Bruce Bickford: Feats of Clay

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NB. This is a cannibalised, barely-recognisable version of an article originally written in 2010 for a now-offline website. The original article holds the rare distinction of being a piece I was actually paid to write.

To the long-suffering near-masochists known as Zappa fans, the unmistakeable work of Bruce Bickford is a familiar sight. Easily the best thing about Baby Snakes, his fascinating animated sequences mitigate against the longeurs of Roy Estrada and that doll. But Bickford has had a long career independently of Zappa’s patronage, and is perhaps the only outsider artist to work in the medium of animation. A personal appearance at London’s Horse Hospital in 2010 – along with a screening of the documentary portrait Monster Road and of his film Cas’l – still seemingly a work in progress at that time – offered a chance to find out more. Continue reading

Jafar Panahi: Why Make a Film?

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NB. This piece was written in 2010 for a project that never quite got off the ground due to a convergence of unhappy circumstances. However, meeting and talking with the instigators of said project was a happy occasion. What you’re about to read was written immediately after Panahi was sentenced. It is presented here with minimal tinkering, and consequently doesn’t deal with his more recent films. A planned companion piece about Mohammed Rasoulouf’s work never materialised.

Jafar Panahi and Mohammed Rasoulof’s prison sentences and creative silencing will no doubt be a source of little surprise to those familiar with Iran’s present regime. Nor will it shock those old enough to remember past, perhaps analogous situations, such as the repeated attempts by the Soviet authorities to imprison and silence Sergei Paradzhanov. Cinema’s ability to tie wide-ranging social, psychological and – ultimately – human abstractions into tightly bound knots, and the medium’s capacity to be widely distributed and easily understood, has rarely gone unnoticed by bureaucrats, theocrats and other authoritarians. Continue reading

Patria O Muerte (Vitaly Mansky, 2011)

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NB. The Open City Documentary Festival is having a special focus on the documentary maker Vitaly Mansky. It fell to The Scientific Anglian to write programme notes for two of the screenings. Patria O Muerte screens at the Regent Street Cinema in London on Sunday, 10th September at 2:00 pm. For tickets go here.

As the critic Guiliano Vivaldi has claimed of Vitaly Mansky’s work: “Form is less important than content for Mansky as he attempts to capture the spirit of a time and place.” Perhaps the opening of Patria O Muerte – a montage of young women shimmying enthusiastically – is therefore an attempt to capture the youthful spirit of modern Cuba. Or perhaps the intention is to establish Cuba as a place of contrasts – the sheer vivacity of the dancers contrasts with the next sequence: unsettling yet quotidian scenes of graves being exhumed due to lack of space. Finally, the opening scenes work to posit a clash of generations. Preparing for the film, Mansky noted that the generation that came to fruition with the Cuban revolution was now beginning to die off, and another inchoate generation was preparing to take its place. Continue reading

Broadway, The Black Sea (Vitaly Mansky, 2002)

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NB.  The Open City Documentary Festival is having a special focus on the documentary maker Vitaly Mansky. It fell to The Scientific Anglian to write programme notes for two of the screenings. Broadway, The Black Sea screens at the Regent Street Cinema in London on Friday, 8th September at 8:15 pm. For tickets go here.

“Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators” said Mikhail Bakhtin. The Russian philosopher had in mind not only a literary genre, but a whole way of approaching the world; non-hierarchical, egalitarian, but unruly. Vitaly Mansky’s Broadway, The Black Sea would embody Bakhtin’s ideas about carnival perfectly were it not for us, the audience, safely seated in the comfort of the Regent Street Cinema. Otherwise, it valorises carnival as powerful creative and communal event, rather than mere licentious spectacle. Continue reading

The Films Of Bruce McDonald

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Bruce McDonald’s career confounds auterist criticism’s tendency to boil down a director’s work to a single idea or a recurring set of themes. His diverse career encompasses road movies, punk rock films, horror movies and poignant character studies. In 2001, Playback magazine’s poll of fifteen “all time best Canadian movies”  featured Hard Core Logo (1996) at number two and Highway 61 (1991) at number fifteen. Box office returns and allocated budgets, though, do not necessarily reflect McDonald’s high standing among industry professionals (who voted in the poll) or the devotion of his fans. Continue reading

Jan Lenica’s Ubu et la Grande Gidouille (1979)

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Jan Lenica’s 1979 feature length animated film Ubu et la Grande Gidouille is his most ambitious work: boldly designed, assertively crude in its animation and subject matter, and most importantly, it is bitterly, unsparingly satirical. Ubu is a testament to a long career straddling the avant-garde and the commercial. Although Lenica lived until 2001, he worked only sporadically in animation afterwards, focusing instead on teaching and design. This was his chance to make a grand statement; to express his disillusionment at the failed promise of artistic and political ideals. Continue reading