' I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.'


Review - Liverpool Biennial 2016

Drawing on stories from Liverpool’s past, present and future, Liverpool Biennial 2016 takes us on a transcendent voyage through time and space, as we visit a handful of the scattered, citywide locations that are to house its multitude of free art installations until 16th October.

A small door stands ajar on Lime Street, having appeared, as if from nowhere, in the otherwise solid and impenetrable facade of the disused ABC Cinema.

 Abandoning the daylight, you pass through a shadowy corridor, floorboards creaking beneath you. As you emerge into the half-light, a magnificent Art Deco proscenium comes into view, in all its gilt and faded glory, looming over curious sculptures that have been placed amid the dust.

Interior of the ABC Cinema. © Brian Lloyd Photography
Suddenly plunged into darkness, a film begins to play, part of a series by artists Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni that presents a history of technology through the unfeeling eyes of a machine. In this episode, named The Uncomputable, we’re shown a chilling, retro-futuristic vision of a monstrous weather prediction machine made up of every human being on earth.

You feel almost drawn into the film, the dark, empty, and windswept theatrical space in which it is set mirroring the chilly and decayed surroundings in which you find yourself. The whole experience provokes a sense of reflection, wonder, and dread merged deliciously together.

Meanwhile, at the heart of Liverpool One, an infinite wooden staircase leads into and upon itself, supposedly built for someone who can span time to visit the same date in different years. Mariana Castillo Deball’s To-day 9th of July 2016 is a piece that encourages altered perspectives around a familiar point, so it’s only fitting that the images carved into the object should seem to fragment and become whole again as you too shift position around it. Its layout naturally invites pedestrian shoppers to take a few moments respite on one of its giant steps, and this impromptu cast accidentally serves accentuate the notion of co-existent plains of time as they sit at varying levels above and below each other, but are all nevertheless present at the same spot.

Over at Tate Liverpool, it’s as though Ancient Greek and contemporary artists have collaborated across the centuries in this exhibition that aims to create a fictionalised other world. Merging both eras into one, it subtly mirrors the goals of the 19th century designers behind the city’s iconic Neoclassical architecture.

Statue of Apollo Sauroktonos, Tate © Photo: Roger Sinek
Featured are all manner of artistic detritus from antiquity, a mismatch of marble body parts originally collected by 19th century Lancashire industrialist, Henry Blundell.

Many of these artefacts were “restored” by the collector turned sculptural Frankenstein, in that distinctly devil-may-care attitude so often associated with the Victorians. As a result, genders ended up merged, eras became melded together.

Our modern-day sense of preservational sacrilege at the sight of these Classical chimeras is grudgingly softened by the fact they nevertheless remain oddly beautiful in their transfigured states, configured and presented here to us by Belgian artist, Koenraad Dedobbeleer.

Alongside these works from antiquity stand an array of curious modern sculptural works, including one that splices a toga-wearing torso with an elephant’s head - perhaps in order to create the idea of news myths taking shape, new perspectives?

Strewn about the floor of the exhibition space are pieces of litter: wrappers, cigarette butts, you name it. At first, you question whether Tate needs to invest in some new cleaners, but a plaque on the wall soon discloses that this is in fact an art installation, entitled What the Living Do, by American artist, Jon Dodge. Whilst obviously highlighting the mire of debris humanity existence leaves in its wake, it all seems somewhat tiresomely overdone. In truth, as each footstep accidentally sends yet another surge of rubbish rocketing towards your neighbour, that old missive about art being “anything you can get away with” can’t help but scream to mind.

Also featured in the Tate episode is a fascinating short film about Ancient Greek vases by Andreas Angelidakis, discussing how they were not only vessels for carrying goods, but also a way of bearing news and myths in their exterior decoration. This method of story sharing is cleverly compared with how we use the internet to disseminate modern-day information.

Another short shows us footage of members of Isis committing iconoclastic destruction at an ancient site. Artists Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian have added cartoonish doodles – giving the men beaks and binikis - onto the shots, disempowering the vandals and making their actions seem laughable and clown-like.

This year’s Biennial is a collision of artistic histories and fictions – some compelling, others questionable – that also offers the incurably curious the chance at a rare glimpse inside some of the city’s unique, hidden spaces, and is well worth discovering for yourself.

For more information on Liverpool Biennial 2016, visit biennial.com


Review - Scott Matthews at Telford's Warehouse, Chester

As silence descends, soft and haunting sounds begin to drift from the stage, echoes delicately produced by a glass slide on electric guitar strings, which usher us into an almost trance-like state.

