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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Interview with Gerry Fox and Marc Quinn about Marc Quinn : Making Waves (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


Interview with director Gerry Fox and artist / subject Marc Quinn* about Marc Quinn : Making Waves** (2014) on Thursday 23 July 2015 at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse)



The Agent Apsley :
So, I’m here [on the mezzanine at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse)] with Gerry Fox. We’re going to talk about, um, Mark Quinn : Making Waves – they’re just watching the end of the film at the moment, and Marc is going to join us for a few questions at the end.

Uh, Gerry, so how did, um – I know, and I saw, and I watched your South Bank Show, um, programme with Marc. (Gerry assents) Very, very different.

Gerry Fox :
Completely.

The Agent Apsley :
In style.

Gerry Fox :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
Was that, sort of, the sort of Melvyn Braggery of the time, that the artist is a, sort of (Brief pause) performer ? Or was that from you ?

Gerry Fox :
No, that was from me. That was the only time that the South Bank Show ever went that far in terms of allowing a director to collaborate with an artist, to create an almost stylized art-film.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Gerry Fox :
Very out of the ordinary on the South Bank Show, that kind of film, and was, by their standards—

The Agent Apsley :
But there were always, sort of, hints of it, weren’t there ?

Gerry Fox :
Yes, abolutely. So, in that one – I’d done it with Gilbert and George, I’d done that kind of collaborative thing with other artists, uh, Christian Boltanski – people like that, who could play with you. The thing with Marc was to try and make the whole thing a journey (Slight pause) through the, the subconscious.

The Agent Apsley :
And the, sort of, this medico—

Gerry Fox :
Yes, all set in hospitals. Well, that’s because there was that underlying thing in his work…

The Agent Apsley :
How did that work, how did you get access to the hospital ?

Gerry Fox :
It was an old, it was an old, abandoned hospital – when we got hold of it, yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
But, of course, you also, with the Young British Artists, you also associate Damien Hirst with…

Gerry Fox :
Yes. Medical, and death, all that. Exactly. Yeah, they both play with a lot of those ideas.

The Agent Apsley :
And there’s, sort of, Ken Russellish feel a bit… ?

Gerry Fox :
Yes, absolutely – it was very much out of that tradition (The Agent assents) of the arts, the arts programme, but taking it to its absolute limits (The Agent assents) : very stylized.

The Agent Apsley :
OK, so I watched that, and there’s a lot of resource on Marc’s web-site (Gerry assents) which I’m grateful for. (Pause) Um, but turning to this film, it’s, it’s obvious from one shot – I think that it’s the one in the gym – that… you’re… filming – is it a digital SLR that you were using… ?

Gerry Fox :
Yeah, a Canon 5D camera.

The Agent Apsley :
So, the same camera that Marc— ?

Gerry Fox :
Yes, uses himself – exactly.

The Agent Apsley :
So, was that what you shot on throughout ?

Gerry Fox :
Yes.

The Agent Apsley :
Because it seems to have a lot of manoeuvrability.

Gerry Fox :
Yes, I mean, I – what I realized with that camera was, was two things : one, it does have the ability to give you that lovely, shallow depth of field, so you get a very nice quality of image, and – that was the first thing – and the second thing was that, because it looks like a camera (because it is a camera), you become much more unobtrusive, and so you can get a much more intimate style, because a lot of people think that you’re actually just taking pictures.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Gerry Fox :
And, in fact, you’re filming.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Gerry Fox :
So, it revolutionized what you can do, which is what allowed this film to happen.

The Agent Apsley :
And, even, I mean, with the – at the San Giorgio exhibition, with you, sort of (The Agent puffs) unfortunately clouting the curator on the head…

Gerry Fox :
Yeah, yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
I mean, we had that, sort of, unnecessary level of intimacy.

Gerry Fox :
Yeah, well, it was an accident – I didn’t mean to…

The Agent Apsley :
And, in the Q&A, we’re going to go into, sort of, some of the aspects of the style of the film. (Gerry hums) And, if it’s OK with you two (Marc Quinn has joined us), what I want to do is to make a clear… division – because I think that it’s helpful with documentaries (which is what I specialize in, um, doing Q&As for) – it’s helpful to distinguish between the making and the content.

Gerry Fox :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
So, I’m going to ask people to focus on the making – I mean, the fact that it’s an artefact – and I hope that that, sort of, figures with your, your sort of artistic practice…, Marc. To, to, to, to…

Marc Quinn :
I don’t know what you mean…

The Agent Apsley :
Well, to remember – well, um, I’ll go into it in more detail in the Q&A.

Gerry Fox :
Bring it up in the Q&A !

The Agent Apsley :
Um (Pause). So, what advantages, other than the ones you mentioned, would you say that there are to using an SLR like that – but what disadvantages are there ?

Gerry Fox :
Well, the advantages are the obvious ones that I’ve explained – that you have an intimacy, you’re more unobtrusive, and you can just go with the flow, and I could also – didn’t have to have a whole crew, following me around, and it meant that you didn’t have to do whole days of filming.

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
You could do half a day here, a half a day there, when things that were interesting were happening.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Gerry Fox :
The disadvantages were, were, were technical : that it’s quite a hard camera to operate on your own. It’s also, um, you know, batteries would run out at a key moment, memory-cards would suddenly be full at the wrong one. You also have a microphone switch, you know, often, you know, you’d end up that you’ve forgotten to turn it on… (The Agent laughs) Um, you know, it’s all the technical things that you normally have a soundman who’s concentrating on it, and a cameraman…

The Agent Apsley :
You’ve got to do it all !

