Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Euro Bridges and Other Imaginary Architecture

“Everything you can imagine is real.” - Pablo Picasso

Robert Kalina’s bridges are amongst the most well known landmarks in Europe. The only problem is that they don’t actually exist.  

When the European Union introduced its common currency in 2002, Euro banknotes were introduced in seven denominations. One side of the notes displays images of windows or gates drawn from Europe's cultural history from the Classical to the modern, representing Europe's openness and cooperation.

With respect to individual national sensitivities of the Euro nations, Austrian artist Kalina designed seven fictional bridges to illustrate the reverse of the notes.  This use of imaginary architecture artfully avoided the difficulty of allocating any specific nationality to banknotes that would be shared across the union of 23 countries.

Now, a decade later, Dutch designer Robin Stam is building all seven bridges for real.  They will span the canal that borders a new estate in Spijkenisse, a suburb of Rotterdam.  The first six bridges have been completed, beginning with a red Romanesque bridge from the €10 note and an orange bridge in the Renaissance style from the €50 note.  These were followed by the €20 Gothic, €100 Baroque and Rococo, €200 iron and glass and €500 modern bridges, each tinted in the distinctive colours of their respective banknote designs. 

Robin Stam's Bridges of Europe

For Stam, the proposal began as something of a playful joke until the enthusiastic Local Authorities in Rotterdam encouraged him to realise the project.  This whimsical demonstration of the direct influence of art on life, however, is not a particularly new idea.

Leonardo da Vinci may not have invented the helicopter but he did draw the first picture of one.  Unrestrained by humdrum practicalities, artists and writers have long dreamed up countless theoretical ideas, situations and inventions.  It stands to reason that eventually many of them will become a reality.

It is often observed how writers of Science Fiction have informed much of our science fact.  Carl Sagan, the noted scientist and writer of Science Fiction, reflected eloquently on this relationship in Pale Blue Dot, a non-fiction book that explores the place of humanity in the universe:
"As far as I know, the first suggestion in the scientific literature about terraforming the planets was made in a 1961 article I wrote about Venus. The idea was soon taken up by a number of science fiction authors in the continuing dance between science and science fiction - in which the science stimulates the fiction and the fiction stimulates a new generation of scientists, a process benefiting both genres."
Conceptual pioneers from Da Vinci to Sagan not only inspired technological advances but also the language and look of the future.

The proposed Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid and its fictional inspiration, the Tyrell Building
from Blade Runner (1982).  The Mega-City Pyramid is currently awaiting the sufficient technological
advances to allow its construction.

In a similar but vastly more ambitious example of a fictional architecture made real, the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid is a proposed project for the construction of a massive pyramid over Tokyo Bay in Japan. If completed, the structure would be 14 times higher than the Great Pyramid at Giza and would be the largest man-made structure in history.  The design is directly inspired by the iconic headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation as featured in the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner.  That such a real life act of unrestrained hubris could be inspired by such a fictional depiction of unrestrained hubris might even be enough to make some more paranoid purveyors of fictional dystopia just a little more careful with sharing their nightmare fuel in future.

Science Fiction, of course, is often intended to be prophetic by design, yet the influence of art on our real life extends much further than mere design.  Countless academics have explored the complex relationship between art, perception, imagination and reality.  The ideologically driven architecture of the Bauhaus school pretty much invented the modern cities of the late 20th Century whilst  Leibniz's theory of Possible Worlds posits that if we are capable of imagining something then it must exist – at least in a parallel universe.

I find the most subtly compelling of these theories to be the philosophical position of Anti-mimesis, which holds that art actually has the power to dictate the way we see and understand our world.

Anti-mimesis holds that art does not imitate life but rather sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. What we observe in life and nature is not what is truly there but is instead that which artists have taught people to find there through art.  A famous proponent of this theory was Oscar Wilde, who noted that although there had been fog in London for centuries, one only notices the beauty and wonder of the atmospheric phenomenon because "poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects...they did not exist till Art had invented them."

All of which brings us back to Stam’s bridges.

Robin Stam's 200 Euro Bridge,

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, Stam asked the Dutch Central Bank and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt whether they had any objections to the project but they gave him their full approval, unconcerned that these universal European symbols would soon be Dutch.

Nevertheless, there have been some dissenting voices who have suggested that the construction of the bridges in Holland is contrary to the original intention of European solidarity.  I would argue quite the opposite: that Stam’s project actually adds another, more enriching layer of universal meaning to these symbols.  To me, these fictional vistas that have been conjured into existence may now serve to celebrate the power of our dreams and ideas, remind us that the function and form of the world is not preordained and serve as a reassurance and modest inspiration for all those who long to see our world change shape and move forward again toward something new and better.

Perhaps I’ve given too much credit to the symbology of money but to extrapolate a quote from the great Saul Williams: words, ideas and dreams matter because words, ideas and dreams are matter.  Or, as Pablo Picasso put it more succinctly, “everything you can imagine is real.”

Surely that’s a better thing to celebrate than the musky nationalism of old dead white men and the baleful antipathy of weary monarchs?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Coming Home to Comics at the London Super Comic Convention 2013

My attendance at the inaugural London Super Comic Convention last year was primarily inspired by curiosity. I had never been to a comic convention before and the LSCC had been advertised as the first American style event to hit these shores. A rare transatlantic appearance of the legendary Stan Lee as headline special guest and the fact that the Excel conference centre is only fifteen minutes away from where I live didn't hurt either.

With the appropriately named Jack Kirby as we celebrate 
pulling off another successful Con over fat stacks of comics.

At that time, comics were very much a thing of my past.  Although rural North Yorkshire in the late eighties was not the best place to follow the latest American imports I had somehow managed to become a casual comics fan following the discovery of an amazing little comic book store in my grandparents town. It seemed wildly exotic to me at that pre-teen time.  During each family visit I stocked up on all the precious issues I could afford and built up a fractured collection featuring Swamp Thing, Guardians of the Galaxy and McFarlane-era Spiderman. Those few comics, with barely a handful of complete stories between them, offered a colourful and intoxicating escapism. I read and reread these books repeatedly, totally captivated by the unrestrained imagination of the storytelling. 

In the absence of a reliable supplier and in the midst of the many other real world distractions of growing up, my collecting faded away but my love of the medium remained; smouldering in the warm glow of nostalgia. 

I would reacquaint myself with comics again in college where the demands of a more mature readership were satisfied by three future indie classics: Jeff Smith’s Bone, Garth Ennis’ Preacher and Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise. These books - alongside the Alan Moore triumvirate of V for Vendetta, From Hell and Watchmen - made me realise that I could now appreciate a vicarious return to childhood thrills as a legitimate art form!

