Friday, June 29, 2012

A bit of a challenge

I don't often challenge myself with my knitting. As I knit mainly for pleasure, and don't find challenging myself particularly pleasurable, I tend to focus more on experimenting with colour and texture than on challenging or developing my technical knitting expertise. But I do like traditional colourwork - the motifs and patterns have a pleasing regularity and repetition and I like the subtle gradations of the colour combinations. So, knitting this small colourwork project - a hat - was a good balance of technical challenge and manageable outcome.

Summer hat 2

The pattern is Brooklyn Tweed's Seasons Hat in the summer colourway. The colours are not very summery by Australian standards; the blue is too grey and the browns too subtle to evoke the Australian landscape. But the colours are very pleasing, whatever the name of the combination. I bought a kit, containing the yarn and pattern to make this hat. The yarn is Loft, Jared Flood's (Brooklyn Tweed's) own yarn. It's a sticky fingerweight yarn that's perfect for colourwork and like its thicker yarn sibling, Shelter, the heathered blend of colours within the yarn is very pleasing. The only negative feature of the yarn is that it tends to break if treated too vigourously. I knitted the crown of the hat on double-pointed needles and had to be very careful that the little tug I give to avoid ladders when switching from one needle to another was not too harsh.

This is such a great pattern. As a self-taught and relatively novice colourwork knitter I found much of the advice within the pattern very useful. The information about background and dominant colours, and the advice about varying needle size between the patterned and plain sections of the hat were very useful. I will never be a skillful colourwork knitter as I simply cannot master ambidextrous knitting and have to put down and pick up the yarn each time I change colour. Very labour-intensive. But following this pattern produced a competent result.

This is the inside of my hat. I think I'm even prouder of the inside than the outside.

Summer hat inside

I wore my hat to work yesterday. Well, I actually wore it to and from work and was very pleased with it. I think it looks quite spiffy.

Summer hat 1

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Loving Love Lace

I've been to see the Love Lace exhibition at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum with some friends. We'd been planning this for ages, and finally managed to organise ourselves. It's wonderful. As knitters, my friends and I are attracted by lace. In my own case, I'm particularly attracted by its links to long-established craft traditions and by the use of motifs passed on from generation to generation of crafters.

This exhibition takes the idea of lace and plays with it. It looks forward, much more than it draws on past traditions. I like the way the curator describes the idea behind the display:
'Lace offers the mystery of concealment and the subtle interplay of space, light and shadows'.

Even though lace is usually associated with textiles, this exhibition broadened the definition to include
'any openwork structure whose pattern of spaces is as important as the solid areas’.
As result, the exhibition includes ceramics, glass, wood, found materials, video and images, paper, jewellery - all kinds of media in addition to the expected textiles.

Despite the diversity and innovation I was still most engaged by the fabrics in the exhibition. These are some of my favourites:

Below is a detail from a grouping of maybe a dozen ceiling to floor hangings in a mixture of tapa (bark) cloth, interlining, cotton gauze and thread. The artist, Andrea Eimke, who now lives in the Cook Islands but originally came from Germany, seems to me to combine successfully two very strong traditions of weaving, applique and stitching.

Love Lace - tapa

I found this work - a ghostly grouping of six dresses and bonnets - very moving. The Canadian artist, Noelle Hamlyn, calls it 'Ceremony' and it evokes for me the importance of rituals associated with birth and childhood. The work has been constructed from stitched and embroidered Japanese gampi tissue paper and so has an appropriate delicacy and transience.

Love Lace- dresses and hats

My favourite piece in the exhibition was a series of hanging panels of layered fabric with dyeing and stitching and patterning by Australian artist Janie Matthews. The gradations of colour and intricacy of the fabric design resulted in great richness. Meandering lines of stitching travelled across the panels, linking them. Most appropriately, its title was 'Memory Maps'.

Love lace - fabricLove Lace - fabric 2

There were some beautiful paper works. This laser-cut work from paper was by Tomy Ka Chun Leung, a student at UTS, the university where I work. These pieces are simultaneously simple in overall shape, but with a busy detailed pattern. This is a wonderful example of the 'interplay of space, light and shadows', as intended by the exhibition.

