The Florida Project film review ****

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The Florida Project, 13th December 2017

I missed out on Sean Baker’s previous film, Tangerine, shot entirely on an I Phone camera. It was on the “to-see at the cinema list” but I failed to get round to it. More fool me. This clearly needs to be put right based asap based on The Florida Project. This really is a very fine film. Mr Baker, and co-writer Chris Bergoch’s, story of people living on the margins of Walt Disney World, (the grimly ironic Seven Dwarfs Lane), in Florida, both geographically and economically, is an immensely humane film which tellingly points up the divide in modern America. And this reality of living on the edge is only made more vivid by being largely seeing through the eyes of a child.

Halley, (an astonishing debut performance from Instagrammer Bria Vinaite), does what she has to support herself and 6 year old daughter Moonee, (Brooklynn Kimberley Prince, a veritable acting veteran at just 7). Selling knock off perfume, pinching passes to Disney World and re-selling them and, eventually, having no option but to sell herself. Friend Ashley (Mela Murder), who works at the local diner, helps out with smuggled out leftovers, and kind, and infinitely patient, motel manager Bobby, (William Dafoe who wisely refrains from stealing the show), watches over mother and daughter. Halley’s justifiable pride and desperation lead her to, sometimes, to reject the help of others. In the end she, unsurprisingly, breaks.

Much of ¬†our attention though is focussed on the Twainesque adventures of sassy Moonee, Ashley’s son, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and new arrival Jancey (Valeria Cotto). Whilst I would hesitate to call their childhood innocent, these are the scenes where Mr Baker’s vision, along with cinematographer Alexis Zabe, who mixes digital with 35mm film, is most effectively conjured up. The ice-cream pastel colours of the motels, and the other outlets and buildings that make up this part of Kissimmee, contrast with the brilliant blue skies, sugar-sweet, urban sunsets and the surrounding grasslands which are reclaiming any abandoned lots. It is, as it is intended to be, magical. Indeed it is the “real” Magic Kingdom inside the park where Moonee and Jancey sardonically escape to at the unresolved end of the film. (Shot in secret apparently: no way the Disney behemoth was going to be sullied by this project).

Mr Baker is a detached observer. There is no attempt to romanticise the plight of Halley and the other residents of the motel, nor to elicit our pity or anger. That is not to say that you won’t feel for Halley and Moonnee, just that Sean Baker doesn’t engage in the typical Hollywood emotional hand-wringing. There is no real plot: it doesn’t matter though. The mix of shots, the use of first time actors and real life authority characters, the accumulation of small but telling scenes, the presence of the other, richer America, literally yards away, (the drone of helicopters flying tourists in and out is ever present), all add up to a memorable whole. I particularly liked the rising panic on the faces of the honeymooners who accidentally booked themselves into the motel, the reaction of the residents to the arson of a nearby abandoned condo block and the way Bobby dispatched a nervous predator.

The “Florida Project” was apparently Walt Disney’s code-name for the original ideas for Disney World. The motel may not look exactly like the infamous “projects’ of inner-city America but the play on words is still acutely apposite. The fantasy of the original purpose for which this environment was first created stands in stark contrast to the economic reality of today. Many coastal resorts in the UK share this destiny.

Great idea, great eye, great film, perfectly wrought. I doubt there has ever been a film with better mother-daughter performances. I can’t recall any. Go see.

 

 

Peter Wispelwey (cellist) at Kings Place review ****

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Peter Wispelwey, cello

Cello Unwrapped: Bach Through Time Concert III. Kings Place Hall 1, 8th December 2017

  • JS Bach – Cello Suite No 1 in G, BWV 1007
  • Benjamin Britten – Cello Suite No 3, Op 87
  • Gyorgy Ligeti – Sonata for solo cello
  • JS Bach – Cello Suite No 3 in C, BWV 1009

If I had to pick my favourite venue in London for classical music it would probably be King’s Place. The design is lovely. The acoustic is perfect, especially upstairs. The welcome is warm. (I lost a book there once. They found the book and then they found me). The programming is interesting. In particular the year long seasons which artfully pull together chamber music across a genre or theme. This year, Cello Unwrapped; in the last couple of years, the Baroque and Minimalism. Next year, Time Unwrapped, a more ambitious conceit which is chock full of interesting programmes. To be fair it has helped that the last three years have focussed on particular favourites of mine in terms of period and instrument but, even so, I heartily recommend Kings Place to anyone who isn’t already a regular. Bear in mind too that I am only really a consumer of the classical events: there is plenty of other stuff, music, comedy, spoken word, going on there as well. Finally they make a decent cup of tea in the caff upstairs, the loos are spotless, and there is usually some free art to soak in before, after or during the interval. And, in the summer, there is a pleasant saunter available along the canal.

