7:30am Thursday 17th May 2012
By Parky at the Pictures
Back in 2007, Julie Delpy caused something of a sensation with the release of 2 Days in Paris. Best known as an actress in the likes of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours: White (1993) and Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1996) and Before Sunset (2004), Delpy not only headlined this freewheeling comedy, but she also wrote, produced, directed and edited it. She even found time to compose the score. Yet, even though she won a César for her screenplay, the critics were only mildly enthusiastic, with many accusing her of copying the romcomedic badinage of the Linklater duology.
In fact, 2 Days in Paris was Delpy's third outing as a director - following the 1995 short Blah Blah Blah and the 2002 feature Looking for Jimmy - and she has since directed herself as Erzsébet Báthory in the vampire drama The Countess (2009). None of these pictures enjoyed much critical or commercial success, so Delpy can hardly be blamed for succumbing to sequelitis with 2 Days in New York. Unfortunately, in striving too hard to reproduce the original's wisecracking wit, she has resorted to the very stereotypes she had previously debunked so effectively. Moreover, in concentrating on character and conversation, she has neglected the cogency necessary for the scenario to seem like more than a string of contrived set-pieces. Consequently, even though it's not without its moments of guilty pleasure, this represents a considerable disappointment.
As a bookending puppet show device reveals, much has changed since Marion (Delpy) subjected boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg) to her family and friends. The couple has split, leaving her with custody of their young son, Lulu (Owen Shipman). Moreover, Marion has also lost her mother and moved in with twice-married radio DJ Mingus (Chris Rock) and his daughter, Willow (Talen Ruth Riley). All seems cosily chaotic - until Marion's father Jeannot (Albert Delpy) and her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) come to stay, with the latter's eccentric boyfriend (and Marion's old flame) Manu (Alex Nahon) in tow.
Things start to go wrong when Jeannot is stopped at customs for trying to smuggle sausages and cheese into the United States. But the mood of bonhomie quickly deteriorates, as Mingus realises that everyone will be camping out in their apartment. He also takes an active dislike to Manu, who not only makes inappropriate jokes about his name, but also invites a drug dealer round to score some dope and uses his electric toothbrush as a sex aid. Matters scarcely improve when snooty neighbour Bella (Kate Burton) takes exception to Rose and Manu smoking in the elevator and Marion calms her down by claiming to have a brain tumour.
While Mingus complains about his in-laws on his radio show, Marion tries to keep them out of trouble while she prepares for the grand opening of her new photographic show at the smart Manhattan gallery run by Susan (Emily Wagner). However, Manu manages to get himself deported for lighting up outside a police station and a coffee shop argument between Rose and Marion in front of a top White House aide blows Mingus's chance of getting into a press conference with President Obama (who is such a hero that Mingus has long chats with a life-size cardboard cut-out in his study). And, just to add to the confusion, a guilt-stricken Bella sends doctor husband Ron (Dylan Baker) to examine Marion and he promptly develops a crush on Rose, who is utterly unselfconscious where flashing the flesh is concerned (as she demonstrates after taking a shower and during a yoga class).
All this would be rollicking fun if Delpy didn't go out of her way to make the Gallic visitors so objectionable. Linguistically limited and boorish at mealtimes, they are also frequently racially insensitive, socially gauche and culturally barbaric. But Delpy lays on such negative traits too thickly for them to be satirically astute. Moreover, she fails to persuade us that Marion shares their philistinism and her self-destructive tirade against the one critic who could make her show a success is entirely implausible and seems only to have been included to facilitate the equally improbable denouement (which relies heavily on a voiceover to paper over the cracks).
Pitching herself as a French female equivalent of Woody Allen's neurotic nebbish, Delpy is always fascinating to watch. But Chris Rock is unsuited to playing the double-taking stooge and, even though he has a couple of choice quips, he makes a less effective sparring partner than Adam Goldberg was in the first film. What's more, Deply fails to reproduce the original's sense of frenetic spontaneity and the clumsy calculation can be summed up in the fact that Marion sells her soul as part of her exhibition and has a late-night contretemps with purchaser Vincent Gallo (cameoing as himself) in a bid to retrieve it, even though she doesn't believe in its existence.
Notwithstanding its reputation for arthouse sophistication, French cinema has always traded on national and parochial caricatures, hence the domestic success of such broad farces as Fabien Onteniente's Camping (2006), Dany Boon's Welcome to the Sticks (2008) and Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's The Intouchables (2011). However, the culture clash gags concocted by Delpy and co-scenarist Landeau seem patronisingly stale, while the bid to make the guests seem more appealingly PC in a subplot involving a Thai massage parlour run by a Vietnamese couple is as redundant as the TV news references to The Fairy (Daniel Brühl), a green activist engaged a tree-top protest in Central Park.
