JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday 10th February

 

The big news in Edinburgh this week is undoubtedly the arrival of Her Royal Madgesty the former Lady Madonna on July 21st for a gig at Murrayfield Stadium. The excitement amongst the Twitterati was palpable eclipsed only by  the faint odour of fresh paint which undoubtedly follows her around and has already found a way of getting up my nose. Although I am not a huge fan of Madonna-there have been moments when I have adored her but they are a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away around the time of ‘Into the Groove’- I appreciate immensely how hard she must have worked to stay at the top of her game for nearly thirty years in an industry fixated on youth and the next big thing. There have also been some zeitgeist defining singles along the way- Material Girl, Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Vogue, Ray of Light and most recently the heavily Abba sampled Hung Up- as well as a few fashion moments although none ever had the visual effect of her initial image of tousled hair, fingerless gloves, numerous bangles and thrift store chic. It was at this juncture in which she consolidated her stardom with a look that felt very much her own whereas subsequent image changes always felt a little too much like the work of a team of stylists.

The image has always gone hand in hand with the music-on many occasions overshadowed it- but her eternal popularity is probably down to a clever and knowledgeable use of collaborators most of whom will have been glad of her patronage. Most have benefited from her seal of approval and not only financially-though this can’t have hurt- but also artistically. If just one person was inspired by William Orbit’s –large-contribution to her Ray of Light opus to investigate his former works, especially the dance/ambient classic Strange Cargo 3, then it was job done concerning her role as a vessel for discovering other works more artistically important than her own. Likewise Goldfrapp probably received a lot of attention for their Supernature album after she ripped it off wholesale for her own Confessions on a Dancefloor but it also provided the origins of the rather cruel though very amusing putdown reference, Oldflapps.

It is this need to constantly refer to herself po-facedly as ‘an artist’ which has really grated about Madonna in my view over the last ten to fifteen years. Certainly a certain amount of artistry is involved in keeping the younger pups from snapping at her heels and she admittedly has regarded them all dismissively-whilst also publicly supporting them- from her imperious position. Only Lady Gaga has actually rattled her cage and managed to elicit a few snide putdowns but I doubt that she poses any long-term threat and the catty remarks are probably more down to a fifty something year old feeling a little concerned whether she can continue competing in this arena. Madonna has the savvy to bow out while she is still at the top and let no young whippersnapper ever dare forget that.

As to her gig at Murrayfield I can report I will most definitely, probably, not be attending. Actually I have seen her live before-around the same time I saw Michael Jackson who she outperformed and Prince who outclassed both of them by a country mile- but this is not the reason I will not be attending it is just the thought of stadium gigs fills me with a shudder as they are little more than a corporate juggernaut rolling into town. The thought of spending up to £100-at least- to feel special alongside 20,000 other people does not satisfy any criteria as to having a good time for me these days. For many I feel it is more a case of having been there and the sense of occasion and I can wholeheartedly appreciate that and I have always preferred seeing live music in a contained indoor environment where the atmosphere does not vaporise into the night sky.

Saying this I did attend Arcade Fire at Edinburgh Castle last year and it was an amazing gig. I was in the Royal Box with all the others who were guest listed and as if to confirm what I was saying about the sense of occasion most of those in my immediate vicinity seemed to be there to congratulate each other for actually being there rather than any love of the music on display. There is also the unquestionable question of rain-it is July in Edinburgh after all- and I am simply too old and vain to run the risk of standing outside in the midst of a downpour. I am sure however it will be a great gig as Madonna is unquestionably a great show person who goes all out to make sure her audience leaves satisfied.

Elsewhere this weekend there is Hot Mess at The Wee Red Bar and Jacques Lucont at what will sadly be one of the last Fridays at Cabaret Voltaire. Edinburgh band du jour,  Her Royal Highness, are also playing this weekend at 3rd Door in Lothian Road and should be a good gig to catch them at before stardom beckons.

At the cinema the excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene –a future cult classic-  and Polanski’s slickly paced social satire Carnage are joined by David Cronenberg’s Freud versus Jung drama, A Dangerous Method, featuring the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley.

