Film POP: ‘Surrogate Valentine’ / ‘Let England Shake: 12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy’

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Surrogate Valentine

If Paper Heart wasn’t precious enough for you, Surrogate Valentine might well be your dream movie; for the rest, keep back. Dave Boyle’s deeply tiresome musical travelogue’s greatest virtue is its brevity. The film stars San Francisco singer-songwriter Goh Nakamura as a version of himself as he takes on a “method” actor, Danny (Chadd Stoops), who intends to model a performance and character for an upcoming film role on Nakamura, who brings him along on tour in order to teach Danny how to play the film’s central tune. Meanwhile, Goh struggles with his rekindled feelings for high-school crush Rachel (Lynn Chen, a charming figure in an otherwise charmless realm), who clearly carries a torch for the terminally awkward Goh but is involved with a sycophantic businessman.

The central premise of Valentine is not a bad one – there are certainly intriguing dramatic and thematic possibilities to be exploited in the discrepancy between the words of music and film. Where Valentine goes wrong is in making the non-Goh figures such transparently awful people that the decks are stacked hopelessly in Goh’s favor; as a result, this extremely average fellow with awkward tendencies and a set of songs that sound an awful lot like Elliott Smith’s c-sides is made to seem comparitively extraordinary. The character of Danny in particular feels like a one-dimensional caricature of Hollywood self-centeredness, and the tacked-on developments near the end of the film don’t help. It feels tremendously dishonest at every moment, which is a real killer for a movie meant to exude verisimilitude in its indie-rock millieu. All except Nakamura fans and cute-addicts should avoid at all costs, even if it only sticks around for about 65 minutes.

Let England Shake

Every year, a distinguished panel of UK music-culture arbiters awards the Mercury Prize, intended to honor a British album of singular excellence from the previous twelve months. The Mercury panel is known for its left-field picks (M People over Blur and Pulp, Gomez over Massive Attack and…Pulp), but one artist they always seem to hover close to is PJ Harvey, who is at this point the only artist to have won twice: first for 2001’s dizzyingly romantic Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, and much more recently for this year’s Let England Shake, a taut collection of folk-leaning material heavy on imagery of war and loss. To accompany the record, video artist Seamus Murphy was commissioned to make a music video for each of the album’s songs. The videos, which tend to mix Harvey’s still photography amongst the moving images, evoke Harvey’s haunted voice and lyrics both directly and indirectly – time and time again, we get images of war, history, nature, and contemporary life, as well as glimpses of Harvey herself performing in a private space, sometimes alternating between this intimate sonic environment and the proper studio recordings. Murphy’s pieces are as unified as the album itself, emphasizing the album’s accidental timeliness (its sense of unrest seems to spookily predict the riots that shook the nation a couple of months back) while also reflecting Harvey’s typically singular sound and aura. An essential companion to a rewarding, complex record.

Simon Howell


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