Overlooking a twee photo-montage, Delpy adopts a neat staging technique by having cinematographer Lubomir Bakchev's close-ups force the viewer into an uncomfortably proximity with the action. But she overdoes the Big Apple landmarks and her use of Belvedere Castle in a finale turning on a pregnancy test, a psychic reading and a trapped dove is pure kitsch.
Even before Ingmar Bergman's Summer With Monika (1955), Swedish cinema had a reputation for dealing with young love in a refreshingly honest manner. Lukas Moodysson continued the trend with Show Me Love (1998). However, first-timer Lisa Aschan's She Monkeys inclines more towards such French studies of burgeoning sexuality as Catherine Breillat's A ma soeur (2001), Katell Quillévéré's Love Like Poison (2010) and the Céline Sciamma pair of Water Lilies (2007) and Tomboy (2011). Consequently, this rigorously controlled rite of passage succeeds in being both psychologically intense and teasingly subversive, especially in tackling the decidedly tricky topic of pre-pubescent passion.
Fifteen year-old Mathilda Paradeiser and her seven year-old sister Isabella Lindqvist live with their father (Sergej Merkusjev), who is invariably out at work or on a date. Paradeiser has a trial with the local voltige team and coach Maria Hedborg welcomes her to the team after an audition to test her gymnastic skills and her affinity with horses. She is watched closely by Linda Molin, the star of the troupe, who is slightly older and prettier than Paradeiser and who seems torn between treating her as a rival or an acolyte.
When the pair meet at the swimming baths, Molin pushes Paradeiser off the high diving board and she sustains a nose bleed. As she recovers in the junior pool, policemen Adam Lundgren and Sigmund Hovind come over to flirt with them and Paradeiser promises to give the former a call.
Meanwhile, Lindqvist is feeling self-conscious after watching some women in the showers and then being informed by a lifeguard that she has to wear a bathing suit that covers her chest. Bullying Merkusjev into taking her shopping, she selects a wholly unsuitable leopard print bikini and begins plotting how she can use it to entice older mixed race cousin Kevin Caicedo Vega, who occasionally acts as her babysitter.
Molin persuades Paradeiser to invite Lundgren and Hovind to a late-night beach rendezvous and they show up in a speedboat. Unimpressed by their clumsy chat-up lines, Molin goes for a swim and is peeved to find Paradeiser and Lundgren have slipped away for some privacy. She finds them and begins giving Lundgren orders. He remove his trousers and underwear in the expectation of kinky gratification, but the girls steal his clothing and run away.
Now almost inseparable, Molin and Paradeiser get tipsy and begin frolicking. However, when Molin attempts to kiss her, Paradeiser backs away and a frostiness is evident at their next meeting at the stables, where Paradeiser is struggling to make the grade, as she lacks the extrovert personality to go with her athletic ability. Consequently, she refuses to attend the party that Molin throws for the team. But she does sneak into the house after the other guests have gone and watches Molin sleep.
Clearly, inappropriate behaviour runs in the family, as while Paradeiser is snooping on Molin, Lindqvist marches into the sitting room with a boom box and proceeds to do her best impression of a sexy dance for the stunned Caicedo Vega. When she announces her love for him, he tells her that cousins shouldn't think of each other in that manner and she orders him out of her bedroom.
Paradeiser also takes rejection badly and kneecaps Molin with a rake so that she has to withdraw from the voltige team. However, she says nothing about the true cause of her injury and Paradeiser takes her moment in the spotlight with her customarily impassive expression betraying none of the emotions she must be feeling at fulfilling her dream.
So unflinching is Lisa Aschan's approach that this studied examination of juvenile sexual mores feels dangerously transgressive and viewing often becomes a deeply unsettling experience. By limiting the backstories of the principals, Aschan forces the focus onto their inexpert efforts to exploit their untested feminine wiles to exert control over each other and their menfolk (as well as Paradeiser's dog). Moreover, she explores the connection between the physical and the psychological, between pleasure and pain and between passion and power in such a provocative manner that the most innocent of situations start to take on disconcerting undertones.
