Culture Vulture (27th of May – 2nd of June 2023)

Welcome to Culture Vulture your guide to the week’s entertainment from an alternative viewpoint. Highlights this week include the PBS series on the history of Jazz, 2017 film, The Death of Stalin, and the Orson Welles masterpiece, Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight. Music in this podcast is by Tim Bragg.

Saturday 27th of May 2023

Jazz Gumbo: Beginnings to 1917 8:00Aam PBS America

A definitive documentary series that presents the history of America’s greatest original art form. The series begins in the 1890s in New Orleans where the sounds of marching bands, Italian opera, Caribbean rhythms and minstrel shows fill the streets with a diverse musical culture. Here, African-American musicians create a new music out of these ingredients by mixing ragtime syncopations with the soulful feeling of the blues. Soon after the start of the new century, people are calling it jazz.

Jazz: The Gift: 1917 to 1924 9:15an

The story of jazz becomes a tale of two great cities: Chicago and New York, and of two extraordinary artists whose lives and music will span almost three-quarters of a century: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. As the Roaring Twenties accelerate, Fletcher Henderson, a black bandleader, brings Louis Armstrong to New York to add his improvisational brilliance to the band’s new sound.

Jazz: Our Language: 1924 to 1929 10:30am

As the stock market continues to soar, jazz is everywhere and soloists and singers take centre stage. The songs of Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues, help black entrepreneurs create a new recording industry. Bix Beiderbecke becomes the first great white jazz star and Benny Goodman finds that jazz offers an escape from the Jewish ghetto and a chance to achieve his dreams. In New York, Duke Ellington achieves national fame when radio carries his music into homes across the country.

Jazz: The True Welcome: 1929 to 1934 11:45am

As the stock market continues to soar, jazz is everywhere and soloists and singers take centre stage. The songs of Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues, help black entrepreneurs create a new recording industry. Bix Beiderbecke becomes the first great white jazz star and Benny Goodman finds that jazz offers an escape from the Jewish ghetto and a chance to achieve his dreams. In New York, Duke Ellington achieves national fame when radio carries his music into homes across the country.

Sunday 28th of May 2023

A Future for Flax? 6.30am RADIO 4

Several years ago, Helen Keys and her husband Charlie Mallon, a blacksmith and sculptor, decided to grow flax on their farm in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, with the intention of making linen. They wanted to market their bronze statues in attractive linen bags but found no one producing Irish linen on a large scale. They took it upon themselves to venture into linen production. Flax, which had been a staple crop in Northern Ireland, was already being grown on their 50-acre farm for generations.

The process of producing linen involves retting, where the flax is soaked in water to separate the fibre from the stalk. Helen and Charlie use an upcycled cheese vat for this process and reuse the water as fertilizer for their fields. The next step is scutching, where the fibre is separated from the stalk and prepared for spinning. The couple proudly show off their 1960s scutching mill to presenter Karen Patterson. However, the biggest challenge they face is finding a commercial spinning operation in the UK, as there are currently only a few hand spinners available.

Helen began exploring the potential use of flax as a composite material in industrial manufacturing. She partnered with the Northern Ireland Advanced Composite and Engineering Centre, which is researching various products to contribute to decarbonizing industries. Peter Quigley, the centre’s manager, explains to Karen that the flax plant has the potential to replace glass fibre in manufacturing components for the aviation and automotive industries. Helen and Charlie’s flax-growing project aims to inspire other farmers in Northern Ireland to revive the cultivation of this traditional plant.

Jazz: Swing: Pure Pleasure – 1935 to 1937 8am

No synopsis available.

Jazz: Swing: The Velocity of Celebration – 1937 to 1939 9:15am

No synopsis available.

Jazz – Swinging with Change: 1940 to 1942 10:30am

As the 1940s begin and war overshadows everything else, jazz is changing. In a Harlem club called Minton’s Playhouse, a small band of young musicians, led by the trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie and the brilliant saxophonist Charlie Parker, discover an exhilarating new way of playing which is fast, intricate and sometimes chaotic. When America finally enters the war in 1941, big band music is part of the arsenal, boosting morale both at home and for the troops overseas

Jazz – Dedicated to Chaos: 1943 to 1945 11:45am

In war-torn Europe, jazz has been banned by the Nazis, but great musicians continue to play, turning the music into a weapon of resistance. For many black Americans, however, that sound has a hollow ring. They find themselves fighting abroad for liberties their own country denies them at home. Meanwhile, Duke Ellington premieres his symphonic suite tone portrait of black life in America, Black, Brown and Beige.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017 film) 11pm C4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh, is a gripping and emotionally charged film that leaves a lasting impact on its viewers. With a stellar ensemble cast and a thought-provoking narrative, the movie delves deep into the themes of grief, justice, and redemption, showcasing the complexities of human nature in the face of tragedy.

