A charming illusionist, an adventurous queen of hearts and an evil green man journey through early cinema, film magic and love. Back to the Moon is an animated, interactive Doodle celebrating the artistry of film director and prestidigitator Georges Méliès.
The Google Doodle, Google Spotlight Stories, Google Arts & Culture, & Cinémathèque Française teams have collaborated to create the first-ever Virtual Reality (VR) / 360° interactive Doodle to celebrate the life and artistry of French illusionist and film director Georges Méliès. Produced by Nexus Studios.
Known for films like A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, more popularly referred to as Georges Méliès, was a pioneer filmmaker who has long fascinated and entranced me.
His technical achievements aside, and they are considerable, Méliès possessed a rich and expansive imagination that found exquisite perfection is his adventurous, brave and increasingly sophisticated films that saw beyond film’s only envisaged use as an educational tool and decided the sky, or rather, the moon was the limit!
One thing I love about him is that he made films for the sake of filmmaking, for the purity of creation; yes he wanted audiences, what creative person doesn’t, but it was the act of storytelling that excited and enthralled him.
Google’s recognition of a man who did so much to expand not just how films were made, but why, warms my heart since it acknowledges once again a towering talent who was instrumental in creating the film industry we know today.
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast with filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie returning to the helm. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
If there’s one thing that has always entranced me about the Mission Impossible franchise, a series of action blockbuster films that Tom Cruise was born to make, it’s how BIG they are.
I mean, seriously, ’90s blockbuster, Bond and Bourne aspire to this bigness, tension so taut it could slice a hock of ham from 100 metres BIG.
The latest trailer for the sixth film in the series, in which, surprise surprise finds Ethan and the gang, which includes Simon Pegg as Benjamin “Benji” Dunn, Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell and Michelle Monaghan as Julia Meade-Huntare once again in serious, death-comes-a-calling trouble, shows the franchise is not going to get smaller anytime soon.
In fact, what with epic fights, helicopters falling from the sky and Ethan Hunt leaping from buildings into the void (he falls a lot in this one but that looks ordained by the title), it’s as far from small and indie-intimate you can get … which is just the way I like it.
Roll on BIG peril and righteous back! I’m ready when you are …
Mission Impossible: Fallout opens 27 July USA and 2 August Australia.
That’ll hardly be a newsflash to anyone who’s paying even the smallest bit of attention to the fast-moving pace of the modern world, but if you compare it to the relative slow unfolding of history, where major innovations took decades to take effect, the way things change in the second decade of the twenty-first century is almost whiplash-inducingly rapid.
Not everyone minds this of course; tech companies and building developers live and die on the basis on scarily-fast turnarounds, their bread-and-butter riding on the old giving way to the new with dizzying speed, but as Libby Page’s enchantingly heartfelt debut novel, The Lido (an outdoor pool in England, from the Italian for “beach”) not everyone else is similarly enamoured.
Or at least, not about every last facet of those changes.
“And on the edge of the park closest to her [Rosemary] balcony a low redbrick building wraps its arms around a perfect blue rectangle of water. The pool is striped with ropes that split the lanes and she can see the towels dotted on the decking. Swimmers float in the water like petals. It is a place she knows well. It is the lido, her lido.” (P. 6)
86-year-old Rosemary is one of those rare elderly people who is open to the new and the innovative – she has accepted after a long and happy life that you simply can’t expect where you live, and she has lived in Brixton, London all her life, to always stay the same.
It’s not realistic and Rosemary knows it; of course two things always made equanimously subscribing to this accepting philosophy considerably easier – the near-lifelong devotion of her recently-deceased husband George, and her precious Lido, where she has swim almost every morning of her life, even during the Blitz of World War Two when was one of the rare children not evacuated to the English countryside.
Happily, George and the Lido usually came hand-in-hand, and even after his death, which after 60 plus years of marriage near tore her world in two, she continued to find solace and sanctuary in the calm, blue, early-morning waters of her neighbourhood pool.
Alas progress beckons, and with the local council citing a dire financial state and touting the saving benefits of selling the pool to local developer Paradise Living for conversion into tennis courts, Rosemary faces losing not only an important part of her daily routine but an important link back to her youth, and most critically, one of the last shared connections to George.