As life kept moving on I once again drifted away from comics for an extended period, pretty much until this time last year and the very first London Super Comic Convention. Now, just twelve months later, I have started buying regular comics again and I have found myself attending this second London Super Comic Con as a fully-fledged fan reborn.  I am not sure why this renewed enthusiasm for comic books has occurred. Perhaps I am drawn back to the reassuring constancy of these little worlds at times my real life is unsettled. As I move house and adjust to my thirtysomething drift, it feels good to know that the anthropomorphic and metahuman menageries of DC and Marvel are still out there fighting the good fight, in a world where good always triumphs over evil and no one ever really dies. Philosophical reflection aside, the LSCC encapsulates everything ridiculous and wonderful I love about comics, all under one conference centre roof.

This year I was once again weakly channeling a geekish version of Dr Gonzo to my friend Jack Kirby’s Raoul Duke as he covered the event in a press capacity for the Blogomatic 3000 website. Although our invocation of Fear and Loathing extended to little more than some early afternoon contraband drinking, it did give us an excuse to launch into conversation with guests and creators alike – not that anyone in this most sociable of crowds needed an excuse. In fact, for future journalistic reference, drunken waving of plastic beer cups in the midst of a convention celebrating a largely paper based artform probably makes people more wary of you.

The extended Mat-family for the weekend also included my friends Ami & Aman.
They are far more softcover hardcore than me.
Nevertheless, many notable comics creators in the sizeable artists alley gave us a moment of their time for a brief exchange, an autograph, a print or a sketch.  

Comic legend Neil Adams charmed us with his self-assured confidence: a square jawed real life hero looking as if he had literally stepped from one of his own Silver Age panels. George Perez pimped me a print of a characteristically voluptuous superheroine ensemble. Cult indie creator Tim Seeley was a more rock and roll presence but still thoroughly aimiable. This was a relief as Revival – a self-styled rural noir somewhat in the vein of a more hipster Stephen King mystery story – is one of my favourite current comic series.

Perhaps the most popular special guest was serving Spiderman scribe Dan Slott, whose marathon signing sessions seemed to last from dawn to dusk on both days. His current celebrity status is likely due to the fact that his tenure with the webslinger has seen Peter Parker killed off and a vengeful Doctor Octopus take over the body – and the mantle – of the Superior Spiderman. This new status quo is unlikely to last but it has started the new series with a bang and it seemed that everybody and their Aunt May wanted a copy of the exclusive LSCC Varient cover Issue 1 of Superior, signed by Slott and artist Adi Granov.

The LSCC (Clockwise from left): Rogue cosplay on the Underground,Neal Adams, Batman with beer,
The Cat, The Bat, The Mat and...er...Bane plus Brian "Pants" Christman from Comic Geek Speak

Alongside these established names were also a multitude of Independent Creators. Here you could find Christian, Blaxploitation, Gay or Heavy Metal themed comics - amongst many others - sitting side by side, with their creators all mostly getting along famously.  There are few other places where such a diverse spectrum of politics and personalities can be brought together by a common interest in telling stories through the juxtaposition of sequential pictures and words. 

New discoveries this year included the fantastic fanservice of Yasmin Liang's gorgeous illustrative prints and Timothy Winchester's very funny People I Know comic. Winchester was also notable for an effective but counter-intuitive sales technique whereby he refused to sell me anything until I had gone away and come back later after a cooling off period. I recall this was something to do with the fact I don’t like Game of Thrones but, whatever the reason, it worked and I returned at the end of the day determined to buy his book regardless. His webcomic also features a dinosaur whose best friend is a talking slice of toast, wizards and a hybrid unicorn-cat. If that isn’t a recommendation, then I don’t know what is.

In addition to new discoveries, the LSCC is also a perfect opportunity to catch up on just about any other titles you may have missed. The trading floor was huge and covered just about every taste and genre of comic you could think of.  With this once-a-year shopportunity in mind, it was ironic that we seemed to spend most of our crate-digging time in the longboxes of our friendly neighbourhood dealer Orbital Comics. They may not have had the biggest stand but they are the nice folks and it was good to support our local shop.

We spent some time on a panel with Brian "Pants" Christman and Bryan "Bryan" Deemer from the Comic Geek Speak podcast (and co-founders of the whole event). Specifically, it was a broken wall panel that we were helping to hold in place until technical assistance arrived, but it did give us time to peek behind the convention curtain at hard work and the sheer force of will required by the small team of organisers to hold everything together.  Entirely coincidentally, this also allowed us to peek behind the curtain into the Cosplay competition.

In my mind - foam claws aside - this man is as close to an actual real life 
Wolverine as you'll meet
There appeared to be a renewed enthusiasm for Cosplay this year. The many colourful homespun highlights, included a gingerbread Punisher, a gang of very well made Megacity Judges and a rather intimidating Red Sonja. 

The Bat family were probably the most abundant characters, although with just a single lonely Bane among them. As a result of his isolation, I guess his unwillingness to indulge in any trademark whimsical banter was probably understandable. Most importantly, our favourite hard drinking, hard living Wolverine had also returned.  He had intervened last year when innocent cosplayers were being mocked by some drunken city boys and proved himself as close to a real hero as you'll meet.

The Cosplayers capture that sense of the Convention as being more than simply artists, traders and guests. Everyone plays a part in making that sene of community and this is a pretty great and unique thing. In seeing families in attendance, with parents and children sharing equal excitement at the colourful happenings, I was again reassured at seeing characters I’ve loved in the past are still capturing the imagination of new generations.

I think this again evokes that warm fuzzy feeling of stability and continuity that I find so seductive in the medium.  Maybe this is what Frazer Irving alluded to when, in a panel “Celebrating 50 Years of Marvel's Greatest Characters”, he revealed that his favourite characters were the X Men as they were representative of “perhaps the longest mythic storytelling in human history”

Whilst the glow of escapism is still strong and there is still much artful storytelling to discover, it is that joy of being part of a community of enthusiasts that is most attractive. In difficult and unfriendly times to be around people who are brought together by an unashamed love of stories is a wonderful thing and I am proud to feel I am part of that community. 

I will, however, be expecting a forceful intervention if I show even the slightest hint that my renewed enthusiasm begins to extend to Cosplaying.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas in the Arts

The true spirit of the Christmas season is surprisingly difficult to summarise.  Initially a Christian festival, the midwinter holiday across the Western world now encompasses a much broader church of pagan ritual and secular trimmings.  Equally, the portrayal of Christmas in the Arts is as challenging to package as a giftwrapped bicycle.

Happy Warholidays!

