“Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening.” Nelson Mandela’s enduring symbolism, by AHA alum Helena Roy

That Nelson Mandela’s influence is so pervasive is evident not just in the way he changed South Africa. Beyond that isolated period of history, it spreads from Hollywood, through galleries and music, to the streets of Johannesburg. From Clint Eastwood’s soaring film ‘Invictus’ to the eminence Mandela gave Henley’s poem by reciting its mantra of self-mastery to fellow prisoners on Robben Island, the strength of his values have gained extensive prominence in the creative arts.

His death is quite obviously a painful loss. The world has lost a statesman valued internationally for his humility and inescapable relevance to justice and freedom, and South Africa has lost its most beloved son. But the blow of his absence is softened by the fact that he was already an icon. The morals he represented transformed him into a symbol of kindness, modesty, forgiveness and reconciliation. The views he propagated have an unbeatable international following that will inevitably continue. Refusing to be classed by any label thrown upon him – be it as a criminal, judged by race or nationality – he became a universal icon in every sense of the phrase.

Murals and street art of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Soweto and Cape Town in South Africa

Street art blends Mandela into the very construction and bustling, heaving life of South Africa; it shows the history of the country not through architecture, but through urban mural. His image spreads from the streets of South Africa to squares on London; outside Parliament he serves as a constant reminder to the inevitability of defeat unjust government must face.

The statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London

At a time when the ANC and Mandela were taboo in South African media, songs inspired by South African music spread worldwide. ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ remains the epitome of exploitation of popular music for powerful political purposes. The very act of singing when mere mention of his name was banned, was itself a peaceful, delighted expression of opposition to persecution and solidarity with divided South Africans.

The album cover for 'Free Nelson Mandela' (1984) by The Special AKA

Photographs of him capture the reality of his fight and act as proof of his message. In the National Portrait Gallery, photographs of a young man reasoning and challenging can be found from 1962; of an elderly statesman ever-conscious and proactive from 1997.

Mandela by Michael Peto (1962) and Jillian Edelstein (1997), in the National Portrait Gallery, London

Mandela has been, and remains, an intense creative symbol because the life he lived was so vibrant, poignant and real. Almost uniquely, the fact that this symbolism is backed up by reality strengthens the message in a way no myth or legend could, and thus ensures its enduring popularity among the creative. Mandela symbolised freedom and equality – but proved their worth by living his life for them, rather than asserting their value by analogy.

With thanks to the National Portrait Gallery, Wikipedia and ADN for pictures.

Cable Cars, Copley and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores Los Angeles

 

Los Angeles, California, the first stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 

Junction of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard in central LA

 

It’s very odd not to feel foreign in a place you have never been to, on a side of the planet you have never touched. In the case of Los Angeles, California, everyone thinks they know what they expect from this place and everyone is right. It’s glamorous and grotty, expansive and cramped, and you really do see the rich and famous everywhere if you know how to look. It’s a little like a work of art that is viscerally ugly but has a truth and complexity that is essentially winning. It’s America via Cannes. This is my first experience of California, and I really thought I would be disturbed by its vulgarity. However, after the initial shock of the shimmer and dust of this fake world faded, the vulgarity turned to charm.

 

Poolside at the Beverley Wilshire Hotel

 

The architecture is diverse and interesting, particularly stylish in comparison to the Mexican-inspired sprawl that makes up a great deal of this part of the world. One area in particular that shone from an artistic perspective was Silver Lake. It is widely known as the Hipster area, and although I could not presume to be one of that crowd, the brightly painted buildings, each with at least one stunning graffito, were the main site of our celebrity-spotting. Within the run-down and apparently unloved exteriors, there are stylish restaurants which all have things like kale and samphire on the menu. After my brother had his photo taken with Kate Mara, everyone in our small party felt much more likely to instagram our food or get an alternative piercing.  This, I think, is the effect of LA. Like London, it has a magnetism which draws people in and allows them to find their place in the mess of studios, 24hr gyms and vegan juice bars. However, LA also brands you with it’s style, even if your visit is only two days long. I would have seen more of the architectural gems of the city, had my stop there been longer, but the Getty Center was sacrificed for the live announcement of the 12th Doctor on BBC America, and before I knew it we were driving down the freeway to Burbank with film studios on both sides.

 

View of a freeway heading into LA

 

In retrospect, one of the features of this city that struck me, other than its size and style, was its arrogance. It is a one-industry town in which everyone is acting, from those I passed in hangars, cameras on them, to each sweetly-polite and sickeningly attractive shop assistant. The permanent “what if?” that hangs over the city (what if this person I am serving is a casting director? What if this is my chance to make it big? – this is, after all, the American Dream) makes it self-centred and indifferent to the outside world. Expecting this attitude to create hostility, I was pleasantly surprised, finding that it added to its integrity. However, writing this from the plane, I have higher expectations of my next stop, San Francisco.