Accepting of Brixton’s constant evolution she may be – although the closure of the local library where she worked for decades with her close friend Hope still rankles – with friends among the new and changing landscape of modern Brixton such as bookseller couple Frank and Jermaine, and street greengrocer Ellis and his son Jake, but there are the limits, and the imminent closure of the Lido is most definitely one of them.
Enter buttoned-down, repressed journalist Kate, a junior journalist at The Brixton Chronicle, who exists on a diet of solitude and ready-made meals and is prone to panic attacks at the worst possible times (actually is there ever a good time for them?).
She has lived in London for a few years, first studying for her masters in journalism, and then working at the local newspaper, but she has no real friends, has a close but not actively-in-contact relationship with her sister Erin, and feels lost and alone, watching the world go by but unable to partake in any of it.
The proposed closure of the lido conspires to brings her and Rosemary together, and what begins as a simple assignment to document the people who love the pool and its pretty much certain end soon turns into a friendship that spurs a concerted push to save an icon that doesn’t just mean the world to Rosemary but which revolutionises Kate’s life in innumerable ways, bringing her friends, a new love and the kind of connections and kinship she had long sought but never found.
“She [Kate] thinks about how much of the past few years she has spent feeling afraid. The Panic has ruled her life for so long. before she found the lido she felt as though she was balanced on the tip of a diving board, terrified by the height below her. But finally she is not afraid any more. She is ready to jump.” P. 315)
In some senses there is nothing new and remarkable in The Lido.
It fits a trend of late of heartwarming tales of the socially awkward and the societally dispossessed – think Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman for one – who might new purpose, connection, life and hope in the most unlikeliest and life-changing of circumstances.
But in the midst of this familiarity exists a delightfully charming story of what happens when two people who should have nothing at all in common come to find not simply shared purpose but real friendship that comes to mean the world to both of them.
Written in a sweetly-observant third person style that feels a little oddly clunky at first but comes to feel cosy, welcoming and poetically-insightful, The Lido is above all a celebration of connection and closeness, a reaffirmation of the fact that no person is an island, cliche though it may be, and that all we need each other.
More than that though it acknowledges that though change is inevitable and reinvigorating much of the time, it should be wholesale or indiscriminate and that having the old and the new existing side-by-side is not only good for society as a whole but good for the soul.
Certainly you will finish this gorgeously uplifting book with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and an itching need to not simply get back into the pool, but to reconnect, really reconnect, with the important people in your life as you remember how much you need them and the things that make you indisputably you.
Slack Wyrm – the ongoing comic story of unconcerned dragon in an uncaring world by Josh Wright. Set in an ill-conceived medieval/fantasy realm of fabulous monsters, princesses, towering castles, creepy woods and houses made out of confectionery. There are witches and wizards and talking animals who sometimes wear jackets, but never pants. Also everyone seems to have a smartphone, which makes no sense at all. Wickedly quirky and gleefully subversive are two qualities I love in any pop culture I consume. (Slack Wyrm Facebook page(c) Joshua Wright)
Anyone can replicate a trope or a well-worn idea, but only a gifted few can take them, turn them inside out, give an idiosyncratic spit-and-polish and voila! Regale us with something entrancingly new …
Even better if it’s funny too, and in the case of cartoons or comics, possessed of a singular arresting visual personality.
Geelong, Australia-born Joshua Wright, who says he “remains ever-keen to impose his art onto a weary world” and who happily, and quite accurately boasts that “I already have more Twitter followers than Alexander the Great ever did, [which] must mean I’m more important” has ticked all the above boxes with his Slack Wyrm comics which are unapologetically in your face and hilariously so.
Averaging two comics a week, Wright is clearly a man with a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humour to unleash upon the world. Take this excerpt from his website bio:
“After finishing a History & Literature degree, and taking a few overseas trips, he settled down to his deluded fantasy career as a famous writer of children’s novels. A decade later and with several unimpressive jobs on his resume, he finally got a few books into print. These masterful works continue to fade into history to this very day. You should probably buy one now before they become collector’s items.” (Joshuawright.net)
Armed with that kind of self-deprecating wit and a talent for giving it both visual and verbal expression that wins on just about every count, Wright’s Slack Wyrm couldn’t be anything other than the gloriously off-the-wall piece of creativity than it is.
If you’re tired of comics that play it safe or don’t push the envelope, or that simply feature a dearth of dragons – we’ve all been there, am I right? – then Slack Wyem should be your new comical bae.