Christmas was pretty straightforward for artists working during the theocratic times of the Classicists.   Classical art was dominated by the Christian church and was without pretence in its non-nonsense approach to Christmas as purely the celebration of the Nativity story and the birth of the Christ child.  Enduring examples include Giorgione’s Nativity (1507) from the Renaissance and Gerard van Honthorst’s Adoration of the Shepherds (1622) from the Baroque tradition – but the supporting cast of infant Messiah, Virgins, Angels, Kings, shepherds and assorted farm animals can be found in literally thousands of works.

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

This unwavering religious embodiment of the festival would continue until artists began to creep out from under the waning yoke of the patronage of the church. It is not until the 1800’s that we first see the gaze of the artist turned from the Romantic and the Divine to the rather more Humanistic.

The Christmas embodied by this next wave of artists focused not on the Nazarene or the Magi but instead on the more contemporary recording of families coming together, celebrating hearth and home.  There are innumerable examples of this work across the European and North American art movements of the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Viggo Johansen’s A Happy Christmas (1891), Carl Larsson’s Christmas Eve (1904) and Albert Chevallier Tayler’s The Christmas Tree (1911) reflect this shift in festive themes.  These depictions of a family Christmas, from the Impressionists to the Arts and Crafts Movement, all share a common whimsical theme to the point that they become almost indistinguishable.

Albert Chevallier Tayler, The Christmas Tree (1911)

For many it is the Victorian Christmas that conjures a romantic ideal of the season and it is around these vignettes that the contemporary image of Christmas begins to solidify, like goosefat around a tray of roasted potatoes and frost on the rosy cheeks of the cockney street urchin.

Even now, the perfect image of the Dickensian Christmas holds much inexplicable allure – perhaps in its evocation of simpler times when extreme poverty, inequality and austerity seemed to do little to dampen the determined celebration of the season.

Norman Rockwell, Christmas (1950)

Clearly following in this tradition is later American artist Norman Rockwell, whose unashamed celebrations of American family and small-town values make him, for many, the unofficial biographer of the American Christmas.  By the 1950’s, however, Rockwell was already becoming a lone atavistic voice in a changing cultural landscape.

The Modernists were coming and they had little time for santa, snowmen, tinsel and glitter.  Such whimsy was so much poisoned eggnog to the carefully constructed outsider status of the Modern Artist; but that isn’t to say some of them didn’t at least try.

Salvador Dalí’s Allegory of an American Christmas (1934, left) and Christmas (Noel) (1946, right)

As might be expected, Salvador Dalí’s Allegory of an American Christmas (1934) isn’t so much iconoclastic as just downright perplexing.  Featuring the unfamiliar festive motif of an airplane flying into an egg, it is said to symbolise Dalí’s rebirth of creativity following his emigration to America.  In Dali’s defence, the use of Christmas in the title was simply a reference to the season of his arrival in his adopted country.  He would attempt to redress this misdirection with the more unambiguous Christmas (Noel) (1946) – although it’s only in the company of the earlier work that this painting could ever really be described as unambiguous.

In the latter half of the Twentieth Century artists began to embrace the dark arts of marketing and this most vigorously commercialised of all festivals once again attracted attention.

Andy Warhol Christmas Card (left) and (unofficial) Jeff Koons Balloon Dog Christmas ornament (right)

Perhaps inspired by his early incarnation as a commercial artist, Andy Warhol produced a wealth of charming festive merchandising during his career, featuring every permutation of wreath, ribbon and shining star.  Some may suggest that Warhol was making a high camp comment on consumerism but the sheer proliferation of Christmas imagery suggests that maybe Andy just loved Christmas.  The fact that it is so difficult to clearly identify Warhol’s intentions leaves him simultaneously playing the role of both David Bowie and Bing Crosby in this Seasonal house party.

The difficulty of deconstructing novelty and ephemera is that there is little more to find wrapped inside than more novelty and ephemera.  Furthermore, Christmas itself has its own magical powers of assimilation.  Consider the gaudy ironic pop culture constructions of artist Jeff Koons. As far as I am aware, Koons has yet to tackle Christmas directly and yet his absurdist ironic imagery has proven remarkably popular repackaged in unironic Christmas cards and decorations.

Ron English, Merry Christmas (2011), Banksy, I'm Out of Bed... (2011)

Even the more aggressive attempts to satirise and eviscerate the season from artists such as Ron English and the ubiquitous Banksy result in images that still sit cosy and comfortably neutered on the mantle between Nativity scenes and comical cartoon reindeer.

Instead, perhaps the most subversive, important and undoubtedly influential Christmas artist is the little-known commercial painter Haddon Sundblom.  It was Sundblom who created Santa Claus, at least in the form we all now know and love, as a seasonal advertising mascot for dentist worrying soft drinks company Coca-Cola.  Whilst he was not the first artist to create an image of Santa - the curious fusion of various folkloric figures with the Christian Saint Nicolas - it was Sundblom's 1931 vision that created the archetypal jolly, round, white-bearded man now recognised the world over.

With his brand-approved red coat, white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers and black leather belt and boots, Coca-Cola’s Santa artworks would change our perception of Father Christmas forever and would be adopted as the popular image of the North Pole's most famous resident.  However, the fact that Sundblom's Santa was so quickly extricated from his corporate beginnings and subsumed back into his mythical roots, once again proves the resilience of the season to irony and commercial appropriation alike.  

In a way, this is further proof that, despite a swollen rolling snowball of confused influences and meanings to many people, the true spirit of Christmas might really just be that spirit itself.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Soundtrack or Treat: A Halloween Mixtape

I used to regularly bother bars and parties playing willfully quirky selections of other peoples records mixed badly, something that ceased to be a unique selling point somewhere around the late nineties. I don't do this very often any more, except on the occasional aurally-masochistic request.

As a result, I have started making mixtapes again. This, along with my recent return to comics and loud and lousy bedroom guitar, is entirely symptomatic of my recent college-era geek regression. I plan to blog about the latter soon, but I haven't had much time to write recently. Instead, in celebration of the Halloween season, please accept the following mash up of horror soundtracks and other spooky seasonal treats, featuring guest appearances from John Carpenter, Burt Bacharach, Biz Markie and the long awaited meeting of Goblin with the Goblin King! 

