18 September, 2011

New Forest Film Festival: The Ghost That Never Returns

I'm in the middle of a busy week:

  • Postered Lymington and Lyndhurst for the lower profile screenings of the New Forest Film Festival's Love Bites shorts, and Project Nim.
  • Had the sadly last minute brainwave that perhaps the ecologists of the Forestry Commission, Hants and IOW Wildlife Trust and the New Forest National Park might be interested in something like Project Nim, so dashed around some of their New Forest sites waving flyers and talking up the show.
  • Saw Project Nim.
  • I participated in Improbable's Open Space Impro Forum at Battersea Arts Centre.
  • Shopped for bbq
  • As a Volunteer, I lurked behind a tree making triffid noises to scare filmgoers on their way to The Vehicle of Horrors
  • Volunteered at Sing-A-Long-A Mary Poppins and Shock Treatment
  • Watched Mary Poppins and Shock Treatment, the latter included the small awards ceremony where I came runner up for the Festival's Best Film Critic of the Year
  • furtively fit in a search for a book in shops in Brockenhurst and Southampton
  • Saw The Ghost That Never Returns a silent soviet film with live musical accompaniment and projection powered by a bank of bicycles
  • Went to the Festival participant wrap drink at the Rose & Crown in Brockenhurst
  • participated in a workshop to support the establishment of a New Forest Nature Improvement Area
  • rebuilt a PC
  • installed a Netbook for the first time
  • shopped and packed for the trip, not sleeping for 32+ hours before travel, and perhaps having less than 16 hours shut eye in total all week.
  • Attempted to watch Terry Gilliam’s Tideland for the first time on no sleep
  • ... whilst formatting a 2 terabyte hard drive

In the middle of all this, my impending trip to the states the rare chance to reconnect with my nearest and dearest though usually most distant, the need to bear gifts prompted a particularly problematic mission.

Chuck is the kind of friend who’d give you the shirt off his back even if you’re likely to wipe your ass with it.  He is so generous to a fault that it hurts.  At least once, when we’ve both been on our uppers we’ve battled over ownership of the bill, each insisting on paying.  It’s an upmanship of niceness.

Because Chuck is even more of cinema obsessive than I am, he indulges my inner film geek like no other friend I’ve ever had.  I’m not sure what he gets out of the equation.

Chuck is an able guide to genre cinema and if you need to know the best films in which computers are possessed by evil spirits, or feature flying sentient disembodied body parts, or a slasher with a particularly poignant back story (or some unearthly combination of the above), Chuck’s yer man. Chuck brought Mark Kermode’s weekly podcast to my attention.  Although stateside, Chuck knew Kermode’s writing in Fangoria the horror and schlock cinema magazine.  So when Mark did a signing tour for his first book I got a copy signed for Chuck, after I mentioned the Fangoria connection, Mark quoted Cronenberg “Long Live the New Flesh” with his sigil.  Naturally by the time I saw Chuck, he’d already bought an imported copy, but just vanilla, unsigned.  Kermode’s second book was coming out just before the festival and I’m off to the states just after, I stand a better chance of getting a freshly signed copy to Chuck before his internet browsing finger gets itchy, but the book signing tour doesn’t come to the cinema near us until I’m actually in the States.  The mission : to try to hit up Mark Kermode for the signature at one of the festival events, but without being a pest or coming off as a demented fan boy.

Before the Sing A Long a Mary Poppins screening I pop into Best Sellers, the book shop in Brock,  I interrupt a conversation between the shop owner and one of the forest keepers I know. They don’t have the book in yet, despite the author being local, but find a way to both talk to me at length about its absence and to discuss the festival enough that it becomes a chore to extricate myself politely so that I can get to my volunteer duties on time. Even if I happen to win the critic competition tonight, I won’t have the book for Kermode to sign.  I’ll have to hope I can get it tomorrow.

Most of Sunday is taken up walking masses of dogs and feeding their masses of humans,  our annual bbq and dog walk.  I rise early to start on the fresh potato salad.  The downpour which luckily held off during the walk nearly drowns the barbecue.  We fetch out a small marquee for the garden, but everyone huddles indoors.  A kind guest provides golf umbrella cover as I ferry food to and fro in the gale, I get soaked but the vittles remain dry.

I have a short window between the farewell of our last guest and tonight’s show.  I pop into one of the Southampton Waterstones, hoping they’ll have the book.  They do, but under a 3 for 2 offer, I want a copy for myself, so it seems stupid not to get a third book.  Stella Duffy, who’d I’d seen in the flesh for the first time in a couple of years at Thursday’s Improbable symposium (a great teacher, we very occasionally Facebook banter) has her first foray into historical fiction, Theodora in paperback.  It was under offer, but Waterstones don’t have it now.  Pressed for time I grab Philip Pullman’s take on the gospel The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as a present for another stateside friend and methodist minister, Mark Young, playful antagonism is an element of our friendship.

Finuala is humouring me by coming along to tonight’s screening, as she did at last year’s inaugural film festival event.  Without that novelty factor she’s along to bolster me at the post fest drink up.  In social situations she’s literally my better half.  Since I left London my confidence has waned, particularly with any new crowd.  Even amongst my oldest friends I half suspect that they prefer her to me, it's just that she's that lovely.

The film washes over me, my attention shifting lazily between watching the film and listening to the live score provided by the Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand.  I’m really impressed by the scale and shooting of the prison riot scene, a beautiful textbook example of soviet montage, the cutting getting more rhythmic and faster paced as the riot reaches its climax.  The live band match this nicely with a grinding theme that drives toward a sense of urgency.  As the film progresses I zone out a bit. The score is quite listenable on its own.  And whether it was my inatttention, or something lacking in the film, but I didn’t quite get why the hero spends most of the film trying to get home to his wife and family, only to blow them off at the last minute to lead the revolution.

