Monday, April 22, 2013

'Exploding Cinema' on board MS Stubnitz, 20th April 2013

If I was asked to imagine an ideal night out I don’t think I’d do much better than this Saturday.  I spent the evening on an enormous converted freezer ship floating in Canary Wharf watching experimental short films and bizarre cabaret acts.  What more could you ask for from life?

The ship in question is the MS Stubnitz, built in 1964 at the Volksweft Straslund and transformed in 1993 into a floating cultural centre.  For the last 20 years it has roamed the North Sea, acting as a mobile platform for live music, exhibitions and art projects.  At the moment it’s docked in London, providing a refreshing wedge of the avant-garde in the heart of corporate London.  

The ship of dreams.
On Saturday it was home to Exploding Cinema, a collective devoted to D.I.Y. low-budget/zero budget cinema.  Their philosophy is to give anyone that wants to the chance to develop a film about anything that takes their fancy.  One thing I repeatedly heard on Saturday was “we will screen anything”.  The Collective is open to anyone to join, as long as you're willing to stand in opposition to the “elitism, academicism, industrialism and obscurity of the traditional 'Independent' film/video sector”.  They explicitly reject the idea of state funding for film production - an ethos that places them in opposition to organisations like the BFI and the Arts Council, who they view as  undemocratic and elitist.  

What this leads to is an incredibly eclectic and exciting mixture of styles.  This is true egalitarianism: anyone who wants a camera and filming equipment can be given one and left to their own devices.  The results of this philosophy are raw and personal, films electric with promise and totally untainted by any commercial pressure.

Introducing the films
The MS Stubnitz is the perfect place for this; it’s simply fun to explore the nooks and crannies of the ship, the stripped down surroundings nicely complementing the DIY ethos.   The screening room, located in what was once an industrial freezer was large and long, with huge speakers set up either side of the screen.  The programme was bewilderingly varied; the rapid fire shorts creating a kind of sensory overload; one minute you’re watching the dreams of a plasticine girl and the next there’s screaming industrial noise over rotating 3D models of animal skeletons.

It’d be impossible to review everything here,  there was much more going on on Stubnitz than just the film programme, but a few stood out as particularly fantastic.  The first of these was, appropriately enough, the first on the bill - Colette Rouhier’s Sweet Things.  The film is review of sweets by by four young children.  A table full of sickly sweet things lay in front of them, stuff so overpoweringly sugar-loaded that my teeth began to hurt just looking at it.  As they made their way through, squirting “snot shots” into their mouths and reaching an intense sugar high the speed of the film warps to accommodate them -giggles and shouts of becoming as fast and high-pitched as birdsong.  The opposite happened too; with the film slowing to a crawl to highlight individual movements aspect.  Increasingly the sweets reminded me of drug paraphernalia and the phrase “sugar junkie” took on a slightly more disturbing meaning.  Unfortunately, just as it was getting good the projection seemed to break down, but the film was an outstanding start to the evening.

Still from '2d22h51 displacement express - or the great intensity'
Another stand-out was ‘2d22h51 displacement express - or the great intensity’ by Maya Art.  Many of the films shown were admirably amibitious but fell a short when it came to cinematic technique.  One of the primary goals of cinema, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the presentation of new images.  22d22h51 was full of these images and not only that, was beautifully shot.  The film, an abstract collection of images of a woman with a space helmet on, looked amazing.  Obvious attention had been paid to texture, focus and amazingly, the lighting was outstanding.  Lighting is one of those things that novice film-makers tend to overlook, yet it’s perhaps the deciding factor between something being interesting, and something being genuinely great.  The film also utilised some very effective match cuts, split-screen effects and overlapping montage - all of which added up to a quite wonderful bit of cinema.

But my favourite of the night came right after, and couldn’t have been more of a contrast.  Nathan Hughes’ Victoria’s Sponge showed us a tale of cold-blooded revenge by cake.  To chipper music we see a housewife preparing a cake.  It’s a classic domestic scene with a dark twist into the cake mix goes all sorts of horribleness, hair, spit, water from the fish tank, dust from the floor and many others.  When the local snobs show up for a tea-party, they turn their noses up at everything in front of them.  Then the revenge-sponge is served.  It was absolutely hilarious, the music and editing creating a quick and effective comic rhythm.  More impressively, the short was entirely dialogue-free, relying on both expressive acting and cinematic technique to achieve its goal.  Sometimes being wilfully weird and collapsing into a heap of avant-garde symbolism is the easy way out - it’s far more difficult and takes a lot more bravery to be straightforwardly funny.

Revenge is a dish best served cake.
But I couldn’t spend all my time watching films - deep in the cargo hold there were performances taking place.  First up were Jessica Leach and Richard Harding with a piece called ‘The Cybernetic Supermarket & the Lake of Healing’.  The piece consisted of Leach standing at the front of stage telling us the story of a mental breakdown in a supermarket and her subsequent attempts to pull her head back together.  This sounds pretty heavy, but the piece was a lightly comedic number, using Blue Jammy Chris Morris-esque language.  In the background were various tripped out animations illustrating the monologue, which was enjoyably bonkers.

Bitter & Twisted
This all felt a bit lo-fi, but as the night went on the acts became more outre.  By far my favourite of the evening was Bitter & Twisted (Lisa Roberts and Lucy Wilson).  Looking like a cross between the Joker and Marilyn Monroe, she (I don't know if it was Lisa or Lucy singing) sang covers of Katie Lee songs - specifically music that satirises psychoanalysis.  They’re cheeky songs that allow the singer to dip into the theatrical.  Lisa (or Lucy) spat out consonants with machine-gun rapidity, throwing every inch of herself into a sardonic rebellion  She wore a silver, shimmering dress and as she sang a VJ projected short, distorted film clips onto it.  I was like a cobra stuck in front of a snake charmer, transfixed by the amazing woman singing, the way the images played across her body and the clever, pointed lyrics.  Definitely my kind of cabaret act.

The last band I saw were the Lonesome Cowboys from Hell - who I’m absolutely positive I’ve seen before somewhere, but have no idea where.  They look and act like something that’s wandered out of a Robert Rodriguez film, and embody a twisted backwoods swamp aesthetic.  So, it’s perhaps surprising that the band hails from London.  Nevertheless, they’re convincingly anarchic, dressed like.. well, like they’re from hell.  They jokingly play with satanic imagery, pulling out a sheep’s head on a stick and shouting “Hello Dolly!” at it.  It’s great fun, and by the time they finish I’ve stopped swinging my legs high up on a walkway and am down at the front of the stage dancing like a maniac.

Lonesome Cowboys from Hell
What a brilliant evening.  The MS Stubnitz is so perfect a venue that it’s a miracle it can survive in this cruel world.  The contrast between the cold and polished glass of the Canary Wharf towers and the utilitarian beauty of the ship couldn’t be greater.  It's incredibly uplifting to know that it's floating around out there somewhere, bringing joy and culture to the masses.  Big thanks to both the crew and to Exploding Cinema for organising a night I enjoyed every single second of.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “'Exploding Cinema' on board MS Stubnitz, 20th April 2013”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights