28 June, 2010

Hussain Currimbhoy Introduces Errol Morris Documentary The Fog of War

Last week, Hussain Currimbhoy from Sheffield Doc/Fest visited the National Media Museum to introduce Academy Award® winning documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

The Fog of War, directed by Errol Morris, is the story of American foreign policy as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. It was selected to complement our current Gallery Two exhibition - Robbie Cooper: Immersion.

Immersion considers the many ways in which people choose to engage with screen media and disengage from everyday life, and to present this concept, Cooper adopted the same Interrotron technique used by Errol Morris in his groundbreaking film.

This method enables the subject to retain eye contact with the camera and the audience, which results in emotionally powerful footage.

Find out more about the Immersion exhibition by visiting our website, or follow the Immersion Project on Robbie Cooper's blog.

You can listen to a podcast of this event by visiting the National Media Museum Podcasts page.

18 June, 2010

Simon Roberts in Conversation with Greg Hobson

Simon Roberts, whose We English exhibition is currently running in Gallery One, returned to the Museum yesterday to sit in conversation with Greg Hobson, curator of photographs.

The event is one of many organised by the Museum to complement our temporary exhibitions, and yesterday began with Greg asking Simon why he took up photography.

When he was 14, Simon went on a family holiday to Yosemite National Park, California and during their stay visited the Ansel Adams Gallery. Simon described the ‘extraordinary experience’ of viewing YNP through the eyes of Adams, which opened up the landscape and revealed elements which Simon hadn’t previously observed.

Simon studied Human Geography, at Sheffield University - a useful framework for documentary photography. He described himself as a ‘transient person’ interested in exploring social issues; photography enabled him to adopt his preferred lifestyle.

Simon explained that he didn’t enjoy the ‘quick turnaround’ nature of newspaper photography, so he began working on his own project, following the career of a young boxer from Sheffield. This earned him the Sunday Times Magazine Young Photographer of the Year Award in 1998.

After a bad experience with a John Prescott photograph, Simon decided to take a departure from magazine work and produce his first major project, Motherland. Simon and his wife travelled across the country for a year, cataloguing the landscapes and people they came across, trying to capture the spirit of ‘Russianness’.

Simon had preconceived ideas of what the experience would be, but wanted to challenge these stereotypes. Published images of Russia tend to focus on the despondent, and Simon wanted to move away from this, without trying to paint a ‘rosy picture’. “I was trying to make the person complicit in the act of representation.”

During the event, Simon described his technical choices, logistical planning, and the obstacles he met along the way, including an undesirable camping trip, and several short stays in prison!

Find out more about the Motherland project by visiting www.motherlandbook.com

Experiencing the ‘unbelievable sense of patriotism’ which exists in Russia led Simon to begin questioning his own sense of belonging, and this influenced Simon’s decision to being a similar project back home, We English.

Currently on display in Gallery One of the National Media Museum, We English is a very personal exploration of the English at leisure, which opens up a dialogue between people and the landscapes in which they choose to spend their free time.

Simon and Greg discussed technical aspects of the project, including the decision to photograph from an elevated position, and revisited the notion of representation. During his tour of England, Simon encouraged people to invite him to events all over the country, which helped build an audience, and acts as an archival document in its own right.

Simon presented a selection of the images, explained how he is fascinated by the editing process, and talked about the framing decisions he made for some of the photographs.

“We’re so saturated with images all the time so I try to create images where you’re rewarded the more you look at it.”

You can find out more about We English by visiting our exhibition website www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/simonroberts.

Simon was selected as the official election artist for 2010, the results of which will be exhibited in the House of Commons this summer.

With this project, Simon took the idea of representation even further, by inviting people to produce their own images of what the election process means to them. These pictures will be displayed alongside Simon’s own work.

Simon used social media to generate as many photographs as possible in a short space of time, the results of which can be seen at www.theelectionproject.co.uk. Simon feels that this process helped generate an archive of the political landscape created by the public.

After the discussion, Simon and Greg led the audience on a tour of We English to further discuss his work, and the images he drew on for inspiration.

