August 2009

John Hughes, the movie guy, passed away this month. I was doing some reading on him and came up with a few points that I felt worth saving as I think he’s probably going to be responsible for more mid-life crises than Harley Davidson can possibly recitify.

Hughes was an exceptional director. Surprisingly, though, he directed all his films in a seven year window from 1984 to 1991. In those seven years, he was ultimately responsible for such seminal movies as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Uncle Buck. Six great movies. In sevcn years. Plus a couple of duffers we won’t mention. Plus he wrote all those. Over and above that, he had a hand in Pretty In Pink, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Class Reunion. The guy was an absolute genius and if he doesn’t pick up some posthemous awards at next year’s Oscars, I’ll be hugely disappointed.

But I’m kinda disappointed anyway. Because I grew up with the characters in The Breakfast Club. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time and I know the script inside out. I was those kids (which, believe it or not, is grammatically correct) and being born in ’73, it’s my era. I was 12 when I thought I was watching 16 year olds.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the ages of those who starred in this defining movie:

Molly Ringwald — she’s 41 now. I can just about live with that.

Anthony Michael Hall — he’s also 41. He always seemed the youngest of the group, which I guess he was, but even so. 5 year start on me. Not so bad, consider I was 12 when he was supposed to be 16 or 17.

Emilio Estevez — he’s 47. 47.

Ally Sheedy — she was my favourite. She’s 47, too. My God. Suddenly feel much older.

but get this:

Judd Nelson — the bad boy in the bunch. Judd Nelson, aka John Bender, will be fifty this November. I feel kinda sick. Fuck knows how he feels about it.

Urgh. Thanks John Hughes. The one thing missing from my day was appreciation of my own mortality. Nice one.

The reprinted Spirit of Shackleton is now up and running at The Story Garden 8. It’s a great issue with some excellent work so I’m proud to be part of it. You can check out my story and other work at

Way, way, way back in February, I announced that Between The Lines was published in Fiction At Work. Well, I’ve just found out from them that my story has been selected to appear in their upcoming anthology, due for release in 2010. Anyway, just thought I’d mention it, what with it being really exciting and cool and stuff.

Inglourious_Basterds_posterAs much as I enjoyed Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds — and I enjoyed it a lot — when I was driving home from the preview in Stirling this evening, I wondered how much more I would’ve enjoyed it, had it been two movies.

Tarantino likes breaking up the linear narrative and bolting it back together into a more alluring package. Would Pulp Fiction have been so entertaining had it obeyed a natural chronological flow? Probably not. Part of the joy was seeing how stuff you already knew fell into place in the grander work. Anyway, in Inglourious, there are two very obvious threads that make up the story: there’s the Jewish cinema owner, played quite exquisitely by Mélanie Laurent (no, I haven’t heard of her either but I think her entire back catalogue is in her native French) and then there are the titular Basterds, led by a particularly square-jawed Brad Pitt (who I have heard of — I think he’s quite famous).

The first thread is a moving, psychological character study, which probably only covers a small handful of scenes that feel longer than they actual are simply because of the power of the mind games being played in them. Pivotal to this is the role of the SS’s star Jew Hunter and a performance by Christoph Waltz (no, I haven’t heard of him either but I think his entire back catalogue is in his native German) which, in my opinion, is so strong, it steals the movie until the threads converge and he gets his one on one time with Brad Pitt and then it was mneh, not so much.

The second thread is less strong in a cerebral way but no less tense and powerful. The Basterds are a team of American Jews who cut about war-torn France collecting scalps of Nazis. Literally. Historical accuracy, I should point out, takes a back seat and is eventually gagged during the denouement when it won’t stop muttering about how everything’s wrong. In this thread, Mike Myers of Austin Powers fame does absolutely nothing to convince us he has any depth in the roles he’s capable of playing, but is amusing nonetheless.

Both these threads could easily work alone in separate 90 minute movies that shared a common ending. So while Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2 were continuations of the same story, the Vols 1 & 2 here would be largely concurrent efforts, told from differing viewpoints. What Tarantino might have been able to add to these separate volumes might have made very interesting viewing … but who am I to question the great man? Especially as what he has given us is two-and-a-half hour work that is visceral enough in places to be described as a romp and as intimate and personal to be called a study.

