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Oh Comely Documentary Film Night III

words Jason Ward

20th August 2014

For the third in our summer series of documentary film nights, we're thrilled to be showing For All Mankind, Al Reinert's visually spectacular documentary about the Apollo programme. Drawing from over six million feet of film footage from NASA, much of it never before seen by the public, For All Mankind depicts the experiences of the Apollo astronauts who travelled to the Moon between 1968 and 1972. The documentary – a composite version of the six successful manned missions – is scored by Brian Eno and features the voices of the astronauts reflecting on their experiences.

The screening will take place at St. Augustine's Tower in Hackney at 19:15 on Thursday, 28th August, and the doors will be open from18:30. There will be a programme of short films followed by the main feature. Built in the 13th century, St. Augustine's Tower is the oldest building in Hackney and usually only open to the public once a month. 

Tickets cost £5 and are understandably limited given that the tower's architects didn't originally have film screenings in mind. Visit the event page to book your place.  

What: For All Mankind (1989, 80 minutes) and a programme of shorts.

When: Thursday 28th August at 19:15 (doors 18:30).

Where: St Augustine's Tower, Hackney, London.

For All Mankind is available on DVD now.

The Rover: An Interview with Guy Pearce

words Jason Ward

15th August 2014

Over three decades of a highly successful acting career Guy Pearce has avoided being typecast by enthusiastically pursuing an array of different roles, from bombastic drag queens to vengeful amnesiacs to self-righteous detectives. Ahead of the release of tense dystopian Australian drama The Rover, in which he plays a violent, taciturn ex-soldier opposite Robert Pattinson, we sat down with Guy to talk about his character in the film and his open-minded approach to career.

Was The Rover difficult to shoot? You spend a lot of it with flies all over your face.

I do! It wasn't tough really. I love being in the Outback. It's so fascinating and evocative and unusual. I get so much out of being there. Also we were making a very interesting movie. I think anything that is difficult, you either take it on or you try and forget about it. It felt like the flies and the heat just added to the experience and to the look of the film. It was probably tougher for Rob. It's funny – every Aussie movie I do out in the desert there are always a couple of English actors going, “Fucking flies! My god!” Terrance Stamp or Ray Winstone or John Hurt or Rob Pattinson, all suffering.

Your character Eric doesn't speak a great deal and there isn't much detail given about his life. How did you approach playing him?

That was tricky in the beginning, and not because of the lack of dialogue. I really needed to understand who he used to be, where emotionally this character had gotten to by the time we meet him. I knew I was going to say yes to doing the film – I love David Michôd and his work, and was honoured to be asked to be the lead – but I nearly said no a few times. I couldn't figure out who the guy was. So I forced David to ask some real questions about the character. I was trying to get a sense of the personality, because that's what you play when you perform a character.

I remember talking to somebody on a job once and I said “I'm trying to understand the personality of this character”, and the guy said to me, “Well, he was very wealthy and he lost all his money and he had to steal...” But that wasn't his personality, that was just what had happened to him. Is he nervous, is he anxious, is he confident? That's the stuff that I'm interested in. That's what you need to play a role. When we got close to shooting, David started to talk about the animal that Eric had become, this survivalist creature that he'd been stripped down to, and after that I felt like I was really able to get my claws into it.

There are very violent moments in the film, but it isn't like Eric snaps: that violence is an underlying presence, always there in him.

He's beyond the point of snapping. He's already snapped. I think he's given up on himself. He's just left everything behind of who he was morally and ethically. So it was an interesting character to play because you're looking at a ghost of somebody.  It's not until we start to see the subtle development of the relationship with Rob's character that things start to bubble up to the surface again.

The film purposefully never fully articulates any of this, though, does it?

That's right. It's not very evident, and that's why I went through that process with David to try and have these questions answered. But I feel as an audience member, what you haven't been explicitly given in regards to motivation or plot or character development is all there in the tone. As long as there's a logic behind it then it doesn't need to all be explained. I think a lot of films go too far the other way. All the time they're asking “Are you still with me? Are you still with me? Are you still with me?” Whereas what's great about David is that he says “This is the story I'm telling and how I'm going to tell it. Keep up.” That's a brave way for a film-maker to be.

It seems like you actively go for roles which are more complex, which often means characters who aren't entirely sympathetic. What has been your thinking behind that?

I always just go for what's interesting to me at the time. There's no conscious decision about structuring it in any kind of way. You just take the best of what's in front of you, and sometimes you might take something that you wouldn't have a year ago, or ten years ago, depending on how you're feeling about yourself and what you're going through. I feel like I'm always changing. I always want to explore and open up to other things. The industry's tough, though. It's a tough machine to become part of and not feel like you're being swept up in it. Standing your ground is tricky, but I've managed to do it, I think, much to the disappointment of my many agents.

