Herewith, the story of Viv Albertine, star of Hogg's Exhibition, and also of her own life -- begun as a "poor North London girl" and lived through London Punk, a directing career, motherhood, illness, acting, authorship re-starting her band -- all of which will serve her daughter very well, by way of a life-example. Plus, film notes on Unrelated and Exhibition.
Viv Through This, or, Girl Not On A Motorcycle
I met Viv Albertine at SXSW a few years back and invited her to share her life-story on-cam, which she gamely did. It's a story beginning with her besties ("Whenever I'm working, I always think back to that gang of girls") during formative years in London when arthouse cinema and exhibitions were meaning-conferrers and circumstance-transcenders for "Poor North London girls", and coursing through a life-changing decision to get a guitar instead of a motorcycle (noting she'd "Probably be dead" if she had got the motorbike -- which prompts one to say: R.I.P., dear, mighty Nico); dating Mick Jones; starting a famous non-band with Sid Vicious; joining with the now-legendary (again, sadly, RIP Ari Up) The Slits; getting serious and becoming a model art student after years of not doing so, followed by a career directing and making money ("I've never looked so boring as when I had so much money...unlike now that I'm poor again, and I have to make stuff up"); surviving a decade of serious illness -- which, in a fascinating, unintended bit of life-poetry, she notes, was an ordeal without which she might not have been the Mum she succeeded in being, followed by her return to music, subsequent to which "my marriage exploded", an inevitability no doubt infinitely preferable to her other considered option of "Running screaming into the sea and never returning, because we lived right at the edge of a cliff..."
She concludes by noting that while her daughter sees less of her than before, "What she does see, I think, is quite inspiring." Well done, here's to, well, the future?
Viv Albertine interviewed by Michael Vazquez
Viv sings her life, shares needles (in song). If the butterfly double-vision is nauseating, just begin at the 4:24 mark for the live performance, followed by a full-frame repeat of the interview (after the same intro which opens this clip). This is best in full-screen -- click the full-screen option in the lower left corner, to the right of the YouTube logo. After this interview, I urged her, as I do nearly everyone I speak with, famous or not, to sing her life in a book. She did (though not likely because of anything I said) and it's been published and can be found HERE)
Albertine can be seen (though not heard very much, per the film's theme) in Exhibition, Hogg's latest film (see notes after this review of Hogg's debut feature, Unrelated)
Unrelated, or, Indian Summer
In what would make an excellent double-bill, or a realistic sequel with/to Rohmer's achingly gentle classic, Summer, Joanna Hogg's Unrelated takes us on holiday with Anna, a woman somewhat similar to Summer's Delphine, perhaps a decade-plus on from the afterglow of le rayon vert (presuming that she had discovered her future mate, and subsequently, the inevitable(?) anti-climax to that film's magical last scene) finding herself about to be eclipsed by middle-age, (with menopausal infertility the off-camera, pre-film catalyst).
This life-soldier of quiet desperation is played by Kathryn Worth, who has the shy, attractive semi-mawk (that's a compliment) of Michelle Williams; hers is also a countenance of perpetual reticence, informed equally by reserve and more importantly, the kinetic energy withheld by same. The reserves of kinetic energy, the mechanisms of containment and the damage created from same -- as well as the inevitable short-lived bursts of drama -- are the bailiwick of Hogg's triptych to date, and Kathryn Worth is pitch-perfect as Hogg's prototypical front-line troop, in this debut film.
The drawing out of, and return to said state of reserve is depicted throughout the film by Hogg's hyper-present visual language: a seemingly endless field of wilted, deadened flowers indicate the short bloom (and long decline) that characterizes so many human lives; knee-high desiccated reeds indicate the onset of middle age; barren, dusty paths with greenery just out of reach or off in the distance (usually up or down a hill) indicate boring trajectories and irreversible loss of youth; the patterns ("patterns" itself being a richly metaphorical term) worn in some scenes by Anna, comprised of the solid colors worn by those around her, indicating limbo; a relatively neutral-toned wardrobe which progress toward livelier colors and a subsequent return to drabs or black and white jogging clothes; bikes -- solitary, positioned against walls in different directions, or nuzzling together -- representing intimacy, attraction or the lack thereof; and, in my favorite sequence of this film, we see a wrecked car being towed in reverse near a road sign with the number 'twenty" locked in a circle, and to my mind, indicating the span of one's youth.
It's worth noting that this image is seen after a (off-camera) car crash by a young driver, drunk on a concoction she's not accustomed to, one of her dad's cocktails, known as his "lethals" (the stodginess and or status-conferring properties of which they discuss at length before imbibing), in an episode making for a very well-done metaphorical encapsulation of becoming one's parents and making, well, a wreck of one's life. Although in a (very) few other instances, Hogg's sense of visual metaphor can get somewhat literalist, it is always a comfortingly continual psychic presence as the film's thermometer.
