Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Resto 55 Dalla Terra, Covent Garden

October 8, 2017


We were fortunate enough to have had tickets to Michel Hazavanicius’ latest, Le Redoutable, on Saturday. Contrary to what Jonathan Romney insisted on saying time after time in the Q&A with the director afterwards the film is not a comedy. It has plenty of comic moments (and I mean plenty, though the scenes of Godard repeatedly breaking his glasses, while funny, brought back some painful memories) but at its core it is a tragedy. It describes the quotidian tragedy of a marriage breaking up.

The radical politics of May ’68 in Paris act as a backdrop to the couple’s growing apart but it is gender politics that inform the moral of the film. Godard’s wife, Anne Wiasemsky, realises that the revolution that would enable her to attain personal autonomy is not Maoist but feminist. She isn’t oppressed by the capitalist system exemplified by the movie business in which she works. Rather she’s oppressed by a husband who while seeking to liberate himself from that system acts as just as much of an authority figure as the despised CdG when it comes to the domestic environment.

So we had a lot to discuss as we searched for somewhere civilised to eat in the West End on a Saturday night. Italian, French or Russian (that came out of nowhere!) was the request and we wandered up to Covent Garden and took a chance on Dalla Terra as it didn’t look too busy. Giving the eyeballs to a sharp elbowed couple who tried to jump ahead of us it was gratifying to see them stuck on high stools at a sharing table while we got a more lizardly spot by the window.

Geoff reflected on the fact that there’s no elegant way to eat on a high stool and then peered at Denize through the gloom of the restaurant. He wondered if she too was finding it difficult to read the menu in the stygian darkness. 

‘Yes’, said Denize, ‘It is a bit dark isn’t it?’

‘And the music.’ ‘Too loud.’ ‘I agree.’ ‘It’s like a nightclub.’ ‘Full of old people.’ I thought they were young.’ ‘It’s relative.’

We looked at the menu, which wasn’t extensive but did have what we were looking for – a high quality planche of meat ‘n’ cheese. We got that with a bowl of very, very good olives alongside. In the glass a bottle of Pinot Grigio (for a whiff of Venezia) that was rou. 

The service was excellent given that they were pretty full and we got stuck into the bits. Meat in a satisfying range of varieties, one of them good and spicy. The cheese was outstanding and for roughage there was a rather meagre slathering of sun-dried tomatoes and aubergine. No salad. Always a controversial issue.

Geoff surveyed the plate and realised that there was not to be any salad. The last time he’d been to a restaurant with Denize and there was no salad it had caused a minor breakdown in marital relations as he really likes La Fabrica and knows that they give you plenty of vegetables even if there’s no salad per se on the menu.

You know Geoff thinks that I’m obsessed by the salad but in fact he’s the one who brings it up every time there’s no salad on the menu, and even sometimes when there is. And is it unreasonable to ask a restaurant to make a small salad when you know that they have the ingredients in the kitchen?

‘It doesn’t look like we’re going to get any salad.’ ‘ …’ ‘I’ll go to the loo.’

The big drawback to Della Terra is that it’s severely underbogged for a busy Saturday night. There was already one feller waiting for the sole trap when I got there and I think whoever was in there was squeezing out a dead otter so I thought it best to hang on till home and return to collect the bill.

It wasn’t an awful lot of food for thirty quid a head and the music made it quite difficult to talk to one another. However, I reckon it’s worth returning to Dalla Terra as a daytime venue as the wine and food was excellent and would be ideal for when you’re pooped from artlooking/shopping and wanted an idle hour chatting or reading a book. 


#food #london

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Review #109 National Gallery Café, Trafalgar Square

December 21, 2016

An air of melancholy hangs over the National Café. The room is too big, with a ceiling a mile from the floor and windows thus too high to see out of. Rarely full, this Thursday evening we had the pick of the room and chose a corner table (standard agent choice – back to the wall and a view to both exits). The décor, even ten years or so after opening, is hi spec with lovely red leather furnishings, woody warm walls and antiqued mirrors. It’s the melancholic air that draws me back. That and the macaroni cheese, which is perfect post-guiding fare.

The melancholy was added to by the state of Trafalgar Square. Why Shrigley, why? All those stick balancing Yoda scroungers, now transformed by the Magic of Christmas into rapacious aerial Santas, make a mockery of the imperial pomposity of the Square’s original plan far more effectively than Shrigley’s tragic waste of bronze could ever do. The big thumb is a piece of egocentric art so facile it makes a Banksy graffito of a transvestite copper look like a piece of allegory on a par with Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time.



Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time. Not to be confused with Shrigley, Thumbs Up!