Who knows? You may even get a great magical black forest cake out of the deal.
Multiple Emmy Award winners Candice Bergen and series creator Diane English reunite for Murphy Brown, the revival of the ground-breaking comedy about the eponymous broadcast news legend and her biting take on current events, now in a world of 24-hour cable, social media, “fake news,” and a vastly different political climate. (synopsis via YouTube (c) CBS)
It’s hard to quantify how much I love Murphy Brown.
One of the iconic sitcoms of my younger years, along with Frasier and Mad About You, it is smart, funny, insightful and possessed of one of the most impressive ensemble casts ever.
In short, it has the lot, and news that Diane English’s groundbreaking series, and its take-no-prisoners eponymous star Murphy Brown, played with vulnerable sass by the incomparable Candace Bergen, is returning for a 13-episode new series has filled me with delight and a profound expectation that this will be one of those TV show revivals that makes you glad all those new (and old) platforms need lots and lots of content.
CBS has already noted, as does the promo trailer below, that there is no shortage of material to fuel the show – given its anti-Trump bias, Murphy Brown be the reboot to take on the exercrable Roseanne reboot – and you can bet that English who’s returning for the revival along with Faith Ford (Corky Sherwood), Joe Reglabuto (Frank Fontana) and Grant Shaud (Miles Silverberg) will find enough content to fulfil the 13 episode order and hopefully then some.
We even get to return to Phil’s Bar and Grill, with the attitude-rich owner, played in the original 10 series run by Pat Corley (he died in 2006), replaced by sister Phyllis (Tyne Daly) who looks to have the wit and chutzpah to go toe-to-toe with anyone who walks in the establishment.
The only missing faces are painter Eldin Bernecky (Robert Pastrolli, who played the man who refused to be cowed by Murphy, died in 2004) and Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough, who is semi-retired) who will be sorely missed; joining the show for the first time, however, along with Tyne Daly, will be Nik Dodani as Murphy’s social media director and Jake McDorman as Murphy’s grown-up son, Avery.
“During the show’s 10-season run, Murphy was known to have a revolving door of famous secretaries — one of its best running jokes — some of whom included Bette Midler, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Rosie O’Donnell. Bergen hinted that the gag will continue in the CBS update. ‘I believe it is, yes!’ she said, keeping details of potential famous guest stars close to the vest. ‘They’re all very covert.'”
Ultimately though having 13 episodes of Murphy Brown in the brave new world of fake news, neo-fascism and social media that is 2018 should help ease the pain, and remind us while we’re laughing, that a free and critical press is essential to a fully-functional democracy.
I doubt the revived sitcom will let us forget the fact, once again, reuniting brilliant characterisation, stinging wit and penetrating insight to impressive effect.
Just remember to “shut the door!”
Murphy Brown season 11 airs this fall (autumn) on CBS.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND MISTRUST AND GUNS AND A DISTINCT LACK OF FRIENDLINESS …
So … NEWS FLASH!
Even with aliens laying waste to us, our planet and and any sense of integrity we had as a species – did we have any? If we did, the likes of Trump are seeing to it that it’ll be long gone before Colony finishes its run – it seems that humanity is really, I mean really, REALLY bad at posing anything that looks remotely like a united front.
Yes, everyone, even as some of us collude with the enemy, dazzled by the religious glitz of The Greatest Day, and the enemies of the aliens occupying us speed towards well ahead of schedule to wage war with the Rapps – the plot is tad reminiscent of Falling Skies but given Colony‘s far superior storytelling to date, expect a far better tale of the enemy of my enemy is my friend played on Earth’s green and pleasant lands – humanity still can’t get it together!
STILL. What the hell is it going to take for a little bit of warm-and-fuzzy Sesame Street-esque caring and sharing?
I doubt anyone can say right now but as the Bowmans meet up with the resistance people near their camp – who are ridiculously charming and friendly and invite them in for tea and cookies; no, no they don’t – guns at the ready and any semblance of trust long gone, it becomes patently obvious that everyone is a suspect and no one is innocent until to proven guilty.
You can well understand why of course since so many people are either collaborating with the aliens or quietly standing by in the hope they won’t get whomped or sent to The Factory – which incidentally ceased to exist, along sadly with its captive humans, when the Rapps’ enemies blew it to smithereens – and there’s no guarantee that a smile and a wave means anything more than “I’m lulling you into a false sense of security before I kill you or turn you in”.
