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last update 15.Oct.14
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Björk: Biophilia Live
dir Nick Fenton, Peter Strickland
prd Jacqui Edenbrow
with Bjork, Manu Delago, Matt Robertson
narr David Attenborough
release US 26.Sep.14,
UK 17.Oct.14
14/UK 1h37

london film festival
Bjork: Biophilia Live Recorded on the last night of Bjork's Biophilia world tour in London, this film makes very few concessions for non-fans, mainly due to her atonal music. But the Icelandic singer's followers will love every moment, rendered with swirling care by filmmakers Fenton and Strickland to capture the imagery and sounds of her performance in remarkable detail. There's no denying that her voice is magnificent, but it might be nice to have a song you could hum along with.

The performance took place at Alexandra Palace in North London in September 2013, and Fenton and Strickland make terrific use of the staging to expand the visual canvas of the film, blending the imagery from Bjork's accompanying video screens around the performance. Until the audience is shown at the end, the film feels like she's performing on a stage that's floating in outer space. The theme of the concert and album is nature, which is established with a witty opening narration from Attenborough. And Bjork's songs have titles like Moon, Thunderbolt, Virus, Solstice and Crystalline.

She also has an interest in music and technology, so the stage is filled with invented instruments that make sounds that are fascinatingly evocative. They also look pretty cool. And she's accompanied by a large choir of barefoot Icelandic women who eerily look and sound as one. The costumes, instruments and video imagery combine beautifully with the film's special effects work and razor-sharp sound mix.

The visuals are constantly shifting, sometimes putting Bjork on-stage with a giant squid or in the middle of a lava eruption. Meanwhile, her music is much more of a challenge. It's often unclear when songs start or stop, or if they're actually "songs" at all. Only one has a tune you could possibly hum along with, and it's only possible to grasp the occasional word in the heavily stylised vocals.

That said, it's still hypnotic. The elemental quality of the sights and sounds is mesmerising, while Bjork's expressive face assures us that all of this means something, even if we don't understand it. On the other hands, her fans are likely to be in a state of ecstasy watching such an intimately documented performance. For everyone else, this is watchable as emotive art rather than as music.

U some themes,
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Cathedrals of Culture
4/5   A 3D Film Project About the Soul of Buildings
prd Samantha Stor, Sidney Beaumont, Laura Michalchyshyn, Gian-Piero Ringel, Erwin M Schmidt
The Berlin Philharmonic
Wim Wenders
narr Meret Becker
with Simon Rattle, Helmut Schmidt
The National Library of Russia, St Petersburg
Michael Glawogger
narr Gennadi Vengerov
Halden Prison, Norway
Michael Madsen
with Benedicte C Westin, Nicos Appelqvist Dalton
halden prison The Salk Institute, La Jolla, California
Robert Redford
scr Anthony Lappe
with Jonas Salk, Louis Khan
The Oslo Opera House
Margreth Olin
scr Margreth Olin, Bjorn Olaf Johannessen
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Karim Ainouz
narr Deyan Sudjic
release Ger 12.Feb.14,
UK 17.Oct.14
14/Germany 2h48

Cathedrals of Culture To explore the essence of architecture, six filmmakers select iconic buildings that have had a massive impact on their surroundings, and vice versa. The results are a bit hit and miss, as usual for an anthology, but the portrayal of each structure is involving and revelatory, both about architecture and society.

History overtook the Berlin Philharmonic even as it was being build, when a wall dividing the city passed just 100 metres away, leaving the bold concert hall in no-man's land. But architect Hans Scharoun persevered at creating a building with an unusually open plan, where the orchestra sits right in the centre of the hall. In St Petersburg, the National Library of Russia has proudly sat on busy Nevsky Prospekt since 1795. Inside, it's a rabbit warren of wooden bookshelves housing an astonishing array of old and new volumes.

Halden Prison in Norway is a village in the forest, separated by the rest of society by a massive wall. It's like a gleaming sci-fi outpost furnished by Ikea, including sports courts, jogging trails and a guest house for family visits. This is Norway's highest-security facility, and the focus on human rights and respect clearly works: fewer than 20 percent of prisoners re-offend. Meanwhile in Southern California, the Salk Institute is a remarkable seaside facility designed by the groundbreaking scientist and architect Louis Kahn to facilitate research and stimulate thought.

Back in Norway, Oslo's Opera House is a wedge-shaped white-marble slab jutting out of the fjord next to the downtown slums. It's also a meeting place for the public and a lively home for music and dance. And in Paris, the deconstructed Centre Pompidou shocked everyone when it was unveiled in 1977, housing a library, modern art museum and arts centre. Brazenly modern in an ancient city, it still stokes controversy.

Wenders, Madsen, Olin and Ainouz have their buildings narrating in first person, although only the Berlin Philharmonic and the Centre Pompideau tell us anything about themselves. The others are more artful and ethereal. Redford uses archive footage of Salk and Kahn, which is fascinating as it's their collaboration that makes their building so unusual. And Glawogger uses quotations from books to provide a rather disconnected narration.