But I digress.

We chose from the Italian set menu, drawn up in honour of the Caravaggio exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing. Bean soup to start was a winner as I was exceedingly hungry. Plenty of satisfyingly thick soup and some good bread to go with it. Bruschetta next to me looked a bit meagre but was made up for by a generous helping of pasta with shin bone beef as a main course. My roast cod was delicious enough with  enough cherry tomatoes alongside to see off a whole platoon of prostate problems but the side order of chips was a curiously bloodless affair and appeared to have been assembled at very short notice.

A small tragedy around the wine.The list had the same Oregonian red that I’d enjoyed at the Opera but at twenty quid less. I put in an immediate order. And rhapsodised on its qualities. But what’s this? None left! A stab to the alcoholic vitals that was only slightly mitigated by its Pinot Noir replacement being a tenner cheaper.

Though the room was sparsely occupied a certain charm was added by the friendliness of the staff, who chatted to us about the film that we’d been to see (Son of Joseph at the ICA – highly recommended). Unfortunately this was to a backdrop of music sorely lacking in taste in a venue such as this. A cover version of Eddie Reader’s Perfect? U2’s A Beautiful Day?! And they were the least rancorous of the selections.

After coffee (good coffee) and dealing with some comic business around the bill we slipped across to the Opera Room of the Chandos to rediscover a jolly festive tone and leave the melancholia behind.


#Food #London #Art

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #69 BFI Riverside, South Bank

August 17, 2016

I was at the South Bank killing time before going to see Notorious and thought to meet up at the NFT bar (as it’s still known in my head if not in reality) and grab some meat’n’cheese or similar to keep hunger at bay.* But as I was early for my rendezvous I thought I’d get a G&T and cool down while I read my book. Well, that’s what I thought I’d do.

It was late afternoon, before the office crowd had escaped their cubicles and so trade was leisurely at the bar. As I got to the counter one guy was dealing with a family of four while the other member of staff was staring into space. I stood to the left of the family and looked at her. She glanced my way and then carried on chewing imaginary gum. I fixed her with a laser-like beam. No reaction.

Just about to say something a feller rocked up the other side of the family and she served him immediately. This was starting to feel personal. As the other customers took away their drinks and the barman turned to chopping up limes or somesuch I commented in a neutral voice to the barmaid that I’d been next at the bar.

‘Yes, but the till is over here.’

‘And that makes a difference?’

‘Yes, you have to order at the till, you didn’t come to the right place.’

‘I thought it was the job of bar staff to serve the customer rather than the other way round.’

‘No, you have to order at the till.’

‘I have to guess that?’

‘It’s what we do here’

Or in other words, ‘NO SOUP FOR YOU!’

I retired to the other side of Waterloo Bridge and picked up an excellent G&T in the Lyceum Tavern and calmed down over a chapter of Cyril Hall. But after twenty plus years of going to the bar at the NFT  (hell, I even proposed to my wife in there in one of its former incarnations!) I’ll not be back again.

(No rating)

*Despite the feelings expressed in the rest of this post the NFT remains a pleasure to visit. To see Notorious with Bergman and Grant at their best in the plush surroundings of NFT1 was one of the highlights of my summer.

To see where else I’ve eaten (or now haven’t) in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

On small museums

June 28, 2015

This post picks up on something I wrote previously about the Royal Academy of Music and comes in a week when I went back to RAM for an extraordinary celebration of the work of Erik Satie. It was an impromptu visit; an expected evening with friends having fallen through I was at a loose end between finishing in the library and going to work in the evening. Impromptu often turns into serendipitous though doesn’t it?

Erik Satie. Dude.

Erik Satie. Dude.

Satie is someone whose work most people will be familiar with if only for its overuse by ‘thoughtful’ documentaries. The Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes can become hideously groan-inducing when used to accompany fuzzy slo-mo footage of falling autumn leaves.

Of course Louis Malle was the man who saw the steel below the melancholy of the pieces in using them for the sound track to Le Feu Follet, and I think if you’ve seen the film it’s hard to hear them again without recalling the quiet despair of Maurice Ronet. By contrast it’s enough for one to reach Alain Leroy-like for the service revolver when one hears yet one more hackneyed documentary reaching into the Satie back catalogue for pathos.

But that’s beside the point, the evening on Friday was a joyful one. A wide variety of Satie’s short pieces, accompanied by his very funny, crystalline aperçus delivered by a talented bunch of performers.* The treat of the evening was a showing of Entr’acte, René Clair’s surrealist silent film, accompanied by Satie’s music on piano and percussion.