Case in point, and a justification for all the paranoia in the world, most of which seems to reside in the lady who meets the Bowmans on an isolated bridge to retrieve the gauntlet, is the presence of Snyder (Peter Jacobson) who has feigned exhaustion with the collaborators and their alien overlords but remains, self-serving as always, in their employ.
He is going along with Will (Josh Holloway) and Kate (Sarah Wayne Callies) and the kids, two of whom, Charlie (Jacob Buster) and Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) he coaches in the art of lying like crazy (awww they grow up so fast!), simply so he has a bigger catch to hand over to the Global Authority who continue to talk like they have everything under control, even as the aliens, no the other aliens, come speeding towards Earth for their own greatest day (chances are the two aliens’ agendas aren’t going to be mutually “great”).
Exhibit A for slimy, collaborative humanity – although kudos to Colony‘s writers for making him a nuanced character with many layers such as the hitherto-unarticulated (well to the Bowmans anyway) that he had/has a daughter – Snyder is the reason that the resistance, at least the ones who usher the Bowmans onto an automated freight train (“Because people getting herded onto freight trains never ends badly”) for the journey to Seattle, trusts no one.
Turns out when they get up to Seattle, where they are greeted, not by tea and cookies (will they never get sustenance? Martha Stewart would be appalled), but by guns and bright lights in the eyes, that everyone is a tad friendlier although even here the friendliness is guarded, the reason for which becomes clear when the Bowmans and their escorts arrive at the resistance camp to find not everyone is getting along.
The shots are being called by a mysterious figure in a hut, who may or may not be a dissident alien – certainly everyone seems very tiptoe-y around him and there’s a fascistic level of fear at play, something the Rapps seem inordinately fond of – and it becomes very clear very quickly to the Bowmans that they won’t be singing “Kumbayah” around a campfire anytime soon with their new “friends”.
Suffice to say that while the gauntlet and the Bowmans are now snugly within resistance hands, and their goal is a laudable one of kicking the aliens off plant earth, it’s not exactly happy families, and the end of any alien occupation, if that’s even possible (especially given the insidious spirit of collaboration polluting the human race), won’t necessarily be some kind of happy ever after Hallmark moment.
That is the brilliance of Colony which is unstintingly unsentimental in its depiction of life in the brave new world of alien-occupied earth.
The depiction of the us vs. them dynamic is as realistic as it comes, along with all of the consequences that come with it – rampant authoritarianism, fractured loyalties, glib disregard for them, lying, subterfuge and the list goes on and on.
Tempting though it would to depict some sort of noble us defeating them narrative, one in which the heroes are virtuous and good in all their ways, and the anti-heroes are most assuredly not, the reality is the world, and it appears even the galaxy god help us all, doesn’t work that way, and pretending otherwise wouldn’t be realistic nor would it be in the service of the kind of gritty, in-your-face drama at which Colony excels.
One man who knows all about the grim nastiness of life, war and messy geopolitics is Broussard (Tory Kittles) who, surprise surprise is holed up in non-destroyed L.A. where the buildings are intact but the people taken away to The Factory for resource-ful purposes. (They are all, of course, dead, but it appears the Rapps have fallen to repopulate the colony from elsewhere, just like they did in Seattle.)
His main activity, well when he’s not wandering the streets and homes of L.A. alone in some of the eeriest, most atmospheric footage to adorn the show, is piecing back together mountains of coloured shredded documents, much like the “Puzzle Women” of post-reunification Germany, from whom the episode draws its title.
It’s laborious, lonely work but Broussard, ever the dog with the bone, sticks at it, only pausing to help spirit mum Claire (Hannah Levien) and her son who, like many people have hidden away from the Rendition, into the San Fernando Bloc, and to talk to Dispatch, a mysterious but friendly woman (hello love interest!) who keeps Broussard company even when it’s clear he’s doing just fine without it.
Naturally these small moments of helpfulness and companionship don’t quite go to plan – this is Colony where no one can stay happy for long and where life under occupation is grittily, horrifically realistic – and Broussard is left to flee the city for Seattle with Dispatch, as she’s known so far, where no doubt he’ll join the suspicion-fest that is the resistance camp.
