Music, Movies & Moments Pt.1

I’m a huge fan of film and music. Fuse those things together in a meaningful way and I’m in heaven. I wanted to write about a few of my favourite music movie moments, and I’ve decided to turn it into a little three-part blog series featuring two scenes per blog I think are just great. These will be a mixture of musical films and films that use music. In this first blog I’ll be discussing A Chorus Line (1985, Richard Attenborough) and Aquarius (2016, Kleber Mendonça Filho)I would love to hear your favourite music movie moments, comment below or send me a message if you’d like to chat.

OneA Chorus Line (1985, Richard Attenborough)

A Chorus Line is not a great film.

A box office bomb and met with less than favourable reviews, it suffered many missteps for a story about dancing. The faults of the film can mostly be attributed to a vital misinterpretation of the source text by director Richard Attenborough. Poor old Richard, directing the movie version of a much-loved, “All American” Broadway show under the always present shadow of Bob Fosse, who had spent the 60’s and 70’s revolutionising how movie musicals could be made. It’s hard not to compare the strangely soulless opening scene of A Chorus Line to the dynamic “On Broadway” opening of All That Jazz (1979). Despite the film’s flaws, I want to give props to the closing number, “One”.

A Chorus Line is mostly made up of a series of monologues and songs from individual characters all auditioning for a part in the chorus of an upcoming Broadway show. Over the course of 118 minutes we get an intimate portrait of each of these performers. We hear stories of grief, love, self-doubt and exploitation in the journeys each dancer took to land themselves on the Broadway stage.

In “One”, the iconic final number, we are thrown from the audition room into what we presume is the show all our characters were auditioning for- a glitzy parade of showmanship. At this point something chilling happens as all the stories we’ve just heard merge, all the independent personalities and journeys are packed into identical gold, chintzy suits. Their bodies flash out of the darkness and even the camera seems to struggle to focus on them as individuals, they become part of a showbiz machine. The camera cuts from sweeping shots of the stage to unsteady zooms into the spaces occupied by one face, then another and another in quick, syncopated succession. The song builds in intensity as more and more dancers seem to magically appear on the stage, mirrored from all sides.

One could see this as a celebration of how every body comes together in the dance of a chorus, but as the camera zooms out on the final scene, we’ve lost track of all the people we have come to know. They have blended into anonymity. The camera draws back and suddenly the stage, though impossibly full of people, looks tiny, framed by a theatre with no visible audience. The anonymous, gold coated dancers endlessly high kick into the darkness as the screen fades to black.

 

 

Pai E Mãe (Gilberto Gil) – Aquarius (2016, Kleber Mendonça Filho)

Aquarius is far from a glitzy, jazz-hands style musical. But the way it uses music is still extremely emotive, to the point that when I was re-watching the scene I want to discuss for this blog I still had to swallow tears!

A beautiful Brazillian-French film, in 2016 the release of Aquarius was tied up in heated political conflicts. The film itself has strong political undertones, the cast and crew were extremely vocal in their protest of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and some showings were even boycotted by right-wing groups. The subversive strength of this film is perfectly reflected in its protagonist Clara (a glowing Sônia Braga), a woman living in the vacant apartment building she raised her children in, despite constant pressure from a property development company to sell up and move out.

I found this film so profoundly moving throughout. Sônia Braga is magical, the cinematography by Pedro Dotero and Fabricio Tadeu forges a bright, wide, blue tinted, sun soaked world, and if you haven’t seen it I urge you to seek it out! Music plays a huge role in Clara’s life as she used to be a music journalist, so the song choices throughout the film are all meaningful and memorable. I was torn which scene to pick to discuss, between “Another One Bites the Dust” (Queen), a short, thudding scene which brilliantly conveys the excitement of hearing a great song for the first time, and the one I eventually chose, Pai E Mãe (Gilberto Gill).

