Fifteen months into living in Manchester and the Cornerhouse is already an old friend. It has one of the most interesting bookshops in the area, I’ve already seen some bloody good art in the galleries upstairs (David Shrigley being a particular favourite) and there’s just something about it that – if you’re at all of a thoughtful persuasion – makes you instantly feel at home, like you’re among your own kind.
The name helps – the Cornerhouse…the idea of the house on the corner instantly makes it sound like a friendly, homely place where you’ll encounter like-minded people. Meeting people on the corner was going on for years before Lindisfarne wrote a song about it back in 1973…and it’s something everyone feels comfortable with. And on top of that there are hints of arthouse, maybe even bauhaus. Which is why I’m among the many dismayed by the fact that when the Cornerhouse moves to its new premises on First Street in 2014, it will be called HOME. This, to my mind, is a horrible focus-grouped name created by marketing people. It feels impersonal and corporate and completely fails to do the same thing as the name it’s replacing. Just because you call something a home doesn’t mean it feels like it. There was a super club in London called ‘Home’ in Leicester Square which was as about as unhomely as it gets. What’s wrong with something like ‘The New Cornerhouse’?
Anyway, back to explaining how I came to love The Current Cornerhouse (as nobody calls it right now). For starters, the cafe/bar is excellent – it’s a great place to meet someone because before long, as my mate Ed pointed out, you’re quite likely to get a seat, even at busy times, due to the fact that sooner or later most people get up to go and watch films or look at art.
This is why it took me a while to get beyond the bar and actually use the cinemas there. Odd, that – because the film programming is what attracted me to the Cornerhouse in the first place.
Manchester is fairly well furnished with cinemas but there’s only one place you can reliably find interesting films from outside the mainstream given screen time, and it’s just round the corner (there’s that word again…last time, I promise) from Oxford Road station. As well as leftfield or independent offerings from Britain, the USA and further afield, it’s part of a European film network which means that, like most good arthouse cinemas, it gets the cream of subtitled films from Europe. Other, similar, cultural oases exist in the North – but the nearest alternatives are in Liverpool, Lancaster, Stoke, Sheffield or Bradford.
It was several months after first attempting to watch a film at the Cornerhouse that I actually managed to do it. I guess I must have got sidetracked in the bar – people-watching from the big window in the first floor that looks out over Oxford Street can be particularly enjoyable, and you know what it’s like once you get talking…
But, once I got off the mark, there was no stopping me. On this occasion, I actually went to the Cornerhouse to see Beware of Mr. Baker, a documentary about the prodigiously talented, but even more irascible, former Cream drummer Ginger Baker which had been well spoken of on BBC 6Music.
But due to the brilliance of Manchester’s public transport network, I got there 15 minutes too late (thanks, Metrolink). Luckily (or more accurately, due to predictably excellent programming) a screening of another film I actually wanted to see was about to start.
I’ve lost count but I’m So Excited! is something like Pedro Almodovar’s 18th feature film, and it’s a marked change of direction from the intense psychology of The Skin I Live In – his first out and out comedy since 1988’s Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Described by the 63-year-old Spaniard as “my gayest film ever”, this enjoyable combination of high altitude and high camp is kicked off by a cameo from Almodovar regulars Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as ground crew workers who accidentally damage the landing gear of a plane heading for Mexico.
While the plane circles above Toledo and the authorities work out how to handle the situation, the passengers in economy class sleep on, drugged and oblivious, while the pilots and the cabin crew work out how to distract those in first class.
This leads to my favourite four minutes of cinema this year – a brilliantly filmed and choreographed performance by the cabin crew of The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited – the source of the film’s English language title and worth the admission price on its own. My only quibble is that, as a title, it doesn’t really explain what the film’s about…although a direct translation of Los Amentes Pasajeros is hard to convey the double meaning in Spanish of “the fleeting lovers” and “the passenger lovers”.
Because, as the first class passengers, pilots and cabin crew get high on a ‘Valencia Cocktail’ of fruit juice, alcohol and mescaline, they begin to admit to all sorts of sexual, criminal and financial misdemeanours – and in some cases, begin new ones.
This isn’t an obviously political film, but Almodovar has suggested it’s more subtle than that. The plane endlessly circling Toledo as the authorities delay and bluster to mask their fumbled attempts to find a solution, while the passengers in economy sleep on thinking they’re on the way to Mexico, is a great metaphor for recession-hit Spanish society right now…as is Almodovar’s use of the abandoned airport in his hometown of Ciudad Real in La Mancha, a white elephant of a recent state-led project which closed down after four disastrous years.
The Daily Mail‘s review missed all these subtleties and didn’t like the film – which for my money is an excellent reason to go and see it. Even if, as in my case, you are about to fly to Spain.
It’s colourful, charming and likeable – a flight of fancy yet somehow simultaneously grounded in reality. Like so many of Almodovar’s films, it’s an insightful and entertaining study of human relationships under pressure…something he’s always done brilliantly. Long may he continue.
Review by Drew Savage