The print of the film that had arrived had French intertitles, so Simon Miller had had to edit them out and edit in internet generated translations with very little time to spare.  He admitted that he thought at least one came out with the opposite sense than intended.  This led to some having the syntax of a technical manual written in Korea for a product manufactured in Taiwan for the Greek market.  At one point in the film when the company detective is tailing the rabble rouser through a bleak landscape, he is approached by a native who warns him “It is forbidden to hunt human here.”  This led to my mind pulling a Fudd/Bugs riff:
F: Wabbit Season!
B: Human Season!
F: Wabbit Season!
B: Human Season!
F: Wabbit Season!
B: Wabbit Season!
F: Human Season! (Elmer turns gun and shoots self).
It’s a shame Chuck Jones and Sergei Eisenstein never collaborated.

After the film I briefly touch base with affable botanist and former Chair of the New Forest National Park Authority Clive Chatters who I know through our work for the New Forest Association's Land Management Committee.  He and his wife Catherine both work for the Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust.  When he's not dealing with local ecological policy, Clive, it turns out, is a Neil Brand and silent film fan, he was also at last year's screening as well as the other New Forest Festival's fundraising screening of The Gypsy Cavalier which featured Neil Brand solo.

Then we're off to the pub, I get a chance to catch up with the other volunteers, we all seem a bit buzzed but exhausted.  Finuala ends up chatting with Sarah Kelly who I hadn't shared any volunteer events with, but who I already know from her work for the National Park as their landscape architect.  I spitball future festival ideas with Simon Miller, turns out he would be interested in possibly having a comedy festival as well, I trot out my obtuse connection to comedy (from my former life in impro including London Theatresports and others).

I briefly check in with Jo Cockwell who indulged my sense of humor (and my pitiful attempts at east end accents) whilst we put out viewer questionnaires for Mary Poppins.  I proposed an updated cast with Ray Winstone as ... "The Sweep" and Ben Kingsley as ... "The Poppins".  She was also forced, when the Sing A Long print didn't show up, to gamely manually display the lines of lyrics on an overhead projector on a bit of wall next to the screen, keeping pace as they were sung.  She's lovely and approachable, and although I don't know either of them well enough to suppose so, I wonder if she's Simon's Finuala, the woman who takes the edges off the film geek.

After an aborted attempt to offer Mark Kermode some help bringing drinks back from the bar, I’m sidelined by a conversation between Finuala and another volunteer.  I feel the time slipping away as my energy runs out   So I awkwardly dive in, sidling up to Mark’s table and cutting straight to asking him for the favour of signing a copy of his book, explaining the circumstance of my being away for his signing tour.  He almost offers me one of his copies, but I reveal the Waterstones bag, and fish them out.  I’m so abashed I only get him to sign Chuck’s copy, but not mine. 

I then get around to introducing myself as the guy who was the runner up in the film critic competition.  I should have led with this.  Mark says some nice things about what I wrote and I trot out my glad to be nominated bit.  We discuss the promotion of silent film events a bit, I pitch my half baked battle of the silent film bands idea, which doesn’t fly, and we divert into alternate soundtracks and I cite the Philip Glass score for Todd Browning’s Dracula, which he’s not up on.

I mention that I had talked comedy festival with Simon, and suggest I could put together a matinée themed improvisation show.  I'm so used to the queasy reaction that often greets impro, the comedy format that varies wildly from sublime tight rope walking hilarity to unfunny self indulgence, that I suddenly feel beset by real or imagined eye rolling at its mention.  I probably have a pained look on my face and I catch a glance from Linda Ruth Williams, either pity or compassion, like Juliette Binoche in a Kieslowski.

A tactical mistake now, changing subject to the pieces I almost submitted for competition Mamma Mia! as directed by Michael Haneke and The Last Picture Show as Reviewed By A Critic With an Axe To Grind Over This Gimmick of Black and White, explaining the former is not easy in a noisy pub, and the latter inadvisable, a piss take of critics who waste more time in their reviews whinging about formats than they take to discuss the films, Mark might think I was specifically targeting him.... he’s not the only one (and in good greatly respected Ebert shaped company).  He kindly offers to read them, which instantly makes me feel like I’m the asshole who asked him to read my fucking script (or *).  Even more excruciating, he produces his smart phone and I now realize the great inconvenience of having an impenetrably longwinded blog name as he attempts to type it into the phone.  For a moment he wonders if I’ve said “The Vegas Idea” and I think it better not to ask if he knows the very obscure Martin Mull song of that name, which would point to a level of novelty music geekery which would be embarrassing if not shared.  Mostly I’m wishing I hadn’t brought it up in the first place.

Luckily by now Finuala was looking at me like she was willing my head to explode.  My film mania had invaded more of her weekend than normal, and while she’d enjoyed it up to a point, she wanted to get home to dogs and rest before hitting Monday work.  I beat my strungout retreat.

I’m socially awkward at the best of times.  I lack awareness of some of the social cues that tell how things are going, I’m kind of clueless.  I don’t think it went well, which is OK.  I just don’t want the organizers of my local film festival which I’d enjoy being a part of in the future thinking I’m a prat.  At least not on that evidence.  Hopefully they were as tired as I, and will have no or little recollection I’ve either gained a clean slate or made the stupendous error of posting this all here for any of them to review should ennui or Google guide them here.

The main thing is that I’ve got the signed book to give to Chuck, but I also risked possible humiliation and the eternal distaste of the Festival crowd to get it.  Chuck was pleased enough with the gift (although he hinted it would have been cooler if I’d accepted the impromptu offer to cadge one of the author’s own copies), and turned round and gave me his brand new imported copy of the revised edition of Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies.

I’ll never get even with that bastard.

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