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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Seeing Spectre with Cineworld’s stingy designers

cineworld

Cineworld Hammersmith’s decaying facade

Ordinarily, I write about plays and musicals and films. I have been known to write about writing, and about developmental work, and once or twice I have even written about a cinema. As far as I can remember, I’ve only written about cinemas with historic value, but on this occasion, it’s because a cinema has actually distracted me from the film I’ve gone to see by their sheer bald-headed stupidity.

The cinema in question is Cineworld Hammersmith. I’ve been to this cinema on a number of occasions, even though the first time I noticed it, it was shut and in such a state of disrepair that I thought it abandoned. Nonetheless, I have seen three films here, in three of their auditoria. The first two were not terribly remarkable. They lacked carpet, and had something of the feel of a hospital ward, and they have quite small screens. But other than that they were vaguely tolerable, as long as the film was good.

But tonight I was in auditorium 1 for a screening of Spectre. This being the film’s first week, and given the popularity, auditorium 1 was larger than the others I’ve visited. It was also busier. My seat (allocated) was between two other patrons, which was not surprising. What was surprising was that, when attempting to sit in it, I found the distance between the armrests was narrower than the width of my pelvis.

Now, I have sat in many seats. Some have been narrower than others, some higher, some have been more wobbly, some have been more comfortable. I have, in developing countries in South East Asia, found more than once that my ample western posterior was too much for their flimsy plastic chairs. I have also found, quite regularly, on aeroplanes and buses, seats where the distance between the seat back and the back of the seat in front is shorter than the length of my femurs, which is not terribly comfortable, as I am not equipped with joints at any point in my femurs. But never, in almost four decades on this planet (and the last two with a fully-developed pelvis), have I encountered a seat with fixed armrests that are closer together than the distance between the extremities of my pelvis.

I admit I am slightly on the tall side. I exceed the average height of men in the United Kingdom by more than ten centimetres (that’s just shy of four inches in the Old Scale). So my kneecaps are accustomed to being compressed by small seats, and I’ve learnt to sit at funny angles to compensate for stingy designers. The widest part of the human hip structure is known as the intertrochanteric width. The average for most humans is just shy of 30 centimetres. My own intertrochanteric width (I’ve checked, since encountering Cineworld’s seats) is precisely 31.3 centimetres, and the distance between the armrests in auditorium 1 at Hammersmith is, apparently, 31.2 centimetres. I know this because, upon my first attempt to sit in seat B7, I didn’t quite fit. It took me three attempts, the last of which involved substantial downward force, which was not altogether pleasant for the patrons in seats B6 and B8.

How an organisation in a relatively-advanced country like the United Kingdom can fail to recognise the need for armrests to be positioned at a distance that can accommodate above average intertrochanteric widths, I do not understand. It would make sense that a person who gets paid to design seats for humans should be at least slightly familiar with the average, as well as the outlying, intertrochanteric widths of human beings. They should also have some familiarity with the biological composition of human beings. While the femur is attached to the rest of the skeleton in a manner that permits its owner to adopt an angle that compensates for the stinginess of bus and plane seat designers, I can assure you the pelvis is not. My intertrochanteric with is fixed, and though I may be able to squeeze some of my extra flesh through these very stingy seats, it makes for a very uncomfortable film viewing experience.

Daniel Craig in a seat wider than Cineworld's.

Daniel Craig in a seat wider than Cineworld’s.

It seems to me that, when making a booking for a seat in auditorium 1 at Hammersmith, Cineworld’s website or staff should warn patrons that the seats in this auditorium are only suitable for people with average or below average pelvis widths, so as to reduce the embarrassment for those of us who are slightly wider than the average human.

So, given the immense distraction these seats provided, I can only say that Spectre is quite an engrossing film, as there were one or two occasions when I almost forgot that Cineworld’s ridiculous attempt to provide a seat was making me uncomfortable. Daniel Craig’s performance was not in any way squishy, and he seemed to have substantially more elbow room in his Aston Martin than I had in my seat. Ben Wishaw was as dreamy as ever, and seemed to have plenty of space in his seat in the gondola, even when he was beset by many tourists. I think the film is worth a look, as long as you can find a seat to sit in that doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to explode with rage at the idiocy of the person who made it. I give this film four out of five well-proportioned seats.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 in Film

 

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Suffragette

suffragetteSuffragette is the story of a fictional woman in early twentieth century London, who becomes involved with the Suffragette movement to enfranchise women in the United Kingdom. Maud Watts is an ordinary mother, working in a laundry to help make ends meet. We see the journey she takes as she goes from merely supporting suffrage, to actively and militantly campaigning for it.

This technique of using someone who becomes involved in a movement to illustrate how people interacted through history is one I appreciate. I think it provides a view of history that is easier to relate to, and is possibly more accurate as it doesn’t present history merely through the eyes of leaders.

