flawless. Donald Sutherland pulls off a dictator who manages to be simultaneously friendly, merciless, fatherly and sadistic.  Philip Seymour Hoffman pulls off yet another fantastically naturalistic performance. Lenny Kravitz is, once again, surprisingly good, and Woody Harrelson manages to walk the line between tragic and comic character with surprising ease.

Overall, this is a worthwhile film. Some awkward acting, clichéd dialogue and the odd bit of creaky CGI does little to detract from the fantastic effort that has been put into the creation of an entire society, structure and culture.

One final piece of advice: try and choose a showing during a school day, to avoid the experience I had. Three rows of unaccompanied children between the ages of 10 and 14, clapping, screaming, giggling, chatting, throwing popcorn and running in and out of the cinema every five minutes for a break. During the last half of the film I became increasingly convinced that I had been granted a glance at what eternal damnation must feel like.

20
Oct

Aesthetica Short Film Festival – Day 3

acheleComedy

A Lovely Treat

Mitch Yapko (Long Legs Productions) USA, 2012

The basic problem with this film is that it only has one joke, and that joke isn’t even particularly funny. All comedy in the film evolves from the fact that the male character is a little bit short. I could forgive this film for not being funny, if there was anything else of merit. But there’s not – featuring a standard female rom-com voiceover, uninteresting dialogue and poorly handled transitions between scenes, there’s really nothing to recommend this film.

The Painter and the Thief

Jack Lawrence (University of York) UK, 2013

While slightly awkward acting and some sound recording issues marred my enjoyment of this piece, The Painter and the Thief is a competently produced fusion of the caper and romance genres, with a good helping of comedy thrown in there. While its cuteness becomes predictable at times, the dialogue was well written enough to maintain my investment in the characters throughout.

Liars

Oscar Nobi (Independent) UK, 2012

Out of all the films screened at “Comedy – 4” this one got the most laughs. A succinct, witty script, some genuinely thought provoking observations about everyday life, and even one moment of creative camera work, this was a six minute wonder compared to the rather mediocre offerings that came before it.

La Page Blanche

Yohann Sfez (7e ACT) France, 2012

While the acting, filming and general production values of La Page Blanche were a cut above the rest, its gimmicky plot was rather disappointing. Moments of humour were regular and welcome, but unfortunately this film aimed for a clever plot with dashes of comedy, and missed the mark with the plot.

The Plotters

Thomas Guerrier (Indeptendent) UK, 2012

At only two minutes long, there is not really much more to this film than the single joke. That said, the joke is presented well enough that it was a two minutes that I would happily give up again.

Our Name is Michael Morgan

Maurice Caldera (Quiddity Films) UK, 2012

Raising far more questions than it answers, the initial response to this film was a universally baffled one. However, it is funny, poignant, excellently filmed and makes some subtle points about the commodification of 21st Century lifestyles that stuck with me long after the film had finished. An excellent piece.

Animation

Ed

Gabriel Garcia (Hype.cg) Brazil, 2013

With a combination of photorealistic animation and cartoony CGI rabbits, Ed spends much of its time firmly lodged in the uncanny valley. The film feels more like an exercise in animation than a feature in and of itself. While it must be commended for its execution, Ed fails to hit particularly hard, most obviously in the film’s final twist, which gives the unnerving impression that the film makers thought it was considerably cleverer than it actually is.

Darkness

Benjael Halfmaderholz (Hylas Film) Germany, 2013

A brief clip of animation which could serve very well as part of a larger story, the four minute run time does at least showcase  the creator’s talent for excellent aesthetic design and un-scripted storytelling. Short, sweet, and something I would like to see more of.