While “Puzzle Man” isn’t a completely perfect episode, it gets far more right that it gets wrong, continuing to present us with a world that was already broken before the aliens arrived, and which continues to fall into more brokenness even as the more noble elements of humanity try their best to reverse the damage.
Will they succeed? Possibly but as World War Two demonstrated, and Colony echoes, and will no doubt continue to echo, winning is one thing, making the peace work quite another, and the road between an horrific maze of duplicity, mistrust and the very best and worst of everything humanity has to offer.
Next up in Colony … “Sierra Maestra” and all kinds of mystery, secrecy and the suggestion that humanity may be getting their hands a little two wet in the alien-fighting pool …
“In between dismantling of an AK-47 assault rifle and training of the home bear, I like to listen to music and when I peer into the cover of the album I find a place for myself there. I have decided to make a small selection of interesting covers and show what might be off-screen if I were there.” (Laughing Squid)
Album covers are mystically-wonderful things.
Well they were to a boy growing up in the ’70s who loved the big expansive covers to the music I loved and who always loved the idea that there might be more lurking around the other side of the LP sleeve.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one wondering what lay beyond with Russian man Igor Lipchanskiy having a great deal of fun conjuring what might be hidden just over the LP cover.
The results are astoundingly good, proof that all that musing I did back in the day is shared by someone else, ‘lo all these many years later.
Now if he’d only see what lies beyond the album The Visitors …
Subversion, thy superhero name is Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds).
Well, more currently at least Deadpool 2, which has roared into cinemas, dragging the entrails of its genre conventions, social niceties and a truckload of witty oneliners and devastatingly clever pop culture references in its sassy, and oft times, surprisingly heartfelt wake.
This is not your grandmother’s Marvel movie – strictly speaking it’s not an official Marvel movie at all since the film rights still sit with 20th Century Fox but hey, he’s a comic book compatriot of Iron Man and Captain America so close enough – unless of course your nanna is the kind of person who rejoices in a cavalcade of jokes so wonderfully beyond the pale that there’s likely no good taste GPS coordinates where they reside.
That is, of course, the joy of the Merc with a Mouth, who, with help from writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, shreds every single last superhero genre trope into a thousand blood-soaked pieces – the gore and violence is the film is both cartoonish and wince-inducing – while somehow, and this is impressive part, very much honouring the universe it inhabits (not, we hasten to remind you again, the big, bold MCU one of which Disney is so fond).
Time and again, Deadpool smashes the fourth wall, addressing the audience with wisecrack-laden observations about the dearth of X-Men in Xavier’s mansion – there’s a brilliant scene where all the other X-Men, which Deadpool deadpans is a cultural metaphor for race from the ’60s and a misogynistic term to boot, spot our hilariously foulmouthed anti-hero and close the door on him – the use of music and camera angles, and a slew of other genre commonalities that we take for granted but which are, on closer inspection, more than a little silly.
The crowning glory of all this self-referential hilarity comes at the very start of the film – it comes in hard, fast and unapologetically brazen and doesn’t let up until the very funny mid-credits scene (do not wait until the very end of the credits for something extra; it does not exist) – when Deadpool, lying atop drums of test fuel and seconds away from lighting a bonfire of suicidal death, sets a Logan dead on a spike music box off-and-running, quipping that “Guess what, Wolvy: In this one, I’m dying too.’
Even in death Deadpool is funny, and given that this particular superhero has ridiculously hyper-healing abilities, you know that any dismemberment, and it is, true to form for a film that is determined to upset the sensibilities of the squeamish and ill-at-ease, is not going to last too long.
But while the act may be temporary, what leads to it and from it, is not, with some fairly emotional-intense moments sitting cheek-by-jowl, heartrendingly so at times, with the quips and the jocular visual shenanigans.
That is, in part, why Deadpool 2, and Deadpool as a character, works so well.
It knows full well that people are there for the bare-boned, in-your-face witticisms such as “So, mission accomplished? … Well, in a George W. kind of way.” and “I love your shiny suit. It really brings out the sex trafficker in your eyes”, and that, full-on though they are, they define the character to a large, likeable degree – he may be confronting but goddammit only to the bad guys who deserve it – and it plays to that with cheeky, unstinting bravado; but it never forgets that what gives the movies substance, and this one in particular, is its willingness to wear its heart daringly on its all-too-often ripped sleeve.
