“Go. Now. Go.”

TV The Art of the Title finally reaches the credit sequence for My So-Called Life, of the best uses of montage in titles and theme song. They interview director Scott Winant and title designer Kathie Broyles and reveal a titbit about what Claire Danes was like as an actress at this point:
There is also a good deal of movement, lots of swirling of cameras and characters. Was that to represent her metamorphosis?

Scott: When Claire was cast, she wasn’t an experienced actress, so she didn’t know how to hit her mark or stand still while we were shooting. They wanted me to stop her from doing that and I said, “No, I actually want to embrace this.” So we worked around Claire.

If you look at that image of her silhouetted in the street with Brian Krakow, under the trees, I waited to get to that moment because I knew Claire would spin on her toes and spin her purse behind her and it would make a great silhouette. Television allows us to adapt not only to the story but the actors themselves.
After watching the credit sequence again, I want to watch the whole series again. Oh to have the time to have a time.

Soup Safari #67: Fennel and Courgette at the British Library.







Lunch. £3.60. The British Library Restaurant and Terrace, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB. Phone: 0330 333 1144. Website.

Reversal of the Muse.

Music In the middle of everything else, the astonishing musician Laura Marling has begun a podcast in which she interviews women working in the music industry. Here's the first episode:
"In our first Reversal of the Muse podcast, Laura speaks to female sound engineer Vanessa Parr. Vanessa was the in-house engineer at the renowned Village Studios in LA, and has worked with some of the greats: Elton John, B.B. King, Coldplay and John Mayer amongst others.

"In her chat with Laura, Vanessa recalls how she broke into a male dominated field, where female engineers are few and far between. Together, they share their insights on both the benefits and challenges faced through being the only women in the studio."
Worth noting that Marling is more professional and engaging than half the people who work in professional radio. Oh wow, just noticed the second installment is with Haim.

My Favourite Film of 1932.



Film As anyone who's read my Love Actually evisceration will know, my dissertation, completed nearly ten years ago this month, was about hyperlink cinema, films with lots of characters, storylines and locales so called because of their similarity to how the web is structured. The question I asked myself was whether this constituted a genre or narrative form.  I concluded then that I didn't know.  Now I'm sure it's both. The second chapter which considered their narrative properties began by summarising their antecedents, the key influences and it's in this area as I was writing somewhere in mid-July that I realised that I'd made the error of selecting a PHd topic for my MA dissertation and that there was clearly thousands of words which could be written about this. So I wrote thousands of words, many of which then had to be trimmed before the handing in date leaving that second chapter as a summary of what I would have written, lots of phrases like "space does not allow for the presentation of a detailed analysis of literary history" that sort of thing. Since my favourite film of 1932, Grand Hotel, would also spark the cycle of that sort of film and was arguably the key influence on what went later, I thought I'd offer a mild rewrite of that portion of my dissertation.

After some preamble explaining the point, I went straight into literature and the shop floor with Shakespeare, who, despite having been influenced by earlier sources, was arguably the key ancestor of the cross cutting storyline structure (not counting the Bible). Both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure, for example, share similarities particularly in relation to the depiction of different classes and geographic locations and with storylines that are only connected during the main body of each play by a single character – Puck in the former, Lucio in the latter with all of the characters and some of the stories dovetailing together in Act Five (Shakespeare, 1964; Shakespeare, 1979). Tolstoy’s War & Peace (1865-9) relates the stories of a variety of families over an eight year period reacting to the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, introduced together in the reception given by Anna Pavlovna Scherer at the opening of the novel (Various, 2006). The novels of Charles Dickens are famous for their digressive narratives, with Bleak House (1852-3) in particular featuring storylines that are only connect through chance (despite the utilisation in places of the orphan, Esther as a first person narrator) (Allan, 2004: 101). In Our Mutual Friend (1864-5) too, the storylines of Boffin and Wrayburn are only connected through the waterside murders (Hayward, 1997: 41).

