Saturday, 27 October 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

As a 16 year old I saw Queen on their Sheer Heart Attack tour in 1975 and a year later, also in Bristol, saw them on their A Night at the Opera tour (I still have the concert brochure!). Two concerts that have stuck in my memory for their sheer energy and power. I grew up with Queen. To see this film certainly was to embark on a nostalgic journey. To experience the music was to reawaken the realisation that in Queen we have a unique sound and an amazing set of songs.

Much has been said about this film and the critics have been extremely vocal. For me, this was not so much a biopic of Queen but an exploration of vocation and human identity. Much of the film centres on Freddie Mercury played brilliantly by Rami Malek. It does not however deliver insider information on Freddie's descent into drugs and gay relationships. These elements are present briefly, but only to serve the development of the narrative context. If people are looking for salacious title-tattle, they will be disappointed. This film has more important things to say.

It begins and ends at the Liveaid concert at Wembley in 1985 charting the journey of Freddie, or
Farrokh Bulsara to give him his birth name, from Heathrow baggage handler to $4 million dollar signing. Freddie's origins are complicated and his lineage comes from Persia via India and Zanzibar to Feltham, of a Parsi family with Zoroastrian roots. If you add to this his wrestle with his own sexuality, you have someone who doesn't really fit in anywhere. This was the driving force for his life journey and for the uniqueness of Queen's sound.

The film makes it clear that Freddie's flamboyance and musical abilities were indicators of the direction in which he would find fulfilment. Stifled by parental expectations and living for live performances, Freddie had to escape and when the opportunity presented itself he grabbed it and Queen were born. In the process he connected deeply with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) - a relationship which never ended.

The film makes it clear that Freddie's journey was a vocational one. He needed to discover who he was and writing songs and performing helped him to do that. With endless tours and new albums under their belt in an epiphany Freddie announces that he is a 'performer' and a self-satisfied grin grows across his face. He has finally found out who he really is. His exceptional ability to connect with an audience was perhaps the single most important aspect that gave such power and energy to Queen's live performances.

That is until another epiphany reveals to him that he thinks he may be bisexual. How Mary handles this is tenderly wonderful. I cannot remember seeing a film or engaging with a story which so empathetically follows someone searching for their sense of self. Perhaps at the age I am, I still possess a naivety, but I have never had to question my own sexual identity. The film enabled me to see how closely sexuality is, for some, an integral part of self-identity in a way that I had not fully appreciated before. What's more, it allowed me to see how much it was equally an expression of vocation, as being a performer for Freddie. That is if we understand vocation to be, becoming the fullest possible expression of the person we were created to be. What the film makes clear is that while Freddie was happy to allow the performer side of his identity to be public property, his sexuality which was for him such an intimate part of his identity, he wished that it remain private. The film moved me to tears many times.

Aficionados of Queen will undoubtedly find many holes in the plot, characters and representation of what happened to their group. Band members Brian May and Roger Taylor were creative advisors to the makers of the film and wished nothing to appear in the film that would diminish Freddie Mercury's legacy or memory. That they achieved.

Anyone with an interest in popular music of the 1970s and 80s should go an see this film. Anyone who likes to engage in a believable story told through compelling acting should go and see this film. If you have an interest in how sexuality forms part of self-identity, you should go and see this film. If you are reading this - you should go and see the film. I'll give it 8/10.

Shadow World

We are fortunate to have within our congregations a number of folk who are engaged in wider issues as a means of increasing the impact of the Christian Gospel on the world in which we live. One such lady asked if we could screen this film at our regular monthly gathering and I was happy to oblige. We drew a crowd of over 70.

Based on Andrew Feinstein's book of the same name, the film is a chilling documentary that catalogues how the relationships between governments, arms dealers, arms manufacturers and customers are completely incestuous. Within this area of world trade, a complete sub-culture exists and has its own economy as tax pounds and dollars are frittered away in backhanders and subsidies to sell arms and munitions - many times to countries that can ill afford them or pay for their upkeep and maintenance. Too often poorer developing countries buy weapons platforms that they do have the expertise to use or likely contexts in which to deploy them. They certainly cannot afford the 'consumable' munitions these platforms deliver! Meanwhile, middle men and former government ministers grow fat on the profits.

