Tag: Broadway

Mike Leigh paints a masterful portrait of Turner

Timothy Spall stars as JMW Turner in Mr Turner.

Timothy Spall stars as JMW Turner in Mr Turner.

It can be tempting, when producing a biopic, to focus almost entirely on the positives (see Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist). But in his critically-acclaimed film Mr Turner, Mike Leigh gives us a refreshingly honest character study of his subject, the artist JMW Turner.

Starting with a perfectly-conceived shot of the watery Dutch lowlands, we are introduced to Turner – played by the brilliant Timothy Spall – who is painting lush green fields, farm girls and windmills. He seems to be in his element as he captures the iridescent light which surrounds him.

All this contrasts with Turner’s return to his somewhat chaotic life in London. Grunting and grumpy, he refuses to acknowledge his former wife and daughters and seeks sexual gratification from his housemaid, Hannah Danby (played by Dorothy Atkinson). His painting technique often looks a little ham-fisted and in one scene he spits straight onto the canvas, making it difficult to imagine how he produced such fine pieces.

But what emerges is not simply a caricature but something altogether more complex. Despite his gruffness he is also sensitive and enjoys a tender bond with his father. Later he forms a close relationship with Mrs Booth, the twice-widowed landlady who runs the boarding house in Margate where he found inspiration for his seascapes. And, in an act of philanthropy, he rejects an offer from someone who wants to buy all his work, saying that it will be left to the British public.

There are also some wonderful moments which show Turner’s development as an artist. He is enthralled when the scientist Mary Somerville showed him how a prism can create a spectrum of colours. Unlike some Romantic artists – notably William Blake – Turner did not fear industrialisation; indeed he was excited by the new railways and the construction of London’s Crystal Palace, used to house the Great Exhibition.

Poignantly, however, we see Turner discovering the newly-invented camera and while it holds a fascination for him he also senses that it will change art as he declares, ‘I’m finished’. Little does he realise that his work would go on to inspire the impressionists whose work evolved into the non-representational art that became synonymous with modernism, cubism, formalism and other major movements.

Ultimately, this is a hugely enjoyable film, which does not fawn nor judge its subject. The dialogue, with its archaic lexicon, is superb as is the period detail. But what really stood out to me was the startling cinematography, with land and seascapes bathed in the sort of light that Turner himself might have imagined.

Mr Turner is showing at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema until 20th November.

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The rise and fall of the King of the Mountains

Lance Armstrong, left, and Marco Pantani.

Lance Armstrong, left, and Marco Pantani.

When the Tour de France swept through Yorkshire earlier this summer it seemed that professional cycling had won the heart of the nation once again. Seeing the crowds of people lining the streets, and witnessing the almighty cheers as I did on Sheffield’s Jenkin Road, it is difficult to believe that just a few years the sport had been embroiled in doping scandals.

One of those lost generation of cyclists was Marco Pantani, whose life and untimely death at the age of 34 is the subject of a new film, Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, which screened Nottingham’s Broadway cinema on Monday. Known for his almost ability to destroy his opponents on the most gruelling mountain climbs – not to mention his capacity to clock up speeds of up to 100km per hour on the descents – he made history when he claimed victory at both the Giro D’Italia and Tour de France in 1998.

At its heart this documentary is about the purity of cycling and its solitary nature, as well as the human desire to tackle the most unforgiving terrain. It follows the a young Pantani rise through the ranks to become a professional cyclist with legions of adoring fans who referred to him affectionately as ‘The Pirate’. In the archive film footage of the great tours, the dramatic mountains provide the backdrop to Pantani’s feats of endurance. We also see him come back from a devastating cycling accident which almost left him unable to walk let alone cycle. These scenes are punctuated with poignant, funny and insightful interviews with his mother, journalists and fellow cyclists, including Sir Bradley Wiggins.

But of course the sport, and Pantani’s successes, were overshadowed by the practice of doping, the practice of boosting the number of red blood cells so that more oxygen reaches the muscles. In 1999, Pantani was disqualified from the Giro following an irregular blood test – and it was something he never truly got over. He descended into a spiral of cocaine abuse and eventually died alone in his hotel room in 2004.

Overall, this is a poetic film which offers a fascinating portrait of a super-human cyclist whose iron will was crushed by allegations of doping. The level of his involvement is left somewhat ambiguous and there is the suggestion that he was a victim of corrupt doctors, sponsors and the pressures faced by professional cyclists. Any idea of wrong-doing is glossed over by the interviewees – but ultimately, viewers are invited to make up their own minds about whether his achievements are diminished by the allegations.

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Nottingham gets ready to host neat14

boleroAfter a three-year hiatus, the Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival (neat14) is making a welcome return to the city this month. Taking place at a variety of artistic spaces, including Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham Contemporary and Broadway, the 10-day festival showcases ground-breaking theatre, art, film and dance. This year’s event, which opens on 23rd May, draws inspiration from the centenary of the start of the First World War, a conflict which has shaped the landscape of Europe.

This idea is explored in Michael Pinchbeck’s Bolero, which opens at Nottingham Playhouse on 31st May. The play begins with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, which sparked the First World War, and takes the audience on a journey through to the Bosnian War of 1994 and the present day. One of the key events during this period was the Sarajevo Winter Olympics when Nottingham figure skaters Torvill and Dean beat the odds to win gold for their ‘perfect six’ Bolero routine. But there is no triumphant finale; we learn that eight years later the stadium in which they performed was destroyed during the Balkans conflict. Throughout the play, Bolero, the piece of music written by Ravel in 1928, acts as a leitmotif linking together these events.

