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 My Leonard Cohen

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
19:45 Aug 16-27 1 hour
20 minutes

myleonardcohenRight from the get go I knew I was going to love this show. Stewart D’Arrietta and band started with two of my favourite Cohen songs – Everybody Knows and In My Secret Life. For me Leonard Cohen was a poet, a philosopher and a modern day prophet. A compassionate, exceptional and inspiring man.

Outside in the queue one of the staff had said two things – that the band were all Scottish and that Stewart sounded like Leonard Cohen. If he meant that the band were all Scottish and excluded Stewart (who is Australian) he was right on that score. As to Stewart sounding like Leonard, well he doesn’t. He has his own unique and very good voice. The whole show is a celebration of the life and work of Leonard Cohen but it isn’t an attempt to duplicate how he did things.

That’s true of the music too as there were some impressive rearrangements. It made you listen with a fresh perspective and it’s a tribute to the music that it can be reinterprated in such different ways and yet still stay true to the core.

Phil Alexander on piano-accordion probably had a lot to do with that. Incredibly talented as was the lead guitarist. In fact all the band brought something to the table – very much an ensemble effort.

Some reviews are mixed because those who expected a slavish copy of the music will be disappointed. If you go along knowing that some exceptional musicians are bringing their energy and style to a body of work then you will be delighted. I was thinking of the criticism of Bob Dylan when he was asked why he covered some many folk songs and why he didn’t do more of his own. His response was: “I like to think I make them my own”. Stewart and the rest of the band are, I think, adopting this approach!

As people left the hall they were still clapping and calling out congratulations to the band. I was among them.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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JUST FESTIVAL: 100 Years of Balfour

St. John’s Church, Princes Street
Aug 15-16, 18-19
17:15
1 hour 20 minutes

balfour

The seeds of the Palestinian conflict were sown by Balfour

This production forms part of the Balfour Project – a commemoration of the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 which pledged British support for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine whilst also promising to protect the rights of the existing indigenous Arab population. Contradicting, as it did the promises already given to the Arabs in 1915, the Declaration sowed the seeds of a future conflict with us to this day. The audience was presented with a meticulously-researched and balanced production based on original documents, leaving it spellbound throughout. Talulah Molleson, as the Voice of History, provided moving and beautifully sung vocal interludes. The commitment and sincerity of all who took part were obvious. We were left in no doubt that British duplicity and their subsequent abandonment of their promises to the Arabs are at the root of the current plight of the Palestinians. Running out of ideas of how to control the violence between Arabs and Jews, the British withdrew in 1948, handing over the problem to the United Nations, which in the aftermath of the Holocaust was strongly supportive of Zionist position (the Zionist Movement for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine was founded in 1898). The U.N. decided on Partition, resisted unsuccessfully by neighbouring Arab states, giving the newly-established state of Israel the first of its many opportunities to expand its borders.

The story was told imaginatively and was easy to follow – no mean feat given the complexity of the issues involved. Britain’s motives were mixed. As an imperial power she was fighting alongside France and Russia against Germany in Europe – yet her greatest imperial rivals were – France and Russia! Indeed Britain and France had almost gone to war in 1898 over France’s resentment at British dominance in Egypt. A Zionist presence in the region would help to check French ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secret Agreement of 1916 (effectively promising French dominance in Lebanon and Syria in return for British in Iraq and Palestine) was an attempt to pre-empt similar disagreement after the war. And how ironic that at the same time as fighting alongside the most anti-semitic regime in Europe (Russia) the British should be promoting Zionist interests!

100 Years of Balfour did not shirk difficult issues. I was particularly impressed by the emphasis given to the opposition of Edward Montagu, the one Jewish member of the British cabinet, to the Balfour Declaration – on the grounds that it was likely to promote anti-semitism in other countries as well as cause insuperable problems in Palestine itself. But the needs of War, not least the support of Jewish interests in the United States, and British imperial concerns came first.

 

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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BREXIT the Musical

DSC_0796At: C Venues, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Until 28 August

It’s 24 June 2016 and Boris wakes up to the horrible realisation that Leave has accidentally won the EU Referendum. Worse follows when he and Michael discover that George is suffering from amnesia and not only does he now think that he is a journalist but he has lost The Plan of what to do if the country did indeed vote to leave. The boys set-off on a Holy Grail like quest to find The Plan under the direction of the leather trouser clad new Prime Minister, Theresa, who does not suffer any dilly-dallying on the matter.

