Category Archives: Film reviews

Vinyl: Film Review

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this page are my own (Kate Snowdon’s) and not those of the St Albans Film Festival as a whole.

Vinyl Premiere

Vinyl Screening

The main film of the St Albans Film Festival this year was the pre-release screening of Vinyl. Vinyl was screened in The Maltings Arts Theatre on Friday 8th, ahead of its UK cinema release date.

As it was the first film screening of the first ever St Albans Film Festival there was a real buzz in the room as Festival Director Leoni Kibbey entered the room to introduce Vinyl, in place of director Sara Sugarman who sadly could not attend the event.

“Thanks to all who have come here… It’s much better than being at work on a Friday afternoon,” Leoni said.

Vinyl, which is set in Wales, stars Phil Daniels as a washed-up ageing punk singer and guitarist, Johnny Jones. The film opens with the former front man of ‘Weapons of Happiness’, Johnny, buying drugs from a child and walking across a farm to smoke a homemade bong with a granny, next to a cow (yes, you read that right). It’s not exactly the opening I imagined, but it set the comedic tone of the film well.

Sugarman manages to deliver a serious, reflective message throughout the film, based loosely on the real life events of Mike Peter’s rock and roll hoax of 2004; it undermines the attitudes and rationalisations of today’s music industry.

Johnny Jones reunites with his band accidentally after 20 years when they find themselves at a mutual friend’s funeral. The three other band mates; Minto, Griff and Robbie have all taken different, conventional paths in life – unlike Johnny, who has never really managed to let go of his punk rocker dream.

Sugarman has a brilliant way of making you want to laugh at (perhaps) inappropriate times.The first laugh out loud moment came from an ironic comment at said funeral, and this kind of dry, ironic humour is present throughout the film.

The story really gets going when the accidentally re-formed band drunkenly record a song, which turns out to be good enough quality to be released as a single. Johnny pushes to try and get the song recognised by record labels and music producers to little avail, and so the idea of employing a group of young, good looking, teenagers to mime the songs on stage is formed. The fact that the film is based on a true music hoax adds a lot more depth to the film.

I find Johnny’s character, with his mid-life crisis coats and plastic sunglasses, a brilliantly developed character with attentions to detail spot on (such as his constantly carrying around a plastic bag – to the point where he still has it in his hands when he’s fighting). I did, however, miss the developments of his relationship with his wife, Jules: the audience witness some of their problems and struggles but the resolutions feel a little rushed.

The most developed and touching relationship of the film is that between Johnny and his hoax band’s front man (and the only one who can actually sing), Joel ‘Drainpipe’ Richards (played by up and coming star Jamie Blackley). From the regular arguments and raking over the past that we see from the Weapons of Happiness (again, these particular relationships feel a little under-developed) we quickly learn that the reason for the band splitting 20 years ago were largely due to the fact that Johnny’s father died and he received little support from his band mates. This goes a long way in explaining the fatherly moments that ensue between Johnny and Drainpipe throughout the movie.

Essentially, however, this is not a Rom Com – it’s a music film. The plot is based around music, not relationships; A music genre; the way that record companies don’t want to sign anyone over the age of 30 (as it’s “like watching your parents having sex”); the way that a music career can affect relationships. Despite being so heavily about music, I was a little disappointed that the soundtrack consisted of, mostly, one song. By the end credits, I was absolutely sick of the words “Free Rock and Roll”.

Although it was a low budget film, it didn’t notice too much. It worked; it had a charm about it (although the hand-held camera made it a little difficult to watch at times) and despite having no attachment to a major studio, Sara Sugarman did the story justice.

Kate Rates: 3.5 ***’s

Maybe Bangladesh.

Maybe Bangladesh has been my favourite film event of the festival so far. With a traveller’s soul, a love of music and dreams of visiting India, this encapsulated so much of what I enjoy.

