Sunday, 19 July 2009

Manchester, so much to...

Just returning from a trip to a vibrant Manchester. I spoke on Friday morning at the International Talent Campus in the Festival, an inspiring group of artists and producers who were properly international. I was speaking about my work and technology - which is why I get invited out sometimes. Even though most pleasingly the talk converged on how technology is a bit of a red herring, rather it's all about communication and how people do that. I can't wait to follow up some conversations in some very different places.

Had a bunch of meetings and catch-ups with friends from Manchester - Leach, Stambo, alas an absent Thorpe - as well as a London visiting posse.

And saw some very interesting work.

End Of The Road was the Young at Heart chorus collaborating with No Theatre. Beautifully old people singing songs from the heart. That's the basic bullet-proof appeal and - even though anything critically bullet-proof worries me - it sustained, even if the theatrical and musical framing of the experience didn't really flow for me. But it only took the most thrown-away invitation to dance from one of the on-stage geezers to get everyone in a packed concert hall joyfully up on their feet.Link

Prima Donna was an opera by Rufus Wainwright, staged with colourful vim by Daniel Kramer. I don't have much confidence in my operatic sensibility to judge the piece properly. But I was really moved by the final aria sung beautifully by Janis Kelly and apparently - not knowing Wainwright so well either - this was the closest the composition was his voice, indeed he's even singing it here. The rest felt like brilliant pastiche, and the storytelling clever but oddly ramshackle.


It Felt Like A Kiss was the talk of the festival. Literally. Everywhere people could be overheard nattering about the thrill of the chase of the last sequence. It delighted me and it bothered me, and inevitably I'm writing more about it. Great to see Felix/Punchdrunk tackling a different event model from masked free-roaming, and getting his Japanese scare-house obsession into public. It's a brilliant funpalace he's made here. Great to wander inside and discover an Adam Curtis film. His montages dredge streams of cultural unconsciousness - I can't help thinking of Ozymandias in Watchmen - to gather argument. If you know Curtis' work - and if you don't then find The Power Of Nightmares, The Century Of The Self etc on google video - then there's nothing especially new but on screen it's always a good provocation. As Lyn Gardner says, plenty more political food for thought than a David Hare play, although.. no... I won't go there.

But but but. To be placed as an active player within this filmscape fundamentally changes the function and quality of the polemic. When it's interacting with you, Curtis' red-hot rhetoric feels as blunt as a poker. We're given a survey in a holding pen and the questions - do you believe in freedom? would you commit an act of violence to achieve positive social change? - just beg so many questions back in this context.

Says Curtis in one of his Helvetica captions: When you start to tell a story, you have to know how it ends. Hmm. Really? And doesn't that change when you and your audience are a part of the story?

There's no sense of hope here, even of change, just a studied futility. We don't get meaningful agency, a chance of transformation, we just get to run, as - yes - "the dark forces that were veiled by the American dream" come to get us. Somewhat of a ghost-train for the cognoscenti. Not this so much as 'he chased me; I felt like a quiche'. (ok, I'm begging for a punch with that one.)

Sure, I had a total blast in as close to L4D as is surely legal, and the best bits of the scary act were all about how my group of strangers suddenly started playing together resourcefully for survival. But then that solidarity is forcefully winnowed by a Skinnerian maze and spat out into the car park. You're left talking about the thrill of the chase. And not much else.

I've always argued pedantically that laughing at a Bush joke lets you off the hook of thinking anything else more probing. Getting spooked by a spook is perhaps just the same. However, undeniably brilliantly constructed the ride.

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