Soundtrack or Treat! : Mat's Halloween Mixtape (Download on Soundcloud) 

Look away now to avoid the oncoming horrors of... 
  1. “Cropsy…” (The Burning)
  2. Saving the Day – Alessi (Ghostbusters)
  3. “The dead are coming back to life…” (Night of the Living Dead)
  4. The Gonk – Herbert Chappell (Dawn of the Dead)
  5. Haunted House – DJ Yoda feat. Biz Markie
  6. Suspiria – Goblin (Suspiria)
  7. The Blob – The Five Blobs (The Blob)
  8. “I knew this boy..” (Halloween)
  9. The Beyond – Fabio Frizzi (The Beyond)
  10. Putting out the fire – David Bowie (Cat People)
  11. Halloween theme – John Carpenter (Halloween)
  12. He’s Back (Man behind the Mask) – Alice Cooper (Friday the 13th Pt VI)
  13. Silver Shamrock – John Carpenter (Halloween III: Season of the Witch)
I'll be back soon, but in the meantime please visit my friends at the really good Garageland Magazine arts and culture blog where I've just guest posted on Bergman's Seventh Seal.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The E17 Art Trail: Crafts, Cats, Cuts and Camera Porn

Every September the E17 Art Trail descends on Walthamstow in East London. This annual event connects the dots between the scattered creatives of the local area, inviting us to view the diverse work of over 3,500 professional and amateur artists. 

Whilst galleries, studios, shopfronts and sheds from Blackhorse Road to Wood Street have been seized for artistic subversion, perhaps the most fun can be had in visiting the many artists who are exhibiting from their homes.  There’s no curatorial agenda and so there is a delightful chaos in wandering from the little flat of an elderly amateur painter of floral watercolours to view the smart graphic work of the professional illustrator just across the street. In giving equal opportunities to creative endeavours from artists all backgrounds there are some genuine surprises to be found, regardless of whether you favour high concept artistic intervention or wholly unironic paintings of unicorns and fairies.

My highlights included professional illustrator Matt Richard’s audio-visual project, Musical Views, which featured crisp graphic portraits of local musicians alongside recordings with their sitters.

Richard’s digital drawings are rendered to capture an analog printed feel that neatly suited their subject.  His commercial work, also on display inside, was very strong in itself and so it was heartening to see that he had entered into the local spirit of the trail with his street installation.

I was also energised by the enthusiastic painterly adventures of David Bryan’s Inspiration Comes Tomorrow.  Bryan had been inspired to exhibit as part of the trail by a neighbour and had set himself the goal to putting together this exhibition of selected works in acrylic, oils, printing and photography.  He is clearly enjoying the challenge and was a buoyant host as he led us round his journey as an artist.  Like so many others on the trail, he wasn’t pitching himself as a fully formed professional but rather he was openly inviting us into his world through his journey into art.  He had a colourful energetic flair and I liked his woodcuts, prints and mixed media work that had somewhat of an Eastern feel, so I’ll forgive him for siding against me on the oil versus acrylic debate.  

Along the way, there is also enough room for the quirky and crafty.  The Made in Stow letterbox cinema is a cute conceptual installation that reimagines movie classics as if they were filmed in Walthamstow.  These are screened in a literal letterbox format (above).  

Meanwhile, the Back to Front project along Wingfield Road has sponsored residents to print large front window hoardings of any image they choose to represent themselves or their families – collaborating on an open air gallery that includes everything from Frank Sinatra to “the frog from our garden”.  

Idiosyncratic personal obsessions are a running theme, with last years’ Tears of Blood (above) being one of my all time favourites.  With very little explanation, a resident artist had exhibited a small collection of photoshopped images of giant cats crying tears of blood across picturesque landscapes.  When we arrived his house was busy with visitors and our host expressed genuine bemusement at his popularity.  “But…”, I tried to explain as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “you’ve made images of giant cats…crying tears of blood…across picturesque landscapes!” Perhaps this says more about me than him.

The artworks here are not without teeth in other respects.  Notable inclusions this year included some worrying psychedelic portraits of local homeless people and a sculpture that invoked the notorious ‘milk-snatching’ of former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a witty commentary on more recent Conservative Government cuts.  Both of these are exhibited at the little Vestry Museum which was also screening a series of short films; a diversion I was denied by my slight hearing issues and the fact it was one darkened room too many for one of the hottest days of the year.

More traditional craftsmanship can be found at the E17 Designers Market in the Asian Centre or at The Penny Fielding Gallery, where – among other things - the incredible and diverse leatherwork of saddler Mia Sabel is on display.

Just across the road from here you can find the unofficial mascot of the trail in Carl HarrisCatboy.  His Catboy series of drawings and prints are lively and joyfully energetic.  Originally, the boy with a cat for a shadow had only his titular feline companion to share in his adventures, but over the last year the daydreaming protagonist has adopted a bear and circus monkey into his fantasy menagerie.  Harris is something of an Art Trail success story with the Catboy’s charm proving as infectious as his own.

More pictures from a story yet to be written are on display in Amy McSimpson’s…er…Pictures From a Story Yet to be Written.  Her quirky illustrated characters dance playfully from the walls, the small collaged images offering a fractured glimpse into a captivating little world yet to be explored.  McSimpson is sharing an exhibition space with Sharon Drew, whose New Paintings are colourful, luscious and assured abstraction of the type I really like but people don’t seem to make so much anymore.  They were also notably generous with their time and their refreshments.

Finally, we spent a little time with Some Easons and a Bergman, which was truly a family affair, collecting the prints, paintings and crisp medium format photography of the eponymous extended family.  The medium format prints from a selection of vintage cameras are as good a reason as any to never touch the Hipstamatic again and they also had one of my favourite titles of the day – the (child friendly) Sir-Mix-A-Lot referencing, ‘I Like Big Hats and I Cannot Lie’.

It’s hard not to be drawn into the local narrative as you stumble from one little social gathering to the next, sharing recommendations and anecdotes – although with growing caution as you realise everyone seems to know each other.  This event showcases the strength of the community as much as the painters, poets, sculptors, knitters, makers and do-ers who line the route.  Many of the people we spoke to only got to know their neighbours through the event.  Whilst most of the work we saw was for sale, we never once felt like we were being given a sales pitch, instead people were welcoming and generous with their time and – in some cases – their wine.  We talked about community, art, the pain of losing the joy of swearing once having children, the various techniques of living room art installation, children’s book illustrations, the aesthetics of dragons and a great deal of technical camera porn.

Community art events of this nature are often exclusively niche – whether in the form of self-congratulatory urban hipster art markets or timid rural village fetes.  What the E17 Art Trail achieves by being so genuinely inclusive is that it becomes honestly engaging and relevant outside of the postcode. In placing creativity at the heart of the community, it celebrates the essential role that art can plays in our ability to communicate, to relate and to socialise. 

