- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (23/4/2021)
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
(Reviews of Black Bear; Songs My Brothers Taught Me; True Mothers; The Drifters; Sequin in a Blue Room; Sisters With Transistors; and Groundswell)
Despite the relaxation of the odd outdoor restriction, we remain in Lockdown 3 for a few more weeks. This means that cinemas across the UK will stay still closed and all new releases stay online until 17 May at the earliest. So, in addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, you should also be able to access the titles under discussion below via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
Stay safe and make the most of the dwindling days of the streaming bonanza, as it will almost certainly disappear the moment the distributors can reimpose the myth that movies can only be fully appreciated on a giant cinema screen in restoring the restrictive practices that makes them tons more dough when everyone watching has to buy their own ticket.
The Internet can be a stupid place when it comes to finding films. Some items, like Lawrence Michael Levine's debut feature, Gabi on the Roof in July (2010), are available to rent online (in this case via Vimeo). Yet, there's no trace of his sophomore offering, Wild Canaries (2014). What is it about film-makers, as they often give the impression that they would rather their work went unseen than offer it at a reasonable rate to a potential audience via streaming platforms? Surely they see enough of each other at festivals to broach the possibility of setting up the screen equivalent of a farmers' market?
Levine's third picture, Black Bear, goes live this weekend and many will be curious to see what came before. How sad that they will have to settle for slim pickings. And before you say, `they might get a release once Levine's profile has been raised', it's still impossible for viewers in this country to see Damien Chazelle's Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009) and that's four years after La La Land (2016) found itself embroiled in the most famous moment in recent Oscar history.
How much higher does a profile have to get? Buck your ideas up Amazon Prime and start making everything on the US service available in the UK, too - like you have done with Sophia Takal's Always Shine (2016), a film by Levine's wife that has more than a minor bearing on Black Bear.
A preamble shows Allison (Aubrey Plaza) rising from a jetty at the edge of a misty lake in a red swimsuit and repairing to a cabin, where she sits at the table with her notepad. In Part One, `The Bear in the Road', Allison comes to stay at a lakeside B&B in the Adirondack Mountains run by Brooklyn exile Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and his pregnant dancer partner, Blair (Sarah Gadon). An actress fallen on hard times, Allison now directs and is seeking inspiration for her next project and is disturbed by the fact that Gabe is so openly flirting with her. Blair mocks his attempts, along with his stalled musical career, while Gabe sneers back about her drinking.
Desperate to remain neutral, Allison is so appalled by the ferocity of the name-calling that she joins the debate about the failings of modern society. She even jokingly agrees with Gabe's bileful analysis of feminism. But Blair fails to find it amusing and Gabe follows when she storms off to bed. He dismisses her accusation that he fancies their guest and they start to make up.
As soon as Blair dozes off, however, Gabe seeks out Allison and they go for a swim. He admits that the pregnancy was a mistake and that he knows he's not right for Blair, while Allison confesses that she has been spinning them yarns since she arrived. They start to make out, but Blair catches them. In the course of the ensuing argument, Blair is pushed against the sofa and starts bleeding. Gabe bellows at Allison to fetch the car, only for Allison to crash into a tree when she is frightened by a black bear in the road.
At the start of Part Two, `The Bear By the Boat House', we learn that the events we have seen thus far have been staged for the camera. In reality, Gabe is the director and Allison is his wife, while Blair is the interloper. The crew have become used to Gabe and Allison sniping at each other, but they have no idea that he is taunting her with the idea that he is sleeping with Blair in order to coax a better performance out of her. Instead, Allison begins drinking heavily and is only persuaded to return to the film set by assistant director Cahya (Paola Lazaro) and crew member, Nora (Jennifer Kim).
No sooner is she back than the cruelly manipulative Gabe begins picking on her and cursing that he ever cast her. She fluffs her lines several times, but they finally get a key scene in the can and Allison is so relieved that she hits Blair and struts off. Gabe is too pleased with getting the shot to bother about his actresses and Cahya persuades Baako the cameraman (Grantham Coleman) to calm Allison down. They wind up canoodling before Allison returns for another take. Gabe urges her not to strike Blair, which she manages to do. However, she has a full-scale breakdown and Gabe takes her to a side room, where he promises her that he loves her not Blair.
