Tuesday, 13 November 2012

#6: Frank Turner - O2 Academy Leeds - 12/11/12


Former Million Dead front man Frank Turner is an artist who divides opinion. Punk Rock purists resent his political ideologies because they no longer apply to the militant leftism that is synonymous with Punk where as Folk fans clamour for tickets at sell out shows globally. The good news is when the music is as consistently good as Frank's is then there really shouldn't be any need for political standpoints to cloud a music fan's judgement.

Arriving fashionably late to Leeds O2 academy I found the place to be packed already with more than several people already well on their way to a Tuesday morning hangover from hell. After a brief but sweaty fifteen minute wait Frank Turner and his backing band The Sleeping Souls took to the stage with their usual gusto and aplomb. Opening with one of his more recent songs I Am Disappeared was a sure fire way to get the crowd going; and get the crowd going it did. During the first four songs not once did the crowd relent, singing back every word to every song as though it were an encore. The energy with which both Frank and the Sleeping Souls perform with is a joy to watch and the rapport he has with his fans is something only someone truly passionate about their music can hold down. His set was peppered with moments of occasional poignancy, such as the track Long Live the Queen from second album Love Ire & Song which was a welcome addition to the set list and Isabel which is a personal favourite of mine. Another highlight of the night came in the form of Wessex Boy from the most recent album England Keep My Bones. There was something strangely charming about hearing a room full of people in West Yorkshire sing with such sincerity about hailing from the south of England. Although that isn't to say any sense of locality was lost amongst fans who, on more than one occasion, started chanting “Yorkshire” as if just to clarify and remind Frank just exactly where he was. As well as fan favourites there were three new songs taken from his as-of-yet untitled new album; Plain Sailing Weather; Anymore and Three Little Words, of which the latter two are particularly good. Three Little Words could easily be the leading single from the aforementioned album which is due next year. It was a shame to see the ever-popular Ballad of Me and My Friends left out from the set given that the American leg of the tour got to hear it. That said however he has specified in the past he doesn't want to play it live for whatever reasons (another point of contention amongst fans and critics alike). The traditional three-song encore was nothing short of fantastic. It started with his most recent single If Ever I Stray which got perhaps the loudest sing along of the night save for the next song, a rousing rendition of Photosynthesis which as ever, was superb. Since the aforementioned Ballad... was dropped the climax of the show came in the form of a Hardcore version of Dan's Song which while perhaps not as resonant as Ballad...was entertaining nevertheless.

Frank Turner is someone who is consistently good at what he does. He knows how to work a crowd and enjoys himself while he's doing it. He may have critics in the form of jaded Million Dead fans who think his departure from Punk and from leftist politics was a poor decision and one which has been led by money at that, but those people are blinded by ideals and image. Why should personal political belief be an integral part of an artist who has already “hung up his banner”? His gig's aren't political discussion forums, they're places for people to get together as strangers and enjoy his music as one. And as long as he keeps making it, that's what people are going to do. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

#5: Give Us A Day And We'll Show You The World

First off it should be noted that this is the first film by director Jia Zhangke that I have watched. A bit of background study in to him as an auteur has shown that while this is probably his most popular film, it detracts from the impact that his some his previous work has had despite still covering the matter of globalisation in China and the country's move in to post-modernity.Secondly I want to avoid mentioning or discussing any main plot points unless they are pivotal in understanding the films commentary on globalisation, spatiality and the post-modern.

Even though the film was made seven years ago, the necessity of the overarching narrative is still evident, arguably even more so, now. The film is set in Beijing with the cities theme park Beijing World Park, and follows an array of working class employees who have come to the park from the surrounding countryside and further afield to make ends meet. The theme park features many of the world's most famous landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, and the Taj Mahal. While this global symbolism isn't particularly important to the over all narrative per se; it does allow a continuing theme of travel to recur throughout. And makes for a striking backdrop for Zhangke's narrative of the “impact of urbanisation and globalisation on a traditional culture.”

The film is viewed in a section of vignettes, interspersed by colourful animated transition scenes between each one. These animated sections also allow the films interest in new media technologies to be exhibited, and how they effect the relationships between the characters. Almost every one of these animations has a translated text message between partners included. These text messages reveal the more intimate and honest side of the often-reserved Chinese characters. This suggests that as teenagers or young adults the staff at the theme park are happier to talk about their feelings towards one another from behind the screen of a mobile phone, in much the same way social networks such as Myspace were used around the time is was filmed. While these transitional scenes certainly show the importance of new media technologies within contemporary youth in China, they detract from the overarching beauty of the filmed sequences and appear in an stylistic fashion more suited to that of airport chick-lit than an award winning film.
Perhaps what is most striking about this film (cinematography and camera work aside) is it's ability, at least at first, to allow the characters to play the role of backdrop, whilst it is the park and it's spatiality that carries the narrative. That is until you become riveted by the understated yet almost soap-opera like qualities of the characters, their relationships with each other and their surroundings.

