Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cultural Fun Things I Did Around London

I enjoyed a number of cultural type entertainments last week, here’s what they were and what they were like:

An Audience with Clarke Peters

The Wire’s Lester Freeman took the stage to discuss his career, his big TV break through and his socio-political views of life in London. It was pretty sweltering in the E4 Udderbelly tent, and the small audience where perspiring heavily while the old luvvy regaled us with his acting adventures. It was clear from the off that Mr Peters was pretty full of himself, and some his jokes found more favour from him than the audience. An impersonation of Lance Reddick’s walk met with general all round bemusement.

Still, Mr Peters had plenty of interesting stories, of particular interest where his tales of preparing for The Wire by spending time with Policeman in Baltimore, as well as the turf wars caused because of filming – gangs were forced to move to different corners. Now an expert on racial tensions, Peters went on to quiz the audience as to whether they thought London was going the same way as Baltimore. To be fair to him, his opinions were sensible and well balanced. And his stories about doing school theatre with the Travolta family raised a few smiles. An engaging, if slightly too self -assured, performance.

Penn & Teller: Live at the Hammersmith Apollo

Me and my brother used to watch Penn & Teller when we were kids so we both had a sense of excitement at seeing these two old pros. We weren’t disappointed; besides being great magicians and professional showmen, Penn & Teller are also excellent comedians, and while certain tricks were designed to surprise and delight, others were simply there for comic value.

Amongst the highlights was Penn guessing what joke members of the audience at the back of the auditorium had chosen from joke books distributed at random; and Penn getting a card trick apparently wrong thus preventing him from saving Teller from drowning in a water tank. Perhaps the best trick was about misdirection; a man from the audience was given control of a camera, which record scenes played on the screens on either side of the stage. Penn then performed slight of hand tricks in front of the camera, deliberately directing the limited view scope away from Teller who was rather obviously handing and taking away objects in full view of the audience. But the trick was on us, the man from the audience was Teller after all. And the man handing Penn objects had disappeared...

Smart, fun and very, very funny.

An Audience with Alexei Sayle
Sayle is often considered to be the father of alternative comedy, and was voted number 12 in Channel 4’s Top 100 stand-ups list. Yet, Sayle hasn’t done stand up since the mid 80’s. As a fan of his work, seeing him read extracts from his new autobiography ‘Stalin Ate My Homework’ was as close as I was going to get. It was easy, right from the off, to see why Sayle was so popular. He comes on, arms outstretched - an enormous, unstoppable personality. While seen mostly today as an interviewee or documentary presenter, on stage Sayle becomes unstoppable, almost rabid, as he tells tall tales of growing up in a strict communist household.

Highlights included the time he was prevented from seeing fascist Disney’s Bambi, and instead, was given a real treat – a chance to see Sergei Eisenstein’s 1939 classic Alexander Nevsky. Then there was the time he swore in front of his mother, which unleashed so many years of repressed swearing from her, that from that point on, she swore more heavily than anyone Sayle knew, to the point where he was afraid to bring his friends home.

The audience deliberately tried to rile him up with questions about Ben Elton and the Communist Worker’s Party. But Sayle loudly implored them to give him a break when quizzed on the current coalition government. All in all, he was in fine form, a larger than life personality who really ought to be on stage or on TV much more than he is.

British Film Institute Lectures: ‘This Film is Dangerous’ and ‘The Search for the Most Wanted’

Despite being sweltering outside, these 2 illuminating talks, which were staged to celebrate 75 years of the National Film archive, were largely packed out.

The first talk discussed nitrate film, the explosive former film stock which was used once in all cinemas around Britain, but today, is largely illegal. Only the British Film Institute is legally able to show the films, which besides being highly flammable, also decay considerably over time. The talk included an educational film which showed how to deal with fires caused by nitrate film. The answer being, actually, very little if you let it get going. The stuff is quite terrifying once it sparks. Although with the copy and paste film slides, and some video queuing issues, it was a little amateurish, it was a well constructed and interesting talk about an important part of cinema history.

The 2nd talk was about films missing from the archive and showed some of the existing footage that had been discovered. Things were a lot more organised this time, but with the differing films and the almost random selection of films, it was a little disjointed. Nevertheless it was very informative the speakers were very engaging and there was a touch of mystery about seeing parts of film which may never actually get shown on a big screen again.