Category Archives: Film

Dark Horses

I just watched a documentary film called ‘Dark Horse’ about a jump racehorse called Dream Alliance. I don’t have the stomach for the fences myself these days, but I remembered the horse’s name and that he had a fetching back story.

The film has stirred me up alright, in the way a proper film should. The hero is a bonny chestnut, with a white blaze and proper socks. His supporting cast are his breeder, Jan, and his owners from a Welsh mining village and it is their stories that make the film.

I won’t spoil it with details – watch it if you can. It’s a deft piece of film-making. A light touch that hits a seam of gold.

It’s certainly left me wondering. One such wonder is this: is it the obstacles we overcome in life, the finish lines we cross, the glory we dream of covering ourselves in that matters? Or is it the quiet standing in the field at the end of the day, when you are almost gone, but not quite forgotten, indistinguishable from most of all the rest?

The beauty of the racehorse is that we don’t even need to ask the question. They take us places outside our experience; with a horse in our lives we can soar the heights and plumb the depths (sometimes within split seconds) but at the end of the day, there is always a field.


I must see this film (National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman) for all sorts of reasons.

When human endeavour sometimes seems to me to be directed in all the wrong sort of places, art acts as a balm to the soul, an electric jolt to the eye, petrol thrown onto the flame of intellect.  You can mix those metaphors too and they work just as well: balm to the eye, petrol on the flame of the soul  – whatever way you mix it  – art makes you feel.

Way back when I moved to London, I spent many hours at the National Gallery.  Certain paintings became friends.  They still are.  I don’t call them, or write them, or send them gifts, but they are fixed in my heart.

Maybe that’s why I once I dreamed of a long conversation in an art gallery.  I half-started it once and it may have been the most important almost conversation of my life.  I have some slight hope that this film may be the final word on the matter, and then I can wake up.

On the other hand,  it may just be a nightmare, if the Guardian review is to be believed.

God it’s boring. I love the National Gallery and I was squirming in my seat. Why doesn’t Wiseman let the paintings speak for themselves? Again and again, he films audiences listening to curators or guides give lectures about the National Gallery’s works of art. One such talk would make sense in a portrait of the museum. But why repeat the exercise, again and again – and again?

Time Out critic’s conclusion ‘The film’s bold, brilliant climax’ sounds better to me.

Nils Frahm ‘Re’

‘Live before you die’ from Dreamtime Films

Apparently some people wonder what it’s like in my head… Well, a bit like this truth be told.

Worth a few minutes of your time even if you don’t want to know or indeed care what goes on behind my eyes, which will be the majority.

Are you alive?

‘The badgers moved the goalposts’

I dare not normally speak of badgers and the cull, because my sister is in country ways and has strong, and very valid, views on the whole issue of the spread of TB and the impact on farmers. I sit in the town and have my own views and perhaps they are not quite so valid as I don’t know anyone at all who is affected and neither am I, so it is easy enough to say that my heart bleeds for all the badges being shot. I would also add that the science seemed to suggest a cull would not fix the problem. Equally, I would say, that it hardly seems fair that cows should be slaughtered when they carry TB either, but they are, and no-one appears to be particularly up in arms about that. Or maybe they are, and I missed it, for which I apologise.

However, it is not a laughing matter. It is not funny that a disease is blighting the lives of badgers and cattle. But what really puts the tin lid on it is when a government minister comes on the tv to say the length of the cull needs to be extended because ‘the badgers moved the goalposts.’

Really? Really?

And we trust this lot with a lot more besides the TB and badgers issue.

Saints preserve us. Or, if you are a badger, and you’ve survived the brutal and stupid cull, stand for parliament in my constituency in 2015 and you are guaranteed my vote.

Badgers in charge all the way baby.

Badger from Fantastic Mr Fox

Take Two

It’s an astounding act of hubris isn’t it?  To write a post about a film you watched.  As if anyone even cares.

But some films have such integrity that they demand you bear witness.  Not  just by watching them, but by saying you did and perhaps by considering some of the wider issues highlighted.  Such a film was The Turin Horse from yesterday’s post; such a film was The Moo Man.  You may of course say that such a notion is nonsense, a film, is a film, is a film, but I believe a good film contains essential truths that it is good to reflect on in the aftermath of the watching.  This means my idea of a good film may not be widely shared – for instance I would not have Jaws in my top ten, but I would have Harold and Maude.

Anyway, that’s another story, back to The Moo Man.  I am not sure about the title myself, but the hero, farmer Stephen Hook is an appealing character and the film was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival – what I like to think of as Cannes with soul.   Hook is an understated, thinking stockman who chooses to have a smaller organic herd and build real relationships with his herd.  His unlikely heroine is a cow called Ida.  There are moments of humour and moments of gravity, often involving Ida, and on one occasion, Eastbourne.  The Moo Man is not as slow as yesterday’s offering, with its 30 takes only approach, but the pace is as sedate and the scenes mooch through as if channelling Hook Farm’s Friesian herd of heifers ambling towards the milking parlour.  That’s not to say nothing goes on – a lot does – the whole cycle of life as it happens, which is, I suppose, what it has in common with the visually grimmer The Turin Horse.

There is a baddie too.  It’s the supermarkets, who buy the milk from dairy farmers for less than it costs the farmers to produce.  If you don’t think that’s got anything to do with you, watch the film and consider the nation’s balance sheet.  Stephen Hook is taking some of his milk straight to market in its raw form to try and keep the farm in the family.  Organic milk has got to be better for you than the chemical cocktail variety, and untreated raw milk claims even more health benefits.  Having watched The Moo Man,  it’s also definitely far better for the cows.

If you are interested in what the farm does, visit the website of Hook & Son here.

Two Films

I rarely watch films, which is shameful really.  Partly it’s because no-one else shares my taste – except for Fantastic Mr Fox by Wes Anderson which we all agree is everything a film should be.   I have a penchant for French films, not to be pretentious, but because they are pretty slow and have subtitles which means I can follow and hear what’s being said (by reading).  Major motion pictures just have too much going on for me.  The last one I went to see in an actual cinema was Spielberg’s Lincoln, which I really enjoyed.  Perhaps a little too much as the friend I was with had to nudge me sharply when the scene involved the Congressional vote on the Thirteenth Amendment to remind me I was not actually in the House of Congress in January 1865.  Lincoln was slow and and revolved around one central issue.  Slow is good.

I took this to a whole new level recently by watching The Turin Horse.  It’s the last film by Béla Tarr, a Hungarian director.  He says it’s the last, not me.  Anyway, having watched the last film I can see why he might say that – it may be because there’s nothing left to say.  I don’t know much at all about film-making but even I can tell when there’s hardly any dialogue (thankfully subtitled) and the takes linger on and on and on.  This is a marvellous and good thing as far as I am concerned.  When the shot is long, I get time to think.  Think about the film, what it all means.  See the different textures and expressions and wonder what it all means a bit more.  And I get to feel the film in real time.  Not in the buzz of a Hollywood-ending glow, but moment by moment as the art of cinema is pared back to it’s very bones.

I loved The Turin Horse.  I loved the opening premise – that when the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suffered his catastrophic mental breakdown it was provoked after throwing his arms around a horse that was being whipped in Turin.  This leads the film’s narrator to point out at the beginning that, ‘no-one knows what happened to the horse…’  As the ‘action’ unfolds over six days I loved the repetition, the long camera and the different angles on the same thing, watching them eat their single boiled potato every day;  I even loved the music which is essentially six notes in three bars of three.  The story is not uplifting certainly, but the experience, curiously, is.  I don’t understand how exactly, but that’s part of the magnetism.  Here’s the trailer.  If you can’t cope with that, then the full version is probably not for you.

As for the second film, I’ll fill you in on that next.

Can it be Gate IV already?

Or how to kill your blog in just five days.

I thought I’d double-check with myself that I am not taking liberties with the admittedly fragile concept, but no – so far every photo has fulfilled the criteria for gate, the definition of which I have ‘helpfully’ posted beneath to save confusion, plus that of door.