There is a distinct dichotomy of open and enclosed at work within the film. Several characters are shown fairly early on performing a traditional Indian dance in the vast open air of Beijing World Park. However this is juxtaposed fantastically well against the squalled and cramped conditions of the 'back stage' area in which they get ready each day. Not only is this shown throughout the park itself, but several other settings show how trapped within their own lives the characters are. A further point of emphasis, as I have mentioned above, is travel and this is obvious throughout the whole film. A Russian and a Chinese women become and unlikely paring, despite the language barrier between them. This illustrates the theme of globalisation perfectly. The women cement a friendship (that Zhangke could have elaborated on a little more perhaps) irrespective of the cultural divide that separates them (language). This lack of distinction between countries is becoming more and more prevalent with language being one thing a country can hold on to keep it's national identity.

There is further focus on that of the contrived. Everything about the film I set up and designed to juxtapose with the realism of the slowly developing characterisation and relationships throughout the film. “Give us a day, and we can show you the world” is a sign in the park. And that is what the park aims to do. It's these contrivances which make the film stand out as more then just a drama. One scene show's a couple sat on a 'magic carpet' within the park, flying up the Eiffel Tower, beaming and waving at the camera. However before this is shown, we see the couple sat on nothing more on a rug-covered box in front of a blue screen, with the camera being tilted from side to side by the woman operating it. Sure this might just be a theme park gimmick, and something you would find in any theme park, but the importance of this scene is the way in which the scenario is constructed, even the emotions of the couple seem to be forced. A further point of contrivance, is seen outside of the park, when a sweatshop owner meets her degenerate gambler brother. While this is a scene of utmost realism in terms of the characters, the scene takes place in a vacant theatre, with the characters talking in the background, while the setting of the theatre becomes the focus of the scene, suggesting perhaps that life as a whole is a performance and the world or The World, is our stage.
The camera work throughout the entire film is second to none. There are lots of scene in which the camera is completely stationary, allowing the events to unfold before it as it were just another spectator within Beijing World Park. These stationary moments are shot with an almost photographic composition to them. Breaking the 'image' down in to rule of thirds or framing the characters on screen with props such as pillars within the park, and the fantastic global backdrops such as the Arc De Triomphe, as you can see below:

Not only does the concept of Beijing World Park lend itself brilliantly to the cinematography and mise-en-scene within this film, but the backdrop of the Beijing skyline is also impeccably represented by Zhangke. One note worthy scene shows two central characters in the back of a truck on their way away from the park. Both characters seem pensive, yet happy that they're out of the confines of the behind the scenes squallor they live in with the park. The camera is borderline stationary here, despite being set up on the back of the truck with the characters. It's occasional and slow moving pan gives a sense of going-nowhere, as the background doesn't change until the end of the scene, suggesting a sense of aspiring-mobility that will never quite be realised because of the girls social positions.

To conclude, this film is one that makes a concious and successful effort to illustrate the effects of globalisation on a burgeoning Chinese underclass. We find ourselves inexplicably drawn in to The World through expertly crafted camera work and believable situations. If the characters are the spearhead of the film then the shaft is the solid. sturdy and almost ironic (given the nature of the film) cinematography and camera work. Clocking in at just over two hours and a quarter this film might not be for everyone, least of all those who are looking for the over-the-top gorefests of predominant Asian film-making such as Ichi the Killer or Oldboy. Instead we find ourselves drowned in the fantastic costumes and soundtrack of the parks workers, which are wonderfully contrasted with the dank and peeling walls of their living quarters where they spend their free time. Globalisation is a double-edged sword, and we can see it at play better than ever within the choreographed dance routines. Chinese girls performing Indian dances with the same vigour they should be performing traditional Chinese customs with is a sorry site. With such focus on mobile technologies and Mcdonaldisation how long will it be before all national identities are homogenised?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

#4: A Theoretical Reflection of Leeds as a City

Leeds, like many British cities, wasn't once the confident centre of consumerism that is has come to be known for, it was once a city of industry. During the Industrial Revolution, the city, began to move away from wool (although it was still it's primary product) and moved towards flax and contemporary production methods such as printing, before finding itself as a city of commerce during the 20th century. I want to show this shift away from industrialisation and modernism by illustrating the close proximity in which the classical architecture of the city's churches and other such buildings are to their post-modern counterparts; such as apartment buildings and shopping centres/arcades.