Frances McDormand delivers a powerhouse performance as Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother determined to find justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder. Fueled by anger and frustration, she takes a bold step by renting three billboards on the outskirts of her small town to publicly call out the local police department’s lack of progress in the case. McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred is raw and unflinching, capturing the character’s resilience and vulnerability in equal measure.

The film’s supporting cast shines brightly, with standout performances from Woody Harrelson as the compassionate police chief and Sam Rockwell as a complex and deeply flawed officer. Their performances add layers of depth to the narrative, challenging the audience’s perceptions and eliciting empathy for characters that are morally ambiguous.

Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is a masterclass in storytelling, seamlessly blending dark humor with poignant moments of introspection. The film explores the ripple effects of tragedy on a small community, highlighting the complexities of forgiveness, redemption, and the pursuit of justice. The dialogue is sharp and biting, capturing the essence of the characters and their motivations.

Visually, the film is stunning, capturing the stark beauty of the Missouri landscape. The cinematography creates an atmospheric backdrop that mirrors the emotional intensity of the story, enhancing the overall viewing experience.

What sets Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri apart is its ability to navigate through difficult subject matter with nuance and sensitivity. It tackles complex issues such as grief, guilt, and the consequences of unchecked anger, refusing to offer easy answers or neatly resolve conflicts. Instead, it presents a realistic portrayal of flawed individuals grappling with their own personal demons.

This film is a testament to the power of exceptional storytelling and compelling performances. It immerses viewers in a world that is simultaneously bleak and hopeful, challenging their preconceived notions and leaving them with lingering questions about morality and the nature of justice.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a remarkable cinematic achievement that captivates from start to finish. With its outstanding performances, powerful storytelling, and exploration of weighty themes, the film leaves an indelible impression on its audience, reminding us of the complex and often turbulent nature of the human experience.

Monday 29th of May 2023

Jazz – Risk: 1945 to 1949 8:00am

Cold War tensions are reflected in the broken rhythms and dissonant melodies of bebop, and in the troubled life of bebop’s biggest star, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. His improvisations and self-destructive, narcotics-plagued lifestyle are widely copied by other musicians. His longtime partner, Dizzy Gillespie, tries to popularise the new sound, however, young audiences are now swooning over pop singers like Frank Sinatra. Louis Armstrong forms the All Stars but encounters racism in New Orleans

Jazz – Irresistible: 1949 to 1955 9:15AM

A generation of musicians embrace the challenge of moving beyond Charlie Parker’s innovations. John Lewis and the supremely elegant Modern Jazz Quartet refine bebop’s balance between improvisation and composition. However, few people are listening to bebop. Musicians in California create a new, mellow sound called cool jazz, and Dave Brubeck mixes jazz with classical music to produce the first million-selling jazz LP, Time Out. Then, Miles Davis stands poised to lead jazz in a new direction.

Pathogenesis: How Germs Made History (1 of 5) 9:45 BBC RADIO 4 FM

Sociologist Jonathan Kennedy explores how infectious diseases have impacted human society, politics and economics, from earliest times to the present day.

Jazz – The Adventure: 1956 to 1960 10:30AM

America’s post-war prosperity continues and, in jazz, young talents arise to take the music in new directions. In 1956, the year Elvis tops the charts with ‘Love Me Tender’, Duke Ellington has his best-selling record ever. New artists emerge, most prominently Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis. Davis comes to exemplify the very essence of cool but, as the 1960s arrive, two freewheeling saxophonists, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, take jazz into uncharted terrain

Jazz – A Masterpiece By Midnight: 1960 to the Present 11:50AM

During the Sixties, jazz is in trouble. Most young people are listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Many jazz musicians head for Europe, while at home, jazz searches for relevance led by Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp and John Coltrane. Miles Davis combines jazz with rock and launches a wildly popular sound called fusion. However, in 1976 when Dexter Gordon returns from Europe for a triumphant comeback, jazz has a homecoming too and a new generation of musicians emerges