Here to kick the weekend off is Mark Lanegan’s storming Ode to Sad Disco-best track of 2012 so far- from what is shaping up to be one of the albums of the year Blues Funeral.

mark-lanegan-ode-to-sad-disco

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AXOLOTL

Axolotl

 Ever since Axolotl extravagantly threw open its doors in Edinburgh’s prestigious Dundas Street nearly two years ago it has provided an exuberant breath of fresh air to an art scene which had grown stale and more than a little up itself. By imbuing its events with a sense of fun-not that the art on display was ever frivolous or trite- proceedings were conducted without the sense of a bad smell on the top lip and broom up the rear end which was typical of the reception most galleries extended to those who dared to enter their premises. The positive atmosphere the gallery generated was, in no short part, due to the airy premises which made strong use of the light and space at their disposal but location was not alone in making Axolotl a success as other approaches and attitudes also have to be factored in.

The main catalyst for this new approach of making art more accessible lies with the gallery owner Sarah Wilson who, most days, can still be found meeting and greeting those who venture through her doors. At their legendary openings she could be sighted sashaying through the throng in vertiginous heels and chic ensemble- think Christina Hendricks as Mad Men’s Joan hurtled through the decades in a time machine stopping only to acquire a few select pieces of Vivienne Westwood- accompanied by a salacious cackle. I was therefore sad to hear that Axolotl was closing down though disappointment quickly turned to relief when it was established as simply a case of relocation rather than any permanent closure.

The reasons for the relocation are several but top of the list would be the fact that shortly before Xmas Wilson’s partner-business and personal- was diagnosed with terminal cancer so future plans concerning the business required a rethink even though Axolotl was still functioning as a successful entity even in the current economic climate. Never one to cool her high heels it transpires Wilson already has two venues in the frame, so to speak, as alternative premises for Axolotl to continue their work but details remain under wraps until finalised.

In accordance with her current circumstances Wilson curated the current works on display-many of them her own- with the proceeds going to Cancer Research. As well as all this upheaval she also has her own wedding to organise for mid February which due to the circumstances will be a small family orientated affair although I suspect a donation to Dame Westwood’s pension fund will be firmly included in the choice of wedding outfit.

As to Axolotl’s legacy over the last two years Wilson is effusive in her praise for many of the artists who have shown there. Personal favourites though include Australian Simon Pontin’s collection of strategically hung shed doors engrained with spices eliciting an exotic aroma throughout the gallery. Also in for a special mention was Allan Goodwillie and his Owl assemblage which Wilson, and her equally vibrant assistant Susie Lamb, confirmed was fun and allowed visitors to contribute. Likewise Camera Obscura provided a divertive and quirky alternative to traditional art methods whilst simultaneously proving to be highly popular. A personal favourite of mine was Gregor Laird’s ‘Carrion’ of last summer which offered an interesting take on the obsession with celebrity in our culture.

Usually exhibitions were preceded by opulent, glamorous openings where the drink flowed, connections were made and a hell of a lot of flirting went on. They were always early evening events which continued seamlessly onto the pub-and beyond- resembling parties more than the stuffy atmosphere and cheap wine in plastic cup affairs which usually accompany such events. It will probably take more than a change of venue for the party animal in Wilson to be tamed and a new venue merely means new opportunities in her upbeat and indefatigable mindset.

Whatever the future holds for Axolotl its legacy already assures it will be regarded with a positive attitude and a sense of difference which aims to blow the cobwebs of the stuffy art establishment away with style and élan.

Axolotl can be found at 35 Dundas Street Edinburgh EH3 6QQ

Opening hours are Tuesday- Saturday 11-4

Telephone -0131 557 1460

E-mail- enquiries@axolotl.co.uk

www.axolotl.co.uk

 

YOUNG ADULT

Young Adult

 

This slow burning comedy starring Charlize Theron is probably raised to a higher level by her performance alone. It is a reunion of sorts between director Jason Reftman and writer Diablo Cody who previously collaborated on Juno. Young Adult has the same qualities which made that 2007 film such a success-and an ittitant to others- but unfortunately it also tries to be a little too clever for its own good with its quirky odd ball characterisations and pacing which slow things down, on occasion, just a little too much. It is a film which only comes to life once the twisted mindset of Theron’s character Mavis Gary hovers into view allowing us to see how disturbed and delusional she really is.

Once the first twenty minutes are out the way-and they are a long uneventful twenty minutes-things improve dramatically and Theron steps matters up several notches with her portrayal of Mavis, a late thirty-something writer, who after a divorce sets her sights on her small town teenage sweetheart after news reaches her he has recently had a daughter with his wife. Convincing herself he is unhappy and bound to be pining for her Mavis temporarily abandons her Minneapolis home, life and career in pursuit of the unaware and disinterested object of her obsessive affections and desires. Her behaviour reaches alcohol induced highs and morally ambiguous lows all delivered with deadpan chutzpah and throughout we wonder how she is getting away with such intolerable and frankly rude actions.