Despite the odd improv longueur, the performances of the lead trio are remarkable for non-professionals making their debut. But Aschan reinforces the mood of heightened naturalism through a combination of Linda Wassberg's crisply detached photography, sound designer Andreas Franck's mix of wind, bird and sea sounds and Finnish composer Sami Sänpäkkilä's disquietingly thrumming electronica score. Yet, while Aschan's willingness to take risks is laudable, there is something cold and calculating about She Monkeys that will leave many feeling as manipulated as the film's cipher males.
Empowerment is also the theme of Radu Mihaileanu's The Source, which examines the status of women in the modern Islamic world. However, as he has proved before with his studies of the Holocaust (Train of Life, 1998), ethnicity (Live and Become, 2005) and the Communist legacy (The Concert, 2009), the French-based Romanian has a habit of coating contentious topics with a sugary whimsicality that diminishes their credibility and efficacy. Thus, even though this latterday mix of Lysistrata and the Arabian Nights is spiritedly played by a solid ensemble, it can't quite escape the pervasive air of schematic schmaltz.
In a remote village somewhere in the Maghreb, a baby is born at the precise moment that a woman miscarries after falling while carrying water from a spring at the summit of a treacherous mountain path. Outsider Leila Bekhti interrupts the celebrations with a bitter song about the travails that women have to endure and mother-in-law Hiam Abbass is furious with her showing up her family in front of the neighbours. As a teacher at the local school with a reputation for progressive thinking, husband Saleh Bakri has more sympathy with her viewpoint and even supports Bekhti's call for the women to withhold sexual favours until the men either lend a hand transporting buckets or force the authorities into providing a supply of fresh running water.
Brother-in-law Saad Tsouli is less impressed, however, and forces himself upon wife Amina Boussaif, whose facial bruising shocks everyone when she comes to do her laundry. Elderly Biyouna urges her sisters to be strong and chides Sabrina Ouazani for joking that she struggles to keep her hands off hunky hubby Karim Leklou. But the village sheikh (Omar Azzouzi), the Imam (Mohamed Tsouli) and the school principal (Mohamed Choubi) are angry with Bekhti and even sister-in-law Zineb Ennajem comes to resent her when the parents of her prospective husband decide against a match because they don't wish to be associated with Bekhti and her fellow `witches'.
Younger sister Hafsia Herzi remains loyal, however, as Bekhti reads her the stories of Scheherazade and writes the love letters that she sends to Gary Mihaileanu, a strapping youth from a nearby village. But she doesn't know that Bekhti also pens the replies delivered by mailman Mohamad Yazidi. Nor is she aware that visiting entomologist Malek Akhmiss is Bekhti's old flame from the time when she lived in the south of the country. However, the truth leaks and Bakri takes the news very badly. But, even in the face of threatened repudiation because she is barren and a bad influence, Bekhti sticks to her principles.
Bearing a marked similarity to Lebanese auteur Nadine Labaki's forthcoming Where Do We Go Now?, this would be an engaging battle of the sexes were it not for Mihaileanu's cumbersome approach. He dots the action with musical numbers whose lyrics espouse the women's cause. But, while this tactic amuses when a group of tourists watching a traditional dance is oblivious to the real meaning of the song, it feels forced later in the piece when the words of a festival routine are reworked to express the women's ongoing frustration. Similarly, the depiction of the menfolk as chauvinists who hide behind Qua'ranic verses so they can sit around playing cards and sipping tea is as lazy as the stereotype of Biyouna's homecoming son (Reda Benaïm) and his radical fundamentalist mentor (Hamid Boutbaldine).
Speaking in the obscure Moroccan Darijia dialect, the cast works hard to smooth the often lumpen transitions between romance, comedy, melodrama and socio-political critique. Glynn Speeckaert's photography and Cristian Niculescu's production design are also commendable. But Mihaileanu and co-scenarist Alain-Michel Blanc too often settle for what the French call Orientalism rather than providing genuine insights into Islamic attitudes to arranged marriages, the rearing of children, the education of girls and the place of women within the average household. Even their satirical jibes at the corruption and indolence of Arab bureaucracy feels patronisingly secondhand. Indeed, at one point, they even seem to contradict the plot, as Herzi is supposed to be besotted with Mexican soap operas, yet when Bakri goes to see a local dignitary about fitting some modern plumbing, he jokes that if you give women water today they will want electricity tomorrow.
Ambiently scored by Armand Amar, this clearly means well. But, unlike Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar, it lacks authenticity and too often settles for superficial discussion instead of discernible understanding. Unfortunately, Icíar Bollaín's Even the Rain, suffers from a similar problem, as it seeks to expose the iniquities of the Bolivian Water War of April 2000.
