New In Town – Part II

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For those of you who have taken a peek at my ‘About’ section recently, you might have noticed that I am now located in Dublin, Ireland, which makes me an ex-Berliner in turn. Packing, planning, moving, and finding work and somewhere to live have busied me for the last month and I have been a little quiet here, but with everything in line I hope to upload some new posts in the coming days and weeks: watch this space!

In the meantime, I have taken a free morning to finally update my Flickr account (remembering my login details was the hardest challenge I have faced in weeks!) Come take look at some photos from trips I have taken in the last year or so right here.

The Knife – Columbiahalle, Berlin

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For many this was a long awaited night. For my boyfriend this was a night that had been waited on for longer than he can remember. For me, if I am completely honest, this was a night, as a middle-of-the-road fan who had read the bad reviews, from which I didn’t really know what to expect.

Arriving at 6pm, an hour before the doors opened, I was surprised to be met by a smallish crowd of mixed personalities. And there was me expecting to see the whole of Neukoelln – typically seen as Berlin’s expat ‘place-to-be’. My mistake. Heading in after a squash at the doors, everyone seemed to dissipate and we headed straight to the front. I must admit, there was a lot of standing around and despite the show being moved forward an hour, earlier in the week, nothing actually happened until 30 mins into this ‘extra hour’. Having caught a flight that morning and as a result being dragged from my bed at 4am… I had a little nap standing up.

However, when something finally happened I was wide awake and ready to be hit by whatever may be coming my way in the next two hours. Unfortunately, I had to wait another 30 minutes before anything of worth happened as the worst ‘support’ I have ever had to experience burst onto a side stage to some heavily misogynistic R’n’b. An image that will stick in my mind is the upper tier’s reaction to this ‘act’. Stoney-faced silence. Thank you, Germany. Now I have seen many comments complaining about this opening ‘act’ and many negative reviews have been responded to with ‘well it’s because you don’t understand irony. Idiot.’ Charming. Now, I’m sorry but there is irony and then there is shit. And this was shit. The Knife had plenty of social commentary and irony to dish out in the next 90 minutes and thus, this 20-minute ‘aerobics class’ with a broken microphone was completely unnecessary. Anyway, it could only go upwards from here…

And it did. It really did. The show itself was genuinely one of the most interesting I have seen in a while. It was different. It was complex, yet simple. But, most of all everyone on stage was clearly having the time of their lives. The outfits were great; the dances were amateurish yet complex at the same time, and the concept was thought provoking. I genuinely really enjoyed it and it completely boosted my regard for The Knife from middle-of-the-road fan to whatever comes next. Yes, there were some poor bits. Full of Fire was an awful ‘performance’, which saw everyone stand on stage for 6 minutes with barely the blink of an eye. Sure it was like being in a club, but it was also lazy and didn’t deserve the applause it got at the end. Sure it was making a point, passing the buck over to the audience to break down the hierarchy between the stage and the audience, but it just didn’t push my buttons.

But, as I have said, overall I was hugely impressed. Much more impressed than I thought I would be. I can see where people have come from with their negative comments but at the same time I also can’t. Sure, there were some bad parts but aren’t there always?! There is always that song you hate and stand there just waiting for it to be over. But, that is life and you could clearly tell that a lot of effort had gone into all the preparations for this tour. As a result, it is completely unfair in my opinion to accuse them of ripping anyone off. They shook the habitual as they had always claimed they would, and no one could accuse them of not being open about their intentions from the offset.

(I DO NOT own the rights to this photo. Credit to Erez Avissar.)

My Brother the Devil (2012)

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This film featured at the BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which I unfortunately didn’t get to catch until I was back in the comfort of my own home. This film is widely regarded as a huge success, with many awards to its name and a very impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Sally El Hosaini – an Egyptian Welsh director – the story centres around Rashid (played by the striking James Floyd) and his brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) and their lives in the depths of East London. Older brother Rashid is deeply embroiled in gang culture but after a particularly harrowing innocent he takes a step back – partly influenced by Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), an affluent photographer also originally from North Africa. Mo, however, becomes more and more embroiled in the gang culture his brother has tried to deter him from for so long. The queer dynamic of this film takes a backseat and doesn’t come to light until much later in the film – something that is actually very refreshing, if a little predictable in its execution. Rashid falls for Sayyad and Mo soon discovers. An earlier line haunts the audience – “live East, die young” – as Mo gets into the gang culture too deep and this mixes with his anger and confusion regarding his brother’s sexuality.