You've been a professional actor for almost 30 years. Do you feel like there's anything that you haven't done yet but want to?

Absolutely! There are seven billion people in the world. That's a lot of stories to tell. A lot of different characters to play and a lot of exploring to be had. I really like to respond to what the universe is offering up. It's important for me to be surprised and to respond really spontaneously to something. Even if I have questions and have to go through a process of talking to the director, that initial “Oooh!” has still got to be there. If it's not then there's no point in doing it because then I'll be two months into a film wondering why I'm there.

I imagine that's especially the case with bigger films, where you work on them for ages and then have to spend months doing promotion.

Yes, of course, and sometimes films lose their steam. You might jump on board something because it takes your fancy and then half way through you feel like it's not being realised the way you wanted. And that's okay. That's just the way it is. As long as I'm reacting to what I understand to be the fire in me then that's all that I can do, really. I know I give my best performances when I do that.

It took a while to understand that about myself because I got into a situation where suddenly there were all these opportunities and I felt I had to make hay while the sun shines, and one agent was telling my to do one film and then another agent was telling me to do another. I know that's a first-world problem, but it was overwhelming. I think, though, that in order to follow a path and carve out some sort of longevity you've got to understand why you're doing things and what it is you're getting out of them, as well as when you're doing your best and what your limitations are. Luckily I feel like I've done a pretty decent job of understanding that over the years. I may not have as big of a career as other people might have but I'm pretty happy. It works for me. 

The Rover is out now in UK cinemas. 

The Rover: An Interview with Director David Michôd

words Jason Ward

14th August 2014

The plot of The Rover is as spare as the charred desert it takes place in: a decade after an unspecified economic collapse, broken ex-solider Eric (Guy Pearce) chases a group of desperate criminals across Southern Australia to try and retrieve his stolen car, meanwhile forming a capricious relationship with the leader's dim brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Notable both for the confidence of its direction and the unsettling, brutal tone, The Rover is only writer-director David Michôd's second feature, coming after his excellent 2010 debut Animal Kingdom. Ahead of its release we spoke to David about his thoughts on the film.

Eric has an immediately negative impact on almost everyone he meets. Why do you think that is, and what were you trying to express through his effect on others?

It's almost as if anyone who drifts into Eric's orbit comes undone, and I think in part that's because he has detached himself from community. The movie is actually full of people in pairs or small groups, people who are in very trying, challenging circumstances, and have found themselves clinging to other people for sustenance, even just emotional sustenance. Eric has cut himself adrift from that and as a consequence has become poisoned and embittered. This is precisely where his relationship with Rey becomes the meat of the movie.

The violent episodes in the film feel unnecessary – I don't mean that they're gratuitous, but rather that if Eric spoke to any of the characters he meets for more than a few minutes things wouldn't have to end in bloodshed.

It's also the electricity of anger as well. There's a scene towards the end in a house where you can feel that it's Eric's presence that makes it feel lethally electric in a way that it wouldn't if he hadn't been there. It's the contagious buzz of rage.

Aside from a few key moments you give very little information about Eric or his motivations and history. Why did you decide to do that?

I wanted Eric to be a very elemental and mysteriously unavailable shell of a man who you would come to discover over the course of the film in bits and pieces. I felt like there was a dangerous power in that kind of character, someone who keeps everything hidden and is wound very tight and pulsing with this electric anger. It gives you the opportunity to play with a character who is unpredictable, and unpredictable characters can be the most compelling ones.

Eric is contrasted against Rey, who is slow-witted and impressionable. There are so many problematic depictions of intellectually challenged characters in cinema – how did you navigate that?

In some ways I let the nature of that character's relationship with Eric inform what he needed to be. One of the things I loved about Rob's audition was that it was clear to me that he had read the script in a way that suggested he'd been thinking about the ways he needed to interact with Guy's character. Rey couldn't just be profoundly intellectually challenged: he needed to have the capacity for speaking a foreign language or to challenge Eric when necessary, or to concoct a plan or have a rich imaginative life.

I remember when I first started talking to Rob about playing the character. We were both aware that there was a very fine line we were treading and so instead of thinking about different forms of mental handicap I asked him to go away and watch a documentary called Bully that was made a few years ago, that's about the ways in which badly bullied children react emotionally to the people around them. Quite often these kids are very bright but they've just had their social skills beaten out of them. They don't know how to be in the world. I always imagined that Rey had grown up in a deprived, rural childhood, probably hadn't gone to school, had never really had to fend for himself, and who has almost as a default setting this compulsion to cling on to more powerful people, such that he doesn't recognise that that's what he's doing with the man who's effectively taken him hostage.