The trademarked Tarantino dialogue that we all expect is there, tout force, and works here just as well as any of his other offerings. In Inglourious Basterds, though, I think the movie excels its stablemates because a huge percentage of this sparkling dialogue is delivered via subtitle. And yet it still works.

Special mention goes to Diane Kruger, who I remember from National Treasure (don’t ask), but here she has a couple of close-ups moments that I felt were mesmerising and pitched beautifully. Actually, as a whole, the acting talent is pretty much faultless and even QT’s continued habit of interfering with the occasional shot (Uma Thurman’s square in Pulp Fiction for example) is forgivable — here he has arrows pointing the high ranking Nazis and a couple of cartoony interludes.

There’s a slight theme of masterpiece that runs through the film so the obvious question to ask is, Is this Quentin Tarantino’s materpiece? For me, that accolade still belongs to Pulp Fiction but I felt on first viewing, this was a more satisfying experience than Reservoir Dogs or at least on a par. Controversial.

… I’ve been scouring the Information Super B Road for more info and came across this cover of Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold, which couldn’t fail but remind me of Nickel Creek’s Toxic cover (see? told you there were similarities!). Here’s both for those unconvinced:

So far, it’s been a quiet sort of year gig-wise, but even if it hadn’t been, it’s safe to say I’d be hard pushed to have seen anything any better than Brandi Carlile at the Garage in Glasgow this evening. She was wonderful and the 400 to 500 strong Glasgow crowd seemed to win a place in her heart thanks to their inability to listen to songs they like without joining in themselves.

It’s something that Barenaked Ladies enjoy and comment on every time they play the Barrowlands, and when Brandi invited everyone to join her in Turpentine, she had to quickly add, “Not that you guys need any encouragement.”

Highlights of the evening were an unplugged and unamplified rendition of How These Days Grow Long (or Dying Day), The Story (obviously) and Folsom Prison Blues which was as rowdy as Brandi promised. Her voice throughout was amazing and the passion she puts into her performance is something that filters through to the crowd and probably filters its way back. I know that we can all be guilty of assuming that performers think that our venue is better than any others, but it genuinely looked like she and the twins were having the time of their lives.IMG_0296

The intimacy of the Garage is really growing on me. At the furthest point away from the stage, it’s still close enough to identify individual beads of sweat. Sadly, though, not even that’s good enough for the iPhone’s camera, so apologies for the shoddiness of the image.

Surprise of the night was how good the support band — Kill It Kid — turned out to be. They list Fleet Foxes, Laura Marling and Beth Orton among their “if you like these guys, you might like us” list. I thought there were elements of Rusted Root and Nickel Creek in there, too, in their tightly arranged, poppy, bluesy, folksy rocky type tunes. The band had the aura of a bunch of school or uni pals playing together and I found it hugely endearing when they cleared their own gear from the stage and ended up flogging their own merch after the gig. I think it was the drummer who sold me their promo CD singles. They’re back in Glasgow in October, playing The Captain’s Rest. See you there.

Thursday morning.

The sun remained out for our final tour of some scattered venues that we missed earlier in the week. The dream of seeing and critting every venue seems rather optimistic now, but we hit more than half so it was still a good effort.

34. McLeod & Duncan et al. A real family exhibition held in the family home. We met Nanzie McLeod, local author, who called me “bearded one” and told me I looked local. Julie has all Nanzie’s previous books and bought her more recent one which the author signed. Downstairs, Jules Duncan’s relief pictures of dinosaurs and Braille and partially eaten chocolate bars and optometrist boards are very inventive. Please mind the step, however. Always mind the step.

35. Jennifer Pettigrew. A lot of variation in styles while remaining fairly neutral and accessible. Warm golden abstracts that I could see in showhomes and restaurants and furniture stores. My favourites were photos of boats masts in the sky that were inverted and photoshopped to give an illusion of water.

30. Reinhard Behrens. Very odd but in a good way. Reinhard does gorgeous illustrations of camels in the desert and remote villagers and Venetian canals and sepia 1920s expeditions, all with this little yellow toy submarine somewhere in the image. It’s called Naboland and has quite an alien feel although I’m not sure I get it. Despite this, I had to admire the dedication given to the installation in the venue. Margaret Smyth’s work is a little more grounded and features clockwork dolls and caged birds. Both are a little spooky.