As the crew gather for a wrap party, Allison tells Gabe (whom she calls `Bear') that Blair would make a better wife. He consoles her and she wishes things could return to the way they were before they became famous. Leaving her to sleep, Gabe seeks out Blair and they are having sex when Allison finds them. Before she can react, however, the bear appears behind her and she turns and walks calmly towards it.
Closing on a repeat of the opening scene, in which Allison writes `Black Bear' on her pad after returning to the house, this is a meta mendbender of a movie that initially exerts a squirm-inducing grip before over-reaching itself and provoking shoulder-shrugging ennui. This is a shame, as Lawrence Michael Levine is clearly having fun at his own expense as the maker of `small, unpopular films' in which he had co-starred with his own spouse, Sophia Takal.
It also rather lets down the acting triumvirate, as Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon provide crackling support to Aubrey Plaza, whose first-half salvo of sardonic self-deprecation would have led to award nominations had she not been kyboshed by the switcheroo that presages the solipsistic convolutions of Part Two.
Levine has built his reputation on modish idiosyncrasies, but the excruciating awkwardness that would be familiar to anyone who has been trapped in the middle with a bickering couple frustratingly gives way to an in-jokiness that will alienate those who've not personally experienced a diva-like meltdown during a film shoot. Plaza plays the part(s) to perfection, but it's difficult to empathise with either Blair or Allison because their characters are so sketchily limned and their problems are mere MacGuffins exploited by a deconstructive director trying to be self-reflexively clever while having too little to say about creativity, perception, the prevailing culture, actor-director dynamics or human foibles and relationships.
This is still a slickly made picture, however, with Rob Leitzell's camera alternatively malingering and scurrying around Tracy Dishman's interiors to hang on every word and gesture. The lake views and nocturnal shots are also splendidly atmospheric, as is the portentous percussive score by Bryan Scary and Giulio Carmassi. And Levine's dialogue in Part One is lethally good. There was nothing like this in Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (1971) or Karel Reisz's adaptation of John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981).
SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME.
Lakota Sioux siblings Johnny (John Reddy) and Jashaun Winters (Jashaun St John) live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with their mother Lisa (Irene Bedard). Although still at school, Johnny breaks horses and defies tribal law to sell smuggled alcohol in order to put food on the table. However, he is making plans to head to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Aurelia Clifford (Taysha Fuller) when he hears that his father, Carl, has perished in a house fire, leaving 25 children by nine different women.
During a prison visit, brother Cody (Justin Reddy) urges Johnny to leave the reservation because there's nothing worth staying for. Shots of Johnny enduring church services and dinner with Lisa's new boyfriend suggest the dead-end nature of his existence. Moreover, he's being threatened by some rival bootleggers. But he has nice times out in the wilderness with the 11 year-old Jashaun, but she is hurt when she overhears him making plans with Aurelia at the café where she works. He tries to explain, but she doesn't want to listen, although she's still in his corner when he loses an amateur bout that dents his hopes of becoming a boxer rather than a bull rider like his father.
Aurelia is unhappy with Johnny when he comes to dinner and tells her family that he will be going to LA when she leaves for college. Her brother, Cat (Cat Clifford), asks how he is going to find a job, but her grandmother (Melda Trejo) is more supportive. She's cross with Johnny for blabbing, but they patch up and have sex for the first time, even though he has been spending time with Angie LaPrelle (Eleonore Hendricks), the assistant of his booze supplier, Bill Britt (Allen Reddy), who is based in Whiteclay across the Nebraska border. She likes taking photos of Johnny and goes swimming with him at the mud lake before kissing him while they are skinning a calf.
