All posts by jonsmalldon

At the Match: Hastings United v Chichester City

Unite union poster supporting Labour
No endorsement from me but Unite were canvassing on behalf of Labour at the match.

There’s an election on. The local foodbank reported that last month it distributed over 10,000 crisis meal kits. In a town of 90,000 people. The numbers referred to it are going up. The pier’s been sold to a divisive character, the roads are full of holes, the trains are going nowhere, and the town keeps losing shops and business. And so we turn our lonely eyes to football and, thank god, Hastings are top of the table.

That table is the Isthmian League South East Division and only one team goes up automatically. Last season, over a thousand people, me included, saw Hastings lose to Ashford in the play off semi final. Turns out we needn’t have bothered – neither team could actually be promoted. History can’t repeat as that glitch has apparently been fixed. So Hastings are in the automatic spot just over a third of the way into the season and 600 were at the Pilot Field today to watch them ease past Chichester City.

Chichester City were the beneficiaries of Bury’s demise, obtaining  a bye to the FA Cup second round as a result where, last week, they went down to Tranmere. They played today like they were a bit hungover. Hastings’ possession football can be both a bit dull for spectators at times and very wearing for their opponents. They’re getting better at it too, not least because when you have Davide Rodari at the front there’s a chance that a couple of quick passes can turn into a goal.

It was 4-0 at half time and I’m not entirely sure that Chichester even had a half a shot. Hastings had plenty. Rodari got two, Sam Adams one, and my favourite was a run into the box resulting in a shot that went in off the woodwork from Ajakaiye.

Second halves when the match is over are often a bit of an anti climax and so it was today. The mood of many not helped by the power cut that took out both the burger bar and the lights in the loos. “I’ve had to wee in the dark, that’s not fun”, I had heard one woman say, whilst a group of teenagers looked bereft that cheesy chips would have to wait for another day. The personal impact on me was that I couldn’t get a half time Bovril. I suspect the personal impact on Chichester was that they had a cup thrown at them.

Because they were a bit better. And were rewarded with a goal from a smart move … which was almost immediately cancelled out by a Hastings converting a stonewall penalty. No VAR down here, obviously, but it looked pretty clear from any angle. And so, at 5-1, ten minutes into the second half, the scoring and almost anything of value in the game was done.

Chichester will have better days. They have a fair few games ot make up and it looks like respectable mid table awaits. Hastings are three points clear at the top with a game in hand over the second placed side. The season is long and, in this most marginal of seats, no one claims anything before all the counting is done.

On Radio 3: Dance Till You Bleed

Image from the BBC

Hans Christian Andersen wrote somewhere in the region of 3,500 works. Radio 3, with Toby Jones playing Andersen as a narrator linking some of the motifs back to his own life, adapted five of them for this Drama on 3 production, itself an omnibus of some fifteen-minute takes that have filled the Essay slot. I’d be quite happy to return again for some more, after all, they’ve another approximately 3,495 stories to choose from.

Andersen is, of course, best known for his fairy tales. Those deceptively simple fables drawn from folklore or personal experience whose impact comes from the directness of their storytelling. This radio production (or radio productions if you heard them over five nights) took some of the most famous ones – The Ice Maiden, The Red Shoes – but also some ones that I didn’t know quite so well like Anne Lisbeth – and drew from them sparks of autobiography and some very real bite.

Lucy Catherine, who also brought Gudrun’s Saga with its voices lost in the wind and world where magic and reality entwine to the radio, created some compelling adaptations and, almost predictably, Toby Jones was utterly compelling as Andersen. The soundscape was itself like a fairy-tale: simple, direct, occasionally mysterious, and always effective.

There’s a lot to criticise about the often far-too-chummy world of radio drama and comedy. But when it gets it right, it really is priceless. And Dance Till You Bleed got it right. Let’s have more of this quality again.

