Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Playing the Piano | The Auditorium, Rome | 28 October, 2009

After the recent Rome film festival which focussed on the environment with its Cape Farewell: Art & Climate Change exhibition and events, it would be hard to imagine a better way of maintaining the creative continuity at the Auditorium Parco della Musica than with the presence of an artist who is not only a Cape Farewell collaborator himself, but also a composer of some of the most memorable film scores of recent years - Ryuichi Sakamoto. The concert, in a packed Santa Cecilia hall on Wednesday evening, opened with the haunting lament for the melting ice caps – Glacier – taken from his latest CD Out of Noise. Whilst a taped soundscape of dripping water and incidental noises reverberated through the theatre, Sakamoto crouched over one of the two Yamaha pianos on stage, reached inside and picked the piano strings. Last year he travelled to Disko Bay on the West coast of Greenland as part of the Cape Farewell creative team and recorded sound at the mouth of Sermeg Avangnardleq Glacier – I'm not certain if these background sounds were those he gathered there, but certainly echoes of the trip were evident. It was a stunning opening, which moved straight into the hypnotic Hibari with its myriad loops and variations on a single theme. After these first pieces Sakamoto then took the microphone and announced that he'd now be playing whatever the mood dictated...there would be no prearranged set list here!

In a performance of seemingly boundless tenderness and generosity he then went on to play for another two hours, including not only music from his early days with the Yellow Magic Orchestra such as the exhilarating Happy End, but also some of his most famous movie themes - The Sheltering Sky and of course, the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor. Curiously, this tour also sees Sakamoto duet with himself – whilst he plays one of the two pianos live on stage the second instrument “plays” a pre-programmed sequence, with the empty piano stool even spot lit during some songs. The brilliance of his performance soon won over the fidgety and coughing members of the audience – maddeningly at least a third of the people in attendance seemed to need to cough every few seconds during the quiet and intimate opening pieces – and as the evening progressed the audience response grew steadily warmer and warmer until rapturous cheers and applause eventually brought him back out on stage for three encores.

It would be hard to pick any highlights but Energy Flow, Thousand Knives, Bibo no Aozora and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence were sheer perfection.

Ryuichi Sakamoto's Playing the Piano is a carbon-free tour presented as part of Romaeuropa Festival 2009 and Santa Cecilia's It's Wonderful.

Video link

Photograph of Ryuichi Sakamoto on the Cape Farewell Disko Bay Expedition © Nathan Gallagher

Friday, October 23, 2009

Meryl Streep Dazzles Crowds at Rome Film Festival

Meryl Streep Photo by Francesca GoriTry as the organisers might to hype up the events aimed at promoting home grown talent, the biggest crowd pullers this year at what is, after all, an international film festival, have been the big Hollywood names. Yesterday was no exception to the rule, with the arrival of one of the greatest actresses of all time and a true movie icon – Meryl Streep – here to present both her latest film Julie & Julia, in which she plays the part of legendary American TV chef Julia Child, and also collect the festival's lifetime achievement prize the Marc'Aurelio Alla Carriera (The Gold Marc'Aurelio Career Award). Following in the footsteps of previous recipients of the award, Sophia Loren and Al Pacino, she appeared on the stage in a packed Sala Sinopoli in conversation with festival stalwarts Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, in what turned out to be a truly wonderful Encounter with Meryl Streep.

The evening began with a moving documentary about the actor John Cazale - I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale – introduced by the director Richard Shepard. Meryl Streep, who had been engaged to Cazale at the time of his tragically young death from cancer, had specifically requested that the documentary be shown prior to her appearance so that the audience would understand the importance of this man in both her life and on her work as an actress. The five films in which he co-starred - The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter – are some of the greatest films ever made and this closer look at Cazale certainly made me want to go back and revisit all of them. There would be no need to ask further questions about their relationship in the following encounter – the film had already said it all - and as the titles rolled, the film was met with loud and respectful applause from the audience.