Much like Feo Aladag’s Die Fremde (When We Leave) (2010), this film focuses on immigrant families and their attitudes and behaviour towards family members that test the limits of their beliefs and traditions. Here Rashid is struggling with his sexuality and Mo with the temptations of following the crowd in East London. In Die Fremde, Umay leaves her abusive husband in Turkey and returns to her family in Berlin and then has an abortion. Her brother’s are also involved in the criminal underworld and the violence at the end of both films holds similarities – not only in the choice of weapon, but also the fact that the victims are not the ones intended. Despite the differences in themes and setting, these films have many parallels and consider the issues (positive and negative) behind immigration and integration.

My Brother the Devil is a film that is deeply powerful and emotional. The subject matter is handled at an appropriate level without being hyperbolic or biased. Sally El Hosaini has created a fantastic account of the issues above and deserves all the praise she receives. The only question that remains is which brother is the devil and from which perspective this comes from?

(I do not own this image)

Coming Out (1989)

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I really wanted to like this film. Truly. I tried. Unfortunately I could only stand to watch half and that was, to be honest, only because I enjoyed the shots of Berlin back in the late 80s and noting how the Alexanderplatz/Weinmeisterstraße area still looks the same today.

I realise that perhaps I am being unfair comparing Coming Out, produced in East Germany in 1989, to Taxi zum Klo from the West in 1980. These are very different films, from very different places and from very different and turbulent times and the fact that this film was made at all is something that should be praised. However, this film has aged and died, much like the the Communist East and its one party politics, rapidly.

The film is essentially (without wanting to ruin the plot) about a man who struggles with his sexuality and forms a relationship with a woman. He is a teacher. He soon realises he is perhaps gay. He explores this and, from what I can tell from the Wikipedia page, in the part of the film that I skipped, he falls in love with a character who made an appearance earlier in the film. This is all very well but I found it uncomfortable and just another one of those stories about a gay-man-in-a-heterosexual-relationship-who-stuggles-with-his-sexuality-and-eventually-leaves-his-girlfriend.

This really wasn’t the groundbreaking queer cinema classic I was expecting and it seems to be riding off the back of its, albeit spectacular historical timing (it screened on the night the Berlin Wall fell), instead of off the back of its storyline, cinematography and passion.

(I do not own this image, nor this film (thankfully)).

Taxi zum Klo (1981)

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As one of the first, if not the first, explicitly queer themed film to come out of (West) Germany, Taxi zum Klo is a lost classic, which tells us much about society at the beginning of the 1980s. Followed by a string of, albeit less well known, queer films Taxi zum Klo is perhaps less famous than the East German offering, Coming Out (1989) – however this first screened on the night the Berlin Wall fell, which probably helped it secure it this place.

Mostly autobiographical and filmed non-professionally by a team of Frank Rippioh’s friends Frank tells the story of himself, a gay teacher in 1980s West Berlin. For Frank sex plays an all-encompassing role in his life and this is not shied away from on screen (hence the certificate ‘18’ rating).

Taxi zum Klo studies many different themes, mainly the concept of sexuality and the definition of sexuality. Frank struggles with the boxes people, including his partner Bernd, continue to put him in. He wants the relationship that Bernd offers him, but he also wants to explore himself sexually and not live in a routine – at one point he becomes enraged when Bernd calls him home for his dinner. The film is (in)famous for its risqué sex scenes, even by today’s standards. At times the film slips into pornography (Interior Leather Bar?), perhaps most famously the watersports scene. In this respect, this may not be a first step into queer cinema, certainly if it is your parents you are introducing to queer classics.

