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Epilogue '08: Edwin Mak, R2

I've been nothing but green-eyed and negative in my comments on "London vs. Paris" so far, so let me shift towards some London pleasures instead and lighten-up a bit.

One way of doing this is to talk about London by venues, since this divides the city into parts, journeys and ultimately experiences. As mentioned, my favourite is the superlative BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre) which as the name tells is the most officious, closely equivalent to the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. You'll see the big-name events like Lynch or Soderburgh Q&A's, and most box-set-esque retrospectives in their main 450 seater, but that's academic. The pleasure is in the ramble to, from and around its promenade entrance below Waterloo bridge's Thames arch – especially after strenously double or triple-billing it. It's also an excuse for my fix of Brutalist architecture which I'm quite taken by, the whole of the southbank is slice of modernist heaven.

Across and north of the dishwatery Thames, there's the jugular of multiplexes: Leicester Square and "Theatreland," which is good for the festival season or gunning down Tom Cruise when he is around; but its full whack prices (close to £10 a ticket) and proximity to unrelenting throngs of stag nights are often discouraging. Solace isn't far though and is usually found at the ICA, clasping a corner bisecting Buckingham Palace and Picadilly Circus, it is probably the most vital one-stop cinephillic (and contemporary arts) enclave in town. I haven't visited as much as I used to, but did manage to catch Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, Johnnie To's Mad Detective and Wang Fen's The Case last year. Also, being an excellent distributor and publishing house in their own right, their book and video store is a bit like a black hole for time.

And if I may I'd like to pair off two venues, both of which are built into a couple of my favourite buildings. There's the Renoir cinema which not only maintains an excellent program – Tsai Ming-Liang's The Wayward Cloud and a re-run of Bergman's Fanny & Alexander being two good indications – but also occupies the crotch of the crushed Ballardian Brunswick Centre minutes from my campus. But its uber rival as fantasy-cum-cinema-space is the Kubrick-esque Barbican Centre in the heart of the City. Any film for me, even utter rubbish, gets an automatic half-star just from being screened at either of these two places.

I caught one screening and book launch, Guo Xiaolu's How Is Your Fish Today? at the Cine Lumiere (L'institut Français) for the first time. Its marble balustrades and placement within a little gallic village gives it ample austerity. This makes it an ideal place to kop your fill of Cocteau, Bresson or Truffaut retrospectives, especially as that's what's mainly on offer there. And though not my cup of tea I've heard they host wine tasting courses too, but it is in the middle of South Kensington after all, the land of safari animal furnished embassies and Georgian homes.

I realise I'm doing a terrible job of "representing" a truer number and diversity of places to enjoy film in London. I've not even mentioned the endless club, gallery and pub screenings, many of which are admirably free, even. But one I must mention is The Roxy, which is as much a restaurant as it is viewing space, and by that I mean carving away at a pie while watching, say, a David Lynch double-bill immersed in proper 5.1 acoustics!

***

Addendum:

Cheers Kevin, that's very generous. But to follow up a few things you mentioned, I couldn't be more in agreement about Chinese cinema and documentary as being "one of the world's most exciting scenes now." As you rightly point out, its excitement has much to do with its profound sense of un-definition (a universal interest); that its politics of representation, subjects and aesthetics are still furthest from being "canonized." (I do think film canons, in a sense, are the kiss of death, and box-sets: coffins for experiment.)

As for staying tapped in, I'm quite reliant on friends and peers. Some of who are dedicated scholars involved with inspirational research; two excellent UK research centres on the field are Goldsmiths College led by Chris Berry, and SOAS with several faculties on Chinese studies, art history, literature and film. In fact, Ou Ning's MEISHI ST. was screened at a SOAS seminar not too long ago, and as far as I know it has been its only public screening anywhere in London.

Or, simply through wider news. Since reports and bulletins, at times, are indistinguishable in subject and style from the tableau of Chinese documentary. Especially via many of the Chinese media analysts, like my partner Mei, the quality of the "bridge" blogosphere is very rich. Aggregator/commentarists like Danwei make accessible everything from governmental policy rumor down to the minutiae of chat-room comments: which at least fleshes out media polyphony but at most tunes into actual dissent. In my own efforts, though, I look to contemporary or "New China" art. Especially its overlap with cinema – rather than looking at cinema as its own separate entity – to keep me and my blog on its toes.