When Meryl Streep then appeared to rapturous cheers and an instant standing ovation, even the usually unflappable Monda and Sesti seemed momentarily starstruck in her presence, although an intimate conversational atmosphere was quickly established thanks to her warmth and humour. In fact, at the end of the hour or so she was on stage, the sensation one was left with was that of laughter – she irradiated serenity, stunning beauty and intelligence, but most of all, she was very funny and ready to laugh at herself. At one point she was suddenly plagued by strange electronic sounds and interference on her microphone. Joking that she was going to offer herself to NASA because of her importance to science, she went onto explain that computers, iPhones and other devices seem to die on her, and speculated that maybe she had a magnetic force field around her which was causing the interference, adding dryly: or maybe it's the diamonds I'm wearing! After watching a clip from her Oscar-winning performance in Sophie's Choice, and being asked about her ability to perfectly reproduce foreign accents, she blamed that on the magnetic force field too, saying it helped her pick up people's speech and mannerisms!

Having the chance to see Meryl Streep's affectionate impersonation of a mumbling Robert De Niro was priceless, whilst her description of how she reads a script – I look at scripts in the way that actors do: blah blah blah blah blah... ME ME ME... blah blah blah... ME! - brought the house down.

The evening was a mix of conversation and clips from her movies, with the snippets and questions from the hosts acting as a springboard to wider discussion – The Devil Wears Prada, Sophie's Choice, Kramer vs. Kramer, Manhattan, The Deer Hunter, Falling in Love, The Bridges of Madison County were all there, although it was the singing and dancing Meryl Streep in the Dancing Queen sequence from Mamma Mia! that closed the evening to huge cheers.

Seemingly in no hurry to disappear off stage, she stayed as long as the organisers would allow signing autographs for the many fans who rushed the stage at the end of the encounter.

Photograph of Meryl Streep © Francesca Gori

Video link

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hollywood comes to Rome - Richard Gere and George Clooney at Rome Film Festival

Encounter with Richard Gere at Rome Film Festival 2009
If the opening night of the Rome Film Festival was a rather low key event, Saturday saw the festival ratchet the excitement up several notches as Hollywood came to town in the form of two of the world's most popular actors, George Clooney and Richard Gere. The red carpet and the open-air Cavea at the Auditorium were literally swamped with fans as Clooney - in town with the in-competition movie Up in the Air directed by Jason Reitman (2007 festival winner with Juno) – took a leisurely stroll up the red carpet, signing dozens of autographs and chatting to fans, whilst earlier in the afternoon, those of us lucky enough to grab tickets, were able to see Richard Gere in conversation in Sala Petrassi.

It was a relaxed and utterly charming Richard Gere who joined Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti on stage in what is now a traditional format in the Rome Film Festival Encounters, with conversation mixed with clips from notable screen performances and an extended Q&A session with members of the audience. Very early on in the encounter, in fact, Richard Gere asked that the house lights be raised so that he could see us - "now we're in this together!"

Kicking off with a clip from Days of Heaven, he spoke about working with the demanding but complex Terence Malick early on in his career, as well as his experiences with other legendary directors such as Francis Ford Coppola on The Cotton Club, illustrated by a clip of the trumpet-playing Gere, which prompted an affectionate credit to his mother for having sent him to music lessons as a child! Although there was nothing from Dr T and the Women he also spoke about the friendship and influence of Robert Altman. The sheer versatility of an all-singing, all-dancing actor who embodies something of Old School Hollywood was further highlighted by clips from his Golden Globe performance in Chicago and the more recent Shall We Dance, although inevitably a montage from his iconic roles in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman brought the loudest cheers from the enthusiastic audience. Box office smash Pretty Woman – "even a tribesman in Borneo with a bone though his nose has seen that movie", he joked – was also on the roster, as was a dramatic court room scene from the thriller Red Corner, which with its Chinese political overtones would resound later in the encounter when Gere, a long-time Buddhist and friend of the Dalai Lama, was asked about Tibet. He answered thoughtfully and with some notable melancholy about the spiritual need for China to embrace the Dalai Lama in what will be the inevitable fall of Communism in China, and also added that the people of Rome were blessed to have a spiritual brother in His Holiness (who was made an honorary citizen earlier this year).

