Friday, 17 January 2014

Bristol Bad Film Club

The first rule of Bristol Bad Film Club is… you immediately go home and download the greatest hits of Dragon Sound. All two songs.

I went to my first Bristol Bad Film Club event last night and had the best time. The premise of Bad Film Club is pretty simple, they screen joyously bad films so that we can all revel in the poor acting, baffling scripts, random sub plots and fun fashion.

And this is a concept that has spiralled, last night’s screening of Miami Connection was only their fifth event, but commanded a dedicated audience of 180 who packed out a central Bristol venue to drink, cheer and laugh their way through this 1987 ‘classic’ about gangs of motorbike-riding ninjas who are fighting to defend their band Dragon Sound’s regular spot at the local nightclub. Throw in the fact the ninjas are all orphans who live in a house together and never wear shirts, and you’ve got Christmas.

Timon and Tim set up Bristol Bad Film Club to share their love of the most terrible movies ever committed to celluloid. They’re not doing this to make money – in fact, all profits from every screening go to a selected charity. They’re just doing this because they love bad films. Which makes it even more fun.

The next screening is The Room, on 20February, at Bristol Cathedral Choir School. Dubbed “The Citizen Kane of bad movies”, The Room is “A movie so bad, so inept, so unbelievably painful, it’s almost impossible to comprehend anyone thought it would be great on-screen…” (according to Felix Vasquez Jr  at Cinema Crazed).

See you there!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

‘Talon’ at Bristol Old Vic

Photo: Paul Blakemore

One for sorrow, two for joy…

Never has the magpie rhyme seemed more eerie than in the Bristol Old Vic Young Company’s production of the new gothic thriller Talon.

Written by Theo Fraser Steele, Talon follows newlywed couple Mary (Amy Hunter) and James (Samuel Bailey) whose happy marriage starts to feel the strain when Mary fails to fall pregnant after the first few years. The scenes showing the passing of time and attempts to conceive are perfectly directed in a simple but effective dance using a very versatile white sheet.

When James has a regrettable fling with a maid, which produces the much-longed for child, in a fit of rage he puts the infant boy in a wicker basket, and pushes it away down the river… thinking the boy will quietly die, but not realising he will be rescued and raised by a tiding of magpies.

Mary knows nothing about this, but her desperation for a child is driving her mad. Ambitious and unscrupulous Dr Foster (Joseph Langdon) becomes a frequent visitor to the home, prescribing laudanum to both James and Mary in a bid to help their insomnia and depression. But his time with the couple instead leads to him unravelling a terrible secret…

Photo: Paul Blakemore

Directed by Miranda Cromwell, Talon is a wonderfully chilling gothic tale that is compelling from start to finish, with a constantly building air of menace. The magpie chorus that surrounds the stage, and frequently dominates the action, is a wonderful device, and one that produces fantastic sound effects and some truly haunting singing. There is also a nice hint of old-fashioned BBC radio plays, with two cluttered tables at each side of the stage, covered with microphones and props, where various cast members retreat to provide sound effects, which works very well.

Between the German Expressionist lighting, the fantastic creation of imposing shadows, and the framing of all of the action with literal, well, frames, Talon is a cracking example of good theatrical storytelling. The cast are all very strong, and the inclusion of a child actor for the boy (instead of an adult pretending to be a boy) is a brave move that pays off.

Talon is performed at Bristol Old Vic’s Studio until 11 January. Click here for more information. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

How To Be A Heroine

All books should be this much fun to read. In How To Be A Heroine, playwright Samantha Ellis revisits all of her favourite novels to answer the pressing question of who really was the best heroine – Jane Eyre or Catherine Earnshaw?

Anyone who’s spent their formative years with their faces buried in the pages of novels like Gone With The Wind, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice and Lace will simply love How To Be A Heroine… which has even earned its own online quiz (Samantha and I are both Petrova Fossil from Ballet Shoes, by the way).

Part memoir of growing up in London with Iraqui-Jewish refugee parents, and part celebration of many of the most wonderful literary characters ever, How To Be A Heroine is a pure joy to read. It’s also made me compile a long list of novels I’ve yet to read (Riders, Franny and Zooey, Twilight…) that I can’t wait to get stuck into.

The idea of using well-loved novels to shape an autobiography is a lovely idea and works so effectively. Samantha clearly knows her subjects inside out and loves the characters dearly… those who propped her up during different times of her life and helped her sort out various dilemmas – surely, something all bookworms can identify with (I’m quite sure I’d be nowhere if I hadn’t had Judy Blume at my teenage elbow).

You’ll race through How To Be A Heroine as quickly as you raced through Valley Of The Dolls – and that’s no bad thing, simply a testament to how enjoyable and warm a book Samantha Ellis has written.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Mystery of Princess Louise

Being one of Queen Victoria’s children can’t have been a pleasant experience. The starchy monarch was famous for her dislike of children, and wanted them to only uphold the strict values that came to typify the Victorian era. But her rebellious daughter Princess Louise somehow managed to escape that mould.

Princess Louise, born in 1848, was the sixth child and fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Following a particularly agonising birth, Queen Victoria had already developed a dislike for her ‘difficult’ daughter… and the feeling grew to be fairly mutual. However, with dignity and grace Princess Louise managed to develop into the bohemian princess with a mind of her own: she was a talented sculptor and artist, a passionate woman who loved to travel all over the world, and who was fiercely devoted to supporting the emancipation of women in society.

Scandal was never too far from Princess Louise. And Lucinda Hawksley’s excellent and gripping new biography of the princess (The Mystery of Princess Louise) suggests that Louise gave birth to an illegitimate son as a teenager, and he was promptly adopted by a family known to the royals. It also suggests Princess Louise’s loveless marriage to the Marquess of Lorne was doomed to fail from the off, not least due to his homosexuality - which grew so frustrating for her that she had the windows of Kensington Palace bricked up to keep him from creeping off for assignations. Add in the confusing details surrounding the untimely death of Princess Louise’s long-term lover Joseph Boehm, and in The Mystery of Princess Louise you have a deeply exciting book – far more engaging than any novel I’ve read recently.

Lucinda leaves no stone unturned in her quest to find out every last scrap of information about the bohemian princess, rigorously travelling from England to Scotland to Canada and beyond to search archives and interview anyone who might shed some light on Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter. But in most instances Lucinda is met with closed doors… as she discovered the royal team had locked down every last shred of information in all the archives relating to Princess Louise and everybody who knew her. It’s testament to Lucinda’s research skills that she has still produced such a richly detailed and informative biography, despite the inevitable frustrations. What were the royal family so desperate to hide about this princess, who died in 1939 and is sadly barely remembered by most people today?

This secrecy makes it easy to believe Lucinda’s thoughtfully posed assertions about Louise’s big secrets… as well as to see past the myth that Queen Victoria was a respected monarch. Looking back on a time we don’t have any memory of, it’s easy to believe the picture painted for us that Queen Victoria was adored by her citizens, but The Mystery of Princess Louise proves that was far from the case. Princess Louise comes across as a figure as adored by the public as Princess Diana was more recently.