The matter becomes clear near the films end where it is revealed that the films other characters are hiding behind the façade of pleasant manners which mask their pity, horror and true feelings for the woman who is quite clearly having some sort of emotional crisis. This comes as quite a relief as up to that point it is unconvincing as to why anyone would tolerate such outlandish tactics and basic rudeness to such an extent as Mavis emerges as a character with very few redeeming qualities. It are these outlandish but understated qualities which drives the narrative however and we want to see Mavis push things a little further if only to see how far she can go before chipping through the veneer of social obsequiousness.

This film essentially belongs to Theron as a weaker less sympathetic performance would probably render the film a little flat. As it is she manages to make it an engaging and, at times, very amusing study into self delusion and turns in a performance which ranks along the years best.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

Martha Marcy May Marlene

 

Clumsy title aside, this addition to the psychological thriller genre is head and shoulders above any recent contender due to an outstanding breakthrough performance from Elizabeth Olsen, a sharp script and direction from Sean Durkin alongside adept use of its audiences highly febrile imaginations. Never sliding into parody or cheap tactics the creepiest things in this film are those which are never mentioned, seen or discussed and this is what raises it to such a high level of suspense and intrigue. This method of not deploying the normal tactics in eliciting a chilly atmosphere results in the total absorption of events  and a further sense of dislocation is attained by cleverly splicing together two different time frames thus creating tension and a constant sense of not ever knowing what will happen next or even what has really happened before.

The main protagonist is Martha- who at various junctures also goes by the other three names of the films title – and her involvement with a cult. After making a break for reasons which remain undisclosed- though drugs and sex seem to play a role in their practises- she absconds to seek refuge with her elder sister Lucy(Sarah Paulsen) and newly wed husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) but her erratic behaviour causes tensions and they start to question her mental health. Throughout Martha/ Marcy May experiences difficulty in adapting to whatever environment she is in; the constrictions of one baffle her as much as the restrictions of the other until she is unaware of how to actually think for herself.

Despite this confusion and from the scenes we are allowed to witness, it would transpire that she is more comfortable with life within the cult although it becomes less-rather than more- clear as the film progresses as to why she ran away. There are hints that the sinister Patrick- a chilling John Hawkes- who is the patriarchal figure of the cult is the reason behind her defection but her relationship with Watts (Brady Corbet)-open sexual relationships appear to be the norm- cannot be totally dismissed either.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film which will stay with you long after its shocking conclusion, which only serves to baffle and render further confusion. It is a thought provoking thoroughly engrossing film throughout and is surely a contender for many awards most especially Olsen’s performance which is understated but effectively lethal.

CARNAGE

Carnage

 

Roman Polanski’s screen adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s stage play ‘The God of Carnage’ is a pressure cooker of simmering social politeness between two New York couples who congregate to discuss the recent physical dispute between their two adolescent sons which resulted in the physical attack of one by the other. The ensuing meeting is typical of such situations, with both couples trying to enforce their differing opinions whilst at the same time exposing the internal disputes of their individual relationships. The final result is short, sharp ,witty and enlivened by an exceptionally strong all star ensemble cast –Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C.Reilly- who  grant the film all the tension of a tightly coiled spring.

The drama unfolds in real time one afternoon when Alan and Nancy (Waltz and Winslet) visit Penelope and Michael’s (Foster and Reilly) apartment and the disapproval each couple has of the other is apparent from the very opening dialogue. Still, they continue in a faux display of tolerance and understanding consuming coffee, apple and pear cobbler and eventually-when the fireworks ignite-eighteen year old malt whisky. The dialogue is excellently paced and each cast member excels in their role- Foster’s tight lipped Penelope however probably edges in with the best performance when the camera focuses on the back of her head as she marches wordlessly through her apartment and her anger is palpable-as each one gives the other space to develop their characters.

Along the way there are dissections of social status, parenting, morality and responsibility with each situation interrupted and punctuated by Alan’s incessant buzzing phone which only ratchets up the tension further, There is also a hilarious vomiting scene which takes the drama into a completely new area and unleashes a whole further set of resentments and a torrent of barbed trade offs.

