Talking Movies

July 1, 2014

Arcade Fire & Pixies at Marlay Park

Arcade Fire arrived at Marlay Park on the back of triumphantly headlining Glastonbury, with super-support from Pixies touring their first new album in 23 years.

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Pixies’ new album Indie Cindy, culled from various EPs over the last while, is very reminiscent of 1990’s Bossanova; with elements of 1991’s Trompe le Monde. Their deafeningly loud 22 song set included new songs ‘Bagboy’, ‘Magdalena 318’, ‘Indie Cindy’, and ‘Greens and Blues’ interspersed with the old classics, and the old songs fitted in perfectly. The latest Kim Deal substitute was adept as a bassist but less so vocally in a Doolittle and Surfer Rosa heavy-set, but Dave Lovering and Joey Santiago were obviously having fun. Lovering in particular hammed up his rendition of ‘La La Love You’, even though the crowd started applauding before he’d actually finished… And therein lay the explanation for Frank Black’s distant mood. This was far from the adulatory reception Pixies received when supporting Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2004. A blisteringly raucous finale saw Pixies run together ‘Rock Music’, ‘Isla de Encanta’, and ‘Tame’, before ‘Debaser’ was abandoned because Black’s guitar had broken and he chose to take it as a sign. Truthfully the sign had come earlier when the moshpit went crazy for ‘Here Comes Your Man’ – this nearly 50 minutes in, and after ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Gouge Away’, ‘Velouria’, and ‘Nimrod’s Son’ had been played without any such reaction. When the crowd at the front then went wild again a few songs later for ‘Where is My Mind?’ you could almost see Fassbender’s despairing lines as cult musician Frank run across Black’s face: “They do not know and love us? They do not know us…” This was a crowd of face-painted teenagers there for Arcade Fire, and all the Pixies they knew was thru Fight Club’s finale and their only song approved for daytime radio. This cast a slight pall over the end of the set, and, almost as if the gods had been angered, the sunny weather was replaced by a cold wind.Win Butler seemed ashamed on his fans’ behalf, and later played the intro of ‘Where is My Mind?’ while stressing the seminal nature of Pixies – ‘you really ought to know who they are’ was the clear subtext…

The stage at Marlay has changed position a lot over the years and now the audience looks past it to the mountains, the perfect backdrop really for a band with a song called ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. Arcade Fire took to the stage at 8:30 in order to play for over two hours, although they first had to boot off their bobble-head band which had started playing ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’. Impressively the costumes used at Glastonbury were discarded for all new outfits, with Win Butler sporting a white suit with red birds adorning the jacket. After staggeringly tossing aside the totemic ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ as the second song sandwiched between two new tracks, they settled comfortably into The Suburbs; with ‘Rococo’, ‘Month of May’, ‘The Suburbs’, and ‘Ready to Start’ in succession. After some moody Funeral hits the already energised crowd were set dancing with ‘Intervention’, ‘We Exist’, ‘No Cars Go’, ‘Haiti’, ‘Reflektor’ and ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ one after another. And it was very noticeable just how much dancing there was going on in the crowd. Some of this may be because the gig didn’t sell out (Recession, y’all), so people had space to really go for it; but most of it was surely because of the sheer energy of the small army of musicians bouncing around and effortlessly switching instruments onstage. And offstage, with dancers throwing shapes on a platform in the crowd for ‘We Exist’, and Regine Chassagne being menaced by dancing skeletons for ‘Oh Orpheus’ on the same platform. And then the band left to allow a bobble-head Pope to rip up a photo of Miley Cyrus while standing beside a TV-screen-head man playing Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. Arcade Fire returned, heralded by their mirror-ball man speaking Irish, for an encore of ‘Afterlife’, ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’, ‘Here Comes the Night Time’, and ‘Wake Up’. And after exploding a vast shower of confetti over the crowd there really could be no second encore after that closer… It was a really good gig, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as other people were because I don’t think Reflektor stands up to their previous work. I’ve been listening to Neon Bible and really enjoying it recently, and it has almost completely fallen out of their set-list. They played 7 songs from Reflektor, and I think by their next tour only ‘Reflektor’, ‘Afterlife’, ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ will still be played. But that’s three new songs U2 would kill for.

I seem to be cursed to see huge bands when they’re touring weak albums, but this will still surely be a strong contender for feel-good gig of the summer.

4/5

June 10, 2011

On Fassbendering

“To Fassbender: To very obviously derive too much enjoyment from one’s work”. That’s the Urban Dictionary definition at any rate. But, like the residents of Madison Avenue advertising firms in the 1960s being termed Mad Men, I defined it myself…

So, where on earth did I get the concept of Fassbendering from? Well, I first really noticed Michael Fassbender when he played Azazeal in Hex, and my reaction to the show was pretty much “meh, pale Buffy rip-off, but serious kudos to that guy who’s really enjoying himself far too much as the Big Bad”. Later on I realised that he was the actor from Guinness ad who dived off the Cliffs of Moher and swam to New York to say “Sorry” to his brother for hitting on the brother’s girlfriend. The fact that Fassbender had ended that ad by grinning and appearing to hit on the brother’s girlfriend again, suggested a trend – this was a guy who just couldn’t stop grinning mischievously because he was always enjoying himself far too much. Fassbender fell off my radar for a while so I only belatedly noticed that he grinned with some malevolence in Rupert Everett’s BBC TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, as he got to be both an impeccably impassive servant and a sadistic serial killer; who, several years before Heath Ledger’s Joker, took a distinct pleasure in being tortured by Holmes. I also later caught up with ITV’s Poirot and discovered that Fassbender had smoked, drank, drawled and grinned his way thru After the Funeral.

