Tom Shone

  • INSIDE THE PIANO WITH NILS FRAHM

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, April 22nd 2015

    Encylopedias regularly hem and haw over whether the piano is a string instrument or a percussion instrument. In the hands of the German classical pianist Nils Frahm (above), it is both. In 2011 Frahm made an important discovery. Recording late at night and trying to do his neighbours a favour, he damped the sound of his piano with a thick layer of felt and placed his microphones so deep inside as to be almost touching the strings. The results were quite literally breathtaking: on the subsequent recordings, released on his 2011 album "Felt", you can hear not only Frahm’s breathing but the creak of floorboards beneath his feet, together with the delicate rustle and scrape of ivory against wood, wood against felt, felt against steel—the secret sonic life of the piano revealed.

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  • I KILLED THE MOVIES

    At the Cinema: today, the movie business is the superhero business. Tom Shone blames the kids of the Seventies, like him

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  • THE AFTERLIFE OF BLADE RUNNER

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, April 1st 2015

    So many great American movies were flops upon first release—“The Wizard of Oz”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Night of the Hunter”, “Citizen Kane”, “Vertigo”—that critics are frequently tempted to put it down to that old bogeyman, the Ignorance of the Masses. In the case of “Bringing Up Baby”, certainly, the public had to catch up with the film, whose scatter-brained comedy required refraction through the age of Freud and Gloria Steinem. In the case of “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” it seems more a case of straightforward mistaken identity, wherein films destined for status as popular classics were, at first, denied it, a mistake soon rectified with the advent of television and reruns. Not so “Citizen Kane”, a chilly masterpiece destined to be as broadly unloved as Kane himself: one’s approach to that film should feel as lonely as a visit to Kane’s mausoleum. As for “Night of the Hunter”, well, there is a film so spooky and enchanted that it can still feel as if you are the only person ever to have laid eyes on it.

    Ridley Scotts “Blade Runner”, which is being re-released by the British Film Institute this week, is different, if only because eyes are so integral to the plot: it tells the story of how it would one day be watched. A flop on its release in 1982, taking only $14.8m, “Blade Runner” then disappeared from screens, only to see its designs show up everywhere from Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” to the stage sets for the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels tour. When laser discs appeared on the market in 1989, the film became a best-seller, and didn’t budge. Here was a movie you went back to, a maze to get lost in, much like “Star Wars”, whose layer-cake of details seemed to cry out for replay. But where “Star Wars” had demanded the big screen—it is, like the Millennium Falcon, fast junk—something in “Blade Runner” seemed happiest at home, in the privacy of the video den and man-cave, where fans could pore over it at their leisure. A film of a million tiny details, it is possible to watch “Blade Runner” pointillistically too.

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  • YEARNING TO BE YOUNG AGAIN

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, March 23rd 2015

    The sanctification of youth in our culture is so absolute, its centrality so assumed, that the laughter inspired by Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young”, a brisk, biting comedy about the heartbreak attendant on middle-aged infatuation with the young, has something of the explosive force of newly-liberated taboo. That gentle mooing you hear is the sound of sacred cows being led to the slaughter. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a couple fending off the encroachments of middle age in Brooklyn’s comfortable Cobble Hill. Josh is a documentary film-maker, although the documentary he has been labouring over for the last ten years defies his every attempt to explain it, let alone edit it into releasable shape. It isn’t so much a job, let alone a hobby, so much as a dark suck-zone barring him from embarking on any other activities, such as going on holidayor trying for a baby.

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  • HITCHCOCK GETS A MAKEOVER

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, March 9th 2015

    Death becomes Alfred Hitchcock. He died in 1980, but his reputation post-mortem seems to have grown only larger, looming across the room and up the walls like a Fritz Lang shadow. The centenary of his birth, in 1999, was the occasion for a small avalanche of books celebrating his work. In 2012, the annual poll of film critics conducted by those auteurist Grand Poobahs over at Sight and Sound magazine voted Hitchcock's "Vertigo" the greatest film of all time, ousting Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" from its more-than-30-year reign. Quite a feat for a film about fear of heights: Hitchcock's reputation these days induces its own form of vertigo. "One reason why the portrait of an obsession might in time overtake the portrait of an ambition," suggests the literary critic Michael Wood in his elegant, elliptical new book, "Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much", "is that we have become devoted to representations of what we can't change and can't understand, as we certainly were not in the 1950s."