Love Lace - cut paper.

The exhibition and its works have a well-curated website if you're interested in seeing more of the works. Better still, visit if you can.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A final two films

I'm posting rather belatedly, but it's taken me a bit of time to recover from the film-viewing blitz of the last weekend of the Sydney Film Festival. On my final day's viewing I think I saw more gang-violence, gunfights and blood than I would normally see in a year of film viewing - and that's from someone who doesn't particularly avoid violence in movies.

I saw the second part of the Indian epic of corruption and revenge - the Gangs of Wasseypur 2. Each episode was two and a half hours. I'd intended to attend both, but another commitment meant I missed the first film in which the scene is set for a generational tale of contending power relationships between a family whose 'business' is the illegal trade and exploitation of coal and scrap metal, and a more powerful politician who plots to dominate and control such activities with greater subtlety. By the second half of the epic, revenge killings result in the leadership of the gang falling to a reluctant, pot-smoking grandson of the original protagonist who is surrounded by unpredictable relatives and loyal henchmen. I gather the first episode relied on gritty realism to tell the tale, but by this second episode the film used Bollywood elements and even humour intertwined with moments of touching naturalness and extraordinary violence. The film not only uses popular Indian film-making techniques, but simultaneously provides a critique of lives dominated by Bollywood-inspired dreams and behavior. Very sophisticated film-making in my view. The friend I was with commented that maybe the director is the Indian Tarentino. Maybe. Or maybe even Martin Scorsese. This is a great film. It has some of the best chase scenes - on motor scooters - I've ever seen. I'm not sure that two two-and-a-half hour Indian films will get a commercial release in Australia, but it they do I'll be queuing to see them. 4.5 out of 5.

My final film was the Mexican production, Miss Bala, set among the the drug gangs of Tijuana. This was one of those films where you just feel too much was attempted. You can't disagree with the moral intent of this film, which is to show the damage and despair that the drug trade in the border regions of Mexico wreaks on all citizens. Laura, the attractive young woman at the centre of the story who earns a meagre living for herself, her drunken father and younger brother through making clothes at home, enters a beauty contest in the hope of making some money. But she needs to go to the city to do this. While there she inadvertently witnesses a drug deal and police raid during which her friend disappears. As she tries to find her friend, Laura becomes a target for both corrupt police and the drug lord and once found by the drug gang, is forced to collaborate in their illegal activities. As a reward she gains (through gang manipulation) the beauty title 'Miss Bala'. The film is almost too eventful. Laura's plight is relentlessly and and increasingly predictably grim. I can understand that the Mexican drug wars penetrate and corrupt every aspect of Mexican society, but this might have been a better film if it was more narrowly focused. 3 out of 5.

So, that's it folks! Another wonderful Sydney Film Festival. Through a mixture of intent and chance almost all the films I've seen this year come from non-anglophone countries and sources other than mainstream US or even British film makers. I've loved the variety of points of view and unexpected insights.

My favourite? I don't have just one. The best two were Gangs of Wasseypur 2 and A Simple Life. So different, but both so wonderful.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Yet another three films

Another instalment in my whiz around the world with the Sydney Film Festival This time, to Russia (sort of), Hong Kong and Georgia (though mostly in English).

I saw Ballroom Dancer, a documentary that focused on beautiful, obsessive, narcissistic, gloomy Russian dancer Slavik Kryklyvyy. In his early twenties he was a world champion Latin ballroom dancer but ten years on, with a new, younger dance partner, Anna, who is also his partner in real life, he wants to return to competitive dancing. To describe him as driven is an understatement. Part of the drama of the documentary is that you suspect early on that his perfectionism will be a barrier to real success. They do well in competition; but are not the best, and inevitably there are strains in the couple's personal relationship as well as their dance partnership. This is a very good film - beautifully shot and expertly edited. But even though the centre of the film is Slavik's drive for perfection, rather than the dancing itself, I think I'm just not sufficiently interested in ballroom dancing to care deeply enough about the emotional journey it produces. 3 out of 5