Some works also feature a map of the location to help orientate the reader, in the following cases a township and train carriages. Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) is a novelistic anthology with a narrative that flits back and forth amongst townspeople each with their own stories connected through George Willard the author’s autobiographical presence within the town. As Malcom Cowley indicates the author ‘would have liked to tell the stories of all the faces he had ever seen’ (Anderson, 1967: 5) and all of these short tales contributes narrative details to the others (Anderson, 1967: 13). Geoff Ryman’s 253: The Print Remix (1998), covers a seven and a half minute commuter journey between two London underground tube stations which ends with a crash, the reader being presented with descriptions of travellers and how their actions, however small, effect one another. Ryman’s book, which began as a website, is somewhat interactive in that the reader can ‘visit’ each of the characters in any order – however if read from cover to cover in the traditional way, like Anderson’s book, the effect is cumulative, some details only becoming illuminated as the reader’s knowledge of events increases (Ryman, 1998: 2).

Intolerance appears to be the first film that consciously exploits a multi-strand narrative structure, intercutting between four very distinct storylines (the fall of Babylon, the crucifixion, the Edict of Toleration which led to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and a contemporary story about a young Irish Catholic boy), although as David Bordwell notes the film eschews ‘causal connections’ (Bordwell, 2006: 93), with instead the thematic link of social injustice. The process of watching the film is still very similar to that of hyperlink cinema since it requires the spectator to absorb a group of parallel storylines refocusing their attention with each shift in timeframe. The next film that visibly demonstrates the structure of ‘a cross-section of life, taking it and leaving it where you found it – a story without a beginning and with no ending’ (Anonymous, 1982: 156) was Grand Hotel (1932) which also contained four or five distinct stories none of which have primacy and the inferred main protagonist, The Baron certainly does not receive narrative closure; the critic of Grand Hotel quoted above hints at a weakness of the format that will be considered later: ‘a more careful scrutiny might reveal that the interwoven plots seem to fall somewhat short of building suspensefully to clearly defined climaxes’ (Ibid., 1982: 156).

The film would spark a production cycle of works that featured a large cast of stars in cross-connected storylines, although the majority would be far less experimental in their plotting; with the exception of Dinner At Eight (1933) all deferred to a ‘one locale’ setting -- ‘Columbia’s American Madness (1932), which is set in a bank, Warner’s Employee’s Entrance (1933), which is set in a department store, and Paramount’s The Big Broadcast (1932), which is set in a radio station’ (Balio, 1995: 101). The reticence towards using a spread of locations, with the need for a more complicated shooting and editing style may have been a production decision, but it could also be proposed that more locales would lead to even greater amount of the exposition that was presumed needed at the time to keep the narratives coherent. It could also be inferred that these films would notionally influence the development of television soap operas, which also have surface similarities to hyperlink cinema. As Nick Lacey suggests, these ‘do not centre their narratives on one, or two, main characters; instead they follow the lives of several characters in a particular setting with a multi-stranded narrative structure’ (Lacey, 2000: 38). It could also be argued that soap operas as well as television drama series such as The West Wing (1999-2006), Desperate Housewives (2004-) and The Sopranos (1999-) are even more complex because they require the viewer to follow these causal narratives from week to week over many years, with the expectation that the audience will retain enough character information to sustain the resonance of the drama.