Tempest in a Bedroom

Laurence Arcadias / Juliette Marchand (Amorce Films / JPL Films) France, 2011

An oft-overlooked quality of animation is its ability to portray scenes that censorship boards will not permit, or that actors might be uncomfortable performing in. Never is this clearer than in Temest in a Bedroom, which contained one of the most extended sex scenes I’ve ever seen. With some deeply uncanny animation (animated faces, live action lips) and bizarrely surreal comedy, Tempest in a Bedroom is entertaining for its weirdness alone. Factor in some interesting exploration of sexual repression and you have a winning combination

Ctrl

Matt Waruszynski (Sizzle Studios) UK, 2012

Clocking in at a minimal 1m 46s, there’s little more to this than the very basic jokey premise. However, the joke is not a bad one, and the animation is nicely stylized, making this an enjoyable, albeit inconsequential minute and a half.

The Nether Regions

Maria Lee (WONKY films) UK, 2012

While Brian Blessed is fantastic as Satan, and his dialogue is perfectly crafted for both the character and actor, it feels suspiciously like this was written as a radio script and then adapted verbatim for animation – the visual aspect of it adds barely anything. However, it only runs on for about three minutes so it feels unfair to be too critical.

Drama

Achele

Clara Kraft Isono (London Film School) UK, 2012

A harrowingly sad tale of the separation of two sisters, Achele is a tragically pessimistic study of childish impotence in the face of society. The filming is gorgeous, although one feels that it must be hard to make an ugly film when the shooting location is amid the Himalayan villages.  Shot in semi documentary format, much of the beauty of this film lies in its adherence to reality.

The Fire

Artem Volchkov (VGIK) Russia, 2013

A finely crafted tragic drama, most masterful in its creation of a persistent sense of impending doom. Revolving around a struggling father/son relationship, the dialogue never strays into cliché, which is especially admirable given the ease with which this kind of relationship drama attracts it. Depressing yet simultaneously uplifting, if you’re craving an emotional punch in the gut, this is the film for you.

20
Oct

Trading in the art of Freedom

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion – Albert Camus

Meet Marcello Arrambide. Seven continents, over eighty countries, and this Venezuelan-born day-trading travel-blogger is still looking for more.

In November 2010, Marcello took out $25,000 in private student loans, and traded a full-time job in for his very own ‘journey to Freedom’, leaving the States for a life of travel. “I was very scared to leave what society calls the norm – a 9 to 5 job and a weekly pay check”. Since then, the traveller has become the CEO of his own company, Day Trading Academy, in which he passes on his own experience to future travelling day traders, and has a well-established blog and website, reaching thousands of readers each month.

When asked about his reasons for leaving America, Marcello admitted that he had been looking for freedom: “My definition of success is not money or fame, just freedom. The freedom that comes from being able to live anywhere in the world, work anywhere in the world, and travel at a moment’s notice, has always attracted me”. Having recently visited his seventh and final continent, Australia, Wandering Trader seems to be close to fulfilling a life-long ambition of freedom, but Marcello still finds time to visit some unique destinations: “When I heard about the stone forest in Madagascar, I immediately bought a ticket to Africa, and was living there in a matter of months”.

Marcello’s blog has been commended by many as one of the most influential blogs at the moment, but that was never his main goal, rather a side-effect of his success: “The initial goal for the blog was to drive traffic to a day trading company I was a member of”.  The blog became a way of connecting with similar, like-minded people, and keeping track of his journey.

Life as a day trader is one of the most profitable professions at the moment, and has been known to survive an economic crisis or two. Wandering Trader started working as a day trader when he was 18 years old, with $25,000 from private student loans. Day trading refers to the practice of speculation in securities, specifically buying and selling financial instruments within the same trading day on the basis of small, short-term price fluctuations. After Marcello started teaching other traders his techniques and methods at the Day Trading Academy, he found that the success rates were increasing. “Day trading is one of the only professions that I know of where you can do well in any kind of economic situation.” The Wandering Trader blog is not simply an account of his travels, but a collection of travel hints, language lessons, and lists of must-see destinations.