By way of a plot summary, if it must be included: a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown arrives, sans her hubby, at the Italian villa rented by her oldest friend, Verena (gamely, natively embodied by Mary Roscoe, who in Hogg's most recent film Exhibition, again plays a life-less-ordinary-accepting everywife, equally laughable, pitiable and contemptible).
At an outdoor dinner, we see Anna standing alone on the phone, telling her partner that she needs some time for herself. She's positioned at the end of a lawn, between her friends' families and a railway line, as a train passes into the distance, and thusly do we ken her sense of limbo and missed opportunity, though one might also note that the train has a dual significance, inasmuch as in Hogg's universe of eternal return -- not metaphysically speaking; rather, on a more mundane scale of forbearance, life-acceptance -- there will be another one tomorrow, albeit not under the same exact circumstances, not with the same opportunities, but more or less on schedule.
At odds with her slowly soul-crushing fate and needing to avoid reminders of her station in life, from day to day Anna subtly eschews her old college friend and instead accompanies "the young" (as the parents call their progeny) on toking sessions, jaunts into town and drinking games, finding some respite from her general alienation, not unlike Lisa in the episode of "The Simpsons", wherein she has her seaside summer of friends, seeming to overcome the challenge of her existential facticity, realizing through her company's carelessness and acceptance, that it needn't all be so heavy -- for a time, at least. The events making up the adventure of the film, I leave for you, dear reader, to discover.
The very worthwhile Unrelated (my personal favorite of this threesome) is having a one-week run at The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center beginning 6/27 More info can be found HERE
Exhibition, or, "Safe European Home", or, "Subdivisions", or, A Room of One's Own
When I asked Viv Albertine to tell me the story of her life on-camera, I wouldn't have guessed that she'd soon star in a film with themes so very similar to what she'd told me that she'd experienced herself -- not as a female Punk, circa '77, but years later as a wife, or as she often describes herself, as a muted MILF, no longer able to express herself (hence, as she explains it, the explosion of her close to twenty-year marriage when she returned to music).
Albertine is mostly seen -- and, apropos to this relationship-slash-character-study, not really heard much -- throughout Exhibition's very smart depiction of a couple's life(style) and love (and lack thereof) as they live their work-(from-home)-a-day existence. Suffice to say, this is a nearly silent film entirely about coupledom, and by this I mean co-existence, inhibition, self-development. Both are artists, he more successful, she still finding her voice. The never-referred-to-by-name (in title credits nor by each other) D (Viv Albertine) and H (Liam Gillick) are a couple who have ostensibly become what they set out to be, in an architecturally unique home.
And though they are artists, their stasis and traditional default mode of male dominance -- not through the trad assignment of domestic tasks, but rather, in the drowning out of her voice whenever he asks her what she's working on -- are in many ways no different than those found in the domestic anti-climax of a trad couple, the folks they perhaps once deemed themselves different from, a circumstance perhaps symbolized countless ways in Hogg's cinema-universe (again, in Hogg's films, architecture and landscapes are hyper-present metaphorical signifiers of her characters' existential stations) including a spiral staircase which was supposed to lead one to the sunlight of the rooftop, and is in fact walled-in with a trad ceiling.
Their house is a unique habitat, modularized (and made metaphorical) by sliding walls that eradicate passageways whilst diabolically reinforcing the impossibility of attaining the isolation/freedom required to get work done as an individual, and yet also impeding a genuine sense of intimacy between the couple, each always liminally aware of the Dreaded -- I mean Significant -- Other. Sound design is a key element in this film, at time for worse (there are a few somewhat by-the-numbers contrived instances) and for the better (the sliding walls which enclose each of them in their workspaces sound like distant, ominous thunder whenever opened, with each instance of a door-slide freezing one of the couple -- usually D -- mid-work, in anticipation of the subsequent interruption). And so, by way of referencing a few lyrics (Smashing Pumpkins and Billy Corgan + New Order -- at least on the live version -- respectively), despite their prior rage, they are still perhaps just rats in a cage? And though they perhaps don't wanna be like other people are, they are?
Sex is unfulfilling to say the least, and in a few tragicomic scenes, D is seen doggedly trying to masturbate, satisfying what seems to be a need for a certain kind of bondage, (ironically restrained from restrainment by the restraint of the proverbial ties that bind) while H, looking to attain intimacy, is woefully trad (or perhaps merely mismatched) in his attempts at seduction. Or, by way of a Monty Python reference, like the nuns in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, she is more game than he realizes, has needs beyond his trad sphere of sexuality.
