Not a Dry Eye in London is the debut album from Alexander’s Festival Hall, an elegantly styled electronic pop confection that begins behind a venue curtain and ends some 40 minutes later, dusting itself down in a field. The brainchild of Alexander’s Festival Hall, former Kompakt recording artist (Baxendale), and producer to Piney Gir and other indie luminaries, the record is an urbane journey through love, loss and the possibility of dancing. With nods as various as Cologne’s nightclub sound and 1930s jazz vying for your affection, Mr Festival Hall decided to have fun colliding form and function but without ever losing sight of that perennial virtue – the instantly hummable tune. (from the press release) More information on his website. Below, Alexander’s Festival Hall gives us his top 10 films.
1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Who wouldn’t love an Algerian war romance set in a French port town with all dialogue sung to a non-stop jazz score? I’ve always loved Michel Legrand’s music and this is a wonderful tribute to the colourful American musicals of MGM. Basically a teen romance gone awry, but with the music and ingénue Catherine Deneuve’s smile vying for lead status.
2. Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Bit of a new-wave film noir goodness now. French chanteur Charles Aznavour plays a piano player who gets caught up with the mob. Aznavour is a kind of god in France (and still touring I believe) and, as a non-professional actor, puts in one of those rare things from pop stars in films – a really ace, and actually partly improvised performance. Turns out non-sequitur-strewn discussions by mobsters officially belong to Truffaut, not that arriviste Tarantino…
3. Sleeper (1973)
This always seems like Woody Allen’s crossover movie, as he moved from parodying other films into his own upscale Manhattanite satires. That it also manages to be both an homage to the physical comedy of the silent-film era and a pisstake of the late 1960s/early 70s vogue for dystopian sci-fi at the same time is pretty amazing. Miles Monroe, who runs a whole food store in the 1970s, wakes up a couple of hundred years later to be used as a revolutionary by scientists resisting a 1984-like state. Diane Keaton excels as a bratty socialite slash poet who of course he falls in love with.
4. Alphaville (1965)
I remember seeing this when I was about 19 and that was a great age to be struck by the ambition of new wave film – when you haven’t yet seen so many films that you’ve tired of post-modernity’s way with inversion of cinematic tropes. Actually, what I probably thought at the time was ‘that was cool!’. But the point stands. A secret agent must pursue a case in the strange city of Alphaville, ruled by the computer Alpha 60 (the cinema’s first and only chain-smoking computer, it seems – the voice is terrifying). Jean-Luc Godard’s bizarre use of music in the wrong places is playful and the whole thing is clearly shot at night in modernist offices to stay in budget – but it is a great example of using your limitations to your advantage.
5. What’s New Pussycat? (1965)
Quite a curio this. It’s that least loved-by-critics genre, the ‘caper’ movie. And yes, it is a mess. I’d heard Woody Allen talking about it in a recording of one of his early standup routines (though he claimed to be ashamed of it after his own directorial career took off). But a combination of the now-bizarrely-outré sixties premise – Peter O’Toole is so beautiful, women just can’t stop falling in love with him. and he struggles to remain faithful to Romy Schneider – music by Burt Bacharach, and Peter Sellers as an insane psychiatrist are a total winner. Daft but fun.
6. Yi Yi (2000)
If you have three hours to spare and want to immerse yourself in the lives of others, this film is just transporting – a family saga of immense honesty that’s just beguiling. I can’t explain how or why it works.
7. Holy Motors (2012)
You remember those rare films that seem to reach out of the screen and bypass all critical or rational functions and address your unconscious directly? This is one of those. A series of appointments for ‘Oscar’, a professional performer who zig zags across Paris in a stretch limo, seemingly commissioned to play pivotal scenes in other people’s lives. I felt like my brain had been rewired for days after watching it.
8. Blazing Saddles (1974)
A family favourite, this. I think probably the most consistently funny film I’ve ever seen, and I must have seen it over 40 times by this point. Actually I’m smiling just thinking about this film. I’m pretty sure Seth Macfarlane owes his entire career to this movie. Every Mel Brooks schtick is in place and working overtime – nods to vaudeville, pre-PC gags about race, sex and pretty much everything else. The theme tune is a killer too.
9. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
I could have picked any film by Powell and Pressburger – they pretty much all possess their own vision of what cinema could be. A Matter of Life and Death manages to be one of the most theological/philosophical/romantic war films with a young WWII pilot (dashing David Niven) killed over the English Channel – yet somehow he survives as the organisation from the next world can’t find him in the fog. An academic battle is staged to keep him in the world of the living as he’s fallen in love with June, the operator who tried to help land the plane. It’s thought-provoking, eccentric and also just plain delightful in equal measure.
10. Sweeney Todd (2007)
Sondheim’s dark operetta brought to life by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter. One of the finest musical movies I’ve ever seen – the non-singer-but-singing actors actually manage incredibly well in what’s acknowledged to be one of the most challenging scores to sing.