You see it time and again whether its reacting to some fairly resonant events surrounding Deadpool aka Wade’s fiancée Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) or in his protective care for aggrieved mutant teenager Russell Collins aka Firefist (Julian Dennison) who’s on a murderous path that will define him and the loved ones of those he kills, and the character arc of villain Cable (Josh Brolin) who turns out to be much more layered than the bad guys and gals of more conventional Marvel and DC Comics films (speaking of the latter, there is a quip about the seriousness of the universe of Batman and Wonder Woman that is damn near worth the price of admission alone).
Deadpool 2 may play and loose with conventions and sensibilities (The Family Guy-esque joke-telling pushes the envelope to bursting point and trust me, you won’t regret a moment), but it’s not a joke-spewing monster, and wouldn’t be have as much fun to watch if it was, and its inclination to embrace moment of raw, gut-wrenching emotional intimacy add so much potency and depth to the manic insanity of much of the rest of the film.
And manic it most certainly is.
We race from Wade’s apartment bursting into life ending/not ending flames to the Icebox where mutants are kept away from humanity – who are the real monsters here? Deadpool 2 makes it clear that it’s not the advanced humans, save for a few select douchebags, thank you very much – and to a climactic battle at an orphanage where unspeakable atrocities have taken place (and yes, Deadpool is more than happy to talk about them in jokes both hilarious and deeply-affecting) and our favourite anti-hero joins with new friend Domino aka Neena Thurman (Zazie Beetz), old pals Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), whose girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna) is a delight, and Colossus (Stefan Kapičić), his taxi driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) and yes, Cable who, as noted, is way more nuanced that initial appearances might suggest, with fluid ferocity.
Yet, for all this pell-mell craziness and endless upending of tropes and conventions, and more pop culture references than a summer convention – cited, among many others are Say Anything, Interview With the Vampire, Terminator, Yentl, RoboCop, Dave Matthews, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the most inventive use of songs like Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and Cher’s “Turn Back Time” that you’ve ever seen (containing the best The Green Lantern joke of all time, pun intended) – Deadpool 2 has an incredible amount of humanity and soul, a wisecracking blood and vengeance fest that never loses sight of the winning complexity of its protagonist.
He is not, nor has he ever been, a cardboard cutout, flimsy joke projector; rather he is layered, heartfelt and all too aware of the darker places in life – there is a crack at one point about masking pain with humour, which is Deadpool to the core – and this depth of character, and a more complete and robust narrative than the first film, mean that Deadpool 2 is that rare satire which manages to be more meaningful and reflective of the best of its genre than films that takes themselves way more seriously.
At its heart, Deadpool 2 is a ridiculously rewarding mix of fourth-wall breaking, foul-mouthed wisecrackery, pop culture reference-littered, meta-rich, heartfelt storytelling that is fun and deeply serious all once, a frenetic blend that is both intelligent and scatalogically childish all at once, and never less than ferociously, insightfully clever, and endlessly, guffaw-worthy funny.
The Eurovision Song Contest may be over for another year but its music lives on. This is a great, accessible guide to the music of Eurovision so you’re all prepared for next year! Oh hey, why not download a lot of this music now and get your pan-European vibe on every day of the year …
In his acceptance speech for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, Portuguese winner Salvador Sobral issued a controversial call to arms to “bring music back” to a place of meaning and feeling:
We live in a world of disposable music; fast-food music without any content. I think this could be a victory for music with people who make music that actually means something. Music is not fireworks; music is feeling.
It was a bold statement to make at a contest known – and loved – for its trashy Europop as much as it is for its heartfelt ethno-folk ballads or its diva swan songs. Eurovision music is diverse, encompassing both fast food and feelings. Over the years, it has developed its own sound and even its own genres.
The late Lys Assia’s Refrain, the winning song of the inaugural Eurovision in 1956, best encapsulates the chanson style that dominated the contest for its first decade. Literally French for “song”, the term is used to describe any lyric-driven French song, but a song being in French does not immediately make it a chanson.
This year’s entrant from Madame Monsieur, Mercy, is contemporary electro pop that shares more with the pop music that superseded chanson after the 1960s. Many today would describe the chanson as old-fashioned, although others suggest it is a timeless genre. Although sung in Portuguese, Sobral’s Amar Pelos Dois from 2017 recalls this style.