This musical comedy is a little over an hour of rip-roaring entertainment with a fine cast DSC_0797and a host of new and original songs from the outgoing PM David giving the kind of farewell address that he might really have liked to give the nation outside of Number 10 to Andrea singing about how mother is always right to Jeremy bemoaning how the Brexit vote will stop him getting to Glastonbury. Our politicians are mimicked with some skill and the witty and snappy dialogue leaves the audience with a smile on their faces as well as a few laugh out loud moments.

With no strong bias against either side you will enjoy BREXIT the Musical whether you were a Leaver or Remainer last June.

Reviewed by David Andrews

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The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

leniriefenstahl

Tom McNabb gave a balanced and informative view of the controversial Leni Riefenstahl

I didn’t know quite what to expect of this. Leni Riefenstahl (Helene Riefenstahl) was a controversial and complex figure. She was a German dancer and actress in the first part of her life. Tom McNabb relates her training in ballet and her surprise hit tour of Germany as an interpretive dancer. Tom has even tracked down footage of her dancing which he shows as he narrates the tale. She was also a popular -the star of a number of German director Arnold Fanck’s silent motion pictures, typically set in the Alps (so-called Bergfilme). Tom showed us a clip from one of these which shows a confident, empowered and daring woman beckoning a male climber who has lagged behind her. This part of her life indicates her love of nature, appreciation of human beauty and a pagan sensibility. There is a kind of wildness or recklessness just below the surface.

Sadly, this period of her life (as well as the later period of her life) is little known. Leni will perhaps always be best known for her propaganda films in support of the National Socialist Party (the Nazis). Perhaps it was almost inevitable that Leni would fall under the malign spell of Hitler. He was a big fan of her first major feature film, Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light) which was released in 1932. Riefenstahl had heard Hitler speak and was mesmerised by him.

In 1933, Hitler asked Riefenstahl to direct a short film, Der Sieg des Glaubens (The Victory of Faith), shot at that year’s Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally. The film was a basis for her more infamous work, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), shot at the Nuremberg Rally the following year, in 1934. Tom showed clips from this film. There is no doubt that it was a masterpiece of propaganda which almost worships power through numbers and organisation. Yet there are also small human touches such as when we see young boys straining to reach up and see what was going on. This is part of what made her propaganda films so dangerous. Alongside the glorification of totalitarian power is a human touch. It is this combination that seduced the audience at the time and still grips now despite our awareness of the horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime. The content cannot be divided from the innovative film technique which is used to support and craft it.

Tom tells how he came to see Olympia, which documented the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936 and how he was fixated from the opening shots. These were later to influence the hit film Chariots of Fire which Tom was involved in making. It was for Olympia that Riefenstahl pioneered numerous cinematographic techniques, such as filming footage with cameras mounted on rails (commonly known today as tracking shots) and underwater filming. Germany won most gold medals in the game (33). They also won most Silver (26) and Bronze (30). The United States came second.

When we think of these Olympics now many would not be aware of that. The focus is on Jesse Owens.

Owens captured four gold medals (the 100 metre, the long jump, the 200 meter and the 400-meter relay), and broke two Olympic records along the way. Owens record for the world broad jump would last 25 years until being broken by Olympian Irvin Roberson in 1960. Tom showed us clips from Olympia where crowds cheered Owens and we heard an enthusiastic German commentary on his performance. We also saw a smiling Hitler seemingly enjoying his performance. All at odds with tales of Hitler storming out of the stadium or refusing to shake his hand. Owens himself was more critical of segregated America than Hitler. There is a detailed discussion on his Wikipedia page for those interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens

Tom points out the irony of a non-segregated Olympic village under the Nazis at a time when they would not have been able to mix in the US!

Leni witnessed an atrocity in the war (the massacre of Polish partisans) and her enthusiasm for the Nazis seemed to wane (though she filmed Hitler entering Warsaw). After the war she was treated harshly in comparison to others. She was locked up in first a prison and then an asylum for over three years. Veit Harlan, who had directed such crude and damaging Nazi propaganda works as Jüd Süss and Kolberg, for example, returned to a flourishing directorial career in the 1950s. I suspect that it was partly bitterness at her treatment that prevented her from ever really apologising for her role as she should have done. She was, as Tom pointed out, a stubborn lady.

The emphasis on her association with Nazism also deflects from an awareness of her later life. Tom adopts a more balanced approach showing stills she took whilst living with the Nuba tribe of the Sudan. We also see photos she took in her late seventies, when, amazingly she got involved in underwater cinematography.