His company, theDayTradingAcademy.com dictates mainly where he travels, particularly as it continues to expand. Marcello is in the process of opening day trading centres around the world, most notably in Peru, Brazil and South Africa, where he hopes to train the locals in the art of trading. “The day trading industry is a unique one. Most day traders sit behind a desk, within the confines of their comfort zones, but it’s much easier now to travel around the world and to experience new things.”

Marcello’s response was confident when asked whether he has yet achieved freedom: “Travel has assisted me in framing my concept of freedom. Visiting third world countries and seeing how other people live has kept me extremely grounded. Freedom isn’t only about your own life, it’s all about being able to help others and have an impact on their lives”.

After having travelled to over eighty different countries, Wandering Trader has no plans to stop writing or travelling, and will continue to visit some of the world’s most unknown places. This traveller is one of the few travel-bloggers to have visited the world’s newest country, South Sudan, and is one of the only people to have visited Somalia, a country located in the Horn of Africa. When asked about the most memorable culture shock, Marcello replied with Singapore: “Being raised in a multicultural household, I am pretty used to experiencing different cultures, but Singapore was my first taste of a true Asian city. Everything seemed a lifetime away from America”.

“I am most inspired by the people who have faith that the world will unfold the way it’s meant to, and are confident enough to take a risk and follow their dreams.”

His final word of advice to future travellers was simple: “Let go of your inhibitions, let go of your material possessions, and follow your dreams. We all have to work and make money to live in this world. The real question is how exactly you want to live”. Although he currently lives in Singapore, Marcello eventually would like to become one of the few people to have travelled to every country in the world, and will be moving to Columbia at the end of May 2013 to open his first day trading centre over there.

“Freedom to me is not simply financial, cultural or physical. It is the ability to live your own life, dictated under your own terms.”

20
Oct

The Hunt

The Hunt explores the devastating consequences of a false accusation. It highlights the sinister tendency that we have to mete out punishment to our peers despite their being found wholly innocent in the eyes of the law; it is a film which reflects how “innocent until proven guilty” can swiftly become “guilty despite being being proven innocent.”

Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, A Royal Affair) is Lucas, a lonely kindergarten teacher who has been forced to leave his job teaching at a secondary school due to cutbacks, and who is currently fighting his estranged wife for custody of his son. One of the children, Klara, who is also the daughter of Lucas’ best friend, develops a childish crush on him when he walks her home after finding her lost at the local supermarket. When Lucas discovers how Klara feels about him, he sets her right and tells her instead to give the gift she made for him to one of the boys her own age. Klara is upset and tells an innocent lie to one of the other teachers. Fairly soon, Lucas is accused of sexually abusing her.

What follows is an unflinching documentation of how the community ostracises Lucas based upon purely the suspicion of his wrongdoing. Highly relevant given the on-going furore surrounding allegations of institutionalised paedophilia in this country, The Hunt chronicles the hardship that such allegations can force upon the innocent. I do not intend here to speculate precisely who is or is not innocent of the alarming range of alleged crimes that currently saturate the airwaves, because, as the film shows, this is counterproductive.

The residents of Lucas’ community all-too-easily allow themselves to be carried away by a sense of self-righteousness that goes well beyond the realm of law. He is prevented from shopping in his local supermarket, physically beaten when he refuses to leave. Without giving away too much of the plot, it is safe to say that Lucas’ very life is endangered by the judgement passed upon him by the community, even when fully exonerated.

The film’s devastating conclusion is that Lucas’ life can never go back to the way that it was, that he has become the perpetual “hunted” – that even though the community grudgingly, and superficially, accepts the law’s decision, he will be dogged for as long as he lives anywhere near these people. The film asks the question to what extent does punishment for a crime, or in this case for a perceived crime, range beyond the regulated legal system? Does the ephemeral, unregulatable ‘community’ have any right to confer additional punishment to that deemed necessary by the state? Should we be concerned when it does? And even if the law decides we deserve to be free, can the same be said of our peers?

