Sunday, August 25, 2013

H. C. Andersen Festival

Odense, my native town in Denmark, is famous for its festivals. It is in Odense you'll find the international OFF film festival, the world's largest Harry Potter Festival, the prestigious Carl Nielsen International Music Competition and Festival as well as the Mix Odense Film Festival, the Harbour Festival, the Flower Festival and probably some more that I can't remember. Anyway, in its infinite wisdom, the local business industry decided that we needed yet another festival. As Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, the festival was - of course - going to be called the H. C. Andersen Festival, but to my surprise it shouldn't have anything to do with Hans Christian Andersen. The H. C. Andersen Festival is just a name and the festival logo - a laughing Chinese made by the Chinese artist Yue Minjun - has nothing to do with Andersen either.
 Despite the Andersen festival having nothing to do with Andersen, it was pretty good. For a week from the 17th to the 25th of August, there were more than 270 events of which 250 were free. The ones where you had to pay, were the "big" ones like the opening show, the Leonard Cohen concert, and the combined dinner and cabaret show. Here prices were up to £75! Pretty steep, but the free events were good too. Before the festival, local celebrities were asked to pick three events that they wanted to attend, and my pick was:
1. The Canadian street theatre Corpus performing the show "Les Moutons".
2. The big light show at the town hall walls made by "We Create Magic"
3. The art street where art would move out of the galleries and into a carpet-clad street.
I started out with "Les Moutons" that was performed by Canadian Corpus in the Fairy Tale Park and in my opinion it was one of the best events of the entire festival. It was funny, strange and surprising. Three people dressed as sheep and behaving like sheep were tended to by a shepherd. We saw sheep-shearing, milking, feeding, mating and a fierce visit from a wolf, all very realistic and very, very funny. Five baas out of five for this performance!
 Next up was the light show and I must say that I have NEVER seen anything like it! Different 3D photos and animations were screened onto the town hall making it come to life. We saw the town hall change colours, turn into a Chinese pagoda and an old castle, being smashed to pieced by a giant and being visited by Thumbelina and The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Yay! Finally some Andersen!). At one point the windows popped out and the town hall sprouted legs and walked away! It was SO amazing and impossible to explain. It had to be seen. Again: five lights out of five for this amazing light show by We Create Magic.
Then there was the art street and that was a bit of a disappointment. I liked the idea of carpeting the street, but the art… As the week went by, tables, chairs and small shops selling coffee, tea and light meals were to be found in the street, but not much art. You still had to go inside the galleries to see it and then it wasn't very good! One exhibition at the Gallery Rasmus was okay, I guess, the works made by different Danish and international artists and the theme being Andersen's fairy tales (more Andersen!), but it was much too little and not at all what I'd expected from reading the programme. Two paintings out of five to the art street.
Luckily there were a lot of other great events and one that also had to do with Andersen was a contemporary circus performance called "Ida's Flowers", a paraphrase over the Andersen fairy tale "Little Ida's Flowers". Six acrobats and actors took the audience on a walk around the Munke Mose Park where on different locations they sang and performed. Especially impressive were the acrobats Rune Andersen and Katja Somasevic who did amazing performances using ropes and trapeze. Four flowers out of five to the circus.
Although the circus acrobats did their best in the robes, it couldn't compare to the Italian brothers Andrea and Luca Piallini who did a performance on the wall of the 63 metres tall tower of Odense Cathedral! For half an hour the two brothers, who call themselves Evènti Verticali, danced, jumped, ran and did acrobatic stunts on the outside of the tower. It was elegant, beautiful, funny and scary at the same time. The best air acrobatics I have ever seen. Five carabiners out of five to Evènti Verticali!
Theatre Gyda's Pink People street theatre performances were another great feature in the festival. The stereotypical Pink People performed all over town, marching from one venue to the other under the strict guidance of the pink policewoman and stopping from time to time to applaud the shops and the pedestrians. I watched them perform both as a choir and as actors and they were funny and very professional. Especially the short pink hair opera singer impressed me. Four pink wigs out of five to the Pink People.
Other things I attended during the festival week were Mr. Vita's acrobatic TNT-show on the town square, "Classical Music and Fairy Tales" by Danish and Finnish musicians and actors in Lotze's Garden, the "City Polyfill" graffiti and skateboard square by the local youth club, "The Fairy Tale Parade" by local school children, "The Bottle Boys" playing pop songs on bottles in the pedestrian street and the censored art exhibition in the Art Exhibition Building. Some of it was okay like Mr. Vita, some was not like the censored exhibition, but at least it showed how diverse the festival was.