At the end of the production we were shown a short film (Leni, Leni) that Tom had written about her life. It took up many of the themes in the talk through Leni at earlier ages/life stages talking with an aged Leni. There is a resolution in the film which probably was not reflected in her life itself. That’s excusable as we all wish it had happened and artists deserve some license after all.

It was an unusual but fascinating evening. I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to see it in your area or at the next Fringe.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Piaf and Brel: The Impossible Concert

• theSpace @ Surgeons Hall(Venue 53)
• 14:05  Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-26
• 50 minutes

piafvbrelEdith Piaf (1915-63) and Jacques Brel (1929-78), were nearly fifteen years apart in age. Their classbackgrounds were very different. Piaf born in poverty and brought up in a brothel. Brel the son of a bourgeois owner of a cardboard box factory. Both escaped into music in different ways. Brel from a job in his fathers factory and Piaf from the grind of poverty. They never met but here Melanie Gall brings there songs together.

And what songs they are! In just an hour Melanie Gall gives us a potted history of their lives and renditions of some of their best known songs like Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” and “La Vie en Rose” and Brels “Amsterdam” and “La Chanson des Vieux Amants”.

For me the highlight of the show was the performance of two great love songs about loss: Brel’s “Ne me Quitte Pas” (If You Go Away) and Piaf’s “Hymne à L’amour”. Piaf did sing Brel’s moving song seeking to win back his mistress so there was a connection and recognition there.

You can see a clip from the show here

 

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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La Illeta Dels Banyets

yacimiento-arqueologicoEL CAMPELLO is a delightful town, in the heart of the Spanish Costa Blanca.  Situated about half an hour away from Alicante and an hour away from Benidorm, it has a population of around 26,000.  El Campello is home to a few English speaking folks – but it’s light years away from those who live, work and holiday in Alicante and Benidorm. 

As the town’s web-site – http://www.elcampello.es/index.php?s=campello_hoy&i=en – notes, it’s a ‘traditional fishing village which has known how to transform itself, without losing its roots, in to a first rate tourist town.’

Indeed, it’s where a lot of Spanish folks go for their holidays.  And it’s easy to see why – there’s over 14 miles (23 kilometres) of beautiful beaches which are effectively given a ‘manicure’ early every morning.  In addition to this the whole beach front is immaculate.  In fact it’s so neat and tidy you’d be hard pressed to find any litter at all. 

If you’re into history and culture, one of the highlights of El Campello is an archaeological site known as La Illeta Dels Banyets, sometimes known as the Queen’s Bathing Pools.

Earlier this year my wife and I visited the town.  We were aware of the La Illeta and wanted to visit it.  We were really lucky as our visit coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the opening of El Campello’s Tourist Information Office.  To mark the occasion, some visitor attractions were open free of charge – including the La Illeta.  Happy days!

I’ll let the town’s aforementioned web-site explain the significance of the site:

Located in a small peninsula, at the foot of the Watchtower, an archaeological site can be found which is, without a doubt, the most important of the Mediterranean. These lands were separated from the coast by an earthquake of an unknown date, and during the 30’s of the last century were artificially reunited with the land. The first excavations were carried out by F. Figueras Pacheco between 1931 and 35 and, during the decade of the 70’s, by E. A. Llobregat. These works confirmed the existence on this site of different civilisations and cultures, with the Roman, the Iberian, and the Bronze Era being the most significant, and so we can date the site as being over 5,000 years old.

From the Iberian era vessels, weapons, tombs and ceramic remains have been found, as well as singular buildings which lead us to believe that significant production and trade activity took place in relation to other Mediterranean cultures between the second and fourth Centuries B.C.

From the Roman era small thermal baths have been found which belonged to a disappeared agricultural village and, linked to this and to others nearby, some fish-farm hatcheries cut into the rock. Despite the erosion, the pools can still be made out, connected to the sea, in which the fish were farmed. These constructions (els Banyets) give their name to the site because according to word of mouth tradition they were the bathing pools of a Moorish queen.

The site is currently supervised by the Museo Arqueológico de Alicante (Marq), which is in charge of is museumisation.’

We both found La Illeta really interesting.  There were detailed information boards everywhere.  Even by the plants – which somehow are able to survive the reasonably arid conditions in this part of the world – had information boards!  It provided a fascinating glimpse into the past.  We both found ourselves thinking that we have it really easy compared to the lives our European ancestors lived.

