Monday Night's Films
I seem to be going to a higher proportion of documentaries this year, which does not, I think, reflect the programmers' choices so much as my drifting back into political involvement...EAST/WEST
is a solid and competent account of the kerfuffles in Moscow around the refusal of the Mayor to allow a Pride march and the preparedness of the Moscow police to let Western politicians be beaten up by right-wing thugs - Peter Tatchell received permanent injuries and was then arrested. A lot of the film consisted of interviews with the hard core of foot-soldiers who go out and put themselves at risk. It was fair-minded enough to spend time with the scene people who regard the whole enterprise as rocking the boat, without their ever being remotely as convincing as the Dagestani woman who is in Moscow to escape her parents and the guy whose commitment dates to the murder of his sweetheart by skinheads.
It was also intelligent enough to at least raise the possibility that the charismatic young man who is organizing all of this is to some degree exploiting his comrades. Certainly young Alexeev is acquiring a European reputation as the leader of the movement and he keeps some dodgy company - the Russian Right has figures who see the LGBT community as a bulwark against Islam as well as those who claim that we are a threat to the birth rate. What was quite stunning was the sheer insane hatred of some of the people on the counter-demonstration - boozy thugs carrying crucifixes and elderly women spitting hatred. I did remind me that Putin's Russia is potentially an insane place and homophobia could very easily replace anti-semitism as the major blemish on the way the Russian nation presents itself. I was particularly struck by the priests presenting crucifixes to be kissed by thugs who then went on to half-kill people; the whole thing would have deepened my hatred of organized religion were it not for the nice (and straight) Bulgarian Orthodox priest who ministers to the community and regards standing alongside them in situations of risk as the only truely Christ-like behaviour.Walking into the Sea
was potentially one of the most interesting films in the festival, dealing as it did with Danny Williams, a minor figure from the Warhol era, whose film-maker niece has reconstructed his career. Williams did the lights for the Velvet Underground's first performances; he also shot a lot of fabulous footage of the Factory which, in its jagged strobiness, gives us one of the best visions of what it was like to be there, and speeding off one's tits. Unfortunately, since I have a pronounced susceptibility to that sort of thing and am only just getting over Saturday's stinker of a migraine, I spent much of those sequences in a tranced-out fever-dream of mild pain...My impression is that Williams, who probably killed himself when he fell out of favour with his ex-lover Warhol, was a figure of real distinction. I have never hoped so much that the genre rule of 'No Body Means Not Dead' applied in real life.
The interviews were fascinating - Paul Morrissey was as much of an evil wanker as one has always supposed. He told a number of straightforward lies in order to minimize Williams' role, which is pretty dumb when you know that your interlocutor is 1. the dead man's relative and 2. going to talk to everyone else. John Cale came across as a person of real wisdom and intelligence - again, just as I have always supposed; I had not appreciated that Warhol tried to rip the Velvets off the way he did everyone else, which makes Cale and Reed's memorial album all the more an act of grace. It was the Sixties and Warhol was a bit of a crook, who had people working for him, like Morrissey, who encouraged him in crookedness and took their sizeable slice; a lot of other people came out of that era having done good work and not getting paid for it. Williams is only one of the more talented casualties.
So, tonight, I get a day off...