None of these questions have easy answers, but for anyone interested in them (and how can one not be?)The Hunt makes for essential, if uncomfortable, viewing.

20
Oct

Is fashion really as shallow as it is portrayed?

People are always saying how shallow fashion is. It is perceived as a vain interest, its existence is for those obsessed with aesthetics and beauty, but I think they’re missing the deep influence it has on the world.

If we look back to where fashion developed from, it has actually become less about wealth and extravagance and, arguably, has taken a more philosophical and political route. So where did fashion begin? With the monarchs and nobility who displayed their wealth through their dress and possessions. Obviously, the more wealth they had, the more they were able to source rare materials and jewels; similarly, the greater power they held, the further afield they could import trends and fashions from. Throughout history, people have used fashion to demonstrate their wealth, travels and experiences; interestingly thought, it is only since the world has developed allowing for greater and more diverse production methods, greater trade opportunities, as well as, people having more disposable incomes, that the idea of fashion has been deemed shallow and vain.

If we take it back to basics, fashion is self-expression through materials and colours rather than words, paints or facial expressions. A true designer isn’t someone, whose sole aim is to make their fortune, but an artist who has been inspired and has combined fine art with sculpture and textiles; ultimately, haute couture is fine art which has been brought to life. Designers take inspiration from all aspects of life; be it music, artworks, lyrics, nature or an experience, so why do we all perceive fashion to be shallow and fickle? I can only assume that it is because we have the opportunity to make it so. Nowadays clothes are so readily available at low costs that we can constantly buy new pieces and change our style whenever we want, thus we are creating the perception that fashion is materialistic.

Everyone wants to be successful in life, achieve their dreams and live happily, and if we’re taking fashion to be a pure form of self-expression then it makes sense that we want to be attractive, because our natural instincts (and the media and every soppy rom-com) tells us we’ll be happiest once we find our perfect partner. So is fashion just an extension of biology and our animalistic desire to be attractive to the opposite sex?  No, not really, that’s probably taking it slightly too far, but it is fair to say that fashion gives us the ability to accentuate our beauty and express ourselves, so we’re almost wearing a brief synopsis of our lives.  When you’re choosing what to wear, there is a certain decision to be made in terms of the personality we want to portray, how attractive we want to appear, whether to demonstrate certain beliefs, opinion. Because let’s be honest, everyone judges people on their aesthetics initially and we all want to appeal to the right people, whether that is for friendship, relationships or business.

But what about the people who aren’t interested in following fashion? Well, that just another expression of themselves, they might not be concerned by the pre-fall collections or Spring/Summer ’14, but they have their own style which they maintain. There is a social expectation to conform to certain fashions, I mean, you don’t see people wondering around in togas anymore. So whilst they might not be ‘en Vogue’, they are conforming just as much as Anna Wintour or Franca Sozzani.

Besides, it’s quite apparent that fashion’s place in society is considerable and powerful; thus people have use this position to make bold statements; from Westwood’s t-shirt’s supporting Julian Assange to Benetton’s ‘Unhate’ campaign which deeply upset the Catholic Church. I am by no means condoning some of the editorials which promote child models, anorexia, racism or abuse; in fact I’m utterly disgusted that anyone would give such proposals the go-ahead. I also believe there are many aspects of the fashion industry which are not positive or admirable and need some serious reconsidering. However, I feel that the artistic side of fashion is too often forgotten by the many of us, as well as many in the industry too.

Primarily fashion is art, and when a piece of art can invoke such fierce debates then I think it is almost impossible to say that fashion is shallow. In fact, in its very purest form, it is far from shallow or vain, it’s a multifaceted concept that affects people everywhere every day; from your average Joe in a plaid shirt and jeans, to the most chic French fashionista who frequents Hermes and Prada. What began in the royal palaces with the wealthy showcasing their opulence has become deeply-rooted into our society and if anything, fashion and its capacity to be unique and a trend at the same time is fundamental to society and our desire for self-expression. It is cardinal to each individual, the story-telling of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we want to go.