All in all I think the H. C. Andersen Festival is a good idea, but it has a lot of "teething trouble" that has to be dealt with before it becomes great. First of all the festival is squeezed in between the Odense Flower Festival and the Odense Film Festival OFF in August, so now we have festivals 3 weeks in a row. It's a bit overwhelming, not to say exhausting to attend festivals in 3 consecutive weeks. Furthermore the city centre is closed for public transportation during the festival making it difficult to get from one venue to another and impossible to live a day to day life if you happen to live in Odense. There needs to be installed big screens at events like the light show on the town hall, there needs to be better disabled access to several of the events and the festival needs a theme so that the audience knows what to expect. But first and foremost the festival needs better attendants! The ignorance of the attendants was what people complained about the most and I witnessed it myself, asking not one or two, but four attendants about a venue and none of them knowing where it was. Most of the attendants didn't know if performances had been cancelled or moved, they didn't know what time the shows were on or who performed, in fact they didn't know a thing. It was appalling. I realise that the attendants are volunteers, but I still think they ought to know the basics. In my opinion, the festival would have done a lot better without them. Oh well, it'll be interesting to see if there'll be a H. C. Andersen Festival next year or if it was just a one-off event, but I suspect that depends on how much money the local business industry made!

P.S. The reason why I'm using baas, carabiners, pink wigs etc. to rate the events is that I refuse to use "little China men" like the local newspaper! I don't care if the newspaper bases them on the Yue Minjun logo. I still find it racist.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Odense Flower Festival, 2013

It is no secret that I've been very disappointed in the Odense Flower Festival the past 4 years and that I had thought of boycotting it this year. In the end I didn't, but now I wish I had! In fact, this year the festival reached a new low, which I thought would be impossible!
Like last year, the festival consisted mostly of ordinary flowerbeds and a lot of nursing schools selling their flowers, and like last year the festival only covered three streets and three squares instead of the entire city. Like last year there was hardly any imaginative floral sculptures, although floral sculptures were originally what the festival was all about, and this year there were even less sculptures than the year before. I only saw 2 (two!!) new floral sculptures at the entire festival and 2 reused ones from former festivals.
The theme this year was called "Out in the big wide world" and sometimes you could detect the theme in the displays, other times you couldn't. You got the feeling that most of the displays were just put together, using whatever materials the exhibitors had at hand, and then it didn't matter if it fit in with the theme or not.
I liked the two new floral sculptures, of course. One was of an octopus and one showed the map of the world and people made of flowers, but other than that… In Lotze's Garden near the Hans Christian Andersen museum, the old flower swan and the old flower heart had been reused and the rest of the displays consisted of cardboard cut-outs. Boring, but I kind of liked the flamingos!
Near the town square, Flakhaven, where the largest display could be seen, were two of the very few displays that had anything to do with the theme. One was an "airport" with suitcases from different countries, which was quite nice, although I would rather have seen suitcases made of flowers than flowers packed in suitcases!
The other display that I liked was, well, I don't know, tables with flags and typical items from different countries. Of course I liked the English one, but it didn't have much to do with flowers. That was it, more or less. Nothing too exciting.
Like last year there was a string of events tied to the Odense Flower Festival. There were beautiful old ships arriving at the harbour, free concerts, kids dressing up as living statues, Indonesian dance, trend exhibitions, square dance and other stuff, but I didn't attend any of it. I'm sure it was all wonderful, but to me it had only little to do with flowers. I did run into a pirate though, who was quite nice and posed for me!
Anyway, I have to remember to boycott the exhibition next year. I know I keep hoping that Odense Flower Festival is going to be restored to its former glory, but after five miserable years, I guess I have to realise that I hope against hope.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Monsters University

"Monsters University" is a 3D computer animation produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The 104 minutes long film directed by Dan Scanlon is a prequel to "Monsters Inc." and we all know that prequels and sequels most often aren't as good as the original films. This is also the case with "Monsters University", but luckily "Monsters Inc." was one of the best Pixar animations ever, so even though "Monsters University" is a prequel, it is still very, very good!