Solaris (2002 film) 5pm GREAT!movies

Solaris, a mesmerizing science fiction tale, has captivated audiences in two distinct cinematic interpretations: Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 adaptation and Andrei Tarkovsky’s hypnotic 1972 masterpiece. Each film presents a thought-provoking exploration of humanity’s emotional depths, while showcasing their own unique visual and storytelling approaches.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) is hailed as a cinematic landmark, known for its philosophical depth and meditative pacing. Tarkovsky’s rendition offers a poetic and enigmatic journey, delving into profound themes of time, memory, and the intricacies of the human condition. It requires viewers to invest in its slow-paced narrative, rewarding them with a contemplative and introspective experience.

In contrast, Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris (2002) provides a more streamlined and accessible adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel. Soderbergh’s rendition prioritizes emotional resonance and psychological exploration, cantering on the protagonist’s personal journey through love, grief, and identity. The film strikes a balance between philosophical depth and a more narratively focused approach, appealing to a broader audience while retaining the essence of the original story.

Both films excel in their respective portrayals, offering contrasting interpretations that enrich the overarching narrative. Tarkovsky’s Solaris demands patience and a willingness to engage with its hypnotic visuals and philosophical musings, resulting in a profoundly introspective experience. On the other hand, Soderbergh’s adaptation offers a more accessible entry point into the thematic richness of the story, providing a poignant exploration of human emotions within a science fiction context.

While the films diverge in their visual styles, pacing, and narrative emphasis, they share a common foundation rooted in the exploration of love, loss, and the human psyche. Together, they offer viewers an unparalleled opportunity to engage with the complexities of human existence and ponder profound existential questions.

Solaris (2002 & 1972) serves as a testament to the power of cinema to provoke introspection and challenge our understanding of the world. Both adaptations are remarkable in their own right, inviting audiences to embark on a mesmerizing journey that transcends the boundaries of conventional science fiction.

The contrasting visions of Solaris in both Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 adaptation and Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 masterpiece provide unique cinematic experiences. Tarkovsky’s hypnotic exploration demands patience and rewards introspection, while Soderbergh’s rendition offers accessibility without compromising the story’s emotional depth. Regardless of which version one chooses, Solaris remains an unforgettable exploration of love, loss, and the intricate workings of the human psyche.

Tuesday 30th of May 2022

The Favourite (2018 film) 9pm Film 4

The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is a visually stunning and intellectually captivating film that delves deep into the complexities of power dynamics. Set in the early 18th century, this historical drama weaves a tale of political manoeuvring, manipulation, and the pursuit of influence within the royal court.

At its core, The Favourite is a mesmerizing meditation on power and the intricate ways it shapes relationships. The film revolves around a power struggle between two women: Queen Anne (played flawlessly by Olivia Colman), a frail and unpredictable monarch, and her confidante Lady Sarah Churchill (portrayed with intensity by Rachel Weisz). Their relationship is tested when a new arrival, Abigail Hill (a standout performance by Emma Stone), enters the scene and disrupts the delicate balance of power.

Lanthimos’s direction brings a unique and distinctive vision to the screen, infusing the film with dark humour, striking visual aesthetics, and a sense of unease. The meticulously crafted production design and sumptuous costumes transport viewers into the opulent world of the royal court, immersing them in a decadent and simultaneously oppressive environment.

What sets The Favourite apart is its unflinching exploration of power dynamics. The film subverts traditional gender roles and challenges societal expectations, presenting a complex portrait of women navigating their way through a patriarchal system. It examines the lengths individuals are willing to go to gain and maintain power, exposing the ruthlessness and vulnerability that accompany such pursuits.

The performances in The Favourite are nothing short of extraordinary. Olivia Colman’s portrayal of Queen Anne is a tour de force, capturing the monarch’s vulnerability, volatility, and moments of heart-breaking authenticity. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone deliver equally compelling performances, imbuing their characters with depth and nuance as they navigate the treacherous terrain of court politics.

In addition to its thematic richness, The Favourite boasts a sharp and witty screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. The dialogue crackles with tension and intrigue, blending biting humour with profound insights into the nature of power and the human desire for control.

