Festivals · Movies · Music


edfilmfest Waterboys


On Monday 26 June I saw the second and final screening of Robert Jan Westdijk’s Waterboys as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

It is a triumph, a gently humorous tale of philandering, bibulous but successful Dutch crime writer who comes to Edinburgh with his grown-up son for the launch of the translation of his latest novel.  His wife has left him and the son has just been thrown out by his girlfriend.  The son is afraid of flying, so they travel from Holland on a car ferry – water boys.  Driving to Edinburgh, it is announced on the radio that The Waterboys are due to play a concert in the city during his stay – this means a lot, as he claims to be a big fan and even that his son was conceived during a festival performance by the band.

To say more about the plot would be to give too much away.  Suffice it to say, the few minutes of live footage of The Waterboys (supposedly in Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, but actually filmed in Holland) is truly great, as are all the uses of the band’s music throughout the film, which is in many ways a love letter to Mike Scott and his band – tracks from all parts of his career have important dramatic parts to play.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if this will get a general release, as about half of the dialogue is in sub-titled Dutch.  I believe most Dutch people are bi-lingual in Dutch and English, but we Brits are a bit behind, which in discussing this film is a shame – I got the feeling from the sound of the Dutch dialogue the delivery and comedy timing were spot on and to have understood that without reading sub-titles would have been good.  Our bad…

Scott and The Waterboys were clearly enthusiastically involved with the project – I think the photograph below, which has been used  to advertise a recent tour is taken from the live performance section of the film- and he appears as a voiceover of the radio announcer who first mentions the upcoming concert, albeit with his comedy Scottish accent…

Mike Scott Waterboys Edinburgh Film Festival

Here is a picture of the director and some of the cast from the showing I was at…at the left is the EIFF representative, then there is director Westdijk, Tim Linde, Helen Belbin and Leopold Witte.

Robert Jan Westdijk's Waterboys Tim Linde, Helen Belbin and Leopold Witte

Festivals · Movies · Music

Song to Song

edfilmfest Song to Song


Terrence Malick’s latest film had its UK premier last night at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.  “Hullo clouds, hullo sky!”

Yes, all the familiar Malick tropes are here, lingering shots of clouds, sky, sunrises, sunsets, running water; whispered dialogue, voiceovers; dramatic cuts; non-linear narrative.  And in this case, it’s all great.

What a cast.  Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender (who more and more appears to be able to do anything,) Ryan Gosling (a proper movie star) and Natalie Portman are the main players; Fassbender is a sleazy music manager in Austin, Texas, (which I guess would be the other main player for Malick;) he has managed and professionally betrayed Gosling’s character, a formerly successful singer/songwriter, who is/was in a relationship with Mara’s struggling musician character, who is/was being exploited by Fassbender’s character to attain the success she desires.  That’s about it for plot, but it doesn’t matter too much given the rich visuals, where an actor of the calibre of Cate Blanchett has a tiny but effective part which lasts a total of about ten screen minutes (and she is as good as she always is.)

There are lots of rock star cameos; Patti Smith and Lykke Li are credited with playing “Patti Smith” and “Lykke” by dint of having fairly extensive speaking parts, everyone else is credited as “him/herself.”  It seems that people are queuing up to be in a Malick film.

My favourite film of the festival so far.


Song to Song


Festivals · Movies · Music

Teenage Superstars

This sequel to Grant McPhee’s Big Gold Dream had its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival last Thursday 22 June, the final cut apparently only arriving in Edinburgh just before midnight in 21 June…

Big Gold Dream was a big hit at the festival two years ago and I think may have won the best film award  at the time.  That surprised me, because the night I saw the film, it seemed more like a good 40-minute TV documentary padded out to feature film length.  Nonetheless, it went on to much success and plaudit, so what do I know?

So I wasn’t eagerly waiting on the “sequel,” directed again by Grant McPhee.

As it turns out, Teenage Superstars is much more captivating that Big Gold Dream; maybe it’s just a more interesting story of more interesting people.  As can be gleaned from the title, this film is about the Glasgow scene of the 1980’s and concentrates on The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, The Soup Dragons, The Pastels and BMX Bandits.  The interdependence of many of the bands and individuals in the scene is stressed over and over – often one band would have a high percentage of common members – and the influence of Stephen Pastel, Duglas T Stewart and Bobby Gillespie as taste-makers and facilitators is presented cogently with many interviews with the first two, but not, frustratingly, with Gillespie.  Frustratingly, as he is cited on many occasions for his influence.

I really enjoyed the first hour and thought that the issues I had with Big Gold Dream had been illusory, or maybe the result of seeing a very early edit.  The second half really slowed down though and the continued repetition of the same pieces of footage and still pictures began to jar.  There was something a bit weird with the music as well, which I assume is due to clearances – sometimes a piece of music under discussion was not what was being played on the soundtrack (Primal Scream) or a band’s music was presented solely through TV or film appearances.

Still, I woke up the next day in a fantastic mood, which I was sure was due to this film, for the most part a fine and cheering story of a bunch of people with enough self-belief to obviate failure.  I expect it will do better and be more fondly remembered than its predecessor.

