Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Michael Smith

Michael Smith | 2nd December 2014

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s ever-reliable contributors and friends old and new take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months.

IMG_8573Gruff Rhys at Glastonbury, 2014. Photo by Wendy Barrett

Michael Smith.

For my money, American Interior by Gruff Rhys was a significant artistic milestone this year – a delightfully skew-whiff and human attempt at working through the new scope and possibilities of the creative act now the boundaries between music, film, writing, etc are blurring into an interchangeable digital sequence of noughts and ones: this project is an app, a book, a film, an album, a Pete Fowler puppet, and a goofy slideshow lecture-cum-acoustic set that toured the land, which I managed to catch at Port Eliot. It pulled off the trick of cracking me from start to finish, but also making me ponder the meaning of human endeavour, lost causes, and the heroism that can result from convictions that may well be completely deluded. Wonderful.

My movie of the year was undoubtedly Mr Turner, a masterpiece of English cinema I’d put up there alongside Withnail or Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Unlike Downton Abbey, where posh people are nice to their contented servants and everything’s tickety-boo, this is a period drama where the illegitimate children between the two are never talked about, servants have horrible untreatable skin conditions that just get worse and worse, the well-to-do have beautiful silks and fabrics worn threadbare over generations, and bluebottles die in droves in the skylights of galleries: there’s an eye for the real texture and complexity of life in the England of Turner’s era, its cruelty and its beauty. Being a film about Turner, it’s also full of the most exquisite rosy sunsets, enough to send any CBTR fan into a small ecstasy. Margate before amusement arcades sure looks pretty too.

On the subject of film, another cultural highlight this year was realising for £3 a month I can subscribe to MUBI and watch American indie cinema, European art house, Korean ghost stories, and everything else of note in between online. The way it works is they curate a programme of one new quality film a night, which stays up for a month, so on any given evening you’ve got a month’s worth of films up, at least 10 of which you’ll probably fancy watching. A bargain that also solves the problem of infinite choice paralyzing any decision. You’ll never have to lose your temper trawling through all that corporate shite on Netflix ever again.

My album of the year was actually out a few years ago but I just discovered it and it fascinates me. Broadcast’s Witch Cults Of The Radio Age sounds like a psychedelic haunted dusty attic of an album, which spooks and enchants with equal measure. We lost one of our real visionary songwriters in Trish Keenan, but as I’m discovering she’s left an intriguing body of work behind, The HaHa Sound with it’s whistful, esoteric retro-modernist feel being the other album I can’t turn off at the moment.

Michael Smith on Caught by the River