Meanwhile, Jashaun's search for a surrogate brother has prompted her to help tattoo artist Travis (Travis Lone Hill) sell the clothing he decorates. He has just been released from prison, but takes a shine to Jashaun and tells her that his designs always incorporate the number seven because Crazy Horse predicted at Wounded Knee that the tribes would rise again in the seventh generation - the one to which Jashaun belongs. However, she gets arrested for attending an illegal party on the same night that Johnny gets beaten up by the rival black marketeers, who toss a petrol bomb into his pick-up.
When she calls on Travis the next morning, Jashaun discovers he's been arrested for fighting with the friends he had been rapping with. At a loose end with no clothes to sell, Jashaun tidies up Travis's shack before heading to the rodeo, where her half-brother, Kevin (Kevin Hunter), tells her about their father and lets her ride his favourite horse, Sundance. Despite having so many relations around, she knows she's going to miss Johnny and puts on a brave face when he packs to leave. However, he has second thoughts while walking past the familiar landmarks en route to Aurelia's place and Jashaun rushes up to hug him when she sees him on the road.
Johnny gets a job at the garage owned by the stepfather of his half-brother, Jorge Iron Bear (Jorge Dull Knife) and settles into a new routine. In voiceover, he explains that Pine Ridge isn't perfect, but it's a tough place to leave. As he rides bulls and horses, he claims that Jashaun has a special connection with the land and she attends a tribal bonfire ceremony wearing one of Travis's shawls. In a closing shot, Johnny gathers a handful of dust and tosses it into the wind and accepts where his fate will take him.
Showing on MUBI in the run-up to the release of Nomadland, Chloé Zhao's reservation-bound debut, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), has much in common with Frances McDormand road movie. The majority of the cast are first-time actors, but they bring an authenticity that is captured with unobtrusive and fitfully lyrical delicacy by cinematographer Joshua James Richards, whose eye for small details around the settlement and the forbidding majesty of the surrounding Badlands is equally assured.
Peter Golub's mournful score neatly enhances the mood, as John Reddy tries to reconcile his desire to travel with his girlfriend and the loyalty he feels towards the sister he is uneasy about entrusting to their alcoholic mother. Such is his quandary, however, that the only way he can make money for the family is to smuggle the booze that has wrecked so many lives, including that of his father, who was too drunk to get out of his burning home. Coping well with Zhao's method of accumulating small incidents, Reddy and Jashaun St John develop rounded characters, who seem entirely at ease in front of the camera. The support playing is every bit as adept and it would be fascinating to see what has happened to everyone in the intervening six years.
Almost inevitably, there are echoes from Anna Eborn's documentary Pine Ridge (2013), But Zhao spent four years living on the reservation to research her story, which she kept revising during shooting to ensure it chimed in with everyday reality. She also combined with editor Alan Canant to mosaic together snippets that give the action its impressionist feel, although sustained sequences like the careers lesson at school allow a little dry wit to waft in. Given that she followed this unflinching ethnographical saga with The Rider (2017) and Nomadland, Zhao has to be considered the pre-eminent chronicler of the American Plains and it will be interesting to see how she copes with the demands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when Eternals is released later this year.
Since winning the Camera d'or ar Cannes for Suzaku (1997), Naomi Kawase has been Japan's leading woman director. Meditative items like The Mourning Forest (2007) and Still the Water (2014) showcased her distinctive audiovisual approach. But she edged back towards the mainstream with Sweet Bean (2015) and does so again, after rather missing her step with Radiance (2017) and Vision (2018), with True Mothers, a study of adoption that has been loosely based on a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura.
Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Kiyokazu Kurihara (Arata Iura) are the proud parents of four year-old Asato (Reo Sato). They worry about the genes he may have inherited from his birth mother when he is accused of pushing another boy off the jungle gym at their Tokyo kindergarten. A flashback shows Kiyokazu discovering he has aspermia and undergoing painful treatments before the couple see a TV programme about Baby Baton, a non-profit adoption agency founded by Shizue Asami (Miyoko Asada).
