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Sponsored Post: Le Méridien Éclair Diaries

words Tamara Vos

26th February 2015

Pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini is on a mission: to make eight signature éclairs that reflect the local ingredients of Le Meridien hotels around the world. 

In order to do this, he's visited farmer's markets, coffee shops, distilleries and bakeries around the world and has spoken to chefs from each region, drawing from them the key ingredients that will make each éclair unique to the area. 

In the video below, we see him gathering inspiration throughout the Cote d'Azur, resulting in a sumptuous herbs de provence eclair filled with lemon verbena cream, coated in an orange blossom, vanilla and jasmine glaze and topped with candied mandarins and crystalised flowers: a wonderful amalgamation of the flavours native to the area. 

To make the Cote d'Azure eclair for yourself, take a look here for the recipe, and to follow Johnny Iuzzini's eclair journey, follow the updates on the Le Meridien Eclair website. 

The Duke of Burgundy: An Interview with Peter Strickland

words Jason Ward

20th February 2015

The Duke of Burgundy operates within its own discrete, sumptuous universe: an unspecific European state seemingly without men, populated by women whose interests are limited to sadomasochism and the study of butterflies.

A complex erotic drama influenced by 1970s sexploitation cinema, Peter Strickland's third feature is ostensibly about the sexual relationship between Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), but through deliberate repetition reveals itself to be a tender and funny look at the everyday struggles of making a relationship work. Peter sat down with us ahead of the film's release to talk about dodgy bookshops and imaginary perfumes.

Outside of the S&M window dressing, the central relationship in The Duke of Burgundy is fairly universal. What was the value of using one thing to bring out the other?

It's something I really enjoy: through something that is unrecognisable for many people in the audience, you perhaps see something familiar. I'm assuming the film's a spectacle and slightly sensational for a lot of people, but by normalising it you get into the meat of the story, which is the characters' motivation within their dynamic. For me, the film is about consent and how that veers into compromise and eventually coercion. Everyone likes to think they don't coerce their partner. Compromise is an issue within every element of a relationship, not just the sexual parts – if a couple decides to start a family, one person will possibly have to compromise on a job they might love. I'm not an agony aunt, but you can apply the film beyond the bedroom. 

What appealed to you about taking a genre like sexploitation that's generally viewed in low-standing and repurposing it?

I'm a bit of dumpster diver. I like going through things that people overlook and disregard, and I'm very aware that this genre is one of the few in cinema that's never really been propped up or defended. Grindhouse had a light shone on it, and Italian giallo horror for sure, but not sexploitation. Anything to do with sex is just seen as a bit embarrassing. Even to to get a hold of these films you used to have to go into dirty bookshops on Charring Cross Road. There are some very bad ones of course, with no redeeming qualities, but there are also ones which are brilliant all the way through. I remember a film I saw at the Scala Cinema 24 years ago called Mano Destra, by Cleo Übelmann. It's this bizarre black and white film, like Chris Marker doing a bondage film, almost a still life. So I'm not trying to look down on them. I think in general these films embodied a fantasy, like the stern prison warden and the poor prisoner being sexually humiliated and so on. What propelled me was the sleazier elements, not that female lovers are sleazy, but the intention was sleazy because it was made for a male heterosexual audience. The idea was to take some of the fantastical imagery and puncture it, or turn it inside out. 

Your previous film Berberian Sound Studio was a film ostensibly about horror and violence that didn't have either of those things, and this is a film ostensibly about a sexual relationship that doesn't show the actual sexual component of it. Why did you choose to imply rather than depict?

I toyed with showing sex. The script was quite explicit, but I didn't want to compete with other things. I knew Nymphomaniac was getting made at the time, and there was Blue is the Warmest Colour. Even if you don't want to, it can end up as this kind of sexual one-upmanship. I thought the best approach was to just hold back. I was also very aware of being a man, and thought it was important to not be too directional with the way the camera was looking. I was really conscious of the pitfalls of that. If I'd made the film with two men I probably would have done it differently, and it would have been quite graphic. Ultimately I chose two women because that's the genre staple.

The setting and era of the film is purposefully vague. What was your thinking behind that? It could be the 1970s, it could be now... 

It could be the future! Sometimes it's hard to say why you do things. I liked the idea of this middle Europe. Practically it makes sense when you have actors with different accents, so the mix doesn't feel too disruptive. The first draft had men, the characters had jobs, they lived in the city. I thought let's actually make this kind of preposterous: a world where they have a house no-one can afford, and there are no men, and everyone is doing the same activity. It's not realistic at all. By that, perhaps, you focus on the dynamics of the relationship. For me the fact that there are no men makes it not a classic lesbian story because there is no other gender to have a counterpoint. There's no other sexuality to have a counterpoint, because there aren't even heterosexual women. I didn't want to make it about that, because then you get into the idea of social acceptance, rather than the things I was interested in.