The canzone is the Italian iteration of the chanson, exemplified by the iconic Nel blu dipinto di blu by Domenico Modugno in 1958. Many would better know this song as Volare as covered by Dean Martin.
If the chanson dominated the 1950s and 1960s, schlager was undoubtedly the driving force from the 1970s until the early 2000s, when it integrated with Eurodisco and Eurodance. Although the term may not be familiar unless slurring your beer order, the style itself is perhaps the most recognisable to even the most casual Eurovision viewer.
The origins of schlager are German, but forms of it can be found around Europe and are even recognisable in some American pop music. Meaning a “musical hit”, schlager refers to light pop music featuring catchy instrumentals and sentimental, usually non-political lyrics.
Nicole won the prize for Germany in 1982 with Ein bißchen Frieden, while Germany’s last winner in 2010, Lena’s effervescent Satellite, is a quirky take on the schlager tradition.
Schlager itself is arguably less prominent at the contest in recent years, but we can see elements of it, fused with dance and folk elements, in DoReDos’ 2018 entry My Lucky Day for Moldova.
The fusion of different musical styles, especially traditional elements with contemporary trends, is one of the most appealing aspects of Eurovision as it presents international viewers with something different to the pop standard.
Ethno-folk fusions rose in popularity in the 1990s, arguably when “world music” caught on as a global trend from the late 1980s. From Celtic-inspired ballads to bellydancing beats, every year is replete with examples of this.
Sanja Ilić and Balkanika, representing Serbia in 2018 with Nova Deca, have made it their mission to both preserve and modernise Balkan musical traditions. The song combines the Torlakian dialect of southeastern Serbia with standard Serbian, fusing traditional vocals and flute with contemporary singing and a dance beat.
Everyone’s favourite folk entry of recent years is undoubtedly the Russian grannies of 2012.
As an event aimed at a family gathered around the modern hearth of the television, music with a more general appeal has been the standard for much of the contest’s history. Until, of course, Finnish heavy metal demon rockers Lordi surprised us all with their victory in 2006, Hard Rock Hallelujah.
Traditionally, rock does not fare well at Eurovision, so best of luck to Hungary’s AWS with Viszlát Nyár this year, which might draw in a few different punters with its reminiscence of Linkin Park’s oeuvre.
On the other end of the spectrum is Scandi-pop. Just as most of your favourite hits over the past 20 years have been written by one Swedish mastermind writer/producer (Max Martin, who has written everything from Britney Spear’s One More Time to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood), Swedish songwriters dominate Eurovision, spruiking their wares across the continent.
For example, this year’s Maltese entry, Taboo, sung by Christabelle, was written by none other than Thomas G:son, who penned everyone’s (well, OK, my) favourite winner from the past ten years, Euphoria by Loreen.
The one to watch this year, however, is Finland’s more congenial answer to Lady Gaga, Saara Aalto. (Although she won’t be singing it in the contest, her 34-language version of her entry Monsters is worth a listen.)
Time for a toilet break?
Our final category can cross all musical genres: the ballad. Broadly defined as a slow-tempo song (known by some as the toilet-break songs), the ballad can dampen the party mood pretty quickly, so it is the song type that everyone loves to hate (but also secretly love).
According to number-crunching fan site ESC Daily, ballads usually account for about 40% of entries each year. Time your toilet breaks well, for there are fewer this year than last year and those that remain each offer something a little different.
Life is never as easy as it seems, an unsettling truism that is grappled with in different but sometimes overlapping ways by the three central characters in Lynn Shelton’s film Outside In.
Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017, this hauntingly low-key and engagingly-nuanced film looks at the way our life expectations often fail to square up with the the reality on the ground, with the luxury of ignoring that gaping chasm simply not available to people ex-con Chris (Jay Duplass), his old high school English teacher and campaigner for his release Carol (Edie Falco) and Carol’s disaffected daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever).
Returning to the small town of Granite Falls in Shohomish County, Washington, after 20 years in prison, Chris is a man well and truly adrift – he is out of sync with two decades of technological advancement and societal change, but even more challengingly, he is a 38-year-old with the life skills and outlook of an 18-year-old which is the age at which he was imprisoned.