The E17 Art Trail continues until the 16th September.  You can read more about the event on the official website, where you can also download an app to plan your personal trail.  We only saw a fraction of the exhibited work but there is a very interesting blog project that spotlights some of the artists here.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Frightfest The 13th: The Whole Bloody Affair

From humble beginnings at the Prince Charles cinema in 2000, Frightfest has established itself as the UK's premier horror and genre film festival.  Since my first casual visit in 2008, it has also established itself as an annual event I look forward to with unapologetic excitement.

Despite its later relocation to the grand surroundings of the Empire cinema in Leicester Square, apparently the largest screen in Europe, this celebration of the wild, the deviant and, occasionally, the frankly insane still manages to feel like an illicit and subversive treat.

Even if I can only attend for a day or two, it’s always a pleasure to soak up the atmosphere as I try to catch that one big festival hit that heralds the arrival of a wild new talent, be there for the surprise appearance of a genre legend or share in the rare moviegoing experience that blindsides an audience into stunned silence or laughter.  An incidental word of advice to those trying to do the same: take a look at the list of films I plan to see and select the exact opposite.  At film festivals, much like the rest of my real life, I seem forever predestined to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Back when I was at college, almost every gig-going road trip I chose to decline for some spurious reason ensured that the exciting new band I willfully missed would be just about to make the big time.  I hope that one day Radiohead recognise my no-show at the Leeds Town and Country in 1995 as a key element in their stratospheric success.  I think I saw Porcupine Tree instead and look what happened to them. Sorry guys. 

Anyway, for Frightfest 2012 I decided to challenge my pop-culture King-Midas-in-reverse curse and booked three and a half days straight.  With my long suffering and artfully misanthropic friend Kenton as festival co-pilot and unofficial Mat wrangler, we braved sleep deprivation, alcohol induced catastrophe, cosplay, thunder, lightning and the grueling horror of the night bus to tear off the biggest and messiest chunk of horror cinema we could manage.

I was only able to make it in time for the last of the trio of festival openers on Thursday: the Irish monster movie Grabbers.  A friend was involved in the production and so I joined him beforehand with some of the assembled crew at The Harp – possibly my favourite central London alehouse.  This ensured I was able to ease myself into the appropriately booze softened mindset for the tale of a small Irish island community coming together to tackle a monstrous threat in the form of an invading giant space squid.  When it’s discovered that a high-blood alcohol level will kill the aliens, the drunken fight back begins with an all-night lock in.

Tremors is the obvious influence but there’s more than a measure of Gremlins too, the latter being delightfully homaged during a (literal) pub crawl by a batch of the newborn nasties.  Also in common with its inspirations, it’s a whole slimy bunch of fun, is very well paced, has some believable chemistry between the leads (Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley) and features a wonderful supporting cast of eccentric alcoholics. 

Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut 
Friday morning delivered shameless fan service with a screening of the reassembled Cabal cut of Nightbreed followed by an interview with giallo legend Dario Argento.

Since its original release in 1990, Clive Barker’s Nightbreed has always had a reputation as a compromised beast.  Suffering from last minute reshoots and losing over an hour of footage, most commentators assumed the original cut to be lost forever.  However, following the recent discovery of two complete workprints on videotape, Mark Miller and Russell Cherrington worked tirelessly from Barker’s script to reintegrate this footage into the theatrical version and create this 153 minute ‘Cabal Cut’.

The core story of a man who believes he is a serial killer searching for the mythical city of Midian – a place where monsters can be accepted – is largely unchanged but characters are expanded, more time is taken getting to know the protagonists and further exploration of the mythology of the Nightbreed menagerie themselves lends the film a quite different, epic fairy tale atmosphere.  The Cabal Cut presents a much richer and more satisfying narrative, with Anne Bobby’s character in particular given a stronger and more central role.

The Cabal Cut was surprisingly enjoyable as a cohesive movie experience, despite at least half of the feature degrading to grainy VHS with a distinctly grimy “porn movie” quality.  I hadn’t revisited the movie in perhaps a decade but as the change in filmstock telegraphed excisions it was fascinating to reflect on the brutally awkward edits originally forced on the feature.

The Q&A featured the restoration directors along with a handful of the amiable cast.  They notably included Hugh Ross, who played Narcisse, an eminently quotable fan favourite.  His anecdotes strayed into Hellraiser territory with a touching reflection on how a small emotional breakdown whilst in the makeup chair was “a waste of sufferings”.  This is possibly a cautionary tale for all those actors who find themselves tangled up in Clive Barker’s phantasmagorical nightmare visions.

This Cut is very much a work in progress.  I spoke to some festivalgoers who had never seen the original version of Nightbreed and subsequently found the Cabal Cut a challenging experience to sit through.  This is a shame, but highlights the amount of restoration work still needed if this is to be anything but a curiosity.  If you want to know more, you can visit the Occupy Midian website to lend your support to the completion a proper release.

Total Film Icon: Dario Argento
If Dario Argento needs an introduction then you probably wouldn’t have stayed in the audience for this extended interview and I doubt you’d be reading this review in the first place. Argento is an Italian film director, producer and screenwriter. He is best known for his work in the horror film genre, particularly in the giallo subgenre and for his influence on modern horror movies.  He is not often known for his relaxed and revealing interviews.  Nevertheless, Total Film scribe Jamie Graham successfully steered his sometimes challenging interviewee towards some entertaining anecdotes and navigated carefully through the minefield of the last couple of underwhelming decades to focus on the Argento’s classic period.

There was some brief perfunctory talk concerning his most recent outing, Dracula 3D.  The most entertaining and potentially libelous anecdote involved Rutger Hauer, a young Russian girl and a bush.  As I don’t have the legal safety net of mistranslation, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.  He did also make an interesting case for the potential of 3D, citing how impressed he was by a rare 3D screening of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.  He spoke about his influences and the selection of his top 100 horror films for Italian television – six of which were his own.  When asked whether David Gordon Green could top the original Suspiria with his upcoming remake, Argento responded with a genuinely bemused “Go ahead and try.”  He also joined the audience in resounding laughter when Graham quoted Green as saying he wanted his remake of the famously psychedelic movie to be “more psychedelic”.

Predictably, the audience questions descended into a kind of love-in for the Maestro.  Whilst it was nice to see him appreciated, I felt some more actual questions might have been preferable – although Ken pointed out that I was watching with rapt bambi-eyes myself.  Regardless of whether this was the case, Argento’s appearance added a sense of gravity to the proceedings, much the same as Ali’s cameo during the Olympics but with a more hopeful glimmer that maybe – just maybe – Argento could yet make that elusive glorious comeback.

We skipped Hidden in the Woods and - following the rather negative reports of those that attended - demonstrated uncharacteristically good judgement in doing so.  I’d like to say this was a carefully calculated move but it was more a result of an increasingly desperate need for food, drink and at least a glimpse of daylight.  Following a giallo inspired pizza and wine break we returned for the most hipster screening of the weekend: the mumblecore found-footage anthology V/H/S.