Like the portrayal of Eric, not a lot of information is given as to what has happened to Australia, except for some pieces of production design here and there. How did you decide when and how to suggest what had taken place?

It was definitely a part of the writing process. Knowing that I would be writing a script that would be very lean, it became quite easy to take a step back from it and look at the screenplay as a whole, and identify just on a rhythmic level where certain pieces of the poetry or information about the world needed to be positioned. I never wanted any particular scene to feel too dense with world information – I wanted it to be sparsely dotted throughout. Then I judiciously positioned certain things.

For instance, there are bodies that have been strung up on poles at a particular point in the movie, when Eric and Rey in their very unlikely relationship are now out on the road together, and I wanted to make it very clear that this is an incredibly dangerous world of brutal recrimination. Or later in the movie Rey is in the car singing a song, and that was a little piece of information about the world: there are still radio stations, and that level of infrastructure is still there. It also functions on a character and emotional level because it's there to remind the audience that Rey is just a kid who in different circumstances would be doing kid stuff.

That also has implications for Eric: in order for him to be dangerous he has to be outside of the social structure, which means a world that has at least a small amount of order.

Yes! That was why I felt it was so crucial that when his car is stolen at the start of the film the gang doesn't kill him. I remember one person asking me once,“Surely they would have shot him?”, and for me it was absolutely imperative that they not do that, because that's not what people do in the world today. That's just a movie thing. It was important to me that the gang would do what I would if I was in their weird, desperate situation. If I didn't have to kill him, I wouldn't kill him. I'd drag him off the road and run away. It was important that that was the case because when Eric starts killing people you know how transgressive his actions are, that he exists outside the civility of the world.

The Rover is out on the 15th August in UK cinemas. 

An Interview with Kwamie Liv

words Linnea Enstrom, photo Mafalda Silva

14th August 2014

Kwamie Liv’s songs are floating, transgressive; plucked like fruit from a rich internal sky. Experimenting with trip-hop, R&B and electronica, she moves freely between genres and what they represent, interlacing poetic abstraction with darkly tinged melodies. Her voice is subtly layered, held back.

The Danish-Zambian artist first emerged in February and sparked an instant flurry of blog posts after publishing the sombre track 5 AM on Soundcloud. Since then, she has released songs in steady succession while keeping a low profile, wanting the music to speak for itself. Kwamie Liv is now releasing her debut EP, Lost in the Girl, and we were eager to hear the stories behind it. Strangely, it all began with coffee, cigarettes and a shed.

How did you start making music?

The first song that I wrote came to me in a dream when I was eight. I woke up and sang it into this little recorder that I had. I realised I could create songs. When I was eleven I picked up a guitar and started playing. That became my real way into writing music with instruments. From an early age it was something that I used and enjoyed.

What was the dream about?

The dream is very abstract to me now, but the song was about coffee and cigarettes and a shed. When I look back at some of the songs I wrote as a kid I have no idea where they came from, but I think they’re just based on observing. Somehow you model everything up... Coffee, cigarettes and a shed.

That sounds quite grown up for an eight-year-old! Like an old man’s thing.

I guess it does! There really are no boundaries for what you can say or what perspectives you can adopt when it comes to music. It’s limitless.

5 AM was the first song you put out. What can you tell me about it?

It’s an introverted song in many ways. It takes place somewhere dizzy. You’re in the wave, in the movement, but somehow outside it. It’s about not quite belonging. Follow You is more on the edge, a mood. With Follow You, I imagine driving alone on an endless humid night. Nobody can find you and that’s a good thing. Suddenly, from nowhere, there’s a hand on your shoulder and you don’t know whether it’s your lover or your friend or your fear or your own shadow. It’s more fast-paced. You’re moving, running, free, but there’s also something right there. In 5 AM you’re in the middle of things, observing the world around you.

Like a dream.

Maybe. There might be a dreamlike quality, but for me there’s always a real connection. When I write the music, I’m very grounded in something real and from that platform I can jump into, for example, the voice of an old man who drinks alcohol and sleeps in a shed. It always ties back and is centred around something that’s very real.

And how about Comin Thru? It’s more upbeat and straightforward.

That song came about differently. I walked into the studio and (my producer) Baby Duka was like “hey listen to this”. The beat just blew my mind. There was something rebellious about it and writing it leaned itself up against a pulse that was already there. I was already inspired by a feeling that is the exact opposite of fear. That song is also young; believing that anything’s possible regardless of who you are or where you come from.

It comes back to the idea of boundary-lessness. I create on my own terms. It’s multifaceted, but it’s always you. We are many things.

