Asif Kapadia’s Amy ★★★★

‘This is someone trying to disappear.’

Amy does not simply present a fuller picture of the iconic Amy Winehouse. Rather, Asif Kapadia provides us with intimate access to the fragile girl behind the stardom whilst simultaneously offering a powerful insight into the destructive side of celebrity culture.

Kapadia’s documentary reaches far beyond the media’s portrayal of Winehouse; alongside public interviews and acceptance speeches we see personal home videos and studio rehearsals, and hear from those who were closest to her—including her notorious ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil. Kapadia skilfully pieces these materials together to coherently depict Winehouse’s story, documenting her promising beginnings to tragic ending. In doing so, Amy both presents and penetrates the media’s one-dimensional picture of Winehouse as a self-destructive addict, enabling a deeper understanding of her true identity by providing us with access to her from all angles.

Sitting through some low-quality archive footage and occasional generic panning shots of London which accompany interview clips is certainly worthwhile for the feeling of authenticity created by these limited resources. This sense of realism is key to Amy’s appeal and is complimented by the soundtrack which acts as a narrative voice. As a singer-songwriter, Winehouse’s lyrics follow her life events, thereby strengthening the film’s impact as a moving piece of cinema whilst deepening our understanding of the star herself. We are encouraged to consider Winehouse as a person rather than to regard her as a musical icon, as these lyrics are not only part of her songs, but also tell her story.

Kapadia’s factual style—similar to that found in his BAFTA award-winning documentary Senna—results in a poignant absence of drama. Winehouse’s lifestyle and tragic fate is not glamorised for the sake of a rock ‘n’ roll tone or to pay tribute to the infamous 27 Club. Instead, Winehouse is sombrely depicted as a victim of our celebrity-mad society and aggressive harassment by the paparazzi. Amy also underscores the disconcerting role played by the singer’s father, Mitch Winehouse, who told the filmmakers, ‘you should be ashamed of yourselves’ for portraying him as a forceful managerial figure. As a result, Kapadia asks us to reconsider our preconceptions of Winehouse’s death as self-inflicted, instead portraying it as a tragic consequence of the pressures which surrounded her.

However, it should not be overlooked that the accounts given by those closest to the singer are inevitably biased, resulting in a documentary which dubiously implies Winehouse’s helplessness and innocence—glossing over her culpability in deciding to turn to such a damaging escape route.

Nevertheless, Amy successfully depicts and celebrates Winehouse’s vibrant personal life and career. What’s more, the film’s poignancy guarantees a moving experience for the viewer; in the screening you could have heard a pin drop as the audience was gripped throughout, and many left with a tear in their eye.

If nothing else, this documentary will reignite an interest in Winehouse’s work and lead you to acknowledge the loss of a stunning musical talent.

 

Neighbourhood Noise guide to Pitchfork Festival Paris 2014

SATURDAY 1st NOVEMBER – PITCHFORK FESTIVAL’S closing night in Paris. Having previously hosted the likes of James Blake and Belle & Sebastian the two nights before, along with some amazing pre-parties (most notably, Kindness), neighbourhood noise were graced with an equally impressive line-up: Foxygen, Jungle, Jose Gonzalez, Tune-Yards and – act of the moment – Caribou.

An unusually hot summer’s day of chilling in the bars of Le Marais created a perfect and surreal setting for this Autumnal festival. Hopping off the metro, the lights of Pitchfork at the Grande Halle allured a rush of excitable and alternative festival goers – this was to be a festival that would exceed all expectations.

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The venue was overwhelmingly grand. With two stages placed at either end of the hall, people were dancing their way over from one act to the next, with no wait in between to stop the mood – it was neat, tidy and run to precision. In between the two stages, merchandise was being sold, but not just standard tour stuff, (although you never can ignore a tote saying you were at a Parisian hip festival) but antiques such as old French vinyls that intoxicated Pitchforkers were rummaging through. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a playground with swings, a large twister board, stalls offering jewelry, clothes, hats, beard trims and a do-it-yourself party mask construction stall.

Before paying any attention to the music, the artistic atmosphere of the festival alone had got the crowds buzzing. The music, in fact, became an added bonus to an already fun-filled festival. Movement, the Australian band, pleasantly surprised us with their slow heavy bass and impressive, faultless vocal performance; but, there was an obvious distraction in the crowd, who were itching to see Foxygen on stage.