Listed among the opening credits is “Perfume by Je Suis Gizella”. Did you actually use perfume on set?

That perfume didn't exist. It does now. We didn't know we'd have such a strong reaction so we've actually produced a limited edition perfume. I stole the idea from an Audrey Hepburn film, Paris When It Sizzles, which lists her perfume as being by Givenchy. Nobody's seen that film so I thought I could get away with it. My job is to get the audience in the world of the film as quickly as possible. Credits are not just functional, informational space – you can play with them to create mood, and perfume makes you think this is a heady, sensual, decadent world.

The Duke of Burgundy is out now.

Oh Comely Bargain Bundle: 3 Issues for £10!

words Tamara Vos

18th February 2015

Rejoice: spring is almost upon us! Here in the Oh Comely office, we're celebrating the delicious anticipation with a spring-clean sale.

Behold the Bargain Bundle: three back issues - which usually cost £6 each - for just £10! That's three beautiful issues of Oh Comely for the price of a cinema ticket, to give out to friends, read to your cat or keep juicily for yourself. 

Head to the shop to grab yourself a steal, but be quick: the offer expires at the end of February. 

Some Bargain Bundle notes: 

- Postage & Packaging is included if you live in the UK, but there will be an extra charge if you live internationally. 

- The issues that go into the bundles will be picked at random - we're afraid you don't get a choice of which issues you receive, and cannot accept requests. 

- We can't deliver the contents of one bundle to different addresses (eg. two issues to you and one to your mum). 

 Instagram Reader Photos from top: coldknees, bonjourjohannatagada, howlovelyhire.

An Interview with Jose Gonzalez

words Linnea Enstrom, photo Charlotte Soderberg

17th February 2015

The word ‘vestige’ has two meanings. There’s the biological term of an organ or organism which through time has lost its function, and there's the cultural definition, referring to a remnant of something that is disappearing or no longer exists. The word loosely ties together the songs on José González’s new record Vestiges and Claws, the Swedish singer/songwriter’s first solo album in seven years, on which he holds on to something almost forgotten.

The album envisions a brighter future than we’re normally faced with, of people coming together “for a common cause” and “shaping the winds”. The large-scale perspective, carried high by optimism and a core belief in the slow but steady progress of human thought, is brought into focus by José’s minimalistic musical style. The guitar is in the foreground, entwined with soft vocals and percussion, often just a steady background hand clap. But in all its artistic subtlety, the songs carry moments of clear political ambition. José’s intention, which he described to me in the corner of a Gothenburg café one slow winter day between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, is to create a universal sound that has the potential to appeal to anyone, regardless of your ideology or cultural identity. The message travels far back through history, and into the future. It's the faintly familiar sound of acceptance and hope.

Since his last album, In Our Nature, José has played with the band Junip and worked on the soundtrack for Ben Stiller’s film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But he has also spent a lot of time in his kitchen, once again getting into the routine of solo songwriting.

Tell me about your simple musical style.

I have used this type of expression since Veneer, my first album. I wrote the lyrics in a very rushed way and I didn’t know what to write about, so I usually ended up with very few words. I also enjoyed the repetitiveness of club music and techno - the rhythm and repetition and the mantra-like type of singing. The first song, With the Ink of a Ghost, was my big ambition. I wrote it for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but Ben Stiller thought it was too moody, so I kept it for myself. I noticed the song was very long. I needed four verses, which meant a lot of lyrics. That was a new way of writing for me. More classical and less ascetic, less simple. But in general I still want to grab the essence of a poem, song or sound.

What do you think the essence of this album is?

The essence of each song is different, but it’s an optimistic view of humanity. We have our luggage, but we also have our ideas and tools to help ourselves.

Every song has a different theme, but there are some common ideas. Let It Carry You and Open Book try to find ways to use art, poems and culture to bring us forward on a more personal level. The lyrics are a little naive. It’s about taking a break from everyday routines and making sure you do something that’s valuable in the long run once in a while. It’s using a working class type of character.

It’s interesting how you, in terms of content, have made quite an epic album exploring humanity, yet your sound remains minimal and your vocals are soft.

I want to make something that is easy to grasp. The lyrics are usually pretty short and simple and I don’t use difficult words. I want the music to be something you can listen to and enjoy whatever your age, ideology or culture.