In the above image you can see the classical architecture of Leeds cathedral juxtaposed with the post-modern design of the apartments behind it. This is a recurrent theme throughout the skyline of Leeds, and throughout this essay. This is perhaps most evident at Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane. As you can see below the church (taken from 4 different angles) is in the middle of the current building of Leeds Trinity shopping center. This juxtaposition of faith and commerce backs up what Marc Augé has said about “non-places”. The church, while still a place of worship for those of faith, has it's cultural impact detracted from with the addition of the shopping center arguably a non-place, contrived only for commercial means that houses myriad 'places' (shops). However, contradictory to Augé, Shaun Moores would argue that the shopping center (as in my example) is a place for those who work there every day and for them it is not a point of transition between shops. Furthering this idea he claims that new media technologies actually pluralise space, and those of us who carry mobile phones have the ability to be in several places at once.


If I were to argue from Augé's perspective, then it is entirely viable for me to suggest that, at least in some ways, for me, Leeds, as a city, is a non place. This is because, despite living there, my main interaction with the city is as a place of transit between both the tangible places of my flat and university, and between when I arrived and my overall destination of graduating.

Another way in which the progression of Leeds is evident is within the city's indoor market. Built in 1904 (from whence it takes its name) the market hall has always been a place of commerce. However now more modern shops populate the hall and clash with the turn-of-the-century fixtures within it.

Here the garishness of the neon sign advertising mobile phone repairs is completely out of place and dwarfed within the market, however it still depicts Leeds shift in to post-modernity whilst exhibiting the public’s obsession with new media technologies.

Perhaps one of the best examples I found was this photo of Bridgewater Place, taken from the corner of Swinegate. The building dominates every inch of this photo whilst competing against the Sky Plaza to dominate the Leeds skyline. Juxtaposing itself against the three-storey buildings that line the street, Bridgewater Place is a typical example of post-modern architecture, and gives the photo as a whole a feeling of placelessness and globalisation; the building could have been erected in any city in the world.

Like Leeds Town Hall, The Corn Exchange is Victorian in it's design. Even though it is still used for its former purpose, that of trade, the businesses that operate within it's confines are a far cry from that of its original, corn. It now houses boutiques and restaurants, a drastic change from when it opened in 1862.
A further way of looking at Leeds would be as Appadurai sees cities; as an area of 'scapes' This way of thinking takes different aspects of a city and forms meaning around that aspect. For example; given that Leeds has shifted away from the industrialisation of the 19th and early 20th centuries and found itself (like most cities) to be a city of commerce. Arguably then, this shift has allowed Leeds to become what Appadurai would term a financescape (centred around the movement of global capital – not just retail capital). However, the fact that Leeds is broken in to quarters suggests that there are more 'scapes' involved. For there to be a successful financescape, there must be shop workers and tourism adding to their global capital, this then brings a second 'scape' in to play; the ethnoscape, which is, as the name suggests, people-centric. As a result then of the growing population, a mediascape will occur, notable within the cultural quarter of Leeds where the BBC building is. The 'scapes' however, are not always distinguishable from one another and many times will overlap each other both geographically (shops within the financial quarter, people distributing newspapers and flyers within the commercial areas of a city) and less tangibly, as you can see above; one 'scape' gives birth to the next and so on and so forth. Thinking in terms of 'scapes' then, I personally contribute to the ethnoscape of Leeds. But since I buy food and consumer goods in Leeds I also contribute to the financescape. Furthering this I also contribute to the mediascape of Leeds, as both a student of the media and as a writer for The Met Online student blog. Using these examples it becomes clear how several different societal aspects come in to play to form the over all image of a city, in this case, Leeds.

In conclusion then we can see cities that were an integral part of the industrial revolution such as Leeds and Liverpool, have been uprooted from their initial roles within industry and now have much more in common with metropolitan, European cities of culture and commerce. We can also see how many different aspects of societal life act as the building blocks which are fundamental for any contemporary westernised city to function, and see how their journey from industry to an established cultural city is one that has been felt by a huge majority of successful capitalist cities throughout Western world.