Gerry Fox :
And you’ve got to do the interviewing ! You’ve got to do everything. So, those are the disadvantages.

The Agent Apsley :
So keeping your wits – did you—?

Gerry Fox :
You had to keep your wits about you.

The Agent Apsley :
Did you have a sort of check-list of, or would that… ?

Gerry Fox :
In my head, (Agent assents) I would start thinking, Have you turned the mike on, have you done this, have you done this ? So you had to, sort of, think Crikey, I’m the cameraman, the sound-man, and I’m the, the, the director, and the interviewer (Laughs), you know, so it was, it was..., but you get used to it.

The Agent Apsley :
Sure. So did… ? (Pause) We’ve mentioned the Melvyn Bragg (Gerry assents) South Bank Show—

Gerry Fox :
That was the start of a friendship…

The Agent Apsley :
That was the start of the friendship ?

Gerry Fox :
Yes, because we spent so much time making that film—

The Agent Apsley :
So, were you introduced… to each other, or how did you come…?

Gerry Fox :
We met, uh, er, on another South Bank Show – which you can watch, if you want – it was, which was a fifteen-minuter, which was made with a young director, but which I was very involved as a producer, and all that. With Marc, a few years before that…

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
When he’d famously made a head, a shit-head.

The Agent Apsley :
Yes !

Gerry Fox :
And it became quite a legendary think on television, nobody’d ever seen that before, so it was quite shocking – and that was the start, and then that’s how we first met, and then the idea was to do this, the one that we did, and then, then we, we, we became friends, and so… (Pause) So, that was why he [Marc] allowed me to do this film, because I don’t think that he would have done it with anybody….

The Agent Apsley :
At the time of the, of the acquisition of the previous blood-head, as they are sometimes seem to be called – the Self, from, uh, 2001, I think that it was – by the National Portrait Gallery, that, the shit-head, was being talked about in that interview (Gerry assents) with Tim Marlow…

Gerry Fox :
Oh, yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
Which I listened to on… Marc’s web-site (Gerry assents). So, um. (Pause) So, you’ve been friends, then, for fifteen-odd years… ?

Gerry Fox :
Yes. Yeah, we’ve gone on holiday, we’ve done a lot of stuff together—

The Agent Apsley :
‘Cause, I mean, I remember talking to—

Gerry Fox :
Which is unusual, ‘cause I haven’t actually, uh, you know, I haven’t, you know, all these years – twenty years – I made South Bank Shows and films for Channel 4 and so on, but very rare that you became friends with the people whom you made films about.

You tended to move on – the thing that had gelled you together has gone, and your lives separated – largely because they were mostly older than me. Marc was one of the few people whom I made who was contemporary to me (The Agent assents), so, you know, that—

The Agent Apsley :
Well, one of the things that I’m going to… dwell on more in the Q&A is that it feels a bit like a, sort of, buddy movie…

Gerry Fox :
A little bit. We wanted it to be a bit of a buddy movie…

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Gerry Fox :
I think that we, we felt that what we wanted to do is to make it a little entertaining, kind of – you know, rock-and-roll, buddy movie, travelling around the world, seeing what, what the artist, the rock-and-roll artist does… for a living.

The Agent Apsley :
Yep. (Slight pause) And now, I’ve reminded myself : I completely forgot, in my intro, to tell them that they were going to hear the word ‘cunt’, so they will have heard the word ‘cunt’ by now, but, never mind, I’m sure that they…

Gerry Fox :
Sure. (Slight pause) We’ll, we’ll apologize.

The Agent Apsley :
They can cope with a Thursday-evening… (Quick internal check on when the film is due to end running)

Gerry Fox :
You can always grab me afterwards for a few more. (Calls for Marc) Anything else you want to ask me ? (No response from Marc) You can always ask me a few more… (Pause) Why don’t you record everything in the Q&A, as well, because that’ll… ?

The Agent Apsley :
I’ll try to, yeah. Um (Long pause), one thing towards the end of the film, we’ve got that moment where Marc’s splattering the canvas, and gets your shoe – and it’s a very human re—, ‘You cunt !’.

Gerry Fox :
Yeah, sorry – as you know, as I said to you, I should…

The Agent Apsley :
We talked about it…

Gerry Fox :
I should have bleeped it out.

The Agent Apsley :
Um, but it’s at that point in the film, those last ten minutes, where you seem to get to some gritty questions…

Gerry Fox :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
About do people expect (Gerry assents) the artist’s hands (Gerry assents) to be on it… ?

Gerry Fox :
Yeah. Yeah, maybe one left it too late ?

The Agent Apsley :
Was… Were those things that you’d explored before, in your friendship, or were they – were you being a bit devil’s advocate, with those… ?

Gerry Fox :
No, I think that what happened was, you know, I’d made the film I was making, and I wanted it, really – in the early parts—

The Agent Apsley :
Were you searching for… ?

Gerry Fox :
Being provocateurish, and, sort of, teasing him (The Agent assents), and being a bit cheeky, because I wasn’t really sure… where this film was going (The Agent assents), and what I…

The Agent Apsley :
You were looking for an ending… ?

Gerry Fox :
Exactly, but then, in the middle of it, it settled down to be more of a, an, an observational film (The Agent assents), in a way – watching the artist. But, towards the end, I realized that there were questions that people would want to ask – you know, the ‘hand of the artist’ issue – you could see him, with all these different people who, who were, were making the stuff, you know, these fabricators, and people might want to know ‘Why doesn’t he… ?’, you know. So that seemed like an obvious thing, to, to delve into, so those questions came up towards the end of the film, and, um, felt like they needed, um, some answering. So that was…

The Agent Apsley :
So, that’s where they found their natural place ?