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  • TOM SHONE'S OSCARS PREDICTIONS

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, February 21st 2015

    To start with, the most hotly contested categories. Best Picture is as close a race as can be between "Birdman" (above) and "Boyhood", two Davids in a field with no Goliaths. "Birdman" won all the guild awards; "Boyhood" the BAFTAs. The Academy’s preferential ballot would seem to favour Linklater's more mild-mannered "Boyhood", but its slightly fey, gentle spirit has always struck me as unlikely to close the deal with the steak-eaters—the set-builders and effects guys—who vote for films like "Braveheart". Gun to head, I’m going to go with "Birdman" riding the same you-don’t-have-to-be-mad-to-work-here spirit that helped Bob Fosse’s "All That Jazz" to its wins, making this the third Best Picture winner in a row set in the world of show business, after "Argo" and "The Artist". "Birdman" is out there for the Academy, no question, but in the absence of any film addressing the state of the nation or the way we live now, maybe they’ll settle for a baring of the showbiz soul.

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  • HOLLYWOOD'S COMPUTER PROBLEM

    At the Cinema: Michael Mann’s new film has difficulties with digital—echoing, Tom Shone argues, those of film-making as a whole

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  • SADOMASOCHISM WITHOUT THE SEX

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, February 11th 2015

    “I’ve always been good at people,” declares Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, pictured) at the start of Fifty Shades of Grey. Audiences will have to decide for themselves whether he qualifies as one himself. Businessman, multibillionaire, philanthropist, he sits behind his desk at the top of a sleek skyscraper, named after himself like Trump Tower, except that everything here is not gold but tasteful graphite. Even the bodyguards have designer stubble. “I exercise control in all things,” he tells Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who has come to interview him for her student newspaper, although the talk soon turns to personal matters. “I don’t do romance,” he tells her, staring hard at her through his eyebrows, his usual expression, narrowing his eyes still tighter when she tells a joke. He doesn't really do humour. He doesn't do much, in fact. “I don’t do the girlfriend thing,” he says. “I don’t do the dating and movies.” As Adam Ant might have interjected at this point, “Don't drink, don't smoke…what do you do?”

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  • THE OSCARS RACE HEATS UP

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, February 9th 2015

    Even before the detection of Lou Gehrig’s disease while studying cosmology at Cambridge, Eddie Redmayne (above, centre) makes us acutely conscious of Stephen Hawking’s body in “The Theory of Everything”. He inhabits it the same way small boys operate remote-controlled toys—with a mixture of offhandedness and feral concentration. His gangly frame is there to do his bidding, if he thinks about it at all. Shambling, shy and slouched of posture, hands shoved in pockets, he peers out from behind an unruly mop of hair, enunciating his words in a soft tumble, his mouth caught up in a crooked Cheshire-cat grin, as if faintly abashed by his own brilliance. Just how much of himself Redmayne brings to the role was evident from his graceful turns on the podium at the Screen Actors Guild awards (SAGs) and, last night, the BAFTAs, where he picked up Best Actor.

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  • LIKE A BLOW-UP BUSTER KEATON

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 30th 2014

    If Apple ever got its hands on Florence Nightingale it might end up with something like Baymax, the big, inflatable white blob at the centre of the new Disney animation "Big Hero 6". Baymax is a robot caregiver who asks people, “On a scale of one to ten, how much does it hurt?” in a soothing, slightly effeminate voice like that of HAL from "2001" (in actuality Scott Adsit from "30 Rock"), and who dispenses hugs that envelop you like a duvet. “It’s like spooning a marshmallow,” says one of the teen heroes of the tale, although adult viewers may find older memories prodded by Baymax’s air of roly-poly befuddlement. When his batteries are low, he lollops drunkenly across the screen like Chaplin on the deck of a rocking boat in "The Immigrant", and when he gets stuck crawling through a window—that old fat-man routine—he extricates himself by partially deflating himself with a gnat-like "peeooowwww" sound while maintaining a straight face that would be the envy of Buster Keaton. But then deadpan has always been the secret weapon of animators: keeping a straight face is so much easier when you’re nothing but a straight line to begin with.  

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