Ahead of the release of his sixth album, Home Part 2, later this month, the award-winning singer-songwriter Scott Matthews has returned to Telford’s Warehouse in Chester to give us a spellbinding solo performance like no other.

As ever, it is truly remarkable how Scott’s voice seems to transform itself and resonate with the quality of a cello as he sings. The effortless fluidity of his vocal range and his graceful vibrato never fail to send shivers running up and down the spine.

Playing around with the songs we know so well is a habit of his, and, every time he begins, we never quite know which one will suddenly emerge from each meandering intro. As well as favourites likeCity Headache’, ‘Eyes Wider than Before’, ‘Sunlight’, and ‘Virginia’, we’re treated to a handful of songs from his upcoming album and the first from his new label, Shedio Records – created by Scott himself.

With greater creative freedom than ever before, he has been able to put together a piece of work that meaningfully reflects on his evolution as an artist.

“Sonically, I wanted to create a very broad canvas this time around,” he reveals. “Home Part 2 bears similarities to my debut album, Passing Stranger, in the sense that there has been a desire to return to the roots where my musical seeds were planted. Almost like a need to rekindle a relationship with the artist I was ten years ago, but joining forces with the artist I am today.”

Local folk trio, Mountainface (Sam Rowlands Photography) 
Scott will be heading on the road with his band, immediately after his solo tour, to play at venues across the UK before heading to tour in Europe. Also promised later this year is a special edition LP of Passing Stranger to mark the anniversary of its release ten years ago. 2016 has proven to be an exciting and busy year for the artist, something which his dedicated fan base is no doubt thankful for.  

Supporting Scott before his Telford’s gig were the boys from local folk trio, Mountainface, featuring the particularly skilled mandolin playing from Matthew Youds,  rhythm guitar and reedlike lead vocals from David Weir, and lead guitar and backing vocals from Tom Winch. The group’s passion for their music is clearly visible as they perform, and marries with their undeniable energy.

Scott Matthews’s single, ‘The Lantern Flower’, is available now; His album, Home part 2, is released 19th September, 2016 and is available for pre-order here (including a free download of new single 'Drifter')

To find out more about Scott, visit scottmatthews.uk


Winter is coming… back? The return of Jon Snow and what we know about GoT Season 6 so far

(CAUTION - spoilers ahead!)

  So, the countdown to the eagerly-anticipated, new season of Game of Thrones has finally begun. With only 7 days left to wait, and after a handful of tantalising teaser trailers, fans are in an utter frenzy. Of course, the number one question on everyone lips is: after his shocking murder in the season 5 finale, will Jon Snow be back from the dead? Read on to learn the answer, and the facts that will change everything.

  Over the last year, Kit Harington has staunchly denied that he is returning in season 6.

Jon Snow meets his fate, season 5. Photo: MTV
  Hordes of fans, however, have not been so easily convinced and are adamant Jon Snow will be brought back to life to save Westeros from the menacing White Walkers and their army of the undead.

  It’s common knowledge that Harington hates his long hair and has claimed in the past that he’ll be cutting it as soon as he’s finished with GoT. Has he chopped his legendary locks yet? NOPE. That fact alone is enough to satisfy some of his imminent return!

  On top of that, though, the actor was spotted in Belfast numerous times while season 6 was being filmed on location there. Naturally, as the airing date has drawn nearer, Harington has changed his story, claiming he will be a part of the cast, but only for a few scenes where he'll play a corpse.

Kit Harington filming in full Stark attire - FameFlynet
 Then an absolute clanger of a grainy photo turns up, snapped by a fan in Belfast, which shows Jon Snow out on a battlefield, dressed not in the black outfit of the Night’s Watch, but in typical Stark clothing. Hold on though…. How can that be the case, when he swore an oath to the Watch, right? 

  The binding oath in question begins thus (and take especial note of the last part here): “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death.”

  Well, Jon has definitely died already, so, if he is brought back, he technically wouldn’t be held to his oath any more, which means he’d be free to head south of the Wall and reclaim Winterfell for the Starks. Plus, I’m pretty sure things would be a smidge awkward between him and his former brothers of the Watch anyway - y’know, with that whole stabbing thing.

  Now comes perhaps the strongest evidence of all that Jon Snow will be back. And it begins with a fan theory that’s become hugely popular in recent years, a theory that goes by the name of R+L=J

  But hold your Dothraki horses just a minute! Before we go any further, we need to rewind a little for those of you who haven’t read the novels yet, back to events that take place in George RR. Martin’s books and are set before the TV series plot begins... Bear with me – this is really important!

