Another post, another festival begins! My ever-evolving garden will be taking a back seat, coincidentally just as the weather turns to wet, windy crap. The Bradford Film Festival is back; from the look of this years' booklet it is a little smaller in scope than 2012, but hopefully there will be some cracking films in among just waiting to be discovered.
This year, one of the main strands is a celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema, with some iconic titles from the last century. I baulked when I saw that several of them were touching the 3-hour mark, but I will be packing a few of them in as I go.
This opening night was one of trepidation, as the booming drag vocals of Big Spender filled the Media Museum entrance hall as a large crowd of people began to gather to see the opening night film. Though the brochure does tell of 'arbitrary displays of naked flesh', it wasn't until I saw the warnings on the film poster that I realised just how much naked flesh might be on display, and consequently just how much of a shock some of the older members of the upcoming audience would get. I decided not to bring this to anyone's attention.
So we filed in, and the cinema packed out. After a wait to get everyone in and settled, and a generous helping of festival staff warbling on about their sponsors and trying to think of quirky things to say by way of introducing the festival, we eventually got down to seeing the winning Virgin Media short of 2012 before a bit more waffling, and then the film. It's a good job I wasn't relying on the train.
Rocket - A charming, short film about a little dog who has dreams of space travel. Low budget, short and very cute. 8/10
The Look of Love (UK) (facebook)
I had not heard of Paul Raymond before today - the debonair ladykilling (and bedding) 'entrepreneur' who branched out from a career having naked ladies posing in cages with lions in the 50's, to having naked ladies posing on stage in smoky men's clubs, a string of naughty stage plays and the long-time proprietor of 'not pornographic' magazine Men Only. I was about to get a two hour flesh-saturated Soho history lesson.
Paul Raymond's private life reflected the general attitude he had towards his many performers; when he spotted someone new, the old would be quickly abandoned and cast aside. So it was when long time wife Jean became unhappy with his constant flirting, Raymond abandoned her and their children for Amber - a gorgeous and headstrong new beauty who catches his eye and knows how to keep him interested. But Raymond's life grows increasingly unstable and unhappy, despite his re-acquaintance with his troubled daughter Debbie, who stands by him, even though he is too busy with his tongue down the necks of copious women to notice as she falls further into a destructive drug habit.
Last year's opener - Damsels in Distress - was a pretty big let down and not worthy of an opening night film, and I was worried that this one was going to hit similar lows. Large numbers of well-known faces have not been enough to save the face of films in the past (think Boogie Woogie), but I was relieved to find myself enjoying it enormously, and part of the fun was recognising many famous faces besides Steve Coogan - Anna Friel, Chris Addison, Miles Jupp, Mark Williams, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Simon Bird... some of which have criminally short blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances. Coogan as Raymond and Imogen Poots as his daughter Debbie in particular are excellently cast and played, and Coogan manages to be varied enough so that you aren't constantly thinking he will segue into Alan Partridge.
The huge amounts of ladyflesh - with a nipple count surely stretching to three figures, not to mention more than a little 1970's style lady gardens for good measure - will almost certainly colour the experience of some people, but The Look of Love does not use them to tittilate, nor attempt to portray the man in a wholly positive or negative light, or even comment on the rights and wrongs of the business he conducted. Raymond was egotistical and selfish and he treated many of his closest terribly, and is seen to reap the rewards of his attitude. But he is also seen as a funny and warm man with a soul and a genuine affection for those he loves. As screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh said in the post-film Q+A, much of the script is in the spirit, rather than the fact, and the film purposely sidesteps some of the less savoury dealings with gangsters and the like to concentrate on his business and his family - upcoming documentary 'The King of Soho' written by his son may well take up those topics in a far more coldly factual manner.
So long as you see The Look of Love as a piece of entertainment based on a true story, and aren't averse to seeing giant breasts coming towards you at regular intervals (I found it surprisingly tolerable), you will enjoy it immensely. 8/10