Saturday, 29 January 2011

Go into the garden, go under the ivy...

I'm a big Kate Bush fan. And one of my Crimbo pressies was a brand new biography of Ms Bush, "Under The Ivy, by Graeme Thomson. I've only just finished it, but it's recommended reading, especially for KB fans. There've been several past attempts at cataloguing the events of Kate's life but generally these literary endeavours were deemed duds - Thomson's offering, however, is far more extensive and provides a wealth of information regarding the weird but wonderful songstress (especially the periods when she's working on her latest albums...) Okay, it does go a little overboard with certain details but you get lots of insights into a) Kate's wonderfully bohemian and hippy-dippy family and their influence on her (I wish I could think of a better term than "hippy", it's so....reductive. Anyone care to help out?) b) The painstaking process by which she produces her music (demanding that musicians perform 20+ takes of a particular instrument "bit", for instance) c) Her growing demand for privacy as the years go on d) The paradox of having to do the whole publicity thing at the expense of c). I kind of wished the book had lifted the lid a little more on the "inner Kate" but this is probably as close as we're going to get.

And reading all about Kate and her music made me want to dig out all my old KB CDs again and give them a (long delayed) play. "The Dreaming" in particular, an album that never makes an easy listen, surprised me with its craziness and creativity (it was, in many ways, a landmark album that marked a breakaway from the "old style" Kate). But "Hounds of Love" will always be, for me, Kate's complete and utter opus, when her voice and songwriting powers were at their zenith. Sheer brilliance.

And...stop the press! There's rumours of some new Kate stuff this year!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Nina, schizo ballerina

A belated Happy New Year, everybody. I'm back!

Boy, am I finding this month hard to get through financially. I'm willing to bet a lot of you are in exactly the same situation. Xmas shopping did drain the old cofffers although not as much as I thought it would; nevertheless it's still been a bit tight until pay day. Ho hum. Not as bad as all that. I guess the brand new car I purchased just before Crimbo might have had something to do with it...I figured it was time I traded in my old model for a new one and it was money well spent (I sold my Ford Focus and bought a Ford Fiesta Zetec, in case you're's in hot magenta and has ambient lighting!! Ooer. I love it).

Anyhow, even though spending has had to be reigned in, I managed to go to the pictures last night to see "Black Swan". I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Very good and very creepy would be my summation. Admittedly it does take a while to get going and the real "horror" aspect doesn't kick in until about 2/3 of the way through....but worth seeing. For those of you not in the know, the movie concerns a production of "Swan Lake" by New York City ballet company. The production requires a ballerina to play both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan. One dancer, Nina (Portman), is a perfect fit for the White Swan, while Lily (Mila Kunis) has a personality that matches the Black Swan. When the two compete for the parts, Nina finds a dark side to herself and starts to experience elaborate hallucinations and delusions about other people and their behaviour. From thereon, things spiral drastically downwards...

Natalie Portman was excellent as Nina, doing the whole "driven but repressed ballet dancer" bit convincingly, hardly surprising, given the presence of her overbearing and controlling mother, played by Barbara Hershey (an actress you don't see much of these days but who I used to love in films like "Hannah and Her Sisters". Good to see her back, but what has she done to her teeth? Huge overbite or what...) Kunis, an actress I haven't seen in anything else, made a good foil for Portman's uptight Nina as her sassy ballet dancing colleague and the scenes where she takes her out to get her p*ssed, then drugs her drink, are entertaining (and then there's the raunchy shenanigans that follow...)

The horror aspect was well conveyed with several genuinely disturbing and unsettling moments e.g. the part when Nina's mothers' paintings all start talking to and mocking her and her eyes turn swan red. Not to mention the strange barbed black things that start poking up out of Nina's skin. Ugggh! I won't say any more otherwise there won't be any surprising nasty bits left, for those of you that are planning on seeing it. The psychological angle - are all of these things genuinely happening or are they in Nina's mind? - made the film gripping for me, and put me in mind of old movies like "Repulsion", "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Stepford Wives", even if the final revelation was kind of obvious.

My criticisms would be that the film has a rather unrelentingly "dour" feel about it and there's not much humour in evidence. The muted visuals/cinematography (there's little colour in there) reinforce this atmosphere but that's kind of deliberate I think - emphasising the harshness and claustrophobia of Nina's world. Every now and then colour breaks through e.g. the scene when a drugged-up/p*ssed Nina goes to the club and is bathed in red whilst a strobed light flashes - all very symbolic.

The dance sequences, in particular the final realisation of "Swan Lake" at the end - are pretty amazing and it's clear that Portman can do ballet (although apparently she's replaced in some long shots - still not as bad as Jennifer Beales in "Flashdance" who didn't dance properly atall. Pah!).

It really creeped me out and I want to see it again!

And it's made me want to go out and buy the soundtrack to the real "Swan Lake". Truly moving and beautiful music. Erm...oh yeah. When I've got some money.

4 out of 5.