In this instance, the ploy is largely successful. It is easy to empathise with Maud, especially as her son is taken away from her. But it is this element of the plot that somehow gets lost along the way. One minute she is a mother, and the next she is just a suffragette, and her son is neither seen nor mentioned again.

From a feminist perspective, perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. But the purpose of creating this fictional character as a lens through which to view history is to humanise the story. The tragedy of losing such a precious relationship could not be understated, and its impact on the protagonist should not have been overlooked. It is at this point that the film goes from being brilliant to being somewhat clinical, and having the feeling of a docudrama, rather than a film.

The dialogue, nonetheless, is brilliant throughout, and demonstrates an impeccable skill. Carey Mulligan’s performance as Maud is professional and engaging.

I just wish the writer, Abi Morgan, had stuck more doggedly to her initial approach.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 in BFI, British Film, Film, Film4, Pathe

 

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Encounter

encounterIn 1945, one of Noël Coward’s great successes hit the big screen. Brief Encounter centred on the romance between a married man and a married woman, whose love is an impossible dream. Phil Willmot’s Encounter reimagines this story as a romance between Lawrence, a doctor who passes through Vauxhall Station each week, and Arthur, the station master. A chance encounter leads to a developing romance that is hindered by external pressures. However strong their connection, the barriers to their happiness in post war London seem insurmountable.

Both of the main characters are exquisitely developed and spring out from the stage through sparky, intelligent dialogue and magnificent performances from Adam Lilley as Lawrence and Alexander Huetson as Arthur. The supporting roles are somewhat more flat, with four additional characters played by two actors. These four just don’t have the depth of the central characters, and occasionally undermine the pathos of the whole, though they retain some comic value and drive the plot along.

One of the great achievements here is the way in which the tiny set transforms so readily to so many locations. That, and the sense of a filmic style that carries well in Above the Stag‘s tiny space under the overground.

Encounter, it is suggested, is the play Noël Coward wanted to write, but couldn’t: I think it presumptuous to suggest so. Coward never saw his private life, especially his sexuality, as a suitable topic for public conversation. But Willmot’s play, nonetheless, is a perfectly executed reimagining of Brief Encounter. It acknowledges the past and celebrates the present in a subtle but powerful way.

This is a deeply moving piece of theatre, with characters who quickly warm your heart and hold it enthralled until its chilling conclusion.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 October 2015 in Above the Stag, British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Saffron Hill

saffron hillSetting a fictional story in a real history can be a challenge. In doing that myself, I’ve built up intricate scenarios only to realise I’ve overlooked a minor historical fact that makes a big difference to the plot. In Saffron Hill, Penny Culliford triples the challenge for herself, and still delivers a script that engages and elicits the necessary empathy for the characters.

Beginning with the migration of the Italian Musetti family to London in 1872, the play marks the journey of the family in their new country over three different periods in the coming century. Observing the struggles of the migrants in the 1870s, the generation that faced the heartache of being an Italian Briton during the Second World War, and those who continued to hold an Italian identity almost a hundred years after their ancestors migrated, the play takes a broad look at the family’s fortunes.

With the same cast delivering a range of roles over the three periods, a strong bond develops and it is easy to remain engaged with the family across what is essentially three stories. The use of radio news broadcasts to highlight the passing of time creates a great atmosphere and marks the passage of time leading into the next stage of the story.

In all, I found the play engaging and insightful, and I admire the skill involved in bringing the story to life.

 

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 10 October 2015 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Last Cab to Darwin

Last CabOkay, I’m a bit late. I recall wishing I had the time to go see this on stage a few years ago, and in recent months I again thought it looked like an interesting film. How I underestimated it!
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The story of a cabby from Broken Hill who finds himself with terminal cancer and an abrupt prognosis, this film resonates with some of the deepest anxieties of humanity. When the Northern Territory legalises euthanasia, he hoofs it in his cab across the desert to end his life on his own terms.
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This is a brilliant road movie, certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen. It succeeds in portraying some deeply flawed characters with empathy and keeps them at the centre of the story despite the political nature of the theme. This is probably the film’s greatest strength. It could have ended up being something of a polemic, but it remains grounded by its earthy and endearing characters who are never out of focus.
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I ended up seeing Last Cab to Darwin in an aeroplane flying across Australia, and it turns out that’s the perfect context. I whipped up my window blind afterwards and watched Kangaroo Island pass underneath as the plane made its way out over the Bight, just the right time to whistfully ponder the beauty and ugliness of life. Australia’s outback offers the perfect metaphor for this; majestic in its grandeur and vicous in its relentless trajectory towards death and destruction.
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Be afraid, it seems to say, but stay on the road. I hope when my journey ends, I don’t have to make a decision like this, but I’m also sure I’d make the same one. I just hope our governments can manage to keep their worthless noses out of my bloody business.
 
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Posted by on Thursday, 8 October 2015 in Australian Film, Film

 

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