This doesn’t lead to too many awkward moments (save for hanging out at a skateboard park on his old bike) – thanks to his ongoing contact with Carol, who was his only real form of contact during his prison years – his brother Ted (Ben Schwartz) had little contact with him, triggered we learn by the fact that he was involved in the crime that sent Chris to prison and feared guilt by association – but there are times when it’s clear that Chris is struggling to act like someone his age.
That’s, of course, to be expected; the last time he was free the world was a completely different place and he was a completely differently person in it; while he has matured in prison, this maturity doesn’t lend itself well to life on the outside and he struggles to make or re-establish connections.
That’s with the exception of Carol with whom, it soon becomes clear he has formed an especially close, almost intimate, bond, one so close in fact that it becomes his sole lifeline in a town where people welcome him back but aren’t inclined, save for his brother, to socialise with him, give him work or treat him normally.
While he is keen to see Carol often, and expectant that the closeness they had while he was a prisoner and she was fighting for his release will not just be maintained, but deepen and grow to something even more profound and romantic, Carol hangs back, wanting to save her marriage to Tom (Charles Leggett) to sees nothing wrong with their emotionally-stultified marriage and is disinclined to do anything to save it, and keep her family intact.
It’s clear from Falco’s mastery of small gestures and portentous verbal cues containing an entire universe of meaning that she loves Chris as much as she loves him but she rebuffs each and every entreaty he makes until, with Tom essentially driving a stake into the heart of their marriage by his casual disregard, she gives in and they spend the day together, consummating a relationship that has long been in existence by other means.
Watching Chris, redolent with urgency and desperation for some form of meaningful connection, beyond the unexpected friendship he forges with Hildy, and Carol, all drab and squashed-down and clearly yearning for more, dance around each other, eager to go further but unsure what that would look like and how to get there, is one of the film’s richest dynamics.
These are people, along with Hildy, who clearly want more, much more from life that what they’ve got; but while Chris is happy for a small “l” life with job, home and the occasional hike, Carol is eyeing more prisoner advocacy work, a move to somewhere like Seattle and a life writ large.
They are clearly then on completely different pages but that makes perfect sense – Carol has had to grapple with life as it is lived while Chris has had only expectation and hope to sustain him, without the emotional or life maturity to understand that they may not translate well into real life.
They clearly want the same thing but approach it from completely different angles, leading you to wonder if they’ll ever find common ground.
Being a resident of the emotionally-potent slice-of-life drama, there are no easy outcomes or answers, which mirrors the way things are for many of us – the things we wish for we don’t always get, and dealing with that vast, unknowable, often unbridgeable gap can be the source of much loss and regret.
For all those crushing realities, however, the powerfully quiet script by Shelton and Duplass, which asks some fairly intense questions in the most small and intimately-recoiled of ways, offers some hope, however slight hope that there is a way forward, even though, in common with life’s harsh realities, there is guarantees that this will lead to anything long-term and certainly not something that will satisfy either party.
What they do share in common, and here Hildy has a shared stake, is the need for something anything to happen.
Chris needs work, friends, a life in other words, Carol needs Tom to either fight for or flee the marriage and set her free to realise her big, expansive dreams and Hildy, an talented installation artist who transforms a burnt-out shell of a house into a wondrous pink-strand-laden testament to ephemeral connection, a renewed connection to her mother in a family composed of three geographically contiguous but emotionally-distanced people.
This is explored in the sparse but meaningful dialogues, the pregnant pauses and awkward glances and stilted gazes and the starkly beautiful, arresting cinematography of Nathan M. Miller which takes roads, both empty and in use, as a metaphor for forward momentum which, in Outside In, is more aspirational than use.
It may sound like a nakedly clunky visual metaphor but it works exquisitely well, highlighting the roads to freedom that beckon but are not actually travelled by any of the parties, at least not in the transformational ways they need.
Outside In then is a beautifully-wrought, soulfully-rich homage to the power of expectancy and hope and the way this is often, but not always, stymied by the dead hand of grinding reality.
What keeps it buoyant and engaging, are the stellar performances, especially by Duplass and Falco, the script’s transcendent ability to talk big in small and intimate moments, but also the sense that, regardless of life’s constant disappointments and unrealised/potentially-unrealisable dreams, that you may one day get what you want or need, or if not, then close enough to make all that hoping and dreaming worthwhile enough.