Edinburgh Festivals - the Film Festival 2017 - Teenage Superstars


Festivals · Movies

God’s Own Country

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017


Edinburgh International Film Festival opened last night with a showing of Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country, trailed as a gay love story set in the Yorkshire Pennines.  Northern bucolic gay, if you like, or “British Brokeback…”

It was good, if a bit of a stretch.  The protagonist, Johnny, played by Josh O’Connor, is trying to run his father’s farm single-handed, the father having suffered a stroke which makes him unable to work.  They get in a Romanian migrant, Gheorghe, to help out, who proves much more useful than Johnny at all the farm tasks, because Johnny seems to go to the pub and get bladdered every night.  He also seems unable to go the pub toilet or a café without him having casual sex, so he’s got a lot on his plate as well as running the farm.

Predictably enough, when Johnny and Gheorghe camp out on the farm to fix a wall, it all kicks off for them in the erotic charge of the freezing Pennines and a diet of Pot Noodles.  The sight of Gheorghe having a slash in the dawn is just to much for our hero.

The resolution is that the pair eventually agree to run Johnny’s dad’s farm together, with his blessing.  The closing shot is the couple going into the farmhouse, presumably to choose curtains.

So; a bit of a stretch.  The much vaunted views of the Pennines are not that great either, there is a city in the background in quite a lot of shots (maybe Bradford, the film was shot in Keighley.)

The acting performances are all good, especially Ian Hart (he’s played John Lennon on screen twice!) who plays Johnny’s disabled father.  It was also nice to see Patsy Ferran pop up, I enjoyed her as Portia in the RSC’s The Merchant of Venice – it’s just a shame her character seemed a little irrelevant to the story.

God's Own Country Francis Lee

There are a couple of cute lambs as well, but none as scene-stealing as this guy upstaging Julie Christie in Far From The Madding Crowd.  This picture never fails to make me smile.

Julie Christie Far From The Madding Crowd

Movies · Music


Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015

Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy had its UK premiere on Thursday in Edinburgh.

It’s stunning, if predictably sad and tough to watch in places, as a gifted and beautiful young Jewish girl turns her body into a chemistry set and her mind into mush.  We already knew the horror story about Amy Winehouse, but the way that Kapadia presents it is unique and new.  The film is built up entirely of existing images, most of which are from YouTube or from people’s private phones or computers (including Winehouse’s.)  The images complement the narrative, which is assembled from new interviews with people around Amy; childhood friends, musicians, managers, drug buddies, her father.  As such, Kapadia has used the existing technology to create something like a new genre…the oral/citizen style?

One’s mind quickly jumps to compare this story and film with Montage of Heck, the recent Kurt Cobain documentary.  That relied to great extent on home movies of Cobain’s childhood and home life, it makes me wonder what a film biography of someone born in the last ten years will look like in the future; that is, someone who is not a digital immigrant, someone whose every moment has been documented on some digital format.  As individuals, Winehouse and Cobain had quite different backgrounds; his mum threw him out at the age of nine to let a succession of other relations look after him; she appears to have had a good childhood and adolescence, though it’s frustrating that Kapadia’s film skips the surely fascinating period between childhood (where some nascent gift surely was identified) and the appearance of the late-teenaged prodigy.  I think she went to stage school, but that wasn’t mentioned.

Both Cobain and Winehouse had their succubus and incubus drug-buddies though, vile enablers who had an intractable hold.  Cobain met and married the awful Courtney Love, Winehouse fell for and married the even more awful Blake Fielder.  Happily, the film doesn’t have to spell out the enormity of his evil emptiness, he does that perfectly well in his interviews therein.

The director was present for a Q&A after the movie and it was evident from his personal charm how he was able to gain the trust he needed from the interviewees, many of whom took months and years to get fully involved with the project.  He compared the making of Amy to the process behind his previous film Senna – while there were loads of interviews with Ayrton Senna available, Amy had pretty much stopped doing interviews by 2004, hence the need to rely on the interviews with her associates and friends.  From this he found that different circles of people were presented with different impressions of her and used these apparent contradictions to build up the picture we see in his film.

Amy has immediately served one of the purposes of art for me; making the viewer curious about everything else.  Winehouse’s music pretty much went past me at the time. I need to go and listen properly now.  And watch Senna.


Amy Winehouse poster


Festivals · Movies

The Legend of Barney Thomson


Edinburgh International Film Festival


Last night was the opening gala of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, the film chosen to open being The Legend of Barney Thomson, directed by and starring Robert Carlyle.

It’s pretty good and has every chance of being a really big film on release, a black comedy very much in the style of Tarantino both in narrative, direction and even sound.  All the sorts of characters and a lot of the actual actors beloved of the audience which made The Full Monty or Richard Curtis’ films such big hits are in place; the stock Scottish underdog figures are also there (the film is set in Glasgow,) but not as objectionable as in the inexplicably popular The Angels’ Share.

As well as Carlyle, Ray Winstone and Tom Courtenay, the film stars a pretty good crop of current Scottish actors, a lot of whom were present for last night’s premier; Ashley Jensen, Martin Compston and the great Brian Pettifer.

I think a lot will be made of Emma Thompson’s co-starring role as Barney Thomson’s mother; she’s made up to look like a Glasgow woman in her late sixties who’s had a bit of a rough life.  Now, everybody loves Emma Thompson, (whatever it is she does?) but most of the joke here is that we are always aware we are watching Emma Thompson playing a rough, old Glasgow woman, so it doesn’t really work.


Legend of Barney Thompson
The Legend of Barney Thompson, starring Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson & Ray Winstone

Apart from that cavil, all good; Chewin’ the Fat meets Reservoir Dogs at The Barrowlands bingo hall.


Robert Carlyle Edinburgh International Film Festival