On collecting Asato from the Hiroshima headquarters, Satako and Kiyokazu meet his birth mother, Hikari Katakura (Aju Makita), a 14 year-old who got pregnant after a sweet romance with classmate Takumi (Taketo Tanaka). Desperate to protect the teenager's reputation, her parents send her to Baby Baton and, having been abandoned by her spineless boyfriend, Hikari feels at home around other young women in a similar situation. She even presents the Kurihawas with a letter for her son explaining her actions.
Back in the present day, Satako learns that the injured boy had lied about Asato pushing him and she plans a day at the zoo to reward him. However, she gets a phone call from Hikari, who wants her son back. When they meet up, she tries to blackmail them by threatening to expose Asato's background. But they explain that everyone knows he's adopted and question whether Hikari is the same girl they met at Baby Baton.
Another flashback shows Hikari struggling to settle back into her old life with her disappointed parents (Hiroko Nakajima and Tetsu Hirahara) and she returns to Baby Baton seeking refuge. She discovers the business is about to close and rifles through the records to discover the whereabouts of her child. Having moved to Yokohama, Hikari takes a job delivering newspapers and befriends Tomoka (Monta Kokoro), a former sex worker who reminds her of someone she knew at Baby Baton. Tomoka is heavily in debt, however, and use Hikari's name to secure a loan, When collectors come for their money, Hikari panics and contacts the Kuriharas. Feeling ashamed, she denies being Asato's mother and runs away. But Sakoto feels sorry for her and track her down so that Asato can meet her.
Having been raised by her grandmother after her father left home when she was young, Naomi Kawase has a keener insight than most into the emotions running on either side of an adoption. Indeed, several of her documentaries and features have touched on the themes revisited here. But, while this variation co-scripted by Izumi Takahashi contains trademark contemplative moments, it also strays into melodrama, particularly where Hikari is concerned.
The strained relationship with her parents that drives her back to Baby Baton is credible enough, but the ease with which she is able to trace the Kuriharas and the naiveté she displays in her dealings with Tomoka feel beneath Kawase's usually exacting dramaturgical standards. Aju Makita handles the contrivances with aplomb, while Hiromi Nagasaku convinces as the bourgeois mother who blames bad behaviour on genetic deficiency rather than any parental shortcoming.
But, while both women are presented in a sympathetic light, Kawase never approaches issues of birth, motherhood and loss with same intensity she brought to Shara (2003). This is partly down to the dictates of the source and the need to interlink the narrative strands, But, while the measured rhythms of editors Tina Baz and Yoichi Shibuya make a complex plot easy to follow, the pair struggle either to impose an aura of everydayness or to integrate Kawase's customary images of water and woodland.
These are lyrically photographed by Yuta Tsukiaga and Naoki Sakakibara, who use handheld cameras to capture the vitality of the urban settings. Setsuko Shiokawa's production design is also exquisite. Yet the mood is too often subservient to the contortions of the flashbacking story, which seems too slight and sentimental to accommodate such sincerely played characters. Cutting the subplot about the debt collectors, although its severity helps make the denouement all the more poignant.
Aspiring French actress Fanny (Lucie Bourdeu) meets Senegalese migrant Koffee (Jonathan Ajayi) at the London language school, where they are paired in an embarrassing meet cute by tutor Ryan (Thom Petty). Koffee has a crush on Fanny, who pretends to be playing hard to get while waiting café tables with Marie (Tia Bannon). But, when Koffee needs to flee after stealing the proceeds of a bungled robbery from his car wash boss, Doog (Joey Akubeze), Fanny has no hesitation in joining him on a jaunt to the sleepy Devon resort of Teignmouth.
Finding an abandoned beach hut, the fugitives try to keep a moochingly low profile, as they discuss her Hollywood ambitions, his war-torn past and why black people dislike swimming. However, they are spotted by Leon (Tom Sweet), a beachcombing tweenager whose Northern Irish father, Chris (Jonjo O'Neill), is sneeringly racist towards Koffee until he repairs the engine on the boat he uses for smuggling. As the `vagabonds' consummate their relationship, Doog arrives on the coast and starts snooping around. But he perishes in a tideline showdown and Fanny buys Koffee time to escape on Chris's boat by falsely identifying the corpse.