The anthology framing device here is that a clutch of boorish low-rent criminal types are hired to break into a house to steal a specific videotape.  Inconveniently, they discover a dead body, sitting in front of a bank of television screens, alongside a vast stack of VHS cassettes.  As they search for their prize they watch some of the mysterious tapes and discover they contain five short found-footage films from five different up-and-coming directors.

Whilst not the worst movie we saw, the hype surrounding V/H/S meant it felt like the most disappointing.  It was overlong and much of the exposition was spent in the intolerable onscreen company of obnoxious frat boy shenanigans.  The hit-and-miss nature of the episodes soon gets tiresome, although there are inventive stylistic touches and Ti West’s Second Honeymoon at least allows us some character insight and a reasonable punchline.  For the most part, however, the stories don’t seem to go anywhere or have any particular point other than as a shaky-cam stylistic exercise.  Perhaps the worst culprit is the wrap-around tale itself, which – like its own (not quite) deceased antagonist - simply gives up and goes home before the final story.

Anthology segments need to be extremely tightly written to succeed but the majority didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense except to be unsettling and weird.  Unsettling and weird can be fine for its own sake, if you have the time to build atmosphere or indulge in experiential filmmaking, but in short vignettes you really need to get to the point quickly with a neat payoff or a shock twist.   

The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young, the Joe Swanberg directed segment that plays out solely through the medium of Skype, is the strongest inclusion by far.  This is an engaging two-hander with a charismatic lead, a sense of mystery and some genuine scares.  It uses the stylistic touches of the found-footage medium to excellent and inventive effect, delivers a satisfying twist yet still keeps a little mystery for itself.  The problem here was that it came toward the end of the two-hour feature, too late to instil any enthusiasm for the two remaining tales and instead serving to highlight everything that didn’t quite work in the rest of the movie.  To conclude on positive note: the AV-mash up montage over the end credits was pretty cool but on the whole I think I preferred the awesome poster to the movie itself.

[REC]3: Génesis
The closer for Friday was Paco Plaza’s [REC]3, the next installment in the effective and inventive Spanish zombie series.  The first two [REC] movies were bloody and bleak with an interesting spin on zombie tropes, primarily concerning the inclusion of religious elements that present the zombie plague as a kind of viral demonic possession. [REC] and [REC]2 were also presented as found-footage and I naturally expected much the same from the three-quel. However, if V/H/S felt like a dour funeral for the found-footage format then [REC]3 is its riotous wake.

This episode is intended to occur at roughly the same time of the first two movies.  Here, Clara and Koldo are a young couple of newlyweds celebrating at a grand Barcelona mansion.  Via a neat but unfortunate twist for the wedding party, the zombie plague soon invades the reception.  Separated in the chaos, Clara and Koldo (Leticia Dolera and Diego Martín) fight alongside a plucky band of survivors in a desperate battle to reunite against the odds.  All manner of madness ensues, with standout scenes involving a chainsaw, a food blender, a hearing aid mishap and a delightfully odd nod to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Unexpectedly funny and romantic in spirit, it has both splatter and genuine heart in generous measures.  Clara emerges as the most kick-ass vengeful bride since Kill Bill and the story wittily eviscerates the conventions and tone of the series while staying true to the mythology.  The opening scenes are delivered in the found footage style of a wedding video before that format is suddenly ditched in favour of a more conventional cinematic approach in a deft transition undertaken via a neat, somewhat meta scene involving the wedding cameraman.

While some of the audience seemed unhappy with the new direction of the franchise, it should be pointed out that what the made the [REC] series so refreshing was the irreverence with which it approached some of the conventional zombie horror tropes, so it shouldn’t really be a shock that Plaza has applied that same irreverence to the series itself.  I’m now very much looking forward to co-creator Jaume Balaguero’s [REC]4 .

On Saturday morning, like the loose-cannon renegade I am, I was up early to catch to catch this documentary on 70’s Italian crime cinema…because that’s how I roll.

During the 1970s, the Italian Film Industry released hundreds of poliziotteschi movies.  These began as quick, cheap and grimy knock offs of popular American cop and crime thrillers, such as Dirty Harry and The French Connection, but their popularity would result in a trend to rival that of the preceding Spaghetti Westerns and Gialli.

Eurocrime tells the story of the poliziotteschi through anecdotes from genre luminaries including Franco Nero, Enzo Castellari, Henry Silva, Richard Harrison and John Saxon, all of whom speak openly and with tangible affection for the genre.  It is funny, fascinating and - in the case of the anarchic approach to stunts and guerrilla location work - genuinely thrilling as you realise just how many of the punches, car crashes and even bullets fired in these scenes were real.

Regardless of any initial interest in the genre, the gradual entanglement of politics and real life organised crime in these productions provides a fascinating parallel social history.  Tellingly, Ken had no experience of the poliziotteschi genre yet still enjoyed the documentary on the strength of the story it had to tell.  With some slight trimming and a little polish of the graphics, Eurocrime has the potential to be a breakout documentary hit with a wider audience.

Outpost: Black Sun 
Next up was Outpost: Black Sun – a zombie Nazi action movie.  Ken was responsible for wanting to see this one as it seemed to push all his military action, apocalyptic and…er…zombie Nazi buttons.  I’d made him sit through Argento so it was the least I could do and, besides, how could a zombie Nazi action movie not be fun?

Sadly, Outpost: Black Sun is exactly how.

It’s well shot with two strong leading performances (including Grabbers’ Richard Coyle) and makes great use of its limited budget, until you realise every scene seems to take place in the same little patch of forest, repeated over and over with different lighting effects.  Admittedly, once at the eponymous Outpost, we are momentarily excited by the appearance of some corridors, until we realise that we will now be running around these identical corridors for the remainder of the movie.   

During a later session of recriminations and apologies, Ken pointed out that this was a clear case of ‘Doctor Who from the Seventies syndrome’ – when the show became a tour of all the quarries in the UK.  It’s all taken very seriously too, with little fun, outrageousness or excitement to compensate.  In parts, it almost seems to think it’s Munich, but it’s not Munich because – ultimately - it’s about zombie Nazis trying to take over the world.  A movie about zombie Nazis could be many things but really it shouldn’t be this boring.

Next up was a break with Jim from the Midnight Video podcast for an impromptu listener meet up at The Chandos in Leicester Square.  Midnight Video is always an entertaining listen and co-presenters Jim and Phil have an easygoing chemistry and infectious enthusiasm that seems to generate unsolicited excitement for even the most terrible relics from the movie graveyard.  They also make some great discoveries too.  The Chandos is one of a handful of Sam Smiths’ pubs in the centre of London, a brewery chain that eschews advertising, gimmicks and flashy promotions to concentrate on serving a fine selection of their own beers and spirits at an affordable price.