The crests of House Stark and House Targaryen . Photo: HBO
  Lyanna Stark – mentioned only occasionally in the HBO series – is Ned’s beautiful sister, betrothed to Robert Baratheon, who is kidnapped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King and eldest brother of everyone’s favourite Mother-of-Dragons-to-be, Daenerys. This unspeakable act sparks a rebellion, leads to the murder of the king and, ultimately, to Robert sitting on the throne.

  After the war has ended, Ned and a small group of allies travel far to the South to locate his sister who is locked away in a place called the Tower of Joy.

  At this point in time, Rhaegar has already been killed during the many battles for the throne. Yet, for some reason, Ned and his men find three knights of the Kingsguard (in their distinctive white cloaks) guarding the tower in which Lyanna is held. After fighting his way through them, he discovers his sister lying in a “bed of blood” and, before she dies, she makes him promise her something, though exactly what that promise is we are never told.

  Still with me? It was a bit longwinded I know, but it is so, so pivotal! Just consider this for a moment: what if Rhaegar didn’t kidnap Lyanna at all? What if they eloped together and she bore his child? Rhaegar + Lyanna, R+L

  Let’s review what happened, again: in a tower protected by Targaryen knights – the royal family’s own personal guard, no less – Ned finds his sister dying in a bed drenched with blood; she asks him to make her a promise, then he returns home with a baby that he raises as his own.  “Never ask me about Jon,” he tells his wife, Catelyn, “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know.” It doesn’t take much to connect the dots and guess who the J in the theorised equation might be, does it?

  So, If Jon Snow really is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, then that would make him half wintery Stark and half dragon-blooded Targaryen, not to mention an heir to the Iron Throne - no wonder Ned would have to keep the baby’s true identity safe! What’s more, if Jon has potentially inherited the magic from both bloodlines too, he could have the power to warg and withstand fire. He might even be the fabled Song of Ice and Fire to which the title of the book series is referring. So, R+L = J. Mind = blown.

A young Ned Stark prepares to rescue his sister, Lyanna. Photo: HBO
  Imagine then how eagled-eyed fans in favour of the theory must’ve hyperventilated when they watched the latest trailers for season 6 and actually spotted what looks very much like a young Ned Stark and a group of men, all dressed in Northern clothing, fighting a soldier in armour that bears the Targaryen three-headed dragon crest. 

A Targaryen knight fights Ned Stark and his men . Photo: HBO
  And don’t forget that the scene in question has to be a flashback, since no Targaryen knights have existed in Westeros since the rebellion. Also add to this the footage taken secretly by an eager fan that hiked to a GoT filming location in Spain and saw the same actors shooting a scene outside a solitary tower perched on a rocky outcrop…

 Of course, what this almost certainly means is that the Tower of Joy storyline is being told; and, if that’s the case, it seems practically impossible to deny that R+L=J is correct. All of this is near irrefutable evidence that Jon Snow will be brought back from the dead. After all, what on earth would be the point of revealing the grand, game-changing revelation about Jon Snow’s parentage, if he’s going to remain dead as a doornail?  Enough said!

  Earlier this week, a select few ware invited to attend the LA premiere of episode one, where guests were sworn to absolute secrecy about what unfolded. 

  Kit Harington was a total no-show at the event, which is not surprising given how much he’s been harassed about whether he’s staying dead or not!

  Hinting at what’s in store, though, HBO have released this episode one premise for us: “Jon Snow is dead. Daenerys meets a strong man. Cersei sees her daughter again.”

Carice Van Houten as Melisandre. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
  We also know that the episode kicks off where we left off last season: namely with Jon Snow’s corpse. We also know that the episode is called ‘The Red Woman’, which has many fans convinced that Melisandre will be resurrecting our murdered hero.

  In an interview to Empire Magazine earlier this year, however, Carice Van Houten, the actress who plays the red-haired priestess, hinted otherwise. "I’m afraid I’m gonna disappoint a lot of people,” she declared. "Why so much pressure on my character? I mean, I understand that he’s the good we want in this crazy world. And me and my mother and my sister want him to come back very desperately. But Melisandre has never brought anyone back to life. Why does it have to be me?"

  Following the premiere screening, The Telegraph has revealed a tantalising morsel about how “Melisandre – who was left at Castle Black along with Jon Snow’s corpse as season five closed – in no way dominates the action, but by the hour’s end, with a luridly surprising twist, sets the scene for some powerful sorcery to come.” Perhaps Melisandre won’t directly be the one to bring Jon back after all? But, if not her, who then?

