Athens: Days Six, Seven, Eight

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s troubles, the organiser of Dasein Festival hastily assembled a press release to announce an event with Netalie Braun exploring the themes of Violence and Silence. The event comprised the screenings of two films, followed by a Q&A.

I would like to draw your attention especially to Netalie’s hour-long film Metamorphosis (2006), which employs Ovid’s myths in conjunction with contemporary testimony from victims of rape in Israel.

This conceit is realised with formidable skill; the familiar mythological exemplars off-set and illuminated by the modern stories. The latter are shot in super close-up, with bright white backgrounds. The effect is one of intimacy, complicity and cleansing. I’ve not been as moved by a film of this kind – at its heart a documentary, though it makes use of techniques from fiction – for some time.

You can see a trailer here.

After the screening, Netalie revealed that the film is quite controversial in Israel – its release leading to the identification (and in one case, I think, the prosecution) of perpetrators. Bleak, but inspiring.

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I visited a great little gallery / arts venue called Aboutt. It was darned hard to locate, being situated on the second floor of a relatively anonymous block of shops and offices in the Monasteraki area of town, with minimal signage. There is a buzzer to get in. It was closed. But luckily the gallery owners – Marie Alouopi and Andreas Diktyopoulos – are very nice and let me in anyway. They are the pair behind the Centre for Music Composition and Performance, and gave me a well-designed book documenting their events and projects to date. Today they were showing their first exhibition in the new venue –  Space is the Place, curated by Lo and Behold. Some excellent reimaginings of urban landscapes in photography, architectural drawings, video, installation art and even embroidery. I wish I could find an image of two drawings by ? which depict the Parthenon in traditional form, but with its columns first geometrically skewed and then folded into intricate, intestine-like tubes. Instead, here’s a screengrab from a piece of video art by Rui Toscano.

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Some other stuff I’ve done / seen.

Eaten the most amazing sweet red peppers stuffed with feta.

Visited Gazi, the old gasworks of Athens which are used for events and art exhibitions. Think East London warehouse space, but with all the equipment still intact.

Visited the beautiful and interesting Acropolis Museum with two new poet-friends, Ivan Hristov and Adela Greceanu.

Enjoyed an overpriced meal and walked around Plaka with Netalie, Ivan, Turkish poet (and engineer!) Gokcenur C and head of Literature Across Frontiers Alexandra Buchler.

Factoid: Gokcenur has met Uri Geller, when Geller was representing a Nigerian Prince in a business meeting. Why? Because he can. My friend Nathan was pleased to hear it.

Last night I drank way too much Ouzo with Ivan.

Tonight I gave my first reading (of two) – in collaboration with Theodoros Chiotis, my translator (!). The venue was full, and the poems seemed to go down well. They even laughed at some of the jokes, which is always a bonus.

Here’s a fuzzy shot of the venue, during a stand-out performance by Lina Theodorou.

Finally, let me leave you with a photograph of something I found amusing.

Over. And. Out.

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Athens: Days Two, Three, Four

Yeah, so, surprise surprise I haven’t blogged every day from Athens. Hey ho… I have better things to do, such as visiting the Acropolis

snapping more Athenian graffiti (oooh they do love their graffiti….)

and hanging out with the artists participating in the festival.

A few notes.

I climbed the Acropolis with Netalie Braun, a filmmaker and writer from Tel Aviv. Tomorrow night she is presenting an excerpt from her documentary Metamorphosis, which you can read about here. I’m really looking forward to that. She’s a very inspiring artist and thinker.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time with Theodoros Chiotis, who coincidentally – or not – writes for Hand + Star. He has translated loads of my work into Greek and will be presenting that with me on Saturday night. Lots of weird connections actually. We were both at Oxford University at the same time (I was an undergraduate; he was doing a doctorate) and for about a year were actually neighbours. We also have similar tastes in poetry (esp. Sinclair), music (Bat for Lashes, the XX!) and clothes. I had a lovely dinner of rabbit with him and his lovely partner on Saturday, followed by an ice cream in Syntagma Square. Fantastic. Theo is also a very interesting poet. I will point you towards Codeswitching which you can download as a PDF.

Hmmm. What else? The protests continue, sporadically. On Sunday the Greek government announced a programme of huge cuts in public spending, a prerequisite of the EU/IMF bailout. There is a General Strike tomorrow, and I intend to go along – I’ve been invited to join the protests by the filmmaker Yiannis Isidorou.

Factoid: Yiannis lived in Brixton for 3 months. South London la la la!

Tonight I attended the presentation of two films by into the pill, an artists’ collective of which Yiannis is a member – along with Lina Theodorou (another of the festival participants). The first piece was a short film that sensitively captured the sounds of a city. Lots of still camera shots, very beautifully textured, and thoughtful. The second film was simply brilliant: a kind of spoof documentary about three office buildings in Athens, which drew on politics, numerology, genetics and downright craziness to construct fictional conspiracy theories. It was both very funny and, in the current climate, thought-provoking; faintly reminiscent of the films of Adam Curtis as well as the psychogeography-inflected work of Mythogeography and Align (which I’ve mentioned before). Also, the tone was similar in parts to Found in Translation. Below, Curtis then FIT.