Experienced Hong Kong director Ann Hui's film A Simple Life is almost a perfect film. Ah Teo was sent to work as a servant for the Leung family when she was a girl. Sixty years later most of the family are living overseas and Ah Teo continues to work and care for Roger - a moderately successful film director who works between Hong Kong and mainland China. When Ah Teo has a stroke that limits her movements, she decides to move to residential care. This could have been a grim film, but it isn't. The physical provision of Ah Teo's new residence lacks privacy and is very cramped by Australian standards, but the staff are kind, if pragmatic, and Roger visits willingly and regularly. While this is a film about being old, it's also a film about kindness, but without any saccharine sweetness. There's a great script, gentle humour, and understated, natural performances. Roger is played by Andy Lau, an immensely experienced, physically elegant Hong Kong actor with beautifully chiseled features. Having visited Hong Kong so recently, I was also struck by the everyday streetscapes. No glittering harbour here; just the busy streets and footpaths and crowded apartment blocks of most people's lives. It's clear I loved this film. 4.5 out of 5.

The Loneliest Planet was probably the most puzzling film of any I saw at the festival. A very clever title, as the much-in-love couple at the centre of the film are backpackers for whom (I imagined) the more challenging the travel destination, the more kudos. For this film they are in Georgia and decide to hire a guide to take them on a trek into the mountains. They're young, fit and pride themselves on their resilience, but the trip provides an encounter - a moment in which a choice must be made - that undermines their self-knowledge and relationship. It's a well-tried premise for a film about the consequences of an unreflective choice. The film was sold-out - I think mainly on the basis of charismatic Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal as the young man of the couple. But I wonder what most of the audience made of the film. It is just so slow. The camera l i n g e r s on beautifully framed shots of the landscape, of rocks, of cliff-faces, and you spend seemingly interminable minutes watching distant shots of the three figures emerging from one edge of the screen and walking till they disappear off the other. There are moments of brilliance in this film and vast stretches of boredom. 3 out of 5.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Three more films

I almost feel apologetic about my film blogging. I suspect I must be driving away most of my regular, knitting readers. But having started, it seems rather cowardly to give up before the Festival finishes. Anyway, blogging helps me to think about the avalanche of ideas and impressions the festival brings.

Finally, I've seen an English language film - even an Australian film. I dithered a lot before finally deciding to go to see Dead Europe, which is director Tony Krawitz's adaptation of the Christos Tsiolkas novel of the same name. I hated the novel. I hated the novel with a passion. It's not that it's badly written, but rather that it deals with such depths of depravity (to use a very judgmental word) that I felt ill while reading it. I think the film is much better. It still has a very bleak and depressing view of a very morally disturbing world, but in the film the central theme was more obvious, and I was less distracted by the moral horror of the detail. The main character, the son of Greek immigrants to Australia, has the kind of unthinking acceptance of ethnic and sexual diversity that it's possible to have if you grow up in modern Australia. His pilgrimage to Europe with its history of opposition, enmity and revenge overwhelms his capacity to understand the complex world he finds himself in. The cinematography is brilliant, with tight close-ups of faces and bodies and superb lighting. I liked this film so much more than I had anticipated. But a warning... it's not a film for the faint-hearted or faint-stomached. There's lots of violent and exploitive sex, nudity, filth, drug-taking - most things you (I?) dread in films. A 4 out of 5.

Clearly, my brief excursion into English was an exception. I've also seen a German film set in the Eastern sector of divided Germany in the sixties or seventies, and a Danish historical drama.

Barbara is the central character of a film of the same name. This is a simple film, though the issues at its centre are complex. Barbara is a doctor, exiled to a provincial hospital for unspecified political indiscretions in highly monitored East Germany. She is plotting an escape to Denmark to meet up with her West German lover. But she is drawn into the plight of patients at the hospital and attracted by the dedication of a fellow doctor. She has to choose between escape and her growing sense of duty. This is not a particularly original story, so the film relies on its honesty and a neatly controlled revelation of the plot complications for its success. 3 out of 5.