Debuting director Benjamin Bond has clearly seen films like A bout de souffle (1960), Bande à part (1964) and Pierrot le fou (1965). But slipping the odd self-reflexive nod into a standard issue `lovers on the lam' narrative doesn't make it a nouvelle vague picture any more than a couple of limp references to Vote Leave make it a snapshot of post-Brexit Britain. This may sound sneeringly severe, as there are things to admire here, even though it falls far short of the innovation on show in another Devonian film from 2019, Mark Jenkin's Bait.
For all its Godardian posturing (pastiched captions, jump cuts, breaches of the fourth wall, etc), this feels closer in tone to one of Philippe Garrel's chic melodramas, although the film it most closely resembles is another runaway saga, Lewis Gilbert's Carmargue-set Friends (1971), which boasted a soundtrack by a young Elton John. Ben Moulden's photography is certainly every bit as sun-dappled, while there's an easy rapport between Jonathan Ajayi and Lucie Bourdeu, despite the sketchiness of the characterisation.
The latter becomes a smidge self-conscious when speaking directly to the camera about her the speed of her metabolism and the lack of sex and violence in modern commercials (something that clearly rankles with Bond, who works in this sector). Moreover, the decision to give her access to a Louise Brooks wig and a penchant for dancing in public spaces reinforces the air of calculation that prevents this from ever feeling like an eavesdropped slice of life.
SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM.
Sixteen year-old Sequin (Conor Leach) lives with his dad (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) in Sydney. Ignoring the advances of his bashful classmate, Tommy (Simon Croker), Sequin (who is nicknamed after his favourite halter top) is forever seeking hook-ups on the Anon dating app. He always blocks the men he meets, but runs into eager 45 year-old B (Ed Wightman) during a group session hosted by D (Damian de Montemas) in a blue-lit room full of plastic-sheeted booths. Much to his relief, Sequin is rescued by a beautiful black man named Edward (Samuel Barries), who issues the whispered invitation to find him in the outside world.
Unable to find any references to the Blue Room online, Sequin unblocks B in the hope of tracking Edward down. When they meet up again, however, he sees from B's phone that he engineered the Blue Room invite and steals the mobile after becoming suspicious that B has stalked him to his school. When Sequin refuses to return the phone, B comes to reception claiming to be his father. But he manages to give him the slip, as he does when he pays a visit to C (Patrick Cullen), who introduces him to drugs and his drag queen friends. Unnerved though he is, however, Sequin is still able to fight back, as he sends the Anon-related messages on B's phone to his wife.
With his father angry with him for getting home late without texting, Sequin responds to D's offer to help him find Edward. He orders Sequin to take a shower and forces himself on him before revealing that Edward uses the initial `F' on Anon. Ignoring messages from his dad that B has come to the house to find him, Sequin goes to another Blue Room session, only to be ambushed by B who beats him so badly that drag queen Virginia (Anthony Brandon Wong) offers him a bad for the night. The next morning, he offers Sequin a clue about Edward, but warns him that he's unlikely to find what he's looking for. Disappointment does await, but Sequin patches things up with his dad, makes a new friend in Veronica and has Tommy over to watch Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight (2008).
Made on a shoestring by 26 year-old film school first-timer Samuel Van Grinsven, Sequin in a Blue Room (2019) is `A Homosexual Film' that owes deep debts to Gregg Araki. Due on DVD on 9 May, it's also a stylish thriller that is held together by a confidently expressive performance by Conor Leach. One would hardly know this was his feature debut, as he slips between moments of furtive intensity with his phone, fevered intimacy with his anonymous partners and fearful insecurity, as the consequences of his reckless actions start to catch up with him.
Often keeping the redhead's face in tight close-up, New Zealander Van Grinsven draws us into Sequin's transactional cyber world through Chris Johns's motion graphics. But cinematographer Jay Grant also makes an evocative job of lighting the Blue Room that is cannily created from translucent plastic sheeting by production designer Anne Gardiner to allow Van Grinsven to shoot in breathless long takes to the accompaniment of Brent Williams's disconcerting soundscape.