There’s been a while since your last album, but you’ve also been working with the band Junip. What’s it like doing your own solo stuff again?

I have been thinking about this album for a long time, but I hadn’t set aside time to work on it properly, so it was great to make time, sit down with all the demos I’ve been gathering since 2007 and listen through and find the interesting ones to build upon. It meant I wasn’t touring. At home, I felt more free and had a schedule, like normal office hours.  It was a conscious effort of mine to try to have a life aside from my artistic life. It hasn’t been easy sometimes when I’ve been touring, doing a show every night and interviews during the day. I have been very… what do you call it? Full of myself. In a negative way. So it has been good. I’ve been using my kitchen as a studio and office, where I’ve set up everything. Then I sit down with a coffee and get going.

Does it get lonely at all?

Sometimes, but usually not. I enjoy my loneliness because I choose it myself. The big difference for me, compared to working with Junip for example, has been having complete control over the artistic side. I can use my own ideas to create a full thing. I don’t need to explain to anyone else what I’m thinking about. The times it has been hard is when I get stuck on the lyrics or with the mixing. I’ve had those moments. Loneliness is one way to put it, but it’s more in terms of needing help. Then I have to call my studio friends.

Are there certain things you do when you lack inspiration?

I haven’t waited for the inspiration to come this time around, which has meant I’ve been working with the lyrics in a more structured way. The melody is usually not a big problem for me. It’s the lyrics that I get stuck on. Yukimi Nagano [frontwoman of Little Dragon] showed me some tricks when we were together. She used to just write down words she liked on a piece of paper, while having the melody on loop. Another one is to have three or four recordings with a guitar melody and pretend lyrics, like spontaneous vocalising and fake words. Then I listen to them while walking. Suddenly you discover sounds that are similar to a certain word you can use.

What can you tell me about Every Age?

It was a very simple demo, no variation. I had the idea that the song was a sacral song. The ambition was that I wanted it to be felt by anyone, anywhere, at any time. I wrote the lyrics thinking of songs like Imagine and how it would be good to have a song that people could sing at charity events. The video was a happy coincidence. Simon Morris, who’s a tech artist, sent up a balloon with cameras on it. In a way, it’s pretty simple. What becomes important when you zoom out? Is it still about drawing lines between countries? Or do you focus on other issues? The video highlights the theme of the song.

Vestiges and Claws is out today.

Lift-Off Film Festival: An Interview with Co-Founder James Bradley

words Jason Ward

16th February 2015

Staged throughout the year in London, Tokyo, Liverpool, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, the not-for-profit Lift-Off International Film Festivals are unique in the film festival calendar in that they're free for audiences to attend and focus on supporting emerging film-makers. Ahead of their upcoming Liverpool festival, taking place from 12-14th March, we spoke to Lift-Off's co-founder James Bradley about the initiative.

What's the objective behind Lift Off?

Life Off is trying to be a distribution network for independent cinema – for shorts, features, documentaries, animations, all different types of films from across the spectrum of creative film-making. We strive towards giving film-makers the best possible exposure and opportunity in front of live audiences in really decent and exciting venues around the world.

Is there a regional difference between the sorts of films that are submitted to each festival?

They're each programmed with a loose sense of theme. We've noticed that it happens naturally: year after year and city after city film-makers seem to stick to particular ideas. I think that's partially down to the collective consciousness of a place but also that people are observing the same things in culture at that moment in time.

How do film-makers submit to the festival and how do you choose what to show?

We invite film-makers to submit via our website. We take a nominal fee that increases as the submission deadline get closer. What we do in return for that is we give them partnership marketing, exclusive content, filmmaking tutorials and feedback. The films then go through a three-stage judging procedure that starts with myself and my co-founder, goes on to a group of industry professionals, and from that we programme a mixture of local film-makers and international films. It's a broad range that gives a good idea of what independent grassroots film-makers are actually producing right now.

In what way does Lift-Off's independent focus affect its programming criteria?

Our ethos is very much catered towards the artistic merits of the work, to put talent ahead of technology. Especially at this level, in the independent film world there's a snobbery about what camera equipment you're using, or what editing software. These unnecessary expenditures get in the way of film-making. I feel the priority should be the cast and crew – instead of renting an expensive camera you could pay three actors a decent day rate to do your work, and the respect for their professionalism would add a lot more than what you would get from a Red Epic or an Arri Alexa

What sort of relationship does each festival have with its respective city?