A Royal Affair
gives you great value for your film-going money. The story is set in the 18th century, at the court of the mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark, and focuses on the romance between his English-born queen Caroline and the royal physician Struensee. It's a BIG film - long, grand in its historical import, beautifully costumed and bejewelled, and with superbly framed landscapes and interiors. But it's not an empty film. As well as a love-story, the film tells the story of a doomed attempt to bring the ideals and practices of the Enlightenment to still-feudal Denmark. Mads Mikkelsen plays the doctor. I'd probably go to watch a film in which Mads Mikkelsen simply stood on a street-corner, so a film in which for much of the time he's called upon to express emotion through the slightest of glances or merest of gestures is ideal for me. This is not a subtle film, but it's beautifully constructed, filmed and acted and, like other films in the festival, it's transported me to a time and place outside my everyday experience. 4 out of 5.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Another film

On Wednesday, courtesy of the Sydney Film Festival, I was in France. At a juvenile protection unit within the Paris police force to be more exact. The film was Polisse (a childish spelling of 'police'), directed by Maiwenn who also had a leading role in the film and was present for a q&a at the end of the film. This is a good film and won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011. It's tough and unflinching, though humane, in presenting the mistreatment and exploitation of children and the toll it takes on the private lives and relationships of the police investigating these crimes. The performances of the children are exceptional. While watching you completely forget that the film is a recreation; you are absolutely absorbed by each interaction. Some of the brilliant moments of the film are those showing the camaraderie that develops among people working together in challenging situations. I think the film's least successful element is the love story between one of the investigators - instinctive and charged with emotion - and a photographer attached to the unit to report on its work. In the q&a the director said she's seen this love story as necessary to give the film an element of hope and looking forward. But I think it's a bit sentimental. In a very modern way - but nevertheless, sentimental.

The film also provided glimpses of how the French legal system deals with the investigation of such crimes. I'm always interested in such matters and wanted to know more. But that's wanting a different movie; always an unfair way to view the movie.

This film is good. 4 out of 5.

I forgot to mention earlier that I also went to the McPherson Memorial Lecture that is held each year in conjunction with the festival. This year it wasn't a lecture, but an interview. Revered film critic David Stratton interviewed (almost) veteran Australian actor Brian Brown, who must be one of the easiest people to interview, ever. David Stratton would ask a question and Brown would be off for at least five minutes, mixing anecdote, opinion, humour and disarmingly personal revelations with great fluency. He is either a person absolutely at ease with himself, or an actor giving a superb performance of being absolutely at ease with himself - or maybe a mix of both. Along the way there were wonderfully pragmatic comments about the Australian film industry and what it has and hasn't achieved. Excellent.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some more films

So far my Sydney Film Festival viewing has taken me to foreign places - Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, and now Portugal (with flashbacks to Mozambique) and the Philippines. The places have been 'foreign' at a deep level. Not only are these films about places other than Australia, but they've been non-Anglophone films about marginalised or otherwise non-mainstream groups within those countries - high-security prisoners in Italy, shepherds in Switzerland, the Romani in Hungary, the Portuguese colonisers in Angola and Muslim separatists in the Philippines. So the festival is providing what I prize most - glimpses of other cultures from unexpected viewpoints. None of the films I've seen has been brilliant (with the possible exception of the Italian 'Caesar Must Die') but all have been made by directors who passionately wish to tell us something, rather than produce a formulaic block-buster.

Monday's program included the Portuguese film, Tabu, which is part of the official competition program. The film begins in modern-day Lisbon with an imperious elderly woman who has lost her money at the casino, a dedicated though uncommunicative black maid and a kindly, concerned neighbour. When the old woman dies, a letter is discovered to a lover from her past, and the now elderly ex-lover attends her funeral and tells the story of their adulterous love for one another (tabu) while colonists in Mozambique. Rather disingenuously, the director said in introducing the film that he discovered only after completing it that he had made a film about memory and forgetting. Given my interest in the aftermath of colonisation, and the whole theme of the chanciness of memory I would have liked this film to be much better. The director used too many distancing techniques to make the film easily appealing - the rather fuzzy black-and-white filming; lots of voice-over recounting; sections like a silent movie with no sound at all (a bit puzzling as even the flashbacks weren't set in the silent movie era); and some stagily wooden acting. In summary, the content has great potential; the realisation was disappointing. 2.5 out of 5.

