A Taste of Honey – The Unfilmables at the BFI

Things not mentioned in this review: Cabaret Voltaire, Expanded Cinema, Jane Horrocks, Malcolm LeGrice, Live Coding, BFI cocktail lounge, eroticism.

As part of their Sonic Cinema strand, Friday 9th brought Wrangler, Tash Tung and Jessica and Mica Levi to Screen 1 of the BFI for The Unfilmables. As a concept, the premise of The Unfilmables is simple enough: what if someone made a version of those great classic unmade scripts? The introduction text references David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi, which surely would have been the greatest Star Wars of all time, along with the more well known unmade version of Dune from Alejandro Jodorowsky. Again, an unmade version that would have been infinitely better than any of the all too literal translations to screen that have been made so far (even Lynch’s feels as though it lost something, at least by the time it was in the editing room). So it was that Colm McAuliffe, Creative Producer, and Lisa Rook, Director of Live Cinema U.K. along with Tim Brown of CineCity Brighton brought us The Unfilmables: two films, two live musical scores.

THE COLOUR OF CHIPS © Francesca Levi 2017
THE COLOUR OF CHIPS © Francesca Levi 2017

Francesca Levi‘s particularly British version of Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates reinterprets the obscure biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova (King of Song) as a British classic in the vein of the Free Cinema movement of the 1950s (which included Lindsay Anderson amongst its practitioners). Francesca Levi’s film is a trip to Blackpool (on a National Express coach, according to Francesca’s introduction on the night). But this version is half nightmarish dive into repeated motifs of tarot readings and amusement arcade scenes mixed with window shots of passing landscapes. Its lo-fi production values ground the film in a cinéma-vérité reality that defies the shine and polish of many mobile phone videos that haunt our social media streams. This lowered production aesthetic sidesteps any contemporary faux nostalgia trips that might have been otherwise made by the use of contemporary mobile technology and Instagram filters.

All of this was shown to a live score by Francesca’s sister Mica, who has been carving out a name as the composer of some of the most unnerving and beatific soundtracks of recent years. Her work on Under the Skin and Jackie, proving her understanding of the complexities of filmic scoring that might not have always been an obvious departure for one third of the group Micachu and the Shapes. A departure from the familiar sounds of those two soundtracks for The Colour of Chips, Mica mixed an actor’s voice playing the role of fortuneteller with what may have been field recordings from the filming, with electronic fluctuations across a range of rhythms and beats. This combined with the Colour of Chips video to create a mad, sprawling exploration of colour and tradition, with one audience member claiming that they really wanted to visit Blackpool now. A vision of tourist boards across the U.K. hiring experimental filmmakers and electronica outfits seems to be just crazy enough to work, post-Brexit!

In the interval Creative Producer, Colm McAuliffe alerted the audience to the shortness of the break but that anyone who was a fan of stray electronic frequencies should stick around while Wrangler set up. He had us at stray, frankly.

London-based Tash Tung, who has worked on videos for Gazelle Twin, Hannah Peel and Wrangler presented her reading (‘interpretation’ seems to Hollywood reimagineering for The Unfilmables) of screenwriter Clair Noto’s unproduced sci-fi/horror film, The Tourist. Noto’s script was set in 80s Manhattan, following Grace Ripley, one of a small group of exiled aliens living on Earth. The script nearly came to production a few times, and you can find H.R. Giger’s concept art on the Internet, along with a lengthy essay about the film and Noto’s experiences. After flapping around in pre-production hell in a story that would make its own great movie, it finally settled into the dust of cinema legend, despite featuring aliens having sex in Manhattan nightclubs. How could this have been left unmade?

Tung’s version of the movie strips everything back down to pure abstracted narrative, with the text of the original script appearing in a stark black strip near the top of the screen. Even with Stephen Mallinder of Wrangler, reading the script, we’re given very few narrative clues to the structure of the film. What we do get is the flow of imagery that gives Tash Tung’s work its individual take on the Ballardian aesthetic (Her work on Gazelle Twin’s Kingdom Come, with Chris Turner, particularly brought that aspect of her work to the fore). Tung’s film is a sweaty, erotic dive into the untapped potential of the original story. Anyone who has ever found themselves alienated and out of place in a nightclub will already recognise the feeling of unease that the film brings to the fore. Meanwhile, the live visual mixing by Dan Conway, (taking to the stage, flanked by Wrangler on the other side), did nothing to ease the sense of dread that rises in the pit of the stomach while watching the film, as he ‘Brion Gysin-ed’ the film as it played.

After releasing two albums over the past four years, Wrangler have devoted this year to live soundtrack work. As well as supplying the music and script reading for The Tourist, they contribute the soundscape/soundtrack to Cotton Panic, later this year at the Manchester International Festival. The soundtrack for The Tourist references the heavy beats of a club night but with enough sonic overlaying to please even the hardiest electronica fan. My only criticism would be that Wrangler is a band that should never sit down to play their music.