My wife was particularly interested in the wine making area which dated back to the Iberian era.  As a wine lover, she wondered how our ancestors ‘came across’ wine.  Indeed, how did they work out how to make it – was it completely by accident or did someone deliberately set out to do it?  I’m not really into wine at all, but even I started to wonder if wine has always tasted the same or did it evolve over the years? I presume environmental changes and modern production methods would have some bearing on the matter – if so, is there any way that the ‘original’ taste of wines throughout the ages could be recreated?

During our time on La Illeta we came across one of the assistants talking in French to a young girl.  We presumed she was an archaeology student as she was taking copious notes whilst the assistant was going into great detail and both were taking a very close look at some of the ruins.

We really enjoyed our time there.  However, I thought that maybe even a small ‘living history’ museum near the site would have been useful.  I would have really like to seen full size mock-ups of the buildings, characters in various period costumes and maybe an audio visual display providing a history of the general area. 

La Illeta is one of the most prominent features along the El Campello coast line.  Others include a modern marina, nautical club and fish market.  Overlooking this area is La Illeta Watchtower.  It’s a very impressive and a fairly substantial defensive position dating back to the sixteenth century and built to warn against raids from Berber Pirates.  As mentioned earlier, some form of museum could provide a link between all of these features – a real delight for all history buffs and culture vultures!

La Illeta is well, well worth a visit.  However, a word to the wise – it’s surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea which provides a lovely – but deceiving – breeze.  Believe it or not it’s easy to get roasted by the sun without actually noticing it.  Our tip is to use plenty of the highest factor sun cream you can get hold of – you have been warned!

Reviewed by John Field

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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

ghostintheshellGhost in the Shell (2017)
12A | 1h 47min

This live-action take on the anime original is not as deep and philosophical as the original. It streamlines the themes of the cult original Manga created by Masamune Shirow in 1989 but does honor its spirit (quite literally) and the 1995 anime film. Although it does not capture the unsettling, melancholic feel of the original. Fans of the ’95 film should go in with an open mind. Yes, the plot has been streamlined and it doesn’t have nearly the same level of information or attention to detail but, let’s face it, if it was the same as the animation it would be attacked as an unnecessary remake!

The plot remains the same: the mind of a human is rehomed in a technologically advanced body.That body is provided by robotics corporation Hanka who want to create a squad commander for a government counter-terrorism force, Section 9. This human/robot hybrid becomes ‘Major'(Scarlett Johansson). Major and her team are hunting Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is assassinating Hanka scientists for motives which are, at the start, unclear.

The action is set in “New Port City” which some have compared to “Blade Runner’s” Los Angeles – although I agree with film critic Mark Kermode that it is more like the setting of The Fifth Element (1997). Visually, this film is a feast with great sets, costumes, and images that stick in your mind.

There is a very good cast with fine performances from Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Takeshi Kitano as Section 9’s Chief, Daisuke Aramaki. The casting has caused some controversy. There were objections on the grounds that an Asian or Asian-American actress hadn’t been cast to play a character who was Japanese in the original (albeit of a cartoon of a brain implanted in a robot body!). Others took a different view. Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division of Kodansha, the manga’s publisher, told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” He added, “This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” Mamoru Oshii, director of the original 1995 Japanese animated film, also endorsed the choice of Scarlett Johansson as lead. The film’s original director has defended the casting too: “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii told IGN last month. “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.” Paramount pictures have said that the publicity focus on casting has harmed the film at the box office. Kyle Davies, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, has highlighted “the conversation regarding casting” which he believes “impacted the reviews.”

“You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie,” Davies told CBR. “So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly, the reviews didn’t help.”

It’s sadly ironic that debates about ethnic identity should have impacted a film which is very much concerned with individual identity.

Whilst Major is an efficient (spectacular!) killer she is troubled by memory flashes of a previous life. The film, like the original, raises the question of identity and how far it is linked to memory. The mantra repeated several times: “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” fails to convince me. Memory does define us. Anyone who has seen someone suffering from Alzheimer’s could tell you that it is witnessing the loss of identity that is one of the most painful things to come to terms with. The person you knew, quickly or slowly, disappears. Despite the fact that I don’t accept the assertion that actions alone, not memories define us as individuals this is a thought-provoking story. True some of the big questions of the original are missing. When does a mind become a computer, at what point does a program become a mind? Once something becomes aware of itself does that change things? Still, how many action high-adrenaline action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

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