Then there was Captive, Brillante Mendoza's film of kidnap and ransom and Muslim separatists in the Philippines. I like this film a great deal, though I note it has received some luke-warm reviews elsewhere. The film is a French-Philippines co-production. This is a very straight-forward film based, often literally, on a real event in 2001 - 2002. A group of tourists is captured from a tourist resort in Palawan and then taken a vast distance by small boat to Mindanao - the southern island of the Philippines where there is a long-standing war between the Philippines government and Muslim separatists. Gradually some members of the group are released for ransoms, and others held for more than a year as the governments of their country do not allow the payment of ransom. The group is moved constantly around the hinterland, hiding from the Philippine military and other local militias, and at one stage coming under siege while hiding in a local hospital alongside horrified patients. Everybody in the Philippines will tell you that in such situations you have to fear rescue by the Philippine military, which has a dreadful record of civilian deaths in such situations, as much as you fear your captors, who also can be merciless. This film has few depths, but the situation itself provides drama and tension, and it never falls into stereotypes of either the captors or the captives. My son's partner comes from this area of the Philippines and my son has recently spent time there as well. Kidnap is a real fear, so perhaps I have a special emotional investment in this film. 3.5 out of 5.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Still knitting

I have been knitting. My recent blog posts have been taken over by other parts of my life - films, books, family. But through all this, I knit. Maybe not as much as I have at some times in the past, but what's so good about knitting is that it can be fitted into the nooks and crannies of your life.

I've just finished a small shawl knitted to the Shetland Trader's Wast Side Shawl pattern.

starry night 1

I'm a great fan of Gudrun Johnston's patterns. They're well-written and carefully edited, but beyond that they are wonderfully wearable modern adaptations of classic Shetland lace designs. This one begins with the lacy pointed edges, which seem endless as you're knitting them, and then moves to the body of the shawl with its easily memorised, quite geometric leaf pattern. The pleasure of the pattern is that the stitches diminish as you progress through the shawl. It's an ideal melding of tradition and modernity - the kind of pattern that often attracts me.

starry night 3

I've used Knitabulous laceweight yarn for the shawl, so it's very light - though not too delicate to scrunch and wear quite casually. It's dyed in a typically Knitabulous rich greenish-blue that emphasises the modern wearability of the shawl. The shawl is for my daughter who has discovered the usefulness and adaptability of small shawls. Much to my delight, she thinks it will be ideal for her work visit to Paris next month.

starry night 2

Films...and more films

Every year I have fantasies of immersing myself entirely in the Sydney Film Festival. Of just viewing and thinking about films for two weeks. But every year life intervenes. There's work, other commitments, and this year a brief, pleasurable visit from my daughter and grand-daughter. So I've found myself, again, working out my film-viewing schedule to fit in the rest of my life. Even though this inevitably means I miss seeing some of the much-lauded films from the festival, it also means I discover some unexpected treasures.

So far, I've seen three films. On Thursday I saw one of the films from the official competition - 'Caesar Must Die', an Italian film directed by the veteran directors, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, both now in their eighties. The focus of the film is a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in a maximum security prison in Rome. The actors are the prisoners - most of them imprisoned for lengthy sentences for crimes including murder and mafia association. The film is bookended by scenes from the finished production - in colour - and the centre of film, in the prison, is in black and white. I think this is a masterly film that reflects the deep humanity of many of the Taviani productions. The brothers are fascinated by faces that show a life intensely lived - lined, scarred, shadowed and intensely expressive - and the semi-staged rehearsals that traverse the corridors and cells of the prison have camera angles and stagings that most directors would envy. Shakespeare's play is clearly meaningful for this group, with its emphasis on power relationships, plots, rebellions, conspiracies, honour, deception, and murder. There were a couple of moments when the film teetered towards a 'message' about the revelatory power of art, but mostly it allowed the power of Shakespeare's play and the deeply felt performances to speak for themselves. A 4 out of 5 for this one (though I know many others have been much more critical).