Gerry Fox :
Yeah. I think so, and I think also that it’s better by the end, because, if he’d felt (Marc is with us now) that I was sort of becoming this challenging guy throughout the film, he might have actually called quits on it…

The Agent Apsley :
(Loudly) H’mm…

Gerry Fox :
I think that you have to be quite careful, if you are, you know, spending a year—

The Agent Apsley :
(To Marc) Did, did you feel that ? Did you feel that, Marc, that there was… ?

Marc Quinn :
Well, I mean, if it – I knew that it would be more of a collaboration…

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Marc Quinn :
That we were both wanting the same thing, something interesting and new and different. If it had been, like, Gerry asking me some questions all the time… (Inaudible)

Gerry Fox :
Yeah, yeah, he may well have called it quits on it (The Agent assents), because, actually, why do you want that… ?

The Agent Apsley :
Good, good, good call, on your part, then ?

Gerry Fox :
Yeah, I think so – and I think that you sense it…

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
You sense it. So, I’m near the end, now (The Agent assents), and he knows he’s done it…

The Agent Apsley :
It feels…

Gerry Fox :
You can actually hit it—

The Agent Apsley :
‘Cause, actually, you’re on the street in… – I can’t remember where it is, ‘cause, you know, you probably have a better sense of the chronology, except that your busy lives – well, God knows… Ah ! But is it on the street in Istanbul (Gerry assents), you’re saying, ‘We’ve done the twelve months’ (Gerry assents), we’ve—

Gerry Fox :
And then, in fact, there’s quite a bit more !

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah.

Gerry Fox :
‘Cause what we realized was that some other things were opening up, so it wasn’t quite the end, but it felt like it, towards it. In fact, I think that it was after that I realized we were there, then I could ask a few, few questions.

The Agent Apsley :
Just moving that (Shifting the recorder), so that we can pick up Marc’s voice a bit better. (Further check on the end-time of the film) So, Marc, were you a sort of typical Oxbridge entrant [Quinn read History of Art, at Robinson College, University of Cambridge], pretty good all-rounder (Pause), um… ?

Marc Quinn :
I mean, I was interested in art. I came here, because (The Agent assents) I was at school (The Agent assents), did the entrance exams, and kinda got in…

The Agent Apsley :
Oh, you got in on the entrance ? – because you could still – I mean, it’s gone in and out of fashion with that. OK, um, so, the ‘A’ level results, then, were not relevant ? What ‘A’ levels did you take, though ?

Marc Quinn :
I can’t remember…

The Agent Apsley :
No. (Brief pause) But you’ve got this sort of science-y (Marc assents), you’ve got a facility with the machinery, the technology (Marc assents), yeah. (Long pause) Um (Slight pause), and then you end up with this route to where you are now through working with… Barry Flanagan ?

Marc Quinn :
Not really : I just said to Gerry earlier (The Agent assents), me working with Barry was… like the University of Drinking, rather than…

The Agent Apsley :
Was it really ?

Marc Quinn :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
So there was… ? You wouldn’t say that there was really anything from his artistic practice that… ?

Marc Quinn :
Not really, but then, I guess, it was an introduction to ‘the art world’ (The Agent assents), because I didn’t know the art world, I didn’t know living… artists existed.

The Agent Apsley :
Huh hum.

Marc Quinn :
You know, that you could actually become an artist…, earning a living…

The Agent Apsley :
So you weren’t seeking that… ?

Marc Quinn :
I was, but I, I didn’t know it – I didn’t know anything about it.

The Agent Apsley :
Sure. OK. (Brief pause) Um, so not even your, sort of – putting it in the context of – I mean, I don’t know what, how the History of Art course goes, whether you specialize in…

Marc Quinn :
Yeah. That was really interesting, obviously.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah. So, but you could have seen through other people’s…, um, artistic careers, in other periods… ?

Marc Quinn :
Yeah, oh yeah, no, but what I’m saying is that I… wasn’t… in… the art world, at the time when I was here.

The Agent Apsley :
No, OK. (Brief pause) Yep. But, I mean, art was something that you practised… ?

Marc Quinn :
Yeah. I wanted to be an artist…

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah. (Brief pause) OK, so, it’s, it’s typically said about you that Self, the first one (the 1991… piece [A mould of Quinn’s head, filled with around eight pints of his blood, frozen]), is the one, rightly or wrongly, that first attracted attention, to you.

Marc Quinn :
Yeah, I think that that’s probably true.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah. (Pause) And… it seems, as I’ve, sort of, touched on already, there, there seems to be a significant element of technical challenge in what you do ?

Marc Quinn :
There’s quite a lot of it, yeah – well, I’m using technology.

The Agent Apsley :
Do you know which comes first ? I mean, does the challenge come out of the nature of the work that you want to do ?

Marc Quinn :
(Quietly) I think so…

The Agent Apsley :
Or do you, sort of, seek it out – do you… ?

Marc Quinn :
No, I think that it’s, kind of, a mixture of the two – I’m not really sure…

The Agent Apsley :
Right, OK. And… with Self, with its, sort of, different iterations – um, I listened to the whole, um, interview with Tim Marlow, which was very interesting…

Marc Quinn :
Oh, yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
About, uh, the whole Charles Saatchi (Marc Quinn assents) and how that had blown up about [The story that the sculpture had somehow got unplugged and melted]…, but, I mean – as you (Long pause) worked on… a… new… version of Self… ?