Although the screenplay co-written by Jory Anast attenuatingly allows B to be a law unto himself while seeking revenge, it deals with the story's age-gap angle with a shrewd insight that seeps into Sequin's relationship with his acceptingly liberal dad and his somewhat convenient instant amity with the worldy wise Veronica. The cosy closing clench is a bit clichéd, though, despite its popcorny sweetness.
SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS.
Watching Lisa Rovner's Sisters With Transistors: Electronic Music's Unsung Heroines, it would be easy to derive the impression that nobody had previously broached this topic on film. Admittedly, there have been more radio documentaries about the female pioneers of electronic music. But virtually all of the women profiled in this valuable primer have been the subject of longer audiovisual studies, even though this branch of music has yet to receive the kind of attention lavished on classical, jazz and the multitudinous variations under the popular umbrella.
The first name on Rovner's chronology is Clara Rockmore, who found fame in Imperial Russia playing violin and piano duets with her sister, Nadia Reisenberg. On arriving in the United States, she continued to make orchestral appearances. But she changed tack on partnering with fellow exile Léon Theremin, as Steven M. Martin detailed in Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (1993). Clara is given short shrift here, despite the clip of her butterfly-fingered rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns's `The Swan' demonstrating how she could draw `the singing of the soul' out of this oddly distinctive instrument.
Few pioneers of electronic music have received as much attention as Delia Derbyshire and Rovner's brief tribute almost acknowledges the fact she is retreading paths already followed in Kara Blake's The Delian Mode (2009) and Caroline Catz's Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes (2020). Nevertheless, she alludes to the influence of the Coventry Blitz on Derbyshire's tonal evolution and recalls the 40-day hand-splicing labour required to turn Ron Grainer's music into the enduringly evocative `Doctor Who Theme' (1963).
This was produced under the auspices of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which was co-founded by Daphne Oram. She has been best served by the Radio Three documentary, Wee Have Also Sound-Houses (2009), but Rovner makes splendid use of archive interviews to show how Oram created used tape loops to fashion soundscapes for BBC plays like Amphitryon 38 (1958). Admittedly, she fails to mention Oram's uncredited contribution to the soundtrack of Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961), but she allows us to hear solo compositions like `Bird of Parallax' (1972) and see Oram working on her ingenious `drawn sound' system, known as Oramics.
Just as Oram was influenced by Edgar Varese and Le Courbusier's `Poème Electronique' at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, so Eliane Radigue was indebted to the music concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and the sound of aeroplanes. She devised the term `sonic propositions' to avoid having to debate with misogynist critics whether works like Opus 17 (1970) and Elemental II (2004) were music.
Her career has been expanded upon in Anaïs Prosaïc's Eliane Radigue: Virtuoso Listening (2012). But no one yet has paid docu-tribute to Bebe Barron, which is odd because she worked most notably in film in providing the creative spark in her partnership with technician husband, Louis Barron. Taking her cues from the avant-garde boom in postwar Greenwich Village, Bebe achieved such wondrous sounds for Ian Hugo and Anais Nin's experimental short, Bells of Atlantis (1952) that the French author compared them to molecules stubbing their toes.
The Barrons would also provide the accompaniment to pieces like Shirley Clarke's Bridges-Go-Round (1958). But their most celebrated achievement came when they produced the first electronic score in cinema history for Fred M. Wilcox's Forbidden Planet (1956). The American Federation of Musicians refused to allow their work to be called `music', however, and MGM had to employ the term `electronic tonalities'.
Although they did much to change perceptions, there was more to electronic music than futuristic sounds for sci-fi projects. Derbyshire, for example, composed `Blue Veils & Golden Sands' for a 1967 television documentary about the nomadic Tuareg tribe, while author Barry Bermange recalls their BBC radio collaboration on Amor Dei (1964). But the work that made the musical world sit up and listen was Switched-On Bach (1968), a bestselling album by the still unouted transgender composer, Wendy Carlos (who was the subject of a BBC Horizon programme in 1980). Not all of her peers were so impressed, however, as they wanted to do more than recycle the notes of dead white males.