Although their relationship -- but not their genuinely tender regard for each other -- seems to be wearing thin, we get a glimpse of even greener moss (I'm referencing Bombeck, not Dylan) when they visit another couple for dinner, and endure so much prattle (again delivered by Mary Roscoe, from Unrelated) that D feigns a dead faint just to get out of having to sit through dessert. They bond over this episode and he perhaps experiences a kind of grown-up realization during what seems to be a bad trip, after fleeing their back-at-home moment of domestic bliss on the couch to embark on an excursion to acquire some form of substance which apparently had created a disaster of sorts in the past, which she mentions to him as she begs him not to go, before following him on tip-toe through the streets, in a very tender act and quite moving scene which is also representative of how when one is in a couple, she or he no longer really acts alone, and this includes being lovingly protected from self-destruction.
This is followed by her (I think?) reading his work in which he seems to use their relationship as material, (specifically his frustration at her not accepting his advice, decrying that he's reduced to merely keeping her company, to which she, in-book replies, that his comments derail her and that yes, he's her companion) and we then see steam being released from the home as she willfully disturbs his workflow by requesting that he turn on the heat in the house.
Subsequently she (apparently now liberated to begin her work) makes like DH (the source for their initials? Nah?) Lawrence and creates portraits of a lady, namely herself, semi-nude and in a wedding veil, exercising the acts of restraint and gratification she cannot get in coupledom, and these all seem to be healthy advancements, as they evolve towards a new level of intimacy, signified by their making love, and her utilization of her (sigh) frustrated identity as a woman in a series of self-portraits.
They proceed in earnest with the selling of the house and by way of self-referential casting, we get a visit from realtors, played by Tom Hiddleston and Harry Kershaw, whose characters in Hogg's debut film Exhibition, were on the cusp of adulthood, and are now grown-up, doing the same job as the heartbreaker-slash-ordinary boy (despite his Smiths T-shirt) in the college memory-book of the eponymous protagonists in the Mike Leigh classic, Career Girls.
And so, their phase of living amidst what they hoped would be productivity-engendering subdivisions in a design-heavy home now complete, they sell and move, and perhaps like in that classic Rush song "Subdivisions", they'll retreat into a lit up street and quiet nights. They throw a party, the centerpiece of which is a cake-replica of their house. In one of the film's more literalist moments, she says, as they dish out sections of the cake-house "We should have torn that wall down long ago." They are next seen packing [SPOILER ALERT] as she announces that she's been asked to do a one-woman exhibition at a gallery and he is genuinely happy for her.
Whilst one might consider the ending a bit optimistic, almost instant and unrealistic (unlike the seemingly much more organically instantaneous fish-returning-to-water survival instincts-slash-resolution-by-denial of her other characters at the end of her other films -- that is, until the next wave of unresolved emotions to be endured) perhaps rather, the eponymous ending of Exhibition (a title which actualy seems to have several meanings within this film) might be cinematically inspirational for a woman or a man (though you could say this is Hogg's most "feminist" film to date, concerned as it is with repression and voice-discovery, rather than, say, menopause, though menopause is no less a topic for feminist discourse) committed to coupledom, yet requiring that proverbial room of one's own.
Exhibition is screening from 6/23 to 7/03 at The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. More info can be found HERE
To this day, when I hear the name "Vivian", I hear Adrian, AKA, Richard Michael "Rik" Mayall, yelling the name in exasperation, yet again the brunt of his Thrash Metalhead housemate's pranks and tortures. I'm talking about "The Young Ones", a show which during the 80s was the only bit of television I would watch (after horking up just a few bong hits, on Sunday nights in my dorm's common room, one of the few times I would actually leave my room -- and I don't mean classes notwithstanding). Mayall played "Rick", a lily-livered, would-be subversive, to a "T". He also delivered one helluva King Herod in the excellent British staged production of "Jesus Chris Superstar". John Lydon (see my interview with him HERE) will be taking up that role in an upcoming production. RIP, Mr. Mayall, and thanks so much for everything.
Home By The Sea, or file under: 2 out of 3 ain't bad, or, I'm just a hater: Archipelago, Hogg's second film focuses on an affluent family on holiday amidst tensions, perhaps particularly in the absence of the (presumedly very busy) husband/father, who does not travel with them. Although it accomplishes its tonal ambitions and is quite engaging, I found myself wishing during a restaurant scene -- to again reference Monty Python -- that they'd all ordered the salmon mousse, and for Death to arrive and say to them "You fucking British..." I'll concede that I'm probably being a hater herein, and I'll note that this comment is intended as levity; I rarely presume to pan films -- the space is always better used suporting that which you love. All three films seen together make for a rich, rewarding experience of work by a director who will be doing much more.
Archipelago is having a one-week run at The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center beginning 6/27 More info can be found HERE
File not under extra-credit, but crucial reading: Though I have not read Albertine's book, to be certain, Selecter lead singer Pauline Black's book Black By Design and Morrissey's book Autobiography make for some dynamite reading during warm summer days (outdoors locale optional).
File under: Still ill? Godspeed, you black emperor: Feel better Morrissey, we're all rooting for you. Tours, release dates matter not. Maybe your next filmed meditation should be on illness, recovery and the self-knowledge engendered during same -- though again, no rush.