Arriving in the Bolivian mountains to make a revisionist film about Christopher Columbus, producer Luis Tosar and director Gael García Bernal discover that hundreds of locals have come to the extras audition to make some easy money. Tosar wants to send them packing, but Bernal recognises the imperialist irony of such high-handedness and insists on meeting with each hopeful in turn. At the end of the exhausting process, he selects Juan Carlos Aduviri - who has travelled a long way with his daughter to land a role and had vociferously objected to Tosar's arrogance - to play Hatuey, the Taino chief who led a rebellion against the conquering Spaniards.
Tosar is delighted to have conned the Bolivians into accepting a daily rate of $2. But Aduviri overhears him boasting to a backer about his bargain on the phone and takes him to task for treating the country like a latterday Hispaniola. Aware that a crew is shooting a `making of' documentary, Tosar moderates his language and becomes increasingly impressed with Aduviri when he learns he is also playing a prominent role in the attempts by a ruthless corporation to block all access to free water in order to charge the citizens of Cochabamba for every drop. Indeed, when a young woman is injured during the demonstration, Tosar insists on driving her to hospital.
However, Tosar's sudden transformation (especially when taken together with Bernal's equally abrupt preoccupation with the fate of his feature at the expense of all else) strains the credibility of a Paul Laverty screenplay that frequently exhibits the tendency to political over-emphasis that has undermined so many of his collaborations with Ken Loach. Despite this being her fifth feature, Bollain seems to struggle to make the comparisons between exploitation in the 16th and 21st centuries without tub-thumping. Moreover, she fails to incorporate the docu subplot and rather wastes the earnest performance of Luis Tosar and Juan Carlos Aduviri.
That said, the film-within-the-film moments are exceptional, as is editor Ángel Hernández Zoido's control of riot sequences that include actual footage from the 2000 stand-offs. Cinematographer Alex Catalan; production designer Juan Pedro de Gaspar and composer Alberto Iglesias deserve particular credit for the historical scenes, which see dissolute actor Karra Elejalde essaying Columbus and Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Santos playing missionaries Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos, who fruitlessly sought to limit the cruelty of the conquistadors, whose burnt the tribal chiefs for their opposition to the enslavement of their people.
Opening with a giant wooden crucifix being helicoptered over the jungle like the statue of Christ at the start of Federico Fellini's La dolce vita (1960), this also bears comparison in places to François Truffaut's Day For Night (1973), thanks to its cynical insights into the artistic and moral compromises that have to be made in order to complete a movie on time and under budget. But, while this self-reflexivity is amusingly acute, the awkward characterisation and allegorical contrivance serve only to reinforce the bluntness of the scenario that ends with Tosar intervening to prevent the arrested and badly beaten Aduviri from suffering the same fate as Hatuey.
Adapted from a play by Andreea Valean, Florin Serban's first feature, If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle, may not be in the front rank of Romanian New Wave pictures. But it has a seething authenticity to ensure it remains compelling even as it departs at full pelt from credibility. Ably exploiting Marius Panduru's handheld camera and Ana Ioneci's grim interiors to reinforce the crushing sense of oppressive despair, this may be indifferently plotted and paced, but it exudes raw power.
George Pistereanu bristles with macho insecurity as the 18 year-old reformatory inmate a fortnight away from release after a four-year stint for unspecified crimes. Despite his posturing, he lacks the menace or the muscle to do anything but keep his head down and do his time as quietly as possible. Morever, he is constantly on his best behaviour around Ada Condeescu, a young social worker who has been detailed to guide him through the options for making the most of his release.
But the countdown to freedom is disrupted when Pistereanu receives a visit from younger brother Marian Bratu, who informs him that their estranged mother, Clara Voda, has returned from working away and wants to take Bratu with her when she returns to Italy. As their father is too sick to care for them, this makes sense. But Pistereanu blames Voda and her peripatetic lifestyle for the bulk of his problems and he is so enraged when he sees Bratu get into her car that he gets too close to the perimeter fence and is warned by warden Mihai Constantin that further infractions will see two years added to his sentence.
Having calmed down, Pistereanu asks Constantin for a day release so he can try and sort things out. However, he is refused and has to plead with fellow inmate Alexandru Mititelu to borrow his stashed mobile phone so he can talk to Voda. She agrees to come to the centre the next day and Pistereanu is able to return to his favourite pastime of trying to detect a flicker of interest in Condeescu's demeanour. But the meeting with Voda goes badly and Pistereanu feels he is left with little choice but to take Condeescu hostage in the hope of forcing his mother to change her mind.