  We know that actor Ian Mcshane is cameoing as a Red Priest this season, who, he has already teased, is “responsible for bring somebody back that you think you’re never going to see again.” Could it be Jon? Is that too obvious?

  Others speculate that the person McShane will be resurrecting is in fact Lady Calteyn Stark. This storyline has been absent from the television series so far, but it is true that, in the books, Catelyn is brought back from the dead and becomes the formidable Lady Stoneheart, hellbent on avenging the bloody betrayal that took place at the infamous Red Wedding. Could this finally be brought to the screen?

  All resurrections aside, for a moment, what else do we actually know about this season?

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
  Well, elsewhere in Westeros, after enduring season five locked away in Winterfell with her newly wedded husband and psychopath, Ramsay Bolton, actress Sophie Turner describes how her character, Sansa Stark, becomes a totally ‘bad ass bitch’. After examining a promotional image of the Stark heroine from HBO (right), some fans are even conjecturing that she is pregnant with Ramsay’s baby. Now that would be some serious leverage for a freshly escaped and sassy Sansa!

  Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys, as we’ve seen in the trailers, will be a prisoner of the Dothraki, with Sir Jorah leading the mission to track her down. Excitingly, VFX supervisor Joe Bauer has confirmed that, although they’re already enormous, all three of Daenerys’s dragons are set to be double in size. Expect some serious fire power!

  In Meereen, meanwhile, a Red Priestess will visit Tyrion and Varys to proclaim Daenerys as the Lord of Light’s saviour that will fight against the coming Long Night. 

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. Photo: MTV
  Arya, we're told, will remain blind throughout the coming season, and will encounter a troupe of actors, amongst whom will be real-life actor Richard E. Grant, during her mysterious training at the House of Black and White. 

  Back in Kings Landing, Cersei and the stubborn matriarch of house Tyrell, Olenna, are due to clash on a titanic scale, according to actress Dame Diana Rigg. Natalie Dormer has let slip that Cersei will be ‘the least of her problems’ in her role as Margaery Tyrell this season, as she and her brother remain imprisoned by the armed sect, The Sparrows. Cersei's attention will also be turned to the religious cult, as she uses her newly reanimated and terrifyingly Frankensteinian body guard, The Mountain, to get her own back for the infamous walk of shame they inflicted on her last season.

  Intriguingly, it’s whispered amongst a few that The Hound, who Arya left for dead back in season 4, will be back, after fans allegedly caught sight of actor Rory McCann in Belfast during filming.

Bran encounters the terrifying Night's King. Photo: HBO
  Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays the paralyzed, young Bran Stark, revealed in an interview earlier this year that his character is set to have “some interesting visions,” returning after his notable absence from season 5. From HBO behind the scenes interviews, it's obvious that the actor filmed at the presumed Tower of Joy location in Spain, so it's likely Bran will be the one getting a supernatural glimpse of Jon's true parents. With trailer footage clearly also showing the young star standing once again – standing, I should say, face to face with the White Walker Night’s King – Hempstead-Wright isn’t lying when he says “it’s going to get particularly interesting with Bran.”

  Speaking of the ominous beings from the frozen North, rumblings have also been heard that claim the harrowing Hardholme massacre we saw in season five will have nothing on the massive White Walker offensive set to hit screens this time around.

  With the promise from producers that this season will hit the ground running, it is clear that we are in for an incredible and unforgettable season. Episode one of Game of Thrones season 6 will be aired 24th April, 2016. 

Watch trailer 1 and 2 below: 

(Post banner image courtesy of MTV)


Film review: Robert Eggers's The Witch

The wilderness of colonial New-England, 1630.  Upon the threat of banishment for his extremist religious views, a Puritan farmer leaves a plantation town with his wife and five children and founds a farmhouse at the edge of a forbidding wood. There they begin a devout life in solitude until, one day, the baby is stolen by a malevolent figure that lurks in the trees, and superstition and mistrust set in. As the family begins to unravel, a sinister force slowly takes hold...  

The Witch does not conform to the tired, ten-a-penny examples of modern horror that dole out cheap thrills with tiredly predictable jumps and scares. To watch this film is to be immersed human darkness, to be filled with a dread that slowly creeps beneath your skin and haunts you long after the credits have rolled. It is an exquisitely unflinching study of trauma, visceral angst, and paranoia that is framed, and not dominated, by the supernatural.