Marc Quinn :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
Have there been things that have changed in your way of doing it ?

Marc Quinn :
Well, I think that the technology’s got better.

The Agent Apsley :
So, you… ?

Marc Quinn :
The actual freezers are… (The Agent assents) better, you know. The work is all of those pieces together.

The Agent Apsley :
OK. Um, so we’d better go into the Q&A…. (Discussion about when the film is due to end) Um (Longer pause), there’s a point, um – I was saying to Gerry that there’s this, this, this about the, sort of, moment when he (Pause) perhaps challenges a bit more, and asks some of the questions –

Marc Quinn :
(Quietly) I don’t think it’s a challenge, really – he just asks me questions, which I’m very happy to answer.

The Agent Apsley :
But more so than, I mean—

Gerry Fox :
More so than earlier !

The Agent Apsley :
One doesn’t know, know exactly what you’ve filmed—

Gerry Fox :
No, you’re right – where you’re filming…

The Agent Apsley :
Which is where I come back to this idea of, sort of, um, the idea of content… against the making – we never know what you don’t show us, because…

Gerry Fox :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
We may guess at it—

Gerry Fox :
That’s true…

Marc Quinn :
You work from what you see on the screen, ‘cause, as you say, you can’t know what’s…

The Agent Apsley :
(Definitely) No.

Marc Quinn :
What’s cut out – I can’t remember what was cut out.

Gerry Fox :
No. Loads of things – huge amounts.

Marc Quinn :
Once you have a finished film…

Gerry Fox :
Huge amounts, obviously, inevitably, you have to – but, basically, um, you know, as I said, I didn’t really want – I didn’t really want to be this kind of interviewer, a sort of a Yentob or a Bragg kind of person, asking him questions : it was supposed to be more of a film. But I just felt, towards the end, that there were some unanswered things that we wanted to draw out, and we didn’t want the audience left going ‘Well, why didn’t he answer that ?’.

The Agent Apsley :
But, I mean, actually, with that Tim Marlow interview… – it’s quite a long interview, and then you’ve got some, maybe more, maybe less, informed questions from the audience.

Marc Quinn :
Yes. (Brief pause) When was this… ?

The Agent Apsley :
Ooh, it was at the time that you made – it’s the time of the acquisition by the [National] Portrait Gallery…

Marc Quinn :
Oh, yeah. OK.

The Agent Apsley :
Um, so, I mean, there’s quite a lot of questioning there, but is that not something that you would normally… go in for… ?

Marc Quinn :
Uh ? What do you mean ?

The Agent Apsley :
Quite a lot of…

Marc Quinn :
Questions.

The Agent Apsley :
Questions on questions. (Marc Quinn assents)

Marc Quinn :
From who ?

The Agent Apsley :
Well, from…

Marc Quinn :
I don’t normally hang out, like at… – I mean, I’m happy to answer questions from people.

The Agent Apsley :
Well, I mean, one of the nice things about the film – and, again, we’ll never quite know, because that’s between Gerry and you and the camera – one of the nice aspects of the film is… hearing you talk about your work.

Marc Quinn :
Yeah – I think…

Gerry Fox :
In an informal way…

The Agent Apsley :
In an informal way.

Gerry Fox :
Which, I think, is more interesting than…

The Agent Apsley :
(Overlapping) And we start on the seashore…

Marc Quinn :
A head to head… Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
And we come back to the seashore…

Marc Quinn :
Exactly. Yeah – I was thinking that…

The Agent Apsley :
And then you, I mean – I came, I went down to White Cube and (Marc assents) saw… the show there, which was great…

Marc Quinn :
Great, yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
And that middle chamber, with that just one (Marc assents) huge [The shape of a shell, scaled up many times – to be at least eight to ten feet long]…


Courtesy of The White Cube, Bermondsey, from The Toxic Sublime


Marc Quinn :
Well, you saw me in the show, in the film, picking up the thing.

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Marc Quinn :
And it’s that big, and then it becomes that—

Gerry Fox :
Vast sculpture !

Marc Quinn :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
I mean, that must be pretty exciting ?

Marc Quinn :
Yes, it’s really exciting. (Pause) Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
And is it – that’s what keeps you, keeps you going with art ?

Marc Quinn :
Yes, to go from, just… walking along, picking up something, and thinking about it, and then having the ability… to, just, actually make it happen, it’s, kind of, quite [magical ?]…

The Agent Apsley :
Gerry’s just picked up, um, that film, which is Gerhard Richter : Painting

Marc Quinn :
Did Gerry make it ?

Gerry Fox :
No, not the one I made.

The Agent Apsley :
Um, but what, what reminded me of that film (and I looked out a copy, (Marc Quinn assents) ‘cause, if you haven’t seen it, I’m happy to let you borrow it) (Marc assents) um, it’s an attempt to… catch him… at his work (Marc assents), and, yet, it interferes with the process, and he – he, I mean, he’s famous for his squeegee—

Gerry Fox :
Well, and he keeps messing them up – it’s awful !

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
He ruins them all !

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
It’s quite sad

Marc Quinn :
But isn’t that, kind of, what he does generally ?

Gerry Fox :
No, some of them are amazing !

Marc Quinn :
What I mean is, isn’t that— ?

The Agent Apsley :
It’s an aspect, it’s an aspect of the film…

Marc Quinn :
You say that the film altered his process, self-cosnciousness… ?

The Agent Apsley :
At the time, he had to say ‘I’ve agreed to this, but I can’t do it’.

Marc Quinn :
Oh, right.