Foxygen are famed for their energetic performances, but we certainly felt exhausted from watching (and trying to keep up with) Sam France’s energy. A little contrived, his performance was reminiscent of Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury – it was flamboyant and attention grabbing but that is about as far as the comparison went. France’s voice was lost through all the movement and we found ourselves watching and listening to the backing singers to decipher what song he was actually singing. He was fluttering around the stage, kicking his legs in the air and then occasionally picking up on the song.

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Without a doubt, he is a mesmerizing character and has real charisma – working the crowd was definitely not a difficult feat – but as big Foxygen fans, it was a shame that we had to strain to hear the song through France’s wild and unnatural performance. Let’s face it, if you have to sit on the amps to catch your breath, maybe it’s not a bad idea to just stand and sing sometimes. Having enjoyed their last album, ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors’,  playing “San Francisco” on repeat, there were high hopes for their latest release “…And Star Power”. With its take on modern psyche rock through wonderful harmonies and well written lyrics, Foxygen still have an album that we continue to love, with “Could’ve Been My Love” slowly becoming a neighbourhood noise favourite this year. It was just a shame that the focus wasn’t on the music but rather France’s theatrical performance.

A quick interlude from Jose Gonzalez – not sure why he was placed so late – and the night was back on form with fun and groovy performances from Tune-Yards and Jungle. Big on Radio 6’s playlists this year, both did not fail to provide. It is hard to not move to the beat of both and they certainly put everyone in a good stead for Caribou who was next to follow.

Opening with “Our Love”, the crowds went wild, bobbing up and down to the contagious beat that Caribou has infected everyone with this year. The simple yet spellbinding sounds Dan Snaith creates is one to put you in a good mood, breaking out smiles on usually unbreakable faces. The addition of balloons pouring out above certainly added to the electronic experience, but then who isn’t a sucker for a little kitsch in the early hours of the morning? Caribou is an electronic-lover’s dream to see live and if given the opportunity, make sure to catch him.

Pitchfork Paris was mind-blowing. The scale of the festival was nothing we had experienced before. A great line-up, chilled atmosphere, arts and crafts, with a good amount of drunkenness, some silly dancing and an honest, if too serious, game of human twister, it is everything a festival should be. And its in Paris.

neighborhood noise recommends: La Petite Chaufferie – organic drinks, food and electro music for the perfect pre-gig warm up.

8/10

ZABA! Oval Space played host to Glass Animals ★★★★★

‘The last time we played this, the roof fell down!’

GLASS ANIMALS ARE on the cusp of something truly great. Zaba is a good album, their live performance was entertaining and the group (especially Dave Bayley) have a certain panache on stage that will take them far. But they have a way to go to ensure they survive in their self-created jungle.

Oval Space’s roof didn’t fall down for Glass Animals this time. It is too structurally sound. The space perfectly demonstrates why a venue is so important in the overall experience of a live gig. Despite having a surprisingly low stock of cranberry juice (as a mixer I might add), Oval Space contributed to the mystic, cryptic and quirky nature of the Oxford four-piece band through its charming setting, alluring lighting and effortless nature. It isn’t a place that tries to be cool; it is naturally cool, in true Bill Murray fashion. Set at the foot of a derelict gasworks that is now a landmark in Hackney, Oval Space does any band a favour even before instruments are played with the stunning view, the great service and the fact that you are in a 6000 square foot space dedicated to entertainment.

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We wondered from the fairy lit terrace bar into the main gig room, drawn in by a melodic voice, reminiscent of Lana Del Ray, along with a basey rift. Laura Cope was the special guest, but she acted more as a timid support act. Cope and her band didn’t have much of a stage presence, becoming more of a background, interval artist as oppose to someone who would stand out and make a name for herself. Having said this, Cope has an incredible voice that is complimented by bass heavy music. With such mellow music, live performances are difficult to master, however, after watching Glass Animals, I’m sure Laura has a few ideas of how to ramp up her seemingly shy persona on stage.

9 o’clock hit. A few double gin and cranberries down and we were ready for the main act, not sure of what to expect. Paul Epworth, the man who has worked with Friendly Fires, Bloc Party, Florence and Adele, signed Glass Animals to his record label ‘Wolf Tone’ as his first signing. However, despite this great name backing them, Glass Animals have been closely compared to the likes of Alt J, Friendly Fires and even Vampire Weekend, with many critics claiming Glass Animals to be pretty unoriginal. This gig would help us decide if these critics were correct or not. 9.30pm, and the band emerge onto the jungle dressed stage that represents their tribal, electronic and bass heavy sounds.

