Theatre in Wales

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"Makes Wales look bad...makes Welsh cinema look bad."

On Criticism & Critics

Two Arts Review Programmes , BBC Radio Wales & Network , January 25, 2020
On Criticism & Critics by Two Arts Review Programmes The subject of awards cropped up on both the end of year summaries, Saturday Review and the Review Show. Awards themselves have purposes. They enable the makers and producers to gather and have a good time. That is good. I observed much pleasure to be had when Wales had its Theatre Awards. Awards are also cause for dispute which is wholly human and also good.

In 2019 a third strand emerged. At Margate the short-listed artists delivered a speech “in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity in art as in society.” So there was no prize. Or rather everyone got prizes.

Tiffany Jenkins featured on “Saturday Review of the Year” and is worth quoting:

“I have real problems with the decision of the Turner Prize. A number of people have said there was a clear winner. It deprived the public of that decision. There is a privatisation of judgement which is I think a problem in the arts world. You saw it in the Booker. It's coupled with a kind of political hectoring. One reason those artists can be a collective is that they all agree. There's this political uniformity which I think is a slight arrogance in turning up in Margate, lecturing people. It sticks in the craw.”

She has a point.

In Wales Gary Raymond took a contrary view on an award. There is always disagreement. My own household divided in the Oscar year that pitted “Moonlight” and “La La Land.” Both were good but different.

When it came to this Wales film award it was much more than a matter of personal preference.

The broadcast critical opinion for Radio Wales ran: “Likewise I felt completely out of step with the Welsh Baftas undoubtedly the worst film I have seen to come out of any country in the past decade.”

This raises a question as to who speaks or ought to speak where awards are concerned. The Wales Theatre Awards for its deficiencies was staffed with reviewers, not industry players, lobbyists or friends-of-friends. Raymond has spent ten years building a critical reputation. That does not necessarily mean rightness but the members on the award committee are not known outside their own domain. As such it is worth looking exactly why he took a differing view.

The film got the full Raymondian blast extending to 1482 words. Reduced to its essence it opens:

“That a new Welsh film...part-funded by Ffilm Cymru Wales, is a bad movie should be obvious to anyone who sees it.

"As a country we can publicly look for the positives in a film with an execrable script, a confused impetus, dodgy character motivations, and a standard of cinematic conception that would get you a middling grade at a half-decent film school – it’s what #TeamWales expects. But what we cannot do is ignore the misogyny of a film that has been written, produced, developed and premiered during the most radically political era of modern filmmaking.

On national projection:

“...makes Wales look bad. It makes Welsh cinema look bad. And at a time when film and TV is awash with strong inspiring female characters who are helping fight for #MeToo and consign a century of abusive sexism in a male-dominated industry to the history books, it makes Wales look backward.”

And then to the analysis:

“script...a desolate dumping ground of stilted dialogue, forced colloquialisms, and garbled sentences. I lost count of the times an actor is forced to add an isn’t it? at the end of a line, or a bach, or even a cariad. None of the actors seem convinced by these little tags.”

“Blueprint for drama fails on the simplest terms. Actors blurt out lines for which their characters seem clearly unprepared, motivations are all over the place.

And the art direction and detail:

“The film is filled with these ill-thought out moments to list them all. Characters mention over and over again that it is a sweltering summer, and yet there is not one bead of sweat in the entire film, not one damp shirt – indeed most of the adult characters have jackets or jumpers on throughout. A dog, Rex, is referred to consistently as a wild, uncontrollable fiend that will probably end up being destroyed, and yet the animal spends much of the movie utterly placid, as if waiting for someone to throw a ball for him to fetch...crammed with things that just don’t work, that fail the world-building of the story, or undermine what the actors, bless ‘em all, are trying to do.”

And attitude:

“...a film defined by its misogyny, not by its nostalgia...the script and direction fails all of its characters, but the women portrayed in this film are failed in particularly ugly ways.”

And the responsibility:

“...nobody goes out to make bad art, and I have enormous sympathy when I watch something that I know just hasn’t quite come off and a vision has not been fully realised. But when Ffilm Cymru is injecting public money into projects...the question is not how is a bad film made, but why is funding resulting in such problematic attitudes to women on screen?”

On the other hand it gets high-fives on IMDB from reviewers with names like CabbageCustard. I have not seen it. So the verdict of judgement comes down to who an observer favours, CabbageCustard, Committee or Critic

The full blast can be read at:

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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