Now I appreciate that the very best chamber music is likely to be found elsewhere in London, specifically the Wigmore Hall. The Wigmore certainly has its charms, but the legroom isn’t up to much and, if you intend to spend a fair time in her formidable company, you had better get used to seeing the back of other peoples’ heads. I am partial to Cadogan Hall but the repertoire is mostly orchestral and requires careful sifting. St John’s Smith Square delivers some stirring stuff for Early Music, Baroque and Contemporary enthusiasts like the Tourist but there is no hiding the fact that it is a Church, atmosphere therefore trumping sound and comfort. Mind you it is a beautiful lump of Baroque, fancy enough to satisfy, but not so fancy as to make one queasy. Thomas Archer’s buildings have taken a bit of a hammering in London, (go see St Paul’s Deptford if you don’t believe me), so it is good that this, maybe his best, looks so perky. I am also very, very partial to Milton Court Concert Hall, largely for the same reasons as Kings Place, and St Luke’s Old Street, where the interior has been brilliantly re-crafted by architects Levitt Bernstein. But, in both cases, the number of concerts which match the Tourist’s tastes, is constrained.

I digress. It was the programme here that attracted me as I confess no knowledge of Ms Wispelwey before this evening. Bach obvs, it being impossible to hear the cello suites too many times in a lifetime, but also the Britten which echoes old JSB, and the Ligeti, which, in its own way, is also an homage to the old boy. Ligeti is rapidly becoming my favourite mid/late C20 Modernist. It’s great this “finding out about new music” lark.

Apparently Britten intended to emulate Bach and compose six cello suites but this, unfortunately, was the last, written in 1972. His last operas, Owen Wingrave and Death in Venice, and then his failing heart, got in the way. Shame. I prize Britten’s chamber pieces above all of the rest of his glorious music. Obviously more personal but deeper, spikier and, if it is possible, cleverer. There are times, though, when Britten’s genius can be too satisfying, like a musical Vermeer, You just want him to cut loose. In some of the knottier passages of the chamber music this is what you get.

Actually scrub all the above. The reason why BB is the greatest English composer since Byrd, (sorry Purcell and Elgar fans), is the operas, of course. You can keep your Italian melodramas: give me Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw or Curlew River, (yep opera doesn’t have to be full orchestra and divas belting out love arias, in fact it is better when it isn’t), any day of the week. The whole must always be greater than the sum of the operatic parts in my book, and singing cannot smother drama.

Now this last suite has some deceptively simple ideas but the overall effect is still one of immense variety of expression. A four note motive is set against a repeated bass in one of Britten’s favoured mournful Passacaglias, with repeated pizzicato, which precedes the 3 Russian folk songs arranged by Tchaikovsky and the Orthodox hymn the Kontakion chant, which act as the conclusion. Remember this was written for, and first performed by his friend, the great Russia cellist Mistislav Rostroprovich, after hearing his performance of the Bach suites. After BB’s death Mr Rostroprovich couldn’t bear to play this piece.

Earlier in the piece we have a very quick, unsettling Moto Pertpetuo which appears to invert the motif and a stately Fuga which sets it against the main line, and suggests the counterpoint which JSB famously conjures up in his suites. Elsewhere we hear a Dialogo, marked allegretto, which flips across two staves, a Barcarola, which echoes the famous Prelude from JSB’s No 1 Suite which opened this recital, a jittery Marcia, and a strange Canto. Mr Wispelwey, in very droll fashion, introduces the piece by, er, introducing each of the short movements, which provided both bearings and an insight into Britten’s compositional process. All in all, a very satisfying rendition of one of BB’s finest works, IMHO.

The Ligeti sonata is made up of two movements, both written relatively early in his career, 1948 and 1953. The first, Dialogo, a slow movement, was written for a cellist who GL fancied. It is based on Hungarian folksong, (always a rich source of inspiration for the great man), and alternates from high to low ranges, apparently representing a conversation between a man and a woman. The Second movement is a Capriccio is a rapid Moto Perpetuo that, in places, would be tricky enough on a violin, let alone cello. It’s brilliant. Like the Britten the debt to JSB isn’t hidden, notably in the manic string crossing, as ears and mind rush to keep up with the musical invention. The thing about Ligeti for me is that his music always seems to be having a laugh. None of this thorny intellectualism that can so often block your path into contemporary music. There is a celebration of Ligeti’s music at the South Bank in May. Yea. I am signed up.

No need for me to rabbit on about the Bach in detail. You will know these pieces. They are, in essence, just dances. But what dances. If you don’t know them then you should. No point living a life without the best of Bach. Make it your New Year’s resolution.

I shall be looking out again for Mr Wispelwey’s recitals. He made these technically demanding pieces look easy, (well maybe not that easy), and has a very direct style which made it relatively straightforward to follow the line of the music. He has a winning charisma, and a natty shirt/waistcoat combo, but when it all got seriously emotional on stage, we were rapt. He knows the Bach suites like the back, front and sides of his hands, he has recorded them three times. I just bought the last recording, played on a Baroque cello, tuned at a lower pitch (392 vs 440 normally). Apparently he plays fast and loose with the usual tempo interpretations. Can’t wait to find out what it sounds like.