On Netflix: Ad Vitam

“Who wants to live forever?” So warbled Freddie Mercury as sad Macleod buried his love Heather in the 1986 ‘classic’ Highlander. One for the teenagers, there. But fear not because Ad Vitam is all about challenging the younger people. Minors in this world means anyone aged under 30 because at that age you can undergo regeneration therapy and, it seems, live beautifully, if a little lethargically, forever. It’d all be fine if these young people, who are now somewhat surplus, didn’t keep killing themselves provocatively.

Ad Vitam, rightly, comes with a proper trigger warning about suicide and self-harm. Avoid if this is a problem because it’s the core of the narrative. Cop Darius (Yvan Attal) is the tired old bugger, who looks youngish, who must trudge around trying to work out what’s going on with the young people he simply does not understand and who have no interest in the adult world that awaits. He is aided by Christa (Garance Marillier), who was involved in an earlier series of suicides, and together, with varying degrees of trust they attempt to piece everything together.

There’s a lot that Ad Vitam does well. The world created rings true. People have to be retrained because otherwise they would become stale in their jobs. Darius will soon no longer be a cop, his partner used to work in the law but no longer does. The disdain felt by the regenerated for those too young or those who cannot (or choose not to) regenerate is well played. I liked the obvious hypocrisy of the campaign to get people to stop having children. The performances, especially from our front two, are excellent. Attal is possibly not quite gnarled enough but then he does need to look youthfully regenerated; Marillier who, at least, is playing broadly her age, conveys well the pent up frustration and bewildered rage of a betrayed generation.

And yet, for all it’s clever recurring jellyfish motifs, Ad Vitam does not quite hit the level of greatness. It’s damn good, and worth watching, but it never quite gets you in the gut and nor are any of its big reveals big enough or shocking enough. It’s clever, it’s well-done, and it would make a terrific “But who are we?” novel, but it lacks the soul that would give it that impact on screen.

For all that though, if there’s a second series, I will be watching.

Film Review: I Lost My Body

A hand wanders around a terrifying city, dodging train wheels and rodents, hiding in the shadows, and struggling to find its way somewhere, but each touch has the potential to bring out a tender memory, of a life before, of connections and love, and the things that make life as confusing a mess as the tangled city the limb is crossing. This is I Lost My Body. It’s animated, it’s beautiful and it is very, very French.

One of those films that Netflix gives a limited release to in the cinema before locking it onto its platform, I Lost My Body is, to be shockingly pretentious for a moment, what racist composer and musical demigod Richard Wagner might have called a gesamtkunstwerk. It makes full use of every artistic form available to it to create an impact. The animation is panicky and raw when it needs to be, tender and monochrome at times, and soft and autumnal when thoughts overtake words. All without being obvious that it’s done so. Similarly, the soundtrack, by French multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy, is integral to the mood and impact. At times it reminded me of Vangelis and Blade Runner, at other times, yes, it was Wagner and Parsifal. And, like a radio play, the soundscape of the city, of nature, of possible violence, and the silence that follows, is central.

It is something of a shock to realise that this is writer/director Jérémy Clapin’s first full length film, such is its confidence. What could be an overly complex, or at least ridiculous, idea, is handled with ease. I Lost My Body may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is very much mine and it is highly recommended.

At the Match: Eastbourne Town Women v Lewes Women Development

A cross is caught by the Eastbourne Town Women goalkeeper
Another Lewes attack … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, All rights reserved

Up for the Cup, the Sussex Cup, and so to the Saffrons for soccer on this women’s football weekend. On the radio as we drove back to Hastings there was live commentary of Spurs v Arsenal in the WSL. Nudging 40,000 were there and I’m sure they saw a decent game. The more select number who headed to the yellow section of Eastbourne and then found the open gate were treated to a compelling cup tie between two well-matched sides whose result was in doubt right up until the final moments.

After six games, Eastbourne are bottom of their division, which, given their performance level seems to be a bit of a surprise. Not quite sure how Lewes Development are doing but every score I can see on their twitter feed seems to be either very close or a win to the red and blacks. They’re doing fine, let’s assume.