The Litvinenko Project, which will be performed in various venues including Lee Rosy’s, Cast and Edin’s, is a piece of site-responsive theatre by Nottingham-based 2Magpies. It examines the fate of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent who died after being poisoned in 2006, claiming on his deathbed that Vladimir Putin was behind it. This production starts with three facts about Litvinenko:

  • He was a man.
  • He was a man who died.
  • He was a man who died of radiation poisoning.

It then invites the audience to speculate on his life – what he liked to drink, how he danced – because there are so few facts about the circumstances of his death. Indeed, his widow has campaigned for an inquest into his death – but this has been repeatedly delayed and she is now fighting for a public inquiry to be held. The Litvinenko Project promises to be a chilling piece of theatre, especially given the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine and the growing mistrust of Putin in the West.

Another highlight of the festival is Generation Jeans, a production by the critically-acclaimed Belarus Free Theatre which takes place at Nottingham Playhouse on 23rd and 24th May. Three years ago, the theatre group was prevented from attending neat11 because their passports and visas had been revoked by the Belarussian government (they eventually performed at the Playhouse a couple of months later). Belarus, despite bordering the EU, has been described as having ‘the last dictatorship in Europe’ and Generation Jeans, which is about jeans, rock music and freedom, highlights the similarity between the Soviet days and the current regime.

Elsewhere, Nottingham Contemporary is set to host Schrödinger, a performance piece about thought experiments, cats, René Magritte, love, time, mathematics, observations, truth, lies and alcohol while Broadway Cinema will pay tribute to French New Wave film-maker Alain Resnais, who died on 1st March this year, with a day-long course and a screening of Last Year at Marienbad.

Further details about what’s on during neat14 are available on website. You can also join in the conversation using the hashtag .

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Review: Inside Llewyn Davis is full of symbolism and dark humour

Oscar Isaacs as Llewyn Davis.

Oscar Isaacs as Llewyn Davis.

The story of the struggling artist, eking out an existence from his work and relying on the goodwill of friends, is one that has been told many times before and it is the subject of Joel and Ethan Coen in their latest film, Inside Lleywn Davis. But what starts as a picaresque narrative dealing with a familiar idea becomes something that is much harder to define and the result is a highly original work, full of leitmotifs and temporal shifts.

Set in New York in the early 1960s, just before the explosion of the folk scene, it tells the tale of Llewyn Davis, a down-at-heel singer who seems to be plagued by bad luck. He is someone who lives on the fringes of society, refusing to get a steady job and settle down. As the story unfolds we are drip-fed details about his life but there are always plenty of unanswered questions, for example, why is he beaten up outside the nightclub and what has happened to his partner in the folk duo of which he was once part?

In this film there is a sense in which relationships and friendships are ephemeral. Even the begrudging friendship Llewyn strikes up with a ginger cat is hollow after we discover that it is not even the same cat and in what looks like a conscious attempt to avoid sentimentality he later  abandons the animal when he has the chance to help it.

Llewyn has always led a transient life, first in the Marines and then as a folk singer, and yet the respectable lives led by his father and his sister seem no more appealing or rewarding. He undertakes a road trip to Chicago with two strangers to meet a record executive and as he travels across this vast landscape, reminiscent of No Country for Old Men, he becomes stuck in a kind of purgatory where everything is tantalisingly out of reach. His efforts to forge a successful musical career or go back to the Marines elude him in an almost Kafkaesque way and he is left feeling tired and drained.

This might seem depressing but the film is punctuated by dark humour and moments of Schadenfreude. With a raised eyebrow and a knowing glance, we are invited to laugh at the increasingly commercialised folk scene. Another great comic performance came from John Goodman who plays the heroin-addled, cane-carrying jazz musician who travels with Llewyn to Chicago.

Overall, this is a deeply insightful film, brimming with difficult questions, pathos and humanity. And while I am not a huge folk music fan, the score, created by T Bone Burnett, is beautifully melancholy.

Inside Llewyn Davis is on at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema until 13th February.

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Not easy to watch but some genuinely touching moments in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine in Woody Allen's latest film Blue Jasmine.

Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine in Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine.

“It’s a bit of a mixed bag,” says Sharon, one of the minor characters in Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine as she describes the guests at a party.

While it may have appeared to be an unremarkable comment, I thought it was an apt description of the disparate people who are thrown together by circumstance. In the opening scenes we meet the beautiful, glamorous but intensely troubled Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett who spends the entire flight from New York to San Francisco talking non-stop to a fellow passenger. Carrying her Louis Vuitton luggage, she turns up at her adopted sister’s flat after discovering her rich husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was an adulterous crook.

Jasmine, whose real name is Jeanette, has followed a very different path from her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) who works in a grocery store, has two children and a string of rough-and-ready but generally kind-hearted boyfriends. Using a series of flashbacks, we see that Jasmine always looked down on her sister, while seemingly turning a blind eye to her husband’s dodgy deals in return for the lavish lifestyle she believes she deserves. Clutching a bottle of pills and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the protagonist in Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, Blanchett’s depiction of Jasmine’s descent into depression and alcoholism is suitably gut-wrenching.

Like its characters, the film is not always perfect; it trundles along in places and it was difficult to muster up much sympathy for Jasmine, who continues to view Ginger with disdain despite her generosity and sweet nature. At the same time, there are some genuinely touching moments and in one scene when Jasmine is babysitting Ginger’s two boys we see a much more ‘human’ side to her as she speaks candidly for the first time about her break-down and the pills she has to take.

Blue Jasmine continues at Broadway Cinema this week.

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