The Grand Hotel cycle might equally be considered the first in a group of what are described as ‘ensemble films’, which according to Linda Cowgill are ‘essentially subplots which have to be connected without the benefit of a main plot to hold them together’ (Cowgill, 2005). Understandably hyperlink cinema is usually assumed to be part of this group and indeed when a survey of recommendations was published in the Summer 2006 issue of DVD Review magazine, Magnolia (1999) and Short Cuts (1993) featured alongside The Big Chill (1983) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) (Bainbridge, 2006: 34). Cowgill suggests films as diverse as The Great Escape (1963), Independence Day (1996), Twenty Bucks (1993), The Right Stuff (1983) and Diner (1982) (Cowgill, 2005). Many ensemble films link their characters together by having them meeting periodically – in Late Night Shopping (2001), four twentysomethings share insights on their own stories at an all-night café during their break from work. Mallrats (1995) continues the MGM tradition by setting its stories largely inside a giant shopping centre. Others utilise what Cowgill describes as a ‘story frame’ – a main narrative that either sparks or binds all of the storylines together (Cowgill, 2005). In A Bridge Too Far (1977), although there are many separate plotlines featuring both officers and civilians, they are all a reaction to the war and in particular Operation Market Garden the failed Allied attempt to bring a decisive victory against Germany in World War II. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) despite having qualities similar to hyperlink cinema, a story frame is created by the war of Middle Earth, the ring quest and the two films that book end this central film of a trilogy. But a story frame can be much simpler than that – stories detailing the final night of a school year (American Graffiti (1973), Dazed and Confused (1993)) or a wedding (Diner (1982), A Wedding (1978)).

Bibliography

Allen, Janice. 2004. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Routledge, London.

Anderson, Sherwood. 1967. Winseberg, Ohio. Introduction by Malcolm Cowley. Jonathan Cape, London.

Anonymous. 1982. Grand Hotel. In. From Quasimodo to Scarlett O’Hara: A National Board of Review Anthology: 1920-1940. Edited by Stanley Hockman. Frederick Unger Publishing Co., New York.

Aronson, Linda. 2000. Screenwriting Updated: New (and Conventional) Ways of Writing for the Screen. Silman-James Press, Los Angeles.

Balio, Tino. 1995. History of the American Cinema: 5: Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise: 1930-1939. University of California Press, Berkley.

Bainbridge, Gavin. 2006. Shelf Space: Ensemble Films. In. DVD Review. 92.

Bordwell, David. 1985. Narration in the Fiction Film. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London.

Bordwell, David. 2006. The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Bordwell, David & Kristin Thompson. 2004. Film Art: An Introduction: Seventh Edition. McGraw Hill, New York.

Cook, Pam. 1985. The Cinema Book. British Film Institute, London.

Cowgill, Linda. 2005. Writing the Ensemble Film: Part One: The Gang's All Here. In. Creative Screenwriting. Available at: http://www.creativescreenwriting.com/csdaily/craft/04_08_05.html. Accessed: 13th June 2006.

Hayward, Jennifer Poole. 1997. Consuming Pleasures. University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky.

Jameson, Frederic. 1985. Postmodernism and Consumer Society. In. Postmodern Culture. Edited and Introduced by Hal Foster. Pluto Press, London.

Johnson, Steven. 2006. Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter. Penguin Books, London.

Jung, Carl. 1972. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Translated from the German by R.F.C. Hull. Routledge, London.

Lacey, Nick. 2000. Narrative and Genre: Key Concepts in Media Studies. Palgrave, Hampshire.

Marks, Greg. 2005. Filmmaker Commentary with Director Greg Marks. In. 11:14 DVD. New Line Home Entertainment Inc., Los Angeles.

Műnsterberg, Hugo. 1999. The Means of the Photoplay. In. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings: Fifth Edition. Edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Propp,Vladimir. 1958. Morphology of the Folktale: Edited with an Introduction by Svatava Pirkova-Jakobson: Translated by Laurence Scott. Indiana University Research Center In Anthropology Folklore and Linguistics, Indiana.

Ryman, Geoff. 1998. 253: The Print Remix. Flamingo, London.

Shakespeare, William. 1964. Measure for Measure. Edited by S. Nagarajan. Signet Classic, New York.

Shakespeare, William. 1979. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Arden Shakespeare. Edited by Harold F. Brooks. Routledge, London.

Sobchack, Vivian. 2004. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. University of California Press, California.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1975. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Cornell Paperbacks, New York.

Various. 2006. War and Peace. In. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_and_Peace. Accessed: 8th August 2006.

Wood, Jason and Eileen Anipar. 2005. An Introduction to ‘Me And You And Everyone We Know’ by Miranda July. In. Me And You And Everyone We Know DVD. Optimum Home Entertainment, London.

Night Tube.