From the off, Dave Bayley blessed the stage with his child like excitement, bouncing around in a disjointed form of dance. The band had clearly altered their album, making it more lively for the live audience. The drummer solos were a welcome addition to transform the previously mellow tunes into a dance inducing frenzy, whilst holding the signature sounds of the well-known songs intact – effortless, just like the venue.

The promising thing about this band is the fact that they (with the help of Paul Epworth) have recognised the need for them to adapt their ‘Zaba’ album for a live audience and still make it work. Bayley’s energy on stage gets the crowd moving, and with his modest and appreciative grin throughout the performance, its difficult to not like this down to earth band. Sure, their sound isn’t as unique as we initially thought, but they have hooked people nonetheless, including us at neighbourhood noise.

Glass Animals have the makings of a truly great band, and I reckon their second album will exceed all expectations following this, bluntly put, good debut.

 

 

Look out for future Oval Space events, with our next Oval Space feature covering their Halloween special film screening of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remastered’. 

Joe Guglielmino’s Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La ★★★★

Jean-Claude Van Damme levels of cool as the film takes surfing to Iceland.

Jean-Claude Van Damme levels of cool as the film takes surfing to Iceland.

James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon discovers and describes Shangri-La as a fictional paradise; a search for the apotheosis of utopian existence in our world. It is both within and without, being an island located outside of the known world, yet within it at the same time. The very title of this self-proclaimed psychedelic surf experience is one that mystifies, confuses yet entices the spectator, as it enticed us at neighbourhood noise. The supernatural, mystic nature that surrounded the film’s release were transposed to Victoria Park for the evening in an attempt to capture the worldly experiences that the surfers and crew from Globe encountered. The cryptic directions given online to actually find the film only contributed to this mysticism: ‘The Pagoda, Victoria Park’. It doesn’t help if you naively don’t know what a Pagoda is and are then thrown into an enormous park on the outskirts of London. It also doesn’t help when every other person in the park have no idea what a Pagoda is. Regardless, we eventually stumbled upon the infamous Pagoda in Victoria Park, and when realising that it is a tiered tower building often found in historic East Asia and quite a remarkable landscape in the park, an overwhelming sense of embarrassment waved over us. With our new found knowledge, Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La was beginning to make even more sense. Tiki huts, a free colourful food stand serving indian street food and a free bar set within a culturally aware tent all surrounded the Pagoda, embracing the many different cultures that Globe and the surfers experienced on their travels; an intimate touch to share their encounters with a unknowing audience. Upon arriving, we instantly knew this would be more than just an ordinary premiere of a film – this was to be an experience. A belly dancer allured people out of their comfort zones to join her in her dance and rewarded them with an ominous key; this key unlocked a locker containing Globe surf boards, skate boards and goodie boxes – before the film even began, the event celebrated the way in which surfing is accompanied with a gross appreciation of varying cultures. Four free cobras in, we took our seats on the cushions and rugs provided, and under a reddening sky, the 16mm film began to roll. Globe’s use of 16mm film gave the film an incredibly authentic edge. As the surfers travelled the world from Iceland to Mozambique, each location was captured through long surf scenes accompanied by an inspiring soundtrack. The shots, the surf and the 16mm cameras were the focus of the film as the three combined to create a beautifully poetic representation of an extreme sport. The psychedelic nature of the film was captured in the opening scene where the focus of the film was made apparent: the beauties of surfing. Some of the world’s best surfers were captured in this authentic film leaving the audience’s jaws dropped throughout. The soundtrack in conjunction with the 16mm film created a supernatural feel to the extreme sport, enhancing the poetical and artistic nature of surfing. The surfers travelled the world in search for the perfect wave – the Shangri-La of surfing. Although there was only a slight documentation of the actual travels, the way in which the director uses intermittent shots to capture an aspect of the country’s culture whilst shooting the surfers in action creates a photo montage effect demonstrating the power of film and photography. The focus of the film was to illustrate the artistic effects of 16mm film and how that contributes to the psychedelic surf experiences that the film encourages. The whole experience of this premiere was inspiring; the beauty of surfing as a sport was undeniably present and the coming together of man and nature through film, music and sport demonstrates how the film is the epitome of artistic and sporting talent. Globe proved that Shangri-La can be achieved through creative and interactive art.