Such desperate measures can only have one outcome and Serban deserves credit for delaying the inevitable by having Pistereanu request a café date with Condeescu as part of his negotiated settlement. But this is a rather mundane ending to a film that capably disguises its stage origins. Co-scripting with Valean, producer Catalin Mitulescu imparts wisdom gained from directing his own new wave debut, The Way I Spent the End of the World (2006). Yet, while If I Want to Whistle certainly packs a `noul val' punch, it has its own personality, as Serban breaks with prison picture tradition by exploring the promise of liberty and how it is prized by those close to grasping it.
He perhaps spends too long focussing on the back of Pistereanu's and somewhat resorts to melodramatic type by having him blow his chance. But Serban coaxes a fine performance out of his debuting star and ably handles an inexperienced cast, several of whom, like Mititelu, were actual prisoners brought to the set under close guard and invited to draw on their own experiences while improvising their scenes. The result may not be as compelling as Jacques Audiard's A Prophet (2010), but it more than merits the comparisons that have been made with Alan Clarke's Scum (1979) and Made in Britain (1982).
Life would be very dull if things always happened when one expected them, but it seems odd to have reissued Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's wartime classic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp this year instead of waiting for its 70th anniversary in 2013. Nevertheless, this fine film is always worth seeing, especially as it comes with the personal disapproval of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who resented the impression given of the military brass in the David Low comic strip from which The Archers took their title.
Some time in 1943, a Home Guard unit led by Lieutenant James McKechnie decides to steal a march during a training exercise and storms a Turkish baths in Piccadilly in order to capture Major General Roger Livesey. As he resists McKechnie's bid to seize him, the pair tumble into the water and the action cuts back to the same spot in 1902, as Livesey basks in the glory of the Victoria Cross he had won during the Boer War. He learns from chum David Hutcheson that the German with whom he shared a cell in South Africa (David Ward) is spreading anti-British propaganda and Livesey is advised by Roland Culver at the War Office to avoid meddling in political matters that don't concern him.
Undaunted, Livesey heads to Berlin, where he makes the acquaintance of translator Deborah Kerr and opts to ignore the advice of diplomat pal Frith Banbury and confront Ward at the Kaiserhof Hotel. The German spits in Livesey's face and, in the ensuing fracas, he insults the entire German High Command and is compelled to fight a sabre duel with an officer chosen by ballot to defend the Army's honour. Livesey defeats Anton Walbrook, but they wind up in the same clinic after the former falls through a window and they become firm friends, as Kerr nurses them Despite her feelings for Livesey, Kerr realises he will never reciprocate and accepts Walbrook's marriage proposal. Yet, while he is happy for them, Livesey feels a pang of regret as he returns to Blighty for a dressing down by Culver.
A montage of hunting trophies (including a Hun helmet) advances the action to 1918 and Brigadier-General Livesey is making his way back from the trenches when he encounters a nurse at a convent who bears a striking resemblance to Walbrook's wife. On returning to Britain, he arranges a reception for Yorkshire nurses and, despite the quarter-century age gap, Kerry (in her second of three roles) agrees to become his wife, on the proviso that he never changes.
Livesey is concerned for Walbrook and discovers that he is being held in an internment camp in Derbyshire. Stung by what he sees as triumphalism, Walbrook snubs his old friend, but later calls to apologise and accepts a dinner invitation. However, he is unconvinced by Livesey's hope that Germany recovers from its defeat and sullenly predicts that the peace treaty under negotiation will be unjust to his homeland and will spark a future conflict.
Another montage moves the story to 1939, as Walbrook seeks sanctuary from the Nazis and registers on the outbreak of war as an enemy alien. The widowed Livesey stands surety for him and they dine together before Walbrook is driven back to his lodgings by an Army driver who looks uncannily like his late wife. The following spring, the friends are together again, as Walbrook commiserates with Livesey for being prevented from giving a radio talk on Dunkirk and honour in combat, for, as Walbrook sadly concedes, war is no longer a gentleman's pursuit and that Hitler must be defeated by fair means or foul.
Walbrook remains a steadfast companion as Livesey is forced to retire and throws himself into the formation of Dad's Army. He even advises him to regard McKechnie's bathhouse assault as a demonstration of initiative rather than effrontery and reminds him of his own youthful tendency to be headstrong. Thus, Livesey sits beside the ruins of his blitzed home and remembers the promise he made to his wife to remain himself at all times and the picture closes with him accepting the salute of the new guard.