The film’s young director, Robert Eggers, grew up in New England, where the ruins of colonial houses still remain and stories of witches are still a part of the landscape. “I had witch nightmares all through my life”, he explains. “I wanted to make an archetypal New England horror story, something that felt like an inherited nightmare from the past.”  

And for Eggers, the devil was in the detail. The film was almost entirely shot by the light of a candle or sunlight, the sparing soundtrack uses instruments from the era, and the language is directly influenced by contemporary reported accounts of witchcraft. “I think there’s a kind of magic in the authenticity,” he reveals. The director also fought a long battle to persuade the films investors to provide a budget that would allow for total historical accuracy, from constructing sets using actual period tools down to sourcing antique, hand-woven cloth for costumes. “My obsession was to recreate the 17th century in order for the witch to be real again for people,” says Eggers, “and for her to be powerful again.”

And quite rightly so, since, to the superstitious, male-dominated zeitgeist of those times, a witch was very real – and very threatening. She was a monstrous embodiment of unbridled femininity, wicked, deadly, and horribly beguiling; she was an inversion of the domesticated housewife, what Eggers refers to as “the anti-mother”, who dances naked in the woods for the devil and steals unbaptised infants away into the night.  

Eggers’s witch is the catalyst in a grim and inescapable alchemical reaction that occurs as the family unit collapses under the pressure of a self-imposed exile and consumes itself.

Compelling performances are given by the whole cast, most especially so by its younger members: actor, Anya Taylor-Joy, absorbingly portrays the film’s central character, Thomasin, who struggles amid the constraints of her puritanical surroundings as she enters into womanhood; a truly remarkable acting talent is demonstrated by teenager Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays Thomasin's younger brother, Caleb, during an incredibly  disturbing scene of possession and euphoric torment.

The Witch is a work of beautiful cinematography that masterfully handles the use of light and shadow. What’s more, each carefully constructed shot is a lesson in the creation of anxiety: never before have trees been rendered so utterly menacing.

It is easy to draw a host of themes from the film – feminism, coming of age, the plight of the outcast, the fragility of the social infrastructure – yet Eggers is wisely unwilling to restrict the piece by preaching his own personal meaning too heavily. In the same way, Eggers’s elusive witch figure herself acts only a kind of profane mirror in which the characters descry the awful truth of their own fears, flaws and longings, and perhaps help us acknowledge our own. “The weight and intensity of the past has a kind of power”, he says. “I find it’s a better place to ask big questions. […] The dead speak more loudly to me than the living.” 

The Witch was released in cinemas 11th March. Watch the trailer below.


Film review: AMY - a powerful mosaic of the unforgettable icon from the perspectives of those that knew her

After three years in the making, the wait is almost over for fans of the inimitable music icon, Amy Winehouse, as the much talked about new docufilm of her life hits screens this Friday.

Created by the team that brought us the multiple award-winning 2011 film, Senna, this new insight rejects the more more common “talking heads” format. Using archival footage almost exclusively, including an abundance of unseen home video recordings, Amy presents new audio recordings of interviews with the starlet's friends, family and colleagues, and also features fascinating glimpses of her sing notes, and previously unreleased tracks. What this mesmerising film reveals to us is the woman behind the name and beyond the tabloids.

Last night, a live screening of the film’s London gala premiere was aired at over 300 cinemas across the UK, along with a Q&A session featuring Director, Asif Kapadia, the film’s Producer, James Gay-Rees, and Nick Shymanksy, Amy’s first manager and close friend.

“When they think of Amy, a lot of people only seem to think of her in that latter period,” Kapadia tells us before the film begins, “and I wanted to readdress that. […] I wanted a positive image to come up, a young, healthy, beautiful image, not a negative one; a film that shows the real Amy - someone that was really funny, intelligent, amazing, a brilliant writer, a brilliant singer.”

Yet, Amy’s release has not been without opposition from within. Although the artist’s father, Mitch Winehouse, was initially keen for Kapadia to direct the film after seeing his previous work, he was unhappy with the final cut and threatened legal action unless further editing took place. Although some alterations were made, Mitch remains angered with the portrayal, believing it makes him out to be an uncaring father and a villain: “there’s too much at stake. There’s Amy’s reputation. There’s my reputation”, he said in an interview recently.

Shortly after Amy’s death, her father set up the Amy Winehouse Foundation, an organisation which works to help prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on young people.  Mitch describes the film as being “misleading and contains some basic untruths”, airing concerns that “if this hurts the Foundation, which it potentially could do, you’re talking about damaging thousands of kids.” However, it appears that what this film does in fact give us is an unflinching look at the harrowing consequences of Amy’s addictions and the traumatic effect on those close to her. In stark contrast to her father’s opinion, it is clear Kapadia’s film instead highlights these issues and so can only serve to aid the foundation’s cause.