Gate (noun)  A hinged barrier used to close an opening in a wall, fence, or hedge

Door (also a noun) A hinged, sliding, or revolving barrier at the entrance to a building, room, or vehicle, or in the framework of a cupboard

I am beginning to think I might have quite lost it.  If I were to take up a recumbent position on the psychoanalyst’s couch they would have a field day with me.  That is such an awful pun that really do think I have lost it.  Perhaps it lies on the other side of these gates.

Today’s post is not really a gate, but it’s not a door either.  Still it’s got a Portugese cat in it, so you can’t complain.  There were kittens hiding in the shadows.  I saw one white and silver tabby one that was momentarily brave enough to poke its nose round the broken shaft of wood before disappearing once more.

All these gates?  It strikes me that, rather like the coffee machine in the song Calling You from the film Baghdad Cafe, they also need some fixing…

cat viana

Fishing with horses

I came in from work just now, watched this short film and my equilibrium was restored.

It’s the pace of life I aspire to. Not the one where I am always rushing about…

Sat Nav

I’ve had enough of the winter virus now so I took the children out for the afternoon.  I always swore I would not have sat nav in the car – why would I – I can read a map.   Then the old car died (well actually it was put down *sob*) and the new one came with sat nav, whether you like it or not.  Mostly I keep it OFF but you have to turn it OFF because it comes on automatically, with the previous owners local destinations saved in it, which will be handy if I ever want to go to Bushey in Hertfordshire.

I am not seduced by sat nav, particularly after an episode earlier this month when I wanted to get to Brook Street in Mayfair and the sat nav decided the best route was to plough through Soho (never a good idea) and on that occasion a near fatal one as Regents Street was closed off completely for the turning on of the Christmas lights.  In November.  I tell you, if I had listened to the sat nav I would still be going round Golden Square.

So today, I turned it on.  Just to see, like, if it could mend its ways a little.  I half-knew my destination, having been there once before.  Drive along the A13, turn left over the Dartford crossing, pay £2 do not pass go etc.  Well, I knew the navigation by satellite had flipped its lid no sooner than we came off the QEII Bridge; before I had even got through the toll booth, it was telling me to turn left.  Yeah right.

And so it carried on.  At every junction, turn left, turn left.  Now, I thought to myself, I want to get where I am going as quick as I can and I am not driving down some winding Kentish road in the winter when the M2 is the boy for the job.  So I ignored it.  And on and on it went at me.  At one point, I lost all confidence in my own sense of direction and we ended up straddled between the slip road and the motorway.  This has never happened to me before, I am not indecisive in that way.  The sat nav has made me a flapping indecisive woman driver, which is a cliche and annoys me intensely.  I therefore carried Straight On, fast, and cross.  It was at this point that the sat nav completely lost the plot.  Normally if you ignore it, it ‘recalculates’ the route, to take account of your errant ways.  On this occasion it said that I was ‘off the digitised map’.  Then it instructed me, twice, to do a U turn as soon as possible.  Right, ok, a U turn, on the M2.  It was at this point that I realised I was now in conversation with an electronic device.

‘Make a U turn as soon as possible!’

‘Are you crazy?’

‘Make a U turn as soon as possible!’

‘Fuck off’

We arrived at our destination ok, no thanks to the nincompoop sat nav.   If it wasn’t built-in it would be sacked.  It will be OFF in future.  It is worse than useless.  It lulls drivers into a false sense of security and makes ninnies of us all.  It also makes me more into my mother for arguing the toss with it (not necessarily a bad thing, but not in combination with the leather driving gloves and consideration for other road users as it is too much like morphing altogether).

And I am sure 007 doesn’t have to put up with a deluded gadget in his car.  That was another thing that annoyed me this afternoon.  Absolute rubbish on the radio.  Not one good song.  Not one.  And then Adele, who one might expect better of, comes on and sings this song below.  Which is all very well, for a very short time, until her strange mid-Atlantic drawl makes ‘Skyfall’ rhyme with ‘Crumble’, so she’s intoning ‘Skyfle and Crumble’ but actually it’s more like ‘Skyfull and Crumbull’ and  then she ‘stands tull before she tumbulls’ too and it’s all just unbearable and then, on top of all this, there are people with Christmas trees up in their windows which gives me an ‘Eyeful’ of premature festivity that makes me want to puke.

Apologies for the long sentence there, but it was a rant with no in-breath.