What we got was a very even contest although in terms of clear chances, Lewes could argue they should have been well ahead. During the course of the game, in addition to their two goals, they also struck the woodwork three or four times, and forced the Town ‘keeper into action on numerous occasions. At the other end, the Lewes goalie was called on far less often but was decisive every time. Possession and territory seemed to be even but two goals at either end of the second half – Skye Bacon and the bemasked Chloe Winchester the scorers – split the sides.

Lewes now get to travel to Chichester City in the semi final in January; Town will look to turn a positive performance into a positive result when they entertain Denham in the league next weekend.

I brought along the camera. With apologies, as ever, for the quality, they are here.

Film Review: The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch

The original title, and the title of the source novel, on which this Swiss film is based might give a bit too much away: Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into the Arms of Shiska. Where, shiska, for those of us on a non-Jewish persuasion means woman of a non-Jewish persuasion. So, it’s a film about a young man from a devout Jewish family who starts to think that maybe, rather than be lined up via numerous shidduchs (here translated as a meeting to determine an arranged marriage rather than the marriage itself) with girls who, like him, are dutifully following a religious code, he might prefer to stare at the toches (work it out) of the rather attractive young woman with whom he has shared a moment in a lecture and who is now riding in front of him as they go for a drink.

That young woman is Laura, played by Noémie Schmidt, and it is an initially chaste fascination with her and what she represents, that begins young Wolkenbruch’s (Joel Basman) journey. If that sounds a bit “well the women are only there to move the plot along for our hero” then be reassured that every character aside from Wolkenbruch is only there to move the plot along for our hero. So it’s just as well that the snapshot scenes, swift plot and rotating band of exaggerated background characters works so well.

This film is properly funny in parts. I obviously can’t vouch for how on-the-nose its depiction of Jewish life in Zurich is and I’m not entirely sure that yoga practicing Jews in Israel are like *that* at all but it does not remotely matter. It’s like Bill Forsyth has rocked up and decided to do a contemporary take in Switzerland straight after wrapping Local Hero. Everyone is fundamentally decent even they are acting in direct opposition to each other.

Plus, and I can’t stress how important this is, it is over and done in around 90 minutes. No ponderous digressions, no scenes that you can’t work out why they’re there. Just brisk, energetic storytelling. You’ll even learn a bit of Yiddish.

At Hastings Contemporary: Victor Willing – Visions

Victor Willing self portrait
Self portrait by Victor Willing

There is a self-portrait in this exhibition. Painted in 1987, the artist, Victor Willing, was already severely restricted by multiple sclerosis and knew that he was dying. The face appears out of a light blue background, the eyes mirror that colour. There is a minimum of detailing. What we see is a man confronting his end in the midst of a painful struggle. A man who, although not well known right now was, in his lifetime, the more famous of the husband and wife team he formed with Paula Rego. But a man who, nevertheless, in spite of his artistic triumphs, still looks towards death with the anxious look of someone who feels they’ve been tricked somehow. Is this all life is?

What an exhibition this is. From the giant ‘vision’ paintings that dominate the main downstairs exhibition space to the scratchy head portraits painted when his hands could barely move, Willing stands tall as an artist whose career, life, thoughts and words we all should know more. His final ever picture is here. Une Autre Femme is enigmatic, beautiful and devastating. Simple, almost child-like strokes, but held together in such a way that you can see the force of will and effort required. And what emerges is as thoughtful a portrait of another human being as you could wish for.

Willing is remembered more now for the nudes that were the hallmark of his earlier career. The one he had in the late 1940s and through to the 1960s. They are upstairs. And if that was all he had done he would still be worth noting. Few men can have painted women so sensuously without obvious objectification. But between the portraits and those nudes we have the aforementioned visions – the result of drugs taken to combat the onset of MS – and his continued practice in that style afterwards. They are bright, intriguing and demand your attention.

This is the first major UK retrospective of Willing’s work since his death 31 years ago. It is startling that an artist whose work is so vivid and diverse is in danger of slipping into obscurity. It’s a credit to Hastings Contemporary that they have put on this show and put it on so well. I hope it’s a success.