Each segment is distinctly shot and edited, with a lovely 3D depth that vividly captures textures, sunlight and surrounding spaces. The Oslo Opera House is cleverly presented as a building defined by the people who use it, while the Salk Institute is given the most glowing treatment, with ecstatic testimony from scientists who love working there. Frankly, this film only makes us want to explore each building in person, reminding us of architecture right in our own town that has shaped our lives and been shaped by the people who have entered the doors.

12 themes, language, nudity
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Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption
dir-scr-prd Nic Arnzen, James Brandon
with Terrence McNally, Nic Arnzen, James Brandon, Larry Kramer, Anson Mount, Matthew Montgomery, Jeanene Ambler, Sheilagh Brooks, Paul Denniston, Suzanne Santos, Elizabeth Cava, Norman Lear
Corpus Christi release US 14.Oct.14
13/US 1h15
Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption For a documentary about a theatrical phenomenon, this film is startlingly over-serious, although that kind of matches the Terrence McNally it's exploring. That said, the issues the film tackles are profound and important because of what they reveal about both the arts and organised religion in America.

Originally produced Off-Broadway in 1998, McNally's Corpus Christi courted controversy by recounting the life of Christ in a way that challenged ideas of gender and sexuality. Branded blasphemous by people who never saw it, the protests continued through the revival covered by this documentary. Over eight years, director Nic Arnzen takes his production from small-church America to tour Europe then return to Texas for a groundbreaking staging. And through observations of the cast and crew, it's clear that the play's themes are far closer to Christianity than the protestors screaming vitriol outside.

The film keeps its focus tightly on the people, and it's fascinating to watch the actors and creative team take a life-changing journey with this production (which I saw on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007). The play reflects hot-potato issues that have sparked clashes outside churches and theatres: civil rights, homophobia, the response to Aids, separation of church and state, the basic Christian imperative to compassion instead of hatred. And the documentary continually shows the striking impact of the play on people who see it, including protestors whose lives are changed as a result. As one person observes, people only hate what they're afraid to look at.

No one involved in staging Corpus Christi is under any illusions: they know a play about a gay Jesus will cause controversy, because narrow-minded people can't conceive of the fact that gay men and women might be good and moral. But that's the point, and the documentary digs into the experiences of actors who have discovered an unexpected sense of faith and seen their deep-seated prejudices undermined. The film is sharp, focused and assembled with a crisp pace that continually brings out emotion.

Most intriguing is the way the film highlights the harshly divided American society, where people jump on an ideological bandwagon without looking into either their own beliefs or those they're shouting down. This is precisely the point McNally makes in his play, confronting organised religion by finding a striking present-day parallel for the way Jesus was despised and ultimately killed by the religious leaders of his day. Now the question is when someone will be bold enough to make a movie of McNally's play. What's Scorsese up to these days?

15 themes, language
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Filmed in Supermarionation
dir-prd Stephen La Riviere
scr Stephen La Riviere, Andrew T Smith
with Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Jamie Anderson, Arthur Provis, David Graham, Shane Rimmer, Desmond Saunders, David Elliott, Nicholas Parsons, Robert Easton, David Lane, Roger Woodburn
parker and penelope release UK 10.Oct.14
14/UK Network 1h59
Filmed in Supermarionation While this documentary about the groundbreaking work of Gerry Anderson is somewhat overlong, it's never remotely dull thanks to the witty work of filmmaker La Riviere, who has a lot of fun bringing out the sparky humour of his interviewees. So as the film traces the history of Supermarionation in considerable detail, it keeps the audience thoroughly entertained

In the mid-50s, writer-director Gerry Anderson and cameraman Arthur Provis formed AP Films to produce a TV series, The Adventures of Twizzle (1957). Over the next five years they developed the Supermarionation system to add extra movement to the puppets, first with the Western series Four Feather Falls (1960) and then shifting into sci-fi with Supercar (1960), Fireball XL5 (1962), Stingray (1963) and Thunderbirds (1964). With global success, Anderson and his wife Sylvia changed the company name to Century 21, making two Thunderbirds feature films and two more series (Captain Scarlet and Joe 90) before moving into live-action.

La Riviere frames the documentary with amusing scenes of Lady Penelope, Parker and Brains talking about the phenomenon of their own existence. Then in interviews, former cast and crew members are encouraged to recount hilarious anecdotes, private jokes and riotous backstage stories. Their honesty is refreshing ("What was our motivation for making these programmes? Getting paid!"), as is the camaraderie as they reunite to visit the sites of their old studios.

Along the way, they expose secrets about their projects, such as the challenge to make puppets walk realistically, leading them to try using human feet, which was even worse (but using human hands worked). They also talk about how they worked in risque innuendo that went over the kids' heads. Each comment is accompanied by the perfect clip, adding a laugh-inducing punchline. And it's fantastic to see scenes from Anderson's rarely seen projects, especially in the context of people who had no idea their work would become so iconic.

As it progresses, the film also traces Gerry and Sylvia's relationship: a workaholic genius and a people person who made a perfect business team until the puppet era, and their marriage, came to an end. But during a brief period, these artists pushed the boundaries of special effects and filmmaking, as the space race fuelled their imaginations. And the impact of Thunderbirds can't be over-expressed: with just 12 episodes and two features, Anderson and his team changed the game completely.

PG themes, innuendo
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