Polanski works wonders with this re-fashioning of a great script and it is probably the sharpest observation on social awkwardness and simmering tension since Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigails Party’. At the films dénouement it becomes clear that the schoolboy battle which took place in the park is nothing in comparison to the supposedly civilised one which unfolds in an upscale apartment by so-called responsible adults. Superb!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Friday 3rd February

 

February arrived with a blast of icy chill and the disconcerting news that two of my favourite haunts in Edinburgh- Cabaret Voltaire and Axolotl Gallery- are to be no more in the very near future. Thankfully in Axolotl’s case it is a matter of relocating rather than closing down but unfortunately it seems as if Cab Vol is leaving us and no matter how many cries of ‘one more tune’ permeate its interiors the doors will close permanently soon .This is sad news not only for me personally but for Edinburgh in general as both venues although poles apart in what they showcased shared a spirit of independence and vive la difference which is essential in establishing the city its own identity. What both represented was an independent wave of relentless individuality in a sea of corporate blandness and thus fulfilled a need as part of the city’s cultural landscape.

Further to this they are both helmed by incredibly strong, indefatigable women that, as coincidence would have it, both answer to the name Sarah-David (Cab Vol) and Wilson (Axolotl) –whose input to the success of these two venues has been inestimable. Within the next couple of weeks I will hopefully be doing feature articles on both of them and discussing the achievements and successes they attained during their tenure. Both venues are also departing with more of a bang than a whimper- I wouldn’t expect anything less- with Axolotl hosting a closing down sale with amazing artworks at discount prices with all proceeds going to Cancer Research and the Cab has a closing night pencilled in for sometime in February – I need to confirm this- so February may be holding some memorable events as I have been ably assisted from both places after evenings of excessive hedonism in the past.

It is rumoured that the Cab is to be replaced by one of those dens of bad taste which pander to the cultural blight that is Stag and Hen Parties. Great! Just what Edinburgh inhabitants need yet another reason to stay in on a Saturday night? At least it will keep the understaffed, cleansing department busy whilst also providing ample opportunity to sneak a first glimpse at what will be available on the singles market in the near future describing themselves as divorcees. Oh well perhaps the youth will get up off their lazy arses and create a scene of their own for the first time in decades.

Elsewhere this week I caught a documentary on BBC2 on Tuesday called My Child The Rioter concerning the London riots in August which gave an interesting insight into parenting in this day and age. Whilst I was in some agreement with the original premise behind the riots- dissatisfied youth with no future being led by a hastily assembled government no-one voted for- it seemed to spiral into opportunism and simply became retail rioting with flat screen TV’s and a new pair of trainers being the solution for many. Whilst I do not want to disparage those who felt they had an axe to grind I do not feel setting fire to local businesses already struggling in the recession and terrorising locals then clearing out Dixons and Foot Locker assisted their cause in anyway.

Things became a little clearer however during this documentary as the parents who agreed to be interviewed alongside their errant offspring seemed even less remorseful than the children they were supposed to be instilling a moral code into. One of the interviewees Lei admitted he heard about the riots and then nipped out and stole two pairs of trainers then made home simply to dump them in a pile of stuff already cluttering up his room. Hardly the actions of someone desperate and doing without is it?  Likewise the army recruit Ian who tried to sell a stolen guitar worth Two Thousand pounds he claimed he bought unsuspectingly for twenty had his mother protesting his innocence saying he simply was not like that at all. Sorry love, but opens your eyes and you might discover that he was caught red handed so he is indeed very much like that. On and on it went with every parent defending their child’s actions the very liberal David merely tut tutted when his son Fabian admitted arson and seemed more alarmed when he revealed he didn’t even know what arson meant until he was charged with it.

The most worrying case however involved a girl who accidentally caught up in the action was wrongly identified as being involved in theft valued at over a hundred thousand pounds, when all she had done, as CCTV footage attested, was lift two odd trainers which she promptly discarded, received a custodial sentence whilst the arsonist received a suspended sentence.  Somehow she still received a custodial sentence whilst the arsonist received a suspended sentence. It showed how unfair the situation which sparked the riots had become as the arsonist from his comfy middle class background was treated more leniently than the working class girl who stole nothing and didn’t destroy someone else’s property.

Perhaps people should be more appreciative of what they have and realise that sometimes the best things in life are free.