 

Photos thanks to my brother, Theodore Price, and downrightred.com

 

Tarkovsky’s bleak brilliance: Frankie Dytor on his classic film ‘The Sacrifice’

End of the World films have now become synonymous with the
Big Budget mania of Hollywood. The recent Brad Pitt film ‘World War Z‘ is perhaps a good example of this. Plenty of fighting, a good looking protagonist,and lots of money to spend on special effects. So I must confess a certain degree of scepticism before watching Tarkovksy’s ‘The Sacrifice’.  The brief synopsis on the DVD packet promised a similar template to the Apocalyptic films that I know and have never loved.  The premise was simple: World War III is approaching, and Alexander, a retired actor, will do anything and everything he can to regain peace.

Now, in the film, War never actually breaks out. But it looms,
and when the threat is most apparent everything turns black and white. The boundaries between reality and perception are constantly blurred. It is crucially in Alexander’s dream that he finds the solution to ceasing the threat of nuclear warfare. We are never sure if his actions actually took place. But the moral necessity of his sacrifice remains.

Alexander promises that he will give up everything if the
war stops. And so when it does, he must bear the consequences of his promise. He sets fire to his house. As we watch the structure burn, so we see his sanity collapse, teetering on the edge of madness like the chairs he has arranged to construct the pyre.  Hysteria and silence run side by side in the film. In many ways Tarkovsky polarises gender, using long takes for the men who examine philosophy and semiotics, whilst the women are presented as irrational and wild. One is called a witch, another suffers from hysteria. Alexander’s mute child, known as ‘Little Man’, is unnervingly still. His only line is the final line of the whole film, an utterance of the opening of St John’s Gospel – “In the beginning was the word”. Language is questioned throughout the film in his continual silence but in that line we have hope that the world does have the possibility of another beginning.

Through the material purge of Alexander we can hope for a new simplicity. The world will not be transformed into a black and white one of war, but one where Alexander’s Japanese tree will finally blossom.

‘Offret’, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986, Swedish Language

Grimy politics: Vittorio De Sica's 'Bicycle thieves'. A Review by Frankie Dytor

It is . Miserable poverty is everywhere. You can see it physically in the grime encrusted suits of men, but you can also see it mentally in the desperation that pervades every worn and beaten down expression. The portrayal is horrific. Not because you see famine or violence, but because you can see the total absence of dignity, the humiliation of having nothing.

The story follows Antonio Ricci and his futile attempt to find his
stolen bicycle. He is accompanied throughout by his small son Bruno. At the beginning of the film Bruno is full of the confidence that small boys often have, in their imitation of adult mannerisms, cocked head and marked speech. But as the film progresses, stretched out over two endless days, his fatigue slowly conquers him. His father will not help him, will not carry his little body that cannot keep walking. His ‘treat’ is to be taken to a restaurant to
get drunk – because they are ‘real men’. In many ways this is the real tragedy of the film. Antonio is unable to recognise that it is not the bicycle that truly matters, but the hope that can be found in Bruno. It is only at the end that they find some semblance of true understanding with one another.

The cheeky swagger of Bruno

The cinematography, described by most film critics as Neorealist in
style, powerfully evokes the hunger felt by Rome’s citizens at the time. It seems that this is a predominately destructive hunger. It is not the hunger of change, hope and revolution. It is the hunger of a stray animal, feral and self-centred. In the market-place, wheedling sellers grab and shove, forcing their wares even upon the six year old child. Gangs are clearly commonplace, and identity is obliterated in the pushing crowds.

The pluralisation of the title, occasionally omitted by some translations, is crucial for determining the tragic nature of the film. Without wishing to ruin anything for those who have not yet seen this masterpiece, there is more than one thief in the film. And certainly one of them, De Sica hints, is the State
for permitting such terrible desperation. The final shot of the film is as stirring as any horror film – you’ll have to see it to find out what it is – and leaves us with a lingering question: what redemption is there for Antonio and Bruno now?

Vittorio De Sica, 1948, Italian

Coppola-coloured: is there really so much difference between film and painting? AHA alum Julia Turner explores

If Sofia Coppola were a Renaissance painter, she would be Titian. Or maybe Tintoretto:  two painters whose mastery of colour and light were crucial to their artistic output. Their approach to painting represented the Venetian school’s insistence that colorito (colour), rather than Florentine disegno (drawing), was the key to recreating the essence of nature. Impossible though it may be, therefore, I think that if the two men were to watch Coppola’s Marie Antoinette over a bowl of pop-corn, they would nod in approval at her pistachio greens, duck egg blues, and accents of deep crimson and plum.

Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556-1559

 

Tintoretto, St Mark Working Many Miracles, 1562-1566

 

Still from Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, 2006

Coppola’s debut feature film, The Virgin Suicides, paid equal attention to production design and light in creating a sense of theatricality, not dissimilar to Tim Walker’s fantastical photographs.

Tim Walker, Lily Cole, for Vogue UK, 2010

 

Still from Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, 1999

Another director who I love for his use of colour is Wes Anderson. His use of paint-box colours make his works instantly recognisable. In fact, Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic style inspired artist Beth Matthews to produce her own work, the Wes Anderson Film Colour Palette, in which she pulled together the colour treatments used across six of his feature films.