With that Eurocrime inspired product placement section of my review safely over, we headed back for the evening screenings, beginning with Under The Bed. 

Under The Bed 
Neal Hausman (Jonny Weston) has returned home to reconnect with his estranged father, stepmother and brother, Paulie.  The reunion soon turns sour, however, when it seems that the mysterious monster under the bed that had tormented him years before – and may have been responsible for the death of his mother in a housefire - has turned its attention to his younger sibling.

Under The Bed seemed to divide people, but I enjoyed this slice of good old fashioned Spielbergian family drama.  The first two thirds of broken family tensions and fraternal bonding are effective and rather touching before the final reel spins off into more brutal and hysterical fantasy horror territory.  Some people felt a little alienated by the sudden change in tone but I found the conclusion was all the more effective for coming from the distant leftfield.  It also ensured that by the time the characters were established as actually being in mortal and decapitative danger, you really did care about them. It also helped that the young brothers at the heart of the story are convincing and sympathetic in a way that child actors often seem to find so hard to achieve.

Some of the characters are underused and there is a problem with languid pacing in the middle of the movie, but it’s quite atmospheric and, in the uncertainty over which direction you feel the story is going to take, channels the odd mood of its closest cinematic antecedent – Poltergeist – rather well.

At this point, Ken was evidently missing his fix of apocalyptic misery so he went to see Remnants at the second screen.  Apparently it was very good – in a depressing yet moving kind of way - which made him happy.  I stayed in the main screen to watch Tulpa.

Alongside the glamorous cast and crew, Alan Jones announced the screening of Tulpa with a cry of “giallo is back!” There was much anticipation that Federico Zampaglione’s movie would be a contemporary rebirth or revival of a much-maligned genre that had long descended into parody.

The murder mystery plot will seem familiar to those with even a loose working knowledge of the giallo and its conventions.  A beautiful successful businesswoman, whose nocturnal thrills take her to the mysterious underground sex club Tulpa, finds both her bedroom and boardroom colleagues being elaborately murdered in a series of stylish set pieces.  With few suspects left standing, she begins to wonder if she herself is unwittingly responsible for the crimes or whether there may even be some supernatural force involved.

Tulpa lovingly repackages and amplifies the tropes of the giallo, turning the violence and eroticism up to undici. The sexual content in particular is given more attention than in the classic era of the giallo.  Unfortunately, some of the more frustrating aspects of the genre have also been inherited, most notably in the terrible English language dubbing and the baffling translation of a script I would suspect was already leaning toward the wacky.

At first, this seems entirely self aware - with a stylishly executed bedroom-bondage murder followed immediately by a scene of boardroom exposition that introduces our heroine.  This first scene of generic corporate dialogue is delivered in the awkward and stilted English language dub we all know and love but subsequently switches to Italian subtitles when the Chairman complains of the necessity of having to deliver such meetings in English. This is a delightful moment at which it seemed the film had directly addressed this key failing in the serious giallo and then promptly dispensed with it in a smart and witty fashion.  Just one scene later, however, it sadly proves not to be the case as the unintentional comedy of the English dub returns for the majority of the feature and dominates and drowns out any subtlety of parody the film has of its own.  Even worse, the dub was in turn drowned out by the roaring laughter of the Frightfest crowd and it was hard not to cringe in embarrassment for the assembled cast and crew.

The problem is that beneath the unintentional laughs of the dubbing, the film clearly has a wit of its own, but that subtlety – as evidenced in the opening scene described above - was lost as one outrageously wooden line followed another.

Some of the worst treatment is reserved for poor Michela Cescon, who plays Lisa’s friend Joanna.  Her performance was overdubbed with a peculiar British accent that was reminiscent of a woman with a brain injury in an awful Richard Curtis movie.

In this respect, there’s very little difference in it’s deficiencies to the classic giallo of thirty years ago.  If an audience can willfully look beyond this in Argento I’m not sure why it seemed to entertain so much here.  Perhaps it was because there was an expectation this would be a neo-giallo of sorts, a reinvention or rebirth of the giallo, when if fact it could better have been appreciated if approached as a lost film or unreconstructed homage.

The distraction of all this is a shame as there is much more to enjoy here. It is sumptuously shot, there are deviously inventive death scenes, a terrific baroque score, a charismatic lead performance from Claudia Gerini and a snakes eye perspective of a transexual chase through the sex club. At its conclusion, Tupla is also blessed with the wackiest giallo deus-ex-machina since Alice the chimpanzee saved the day at the conclusion of Phenomena.  Holy hermaphrodite scanners, Batman!

At times it is wonderfully inspired, at other times it is woefully misguided, but either way it was sublime entertainment to watch in a packed and boisterous cinema.  There are two movies here in a way.  I would love to see an Italian language version to fully appreciate Zampaglione’s style and true intent but on the other hand the Frightfest dub will always remain an awfully quotable guilty pleasure. 

Finally, the day closed with the hobbit-bothering Alexandra Aja produced remake of William Lustig's sleazy cult 1980 slasher of the same name.  Elija Wood leads as Frank, the owner of a mannequin shop who is dealing with his repressed sexuality and troubling maternal issues by brutally stalking, killing and scalping women in a barren New York netherworld.

Maniac is a startling technical achievement and I found it deeply disturbing.  Aside from two key scenes, it is shot entirely from the killer’s point-of-view.  The audience is both captive and complicit – forced to share the experience of Frank’s empty and dislocated life with every dreamlike and meandering incident of his daily routine threatening to explode in another gruesome act of violence with soul crushing inevitability.  With a bombastic synthesiser soundtrack reminiscent of Drive and scattered with increasingly surreal vignettes as Frank’s weak grasp on his reality collapses, Maniac is arthouse meets grindhouse.

This subtext of art meeting sleaze is made explicit when Frank meets Anna, a photographer whose subject is mannequins.  The young artist, fascinated by Frank's craft and seemingly seduced by his outsider status, tries to draw him into her uptown world.  His awkward inexplicable courtship – and futile attempts to curb his murderous impulses – forms the final painful act of the movie.  The first person perspective really pays off during the last act as we find Frank has become both our protagonist and antagonist.  We know Frank is a monster, but he is a human too, not a space squid or zombie or demonic entity hiding under the bed.  We find ourselves not sympathising or empathising or even truly understanding Frank but we are desperate to find some hope, some meaning, some purpose to what we have seen.  Of course, it shouldn’t be a spoiler to reveal that there is none to be found here.  Some felt Tulpa was the best worst movie of the weekend but Maniac is in some ways the extreme of this.  It is not an enjoyable experience and it’s not a film I could ever say I like: it is nihilistic, bleak, gruelling and unquestionably nasty – not to mention deeply and troublingly misogynistic – but I have to admit it is astonishingly powerful.  I didn’t even feel comfortable making any scalp-referencing ‘wigging out’ or ‘hell toupee’ twitter puns and that is saying something.