Rachael Potter

20
Oct

Miles Aldridge – ‘I Only Want You To Love Me’ at Somerset House, London.

Somerset House is currently home to an exhibition, the largest to date, of photographs, drawing, sketches and magazines from the world-renowned fashion photographer, Miles Aldridge.

From his degree in illustration at Central St Martins, and brief dabble in directing music videos, Aldridge isn’t your average fashion photographer’s background – in fact, nothing about his work is very conventional either. Aldridge’s shoots are conducted in an almost theatrical manner; he explains he works with film rather than to shooting static frame by frame. This motion is apparent in each work. The boldness of colour alongside the high definition creates his near-unique, cinematic quality.

Aldridge ignores the parameters of typical fashion photography and takes his works to a level beyond the immediate beauty. Beyond the aesthetics, extravagance and debauchery which appear natural in a glossy copy of the latest Vogue Italia; Miles’ focus is always the women, the stunningly beautiful women with blank-expressions. Past the blood-red ketchup splatter on the black and white tiles, the strikingly dazed housewives in the shopping aisle and the opulent Virgin; there is a distance between the women, the empty gazes suggest a deeper sense of neurosis and trouble.

The works are busy with colour, grandeur and opulence but if you consider the scenes, Aldridge’s work, arguably, has a darker side; the women are perceived as almost broken. The absence of delicate materials and muted hues makes the women’s fragility even more apparent, their emotionless eyes seem to hide a story that they want to tell but their bold clothing and surroundings do not allow for a moment to disclose their anxieties. It is important to note that Aldridge states that his work is not a social commentary, but an exploration of the human condition in all its complexity.

Parallel to the notion of exploration, Aldridge’s work can be appreciated on varying levels. The images have multiple layers, meanings and stories, but he leaves it to you to explore and decide how deep you want to read into them.

Take ‘The Rooms #2’ (below).

Initially, there is an attractive, finely-dressed woman, submerged in luxuriously rich colours. A bit deeper and you have a handsome model clothed in high couture, surrounded by objects which hint at hedonism, perhaps the theme for this season’s campaign. Deeper again, you can analyse the techniques which were involved, the use of film to capture the moment of the split objects, the gentle folds of the material captured in a way you expect them to move in a slight breeze. Deeper again, who is this elegant woman? Why is she lay on the floor, has she fallen, been pushed, overdosed? If so, then why? Deeper again, what is Aldridge trying to say about the human condition? Is it because we are human that we are never satisfied? Are we all dangerously materialistic, or once we acquired everything, do we start to lose other parts of ourselves? It is simply up to you to interpret as you wish.

His works, in this exhibition in particular, are like an adult picture-book. You are given the character and the scene, the rest is up to you. It is your choice to make is as thrilling and debauched, tragic and opulent, or splendid and conventional as you want.

20
Oct

“Necessity is the mother of creativity”- Street art in Cairo since the Arab uprising

January 25th 2011 marked the beginning of the Egyptian Uprising. For eighteen days, collective social force hit the streets in an unprecedented manner.  The Egyptian population – their resolve manifest in the numerous demonstrations in Tahrir Square – voiced political concerns and called for change within both the government and society. For eighteen days, Egypt was gripped by chaos and uncertainty; tensions which remain unresolved in Egypt to this day.

However, destruction breeds creation. One of the outcomes of the revolution in Egypt has been the formation of space for expression, where such expression had previously been stifled. Moreover, not only did the uprising allow for new modes of expression, it generated them. The ‘Revolution’, catalysed by the use of social media, represented the accommodating framework for artistic experimentation, such as the surge of street art, standing monuments in the streets of Cairo.