We work closely with each city individually. Liverpool especially has a really great independent atmosphere. For the past few years we've used venues that are associated with the cultural community, and have worked with film clubs and educational institutions like Liverpool Hope University and the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. We invite as many people as possible to come with their groups and chat to us and get involved.

The Liverpool Lift-Off Film Festival runs from 12th to 14th March. Film-makers can still apply at this link, and Oh Comely readers can use the submission code LiverpoolIndie for a 25% discount. The final deadline for submissions is 20th February.

Ming of Harlem: An Interview With Director Phillip Warnell

words Jason Ward

13th February 2015

This February, Tate Modern is launching a strand of monthly artists' film premieres called Artist Cinema, starting with the U.K. premiere of Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air. Devised by artist, film-maker, and academic Phillip Warnell, Ming of Harlem looks at a 2003 incident in which a man called Antoine Yates was arrested for keeping a 425lb Bengal tiger and a seven-foot alligator for several years in his apartment in Harlem. As well as taking Antoine back to his former neighbourhood and showing news footage of his dramatic arrest, the film depicts an imagined version of his apartment built within a tiger enclosure at the Isle of Wight Zoo, with the footage set to a poem by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy.

Ahead of its upcoming Tate screening, Phillip spoke with us about his work on the film.

How did you become interested in the story of Antoine Yates?

It goes back quite a way. I saw it on the news in 2003, and it was just a very extraordinary thing to witness: a policeman rappelling down the side of a building being attacked by a tiger that's inside. It all seemed so improbable that it just stayed in my mind, but at the time there was no way I could do anything with it. I like thinking beyond the news story: about former news, forgotten news. Ten years later I realised that it was possible to make approaches to people like Antoine.

What was he like in person?

People who have unexpectedly been part of the news, they're often haunted by the moment at which their story became public. In Antoine's case, there was outcry and public disbelief. Even the mayor of New York commented on it. Meeting him a decade after that, his recollection was still caught up in when it all happened, in an almost post-traumatic way.

Was there any resistance on his part to talk about it, or was he quite willing to be the subject of your film?

To his credit he was only interested in participating in something that was non-commercial, if I can put it that way. I think he would have been much more reluctant if the film were a commercially-driven proposition, but I told him that it was an artists' project. I wasn't making something on behalf of someone, and he was very open to the idea because of that.

Where's the boundary between an artists' film and a documentary? You use archival footage to provide exposition and you follow Antoine around, but then the heart of the film is a long sequence showing a tiger move around a specially-built flat at a zoo.

I don't think there's much to distinguish an artist's film from a documentary, but I don't worry about those definitions. I try to avoid thinking in terms of genre. Perhaps if one were looking for something that distinguished one from the other it might be that a documentary would be looking at reconstruction whereas this film slips into another domain, so it's not a replica of the flat. It bears no resemblance whatsoever apart from one window. The rest of the flat I avoided becoming knowledgeable about. I wanted to imagine it, which drew out something that has very little to do with documentary.

Did that make you feel like you had a free hand to let Antoine speak on camera, instead of feeling an impulse to challenge him on his point of view or what he did?

Well, my view is that it's not the role of a documentarian to simply challenge anyway. Sometimes in the presumption of challenging someone we simply get the perspective of the film-maker, so it's not that I was avoiding challenging him, but rather that it would have been problematic in the first instance. I'm very interested in ambiguity and things that you can't prove, things that are forever unknown. Unverifiable things. When someone says they did something and you can't disprove it, there's a wonder to that. Actually it's something we all do in our own ways. When we look back we emphasise things and exercise preference. I love that we do that.

The film includes a poem by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. How did that collaboration come about?

We've worked on several projects together. It's our second film in terms of his involvement, but we've also collaborated on texts and some photo works. I've always been fascinated by Jean-Luc's writing. It exists in the context of the reconfiguration of his own body. He's a heart transplant recipient, and that has affected and contextualised his work. For this film I set him the challenge to write a poem about the bringing together of these rather at-odds species.

Had he seen any of the footage you'd shot?

No, he just knew the concept. If you show someone too much they can start illustrating it instead. I told him about the living circumstances of Antoine and the animals. I didn't want him to write relative to the material, but relative to the idea of dangerous predators in limited space.

Introducing Issue 24's Guest Illustrator: Harriet Lee Merrion

words Tamara Vos

11th February 2015

We're very excited to share that from now on, every issue of Oh Comely will feature a guest illustrator. For this issue, Bristol-based Harriet Lee-Merrion took the reigns; her work graces the pages of Issue 24, which is out now

Harriet's work is controlled, dreamy and metaphorical, featuring moments from inner life and human consciousness. Inspired by the issue's theme of Lost & Found, she produced this wonderful original drawing depicting species that have become extinct in Britain, as well as the illustrated bust below to go alongside our writers' piece on happiness. 