The Agent Apsley :
And we have a little hint of that (Marc assents) with you, when you were doing the, the Mandela finger-print…

Marc Quinn :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
You said, ‘I was so busy talking to you (Meaning Gerry, in the film) I’ve fucked it up’.

Gerry Fox :
That’s where you messed it up, yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
So just, just that thing reminded me of it… But – um…

Gerry Fox :
I’ll tell you, though, what the difference is between this one and the one on Marc is that, even though it’s, it’s a portrait of him during it, you do get a sense of all the different things that he’s doing.

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
This (Indicating the DVD) just focuses in – I’m sure Richter – only on one aspect of his work, which is the abstracts, which actually, to be honest, when I made the film with him, were the least interesting to explore…

The Agent Apsley :
Yes.

Gerry Fox :
But the photographic work was actually much more interesting (Marc assents), um, so – and what’s nice in that film with Marc is that I think that you did get a sense, even though it wasn’t about his work, you get a sense of the huge range of work that he does…

The Agent Apsley :
And, well, and yes, you do. And, from the Tate show that was, perhaps, the following year from when that was released, the… from the early work (Gerry assents) to that, sort of, quite famous image with the woman with her… head turned away.

Gerry Fox :
(Quietly) His daughter.

The Agent Apsley :
And… it’s so finely… done… – such…

Gerry Fox :
(Quietly) Well, that’s a photo-painting.

The Agent Apsley :
Yeah. (Slight pause) But, as you say, very different from the abstract work on which the film focused ?

Gerry Fox :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
But, I mean, one thing that it also shows him [Meaning Richter] doing – and I whether this is an aspect of how, how (Turning to Marc) you prepare for shows – is, actually, with his, uh, the help of his assistants, having a little, um, almost like a doll’s house of the gallery (Marc assents) … with the miniature…

Marc Quinn :
(Quietly) Um, yeah, I do that as well.

The Agent Apsley :
Thumbnails… You do that as well ?

Marc Quinn :
Yeah. (Pause) It, it always changes when you get in the gallery.

The Agent Apsley :
But, you – that’s your, sort of, rough… plan…

Marc Quinn :
Yeah.

The Agent Apsley :
For the… ? (Slight pause) Yeah. (Pause) OK, so – let’s see…

Gerry Fox :
Do you want to head off, or… ?

The Agent Apsley :
Let’s see : shall we go into the end of the film, and then, sort of, be ready to go down the front… ?

Gerry Fox :
You can always get more stuff through that (Indicating the recorder), and… after…

The Agent Apsley :
Well, that’s, that’s great – thanks very much !


End-notes

* This posting is now linked to another, which acts as a portal to other interviews that have been published by TAKE ONE (@TakeOneCinema), including the edited version of this one, which appeared on www.takeonecff.com.

** The link to the film's IMDb (@IMDb) page is here, and to its page on Marc Quinn's marcquinn.com web-site (where the materials referred to in the interview can be found) here.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 28 December 2015

Film reviews decoded : A Dictionary of Tweets

Film reviews decoded : A Dictionary of Tweets (#FilmReviewsDecoded)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


29 December

Film reviews decoded : A Dictionary of Tweets (#FilmReviewsDecoded)

Develops badly

Directorial debut


Eponymous


Evocative


Evocative delve


Insightful


Offbeat




Powerful


Sororial


Thriller


Total revelation





Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Gems and jewels : The Sixteen at Advent

This is a review of a concert given by The Sixteen under Harry Christophers

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


20 December

This is a review of a concert, with a programme entitled The Virgin Mother and Child, given by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, at Saffron Hall on Sunday 20 December at 7.30 p.m.

Those at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHall) who had heard The Sixteen (@TheSixteen) during one of their Choral Pilgrimages* might not have been expecting two things from the programme (even if they had, in passing and without much thought, noted that amongst what it was to include was John Tavener’s The Lamb) : the pieces were, by and large, not lengthy (the ones that took longest to perform were still probably little more than around ten minutes), and they ranged from plainsong to the work of living British composers (such as Howard Skempton and Alec Roth).

Although, for balance, some of the singers did move around at times, usually the six sopranos were in a row directly in front of Harry Christophers, with the other singers on long rostra behind them, with two shorter, angled ones at the sides.


Part I :

1. Plainsong ~ Puer natus est nobis
2. Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585) ~ Gloria from Missa Puer natus est nobis (1554 ??)
3. John Tavener (1944–2013) ~ The Lamb (1982)
4. Boris Ord (1897–1961) ~ Adam lay ybounden (1957)
5. Traditional ~ ‘Rejoice and be merry’
6. James MacMillan (1959–) ~ O Radiant Dawn (2007)
7. Gabriel Jackson (1962–) ~ The Christ-child (2009)
8. William Byrd (? 1539/1540 or ? 1543–1623) ~ Ave Maria (1605)
9. Plainsong ~ Nesciens mater
10. Walter Lambe (1450–1504) ~ Nesciens mater (latter decades of fifteenth century)


As a prelude to, and informative of, the Gloria from the mass by Tallis that was to come second (because this is what he has built into it), we heard the plainsong introit (1) Puer natus est nobis (‘Unto us a child is born’), with proper solemnity, but also ‘flow’. Initially sung with male voices, at ‘Cantate Domino’ the six sopranos (ranged in the front) came in, but we reverted to men for ‘Gloria Patri et Filio’. Then, however, all together and taking it from the top, with the sound of the setting’s reverberations, and the hesitantly circular effect of its repeated notes.

