Monday, 26 May 2014

The Glang Show (live, Sheffield, and Edinburgh Fringe 2014)

This May, I went to a particularly unusual evening of comedy, The Glang Show, a sort of anti-gong-show staged by Sheffield comedy organisation AltComCab.  It was strikingly unlike any other entertainment I have witnessed, and since it is this week headed to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (every evening at Sportsters Bar), it seemed appropriate to write it up at last.

The Glang Show is an anti-competiton, in which stand-up comics take turns performing their usual sets, under the direction of a sort-of regimented heckling, an interactive element that constantly threatens to shipwreck the sets, but in actuality renders them wonderful.  At the start of the show, each member of the audience was given a Point of Information card (in actuality, pages torn out of David Hume’s 18th century tract ‘On Suicide’), and when we raised our POI cards we were empowered to interrupt the performing comic with questions, directions or comments to which they might respond.

Tom Little receives a typical Point of Information
‘Could you tell that joke again, but with a different punchline?’  We could ask the comedian to elaborate on their current theme, or request that they stop talking about topics that left us uncomfortable.  At one point I asked a performer to go for a minute without saying anything funny, which in retrospect may have encumbered their ability to do their job.

Fortunately we had a dextrous set of performers, who made good use of our disconcerting interruptions.  The duration of their time on stage was partly decided by a scene-stealing electronic Bingo Corner, and their sets were underscored, silent-movie style, by live keyboard music from the show’s producer Sean Morley — so the comedians’ wit, stamina and improvisational powers were really put to the test.

Host Dan Nicholas extols the virtue of the jam from the Glang Show's
'Jam Corner', where a local business provides jam-based prizes.
Somehow the format worked.  What should have been a mess turned out to be a disorientating, fantastically entertaining evening, which challenged the stand-ups to rely on their wits rather than their usual material.  The intimacy of the format made the performers seem more human and more charming than they might have been when delivering prepared sets, but allowed them to demonstrate a real flair of comic ability.  The run of the Glang show at Edinburgh promises a fresh array of stand-ups each night, making it an appealing way to savour new talent and find new favourites.

Since I was present in my capacity as a camcorder-for-hire, the whole show can be found here on Youtube (with a trailer embedded at the top of this page, to give you the general idea of the show), but you’d be better off heading up to see it live at the Fringe, 18.45-19.45 at Sportsters Bar on Market Street in Edinburgh.  If you do drop in, be sure to say hello to show-runner Sean Morley.  If you're a comedian, you may even find yourself on the bill.

P.S. There was a trophy, of sorts, for the greatest comedian in the world ever, but the rules governing its almost arbitrary allocation were arcane and terrible, in both meanings of the word.

P.P.S. ☆☆☆☆☆

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The BQE (2007)

I claimed, when wrapping up the blog in December, that I would return to write about any particularly extraordinary movies that crossed my path.  Reader, I have found such a motion picture:  Sufjan Stevens' 'The BQE', an experimental presentation about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, setting forty minutes of well-chosen motorway to an amazing musical score.

The film does this with with a great enthusiasm and pace.  It's presented as a triptych of images, giving us three shots of the road at once, in extreme wide-screen.  Sometimes it's the same image three times, offset by a second or two.  Sometimes the cameras give us three different shots around a theme.  Occasionally one image, mirrored back and forth.  And sometimes, for variety, we see the Hooper Heroes, a trio of hula-hoop artists, Botanica, Quantus and Electress, splendidly arrayed in old-fashioned futuristic costumes, the sort of thing normally only worn by Sufjan Stevens himself, or avant-garde roller-derbyists.  They suit the expressway and the film perfectly.

The Hooper Heroes.  Their moves aren't perfect,
nor quite graceful, but they share the road's wonky energy.
'The BQE' has a great deal in common with 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), a film which left me enthused and delighted.  Both are silent films without conventional narrative, characters or captions, and both present the audience intense bursts of very ordinary voyeurism, intercut with the occasional staged sequence to keep us alert - and both films are sold on the basis of their composer, rather than their director or content.  The DVD release of the Ukrainian film is labelled 'Michael Nyman's Man with a Movie Camera'; the release of 'The BQE' is sold as a soundtrack CD, with the film included as a bonus.  Indeed, the CD packaging was so intense, so colourful, exciting and wilfully illegible, that I didn't realise the film was included until I got the set home.

Of course, in the case of 'The BQE', the director and the composer are one and the same, but I suspect the movie's main audience will be fans of Sufjan Stevens, entranced by the eccentrically baroque electronica of 'The Age of Adz', or 'Silver and Gold', or the quieter Indie pop of his earlier records, and curious to see how he might point a camera and aim an orchestra.  The result is engrossing and exciting, and makes the Interstate look by turns ancient, mechanical, exciting and sad.  The film isn't too long, and the images are well-chosen and artfully woven together.

The same shot, thrice, in high speed
This isn't just shot after shot of car after car, and the music is certainly interesting enough to support the images, moving from its opening 'Introductory Fanfare' to the grand finale, 'The Emperor of Centrifuge', with each track living up to the promise of its name.  I love the stillness of 'Dream Sequence in Subi Circumnavigation', and the way it grows into crashing Gershwinesque Americana.  I keep on turing my ear to the orchestral accelerando of 'Movement III: Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise' which bursts so satisfyingly into the electronica 'Traffic Shock'.  I enjoyed these first as music tracks, and felt rewarded when I finally saw them with pictures attached.  This is a very pleasing record and film, and I now care far more about this far-away road than feels reasonable.

P.S. IMDB lists the film as coming out in 2009, as that's when the DVD came out, as part-and-parcel of the soundtrack release. However, it was first screened in 2007, with live accompaniment, so that's the date I've accorded it here.

P.P.S. This isn't the only motorway-based film I've seen this May.  I also went to the cinema to watch 'Locke' (2014), an excellent piece of drama about a man in his car.  I've never seen a film like it, and I very nearly wrote it up for you, but didn't - except in this paragraph, which conveys all the salient points.  Why not go and watch it?

The BQE soundtrack and film come together, and even if you hate them both the packaging is astounding.