Despite the amateur nature of this film, the camera work has a certain beauty to it. One scene sees Frank cruising in the depths of winter, and in the background you see Berlin’s famous Siegessäule, or Victory Column. Not only is this an interesting image, juxtaposing the city to Frank’s sexuality, but also Siegessäule is now actually the name of one of Berlin’s queer publications. On another level this could be cryptic innuendo, or juxtaposition to Imperial Germany and its suppression of anything that wasn’t ‘manly’ in the early 1900s.

The film is often quite intense to watch, but there is something deeply interesting about the film; maybe it’s the risqué nature, maybe it is the characters, or maybe it is the production work. Honestly, I think it is the way it handles the topic of sexuality so openly and freely – something that Berlin has continued to do to this day. There are interesting juxtapositions to his school life and the lives of his fellow teachers, but also to the prostitute in the STI clinic. These juxtapositions continue throughout and are often layered over other scenes to juxtapose them further. Most important though are the scenes when Frank drives through the city while we hear his stream of consciousness – these scenes reveal Frank’s desires, thoughts and concerns at a most intimate level. Overall this seems to be an unsung hero of queer cinema and a relic from a time when in many countries in Europe homosexuality was only just legal. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in West Germany in 1969, and in 1968 in the East).

(I do not own this image)

I Begin To Wonder

SO… I have decided I am going to do some retrospective posts as lots has happened in the past year and it’s cold and snowy outside. I am a massive fan of world cinema, so I will be writing about some films in the near future. Most recently I have been watching a lot of Israeli film maker Eytan Fox films, which I can wholeheartedly recommend.

In terms of music, anyone who knows me will laugh if I open with ‘I love Swedish electro/pop’. While this is no lie, I must confess (and I do so proudly) that I am a huge pop fan – give a Cheryl song any day and I will be a happy man. Some amazing bands that I can recommend that fit into the former category more than the latter (you don’t really need recommendations there, let’s face it…) are: the wonderful Karin Park, Gothenburg based Little Dragon, Lykke Li (take particular note of I Follow Rivers), and Lindstrøm & Christabelle (I can be partial to a bit of The Knife as well). Moving away from Sweden/Scandinavia, Maya Jane Coles is amazing, as is Grimes and Canada’s Austra. Obviously I can’t continue without mentioning Robyn, who is truly amazing and who I had the pleasure of seeing at Brixton Academy last November. She was so full of life and had an excellent stage presence.

I am also a massive fan of travelling, and cannot wait to build on the list of countries and places I have had the pleasure to visit so far. Last year I travelled to Malaysia and Singapore via Cairo and I will try and write something about this at a later date. Closer to home I headed to Scandinavia, managing to tick off all three (unless we are including Iceland).

Not wanting to bore you already, I will tail off here, but I will also be posting about any cultural events I head off to or something similar. To be fair this is unlikely in Coventry, but I will be moving (back) to Berlin in the summer so watch this space.

We Started Nothing

It would seem appropriate to start by considering the woman who inspired the title to this blog, Karin Park. I first came across her striking stature (at well over 6ft.) in Berlin at the Melt! Weekender indoor festival, alongside Marina and the Diamonds and the surprising energetic The Ting Tings. Since then her albums have been the soundtrack to many a study session, to many a drink in the kitchen and many a gathering with friends. I have wax lyrical-ed to everyone I have met about how wonderful her albums are, both Highwire Poetry and the fantastic Ashes to Gold, how amazing she is live and also just how stunning she is. It has been a while since I have been that starstruck.

While Ashes to Gold is more ‘poppy’, Highwire Poetry is deeply experimental and much more electronic. To really love Karin, you need to see and experience one of her live shows. She is down-to-earth and has a lovely Scandinavian accent when she speaks English, something that gets me every time. She mixes with the fans and most memorably, she encouraged us to all sit on the floor (school assembly style) while she, sitting on the edge of the stage, played Bending Albert’s Law beautifully. This is a moment I will never forget and it was one of the most beautiful concerts I have had the pleasure to experience. She is an fantastic artist who deserves all the recognition she receives (and much more). It is almost impossible to choose just one song to post here, but I have decided on the fantastic Restless as this is the first of her songs I heard and the video is fantastic.

Watch the video here: Restless, Karin Park