Monday 13 February 2012

Not Film 2012... but a film review anyway: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May MarleneI went to the cinema last week and, because of the lateness of my arrival, had a limited choice: Carnage or Martha Marcy May Marlene (or 4M, as I shall henceforth refer to it. Judging by Rol's review I probably would have enjoyed the former very much. However, I went for the latter... and am very glad I did, to the extent that although it is only February I might have already seen my film of the year.

4M starts innocently enough - a young girl seems to be living a simple life in some sort of quasi-Amish agrarian commune in the Catskill's that might seem a bit odd to the casual observer but not really much more odd than, for example, the actual Amish might to the average 21st Century Westerner. But then our protagonist, who we come to think of as Martha, Marcy May or Marlene depending on the context, makes a break. She literally escapes the commune. What's going on?

Martha, an entirely convincing and scarily good Elizabeth Olsen (pictured), is quickly rescued by her estranged sister and from there two stories are told in parallel: Martha's struggle to adapt to conventional life and, in flashback, her time in the commune as Marcy May (and, on the phone, Marlene). And it's those flashbacks that make this film so effective, the way the story is delicately paid out. As you might expect, bad things happened in the commune. Very bad things indeed. I won't spoil the film for you here with any more detail than that, but what I will say is this. I like an FX-laden adventure fest as much as the next man. But I also love films that deliver a story at a slower pace, letting the viewer interpret without jump-cuts and excessive dialogue being imposed. 4M is just one such film - it tells a difficult story in its own way, at its own pace, and is all the better for it. Oh, and Elizabeth Olsen is nothing short of a revelation, giving a powerhouse performance - no mean feat, especially considering that she is on-screen for just about the whole time.

And the ending caught pretty much the whole of Screen 3 at my local picture house on the hop, including me, which can only be a good thing.

Here's the trailer - now go and see the damned film (you don't get that from Claudia Winkleman, do you?). Oh, and you'll be able to buy it on Amazon before you know it too.

Monday 6 February 2012

Clandestine Classic XXIII - Far Away

ClearlakeThe 23rd post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I'll be honest, I don't know too much about the band that provide today's classic. I only have this one track by them, and I only have that because it was on the cover-mounted CD that came with March 2006's Uncut magazine. In other words, sorry - if you came here hoping to read chapter and verse on Clearlake, you're in the wrong place. All I can tell you is what I've read on their website and Wikipedia page.

Seems that Clearlake are a four-piece that formed in Brighton in 1999, comprising Jason Pegg (vocals, guitar, keyboards), David 'Woody' Woodward (bass, guitar, vocals, unimaginative nicknames), Toby May (drums) and Jim Briffett (guitar, vocals). Spot the three vocal credits? You might expect some harmonies then (and you won't be disappointed, at least with today's track). Clearlake had some early critical acclaim, but less commercial success, as so often seems to be the case. What, I wonder, is the elusive "X" factor required to transform the former into the latter? Whatever it is, it isn't pedalled by Cowell et al, but I digress. Back to Clearlake. I like to think they named themselves after the town in Iowa where Buddy Holly played his last gig and where his plane crashed on take-off, but I have no way of knowing if that's true - I just like to think it is. And they released three albums - the third, in January 2006, was called Amber and included today's classic, Far Away.

The thing is, I listen to this song, and love it, but because I don't know anything else by Clearlake, I hear other bands, other songs, other sounds. I hear influences. And I hear snippets of my music collection littered throughout the track. That's probably why I like it so much, and think is worthy of clandestine classic status. Example? I hear the drum line from Pounding by Doves. I imagine a bit of Teenage Fanclub in the vocals. I even get a bit of early Charlatans in the harmonies. I can find bits of The Real People in the guitar motifs (remember them? They might feature here one day). A little bit of Electric Soft Parade too, maybe? Whatever. I hear all these things, but have no way of knowing whether they are representative of the general Clearlake sound. All I know is that they make this track sound good.

Looking at the band's website, it seems they've been very quiet of late - in fact, the only remotely recent activity seems to be solo gigging for frontman Jason. Perhaps Clearlake have called it a day. Would this be a shame? Again, I don't know. What I do know is that you may find this link of interest (which naturally has nothing to do with me). Alternatively, you can at least enjoy today's classic courtesy of YouTube - here it is. What do you reckon?