You wouldn’t know this however by an experiment carried out in Washington this week wherein internationally renowned violinist Joshua Bell performed six Bach concertos in the subway and remained virtually ignored. This despite two days earlier performing the same pieces at a Boston theatre with seats averaging a $100 apiece which only confirms how self obsessed and unappreciative our culture is becoming. Passers by were probably too busy checking their iphones constantly to remind themselves of how important they think they are- one of my personal pet hates are people who text and read their phones whilst half heartedly engaging in conversation as if to state their importance and diminish yours- or else plugged into the bubble of their ipod. The most attention he received was from a three year old child  promptly dragged away by his impatient mother, so perhaps the future, without the interference of their parents, does lie in the hands of the young after all.

Several good films out this weekend and after the disappointing and lacklustre The Descendants, for which George Clooney has been nominated for an Oscar but was competently out-acted by his Hawaiian shirt and old English Sheepdog grey locks I am looking to be impressed. The first up is Martha Marcy May Marlene (God-awful title) which is already being acclaimed as a cult classic even before its UK Release, followed by the new Polanski offering, Carnage, and Charlize Theron’s latest Young Adult. It looks therefore like a weekend spent in darkened rooms ahead for me though many might add this is nothing new, but they would indeed be wrong.

The Black Keys- a current favourite their album El Camino, all glam stomp, crunchy guitars and euphoric almost disco hook-lines, has been soundtracking my days recently- are on at the Corn Exchange tomorrow so this will replace the Danish drama Borgen as my Saturday night entertainment. Similar to Eddy in the Ab Fab Xmas special I  think I am now fluent in Danish and find myself mumbling unintelligibly at the screen at inopportune moments by way of offering an opinion or insight.. Thank God then for catch up TV and iplayer otherwise I would be having a dilemma worthy of a drama all in its own category, whilst giving an award winning performance of sorts.

Oh, and if anyone is interested someone has exhumed Steve Strange and he is making a one off appearance at The Citrus club tonight where you will probably see him quite literally fade to grey. Nope, didn’t think so but thought I’d mention it anyway. As a remembrance of his heady heyday and a record which helped to ignite a national club scene here is the original video of Fade to Grey from 1981.

 

THE DESCENDANTS

The Descendants

 

So The Descendants is the film directed by Alexander Payne which allegedly coaxes what could be an Oscar winning performance out of George Clooney, but does the film-and just as importantly his performance- justify the garlands being hurled at it and live up to the pre-release hype? The answer would have to be both yes and no as the film and Clooney seem to amble along at a hazy, leisurely pace that is in sync with the acoustic soundtrack and the supposed laidback Hawaiian lifestyle it sets out to depict. However neither the film or Clooney are deserving of the Oscar-though the fact he hasn’t won previously this may be his last chance before old age catches up with him will probably ensure he take the prize- but this should not detract from the fact the film is still worth checking out as it still has a lot to recommend it.

Clooney plays Matt King a wealthy business man in Hawaii whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident and he now finds himself the lone parent to two girls who previously had little to do with. Matters are complicated when he discovers, through the elder of his daughters, the wayward 17 year old Alexandra, that his wife was having an affair and at the time of her accident considering leaving him. He then embarks on a mission to find his rival who, as misfortune would have it, also stands to gain millions of dollars in a business deal Matt is in the middle of negotiating. The issues and decisions Matt then has to make raise conflicting emotions and unparalleled deep rooted fears concerning his integrity and will impact on both his immediate family and more distant relatives as well as the surrounding nenvironment and heritage.

The developing relationship between Matt and his daughters is the strongest aspect of this film and in this he is more than ably assisted by Shallene Woodley (Alexandra) and Amara Miller as unpredictable ten year old Scottie. The introduction of Alexandra’s goofy friend Sid (Nick Krause) is unnecessary, underdeveloped and clumsy, seemingly there to provide a bit of low rent humour. There are some real tender moments between the central trio tinged with both humour and sadness-the lachrymose ending is lazy and a little too crowd pleasing though- which detail the conflicting emotions of a family which has been thrown into crisis. Without this central premise the film would have little substance as the narrative these relationships support hardly enthrals or creates any other kind of tension.

This lack of tension does not render the film boring however it simply never raises its pace unnecessarily and this is an admirable quality in an age when an audience demands constant distraction usually consisting of fast paced pyrotechnics or CGI saturated cleverness. What unravels instead is an emotional, heartfelt understanding of the basics of human nature and what drives us all in our search for integrity. Clooney’s performance may lack the emotional intensity of , say , Ryan Gosling in Drive or Michael Fassbender  in Shame- both cruelly ignored in the Oscar nominations- but he handles his role adequately whilst subtly through nuance shows the inner machinations of a man going through many life changing and unfamiliar emotions.

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