28. Tracy Butler. Tracy’s Korea-inspired pastels just remind me of how few exhibitions have been solely seascapes and puffins this year. Highlight was a mixed media tiger in golds with a fantastic crackle effect through it. And what a lovely person too!

IMG_028727. Mark Bannerman. Surreal 3D renderings. The Scotch Pie Fight has proved very popular. The images have a strange Victorian freak show feel, making them even more interesting.

71. Adrienne McStay. Sculptures of pretty big acorns and oddly scorched boulders. Not quite my cuppa but Julie lapped it up.

70. Jewellry. I’m not best placed to comment.

65. Mairi Clark. Abstract landscapes in big blocks of colour are a bit hit and miss for me. The ones I liked were more down to the colours and general composition rather than what they said to me.

63. Ian Rolland. Perfectly delightful local watercolour landscapes and Parisianesque St Andrews cafe culture. Doesn’t stand out against its ilk but there’s only so many ways to paint these kinds of subject with this kind of media and after six days and dozens of venues, a certain sameyness is unavoidable.

4. Liz Yule and Angus McDonald. Same as 63, really, although Breakdancers on the Royal Mile has that X Factor. Hundreds of red dots suggest far more enthusiasm than perhaps I have and Julie described one of the floral works as masterful. At this stage, I was getting hungry and a little grumpy.

2. Marlene Byres. Landscapes but this time done in mixed media and embroydery and cotton. A fresh approach.

1. Horsburgh. James More Horsburgh paints angry seas and the boats that braved them. Excellent movement and light and I’m not just saying that because he’s famous. So even though it’s predominantly subject matter that I like to avoid at Pittenweem, it’s impossible not to admire the scale, skill and precision in the work.

43. Outbye Gallery and Ovenstone Artists  Outside Pittenweem in nearby Ovenstone, Lynsey Ewan does huge oils of out of focus fruits and flora that make the journey worthwhile but there’s so much to choose from here and so many different styles, especially if your tastes are a little more avant garde.

The Festival finishes on Sunday, but that about wraps it up for us. It’s been a great week in the East Neuk and the best Pittenweem we’ve seen in the four or five years coming here, helped by the weather and our fabulous lodgings and grandly underpinned by the fine food at the St Andrews Cheese Company, from which I’ve been pestering m’colleague Stoobs with pictures of my lunches. The variety of work, while I haven’t done it justice and have probably made it sound quite similar in these posts, has been very broad indeed. And judging my the amount of red dots scattered around town, that recession thingamebob might be on the way out.

Pictures will be added to the last few posts tomorrow night when I’m back in the land of wi-fi broadband.

Until next year …

Wednesday morning. 

Hot and sunny and we find ourselves on West Shore collecting the venues in the 80s and I’m enjoying four bars of reception for the first time. If I haven’t already done so, I’m beginning to run out of ways to describe landscape watercolours. Judge for yourself.   

87. Heather Cunningham. Very easy style. Thick strokes without bring very impressionist and delicate watercolour flowers. Enjoyed our conversation regarding a pregnant or just lazy cat.

86. Gina Wright. Quite simply the best pastel work at the festival. Light and shade is fantastic.  

84. Patrick Duncan. An interesting non-runny use of watercolour in these landscapes.  

83. Louise Scott. Etchings of nature with a Celtic/Norse/Watership Down theme. Lots of greens and blues. Looks maddening work, requiring patience and persistence, not two of my most abundant qualities.

Forgive the somewhat lack lustre commentary. It really was very warm this morning and the festival was soon abandoned in favour of Elie and Lower Largo for a spot of paddling.   

Tuesday Morning.

We were a Festival-Free-Zone yesterday so no update. Julie abandoned me in favour of a pastel workshop run by Cath Reed, leaving me to amuse myself in St Andrews. Refreshed from the break, we tackled this morning’s efforts with vim and vigour, only for the morning to retalliate by pishing it down on us.

21. David Graham. Bhopal 25 years on. Bhopal is one of the first memories I have of big news and I confess that I was unaware that the effects of the Union Carbide disaster is still felt today through contaminated water. What a price to pay for some pesticides. The exhibition of David Graham’s photography from a recent visit to the area are to a National Geographic standard. The images of abandoned industry are chilling enough, but nowhere near as affecting as the stark photos of survivors and their offspring.

22. Ricky Thorbjornsen. Ricky’s work is mainly pastel and watercolou and he makes good use of reflections and sunlight in his Edinburgh and east coast landscapes. The paintings that aren’t quite so obviously what they’re supposed to be works better.