On the Set of Entr'acte

On the Set of Entr’acte

I’d seen the film twice previously (and you can see it here on youtube) – once at the Man Ray/Picabia show at Tate Modern and another time at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with full orchestra under Charles Hazelwood. The Tate was in a small, dark room with tinny music (as I remember) … it being in the show because Picabia also collaborated on the film (there’s a very funny scene of him and Satie jumping up and down in slow motion).

The Hazelwood was okay as I remember but didn’t have as profound an effect as Friday. A big show at the QEH lacked the intimacy of being right next to the musicians and squeezed into a small auditorium at the RAM. Two pianists sharing one piano with two percussionists performing the score was perfect at capturing the home-made essence of the film, which is a ramshackle series of sketches using primitive special effects that have the paradoxical effect of giving a feeling of modernity.

And the good humour of it! Satie and Picabia bouncing around in middle age and having a whale of a time in a way that really radiated from the screen. Looking at the crowd it reminded me of the scene in Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants where the camera watches the joyfaced schoolboys watching Charlie Chaplin and it made me think that in these days of monster festivals (yes, it’s Glastonbury weekend) isn’t it a pleasure to be able to sit somewhere quiet and companionable for an hour that you didn’t even know you were going to have.

Such surprises can come through music but also in museums. I decided this year to privilege visiting those museums that I’ve never got round to visiting. So much as I love the big beasts it’s the Year of the Small Museum for me. Of which the RAM has an excellent example.** One of the regrets of the Satie evening was that I hadn’t slunk out of the library earlier in order to go to a concert of baroque and classical keyboard music held in the Keyboard room of the Museum.

Keyboard room at the RAM Museum

Keyboard room at the RAM Museum

On my first visit to the museum this was the absolute highlight. But imagine seeing and listening to these machines in action! A selection of instruments that tell the tale of the development of the instrument, and more pertinently to my own work the centrality of London in that development. John Broadwood is probably the most famous of the London piano makers but they have a map there which shows how there were piano workshops all over Soho, Fitzrovia and beyond in the nineteenth century, competing and innovating in a thriving market.


And it made me wonder if there were a possibility that in this back to the analogue age there might ever be the chance to revive a piano workshop on Great Pulteney Street. Where craftsmen produce bespoke machines to rival the big beasts of Steinway and Yamaha in the same way that small bicycle manufacturers are now finding a niche in their market.

It’s a dream. I want a hipster joanna.

* The individuals are named below …

Cast list

Cast list

** And it’s free

On ‘On Connaît La Chanson’

May 1, 2015


On Connaît La Chanson (1997), Directed by Alan Resnais.*

Alan Resnais, the French director of Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year in Marienbad, passed away last year. Among his lesser-known works is one of my favourite films, On Connaît La Chanson. This week I watched it for maybe the fifth or sixth time while training for the forthcoming Hackney Half Marathon.** But I hadn’t seen it for a long time, perhaps for five years or so. Certainly not since I started writing up my thesis. It’s a beautiful ensemble piece which is a love-letter both to Paris and to Dennis Potter. It uses a variety French chansons to illuminate the characters’ inner emotions (à la Singing Detective) and thus acts as a beautiful little initiation into the variety of French pop in the twentieth century.

One of the reasons that I took to the film initially is that one of the characters, Camille Lalande (the character hanging off the Eiffel Tower in the illustration above) is a guide. And I think I first saw the film when I had just completed my training as a guide, or was towards the end of it. I could see that certain situations in the film were inspired by the real-life things that guides have to cope with all the time (know-all clients specifically being one of them). As a semi-pro guide I can tell you that her guiding style is awful! But mebbe that’s for another post. Here I’m concerned with OCLC and academia. For anyone who is planning to write, is in the process of writing or even has completed a thesis it is one of those unusual films – a film about doing a PhD. Or more specifically, Camille goes from candidature to completion of her PhD during the course of the film. And anyone who has been through that process will empathise with certain situations and feelings that she experiences.

The first thing, and something that I touched on in an earlier post, is how one can get bored with one’s own subject. And if you’re bored thinking about it you’ll be even more bored talking about it. Camille explains her thesis to an acquaintance and is shocked when she realises that he thinks it’s as boring as she does. Often when you’re inside the PhD even though you yourself may think it’s really dull you still want everyone around you to think that it’s the most vital and interesting subject in the room. If only because you want them to convince you that what you are doing is worthwhile. The boredom often becomes bound up with anxiety – not an anxiety about the examination but an anxiety that you’ll never finish the Thing.

