Flatpack Festival and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery are running a marvellous exhibition until 30th October 2022: Wonderland tells stories of filmgoing and cinema culture in Birmingham. It begins with the earliest days of cinematic experimentation, including a visit from Eadweard Muybridge to demonstrate his moving images, through the glory days of the picture palaces in the 1930s and 40s, the influence of Asian and Caribbean immigration, and the slump of the 1980s, to where we are today, with a combination of multiplexes and more specialised venues, including, of course, the Electric, which continues to proudly boast the title of the UK’s oldest working cinema.
It’s a densely packed exhibition, full of elegantly and concisely organised information, focusing not only on places and eras but also people: individual attention is given to notable figures such as Iris Barry, the UK’s first female film critic, Waller Jeffs, who popularised cinema in the 1900s with his annual seasons at the Curzon Hall and travelling show, and Oscar Deutsch, the Balsall Heath-born creator of the Odeon brand, the first cinema of which opened in Perry Barr in 1930.
Wonderland: Birmingham’s Cinema Stories is free to visit at BMAG until October 30th, and it’s a must-see for anyone interested in filmgoing in Birmingham. The history it describes is cultural, technological, social and economic, and it’s beautifully curated and designed to just that. It’s also got a big interactive map in the middle where you can look for your house and see the five cinemas that used to be on your road back in 1940. Don’t miss it.
A conversation with Richard Dyer to mark the 50th anniversary of his move to Birmingham, where he lived for most of his adult life and where he produced much of his celebrated work. Many thanks to Ian Francis and Flatpack for their foresight in marking the occasion. I too had the foresight to ask whether the conversation could be recorded so that those of you who could not attend the event might nonetheless be able to listen in. However, I then lacked the wit to press the record button on time, so the first five minutes or so of the conversation are missing. In the end you did have to be there I guess, although it´s not a great loss: what´s missing is mainly my fulsome introduction, which he has no need of, and which merely expressed what everyone else feels about him and his work. The conversation is all too brief but touches on his activism at the GLF, the Arts Lab in Birmingham, his arrival the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, his early work on Gays and Film with Jack Babuscio, Stars and White, with some commentary on entertainment, musicals, ‘In Defence of Disco’, filmgoing in Birmingham in the 70s and an introduction to Mai Zetterling´s Loving Couples (Sweden 1964)
A delight to sit down and talk to Christopher Twig (aka Twiggy) on the occasion of the forthcoming retrospective of his work — Twiggy Birmingham: Slap in the Face — curated by Trevor Pitt as part of the forthcoming ‘Shout’ Festival from the 9th-19th of November. To the LGBT community, Twiggy is as much of an icon of Birmingham as Selfridges or the Library: everyone who’s been to an LGBT club or to a gay pride parade in the city will have at least walked past and usually had their photo taken with him. His evolution as an artist is also the city’s evolution in respect to LGBT cultures. A maker of ‘Happenings,’ a performance artist non-pareil, a constant designer of unique and iconic looks, he’s conjured up a space for himself and his art where one didn’t exist before. The ‘Twiggy Birmingham: Slap in the Face’ exhibit on his work, curated by Trevor Pitt, is long overdue recognition of his achievements as an artist. As Pitt describes it, ‘Twiggy Birmingham is an ongoing creative project spanning over three decades that takes the body, costume, adornment and performance to the level of an art form. From androgynous punky Goth, to energy fuelled Club Kid to flamboyant event host and walkabout artist, to outrageous stage performer, Twiggy Birmingham has documented their experiences through photographs, video, costume and memorabilia. An unmissable figure in pop, club and drag culture of Birmingham and beyond’. The experience will be open to the public from 10-18th November at Vivid Projects, 16 Minerva Works, 158 Fazeley Street Birmingham.
A film that any aspiring filmmaker should see. You want to know how to make a fine film with only one actor in one set? See what Steven Knight and Tom Hardy do with Locke.
Ivan Locke is a construction manager wrapping up work for the day. Tomorrow will be the apotheosis of his career, the biggest cement pour outside of that undertaken by government or the military in history. He’s in his car on his way home. His wife is making sausages and wearing the team shirt. His kids are all excited about the big game that they’re all about to see. But he won’t be there. On his way home, he gets a phone call that will change his life. At the end of his car journey, he will have lost his wife, his home, his job and his children. But he will have made sure the cement job gets done properly and he will have done the right thing. Plus, knowing Ivan Locke as we’ve come to know him on this journey, it’s hard to believe that he won’t return home tomorrow and win back all he’s lost.
The film is like a Hawkesian tale in which professionalism is indistinguishable from morality. Locke has to make sure the cement job gets done right and he also has to do the ‘right’ thing no matter what the cost to himself and those near him. He’s almost autistic in his attention to detail and he can’t lie. It’s an iconic role. If Hardy weren’t already a star, this role and his performance of it, would surely make him one. The character is bound to become iconic and a cultural reference point. Who wouldn’t want to be like Locke, slowly, methodically, systematically, humanely trying to answer everyone’s queries, solving everyone’s problems, being kind but truthful, trying to move resolve issues even as he knows that solving another’s problems is a move forward for another and a step backward and into the unknown to himself. Hardy is very moving, the changing tonalities of his voice in that gentle Welsh tone he adapts a mini-masterpiece of emoting.
The film is in the tradition of those tour-de-force theatre pieces like Cocteau’s La voix humaine where a woman breaks up with a lover over the telephone and the whole play is one long monologue. Except here it’s a man talking, sometimes to his absent father, about what it is to be a man. And you do get to hear other voices at the end of the line, all wanting something. This is a tour-de-force performance for Hardy, who gets to act out practically every emotion going whist in the service of a character who must remain calm, stoic, methodical. Because, it’s a one-character piece in one set, the dialogue here also has to bear the brunt of exposition that in an ordinary film would be spread amongst other aspects of mise-en-scene. This is of course an opportunity for the director and cinematographer, how to make the visuals interesting and expressive whilst remaining locked in one car. They succeed. Haris Zambarloukos does a fabulous job with the cinematography. We get neon colours at night, reflections of reflections depending on Locke’s state of mind, frames within frames, sometimes one a direct image, the other but a shadowy reflection of one, the softening of fog, the sharpening of focus, multi-coloured indicators in the night. What starts off as a long journey into night ends up as a cantering journey into clarity, purposefulness, decisiveness. This is why the film is so pleasurable to watch. Locke is very moving, very fine. But it is perhaps also why it is no more than that. Hardy, however, is nothing less than great.
PS Brummies might note with pleasure that in the film, the construction site in which the cement pour is to take place was the construction site of what is now The Cube.
Addendum: In his recent How to Watch a Movie (London: Profile Books, 2015), David Thomson notes that Locke is the film that established Tom Hardy as a major figure and that, ‘No film I’ve seen in recent years is more eloquent on where we are now, and on how alone we feel. There is nothing left to do but watch and listen’ (p. 41).