Inspired by a deleted scene from Powell and Pressburger's first collaboration, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), this is a poignant chronicle of Anglo-German enmity and the individual relationships affected by it. Lustrously photographed by Technicolor by Georges Perinal (and an uncredited Jack Cardiff) and running 163 minutes, it was one of the most dramatically and technically ambitious productions attempted in Britain during the entire war. Domestic audiences responded to its subtle wit and bold criticism of the officer class and all fears that it was unpatriotic and would sap morale proved unfounded. Yet Churchill's prohibition of its export meant that it was not widely seen until peacetime, when its message about the need to avoid complacency and face up to the threat posed by a pitiless enemy was no longer so pressing.
In his first starring role, character actor Roger Livesey embodies the peppery bluster of the career soldier. But he avoids the caricature created by David Low to create a man who cares for his country, his wife and his friends and this decision to make Blimp loveable rather than a blowharding buffoon or a bungling martinet made the propaganda all the more potent. The fact of having an exiled German recognise the perniciousness of the Nazis proved equally effective. Indeed, Churchill (whose own involvement with the movie business in the 1930s had been less than propitious) couldn't have misjudged the film more calamitously if he had tried.
Just as Clive Candy was able to reinvent himself as Major General Wynne-Candy, so Ken Sykora made the transition from recording star to radio personality. However, as Marc Mason points out in the engaging documentary The Man With the Jazz Guitar, the switch didn't happen overnight or without unfortunate consequences for Sykora or his family. But, unlike so many other celebrity memoirs, this has no dirt to dish and the affection with which Sykora is recalled by his children, friends and colleagues alike makes this a gently melodic pleasure.
The son of a Czech cavalry officer and the stepdaughter of a Swiss-German count, Ken Sykora was born in London on 13 April 1923. While studying at Cambridge and the London School of Economics, he began mastering the guitar and fell under the spell of the Manouche gypsy jazz maestro Django Reinhardt. Having survived the Second World War as an intelligence officer with the Chindits, he began teaching. But music remained his passion and, following stints with bandleaders like Ted Heath and Geraldo, he fronted several combos in the 1950s, as well as teaming with such legends as Stéphane Grappelli. Indeed, such was his popularity that tunes like `Little Black Dog', `Kybosh Serenade' and `Honeysuckle Rose' helped Sykora top the Melody Maker's guitarist poll for five years in a row.
His talent also boosted his romantic prospects, as an impromptu number rescued a disastrous blind date with singer Helen Grant, who had convinced herself that the pipe-smoking Sykora was a dull academic with a glass eye (because of his thick contact lenses) until he began to play. Their marriage coincided with a shift in focus, as Sykora began commuting from the family home in Suffolk to present Guitar Club on the BBC Light Programme and he began to play less frequently as he honed his skills as a presenter and interviewer. In the course of a distinguished career, he became one of the few voices to find a home on Radios One, Two, Three and Four, with Be My Guest giving him the opportunity to meet such idols as Bing Crosby, Count Basie and Segovia.
In the 1970s, however, he turned his back on broadcasting and relocated the family to the Kyles of Bute, where he and Helen ran the Colintraive Hotel. Developing into a capable chef, he insisted on using locally sourced produce and could often be found behind the bar during late-night lock-ins. But Helen struggled to cope with such ready access to alcohol and the Sykoras upped sticks again to Blairmore, from where Ken began presenting shows like Serendipity With Sykora on Radio Clyde and Eater's Digest for BBC Radio Scotland.
A widower for nine years, Ken Sykora died on 7 March 2006. However, he left behind a vast archive of research material and recordings, which plays a key role in this charming actuality, which is enlivened throughout by jolly animations by Linda Chirrey. Equally crucial are the contributions of children Duncan, Alison and Dougal, whose fond memories are echoed by sister-in-law Margaret Grant, lodger Jule Gleave, dentist Ronnie Caiels, doctor Bill Wilkie, radio producers Jimmy Grant and Mike Shaw, network executive Andy Park and musicians Martin Taylor, Jimmie MacGregor, David Penrose and Chris Sutton, whose anecdotes are insightful and heartfelt.
But what will linger longest for most is the enveloping sound of Sykora's dry wit and penchant for trivia and the deceptively relaxed slickness of his playing. Reviving numbers not heard for over half a century, this is a handsome tribute to an artist who was unfortunately swept away by the in-rushing tide of rock`n'roll. However, it leaves one teasing mystery unsolved: did Ken Sykora ever meet Django Reinhardt or not?
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