By Sunday, I was starting to feel cimema fatigue but determined to finish my cinema marathon on a more upbeat note.

Berberian Sound Studio 
To say Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio polarised opinion would be an understatement.  This arthouse love letter to 70’s Italian exploitation cinema stars the oddly compelling Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a meek sound engineer from suburban Dorking.

Gilderoy relocates to Rome to work on a horror movie, The Equestrian Complex.  We see the perfectly realised opening credits of this movie, but the rest is left for our imagination to draw from the aural soundscapes as we follow Gilderoy working alongside the Italian crew to overdub and provide the sound effects of their mysterious supernatural thriller.

At first, it’s seemingly played for droll ‘fish out of water’ laughs as the homely Gilderoy struggles to engage with the passionate and intense working methods of the Italians.  But as the production slows to a crawl, tensions rise and Gilderoy finds himself seemingly trapped in the claustrophobic confines of the titular studio, life begins to imitate art. Supernatural and giallo scenes begin to play out in the ‘real world’, incidents repeat themselves and Gilderoy is trapped in this cyclical limbo for so long he begins to talk in Italian.

With a fine absorbing soundtrack by retro-futurist electronic outfit Broadcast, rich period production and a detailed, lingering and near pornographic approach to the technical delivery of movie audio mixing, I enjoyed every moment of the running time right up to the sudden white-out ending.  At this point, I suddenly realised I had no idea what had just happened.

Was it a Kafka-esque meditation on the frustration of claiming expenses or was there something more diabolical behind Gilderoy’s metatextual unravelling? If we choose to interpret this as a self referential take on the filmmaking process, it could be viewed as a more sober arthouse take on Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion, only with less Steve Buscemi and more violence to cabbages.

I think the problem was that it was presented alongside much more conventional horror movies and referenced the genre with so many knowing and beautifully reconstructed moments of homage that we are tricked into expecting a final reveal to tie everything together. But it is not a conventional horror movie and, on reflection, I think any definitive ending would have negated the wonderful dream logic of the rest of the movie.  The most appropriate way for it to conclude was for it to remain a puzzle and invite its viewers to return again and again to indulge in its audio visual delights.

Sinister was a slick supernatural serial killer production starring Ethan Hawke as Ellison, a crime writer who has moved his family into a "murder house" so that he can investigate a case of mysterious serial murders that may save his fading career.  As these serial murders have all involved identical family units to his own, not to mention the box of snuff movies he discovers in the attic, you will probably guess this wasn’t a good idea.

It’s a straightforward ghost train ride and it does exactly what it sets out to do, although it was also surprisingly mean spirited, which was somewhat refreshing for a mainstream American production and came as a perversely pleasant surprise.  Along the way Sinister delivers some genuine jolting shocks, had some admirably subtle sound design and some welcome, but sparingly used, comic relief.

There are more than a few confusing developments and plot holes but Hawke’s performance makes Sinister work.  He delivers a serious and layered performance in the face of increasingly ridiculous supernatural proceedings.  He also overcomes an unlikable character – and weird goatee – to create a lead you come to sympathise with.

It was plainly written by genre fans and there are a couple of playful and knowing touches that set it apart from the crowd – notably the fact that, at the first indisputable sign of a supernatural presence in their house, the family immediately pack up and leave unhindered that night like any sane family would.  It’s a nice touch and would have worked in any other haunted house movie of it’s ilk – just not this one, obviously. 

In Memoriam 
Although the festival rolled on into the Monday, Sinister was my final movie for this year. This meant that I still managed to miss a number of well reported screenings, including both Jaume Balagueró's Sleep Tight  and Jen and Sylvia Soska's American Mary.  I've also failed to mention some of the peripheral highlights.  Among these was a screening of Lee Hardcastle's claymation version of The Raid (with cats) and Simon Pegg presenting Special Effects wizard Greg Nicotero with the first Frightfest Variety Lifetime Award. Of the sneak preview footage screened, the most interesting seemed to be Neil Jordan's upcoming revisionist feminist vampire epic, Byzantium, and Ben Wheatley's black comedy, Sighseers. Overall it was a very enjoyable few days, as much for the company as for the movies.  In the programme, Frightfest speaks of its audience as family and it’s something I’ve come to really appreciate over the years.  It’s funny to find such a sociable group of people being brought together by their love of often anti-social movies, but even at their most cantankerous, sleep deprived, outraged or hungover, it’s the sense of shared enthusiasm by everyone involved that ensures I’ll keep coming back.

Some soulless reanimated zombies...
and the Frightfest 2012 poster
I love horror and genre film mostly because I love film. It’s a view that is shared broadly by filmmakers as much as viewers.  Many of the highest regarded writers and directors working in cinema today – be it artistically or financially - began their career in low budget horror or genre pictures.

Genre hero turned mainstream success Sam Raimi expands on this: “[Horror film audiences] are very savvy to film technique. The horror audience is the most original audience out there. They don’t want sequels, they don’t want what most of the audience wants. Most of the time audiences want to see versions of what they’ve seen before. Horror audiences are like, ‘no. Show me something I’ve never seen before! I want to be freaked out!’ My hat’s off to them. They’re a really original audience. Even more than the art film crowd they’re the ones who break new ground and accept new techniques from filmmakers on the cutting edge. Not the indie guys, but those guys. The low-budget horror fans.”

Even just within the dozen or so movies I’ve reviewed above, the diversity and invention of the genre is clearly evident.  Events like Frightfest recognise the contribution of the fans and even allow the audience to share a little ownership over these movies.  It creates a sense of community that charms guests and attendees alike.

In such company, it’s all too easy to suddenly and accidentally find yourself overestimating the importance of movies – but ultimately it has to be a healthy form of escapism, being able to spend at least some time not worrying about the very bad things happening in the real world and enjoy watching the very bad imaginary things happening onscreen for a while instead.

Faces of Frightfest: Paul McAvoy, Greg Day, Alan Jones and Ian Rattray have run the festival since its inception.  Irrepressibly energetic, amiable and enthusiastic, they still introduce every feature, moderate interviews and chair Q&A sessions as the pubic face of Frightfest (pic: film4.com)