The Favourite is an enthralling cinematic experience that skilfully explores the intricacies of power dynamics. With its stunning visuals, superb performances, and thought-provoking narrative, the film serves as a captivating meditation on the pursuit of influence, the fragility of power, and the sacrifices made in its name.

One Way To Demark (2019 film) 11.15pm BBC2

Denmark, a 2019 film directed by Adrian Shergold, offers a captivating and thought-provoking cinematic experience. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Danish countryside, this intimate drama takes audiences on a profound exploration of grief, self-discovery, and the power of human connection.

Herb, a 34-year-old Welshman with a talent for fixing things, finds himself trapped in a cycle of misfortune. Struggling to secure stable employment, dealing with an estranged son, losing his welfare benefits, enduring a neighbour’s relentless music, and subsisting mainly on cheap beer and mushy peas, Herb’s depressive state intensifies. It is within this context that an audacious idea takes shape he stumbles upon a TV news item highlighting the seemingly civilized prison life in Denmark. Intrigued by this he concocts a desperate plan: commit a crime, get imprisoned in Denmark,

Denmark not only showcases the picturesque landscapes of the Scandinavian nation but also serves as a metaphorical setting for Herb’s emotional journey. As he traverses the unfamiliar territory, Herb encounters a colourful cast of characters who challenge his perceptions and offer glimpses of hope and healing.

What sets Denmark apart is its ability to delve deep into the human experience. Rafe Spall delivers a haunting and raw performance, capturing the essence of a man consumed by grief and struggling to find his place in the world. The film beautifully portrays the complexities of loss and the weight it can bear on one’s psyche.

The narrative is delicately balanced with moments of humour and tenderness, providing respite from the film’s sombre tone. The supporting cast, including Emilia Fox and Thomas W. Gabrielsson, adds depth and authenticity to the story, contributing to the film’s overall emotional resonance.

Shergold’s direction and the film’s cinematography are exceptional. The breath-taking landscapes and meticulous attention to detail create a visually stunning backdrop that mirrors Herb’s internal journey. The film’s pacing is deliberate, allowing for the exploration of the characters’ emotions and the gradual unfolding of their stories.

Denmark’s exploration of grief extends beyond personal loss, touching on themes of regret, forgiveness, and the importance of human connection. It prompts viewers to reflect on their own experiences and the profound impact that loss can have on one’s life.

While Denmark may not offer easy answers or neatly tie up loose ends, it succeeds in capturing the complexity of the human experience. It challenges viewers to confront their own emotions, and in doing so, fosters a sense of empathy and understanding.

Denmark is a remarkable film that takes audiences on a profound and introspective journey. Through its compelling performances, breath-taking visuals, and thought-provoking narrative, it offers a poignant exploration of grief and the power of human resilience.

Wednesday 31st of May 2023

The Death of Stalin (2017 film) 11.45pm BBC2

The Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci, is a darkly hilarious and biting satire that navigates the chaotic aftermath of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s demise. Set in 1953 Moscow, this political comedy brilliantly captures the absurdity and ruthlessness of power struggles within the inner circle of the Soviet regime.

Iannucci, known for his sharp wit and satirical prowess, expertly crafts a narrative that blends historical events with dark humour. The film follows a cast of eccentric and conniving characters, including Lavrentiy Beria (a captivating performance by Simon Russell Beale), Nikita Khrushchev (a brilliant portrayal by Steve Buscemi), and Georgy Malenkov (a hilariously bumbling turn by Jeffrey Tambor). As they jockey for position and navigate the treacherous landscape of political intrigue, their schemes and backstabbing create a hilariously absurd and unpredictable environment.

The Death of Stalin excels in its portrayal of the grotesque nature of authoritarian regimes. It cleverly combines moments of slapstick comedy with sharp dialogue, offering a scathing critique of the abuse of power and the cult of personality that defined Stalin’s rule. The film simultaneously exposes the absurdity of totalitarianism while highlighting the dire consequences of unchecked authority.

The ensemble cast delivers impeccable performances, seamlessly blending comedic timing with moments of genuine tension. Each actor brings their unique comedic sensibilities to their respective roles, resulting in a dynamic and entertaining ensemble that brings the satirical script to life.

Iannucci’s direction and screenplay are a testament to his mastery of political satire. The film’s rapid-fire dialogue, clever wordplay, and razor-sharp banter keep the audience engaged and laughing throughout, while also inviting deeper reflection on the nature of power and its inherent dangers.