The screening about to begin

The screening about to begin

The screening began with a three-part cartoon short about the turbulent life of chickens from egg to Sunday roast, which came with a ‘may contain violence’ warning and needless to say, was hilarious. With evil revenge-seeking eggs, a chicken (unsuccessfully) crossing the road and a machine gun operating roast chicken, the journey from ‘Traumatic Beginnings’ to ‘Happy Ending’ was well received by most of the audience (in fairness, the warning was pretty clear).

Introductory short: Part 1 - Turbulent Beginnings

Introductory short: Part 1 – Turbulent Beginnings

Next up, Erich, who stars in and narrates the film, Maybe Bangladesh (which is in German with English subtitles) introduced the feature documentary with a song on the accordion. As the film is documenting Erich’s travels to source the sound of a mysterious, unlabelled cassette of Indian music he is given, introducing it this way really brings the story to life.

(Note: Apologies for the poor quality of this video, at this point my camera battery had died and I had to use my phone)

What I really liked about this documentary was its fun mix of live action footage and cartoon animation (using the same animators as the short film before it).

Interesting and inventive ways of mixing cartoon and live action footage

Interesting and inventive ways of mixing cartoon and live action footage

The plot follows Erich and his band mates, fellow musicians with itchy feet as they become mesmerised by the Indian music and want to share their own.

There is talk of such wonderful music coming from a higher power, but a Nepalese cook tells them, when asked where such wonderful music comes from: “Maybe Bangladesh…”.

Footage from India

Footage from Indian

As they journey through India on their search for the origin, they come to understand what culture shock really means, and deliver one of my favourite quotes from the film, above a soundtrack of traffic, horns and dogs barking, “We found noise before we found music…Indian noise is so penetrating even a shut down brain can’t handle it”.

When they find a man who tells them that the language of the cassette is Tamil and that the composer is dead, it seems that hope is lost. But the story doesn’t end there, as their hunt for the haunting voice of Govinda continues to lead them to some fascinating places.

Avant Garde To Music Video with Ben Corbett

Next location on the list was St Albans School, which was about a 10 minute walk from St Peters School where I was at.

Rushing to find my way

Rushing to find my way

I have a new name for myself for the weekend: 15 minute late Kate.

I seem to be running a little behind for everything, but I guess that’s bound to happen when you are trying to get round as much as I am.

I joined Ben Corbett’s guide to the evolution of film long enough to watch four of his screenings, and each presented a different time in film history and different genres; from abstract, to gothic to surrealist.

Ben’s selection of screenings was powerfully diverse; I watched ‘Mothlight’ and ‘Eye Myth’ by Stan Brakhage, which had to be flown over from America especially for the viewing at St Albans film Festival. It could, however, be argued that these do not classify as a ‘film’ at all, as they are silent movies consisting of editing to a reel of film (Mothlight is a series of dried-out dead moths that have been stuck to the film roll).

Tim Burton's Vincent

Tim Burton’s Vincent

Next I watched ‘Vincent’, the film credited as launching Tim Burton’s career. This dark animation, narrated by Vincent Price is typical of Burton’s work now, which is of course for, and endorsed by, Disney. But at the time of the movie’s creation, working as a Disney animator (Ben Corbett referred to him as ‘getting sick of drawing bunnies and happy mice all day’) and cheekily using all the resources he had at Disney to create the movie, it led to them having to let him go. Ironically he now does some of the most well recognised animations in the world for Disney and Ben had started the movie with the question ‘Can you guess who made this film?”. I’m pretty sure the whole room knew in the first 2 seconds.

My final viewing of this seminar was ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ , a surrealist film from the 1940s. Now, I admit I had no idea what on earth was happening in the entire 11 minute sequence, but I understood, at least, why we were shown it. The surrealist genre, the camera techniques (the early days of special effects) and gaudy soundtrack made it visually pleasing, audibly horrific and obvious that it changed the history of film making.

Made in St Albans

It’s a very long time since I’ve been in a primary school assembly hall. Nearly 12 years in fact. But it was time to get re- acquainted for the Made in St Albans Film Screenings at St Peters School.

