We’re very pleased and proud to present our latest contributor, Carole Petts. Unlike the rest of us she lives in London and is able to report back from this year’s London Film Festival.
This is my third year in attendance at the London Film Festival, and every year it feels somehow bigger. Last year the festival literally did grow, taking the events outside of their natural West End/South Bank dwellings and putting on screenings in places such as Hackney and Islington. However it also contracted; shortening from three weeks to under two. This makes it pretty difficult for even the most committed film-goer to cram in all the screenings they would like to take in, and makes the annual post-launch appointment with the planner and highlighter even more fraught.
This year matters were not in any way helped by the total failure of BFI’s payment system on the first morning of the members sale, leading to much anguish and, for myself, a near three-hour queue on the South Bank for tickets. Happily this ended with me getting all the tickets I had planned for, and this has made the experiences so far even sweeter.
My festival started on Thursday night with a late addition to the programme – an entry in BAFTA’s regular Masterclass strand with the composer Clint Mansell. I’m a big fan of Darren Aronofsky, so the chance to see this talk with his musical collaborator was one I couldn’t turn down. Clint was excellent value for money and whoever took it upon themselves to put a bottle of red wine on the table deserves a pat on the back – he was slightly nervous at the start but a couple of glasses seemed to put him much more at ease. Clint spoke frankly about his lack of formal musical training and how the partnership with Aronofsky has blossomed through both of them trying to figure out what they were doing in their respective roles, sometimes by means of trial and error. I did get to ask him a question and he gave a very expansive answer, including the fact that Lux Aeterna (aka the song for the X-Factor, or as Clint put it “the song that bought my house”) was originally written for a project long before Requiem for a Dream.
Friday night was quite literally a big one – the gala screening of Gravity had taken place at Leicester Square the night before, but I decided instead to see it on the biggest screen in Britain – the BFI IMAX. Event organiser Stuart Brown stated in his introduction that this had been the hottest ticket of the festival and that he’d had to turn down many famous names who had called asking for tickets. Director Alfonso Cuarón had been holding a Screen Talk at the NFT just before our showing, so he popped in to personally introduce the film.
I’d like to point out that I am not particularly enthusiastic about 3D films. I think most of the time it is superfluous and a cynical way of charging more for a ticket. The exceptions to the rule, in my opinion, are Avatar (regardless of your view on the film, you cannot argue that it was a huge step forward in the use of 3D) and Life of Pi, which I felt was the best use of the technology to give depth to landscape until now. Gravity joins this shortlist as one of the few films I feel has made use of 3D to deliver a cinematic experience which is breathtaking in both its ambition and achievement.
You probably know the synopsis already – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are two astronauts on their first and last missions respectively. Disaster strikes when their shuttle is destroyed, and they are tied only to each other in the vast expanses of space. It’s much better if that’s all you know going in – even the destruction of the shuttle is different to the one depicted in the stunning, one-shot trailer, and the film is all the better for it. Bullock gives an excellent performance as the rookie who ends up in the first situation any astronaut is trying to avoid, and Clooney is, well, he’s standard George Clooney – witty and smooth, without some of the irritating smarmy qualities that can come through in his performance sometimes. Gravity is a nerve-shredding film that switches pace with ease, and succeeds in conveying both the sheer vastness and the contradictory, terrifying claustrophobia of space. See it in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find, from November 8th.
Finally in this entry comes my annual viewing of shorts. Due to the dedication of the animated shorts this year to children’s films – because they clearly don’t get enough of them during the year – I’m seeing two strands this year: Love and Laugh, which was the subject of last night’s The Best Medicine. Highlights from the selection included Penny Dreadful, a film about a child kidnapping going horribly wrong which reminded me a lot of Seven Psychopaths (hey, I enjoyed it); Things He Never Said, a hilarious wish-fulfilment fantasy where a man tells his girlfriend what he really thinks; and Talking Dog For Sale 10 Euro, where a man finds the titular advert in a coffee shop and decides to ignore his own misgivings. Some of the shorts didn’t quite work – the audience sat in baffled silence during Drunker Than A Skunk, a strange animated poem – but the beauty of short films is that there’ll be something else along in a moment which will probably be more your cup of tea.
That’s it for this week! Join me next week when my festival (and wardrobe) really gets going with gala screenings of Parkland, 12 Years A Slave, the always hotly-anticipated Surprise Film (last year was Silver Linings Playbook; this year my money is on The Butler or Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) and my own personal highlight, Only Lovers Left Alive, as well as Don Jon, Exhibition and the Love shorts.
See you next week!
Carole will watch most types of film and particularly anything starring Nicolas Cage, leading to her firmly-held belief that The Wicker Man remake is the funniest comedy ever produced. She hates Grease.