Then on Friday I saw two films, the first of which was a documentary, 'Winter Nomads'. Opportunities to see documentaries on the big screen with good sound are rare, and almost every festival some of the high points are provided by brilliant documentaries. 'Winter Nomads' isn't brilliant, but it is charming, and the wintry landscapes benefit from big-screen viewing. I normally avoid films (or books) about animals because I find the 'cute' factor irritating. And this is a film about animals. Mainly 800 sheep, but also three donkeys to carry the loads and four dogs and a puppy. However, it's also primarily a film about the two shepherds (a fiftyish man of great experience and a younger woman learning the trade). The shepherds engage in 'transhumance' taking the sheep on a four month trek, in winter, across French-speaking Switzerland in search of natural pastures to sustain and fatten the sheep. The shepherds trudge through the snow and sleep in a very basic tents erected in copses of trees. Fortunately, the film doesn't preach about the need to preserve such rural practices from the ravages of development, though it's clear the transhumance sits increasingly uneasily in the settled rural areas of Switzerland. Generally, the film avoids sentimentality. The sheep are destined for the table. Indeed the owner of the sheep arrives from time to time to transport groups of the fattened sheep to the slaughterhouse. Nevertheless, the animals, even the sheep, provide moments of great charm within the film - even for an animal-avoider like me. 3.5 out of 5.

On Friday I also saw 'Just the Wind', a very grim film about the persecution of Romani (gypsy) families in Hungary. It had much of the despair of the wonderful Australian film, 'Samson and Delilah', but without the cinematic brilliance. The film follows four members of a family - the mother who works as a cleaner, an ill, aged grandfather, a young teenage son who skips school and engages in petty theft, and a slightly older daughter who strives to make herself as invisible as possible while trying to be part of the broader world. The family is desperate to save enough money to join the father in Canada. In the broader community there is a spate of gun attacks on Romani families resulting in deaths. The family lives in fear and, very poignantly, the young boy creates a hiding place in the woods. The film is shot in a slow, rather mundane manner that emphasises the poverty of the community and the despair and hopelessness of it inhabitants, but simultaneously distances the viewer from the characters. I think this is one of those films where the theme is gripping, but the treatment doesn't quite do justice to the content. 3 out of 5.

Maybe I'm scoring a bit hard, because I'm really pleased I saw all three of these films. Each of these films provided an insight to a world very different from mine - one of the reasons I love attending the film festival.

More on Monday.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

12 in 12 Books: May

Infatuation with my Kindle has completely undermined my challenge to limit book-buying to 12 books for the year. As I mentioned before, it's just so convenient. Too convenient. Not only can I carry it with me anywhere, but I can buy books at any time; anywhere.

This has not only led to a book-buying spree, but it's also having an impact on the kind of books I'm reading. I was going to write that it's had an impact on the quality of my reading, but that brings into question the whole notion of 'quality' that I don't want to engage with just now. In practice, it's meant that when I finish a book, instead of thinking about what I might read next and taking stock of the books on my mental 'to read' list, I've downloaded yet another crime novel.

So, to the damage. I've bought - and read - five books this month. Four of them have been crime fiction - two Peter Robinson's (Banks is a rather shameful pleasure), a Camilla Lackberg and Martin Cruz Smith's 'Three Stations'. Cruz Smith's central character Arkady Renko, out of favour with whatever group is in power in Russia and forever forsaken in his private life, is another favourite. I also read this month's book group choice on my Kindle - Lionel Shriver's 'The New Republic'. Awful. I rarely get bored by novels, but this was the kind of book where all its tricks and tropes are displayed in the first couple of chapters and then simply repeated. I actually think this recent publication is a bit of a cheat. Shriver wrote 'The New Republic' early in her career as a writer and it was not then accepted for publication. However, subsequent to the success of such books as 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' her publishers clearly thought it would have a market. You can see in 'The New Republic' the writer she would become - absolutely in tune with the big issues of the time, clever, satirical, a bit of a misanthrope, a pithy wordsmith. In this case the issue at the centre of the novel is the press and the creation as well as the reporting of 'news'. Most topical for today. Maybe that's one of the reasons the publisher has released it. But the novel's high point is the way she chooses to embody the theme, and once you've 'got' that, it's all rather repetitive.

So, I've bought five books this month. That makes a total of eleven books till the end of May, and given I've already bought another one in June I've reached the target for the year. And I'm not even half-way through the year. Maybe I should just surrender at this point.