Clara is surrounded by her family, they drink wine and reminisce over old photo albums. Clara’s maid Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto) quietly works around them. Clara’s favourite nephew has come to visit, bringing with him his new girlfriend, Julia (Julia Bernat), who asks to play one of Clara’s records that she thinks is “really beautiful”. Once the needle drops the camera rests on a medium close up of Clara- the first notes come in, there’s a flinch of recognition on her face, it’s so subtle but carries a lot of meaning. Her features soften as she slowly begins to smile at Julia. We are implicitly told that this song carries significance to both women. The cuts between Julia and Clara are soft, the two look into each others eyes and some understanding and respect develops between the melody. A slow zoom on Julia’s face frames her in the centre of the shot as everything else falls into soft focus, we are seeing her through Clara’s eyes in the moment. The song has brought the two closer together than a conversation ever would have done. It’s a beautifully still scene that will resonate for anyone who has ever wordlessly bonded with someone over a song.

There’s not a clip of this scene on YouTube, but Aquarius is currently available on Netflix so I encourage you to get yourself a bottle of wine and watch the full film. The scene I described starts around 1hr38mins.

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My next blog will be discussing scenes from American Honey (2016, Andrea Arnold) and All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse).

 

Take care.

Mal x

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Mac, Ariana & Bereavement Through Addiction

CW: Addiction, Grief, Co-Dependency

 

Two months ago my ex boyfriend died.

We were together for four tumultuous years, but it was never just the two of us. Addiction, like a thick smog, filled every gap, dictated our future and framed our history. Every now and then it seemed as though the skies might clear, like the path to happiness might be easier to pick out amongst the thicket, a thicket made up of used needles, mental health problems and co-dependency. That’s a pretty brutal combination of things to gingerly pick your way through. You’re definitely going to scratch up your ankles. But we were in love, and I felt duty bound to protect him, to help him to get better so we could finally be happy and live real human lives. I told myself “If I leave him, he’ll die”, all the while I was bleeding out over my family and rapidly dwindling friends. It took some awful, scary, painful years for me to realise that our relationship was made up of two people who were unwittingly facilitating a slow burn suicide pact.

Leaving an addict feels like leaving a puppy in a house fire. Addiction is a disease, it’s a force that can’t be cured by love no more than well wishes can quell a flame. If a person succumbs to their disease, the responsibility does not fall to the victims left behind, stood in the ashes of memories and regrets. I’m only 25 and already know so many ghosts, lost through overdose, lost to a brain and body they couldn’t trust. When you lose someone to addiction there’s enough guilt and trauma to shoulder without being reminded of it by other people who didn’t know the ins and outs your relationship.

The death of Mac Miller, a 26 year old who had a huge future ahead of him, is tragic. The death of any young person is tragic and enough to shake the public consciousness. I don’t profess to know his music well, I only knew a couple of his songs and won’t claim to have been impacted by his death any more than I was. I just saw it a desperately sad situation, I was angry that this disease keeps claiming so many people. I felt for those in his life. I watched his Tiny Desk Concert and saw what a positive thing he left for the world, despite the sad way he left it. I hoped that his fans could find solace in what he left behind.

A few hours later I began to see reports of his ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande being abused by trolls on Instagram. They were telling her that this was all her fault. That she could have kept him alive, with her love and presence. These Miller fans were angry and sad. Hurt people hurt people, this we already know. But these trolls were directing their grief-struck vitriol towards one of the people who was hurting the most. I can’t know what Grande is feeling, I don’t know her memories, we don’t share the same head. But we have experiences a similar loss, one that is complicated and strange and difficult to grieve. She’ll never read this blog, but I wish her the best in processing and healing. I wish you, reader, the best if you have also been bereaved through addiction. It’s the ultimate headfuck. I’m really sorry that this has become part of your life. I hope you’re okay.