The plot is fairly simple. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), the little green one-eyed monster, arrives as a freshman at Monsters University, intent upon becoming a scare major, scarers being the fearless monsters who enter the world of the humans to collect the screams of children, which power the entire monster world. At university he bumps into the huge, furry blue monster, James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman), a fellow scare student. The two of them don't get along and after an accident during their final exam, the chair of the scarer program, Dean Abigail Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) decides to kick them out. Sully being arrogant and relying on the reputation of his scary ancestors and Mike being singled out as too small and cute to be scary, they face a future building yellow scream containers. The only way to get back into the scarer program is the win the annual Scare Games. As the games are only for fraternity or sorority members, Mike and Sully join the fraternity Oozma Kappa ("We're OK!"), consisting of nice and anything but scary campus outcasts. There's the middle-aged unemployed salesman Don (Joel Murray); a two-headed monster named Terri (Sean Hayes) and Terry (Dave Foley), the all-legs monster Art (Charlie Day), and the one-horned, five-eyed blob Scott "Squishy" Squibbles (Peter Sohn), who still lives at home with his mother Sherri Squibbles (Julia Sweeney). This unlikely fraternity now has to battle against the biggest and scariest monsters on campus.

The film makes use of the voice talents of a lot of famous actors, Billy Crystal and John Goodman repeating their parts as Mike and Sully. To me, however, Squishy's mother, Sherri Squibbles voiced by Julia Sweeney, is the funniest character of the film and I like all of the Oozma Kappa characters as well. Helen Mirror is a good addition, delivering probably the best voice as Dean Hardscrabble whereas you'll hear Alfred Molina as the voice of Professor Derek Knigh and Steve Buscemi repeating his part as Randall "Randy" Boggs from "Monsters Inc.".

"Monsters University" a nice little film about friendship and believing in yourself and it's funny, but never particularly exciting, as you know the outcome in advance. When I saw it, the cinema was packed with families, mostly young children and their parents, and I noticed that it was the parents, who were laughing, not the children, although the kids seemed to enjoy the cute and colourful world of the monsters too. All in all it's a good film and you don't have to see it in 3D to enjoy it.

As I gave "Monsters Inc." 4 out of 5 stars, I'm inclined to give "Monsters University" 3 - or maybe 3½ - out of 5 stars: * * * ½.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Look Wot I Dun cover

Here it is, the cover of my Don Powell biography. I can't say that I like it. For several reasons:
1. It's difficult to see from the cover that Don is a drummer and NOT a Noddy Holder clone.
2. It's difficult to see that the title of the book is "Look Wot I Dun" and NOT "My Life in Slade".
3.  It's difficult to see that I wrote the book and NOT Don.
4. And it's difficult to see that the book is about Don's amnesia too and NOT just about his work with Slade.
What it's not difficult to see is that Don and I had no say in how the cover ended up looking as this is definitely NOT what we wanted! But to be honest, we were never told about the cover in advance and didn't know it had been made until we saw it on Amazon! But here it is and I guess, although we had imagined it a lot different, it could have been worse. They could have spelled my name wrong or something…oh, wait! They did, didn't they? When the publishers uploaded the cover to Amazon (without us knowing and without telling us), they had spelled my surname wrong! This is one of the gravest editorial errors you can make, but still it took almost a month before it was changed!
Oh well, despite the cover being misleading, the book itself is what Don and I wanted, telling the true story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary job and his lifelong struggle with amnesia that altered his personality and changed his life forever. I hope you're gonna like it and in fact you can already pre-order it right here.


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