Oh Comely and Wrap take the Creative Clinic to Wilderness

words Rosanna Durham

12th August 2014

Oh Comely travelled to Wilderness festival this year, where we ran our Creative Clinic with Polly and Chris from Wrap, Frances from Domestic Sluttery and Kirsty of Bestow. Here's a picture of our tent, early on the first morning before we'd set up:

The mission of the clinic is to provide a listening ear for people working on creative projects, aiming to inspire and encourage in a practical and personal way.

Thanks to Wilderness for having us, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Issue 21 Playlist: Gardens

words Linnea Enstrom

12th August 2014

This summer I gathered all my friends in the wild garden of the Swedish forest. We swam in the lake as the sun laid to rest behind the treetops, boiled our dishwater and picked buttercups for sprawling flower crowns. The playlist for Issue 21 is about light, adventure and everything green, and its bittersweet transiency.

Below is a close-up of one of Marion Barraud's patterns that accompanied this issue's playlist and recipe.

Lilting: An Interview with Director Hong Khaou

words Hiba Mohamed

11th August 2014

Lilting tells the story of a Chinese-Cambodian mother, Junn (Cheng Pei-pei), in mourning for the loss of her son. Her lonely life is interrupted by the efforts of his partner Richard (Ben Whishaw), who feels responsible for her. In spite of not having a common language, and Junn having previously believed that Richard was her son's “best friend”, the two form an unlikely bond as she tentatively explores a platonic relationship with fellow care-home resident Alan (Peter Bowles).

The film is set in contemporary London and influenced by director Hong Khaou’s experiences of growing up in an immigrant household. We caught up with Hong ahead of its release for a few words about the making of the film, and the flip side of communication.

How did you get into film-making and when did you decide to pursue it as a career?

I was born in Cambodia but I grew up in Vietnam, and came over here when I was eight. I got into film by doing a BTEC foundation. It wasn’t this profound calling, I just did it and it felt right.

What inspired you to write such an intimate tale about two people bound by their grief and cross-cultural restraints?

The film is not autobiographical but it’s very personal: we are an immigrant family and I am bilingual. My mum to this day still doesn’t speak English and she hasn’t assimilated really. I took that as a premise and I imagined how someone like that would cope if their only lifeline to the outside world was taken away. When you start stewing with these ideas they start to reverberate, and you touch upon issues of communication and intercultural and intergenerational gaps.

What is the driving force behind Richard's determination to get through to Junn despite her reluctance to be involved with him?

I think it was his love for Junn's son Kai. He was going through this grieving process and he felt something was unresolved. By visiting Junn he is drawn deeper into her circumstances.

Junn’s resistance to the translator Richard introduces suggests that in some ways she was using the language barrier with Alan as an escape. What was your reasoning for that?

We know communication should bridge cultural differences and bring about compromise but I think equally it highlights the differences in us. It means you can't ignore the strong contrasts and then there's conflict. I guess it was my way of showing two sides of that coin, which is why I wanted her relationship with Alan to struggle because of communication, but for her friendship with Richard to find a resolution because of language as well.

The flashback scenes seamlessly intertwine with the main timeline – can you explain your intentions behind that method?

Grieving for someone very close is incredibly addictive and seductive, and it can happen instantly, at any moment. I tried to find a cinematic language to convey that sense, hence the way the camera moves. It doesn’t cut away, and the flashback scenes appear and reappear at different times.

Lilting is your directorial debut but stars established actors like Ben Whishaw and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Cheng Pei-pei. How did you approach them to appear in the film?

We were really lucky with Ben – he read the script and liked it and was happy to do the project. Cheng was a bit more difficult because we didn’t know who represented her. I knew a film-maker in Singapore who knows a producer in Malaysia who knows her manager in Canada, and so we sent him the script and she read it and liked it.

Lilting is out in UK cinemas now.

Come Swap a Story at Green Man

words Linnea Enstrom

8th August 2014

Next weekend, Oh Comely will camp below a Welsh mountain range at Green Man festival. Neutral Milk Hotel is playing, which seems like a magical coincidence since we can't get enough of this song.  Of course, there's plenty of magic going on at the festival this year; that's sort of what they do. Aside from indulging in music (Beirut, Kurt Vile, First Aid Kit), we plan to visit the White Lies cinema tent, watch the green man burn and hike around Einstein's Garden.

​If you're lucky enough to have a ticket, come past our Story Swap stall in the Babbling Tongues area, near the Literature Stage. Between 10.00 and 14.00 from Thursday to Sunday we will decorate postcards with clippings from old mags, create festival zines and swap ballads for horror haikus. Write a secret for our story box and receive something enchanting (or crude) in return.

See you there!