Among them was Texan accordionist Pauline Oliveros, who created `Time Perspectives' (1959) from the sounds outside her apartment window. A founder of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, she hoped that pieces like `Bye Bye Butterfly' would coax people to move past the entertainment factor of the classical repertoire and learn how to experience music and appreciate the impact it has on our minds and bodies.
Doubtless, more will be revealed in Daniel Weintraub's unfinished tribute, Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros. But Rovner is keen to stress the significance of the concept of `deep listening' and has narrator Laurie Anderson sum up Oliveros's achievement with the lines, `How do you exorcise the canon of classical music of misogyny? With two oscillators, a turntable and tape delay.'
In charting her collaboration with Thurston Moore in Day Trip Maryanne (2004), Andrew Kesin strives to make the complexity of Maryanne Amacher's work with otoacoustic emissions and auditory distortion products accessible to the non-aficionado. Rovner tries to do the same with clips from choreographer Merce Cunningham's Torse (1977). But the interview footage with Amacher and the analysis by the off-screen talking heads is so full of jargon that makes so little compromise for the uninitiated that few will be any the wiser after a first sitting.
Rovner avers that Radigue has similarly sought to impact upon the consciousness of the listener with albums like Chry-ptus (1971), Triptych (1978) and Adnos II (1980). By this time, she had discovered the ARP 2000 synthesizer and Suzanne Ciani - who was compellingly profiled by Brett Whitcomb in A Life in Waves (2017) - appears in a clip with chat show host David Letterman to show off her apparatus. Unable to break into the closed shop of recording and life performance, Ciani found freedom in advertising before becoming the first woman to solo score a Hollywood movie, with Joel Schumacher's The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981). Depressingly, another 14 years would have to elapse before the next.
Oxford-educated Laurie Spiegel rounds things off, as we learn how she started out making albums like Appalachian Grove (1974) before channelling her work at Bell Laboratories into the creation of Music Mouse, the groundbreaking algorithmic musical composition software. Aura Satz has covered these developments in her short study, Laurie Spiegel, Little Doorways to Paths Not Yet Taken (2016) and she confirms that composers like Spiegel have largely had to follow the electronic route because all other musical avenues were barred to them.
Ramona Gonzales, Caro Churchill and Molly Herndon admit that their progress has been eased by these pioneering role models and Rovner might have mentioned others like
Else Marie Pade, Annette Peacock and Laurie Anderson herself. She might also have diversified more by mentioning some of the African American women currently involved in electronica and dance music. But this would have gone against the unapologetically highbrow tone that will restrict its appeal for those coming to this transgressive form of music for the first time.
Whether they worked with tape, wires, paint, punch cards or keyboards, these women shared an imagination, musicality, ingenuity and patience that set them apart. Rovner should be commended for trying to include as many key figures as possible. But the specificity imposed by the listy structure makes it difficult to gauge the wider picture. Similarly, the assumption of knowledge about the equipment the women used and how their work reached its audience makes it difficult to assess where they stand in the grander scheme.
The debutant's trawl of the archives has yielded some splendid footage, which has been intelligently edited by Michael Aaglund, Kara Blake and Mariko Montpetit. It might have been nice to hear more than brief extracts from the highly varied musical selections, but a mini-series would be required to do them justice. Maybe that's what's required, so that Rovner can elaborate in a more inclusive manner on the privileged contexts in which Oliveros, Amacher and Spiegel espoused their theories on the participatory nature of listening. If the history of women in music has been a story in silence, surely it's better that everyone can understand it?
Director Johnny Gogan first came to North Leitrim to make his political thriller, Mapmaker (2001), He first heard about fracking from his sister Barbara in Pennsylvania and learned more about the environmental dangers posed by the hydraulic fracturing process when he showed Josh Fox's documentary, GasLand (2010), in his mobile cinema. The screenings at the Mayflower Ballroom in Drumshanbo came shortly after the Irish government a contract to Tamboran Resources to search for shale gas in the border counties of Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh near the Shannon Pot.