Lost: Lycaena dispar butterfly, Clytra laeviuscula beetle, Cystopteris Alpina, Arnoseris minima. 

Here's a short extract of editor Rosanna Durham's conversation with Harriet: 

How do you describe your illustration work?

My work is minimal and I use limited colour palettes. Really, I just use a very fine architect’s pen and ink. I make images out of things that aren’t tangible. I try to come up with visual metaphors that don’t illustrate the subject directly but still let feelings through.

Are there any artists who you consider to have been an influence on your work?

Ukiyo-e prints from the Japanese Edo Period, which lasted from the 17th til the 19th century. There’s a beautiful, floating viewpoint in that work and that comes into my illustration quite a lot. It’s an isometric perspective where you feel like you’re looking down on the image. I also like Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli‘s work, and Frida Kahlo too.

Your pared-down and minimal style makes your illustration distinct. What led you to that aesthetic?

I went away to Finland in my second year of studying illustration at Falmouth. It was purely a fine arts university with just sculpture, printmaking and painting—the main pillars of fine art, and no graphic design or illustration. There I specialised entirely in printmaking and spent half a year just doing etchings. Now I work in linear design and with not much colour, so that’s probably how I got there.

Issue 24 is out now - you can buy it here or subscribe here


An Interview with Charity Wakefield

words Liz Seabrook

21st January 2015

An air of familiarity surrounds Charity Wakefield. A seasoned pro in the period drama game, Charity has appeared in everything from Austin adaptations to big Hollywood affairs. Her next project to air, Wolf Hall – an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Hilary Mantel – began on Wednesday night on BBC2.

We caught up with Charity to talk about costumes and her second love: vintage clothing.

Tell us about your role in Wolf Hall. 

I play Mary Boleyn – Anne Boleyn's sister – who was key to Anne's success really. The Boleyn family was ambitious: at fifteen Mary was sent to France as part of the English court. Inspite of being in France with the King's wife, she quickly became the King's mistress. When the King died, Mary went back to England and even though she then found her own husband, she became mistress to Henry VIII. When her sister Anne came to court, Mary was put out of favour. That's when Wolf Hall starts. It was helpful to Anne's progress that Mary was intimate with the King already, because she was able to teach Anne various things, but as Anne gets nearer to the King she pushes her sister further away.

At this point in the story, she's in a precarious position. She's lost her husband and she doesn't have a position at court; all of her favour lies in the hands of the King and Queen.

Playing the gentry during the time of Henry VIII must mean that you got to wear some amazing costumes!

We had swathes of classes about etiquette- it was like going to finishing school! We had to learn how to bow which is nigh on impossible when you're wearing a corset. The skirts are so heavy that you have to walk very slowly and at a slight incline so that they don't swing and reveal your ankles, or anything else. They didn't wear any knickers at all because it was considered unseemly. You'd only wear knickers if you were trying to be provocative.

What's it like wearing a corset?

In this period, the corsets were sewn into the dresses, which was difficult. It was such a big job to get the hair and make up done you could never take it off, so we were in our dresses from about 6am until sometimes 8pm, which is tiring. You wouldn't think that your clothes could make you tired, but they do. 

When you’re not filming you run a vintage shop – Charlie Foxtrot – with a friend, how did that come about?

The shop started with a Scrabble club with three of my girlfriends. By virtue of it being four girls meeting regularly, we'd now and again bring clothes to swap with each other. My friend Frances and I found that we had lots of random but lovely vintage pieces. After a while we decided that we shouldn't really be giving them away so we did our first pop up sale in a lovely pub called the Ivydale in South-East London. We sat in our vintage clothes as if we were in a Wes Anderson film. After about five years of doing market stalls and pop ups it's lovely to finally have our own space.

It’s great to have a business; as an actor your career can feel quite random because you're never in control, and you're often not there at the beginning of the process which I would like to have been. When I'm working, the costume is the point where everything comes together. You do your audition, you get the job, you go for the meetings and then you get your costumes. It's that moment you looking in the mirror when everything suddenly clicks.

You can watch Wolf Hall at 9pm on Wednesdays on BBC2, and catch up online.

Photography: Liz Seabrook
Styling: Josie Harris
Make up: Andriani Vasiliou @ Stella Creative Artists
Hair: Johnnie Biles @ Stella Creative Artists