St Peters School venue

St Peters School venue

After the initial getting lost trying to find the Venue, after taking a wrong turn, my next challenge was to find a way to squeeze my bum into the tiny children’s chairs in the assembly hall (nobody said being a journalist was glamorous) but with my knees leaving just enough space between themselves and my chin to rest a notepad on, it was time to get to business and enjoy the short films made by the children and young people of St Albans.

The programme of events at St Peters School

The programme of events at St Peters School

Sadly, I could not stay for too long, as I had to rush over to the next venue for 11.00 (this event started at 10.30). But I was able to see two brilliant short films that were made and submitted by children in the age 5-15 category.

The first, ‘The Spark’ was a clever concept, about a boy looking for a good idea for a short film for his submission to the film festival. As the sound of his mothers voice echoes in his head; ‘you just need a good idea’ , the audience get to witness his light-bulb moment where an idea comes to him, and he rushes to make it into a film. The ending line: ‘this is my film’ got quite a few whispers as people around me remarked on what a clever twist it was.

The screenings

The screenings

The second film I got to watch was ‘Footsteps to the Future’ about a group of ‘Green Ambassadors’ working hard to make their school Eco-friendly. Along with the ‘Recylcing Rangers’ they take the audience on a journey through their work on creating a campaign: switch off fortnight, promoting ‘bikeability’, filling bird feeders and making compost heaps. There were a few laugh out loud moments, such as when one child, wearing blue flashing light on his head, became the ‘light police’ making sure lights in classrooms were switched off, another child; a girl with a clipboard and pen, become the water monitor and turned off taps that had been left on and boy stroking a soft toy cat, in a James Bond spoof, spoke of his anger and people not using both sides of the paper when working. The soundtrack was not overlooked and the children singing songs with green messages was a well received detail.

Cake stall for raising funds for the school.

Cake stall for raising funds for the school.

I’d have loved to have stayed longer and seen more, but to the next event I must dash! I can, however, recommend some of the cakes from the stall that was raising funds for the school!

Makers – Our Story

Makers tickets

Whilst, unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the entire 135 minutes of this documentary, I did stay long enough to get a feel for what it was all about.

Shot in a series of different naturalistic locations (although admittedly sometimes the background noises of clinking china were a little distracting) the documentary explored the  inspirations and experiences of UK independent film makers. One of opening quotes of the feature: “We shouldn’t be trying to re-create Hollywood in the UK”, really stuck in my mind as I left the Maltings Arts Theatre.

Amongst statistics about the triumph of the UK film industry – such as “the film industry contributes £4.3 billion to the UK economy every year” and “the UK film industry directly provides 44,000 jobs in the UK and the number of extended jobs created may reach up to 95,000 annually”  a mix of film directors, cameramen, documentary makers and music video makers told their success stories  within the realms of the independent film industry.

Independent film makers are responsible for creating a large number of the millions of films we watch every year. One speaker implied he loved the challenge of being an independent film maker, stating, “I  love it because often people say it can’t be done”, whilst another championed the idea that; “In the UK there are a lot of stories to be told”.

It was fun to explore some of their journeys (albeit it a little hard to keep track as they cut between so many different independent film makers – although perhaps if I’d have stayed a little longer that may have sorted itself ) , including discovering inspiration ranging from Lord of The Rings to The Matrix, finding out who they best like to make films with (there was a touching moment about siblings in there) and understanding where their first short films came from.

The feature film really delivered the message well – that there is ‘plenty for the UK to be proud of’.

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Vinyl Review

The Opening Film of the Festival

Vinyl Premiere

This was the first screening of the festival weekend. My full review of this will be live on Monday, but as a teaser: familiar faces, new faces, strong laughs, repetitive soundtrack (I literally hated the main song by the end of the movie), emotional moments, developed – and sometimes under-developed – relationships, smiles, triumph, true story.