Travel Overnight travel has begun on the London Underground and as well as passengers, the lines seem to have been filled with journalists (or at least two) trying to discover the kinds of people who're using the service. Here's Martin Belam in The Guardian:
"Friday’s service started with little fanfare at Walthamstow Central, as the 00.10 departure, newly classified on the timetable as a night tube, left with only a few people on board. Naso Koutzoukis was one of them. Originally from Athens, and having lived in London for five years, he’d travelled on the train specifically to head in to town to “see the drunken crowds. It should be fun.”
The Buzzfeed takes a more listicle approach.  Chris Bethell:
"Nandi and Adam, 2:53am, Chancery Lane

Nandi and Adam had been at a “great house party” in Peckham. Nandi said the night tube gave them more freedom and flexibility: “So we were like ‘should we go home? Yeah’.” Adam added: “Or we would have had to stay til 5am. We didn’t want to do that but we might have had to otherwise.”
Both stories contain some wonderful photography capturing humanity and it's most tender or real trying to get home.  I wonder if Chris and Martin bumped into each other or passed by as strangers unaware that they were on the same story.

Wait, no, I'm wide awake.



Sport Day 11. It's Day 11 already and rather like Claire Balding whenever she's trying to keep track of who won which medal and when on what day and indeed even what time, on live television, the Olympics days are starting to blur into each other. The four hour time difference from the UK to Rio wasn't apparently enough to create too many jetlag problems amongst athletes, who tend, thanks to international competition, to be pretty used to such things, but it's left me in a kind of competition miasma. I'm sorry, what's on now? Women's Open Water swimming? Ok.

The four hour time time difference has also meant everything in broadcast terms.  The big ticket events, the swimming and athletics finals, which  usually dominate prime time in the UK exist in the middle of the night accessible only to those with flexible sleep patterns, a job with excellent hours or sympathetic employers.  That means the sports which usually rolled around (literally in the case of the cycling) during the afternoon and tea time, are enjoying prime time slots and the opportunity to promote their sports in a way which is generally unheard of.

I don't have flexible sleep patterns, taking at least a week to get over the insomniatic bump of the Oscars or an election so my approach has been to wake up before six o'clock in the morning and watching the overnight broadcast from the iPlayer on my tv over breakfast and much long afterwards, before listening to the radio, before picking up an iDevice, in the hours before having to go work, sessions of sport, on days which have included swimming, athletics and tennis, which have stretched on into four or five hours.

But it's been well worth it even if I'm losing track of when these titanic struggles have actually occurred.  This morning I saw the extraordinary pole vault final, which I won't spoil but was certainly one of the most thrilling events in this Olympics, and even though I know it happened last night, everything else is telling me it happened this morning, which it sort of did due to the time difference, if only three hours before it reached my eyes.  Yesterday, I'd forgotten Max Whitlock's double golds had been Sunday night, it felt like it was a couple of days before.

So here we are at Day 11 with the prospect of more golds in the velodrome tonight, or rather the afternoon if you're in Rio's time zone and whatever other surprises crop up during the day and night.  Although I'm not quite enjoying it as much as London due to the time differences, not being able to watch with social media during those events I really love, the loneliness of watching the long distance runner alone, I am at least seeing events which were somewhat in the background last time.  If Netball is still my favourite team sport, Rugby 7s is now a close, close second.

My Favourite Film of 1933.



Film Something which is persistently annoying about film criticism, especially the sort of film criticism perpetrated in Amazon reviews or comment threads on blogs, although plenty of professional reviewers are guilty, is of lambasting genre pieces for not having a strong story or deep characterisation. In recent years it's the stick smashed around the heads of comic book films but you'll see it mentioned in relation to musicals, westerns, comedies, dance films and notably action films essentially anything which wasn't premiered during Sundance or Cannes.

Typical examples are the Ultraviolet and Resident Evil series, both of which I hold in high esteem for their action set pieces, strong female leads and general campness.  Both franchises are regularly reviewed badly, both are criticised for the genre credentials and in general treated as though they don't know exactly the kind of fare they're trying to be.  What story they have is a scaffold for gunplay and visual pleasures and although I seem to be able to see this, others find the whole business quite tedious.