I think dGenerate is very exciting, as many of the films you're making available will reward its audiences. And I think making use of the web as you have, for delivery, opens up interesting possibilities. My recent discovery has been of that sort, China Independent Documentary Film Archive which offers many hard-to-find films for free viewing online. The bulk of the iceberg is yet to be seen by many, including those like myself who are specifically interested in it.

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Edwin, many thanks for this great overview of exhibition in London – it’s a pleasure to stumble across a cinephilic account of something so close to home! I don’t live in the city myself, but travel across regularly – if I could suggest an addition to your itinerary it would have to be Riverside Studios, home to regular double bills and occasional rarities – the screening of a gorgeous 35mm print of Marketa Lazarová was a theatrical highlight for me last year, and anyone in their right mind will want to be there on March 21 &amp; 22 for an early Skolimowski quadruple-bill: Identification Marks: None, Walkover, Barrier, Hands Up!. Also: the Tate Modern’s Starr Auditorium, where all sorts of wonderful things can be seen every once in a while – I still mourn missing the apparently pristine print of Garrel’s Le berceau de cristal that played last year (it didn’t help much that my partner did make it and was in raptures afterwards)… There are occasional events of note at the Curzon cinemas, for example the screening of a (surprisingly good) original UK distribution print of The Round-Up at Mayfair last year, for which Mehelli Modi &amp; the team at Second Run DVD spared no expense in flying Jancsó over for a couple of very rewarding Q&amp;As as well! (Hearing Pedro Costa speak before the first screening of Colossal Youth at Ciné lumière in April was a great pleasure too.) Also, I reckon it’s worth looking out for regular screenings at the Goethe institute, Hungarian institute, etc (for example, at the Goethe on the 19 Feb there’s a [free!] evening with Harun Farocki: ‘Images in Violence’). As for the NFT (sorry, BFI Southbank!), pick of the bunch next month is surely Grémillon’s Remorques &amp; Lumière d’été, and the (complete, I think) Jeff Keen retro. The March line-up is terrific: a José Luis Guerín retro (which offers a rare opportunity to see Innisfree, Tren de sombras, Unas fotos… outside of the recent Spanish DVD set from Versus – Berta’s Motives, the only Guerín film I haven’t seen, is “unconfirmed”, but fingers crossed…). Then, on film: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Garrel’s J’entends plus la guitare, a pile of noirs (inc. outings for personal favourites Where Danger Lives, Criss Cross, The File on Thelma Jordan, etc); Minnelli’s Cabin in the Sky; Brownlow &amp; Mollo’s Winstanley; 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm, etc… I could go on and on and on (apologies for rambling!), but I’d like to mention the UK’s other major regional hubs too: the Cornerhouse in Manchester, Filmhouse in Edinburgh (where I spent a very enjoyable afternoon on Boxing Day catching up with Mamoulian’s great Dr. Jekyll &amp; Mr. Hyde), the National Media Museum in Bradford; the Watershed, Arnolfini &amp; Cube in Bristol, etc… Also, my favourite far-flung single screen venues, the Barn cinema in Dartington (Devon), and Theatr Clwyd (Mold, N. Wales)… Just to prove that there’s cinephilic activity outside of London, it’s worth mentioning that the Cube in Bristol is screening Sátántangó on the 22nd Feb for a bargain £3! I’m still awaiting definitive confirmation that it will in fact be a 35mm print, but so far have been assured that it is…
Matthew – that’s a stellar snapshot of London-town (and beyond) sir! It also makes me feel less guilty for missing “everything else” out now. A good friend of mine works at the Riverside and their program always seems top-notch – but I’ve still not made the trip. Of the Curzons, my fave has always been the Mayfair, I saw the 70mm 2001 and Zidanethere – which felt decadent…which is how it should be right?
Do you know if that CIDFA site has any plans to open itself to us “non-institutional” saps? Looks like it’s been around for a few years already so I’m not holding my breath :(
@ The Fanciful Norwegian I’m not sure what you mean? It’s open to all, to watch the videos all you need is to sign-up for a login.
I did, but I never got a password, just an e-mail stating "we accept only registration by organization or institution.”
TFN: I had the same prob, do the forgotten password thing, you’ll get one in the end, and trust me it’ll be worth it.

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