You can download or listen to a podcast of the event on the National Media Museum Podcasts page.

Today, Simon returned to the Museum for a Portfolio Review Session, which gives aspiring photographers the opportunity to have their work reviewed by a panel of experts who offer guidance, a personal perspective, and advice on how to succeed in the field.

To find out about forthcoming events at the National Media Museum, sign up to our newsletter and tell us what you’re interested in by visiting http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/TalkToUs.

11 June, 2010

Stanley Long on Roman Polanski & Tony Earnshaw's Review: FFW2010 Day 3

First of all, an apology; I promised I would deliver the Fantasma podcasts on Wednesday, however the audio/visual key-keepers have been otherwise engaged until today. By the time this blog is posted, I’m hoping it will include a link to the newly updated podcasts page. Fingers crossed…

First film of the day was Psycho. The screening was preceded by an original trailer featuring Alfred Hitchcock, which I would have liked to have seen, but alas, 11.00 was not a sensible hour for me to get into Bradford that day.

Sarah Crowther (aforementioned horror expert) managed to make it in a little earlier and watched Patrick, a rarely screened Aussie horror which pays homage to Hitchcock in its visual style.

On Sunday evening, I attended the Stanley Long Screentalk. Stanley is a veteran of British sexploitation movies; credited as director, producer, writer and/or cinematographer during a 46-year career in movies. He is responsible for the “Adventures of…” series, and dipped his toes into the world of horror with The Sorcerers, The Blood Beast Terror and Screamtime.

Stanley also worked on Repulsion with Roman Polanski. In the following clip from the Screentalk, Stanley discusses the infamous writer-director and his pranking tendencies.

During the conversation with Benjamin Halligan, Senior lecturer at the University of Salford, Stanley also talked about the science of making people jump (though he doesn’t reveal the tricks of the trade), his healthy attitude toward sexuality in films, and the obstacle of today’s health and safety laws.

Stanley offered this advice to budding film-makers: “A small budget film starts with the script; it has to take the budget into account from the start... You wanna know how to make a low budget film? Keep it in one place.” Which invited a fitting conclusion from Benjamin: “It’s not the size of your budget, but what you do with it.”

After the Screentalk, Stanley stayed to sign copies of his new book “X-Rated: Adventures of an Exploitation Film-maker”.

To hear more from Stanley A. Long, please visit the National Media Museum podcasts page. As promised, you can now download the podcasts from Friday’s Fantasma symposium.

I spoke to Sarah the following day about what she’d seen during FFW2010 day 3. She only managed to only catch the last half of Robocop, a National Media Museum archive print which received high praise for its quality.

Here’s what Sarah had to say about The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue:

“[The film] proved a fitting closure for the Fantastic Films Weekend, which celebrates rare, classic – and dare we say kitsch - horror and fantasy alongside new and exclusive releases. Although shot in England (the film’s key scenes were filmed in St Michael’s Church in Hathersage), the 1974 film has the very European feel of 1970s zombie films. Indeed, director Jorge Grau is Spanish and the cast hail from all over Europe. Interestingly, the film’s original title Don’t Open the Window is rumoured to have inspired Edgar Wright’s 2007 fake trailer Don’t which featured in Grindhouse.”

I asked Tony Earnshaw, FFW Artistic Director, about his festival highlights. He offered the following:

“Two veterans of the once booming ‘60s/’70s UK horror scene were reunited at the 9th Fantastic Films Weekend. Exploitation king Stanley Long and writer/director Michael Armstrong recalled the gory, glory days of movies like The Sorcerers and Mark of the Devil, both of which screened during the weekend. Personal faves of the artistic director included Jorge Grau’s tremendous zombie shocker The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and a spankingly good re-release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Undoubtedly the film of the festival was the rarely-seen portmanteau gem Three Cases of Murder, featuring Alan Badel in three roles and a deliciously sinister rendering of Roderick Wilkinson’s short story In the Picture. FFW regulars also lapped up Horror Express, a perennial favourite and one of many titles forming part of the National Media Museum’s growing and unique print archive.”