But this wasn't always the case.  Back in the day, film musicals, especially those choreographed by Busby Berkeley had a gossamer story acting as little more than a framing device.  In Footlight Parade (1933), James Cagney is tasked with presenting three "previews" or musical numbers designed to preface a film release on the same night and in the final hour of the film we're presented with all spectacular three.  Even taking into account the vertical studio releasing process that was wildly popular, taking $819,080 at the box office.

Why this change?  Have audiences become more sophisticated?  Have expectations increased?  Yes to both.  But I also think that it's incumbent on filmmakers to enunciate what their film is really about and also, if the story is purposefully simplistic to justify such.  Melissa McCarthy vehicle Tammy is almost art house in the way it chooses not to give its lead character any goals in particular and have a road movie structure without a clear destination, but also doesn't manage to be especially funny when it has to be.  Which isn't to say it didn't turn a profit.

Special Features?

TV After the shock emergence of a blu-ray edition of Doctor Who's The TV Movie we awaited news of the which special features would be included.

Now the official merchandising website has obliged and well, yeah.

With the exception of the welcome inclusion of Night of the Doctor for completionist sake, they're exactly the same as the special edition dvd release from 2009.

Plus it is an upscaled version of the programme itself rather than some newly prepared version.

It's pretty inessential if you already own these things.

Still buying it.

What's the strategy here?

The release of Spearhead from Space made sense because it was originally filmed on 16mm and so there was the potential to create an HD master.

But everything else in the classic series is either on videotape or has some scenes on film which have been restored and inserted in the past.

If this sells (and given the fact that it's simply replicating the earlier release) will we be seeing more of these older stories with upscaled video and film material reinserted at a higher imagine quality?

Won't that jar even further?

Will we all want to replace our dvd collections with such a thing?

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Exhibition Research Lab.


"Get some Mellow. Makes you feel all bendy and soft all day long."
-- Pharmacist, "Gridlock"
Art Well, this adventure was quite the challenge. When I attended the exhibition the other Monday,  the video section, an important rosetta stone explaining the context of the rest of the work wasn't working and on asking at reception in the building no one seemed to know how it should be turned back on. I tweeted and phoned Biennial and someone very kindly texted me later to tell me the video was back on but I was home by then.  Returning the subsequent Thursday, the image was playing but no sound.  The receptionist came and after trying to turn the projector on and off again, passed me the remote, I offered to have a look, and after fiddling with it for a bit managed to get the sound booming out of the speakers.

The introductory video is a vital component of Suzanne Treister's HFT The Gardener (transcript here), setting up the fictional conceptual scaffold on which the rest of the show hangs, albeit on buffet tables covered in glass.  Through a hypnotic series of images we're introduced to former stock market trader Hillel Fischer Traumberg, who after a hallucinatory experience on the trading floor decides to turn his back on the business world to become an "outsider artist" hooked on shrooms and other forms of mind-altering drugs who utilises mathematics in order to find tangible connections between potent plants and company trading stocks.  In other words, it's ten minute video designed to allow the artist to place a pair of metaphoric quotation marks around what's to come.

Across the rest of the exhibition we're presented with the "results" of "Traumberg's" "research".  There are "gematria charts" in which various FT Global 500 companies are represented by a series of brightly coloured psychoactive plants.  There are diagrams which explains how these two entirely disparate entities could be mathematically connected.  "Outsider artworks", drawings depicting the 92 psychoactive plants with their traditional uses and illustrations of their mental effects, like a Rock Family Tree of psychedelia.  Paintings of the visions he "shared" with "shamans" throughout the world.  Video stills and photos which have been used during the introductory film.  Plus a series of "glitch graphs" which are supposed to chart the active compounds in psychoactive plants.

All of which synopsis should indicate that I wasn't that much inthralled by any of this.  Some of Triester's other project seem very intriguing, but The Gardener hits a nexus of subjects with which I'm less impressed.  The heroic city trader.  The mind altered outsider artist.  The notion of setting up a fictional artist and then working within the rules of their artistic expression as a way of expressing your own interests.  Never quite being sure if the thing I'm looking at is supposed to be satire.  Whilst sections of it are well executed and I could imagine someone else finding much to think about, and I did see one visitor on the Monday who was very excited despite the video not working, I faded pretty quickly into a miasma of why questions on the Thursday in an empty gallery space and no one to discuss the implications.  If ever I needed an invigilator to talk to, it was here.

Oh well, you can't like everything... After this I think I need somewhere that is truly tranquil, peaceful, restful.  A panacea for the cares of mind. Or somewhere fun.  How about B ...

Next Destination:
Bluecoat.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Hondo Chinese Supermarket.


"You are not the only remarkable thing on this earth, Jack. Consider the jellyfish. The species turritopsis nutricula is considered to be immortal. Its cells undergo a process called transdifferentiation. Quite simply, it can revert to a younger state and grow old again. And then repeat. Without limit. It’s possible there are individual jellyfish on this planet that have existed for thousands and thousands of years."
-- Olivia, "Torchwood's Miracle Day: End of the Road"
Art In an early incarnation, back in the 60s, the building which now houses the Hondo was the offices and warehouse for a wholesale company where my mother worked, something she'd tell me stories about growing up each time we headed up Upper Duke Street.  Although the supermarket has been in place for many years now, the remnants of its former uses remain in its shell.  The warehouse at the back is still a warehouse.

Part of the Chinatown episodes, obviously, there are two pieces inside.  Sitting on a shelf in amongst the merchandise and next to a screen displaying footage from a security camera, a flat screen television plays Ian Chang's Something Thinking of You, which utilises algorithms and artificial intelligence to show a creature evolving of their own accord within a digital forest environment, a polygonal snake resembling a dragon.

Unfortunately when I visited it didn't seem to be doing much, just rolling around the landscape, which resembles an alien rainforest, creating rendering glitches in its wake.  Eventually it stopped dead underneath a tree and remained there for minutes.  I stood patiently waiting, dodging now and then to allow people to leave the supermarket (the screen is opposite one of the counters and near the exit) but nothing much else happened.

Available to take away from the counter is a colourful free sheet containing another of Lu Pingyuan's charming stories, The Two-Sided Lake which appears in English and Chinese on reverse.  Or Chinese and English on reverse if you will.  A short story about a diver who emerges unexpectedly from a lake in near a small village in China, it somehow manages to inadvertently reference Torchwood's Miracle Day although we can be pretty sure that wasn't the artist's intention.

Next Destination:
Exhibition Research Lab

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Pullman Hotel.


"The great god Vulcan must be enraged! It's so volcanic! It's like some sort of... volcano! All those people!"
-- Caecillius, "The Fires of Pompeii"
Art What amounts to be my 500 year diary for this journey, the Biennial booklet, isn't clear about how to access this example of their annual commissions programme. There's mention that the film is shown at end of each screening during their film programme but nothing which attaches it to this location. So I got in touch:


The link indicates that if you ask at reception "they will guide you to a room where it is being shown".

The reception is near the entrance, a staff member and a laptop. When I asked, she turned to a colleague who said something about the remote control not having batteries and then about the room having been book, but I was quickly ushered to a giant plasma screen in a nearby lounge area, and Sky News was turned to a channel dedicated to showing Raphael Hefi's An Alumothermic Reaction Producing Liquid Steel, Filmed at 2000 Frames per Second, 2016 and here I sat on a very comfy sofa watching this fifteen minute film amid the clinking of glasses in the bar being prepared on one side and clients checking in on the other.

The film was shot in the Kings Dock.  As part of a live performance, to quote the booklet, "a huge pile of sand worked as a makeshift foundry, and with a technique usually used to repair high-speed railway lines [...] The welding process melts steel very quickly: lava-like flows of molten metal poured down the sand. finding final form as the material cooled down.  Heft references heavy labour and iron casting, the backbone of contemporary infrastructure: processes that have long histories but that usually remain hidden."