Graffiti riddled with political significance has become for many individuals a tool of resistance wielded against the status quo. And what makes it so effective is its creation and development borne out of a common dissatisfaction, revolt, and the timing of a historical trigger – such as the quasi-tidal course of the “Arab Spring”. As these feelings spill out in the public realm, the street becomes a site of contestation, a key element in the interaction between community, activism, and art. Due to its dichotomous status of anonymity and publicity, the street functions as the arena in which social issues are expressed, highlighted, and developed.  These range from gender concerns, to honouring the martyrs of this conflict, to record history as it is happening.

The streets of Cairo present themselves as an urban papyrus onto which artistic expression is allowed to flourish, continuously shifting with the ebb and flow of people and city. Through this freedom in expression a sobering reality is physicalised and highlighted, not as a means of ‘prettifying’ one’s surroundings, but as a creation of social awareness against the injustices of poverty, censorship, repression, violence, and corruption.  The public space is re-claimed, as a means of resistance, and as expression of free-thinking – a freedom that has proven extremely difficult to annihilate. The evolving and layered nature of street art allows for a continuation and a development of expressive discourses that remain current and relevant to the issues which feed it. When the government paints over graffiti (in itself an act that affirms and augments its role as a vessel of freedom of expression), more eventually appears – as an evolution, as a response. This is freedom of expression at its most flowing, despite extreme pressure and constraint which actually create the necessity to express. This is freedom of expression at its most ever-shifting existence.

20
Oct

AAW Day 3: Conservation and Curation Talk

This enjoyable talk from a York Art Gallery representative explained the £8m renovation of the fine Victorian building. The project will “interpret” (as the gallery’s mission statement claimed) the grand Victorian spaces. One of the major changes is the additional floor being built into one of the tallest Victorian rooms, allowing for more artwork to be displayed. It is certainly a risk considering the building is listed.

What is instantly clear is that the project needs a lot more funding – not to mention the initial stages of building to kick-start the renovation. It is universally known that public funding for the arts is being severely cut. The Arts Council earmarked £3.5m from the local budget. The renovation was originally (in the speaker’s words) “bumped up” the local council’s agenda after a private donor entailed his estate to the York Art Gallery. The entailment covers £2m of the renovation. It is obvious that most of the funding will derive from private donations: it perhaps attests that the arts are becoming increasingly pushed off the agendas of local government. The gallery’s limited funds were most apparent when the speaker suggested the struggle to acquire contemporary works. Their art fund last year was a mere £100,000.

Indeed, the renovation is clearly overdue: the ramshackle storage units for the gallery’s 1000 paintings, 270 paper artworks and 500 sculptures was built in the 1970s. For years the gallery has used pieces of foam to prevent valuable works of art have been rubbing together (damaging some original frames) as they are all piled in back-to-back. It’s a crying shame and the refurbishment of the private spaces of the gallery will no doubt be a worthwhile investment – for the health of the works themselves. The speaker mentioned the scratches done to the varnish of the Ramsay portrait, ‘Mrs Morrison’, by visitors meaning that the painting will now be glazed. The art stores seem to be the priority at this stage, perhaps more so than the gallery’s display spaces. This is seemingly justified, considering the current stores have had leaks and dust problems from the air conditioning unit which is astonishingly also in the store. Judging by the pictures in the presentation, it is a sorry state of affairs. The renovation is “preventative conservation”, the speaker said – conservation to “minimise the risk of damage and deterioration.” The new stores will boast roller racks for easy access and glass cabinets for sculptures.

Other changes include a balcony area for visitors and an extension of the existing toilets, both of which anticipate an increase in visiting rates which the speaker suggests is based on the popularity of the Hockney exhibition last year.

The public cost, as well as financial, is incurred in that the York Art Gallery will be closed for two and a half years from December this year. Thirty-four works will go on tour around Yorkshire. Many will be exhibited in three long exhibitions at St. Mary’s gallery. Four paintings will go to the National Gallery, and three to the Tate. Some may be exhibited at Fairfax House and most will sit in deep storage for the coming years.

Though it is a high price to pay, the gallery is in desperate need of attention. It is sure to be worth it in two and a half years’ time.