This boredom-anxiety is a threat because it can lead to you becoming depressed. Such is the case with Camille. The one thing that she has chosen to focus on in her life (she appears to be working casually as a guide and has no partner or offspring at the beginning of the film), the thing that defines her to herself and to her loved-ones, has become something that gives her panic attacks to the extent that she passes out during a tour of a château.*** Even having passed her viva she continues to be plagued by thoughts of the pointlessness of the comically obscure subject she has chosen to write about.

To try and make someone who hasn’t done a thesis understand how stressful it can be is quite a difficult thing. ‘What, you mean all that sitting in libraries is stressing you out? Oh, you had to give a paper in front of six people? You mean you can’t stand the pressure of talking about something for a couple of hours about the one thing that you’re the world expert in? Poor you.’ To misquote Keith Miller, ‘Pressure is a Messerschmidt up your arse. A thesis deadline is not.’

Well, yes. Such a bracing quote can help buck you up but it doesn’t alter the fact that writing a thesis can be a long, lonely process that lacks the cameraderie of the mess hall, the glamour of a pilot’s uniform and the thrill of 500 mph dogfights. So what to do about the doldrums when they arrive?

For me there were three strategies. First, booze. I don’t think this is recommended by the medical profession and I wouldn’t advocate it except at times of maximum affluence, minimum responsibility and maximum leisure time. An unlikely combination of circumstances for those in the thesis game.

Second, acceptance. This is the course that Camille chooses, aided by the friend who was bored by her thesis. He recognised her as being depressed, a diagnosis that she outragedly rejects at first. By the end of the film she realises that she is depressed, and the fact that a friend is also in the same boat comforts her that she isn’t uniquely afflicted. Sometimes it’s very difficult to admit to yourself that you’re having a bad day let alone to someone else. To do that you have to get out of bed and get out into the world, which can be the hardest but most crucial thing to do. The amount of times I’ve felt, not better necessarily, but rather on the way to not feeling worse is by chatting to someone and owning up to feeling down. It’s not a loss of dignity to feel sad, or self-indulgent, or weak. It’s just a thing to be got over in time. And sociability I think is the key to that.

Third, putting a perspective on the PhD. And by that I don’t mean pretending that it’s not a big thing. It is. To a lot of people it will be their greatest accomplishment to date. That’s a big deal. But by perspective I mean that you need to see it as part of your job, not an end point to a stage in your life. On a practical level the PhD is a job qualification that should lead to you being a member of the professional academic community, whether you choose to work in academia or not. Which means that doing a PhD is not unique; there are other wannabe professionals all over London doing just what you’re doing, only for a different set of letters after their name. Such as MITG.****

And that was something that helped me when I was fed up. Sitting on the tube, on the bus, walking around and observing the multitudes of people in London beavering away at improving themselves. Thousands and thousands at Birkbeck, in schools and universities, in FE Colleges and the City Lit. London is a community of strivers.

In this way Camille’s sister, Odile (in the red coat), is an exemplar. She’s a furious, energetic ball of strive. But a more useful (and real) example is that of Resnais himself. One aspect of the artistry of what he does in OCLC only occurred to me while watching Fast and Furious 7 at the weekend. Superficially they’re very different films (though I can’t help thinking that Vin Deisel’s ‘acting’ style would very much lend itself to the dreamlike blankness of Last Year in Marienbad). Yet what characterises them both is that they are ensemble pieces. For F&F7 this is a problem. The characters lack depth (even though they’ve had 14 hours or so to acquire it over the course of the franchise) and each time we have to spend time with them in conversation (in between bouts of increasingly ludicrous action) the film slows down. In OCLC on the other hand one doesn’t even notice how the skill of the director, even while using magical realist techniques that render the story as fantastical as F&F, introduces the characters to you in such a way that they become real people that you care about.

And Resnais did this to the very last year of his life, making films until into his 90s. Such tenacious creativity is worth remembering when feeling down about the pile of work to be done. Keep going.

*Not to be confused with On Connait la Chanson (2011-present) which appears to be an example of one of the few Canadian crimes against humanity.

** No, I’m not asking for sponsorship – if you want to give some money to charity come along to my Movember walk later in the year.

*** A tragi-comic moment – her group can’t tell whether she’s genuinely ill or play-acting as some character from the past. This prompted thoughts of the rivalry between guides and costumed interpreters that came up when chatting to a colleague at a seminar recently who has worked as a costumed interpreter at Historic Royal Palaces. She was (good-naturedly) put out when I made clear my feeling that interpreters (who are tied to a property) are a rung below guides (who wander where they will).

**** Member of the Institute of Tourist Guides

%d bloggers like this: