Reviews

'Oranges and Sunshine': A Muted Telling of a Tragic Episode in History

If good intentions were all it took to make a great film, Oranges and Sunshine would be up there in the cinematic pantheon next to Casablanca and Citizen Kane.


Oranges and Sunshine

Director: Jim Loach
Cast: Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Richard Dillane
Distributor: New Video
Studio: Sixteen Films, Seesaw Films
Release date: 2012-06-26

If good intentions were all it took to make a great film, Oranges and Sunshine would be up there in the cinematic pantheon next to Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, despite the historic importance of its subject and excellent performances by Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, and David Wenham, it feels more like a made-for-television movie than a feature film. Thanks to the miracle of home video, however, you can now watch Oranges and Sunshine in the fitting setting of your television screen.

The story of Oranges and Sunshine centers on an astonishing historical fact: after World War II, over 130,000 British children from "unsuitable" homes were deported to Australia, without their parents' permission, ostensibly to enjoy a healthful life full of oranges and sunshine and, presumably, good moral character. Instead, most were raised in group homes where they were sexually abused, deprived of education, and forced into hard labor. Many of the deported children were told their parents were dead, while many parents were told their children had been adopted; given the distances involved and the difficulties of communication and travel at the time, all parties had little choice but to accept what they were told and do the best they could under the circumstances.

This episode of history remained largely unknown until a British social worker named Margaret Humphreys (played by Emily Watson) was approached, in 1986, by a woman asking for help in tracing her parents. At first Humphreys does not believe the woman's story of hundreds of unaccompanied children being put on a boat to Australia, but after hearing a second, similar story, she decides to investigate. Her investigation rapidly becomes a crusade, with the support of her husband (Richard Dillane), and she makes it her mission not only to unite as many of the surviving children as possible with their remaining relatives, but also to uncover the truth about who was responsible and how so massive an operation could have been carried out with so little public oversight.

The reality of this story, as related in Humphrey's book Empty Cradles, is absolutely heart-wrenching. It's odd, therefore, that Oranges and Sunshine feels so perfunctory and distanced, as if director Jim Loach and screenwriter Rona Munro were afraid that the audience couldn't handle the full horror of the story were it developed in any sort of a dramatic fashion. The pace feels all wrong as well: we are rushed from one event to the next, as if the dramatic structure were composed of evenly-spaced dominoes to be knocked over in rapid, regular succession. Even the pleasure of seeing Humphreys unravel the mystery of the deportations is largely denied us—instead, we are presented with a series of scenes, each of which contains one vital piece of information, and which lead in a direct and linear fashion to a conclusion, with none of the fumbling and wrong turns and messiness of real life.

It's not an entirely smooth journey, of course, just one in which the obstacles that appear are easily and predictably overcome. People don't want to talk to Humphreys, then they do. She has two breakdowns, but quickly recovers. One of the survivors first presents himself as obnoxious and disruptive, but of course he and Humphreys come to an understanding. Humphreys doesn't want to visit the worst children's home of them all, Bindoon, then she relents and allows one of the children raised there (David Wenham) to take her there.

I admire the restraint of Oranges and Sunshine, which avoids sensationalizing the events of its story. The problem is that this very restraint soon becomes predictable, to the point where you can predict exactly where the recalled memories will stop, and also where each scene will end, as the story moves relentlessly forward. Denson Baker's cinematography has a muted tone, as well, as if both Britain and Australia were beset by a dull brown haze obscuring the vitality of everyone and everything.

For all the skill that went in to making Oranges and Sunshine, nothing can compare with the archival footage of the deported children, which brings home the horror of it all: beautiful, happy children treated as if they had no value, as if they were a mere inconvenience to be disposed of as those of higher social station saw fit. It's a shame the fictional aspects of this film don't have the same dramatic power.

The DVD of Oranges and Sunshine includes three extras: a making-of featurette (13 min.), interviews with Emily Watson, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Jim Loach, and Rona Munro (25 min. total), and the theatrical trailer.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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