Run together with it, the (2) Tallis Gloria’s opening line was just a single vocalist, but soon we were fully aware, once again with The Sixteen, of some superbly beautiful individual voices (most obviously at the top), beautifully blended by the choice and care of conductor Harry Christophers (and with configurations of the performers changing to suit the needs of the repertoire). If one will, though, Tallis can easily seduce us from the words that he is setting with the sounds that are created within and between the parts. He is not alone in this regard (in a period of English choral-writing where one can sometimes feel lost – despite having and trying to follow the text), but, here and with this rendition, one did not need to encounter, as if out of nowhere, a cadence and a resolving chord to know where one was.

Moreover, Tallis does not run through the text in one, but makes quite a clear break after the line Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris : a fresh section, with entries that we could quite clearly hear coming in, and one where, on the next six lines (concerning The Lamb of God (please see below)), he was going to spend relatively more time. Christophers could be seen, calling voices out of the texture and into greater prominence, but he is unassuming as a conductor, and our attention was on the singers and their voices, although appreciating, in general terms, how he brought out warmth with the words Quonium tu solus Sanctus, and a building of energy with the concluding three lines. Surely, anyone unfamiliar with his choir was already as rapt as those who came to marvel again at how, in all respects, together they sound.



It was not explicit, so it may have been easy to overlook, but there was a link from Agnus Dei to (3) The Lamb. Most immediately evocative of re-watching The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) (2013) (which uses a performance by The Choir of the Temple Church), Tavener’s The Lamb is of as great delicacy and subtlety as Blake’s poem**.

Christophers had The Sixteen bring us the first four lines very gently. For the remaining six lines of the first verse, from ‘Gave thee clothing of delight’, there was an inward quality in the ensemble, and it gradually slowed, finally holding back distinctly with the closing line ‘Dost thou know who made thee ?’, provocative of contemplation. In the second verse, we moved through the text smoothly, until a principal point of focus was the pauses between words in ‘He became a little child’ – then, via an increasing ritardando (as with verse one), coming to another held-back last line. Encapsulated here, our response to the other-worldliness of Tavener’s preceding, and slightly Eastern, sound-world, which strikes home through the comparative simplicity of the closing cadence.


On seeing the same programme at St David's Hall, Cardiff, another reviewer (Nigel Jarrett, for Wales Arts Review (@WalesArtsReview)) comments :

Certainly John Tavener’s simple setting of William Blake’s The Lamb and the wondrous stasis of his O, do not move were placed in the programme to show how a miniature could sustain a mood or transform joy into ecstasy, a condition liable in music to outstay its welcome. The way they were sung here, with a lightness and intensity that belied their reputation for being diatonic potboilers meant to beguile the crowd, said much for the choir’s even-handed approach to its material.


If we felt that time moved slowly, with Tavener and Tallis, (4) Adam lay ybounden, Boris Ord’s only published composition, takes barely a minute (and, despite a longer text, ‘Rejoice and be merry’ is typically only half as long again) – hence the conceit, in the title of this posting, regarding the length of our gaze on a polished jewel (as against on a gem-stone). (They may be the exceptions amongst the published programme, but, of course, they are just as much part of what we sing or listen to before or during Christmas, so both can be found in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College (of which the former has, since Ord's time, remained a staple.)

This terribly familiar setting, because of its appearance in those broadcasts from King’s, of a fifteenth-century Carol [and can it be, as it seems (from Wikipedia®), that only British composers have tackled it ?] puts forward, with admirable concision (as of Chaucer’s shorter verse ?), the argument that The Virgin Mary being heavené queen causes the action, of taking the fruit in The Garden of Eden, to be blessed : it is through in a flash, and makes its point. In a piece that has very definite ‘waves’ of meaning, the group was to be less 'rounded' in a reverential way than, in the English choral tradition, is typical in a performance from King’s, and more in accord with the text’s human perspective.

Likewise with the story-telling of (5) ‘Rejoice and be merry’, into which - and with like momentum - we were led. Again, one can see and hear the choir of King’s College with it, balanced and measured : with The Sixteen’s mixed forces, and an affect fitting to the lyrics, they could bring us the first verse with just female (and very pure) voices, and contrast it with the men (and a particular tenor brought forward by Christophers) in the second. Then, pleasingly all together, and to close with very apt celebratory richness in the final verse : Who brought us salvation – his praises we’ll sing !


In this group of three, though, the real contrast was with James MacMillan (@jamesmacm) in (6) O Radiant Dawn, with a few lines of text (probably one-half of the number of words of ‘Rejoice and be merry’). However, as would expect from his work, and from the fact that the text is one of the Advent antiphons (together known as ‘O’ antiphons, from the opening sound of each), and that it is taken from his Strathclyde Motets, there is plenty of impact and reflection (and so exceeding the length of the other two pieces in total).

We had the first important emphasis on the word ‘Come’ (an appeal, in the middle of the second line, to the Sun of Justice) – a word that is repeated twice, and with increasing harmony, which enthusiastically came across to us. Envisaging those on whom this Radiant Dawn needs to shine, we dropped to the word ‘death’ at the end of the third line. In the second group of lines, Christophers let us hear the accents in the quotation from Isaiah, but dropping off, only to rise – in this piece bathed in light – on the final word ‘shone’.

When MacMillan sets the opening three lines again, it was now with more prominence that – on arriving at ‘Justice’ (the preceding word to ‘Come’, where he had dwelt before) – we had repeated the phrase Sun of Justice. Then, starting softly, The Sixteen came up to a blaze on the word ‘Come’, and a stress on ‘shine’. In a five-times rendered ‘Amen’ (with the stress firmly on the first syllable), we ended in a gravely reverential way, with a handful of singers.