Visually, The Death of Stalin presents a stark and atmospheric portrayal of the Soviet era. The production design captures the oppressive ambiance of the time, while the cinematography and costume choices further enhance the film’s authenticity and period setting.

The Death of Stalin is a darkly humorous and incisive satire that brilliantly exposes the absurdity and ruthlessness of political machinations. Iannucci’s masterful direction, coupled with outstanding performances from the ensemble cast, creates a truly unforgettable cinematic experience. With its clever blend of comedy and social commentary, this film serves as a reminder of the dangers inherent in unchecked power and the farcical nature of authoritarian regimes.

Thursday 1st of June 2023

The Worst Person In The World 10.50pm Film4

The Worst Person in the World is a charming and witty film that follows the life of Julie, a young woman who struggles to find her identity and purpose in Oslo. Julie is constantly changing her career plans, her romantic partners, and her outlook on life, as she tries to figure out who she really is and what she wants. Along the way, she meets Aksel, a successful comic artist who is much older than her, and Eivind, a barista who shares her sense of humour and adventure. Julie has to make some difficult choices and face some harsh realities as she grows up and learns from her mistakes.

The film is directed by Joachim Trier, who completes his “Oslo Trilogy” with this romantic comedy-drama. The film is divided into 13 chapters that capture different moments and moods in Julie’s life. The film is full of humour, emotion, and insight, as it explores themes such as love, ambition, feminism, and happiness. The film also features some creative touches, such as a musical number, a fantasy sequence, and a fourth-wall-breaking narration.

The film is anchored by a brilliant performance by Renate Reinsve, who plays Julie with charisma, vulnerability, and nuance. She won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role. Anders Danielsen Lie and Herbert Nordrum are also excellent as Aksel and Eivind, respectively. They both have great chemistry with Reinsve and bring different aspects of Julie’s personality to light.

The Worst Person in the World is a delightful and relatable film that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt lost or confused in their 20s or 30s. It is a film that celebrates the joys and pains of life, without judging or moralizing. It is a film that makes you laugh, cry, and think.

Friday 2nd of June 2023

Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight 3pm Talking Pictures

Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight, directed by the legendary Orson Welles, is a cinematic masterpiece that brings Shakespeare’s iconic character Falstaff to life in a stunning and profoundly moving manner. Welles, known for his innovative storytelling and visual flair, delivers a tour de force performance as both director and in the central role of Sir John Falstaff.

The film weaves together elements from several of Shakespeare’s plays, primarily focusing on the character of Falstaff and his complex relationship with Prince Hal (played by Keith Baxter). Welles captures the essence of the bawdy and larger-than-life Falstaff, portraying him with both comedic brilliance and a deep sense of humanity. His nuanced performance breathes new life into the beloved character, showcasing the complexities of Falstaff’s charm, wit, and ultimately his tragic flaws.

Welles’ direction in Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight is nothing short of visionary. He crafts a visually stunning and emotionally resonant cinematic experience, skilfully blending grand battle scenes with intimate moments of reflection and introspection. The film’s striking black and white cinematography enhances the dramatic atmosphere, while the meticulous production design transports viewers to medieval England.

One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to capture the timeless themes present in Shakespeare’s works. Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight delves into profound examinations of honour, friendship, and the weight of responsibility. Welles’ screenplay effortlessly adapts Shakespeare’s text, retaining the poetic beauty and linguistic richness that define the Bard’s writing.

The ensemble cast in Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight delivers exceptional performances, complementing Welles’ commanding presence on screen. The film features notable actors such as Jeanne Moreau, John Gielgud, and Margaret Rutherford, each contributing to the film’s depth and authenticity.

Beyond its artistic merits, Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight stands as a testament to Orson Welles’ singular vision and uncompromising approach to filmmaking. Despite budgetary constraints and production challenges, Welles creates an epic and emotionally resonant cinematic experience that remains a testament to his immense talent and passion for the craft.

In conclusion, Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight is a triumph of Shakespearean adaptation and filmmaking. Orson Welles’ directorial prowess, combined with his remarkable performance as Falstaff, results in a visually stunning and emotionally profound cinematic experience. This timeless masterpiece pays homage to one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters while capturing the essence of the Bard’s themes and storytelling. Falstaff: Chimes At Midnight stands as a testament to the enduring power of Shakespeare’s works and the genius of Orson Welles.


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