23. Robert Cairns. Robert is a character. Without a doubt, one of the friendliest welcomes we’ve had and that’s not just because he plied us with vino and shortbread at a little after midday. Judging by the number of red dots, Robert’s had a good festival so far and deservingly so. He has a good head for the audience he’s going to attract and has sensibly sized and framed his work so it can be picked up and hung at home with minimal fuss. Particularly, his pen and ink work of Parisian buildings carries such sophistication and detail, it’s another example of wishing we’d put a little more cash aside

80. Susie Lacome. I’ve been admiring Susie’s work for years and I still don’t know exactly how her linocut prints work. It’s an unusual and charming technique and however it’s done, the results are awkward angled buildings and people and fish vans and gulls and washing lines and it all just comes together perfectly.

79. Tim Cockburn, Hilke MacIntyre and Ian MacIntyre. Tim parodies the supposed masters of Scottish art so imagine caricatures if Vetriano and that ice skating dude from the National Gallery. Hilke Macintyre works in ceramic reliefs and, strangely enough, linocuts, but her motifs are far more urban than Susie as she mostly deals with people and boozy nights out. Ian Macintyre linocut (again?!) and linocut style oils give a cartoon style simplification of people and places.

77. Paul Bartlett. Paul is hugely successful. We’ve been in to his venue for four years and every time we go in, he’d usually wrapping up another sale. His acryllic collages of wildlife — mostly using torn up magazine pages — have impressed me for years but the work seems to lack evolution and so what we saw today wasn’t a whole lot different to what we saw in 2007. Still, they’re big, bold and expensive and he never seems to have a problem shifting his work which must be useful if you want to eat.

Craig Mitchell

Craig Mitchell

72. Craig Mitchell. We finished up the session in the harbourmaster’s building with Craig Mitchell’s comical sculptures. The work is hugely inventive and he really runs with an idea, taking it to a conclusion. Picks of the bunch were the three caged birds, all attempting escape by different means: saw, blowtorch and dynamite, plus Airfix styled Boyfriend Kit, complete with box and component sheet. My only complaint was there wasn’t enough of it.

Before heading off to spend an afternoon with scones and friends, we had a fantastic lunch at the St Andrews Farmhouse & Cheese Company. If you’re in the area, you’ve got to try it.

Sunday Morning.

Our luck was in again on this fine Sunday morning. If earthenware was the theme for yesterday, today seems to be sponsored by more ads for tarot, past life regressions, aromatherapy and Indian head massages than I’ve ever seen, either in this life or any previous ones. Sunday morning was spent mostly along James Street which runs through Pittenweem.

49. Open Exhibition. As you’d expect, a real mixed bag of styles, techniques, media and capability. Features two of Julie’s collages which hold their own quite comfortably. Not much in the way of red dots which doesn’t bode entirely well but it does mean that we might be able to put our hall back to the way it was once this is all over.

88. Winton, Demarco & Newman. Feels like a proper City gallery. It used to be a car showroom so it’s über spacious and the empty spaces were filled with Spanish guitar music. Susan Winton’s mixed media abstract landscapes were striking as were the numberous Richard Demarco pencil (I think) illustrations, which look like film noir movie storyboards. Terry Ann Newman, I just don’t get. At all. While we were browsing, Richard Demarco turned up with a couple of Californian types to sit at a table and discuss the Festival (not that I was eavesdropping). However, while I was eavesdropping, I heard Mr Demarco mention that he thought it was a shame that most artists use the same venues every year and they should mix it up to keep things fresh. I tend to agree, but more importantly, I think artists shouldn’t exhibit the same stuff year in, year out which quite a few of them do.

50. Church Hall. This is split into three venues. The main hall is taken up with some Capability Scotland artwork, featuring work by an artist called Garland who only draws, with felt tips, largely identical topless women; particularly his nurses. It’s impossible not to smile. Upstairs, one of the smallest venues has some of the biggest paintings. Morag Muir’s work is full of Persian colours and influence but the subject matter is typically contemporary (for example, a tin of Quality Street). The annexe is a threads and textiles exhibition that draws on influence from Native and Latin American as well as more homely Gaelic hues.