The images burn off the screen, the white heat of the raging metal flowing through dunes and out of silos in an enthralling beautiful expression of humanity's control of the elements, albeit with the usual caveats about us being a general blight on gaia.  There's no particular narrative as we're shown various elements of the process and ferocious temperatures bend towards abstraction, like the rushes from a Godfrey Reggio movie (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi) without the customary Philip Glass score, replaced by "natural" sounds.

The website has much business about the technicalities of capturing the images, "using a 150lb, 4k resolution, ultra-high definition camera that captures 2,000 images per second, the artist collaborated with the film crew to test the possibilities and technical properties of the equipment, exceeding the parameters it has been designed for. Some parts of the equipment even melted in the process."  This is unsurprising and a demonstration of how nature finds a way.  I'm amazed there's no mention of injury.  As shown, these elements seem as though they'd continue forever if prompted.

Actually watching this in the atrium added to the atmosphere, what with the screen hanging in a recess on a wall with a surface resembling bronze.  Watching it on a much larger screen, a cinema version is being shown at FACT every Thursday at 6:30pm, must be an even more involving experience although it's arguably just slightly too long, the host of images just slightly losing their power within the repetition.  Or it's possible I was simply distracted, wondering what visitors were making of this art work as they made sure they had a bed to sleep in that night.

Next Destination:
Hondo Chinese Restaurant.

My Favourite Film of 1934



Film Chris Brown, the host of the History of Horror Podcast has been kind enough to write this guest post about my favourite film of 1934.

The Black Cat.

I don’t have a proper memory of the first time I watched The Black Cat. It’s likely to have been some point in my teenage years on a black and white, or possibly colour (depending on when it was), portable TV when I was rushing through as many horror films as I could, especially ones that were considered, to a point, controversial.

It was probably before I snuck a look at George A Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, one night on Channel 4 and it changed how I saw the genre, less out and out atmosphere and more brutal confrontation.

It was certainly before I saw Night’s follow-up Dawn Of The Dead, which put me on course of a life writing and enjoying the genre generally, appreciating it’s vivid broad comic book palette and satirical undertones and, like a lot of horror fans, wishing that more horror films were just, generally, better.

Rewatching 1934’s The Black Cat recently it shuffled a little memory out of my mind though, a general feeling of unease. Sitting in my West Derby home and feeling that there was something off about the film. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the scene that stuck with me was near the end when somebody grabs a knife and begins to skin a character alive. These days, it’s all down to a game of chess.

The film sits at a strange time, being more deeply horrible than the majority of Universal’s horror output at the time. The special effects heavy The Invisible Man from the year before was more an adventure film and a year after James Whale directed the iconic Bride Of Frankenstein, with all its gay subtext, incredible set-design and barmy use of humour.

The Black Cat is less melodrama, more hysterical psychodrama, with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, stalking each other around a modernist mansion desperately waiting to off each other. Their hate is total and filled with menace. It’s so much more aggressive and troubling in tone than other films from the time.

As a story it’s very simple, a castle where an evil satanist (played by Karloff) is visited by a witless couple and a man after revenge (Lugosi).

Despite some serious missteps (a yellow-face goon is used as muscle) it’s really a game of chess which is truly the most horrible element. Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) insists on a game with Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) all for the body and soul of an innocent woman, Joan, who is captive in the building.

The idea in the film is to create tension but the incredible arrogance and audacity of the two men is staggering. They play a game over the life of another like it’s property. Joan, the woman is question, isn’t privy to the reasons behind the match and even interrupts them.

Both men, by the end, are distinctively portrayed as monsters, driven by their own selfish goals. Joan is just another female victim in all this, buffered by powers beyond her control and knowledge.