The Rome Film Festival may be still be a fledgling on the main circuit but with events of this calibre here's hoping it continues to go from strength to strength.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Legend Sir Christopher Lee at Opening of Rome Film Festival 2009

Sir Christopher Lee at Rome Film Festival 2009
The fourth edition of the Rome Film Festival began yesterday on the very day that the balmy Indian summer that Rome had been previously enjoying ended abruptly, so it was a very chilly walk up the red carpet for the stars attending the European premiere of Danis Tanovic's war movie Triage. Possible because of the sudden December-like temperatures, crowds were noticeably thinner for this opening event than in previous years, and there were rumbles of disappointment when it became clear that the film's protagonist, Colin Farrell would not be appearing. However, the director Tanovic, and Farrell's co-stars Paz Vega and a true living legend of cinema, Sir Christopher Lee, were there. I'd rushed over to the Auditorium, in fact, when I heard that the recently knighted Christopher Lee would be appearing! He was greeted with spontaneous and respectful applause as he made his way up the red carpet, whilst Paz Vega signed autographs and posed for numerous photographs. The famously shy Margherita Buy, the Italian actress who is the “Madrina” of this edition, looked stunning, if visibly cold, as she braved her way through her obligatory photo call.

With Richard Gere, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and the Coen brothers lined up to appear later this week, hopefully the festival will gather more momentum and draw bigger crowds.

In what is almost a tradition at this festival, there was also a noisy political protest just prior to the arrival of the VIPs, when Gabriele Paolini - well-known to anybody who has watched the news on Italian television, for his attempts to disturb reporters by standing behind them during live outside broadcasts – suddenly appeared, megaphone in hand, and shouted a tirade against Silvio Berlusconi.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rome Film Festival and Climate Change on Blog Action Day

Today, 15 October 2009, is Blog Action Day 2009 when, once again, thousands of bloggers around the world all write a post about one important topic. After the success of the 2008 initiative when bloggers looked at Poverty, this year the focus is on Climate Change.

Today also happens to be the opening day of the Rome Film Festival, which will also be taking a very special look at the impact of climate change on our planet in the form of a multimedia exhibition on display in the exhibition areas of the Auditorium Parco della Musica. There will be a series of encounters at 18.00 every day, with the various artists involved in the project - Cape Farewell: Art & Climate Change - whose paintings, photographs and audio/video installations are the result of their own personal experiences encountered during trips to Cape Farewell, in Greenland.

  • Friday 16 October - Quentin Cooper and Suba Subramaniam will discuss Education
  • Saturday 17 October - David Buckland, David Hinton, Peppe Ruggiero and Esmerlada Calabria will tackle the subject of Cinema
  • Sunday 18 October - Max Eastley, Siobhan Davies and Jarvis Cocker will look at Music
  • Monday 19 October - Peter Clegg and Mario Cucinella will discuss Architecture
  • Tuesday 20 October - The Cape Farewell project creator David Buckland and Dan Harvey will discuss Art
The exhibition will remain open throughout the film festival from 9.00 until 23.00 each day, until 23 October and has been organised by the Cape Farewell Foundation in collaboration with the British Council, the British Embassy in Rome and the Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma.

The Auditorium Parco della Musica of Rome is on Viale Pietro de Coubertin, near the Palazzetto dello Sport, off Viale Tiziano.

Photograph © David Buckland
End of Ice, 2006 (detail)
Used with permission

Sunday, October 4, 2009

300,000 in Defence of Press Freedom!

Whilst anybody who has been following recent events in Italy might have expected this protest to be big, nothing could have prepared one for the sheer scale of the demonstration in defence of press freedom yesterday in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. The official start time was half past three but people had clearly begun gathering in the streets long before; when we got there a little later, the piazza was already full to capacity with more and more people, from the very young hoisted on shoulders of parents, to the elderly, who had braved the teeming masses to support the cause, arriving as the afternoon went on. It was as if, en masse, people had suddenly been shaken out of a protracted torpor, and at long last leapt into action. At first we found ourselves blocked at the entrance to the piazza, although from the vantage point of the steps of Santa Maria Del Popolo, could watch people arriving. All the participants, however illustrious, arrived through the main gate - the Porta del Popolo - and were applauded by the crowds as one person after another noticed them. Outspoken TV host Michele Santoro, whose show has been the centre of a recent media storm, was given a hero’s welcome, but the biggest cheers were reserved for the bravest of the brave. There was a sudden ripple of applause which grew into a crescendo of cheers and shouts of bravo!bravo! as Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorra, was seen pushing his way through the crowds surrounded by the bodyguards he sadly now needs, on his way to the stage.

Organised by the Federation of Italian journalists (FNSI) in defence of press freedom, this was surely the strongest protest ever against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s constant attempts to silence any criticism of his regime in the media. Predictably, the main news reports on both Rai 1 and Rai 2 last night spoke disparagingly of the event and underestimated attendance as being in the “tens of thousands” Pictures, in this case, speak louder than words...

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