As the director admits, he is not associated with the music industry nor had ever met anyone linked to her, so had almost no knowledge of Amy as a person whatsoever before approaching the film, doing so without any kind of prejudice or agenda.  He at first gained the trust of her close friend, Nicky Shymanksy, who then put him in touch with her other friends and associates, and slowly, over the course of three years, he interviewed around one hundred people to try and fit together her story like a puzzle, build her timeline, and get a complete picture of Amy: “It’s a mosaic, it’s never perfect, “says Kapadia, “it’s fragments, you’ve got memories, you’ve got little pieces here and there and you’ve got to play with them as much as you can to try and plug holes.” With this in mind, surely this film then is an arguably rare example of artistic impartiality that gives us the most truthful, balanced portrait of Amy yet, in all possible lights?

Sore spots, it seems, have only developed where the archival content that has arisen isn’t always kind to those involved. Mitch admits he began an affair with another woman when Amy was just a little over a year old which carried on in secret for eight years before her parents finally divorced, affecting her incredibly deeply.  So, when we hear audio of Amy herself describing how her father was never there for the “important bits” when she was growing up, it goes to reason that what Mitch is more likely fearful of is a brutally honest depiction of himself over which he has no control and which doesn’t gloss over any of his influences on Amy’s life, both good or bad.  

Of course, Amy couldn’t escape documenting the turbulent relationship with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, one of the more notorious aspects of the troubled artist’s life. It was clear that Amy was madly in love with bad boy Fielder-Civil, but it becomes quickly clear that her emotional overreliance on him was dangerous, and their marriage was continually intense, volatile and toxic.  Her introduction to crack cocaine and heroin by her husband, combined with ongoing bulimia issues and her later alcohol abuse, was to send her into a destructive downward spiral and cause the irreparable health problems which ultimately lead to her death.

Of course, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the talented star attracted the attentions of the press, and paparazzi swarmed about her house day and night, adding to the stress and pressure of her everyday life. But it was never fame that Amy wanted; the only thing she craved was to make music. The night before she died, Amy’s bodyguard, Andrew Morris, recalls how she was watching videos of her performances with him. “’Boy, I can really sing!’ she said. “But do you know what? I’d hand all of it back right now, just to be able to walk down the street again.”
However, the film doesn’t necessarily lay the guilt for Amy’s death on any single individual. Instead, it honestly presents the various failures, small and large, of a number of individuals - amongst them the singer herself - to say enough is enough and put Amy first. 

Nevertheless, asked during the live Q&A if he is of the belief that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves, Shymanksy disagrees, saying “You can try.” “But everyone did try, didn’t they”, says the interviewer, to which he insinuatingly replies, “well, I don’t know about that. I think there’re levels of statements you make, positions you take. You can’t say to someone ‘I don’t believe you should be doing that, but I’m going to go along with you while you do it.’” It’s quite obvious he is referring to what he sees as the often complicit attitude of Amy’s father in regards to her destructive behaviour, as well as his seemingly skewed paternal priorities, alluded to by many of those close to Amy in the film including her oldest and closest friends, when it came to putting his daughter’s wellbeing before her musical career.

Amy loved her father deeply, and constantly sought affirmation from him. It does appear that, in many ways, he rejected numerous vital opportunities to intervene which could have, to some degree, helped save Amy’s life further down the line. One striking example is even painfully immortalised in her hit song, “Rehab”: “I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine - they tried to make me go to rehab and I said ‘no, no, no.’” When concerned friends suggested rehab after finding her in a drug-fuelled haze amid squalid living conditions following her first devastating break up with Blake, her father admits in an interview that he told her there was no need. Naturally then, she chose to decline the help she desperately needed.

Had she decided differently, the album “Back to Black” may well never have come into existence, but it’s also possible Amy could have been prevented from travelling any further down the dark path she was unwittingly on, nipping her addiction issues in the bud and saving her life. That the single representing her fatal decision also had a part to play in leading her to international fame (as well as infamy) and eventually to her premature death is a horrible irony.