But his ridiculous role as Stelios in Zack Snyder’s bombastic 300 was where I really started to take this nonsense seriously, if you will. I have found among my circle that whoever watched 300 as a serious action drama thought it was unbearably bad, but whoever watched it thru the absurd prism of Fassbender (on my prompting) thought it was a deliriously great black comedy. Watching the film with Fassbender as your focus you realise just how much fun he’s obviously having. As the film opens with the 300 marching off to battle Fassbender is already grinning… Later he jumps in slow motion to chop off the arm of the Persian who threatens the Spartans with a thousand nation army, “Well then, we shall fight in the shade”, with the air of a man once again enjoying himself far too much. Fassbender gets to be half of a Spartan Legolas/Gimili style partnership in mayhem and, in his definitive moment of gleefulness, when the Persian mystics are throwing bombs Fassbender runs out, catches one and throws it back, then shelters behind his shield as the arsenal of bombs explodes. In the darkness lit only by bomb blasts we can’t see Fassbender’s face underneath his helmet until we see his teeth, as he grins. Fassbender does something awesome in the denouement to allow Leonidas to do something even more awesome, before holding hands with Leonidas for their butch last lines; where even dying becomes a blast…

But, daft as it sounds, it was Fassbender’s subsequent role in Hunger that led me to go online and define Fassbendering, because, when announcing the casting news from Cannes the Irish Times, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to accompany the story that Fassbender was taking on this big serious role in what one would expect to be a grim sombre film, with a photo of Fassbender cracking up on set – as if there was nothing on this planet, not decency, not logic, that could prevent Fassbender from enjoying himself too much… And indeed Hunger did provide one moment which I deemed Fassbendering above and beyond the call of duty. In the midst of a serious performance in a serious film he still managed to sneak in a scene where, after being beaten up and then dropped naked and bloodied on the floor of his cell, his Bobby Sands rolls over, blood streaming from his mouth, and slowly grins at the camera… On retrospect this is obviously the moment where Sands realises he can defeat his captors by doing this to himself by going on hunger strike, but would anyone but Fassbender dare to do communicate this by a grin, that also serves to indicate that he knows he is doing a great job with this role and still can’t quite believe his luck.

Fassbender had a straight man role in Inglourious Basterds opposite Mike Myers’ absurdist British officer, and then in one of the tensest sequences in the film, but I argue that he was able to play things straight because he didn’t need to Fassbender, he’d already infected the entire ensemble. Christoph Waltz’s ecstatic glee at his role is pure Fassbendering, especially his appreciation of the musical qualities of Italian names and Diane Kruger’s explanation of her leg injury, during which he has to go off to one side to laugh himself sick. The trailer for Jonah Hex left me in tears of laughter as Fassbender’s first appearance as henchman Burke saw him grinning manically while dressed as a droog and setting fire to a barn with someone trapped in it. You can only hope that one day Fassbender gets to truly cut loose with the madmen/auteurs behind the Crank films.

So what is Fassbendering? I used 300 for the definition because it’s the supreme example of a man just obviously enjoying himself far too much for something that’s meant to be paid work, hence my quip – “On being handed the cheque he probably said ‘No, really I couldn’t. It’s just been such a blast. Can I keep the cape?” Now, Fassbendering is not unique to Fassbender, but only in one sense as I will argue in a minute. I would argue that the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be audibly heard Fassbendering their way thru BloodSugarSexMagik because when you listen to it you feel that they would do this for free, they are so obviously deriving too much enjoyment from their paid work. But Fassbendering always has a positive undertone, what is enjoyable for the performer is enjoyable for the audience too, unlike fiascos like Ocean’s 12 where a group of actors obviously having a ball does not translate into the warm hug of the audience that the same actors having a ball provides in Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 13. Fassbendering therefore is high praise when I use it for another actor, as I have occasionally done (Iron Man, Speed Racer, The Importance of Being Lady Bracknell, Death of A Salesman, 7 Reasons to Love Scott Pilgrim, The Field, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Pygmalion, X-Men: First Class).

The part of Erik Lensherr is dark and vengeful, but there is some Fassbendering. The most obvious moments come in the recruitment and training montages where Erik suddenly reveals a hitherto unsuspected sardonic side. These are where any actor would grin widely at how much fun they’re having, even if Fassbender grins wider than most. The true moment that defines Fassbendering as something that only Michael Fassbender truly personifies comes in the extremely tense sequence in the Argentinian German Bar. Fassbender smiling widely drops loaded hints to the ex-Nazis, “They had no name. It was taken from them, by pig-farmers, and tailors”, his smile confusing the hell out of them, even as he slowly drains his drink, still looking affable, but perhaps to be feared. Fassbender is obviously enjoying himself far too much in this scene, but what’s more, to paraphrase Werner Herzog, he’s conveying an inner thought process of his character that other actors would not attempt – Erik really is obviously enjoying this Nazi-hunting business far too much…

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