We were excited and privileged to welcome Andrew Feinstein to present the film and to talk about it answering questions afterwards. If you want to book a screening of the film (which is not yet commercially available) get in touch with The organisation Campaign Against Arms Trade have a host of other resources and events if you are interested.

Watching this film may leave you thinking 'what can I do'? On your own, your options may seem limited. You can campaign, march, rally, write to your MP and local Council. You can review your bank's involvements in the arms trade and maybe move bank - although it's difficult to find one that is 'clean' in this sense. You can review any investments you hold, or your pension fund provider holds and ask for them to be transferred away from the arms trade. There are lots of things you can do - see

In times which seem to encourage endless hopelessness, let us remember in whom our hope is placed:

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: 
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 
and their spears into pruninghooks: 
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 
neither shall they learn war any more. 

(Isaiah 2:4).

This is a well made film that hits hard. Spread the word and arrange a screening. I'll give it 8/10.

Friday, 12 October 2018

First Man

It is an odd feeling, and becoming increasingly frequent, to see films portraying 'history' when they relate to events I witnessed at first hand! I was 10 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and remember watching it (possibly a replay at breakfast time) in black and white on TV in days when there were only three channels, no breakfast broadcasting and no rolling 24 hour news! Yep - I'm getting old.

This is most definitely a biopic and much of it must be interpretative. It is not so much a film about the Gemini and Apollo space programmes as a film about Neil Armstrong. Armstrong is played by Ryan Gosling who along with actors like George Clooney and Keanu Reeves specialise in playing themselves in every movie! His wife, Janet is sensitively and at the same time forcefully played by Claire Foy.

The film begins with the heartache of the death of their young daughter Karen. At the time, Armstrong is a test pilot. Armstrong is pictured lovingly playing with Karen and stroking her hair - a display of emotional attachment that he never manages with any other members of the family - except in one dance scene with Janet. Karen's death devastates the family and whilst her brother and mother find some way of coming to terms with it, Armstrong is unable to articulate anything about it and bottles up his emotions. The film essentially explores how that affects his ongoing relationship with his family. This makes him seem dispassionate and uncaring but he uses the inner fire of loss and anger to fuel his drivenness as he gets a post on the Gemini and then Apollo programmes. His biggest weakness and failing, empower his greatest strength, thus enabling Armstrong to be a cool-thinking and totally focussed mission commander.

What the film ably highlights is the high cost to everyone - taxpayers, scientists and astronauts - and their families. The programme to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon cost billions of dollars and too many lives - but they persist with it. There is a brilliant and powerful scene which catches a glimpse of the emotional capital the programme asked these men to invest, where Janet forces Neil to confront his fears and say the unsayable to his boys before departing on the Apollo 11 mission.

At 144 minutes, I was anticipating that there would be slow patches where it would drag. There weren't any. The pace was well maintained and whilst two or three hallmark events do appear, many events do not as the focus is not on the missions but on Armstrong and his family. Excellent Direction. I'm glad it wasn't Clint Eastwood in the chair - it would have been a very different film! This is not at all jingoistic and I came away with a sense of American greatness being defined in the pursuit of knowledge and exploration and getting ahead of the Soviets, rather than saying we are the biggest power on Earth. Well done. There was also careful use of original footage which was creatively cut into the film on a number of occasions - especially when documenting the wider social happenings of the time.

There are plenty of intimate close-ups where the camera is packed in tightly with the astronauts - especially in the small Gemini capsule, where you  almost feel the sweat dripping and splashing as they jerk and rattle through lift-off and into orbit. There are also the wide shot colour spectaculars of the Saturn V taking off in the clear Floridian skies and the moon as never seen before! Close ups of the reflective helmets on the Moon never featured the camera operator or anything other than Moonscape. Great work.

As you may have gathered I really enjoyed this film. Yes, it took me back to my childhood, yes it was about the sexy space programme, but most of all it was about ordinary human beings with all their emotional flaws, achieving extraordinary things. Do go and see this movie on the big screen - it is in IMAX too. Despite Ryan Gosling, I'll give it 9/10.