Amy’s lyrics themselves are of such significance to her story that Kapadia makes the bold decision to present them to us visually on screen at several points, since they alone can best express her perspectives, her loves, and her struggles, without external prejudice. Although there was no definitive expert on Amy to whom the director could talk, the most revealing insights to what was going on in Amy’s mind at different stages of her life, as one observant audience member at the Q&A session noted, lay unquestionably in her songs. “Her lyrics are the map”, Kapadia remarks. 
Amy gives us the full picture that was always missing, and is a deeply moving and powerful work of cinema. We see the warm, intelligent, outspoken girl grow and enter into womanhood, with all her faults and strengths in tow, as she begins the iconic career which was our blessing and, perhaps, her curse.  An immense talent, charismatic, passionate and wise beyond her years, Amy Winehouse is quite simply the voice that affected a generation.

Amy is released nationwide on the 3rd July.

Images (in order) from Wikipedia, unkown source, decorandstyle.co.uk, topnew,in, and The Guardian


For Love Nor Money: A Lost Wallet and My Renewed(ish) Faith in Humanity

So, I reached dizzying, new heights of general incapability at life whilst visiting Manchester this weekend when, in an impressive feat of personal ineptitude, I beat my personal fail record and somehow managed to lose my wallet, despite it being carefully tucked inside my bag. That’s right: from inside my bag.

You think I’d have learnt my lesson by now, since this is actually the second experience I’ve had of losing a wallet. A year or two back, I accidentally left one, given to me by my dad, in the back of a taxi when it didn’t slip into my pocket properly after I'd payed the fare. I didn’t even realise it was gone until the next morning, and by then it was too late. The taxi rank tracked down the driver, but the wallet was nowhere to be found and was never handed in.

I was devastated. My dad had owned the thing for years and passed it on to me, and I’d gone and lost it after only 12 months.  I was also completely disgusted at the fact that whoever had found it would choose to keep something so intimate and vital to another person rather than hand it in. There’d only been about a fiver inside too; there was next to no monetary gain in it for them whatsoever. Despite all that, the person in question had at no point imagined how it would feel if it were their wallet that had been lost; nor had they apparently been troubled by even the slightest speck of guilt for keeping it.

Unbelievably though, the worst was yet to come. Months passed, then one day I received a phone call out of the blue. It was a policeman from a town nearly an hour’s drive away. “Hello, is that Matthew? I’m calling to inform you that the bedroom of a local teenage boy was raided by our force recently, and your provisional license has been discovered in it.”

 My blood ran totally cold. I felt almost violated knowing some unpleasant, little creature had found my wallet in the taxi and rifled through the contents to see what could be of use or potentially sold on. When questioned later, the boy apparently knew nothing about the wallet; it was probably just tossed in the bin after it had been emptied. I dread to think how he came to get his horrible hands on my ID though, not to mention for what exactly he’d been using it. 

The whole experience just made my skin crawl and I was totally disillusioned by the complete apathy of which people seem capable. I read a line from a work by the Spanish philosopher, Baltasar Graciàn, not long ago and really stuck with me: ‘the misfortune of your century, that virtue is taken as unusual and malice the norm.’ And he was saying that all the way back in the 1600s… I wonder what he’d have to say, if he were alive to see the way people act today?  

Okay, I’ve communicated how sufficiently jaded and embittered I already am by this point, so let’s jump back to Manchester Piccadilly last weekend. I’m stood rummaging inside my tote bag. I can’t seem to feel my wallet. I carry on fumbling inside, nerves starting to creep in. Still can’t feel it. Imagine my growing horror as I slowly realise with each passing second that it is definitely no longer there at all.

I can’t actually believe I’ve done it again. Cue me rushing like a madman to trace my steps, vainly leaving my contact details with every info desk and waitress I can find, before accepting the inevitable and enduring the stress of trying to cancel every bank card I’d had on me. It dawns on me there were a couple of gift cards tucked inside too. Great. I’m never seeing that wallet again!

So, a few days go by, and all the while I’m mentally kicking myself for being so extraordinarily scatter-brained. No one has been in touch, and I’m torturing myself wondering whose hands it could have fallen into this time.

Suddenly my phone rings. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspect it’s the police calling to tell me my ID’s been found being used to cut lines of coke in the den of some highflying drug baron or other.  Thankfully, it turns out to be just my boyfriend.

Thoughtfully of him, he’s passed by the train station’s lost property one last time on his way home from work, just in case. And I don’t believe it – my wallet has been handed in. Everything – gift cards, cash, ID, bank cards – is still safely inside. I’d come to  the conclusion that mankind as a whole was just a total write-off; yet, some kind soul had apparently spotted my wallet on the train or platform and done the decent thing. I was ecstatic!