That’s all for FFW2010. Thanks to all the regulars and new faces for your support. Don’t forget that you can add your photos from the event to the FFW flickr group, and check out videos from the festival on the National Media Museum YouTube page.

07 June, 2010

Michael Armstrong on David Bowie & Hanger Attacks: FFW2010 Day 2

On Saturday afternoon at FFW2010, the Screentalk with Michael Armstrong was preceded by a screening of The Image, which stars a young David Bowie in his first role. In this video clip, Michael talks about his working relationship with David, and how the filming was beset with difficulties.

The writer-director in our midst is a prolific and eloquent story teller -- indeed, the ‘conversation’ was almost a monologue -- and I was genuinely fascinated by what he had to say.

When asked about his influences, Michael told us he was enamoured with fairytales, folklore and mythology from an early age. He believes that “the only carnal sin [in art] is to bore.”

Michael was fervent on the issues of actor training -- “Acting is a craft, as skill… [a part] is not something [actors] can ‘make they’re own’” -- and the screenwriting business today -- “They now start the screenplay with the merchandising” -- neither of which received high praise from a man who is well-versed in both.

The decline of the British Film Industry during the 1970s, combined with the Eady Levy tax on box office receipts, meant that British films needed to fill a quota, so new production companies were given opportunities, and “horror was their best bet…independents gave opportunities to young film-makers, which was a very exciting time.”

Today, however, “[the film industry] is very nepotistic and based on networking…it’s like television, it’s very cliquey, and if you’re not part of the clique you’re an outsider.”

“The problem in the UK has always been investment, and that falls on producers. The good ones go to America. We lack film-thinking, creative producers based in the UK.”

Michael told the story of the making of Mark of the Devil, which had some audience members crying out with laughter. The original script included some ghastly character names amidst an unnecessary proliferation of S&M torture scenes and unintentional plot metamorphosis. On top of which, the filming in Germany with translators gone AWOL meant that it was a real Tower of Babel production.

Perhaps surprisingly, Michael describes himself as a very anti-violent man. His aim in making Mark of the Devil was to “make people feel sick…to show the crassness and unpleasantness… One tends for a comfortable life to put these things aside… This film shows the cruelty of what man is doing to man.” He told us about screenings of the film in America, which were accompanied by nurses waiting to attend to fainters, and vacated auditoriums smelling of vomit.

So I wasn’t going to stick around for the film itself, and decided instead to go and watch the zombie-tastic 28 Weeks Later. I asked our resident horror expert, Sarah, what she had managed to watch that day amidst all the hobnobbing.

First film of the day for Sarah was The Giant Spider Invasion, which was “very kitsch, got big laughs, and was a good warm-up for Birdemic…a giant furry spider on wheels with some horrendous acting.”

Sarah attended the two director-accompanied films on Saturday evening: David Gregory’s Plague Town, and James Nguyen’s Birdemic. Both guests were affable in the bar before and after the films, staying to chat and discuss their offerings with FFW attendees.

“David was a guest at the Museum ten years ago when he brought a double bill of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, so it was like welcoming an old friend. The film had some spectacularly creepy touches – he has clearly learned from the masters throughout his career as horror documentary film-maker.”

Birdemic was, by all accounts, the star of the show but for all the wrong reasons. Audience members were inexplicably given coat-hangers on their way in, which was clarified when characters attempted to fight off killer birds with this as their chosen weapon. It certainly invited some great audience interaction in the style of Rocky Horror.

Sarah tells me there were cheers and howls of laughter, however the director absolutely believes it’s a romantic thriller and is quite surprised it’s been taken on at horror festivals. He is currently in talks with Hollywood about doing a sequel, which he hopes to bring to our screens in 3-D! You heard it here first.

Day 3 is the next and final blog about the Fantastic Films Weekend. Look out for a video clip of Stanley Long’s Screentalk, and closing reviews from Sarah, and the Festival’s Artistic Director, Tony Earnshaw.

If you want to hear more from Michael Armstrong, please visit the National Media Museum podcasts page, where you can listen to or download an audio podcast of the event.