Unconvinced by the reassurances of perma-smirking CEO Richard Moorman, the locals launched a campaign to oppose the project, even though the economy in this sparsely populated region could have benefited from a boost. In addition to ecological issues, the opponents of the scheme also wished to protect items of historical and cultural significance, such as the burial grounds on Thur Mountain. It's around here that Darragh Wilkins set up the `Heart in the Hills' light installation.
Learning lessons from Willie Corduff - one of the Rossport Five whose opposition to a Shell project in Mayo was chronicled in Risteard O'Domhnaill's The Pipe (2010) - Jamie Murphy and Dervilla Keegan help set up Love Leitrim to educate the population about the realities of the situation and Gogan gauges the views of writers Brian Leyden and Donal Kelly, sculptor Jackie McKenna, doctor Aedín McLoughlin, farmer Eddie Mitchell, Scott Coombs, Michael Gallagher, Nuala McNulty, councillor Mary Bohan and Sinn Fein TD Michael Colreavy.
In March 2013, the Minister for Communications and Natural Resources imposes a moratorium on drilling so that further scientific studies can be conducted into fracking. However, the following year, Tamboran took advantage of the fact that there wasn't a ban in Ulster to focus operations there and neither the British government nor the Northern Ireland Assembly did anything about it. Resident Deanne Little recalls how tensions rose towards Troubles levels until Stormont opted against renewing the Tamboran licence to drill.
After Susan Carton discusses the health implications of fracking, Gogan takes a detour to the GasLand region of the United States and draws parallels between the situation in Ireland. Senior members in the protest movement admit that there were rifts as they tried to co-ordinate a response to incoming players like CDM Smith. But, despite the drain on time and resources, the volunteers remain vigilant and kept fighting. Meanwhile, Colreavy and fellow TD Richard Boyd Barrett try to introduce a private members bill in the Dáil, only for it to be lost by the 2016 General Election.
Much to everyone's surprise, Fine Gael TD Tony McLaughlin agreed to lobby on their behalf and he accrued sufficient cross-party support to vote down a government amendment to slow up the outlawing process. The bill was signed into law on 6 July 2017 and credit was paid to the groundswell movements for protecting the environment of the entire country. Moreover, when the EU did a deal with Donald Trump to import more shale gas, young people in Ireland inspired by Greta Thunberg led a campaign to block the supply in a show of solidarity with the people of Pennsylvania.
This earns the gratitude of actor-activist Mark Ruffalo, who had starred in Todd Haynes's Dark Waters (2019) about the fight against the DuPont chemical company led by the citizens of Parkersburg, West Virginia, On 28 June 2020, Ireland becomes the first country in the world to ban the import of fracked gas. Across the border, however, Tamboran is awaiting a decision on an application to conduct explorations in Northern Ireland. Clearly, all they need to do is find out Boris Johnson's personal phone number. Maybe they could ask James Dyson.
Despite the importance of its well-timed global message, this is a rather parochial film that shows what can be done (ie disband a European Super League) if enough people stand up at once and make so much fuss that they can't be igored. Coming off the back of such other titles inspired by GasLand as Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney and Magdalena Segieda's FrackNation and Gus Van Sant's Promised Land (both 2012), this has clearly been a time in the making and Gogan is to be commended for sticking with the story (although as a Green Party candidate, it's very much up his street, as well as on his doorstep).
A bit too much background information is taken for granted and the need to include as many locals as possible can leave things feeling a little congested. The timespan also means the action has a tendency to meander like the Shannon, although the stylised Ivano A. Antonozzo animation that accompanies Steve Wickham's song, `Fractured', leaves an impression. Sadly, however, so does the carbon footprint left by the transatlantic flights required for the specious Stateside sequences. Nevertheless, this denunciation of the `scraping the bottom of the fossil-fuel barrel' conveys a vital message that will become all the more pressing to prevent a post-lockdown world stumbling back towards its most damaging normalities.