Also writing for King’s, and calling it (7) The Christ-child, Gabriel Jackson set G. K. Chesterton’s poem (an author sadly neglected, but for his Father Brown stories – for example, his excellent novel The Man Who Was Thursday). Familiar to us from other Carols, e.g. ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, but reaching back at least to the period of Middle English, this is an unchanging frame-work into which, each time, varying words are put.

As has already been noted regarding other works, we heard phrases stand out like jewelled miniatures, such as were the world (right after the embodied ‘O weary, weary’) in the first stanza, and all aright as its closing words (just with female voices). From there, a wordless hum – which we will know from choral music in the liturgical tradition – became part of the transition from stanza to stanza. Back with the more overt implications of Chesterton’s poetry, there felt to be touch of cabaret, in accord with a description of ‘the Kings’*** as O stern and cunning, but dropping back to purity at, and in the light of, the ending of the stanza : But here the true hearts are (followed by a further hum).

In the third stanza, the point of intense drama was hearing – of the Christ-child’s hair – that it was like a fire, and, with the succeeding near-repetition in O weary, weary is the world, we heard less weariness in the line, and that latterly it was infused by female voices, and then concluded the stanza. A softer hum led to the piece's quieter resolution, our relishing the intense feeling, both of Julie Cooper’s high-soprano solo, and of the warm harmonies.


From a setting of nearly five minutes to Byrd’s of (8) Ave Maria, one of one-half its length (and not a complicated setting, even in the composer’s own terms****). One feels that William Byrd was specifically inspired liturgically, as he might well have been by its prohibited Marian content, status and significance. In it, Christophers brought a full and seemly sound from The Sixteen, and the final Alleluia tenderly lasted as a goodly proportion of the whole.


Unlike with Puer natus est nobis, the plainsong antiphon (9) Nesciens mater was rendered to us just by male voices, and then straight into (10) Walter Lambe’s composition for these words. It immediately sounded rooted in the plainsong approach, with prominent lower lines under the rest of the texture - maybe partly accounting for how it takes more than twice as long to perform than the Ave Maria ? (The text of both is five lines of almost similar length, except that the last line of the latter is just the word Alleluia.)

There was a slowing in sine dolore Salvatorum saeculorum (the second line), and then, with some energy, a more elaborate, decorated style emerged, with vowels being sustained for several bars at a time, and typified by the treatment of the word ‘angelorum’, which, in the lower voices, gave rise to the repeated sound ho. (In the hands of the wrong ensemble, it can sound like bogus laughter, hardly appropriate to a serious religious setting.)


Very clearly, in The Sixteen (@TheSixteen), this was the right ensemble, and the applause that the audience had had [to remember] to keep to between the groups of pieces, and to allow the next group to be performed without undue delay, showed it.



Part II :

11. Tallis ~ Videte miraculum
12. Howard Skempton (1947–) ~ Adam lay ybounden (1999)
13. Richard Pygott (1485–1522) ~ Quid petis, O fili ? (later than 1530)
14. Traditional ~ ‘A child is born in Bethlehem’
15. Tavener ~ O, do not move (1990)
16. Alec Roth (1948–) ~ Song of the Shepherds (2013)
17. Peter Philips (1560–1628) ~ O beatum et sacrosanctum diem (1612)
18. Robert Parsons (1535–1572) ~ Ave Maria (late 1560s)



As with the setting by Tallis that effectively opened the first half, (11) Videte miraculum was another of significant length (more than four times as long as Adam lay ybounden and ‘Rejoice and be merry’ together) – avowedly not a measure of worth, but the longer pieces necessarily work in a different way from the striking immediacy that those of ninety (or sixty) seconds need to achieve.

In the opening line, Tallis delays respectfully, first of all, on the word ‘miraculum’. Christophers had given another of the sopranos (i.e. not one of the ones credited as soloists) a prominent role, but, regrettably, her tone may have been a little harsh, or too forthright, to be right for this piece.In the four lines from the words ‘Haec speciosum’, we have the plainsong chant, and then jump back to revisit the preceding two lines (beginning ‘et matrem’). The effect is to make Mary’s virginity, coupled with her giving her joy at having conceived, the focus, before giving us plainsong again for the closing words (of, in context, faithful rejoicing) :

Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui Sancto



In Howard Skempton’s version of (12) Adam lay ybounden, we had something just as brief as Boris Ord’s, but much more restrained : apart from an echoic, Sotto voce quality to it, it only stepped out with a somewhat urgent character to the repeated Deo Gratias ! (which maybe felt provocative of anxiety not praise ?).

For (13) Quid petis, O fili ?, by Richard Pygott, The Sixteen had been significantly rearranged, replacing the row of sopranos across the front with a quartet of mixed voices (soprano, alto, etc.). The Carol began with its recurring short Chorus, from whose opening words it takes its title, and to which the text of the verse (sung by the quartet) leads up each time : at moments, one had been aware of the tone-colours of these chosen singers in the whole, but (necessarily) with the first verse they came to be appreciated more fully, and to delight, with the alto voice being especially lovely.

The succeeding Chorus opened with tenor voices, before the others joined in, and then opened to a full sound. Mention of Mary in the second verse was coupled with a more expansive feeling, with the other voices treating of the words, and in a way that reminded a little of Monteverdi. This time, the Chorus seemed more reserved, and to be singing with dignity, the dignity of ‘her manners’***** on which the narrator is ‘musing’ in the last verse (sung without soprano voice, in which we might otherwise identify with Mary ?). The final line of the Chorus, beginning ‘O pater, o fili’, was expansive, but we nevertheless came to a thoughtful, quiet close.