06 June, 2010

Fantasy in Academia & Lizard in a Woman’s Skin: FFW2010 Day 1

A 60°F June morning was a far from allegorical setting for the launch of the 9th Fantastic Films Weekend on Friday, but nevertheless, here we are on the last day of what has been a great weekend with some fantastic turn-outs for our film selections.

I only managed to make it to a splattering of events, but I had resident horror fan and dedicated FFW attendee Sarah Crowther acting as reconnoiter – more from Sarah later.

The main event on Friday was the Fantasma symposium of speakers discussing everything from Italian Horror to British Sex Films. Mark Goodall from Bradford University introduced the event which he organised in partnership with the National Media Museum, due to the recognition of a growing community interested in and treating the subject seriously.

First up was Ian Hunter, who talked on the subject of British Sex Films – an apt subject as we welcomed veteran director of said genre, Stanley Long, to FFW2010 earlier on today. Despite once being described as having “no redeeming features whatsoever”, Hunter pointed to the genre’s importance, as it was sex films which propped up the British film industry during its collapse in the 1970s.

Ian talked us through the key genres, and showed how, like horror films, they responded to changing social trends, for example, the emerging discourse of a consumerist attitude toward sex, and how they often played out a conflict between an older repressed, and younger permissive generations.

From the carnal to the incorporeal, the next guest was David Robinson talking on his paper The Infected Idyll: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, a film which is showing tonight.

David spoke about the film in terms of the cultural anxieties of the age, all of which are hinted at in the “crass juxtaposition” of the opening scene, and concluded with a reading of the film which posits an enduring conflict between urban and rural. The film although set in England, is European, and is evidently worth seeing for the confused geography and variety of regional accents alone!

I ducked out just before Russ Hunter took centre stage with his whistle stop tour of Italian horror films, which I’m not sorry I missed since he had apparently chosen some particularly gory clips to entertain us with just before lunch! I also missed Gail-Nina Anderson’s Dracula’s Cape. But not to worry – all the talks will be available as podcasts to listen to or download from our podcasts page on Wednesday.

Last speaker of the day, and star of the event in my book, was Jeremy Dyson. I’m only really familiar with Dyson’s work on The League of Gentlemen, as I’m sure most of you are, but what a sweet-natured and engaging man he is!

In Shadows and Fog, Jeremy considered the feelings evoked by watching horror and fantasy cinema from childhood, and explored the question of how terror sensations are created within cinema and television productions, when they are often so difficult to articulate. What is it that makes I Walked With a Zombie chill-inducing, while LOTR: The Return of the King leaves him cold? Obviously the answer doesn’t lie with special effects and a huge budget, instead “what you need to get this sensation is a space between what’s being shown and what’s being represented.”

Dyson took some questions from the crowd, and the use of CGI came up on more than one occasion. On this subject, Dyson was enthusiastic.

“I think we’re living in amazing times. It has to be looked back on as a golden age…we have incredible resources, but you can be swamped with choice. This is the challenge now, how you navigate that [choice]. It would be foolish to be luddite about it.”

Fantasma concluded with a screening of Secret Rites, and this was only one of a few films on offer on Friday, as the symposium was the focus for Day 1. I asked our resident horror geek, about what she had seen, and Giallo being Sarah’s favourite genre, top of the list was always going to be Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

“Lizard in a Woman's Skin is the film that nearly caused the incarceration of its director, Lucio Fulci. The notorious director only escaped jail time thanks to the testimony of his special effects artists who produced the mannequins of the film's gore-soaked dead dogs that the court had believed to be real. Ironically, Lizard is one of Fulci's less visceral films, instead a psychadelic trip into giallo as a woman struggles to separate dream and reality following a gruesome murder. A busy house at the Museum certainly enjoyed the Festival's first foray into Fulci - and can look out for more from the horror maestro at future fests.”

More fantastic films in the next post, along with a video clip of the scintillating screentalk from Michael Armstrong.

Don’t forget that podcasts of all the talks will be available on the National Media Museum’s podcasts page from Wednesday, and are yours to download and listen to at your leisure.