Both films were followed by short but passionate debates in Greek. It was held in Dasein, the festival venue. Friendly and hippish bar with dark wood everywhere, Heineken on tap and a dartboard. Tonight was also the launch of an brilliant exhibition of photography by Efthymis Kosemund Sanidis. I bumped into him later, when I was sneaking in a post-midnight espresso and chocolate crepe in Exarchia Square.

In other news, I have started a new piece of poetry (that’s what I’m here for, I guess…).

At the current time of writing, it’s called:

Indy returns!

 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hit our shores this week, and last night I trooped to the Barbican with my girlfriend and cousin to see it. I am a massive Indy fan. Palpable excitement outside Screen One. As the film certificate screen appeared, someone started whistling (badly) the famous John Williams theme tune, to universal chuckling from the capacity audience. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is set mainly in South America in the 1950s, was hugely enjoyable – in fact, it was a joy just to see the Indy franchise renewed after so many years. Here are some of my observations, critical and complimentary.

Warning: the following may include spoilers.

1. The dialogue, particularly in the first fifteen minutes, is very hammy indeed. Slow, too.

2. The film is full of in-jokes and references (even a few borrowed lines, such as ‘I’ve heard this bedroom story before’, from The Last Crusade). Whether there are too many is a matter of opinion.

3. Much-loved Indiana Jones tropes return. Examples: Indy in bespectacled college lecturer mode is interrupted by Dean (played by Jim Broadbent); Indy escapes from impending capture using diversion techniques (in this case, he starts a ruckus in a cafe between greasers and jocks to evade KGB agents); familiar map shot and thick red line is employed to indicate air travel; scorpions are added to the list of previous creepy-crawlies (snakes, rats, insects).

4. Cate Blanchett plays Indy’s nemesis, Soviet agent Irina Spalko, rather weakly.

5. Harrison Ford is not as young as he used to be, true. He’s still a convincing action hero, but he delivers many of his lines with none of the spark he used to.

6. This is a wonderfully produced film; visually engaging with some great set-pieces. But it doesn’t feel overly CGI, even at the end. You wouldn’t expect anything less from Spielberg and Lucas.

7. In the first three films, any fantastical or paranormal elements are restricted to the big set-pieces. The main action narrative keeps (just) on the right side of believable. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull veers from this course, a mistake in my opinion. Two examples from the same scene: (1) Indy’s young sidekick, Mutt, swings through the jungle on vines with a troupe of monkeys; (2) Marianne Ravenwood drives an amphibious vehicle off a huge cliff, landing on a giant palm tree which bends slowly to deposit the vehicle into a river. By limited the amount of paranormality, the third three films allowed us to believe for a while, with Indy, that strange occurrences might have a perfectly mundane – and scientific – explanation.

8. The introduction of Indy’s son, Mutt (Shia Laboeuf, above), as his sidekick worked brilliantly. The film hints frequently at the possibility of Laboeuf taking over the action hero role – most explicitly, and wittily, at the end, when he picks up Indy’s trademark hat. Mutt is a greaser, continually combs his hair, and carries a knife (his skill with this weapon mirrors Indy’s whip-play).

9. The reintroduction of Marianne Ravenwood (Karen Allen, also above) is a stroke of genius. She is by far the best female lead of all the previous films – the most beautiful and the most capable in a fist-fight.

10. As my cousin Alex remarked, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull manages to combine Spielberg’s obsession with aliens (ET, War of the Worlds, Taken, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) with George Lucas’s junglephilia. Watch the film, and you’ll see what I mean.

London in film

Luke Heeley recently sent me a DVD of his London Triptych. Watching it made me think of the films I’ve enjoyed that are about and/or set in London. Not including period dramas such as Shakespeare in Love, which recreates the Elizabethan city with its brothels and playhouses, or film versions of London novels (eg. Dickens).

Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later

Horror / Apocalypse / Dystopia

28 Days Later (2002)
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Creep (2004)
Clockwork Orange (1971)
Children of Men (2006)

London’s underbelly / Socio-realism

Breaking and Entering (2006)
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
My Beautiful Laundrette  (1985)
Kidulthood (2006)
Cathy Comes Home (1966)
Made in Britain (1982)

Rom Com / Crime Com / Richard E Grant

Notting Hill (1999)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Withnail & I (1987)
How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)

And of course the recent – and brilliant – Bourne Ultimatum (2007) which used Waterloo Station as the backdrop to one of Matt Damon’s niftiest moments.

Any recommendations of others I should get my grubby mits on?