In twelve lines - with the invariant closing line, about the sweetness of love, Amor, quam dulcis est amor ! [in which ‘dulcis’ kept coming to the fore] - (14) ‘A child is born in Bethlehem’ is another Traditional number that we might hear, in passing, at King’s in Nine Lessons and Carols : it is barely more than a minute long, so it was grouped with the two items that followed. Not that she did not succeed in it, but there was a quite exposed and difficult solo for Emilia Morton (soprano), with long notes, and not easy to lay against the rest of the texture.

Tavener’s second piece, (15) O, do not move, is from the same decade as The Lamb, and it was also characterized by softness of delivery, e.g. of the way in which, three times, we heard O, do not move. If we might borrow Arvo Pärt’s use of the word, there was a tintinnabulation on the opening word, also sung three times, of what serves as a response, Listen to the gentle beginning, where, when we were given the remainder of the text, it was tenderly, with oriental, descending intervals, and, more prominently than at the start, a hummed drone. Partly, as precious stones might, achieving its effect by the company in which it is placed, Tavener’s composition challengingly shone.

Alec Roth’s (16) Song of the Shepherds had been commissioned, by Little St Mary’s Church, in Cambridge, as a setting of words by Richard Crashaw (priest there from 1638 to 1643), and first performed, not at Christmas, but in April 2013. With eight verses of poetry, it was a flowingly and gently accented narrative-style composition, employing word-pictures to mark significant events, e.g. when we came to Gloomy night embraced the place (the second verse), or We saw thee in thy balmy nest (the fourth) : in that verse, Roth uses a little riff on the words We saw thee (which occur three times), but his general approach is legato, and, if there are subsidiary lines, they are easily followed. A piece of tones / moods, reducing (as the choice of possible resting-places is gradually eliminating) in forces at the end.


The Christmas motet (17) O beatum et sacrosanctum diem by Peter Philips, again noticeably shorter, was again part of the aspect of the programme that treated of The Nativity as such (as in the work (16) by Roth immediately before, or the two (13, 14) that preceded Tavener’s O, do not move). In the first, establishing verse, Philips is only lavish with notes to emphasize the phrase pro nobis, whereas, in the second, we heard several phrases embellished (such as in sono), after a repeat, with lively voices, of the opening line of praise Gaudeat itaque universus orbis. In the last verse, syllables were very clearly spaced, allowing for the effect of bell-sounds in descending figures, and we closed with a highly celebratory, extended Noë, noë.


As heard by Byrd (in the first half (8)), Robert Parsons had set the (18) Ave Maria, and we heard it likewise reverentially, and initially slowly, although there was a sense of it building, with the blessing Dominus tecum of the second line. However, there was an equal impression of falling back afterwards to be attentive and devotional, with Mary’s blessedness and that of Jesus (in her womb). A gentle ‘Amen’ concluded, with rise, fall, and cadence.



There was no enthusiasm to allow the concert to end there, and much for it to continue, so The Sixteen were persuaded to return, with two encores. (When they came back on stage, they took up new positions, in four groups : two at the back (a four stage left, next to a five), and two angled on the sides, with a five next to a four, and vice versa.)

First, the setting, by Michael Praetorius (?) (1571–1621), of the fourteenth-century text ‘Quem pastores laudavere’, sung with due reverence, and, as with other of the pieces that had been performed, relying for its effect relatively linearly, with the sound of one verse building on (or otherwise differing from) what preceded it. As Christmas was just days ahead, The Sixteen finished for the evening with another contrast, in ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’. Nothing flashy, but, with their combined vocal calibre, not unremarkable that they had given us a concluding Christmas piece that we could have joined in with – if we had dared !

As it was, we thanked them for the quality and intensity of their singing with yet more applause : an evening of music with all the professionalism and interpretative spirit that one would expect.



End-notes

* The Choral Pilgrimages have perhaps tended to take longer settings for their focus, made by two or three composers who were either peers, or where the influence of an established one could be seen on someone younger ?

** For those who do not know the piece (or did not hear the concert), there is a recording of The Sixteen performing it here.

*** Presumably meaning the Kings Herod (respectively, The Great, and Antipas) ?

**** Perhaps mistaking one’s Tudor composers, from a concert in which Stile Antico (@stileantico) had given works written in the reign of every Tudor monarch (at Beverley Early Music Festival, but not seemingly recorded as such), Byrd had been recalled as one whose density of layering had made the text (even with the programme) hardest to follow. If it was not he (and he had, rather, proved the rule by being the exception), Harry Christophers nonetheless indulged a question in the interval about the difficulty of bringing out the vocal-lines in performing Byrd’s work – as he necessarily would (as one realized, in putting the question !), he hoped that he managed.

As to Byrd and complication, though, he mentioned that The Choral Pilgrimage 2016 was going to feature an eight-part setting – it is as yet unidentified amongst many works by Byrd, listed on The Sixteen’s web-site : failing on 8 April, at the chapel at St John’s College, Cambridge (@stjohnscam), the nearest dates as yet announced appear to be Milton Keynes (28 September), or Kings Place (@KingsPlace) (3 November).

***** Likely to be close to its French origins in manière, and, at a guess, to mean something more like ‘bearing’, even than ‘behaviour’ ? Unlike with the other two verses, in a text (set in 1530) we might struggle to construe the full meaning of these first four lines, for example the opening pair Musing on her manners / so nigh marr’d was my main.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)