I’d presumed the worst of others, only to be reminded that there are still some good eggs left out there, few and far between as they undoubtedly sometimes are. I couldn’t be more grateful to that refreshingly caring stranger who made my day, and I wish I could thank them, whoever and wherever they are. I wouldn’t say my faith in humanity has been entirely restored, but the next time I lose something (which, me being me, will no doubt be sooner rather than later), I won’t be quite so quick to give up hope on it coming back to me again!


Review - Vivienne Westwood's 150th Anniversary Edition Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Read Me: Westwood's Alice is a collector's dream, but her real-world message is no tea party

   To mark the 150th anniversary of its publication, Vintage Books has teamed up with iconic    British fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, to create a stunning special edition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that also includes its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, hitting the shelves earlier this month. 

   Having previously been described as ‘the Alice in Wonderland of fashion’, who else but Westwood should have designed the latest incarnation of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical work? In the past, she has revealed that Alice’s story was one of her favourite childhood books, and looking and looking back at her collections, it’s easy to spot its influence on her work.
   Falling deep into the earth through a rabbit hole, playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts; passing through a mirror to the inverted world beyond, battling the Jabberwocky – a little girl’s journey to discover her own identity and find her place in the world around her, Alice’s literary legacy has become forever ingrained into popular culture.

Via PA/Getty Images
   Vivienne firmly believes the tale should be read by every child: ‘the importance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is that things are never what they seem.  They can have their own strange logic which has nothing to do with any kind of conventional logic but it is just as real. I think this is a very good attitude or lesson for a child to have – so they’re not always so complacent about believing what they’re told.’

   On Westwood’s  cover-sleeve, one of the instantly recognisable John Tenniel illustrations of Alice is set against a striking deconstructed Harlequin print the likes of which has been a favourite of the trailblazing label since the 80s, finished in an attractively tactile mix of matt and gloss. Derived from the costume of the character in the age-old Italian Commedia dell'arte, the use of a Harlequin pattern is certainly apt; comedic, mischievous, and not a little sinister, he has plenty in common with the Cheshire Cat whose intentions are forever unclear and whose famous grin somewhat menacingly brims with long, sharp teeth.

   Removing the book-sleeve, in stark contrast to its jagged, colourful chaos, we find a plain, white cloth binding below; yet, stood firmly in the same spot as she was before is our heroine, arms boldly crossed, immovable. A simple, powerful visual statement that hints at the strength and self-assurance Alice finds within its pages.

   As well as its decorative cover, Westwood has also designed the book’s endpapers, which feature a dizzying jumble of anarchistic doodles and quotes, the style of which harks back to her Punk roots when she her designs first began to redefine street culture in the early 1970s. Moreover, this special gift edition also includes an introduction written by the designer, consisting of an explanation as to why Alice’s adventures have always inspired her; a staunch political activist and Green Party supporter, Westwood has also added a foreboding ‘Climate Map’ and a hard-hitting text entitled ‘End Capitalism’.

   Vivienne clearly identifies with Alice, her questioning the madness of the world around her, her refusal to conform to it. ‘Never become complacent. The world we think we know reflects the way we are conditioned to see it. Maybe it’s not like that at all.’ By raising these contemporary issues alongside Carroll’s timeless piece of children’s fiction, Westwood has, in her opinion, ‘[…] helped fix it in the present moment. Contrary to appearances,’ she tells us, ‘this is the world we live in.’

   Despite this though, it has to be said that, whilst her reasons behind it are unquestionably admirable, the inclusion of Westwood’s rallying anti-capitalist speech remains the forcible attachment of a distinct and deliberate political agenda, however noble or humane, about which Lewis Carroll would have been be utterly horrified. Contrariwise to her message, by appropriating Alice’s tale for her own ends, is she arguably not also guilty of committing the very sins of propaganda she is warning us to reject? After all, for those discovering Alice for the first time, Westwood’s introduction has the potential to corrupt their engagement with the text by prematurely tainting their individual readings with her own. I absolutely applaud her tireless commitment to climate change awareness and the rejection of the greed-driven establishment, but, given her plea for us to independently think for ourselves, would such politically-charged personal reflections on the text not be better suited as a postface to the literary text?

   Whatever the case, and all political associations aside, this beautiful, highly collectible edition is a must-have for fashionistas, bookworms and the incurably curious alike, since it is a perfect example of the kind of gloriously provocative creativity and passion Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece is still inspiring in us after one hundred and fifty years, and will continue to inspire for many more years to come. Stripped back to its essence, the lesson is always the same; as Vivienne herself puts it: ‘always wonder.’

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