The online reaction has made it clear that we need to educate more on addiction and co-dependency. We need to change this narrative of love as the antidote to illness. We need to discuss the nature of addiction, how to spot and combat it. The language of dependence needs to be adapted, improved upon, de-stigmatised. We need to stop losing people to this. We need to stop blaming survivors for leaving. The truth is that for co-dependent couples, remaining in a relationship, protecting your partner from the danger and consequences of their drug/alcohol/anything abuse is enabling the addict to keep using. All the good will in the world can’t quell a flame.

https://www.addaction.org.uk/

https://www.adfam.org.uk/

http://ukna.org/

Take care.

Mal x

Honesty, Performance & Emotion

When people compliment poetry, three words tend to come up a lot, “honest”, “brave” and “real”. These three qualities are treated as the holy grail for spoken word performers of a certain ilk. That ilk being the evocative, emotive poets who make you do a little cry when you watch them. The most frequent question I’m asked about my own work, “how do you talk about such personal subject matters on stage?”, I’ve never been fully equipped to answer without sounding a bit ethereal and wanky. I tell people that once you find the right words in the right order, it becomes a struggle not to share them.

That is true, but it’s also true that performers, underneath all their neuroses and foibles, are massive show offs. We’re all searching for some kind of validation from an audience, the reasons behind this are different for everyone, and validation comes in many different forms, never wholly positive or negative. For some performers, validation means people walking out in disgust, sometimes it’s five star reviews and rapturous love from strangers, for others maybe just one single person coming up to them after a gig to say they felt understood. The performer can’t exist without the audience, as we all know, and approval is addictive.

However, let’s return to those three words- honest, brave and real. When there is huge pressure to embrace these concepts it can be tricky to balance self-preservation with creating relevant work. Indeed, if you go to open mic nights up and down the country there are budding poets pouring their mental health history into a microphone in an attempt to make a connection. Often I find these performances difficult to watch- they feel like trauma in motion. Not helpful, barely cathartic- just someone in pain hoping to make sense of it live in front of an audience. There’s not a wrong way or a right way to perform, but I believe you need some distance from your sorrow before you can productively create good performative work from it. Misery itself doesn’t make you an artist, but learning from it definitely can.

Writing is therapeutic, the order and structuring of it can help to mend a messy mind. However, difficulties arise when your work is so intrinsically linked with your life and the line between performer and person is very hazy. Our currency as poets is emotion, but what happens when you can’t trust your emotions?

Recently I’ve been through some big changes in my life. It’s been a difficult time, and in many ways I feel like a completely different person to who I was a month ago. We live through many varying versions of ourselves, but to feel one version splitting away so suddenly leaves you feeling quite raw. As a result, my feelings towards performing right now are complicated. My old work has shifted in meaning and intention, I don’t feel brave, honest and real performing at the moment, I feel anxious and small and confused. But if I am booked for a gig, these are the poems people expect from me. However they aren’t helpful for me anymore, at least not at the moment. Can I help people with my “uplifting work” if behind the curtain I’m at a mental low point? How long until what I’m currently going through translates into some kind of art? Is it narcissistic or unhealthy to even think of trauma and change in that way? Maybe it’s optimistic to think that something good might come of it all.

I teach workshops, to young and/or vulnerable people, and something I often highlight is the importance of being ready to tell your story. It’s easier than one might expect to do damage trying to encapsulate your truth. When your version of therapy is a pen and paper, or an empty word document, you’re expecting a lot of yourself.

What I feel needs to be defined is the journey between writing emotive work for your own healing, and when you are healed enough to share it. For the right reasons. Performing is wonderful and important. But what is even more important is caring for your old noggin, so that you can continue to be productive and feel like a real person. All of those tragic artistic figures may have romantic allure, but imagine what they would have created had they sobered up, reflected, built on their natural talents and stuck around long enough to experience a full life.

Sometimes you need to recognise that you need silence and time before you can write and share to your full ability. I think taking that breather, readying yourself and tending to your sore head is pretty brave. Saying no to one performance in order to flourish later on is the best way to start to feel real again. And you can only really be honest with an audience, when you are honest with yourself.

 

Okay that’s wanky. But you see what I mean.

Take care.

Mal x