51. Sheila Caldwell. This was the first venue that was obviously in someone’s house. Mostly woodland watercolours that I thought my mum would love but a bit too safe and obvious for my tastes.

56. John Gifford. With the smell of a nearby barbecue on a Sunday lunchtime, it was tricky to concentrate on John’s pictures of the East Neuk. This was the first venue that exhibited artwork of predominantly local inspiration. Again, maybe a bit standard, and his more impressionist work was, funnily enough, more impressive even if they were thinner on the ground.

Sunday Afternoon.

After a seafood lunch at the Heron Bistro, we strolled up West Braes where we knew we’d be in for a treat or two although unfortunately, the guy who sculpted a G2 Mac out of a block of granite was nowhere to be found this year.


Angie Turner

33. Angie Turner & Suzi Morrow. One of our favourites from last year, we found Angie Turner in sparkling form. It would be hard to visit her and not come away feeling that all is right in the world and this little corner of it is populated with genuinely lovely people. We bought another fairground horse as a companion to last year’s. Angie takes obvious inspiration from circus and fairground themes and her abstract work is fabulous, making me wish we’d stuck a couple of hundred aside to pick one up. It’s abstract working as abstract should, requiring a little effort on behalf of the viewer to piece the puzzle together. Sadly, Suzi Morrow, who we also liked very much last year, had to pull out this year and we didn’t catch the names of the other artists sharing the venue in her stead, although they were just as impressive. Huge screenprints taking inspiration from New York and Dundee (we laughed with the artist at the unusual fusion) and very emotionally affecting sculptures (an old typewriter with sepia Victorian faces for keys) really threatened to overwhelm my poor brain, but in a nice way!  Without a doubt, Venue 33 has been the most enjoyable so far and we’ll enjoy a second visit later in the week for photos and to right the wrongs of forgotten names.

After a brief break, we found ourselves chalking off some of the venues along the High Street, starting with one that gets plenty of column inches in the Festival Programme.

7. Masahiro Kawanaka is a Japanese installation artist. For this exhibit, he’s stretched audio tape across a garage, creating a moving wall of brown tape which flickers in the wind. That’s it. There were many raised eyebrows and not much interest in the chair that had been, perhaps optimistically, placed in front of the tape for those wanting an extended view. I hate dismissing the unusual just because it’s unusual, but I honestly can’t say what they artist was hoping to achieve with the work.

37. Jean Dakin, Doris French & Nicky Fraser.  Doris French had sold all of her quilted pictures, just like last year. Hardly surprising, but a little disappointing as her work is honest and charming. Jean Dakin presented lovely loose pastels of African savannah and townships. Nicky Fraser’s work is a little harder to place and pigeonhole but the bold, almost cubist, primary colour representation of busy harbours certainly hits you between the eyes. A lot packed into this garage.

14. Elizabeth Shepherd. Etchings. Accompanied as they were by disturbing sci-fi music, the whole thing was rather surreal. Elizabeth herself read a book in the corner of the room, which she’s perfectly entitled to do, but I find when the artist takes the time to engage and converse with the audience it’s a) a more interesting experience and b) we have a better chance of understanding the work. Neither happened and I recall neither happening last year, either.

18. Maureen Traquair. As we discovered, Maureen owns the venue and, as it turns out, the shop underneath. Some very striking photography perhaps just a little usurped by the astonishing views of the Firth of Forth from the window where a trawler was being pestered by a million gulls.

The Little Gallery

The Little Gallery

13. The Little Gallery. This has to be the most wonderful building in the festival, so much so it’s hard to remember to look at the art. There’s no one artist here so it’s a bit of a hotch-potch and I’ve got to say nothing much caught my eye in either a good or bad way … but what an amazing room. The main part of the building used to be a fisherman’s cottage and fishermen back in the day were a bunch of short-arses so there are very low ceilings throughout. Then, through one door, it’s like stepping into a massive cavern, albeit one with an attractive mezzanine and I half-expected to find Nicholas Cage searching for some lost treasure behind the ottoman.

6. The Fisher Gallery. We finished the afternoon in another favourite haunt. There’s so much to admire in this permanent, year-round gallery and pound for pound it probably has more fantastic work than most. This year, we were particularly taken by Lynn Muir’s Burtonesque art from driftwood. Jan Fisher’s masterful use of watercolour never disappoints and she captures some of my favourite Neuk themed seascapes. It’s all good, though.

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