Poster Image for Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, 2012

That said, Coppola’s films, also capture design or ‘disegno’. Since directors are able to use a camera to capture nature directly, they arguably have the ‘design’ box automatically checked before they even begin. What’s more, the photographic aspect of cinema can provide an opportunity for directors to focus especially on the composition of their frames. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles used monochrome to create kaleidoscopic, architectural shots that could stand alone as striking photographs.

Still from Orson Welles' Citizen Kane

On the other hand, through his symmetrical compositions Anderson’s use of colour becomes most evident and most efficient in balancing his frames. Similarly, both colour and design are put to work in Somewhere, Coppola’s meandering portrait of a famous actor living in the Chateau Marmont, whose life happens to him rather than the other way around. Curved and straight lines, repeating patterns, and clean-fishbowl-hues build up a considered portrayal of a place that almost feels like the set of a movie itself: somewhere with lots of charm but no personality.

Still from Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited, 2007
Still from Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, 2006

I suppose in this way, film could resolve another Renaissance debate: whether painting or sculpture is the better art form. Michelangelo was able to master both and this is one of the reasons he was so celebrated. Not only can film offer both colour and a three-dimensional perspective on the figures, but it can go one step further, by introducing soundtrack and dialogue to flesh out the characters and add texture and tone to the piece such as with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony capturing the sweeping majesty of Tadzio’s beauty and von Aschenbach’s loneliness in Visconti’s Death in Venice or French rock band Phoenix’s cool nonchalance pervading Coppola’s Somewhere.

Still from Coppola, Somewhere, 2010
Still from Coppola, Somewhere, 2010
Still from Visconti's Death in Venice, 1971

So really, the medium that is most associated with modernity – the moving image of the Nineteenth Century, the talkies of the 1930s, and the music videos and blockbusters that dominate youtube and facebook feeds today – are actually involved in fulfilling a very traditional aim:

to capture the spirit, the sense, the essence of a thought, a feeling or a truth.

 

Head Over Heels: A Triumph for British Film by AHA alum Katie Campbell

As with the beginning of every new year (granted no so new now we’re well into February), the international press has been filled with the latest updates on the film industry’s award season. The nominations for the Critics Choice awards, Golden Globes, SAG awards, BAFTA, and finally the Academy Awards (aka Oscars) have been hotly discussed, by both press and public. William Hill’s website has a dedicated section for the Oscars and Vogue has been offering us almost instant images of the fashions of the film stars.   This year’s talk has been dominated by British champion Les Miserables, Spielberg’s much anticipated epic Lincoln, Ben Affleck’s second-time in the director’s chair Argo, and Bradley Cooper’s distinct character change from the Hangover series in Silver Linings Playbook, to name a few.  The awards season is not just something for the film industry, it’s become a global phenomenon; public support and involvement is immense.

As this month’s BAFTAs showed, film stars from all over braved the delights of Britain’s freezing cold weather and rain and were rewarded with the perennially British and now-bearded Stephen Fry.  The awards ceremony as always celebrated the brilliance of British film; we finally saw the Bond franchise picking up its first and much-deserved major award (Best British Film) in 50 years as well as the award for Best Original Film Music and Les Miserables, the champion of British film this award season went home with 4 BAFTAs (Best Supporting Actress, Hair and Makeup, Production Design, Sound) having been nominated for 9 overall.

However whilst the focus on such titans of the British film industry will be considerable at the culminating point of the award season – the Oscars.  A little-known short British animated film, ‘Head Over Heels’ is gaining ground in the Press.

‘Head Over Heels’ is impressive for a number of reasons, firstly it’s a short British film that’s been nominated for an Oscar, no mean feat given the international competition and prestige that denotes an Oscar nomination.  However perhaps what is most astounding about the film is the fact that it was created as the final year film of 11 students from NFTS – the prestigious National Film and Television School located in Beaconsfield.  NFTS is well-known in the film industry as a leading centre for film education, and although you may not have heard of it, you’d recognize names of it’s alumni.   In the case of animation, one of it’s most celebrated alumni is Nick Park, the man behind the much-loved ‘Wallace and Gromit.‘

‘Head Over Heels‘ tells the story of a married coupled who have grown apart both literally and metaphorically; the husband (Walter) lives on the floor whilst his estranged wife (Madge) lives on the ceiling.  Walter’s attempts to re-connect with his wife lead to interesting consequences and the film plays with the notion of their lives been turned up side down and of quite literally falling ‘head over heels’ in love.

It is beautifully done and deserves the recognition it has gained so far.  It won Best Student Film at the Annie Awards (animation’s answer to the Oscars) earlier this month and is up against Disney’s short ‘Paperman’ that has proved very popular over social media sites like Facebook. As well as ‘Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”, ‘Adam and Dog’ and ‘Fresh Guacamole.’ Take a look at the Oscar page if you want to know more behind the interesting sounding titles!

So fingers crossed for February 24th, and listen out for the lesser-known category of Short Film (Animated)!

If you want to watch the 10mins film, it’s up on Youtube for a limited time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHs3Pe32b8Q&feature=youtu.be