The Unfilmables is the antidote to anyone who worries that too many terrible scripts are being made into multi-million dollar (and it is invariable dollars) blockbusters, while potential greats go unmade. But it’s a bold step to create these two films. There’s untapped potential in a script never going into production that can have more energy stored within it, like a coiled spring, cranking up unrealised expectation, than the fully fleshed out version we get presented with. To respond to those films, to hold a particularly British mirror to Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates, and to breath life into Clair Noto’s The Tourist, could have been awkward and uncomfortable to have sat through. As it is, these two films and the live music performances show that British experimental cinema is still a strong force of creativity and inspiration for younger filmmakers and musicians looking to forge a path beyond the narrow lanes of the multiplex.

Cotton Panic!


Written in the dust (Chris & Cosey + Wrangler at Sensoria fest)

Sensoria festival in Sheffield is “the UK’s festival of film and music” to cut and paste directly from their website. I’d not come across them before, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting. Although, sadly I only discovered this after the event. I’d come to Sheffield for the Carter Tutti plays Chris & Cosey and Wrangler gig. Shame on me, but I missed some great events and screenings.

The gig’s venue, the Picture House Ballroom, is a large, cavernous space, and former cinema originally opened in 1920. At the moment it’s in a state of ill-repair (I’m being kind) and looking to raise funding for it’s restoration. If you have a building with uncertain infrastructure, that’s dusty and fragile in parts, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you shouldn’t invite these two bands to play there.

But. It turns out that an ex-cinema is the perfect place for a gig. For a start no matter where you stand, the floor is angled so that you can still see the stage. On the downside (no puns, please) the bar is angled just enough so that even before you’ve ordered a drink, you feel pissed. Or maybe it was the champagne and wine I’d been on with friends before I got there?

Wrangler at Sensoria Sheffield 2014
Wrangler at Sensoria Sheffield 2014

I’m an ignoramus. I had no idea who Wrangler were and hadn’t thought I’d need to make an effort to get there before they went on. Luckily, I was there before they went on. They cranked up and immediately pulled me towards the stage and made demands on the ears and feet. With still no idea who they were, despite the signifiers/identifiers being there. This is a bit Cabaret Voltaire’ey, and that guy looks like he’s a bit Stephen Mallinder’ey. And these other two look familiar. Turns out that Wrangler are Phil Winter of TUNNG, Benge and of course, Mal of Cabaret Voltaire. Genius that I am, it wasn’t until they played CV’s Crackdown and Mal barked out, “Thanks for remembering.” That I realise who he/ they were. Like I said, I’m an idiot.

Wrangler hit deep, snapping beats that, standing two foot from the speaker as I was, hit the chest and on some tracks, try to push your bowels around and re-organise your innards. Luckily I did some bloke dancing and everything stayed in place.

 Carter Tutti plays Chris & Cosey image copyright @TomJones1875

Carter Tutti plays Chris & Cosey
image copyright @TomJones1875

Having been to see Chris & Cosey playing as Carter Tutti Void (CTV) a couple of weeks ago, I was really looking forward to comparing how the two different sounds would play out. Sometimes, a different band configuration just means musicians on different instruments, but the same sound plays through. Thankfully, this was never going to be the case with Chris & Cosey. Whereas CTV pull out more seemingly random electronic backdrops to their sound with improvisation and filtering of sounds to create a 3D sound, Carter Tutti plays Chris & Cosey tends (for many songs), to locate the music and beat behind Cosey’s voice and, even though heavily filtered, the emotional content feels its way through.

Carter Tutti plays Chris & Cosey are fun to watch! Chris, as any musician should, of course had his head down, playing out the beats and effects. Cosey sings and (shock horror to those who only know their Throbbing Gristle incarnation) dances and smiles and says thank you to the crowd while playing guitar and horn section. As anyone who has had any communication via email or Twitter with Chris & Cosey can tell you, they’re a long way from the Wreckers of Civilisation the British Government painted them as all those years ago. They’re lovely considerate and despite some drunken side stage shouts of “We want some Disciple in here” ( the fan even got the intonation right from that particular live album!) pay attention to the audience and engage with them (and myself, thanks Chris). Why mention this? Because all of the musicians playing tonight have had long careers, and yet still seem to bring something fresh and enjoyable to a live event.

The Picture House Ballroom looked great with washes of lights cast across the decaying, aged walls. If the architects and funders had any doubts about the building being able to stand the test of time and hard use, tonight’s gig has settled the foundations once and for all and probably shifted some last vestiges of dust from the cracks.