In Kier-La Janisse’s book House Of Psychotic Women, she explains that domestic abuse can be pulled through as a theme in horror generally. In Paranormal Activity (2007), for example, Katie is tormented, not just by the demon in a physical sense, but also by her boyfriend Micah. Micah is so keen to play his own game of “chess” with the monster, despite Katie’s repeated requests to stop, he angers the demon and makes things a lot worse. His abuse is to disregard his girlfriend in favour of his own selfish goals.

In The Black Cat women are trophies, literally kept in cabinets around the building (part of Karloff’s character’s religious cult. The film’s monsters are blind to their misogyny and the audience are dragged into wondering who we are really meant to root for, if anybody.

Its nihilism is its power and, even when order is returned, as it must with Universal monster movies, the audience is left wondering at what cost. More than 30 years before the bleakness of Night Of The Living Dead bluntly leaves its audience in the horror, The Black Cat played heavily with similar levels of darkness.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Granby Workshop.


"You know, there is no means whereby I could prove to you that that crystal is any different from any other piece of quartz, and yet it is unique. As you say, ridiculous!"
-- The Master, "The Time Warrior"
Art Like the Homebaked Bakery in 2012, Assembly's Granby Worskshop is an example of community project as artwork.  From the website: "Liverpool Biennial has commissioned Assemble to create a new artwork on the occasion of the International Festival for Business (IFB) 2016. Granby Workshop, a social enterprise collaboration between the residents of Granby neighbourhood in Toxteth and artists collective Assemble, presents a showcase of their work outside the Exhibition Centre Liverpool during the three-week festival in a new commission."

The artist's intervention in the process is that all the object being created are unique, embracing "chance and improvisation".  A sign was commissioned for the launch of the IFB 2016 and these tiles have been installed on the wall of the workshop and that is what I travelled out to Toxteth to see.  Of course, thanks to the randomiser this meant I had to travel past a couple of other shows which I'll be returning to later in the year.  But choosing this route means that I'll be able to address each of the pieces as separate experiences rather than have them become submerged into one another.

After parking the TARDIS in the knot of a nearby tree trunk, I set about viewing the titles, a nine-by-nine grid which seems to be the selection on the left of the image reproduced in the booklet and on the website.  These are white surfaces covered in abstract shapes, like Matisse cut-out with more colourful gradation.  There doesn't appear to be an intent to illustrate anything in particular but its impossible for the brain not to infer trees, hammers, bird's wings, the shapes of continents or some kind of misshapen planet.  Importantly they are all different.  A factory manufactured version would create uniformity by repeating the shapes across a bathroom.  Not here.

Next Destination:
Pullman Hotel.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
The Oratory.


"Listen!"
-- The Doctor, "Listen"
Art The Oratory is one of Liverpool's hidden jewels.  Sitting in the grounds of Liverpool Cathedral it must look like some old mausoleum, and only when it's open does it show its true purpose and if nothing else, the Biennial provides people with the opportunity to see inside for an extended period.  Back in 2010, the Biennial held a press preview at the Oratory showcasing transcendent Laura Belem’s The Temple of a Thousand Bells, in which what must have been that many small, glass objects were hung from the ceiling whilst a story was told to us.  That wasn't first visit.  My first visit was part of the Art Collections project and you can find a detailed review of the statuary and the building's history on this very blog.

Although there's work from other artists around the edges of the interior of the kind which is threaded through all of the many venues, the key focus is on a giant flat screen television presenting Lawrence Abu Hamdan's Rubber Coated Steel, in which the artist (who we previously encountered in Derby Square) utilises the mechanism of a gun range to illustrate a subtitled but not heard transcript of a trial in which he successfully proved that two Palestinian boys were shot by real bullets rather than rubber rounds.  As the visual evidence is presented to the court demonstrating the difference in sound between the two, they're brought forward on the clips usually filled with the targetable torso or else video footage.

The Biennial booklet suggests "it's a work about aesthetics, politics and the potential violence inherent in both noise and silence", which, I'd suggest, includes the inherent biases we have in interpreting both we see and more importantly hear.  If we're conditioned to assume we're hearing a rubber bullet then that's what we'll hear.  If it's a live round, then that instead.  Those in the court admit that they can't tell the difference and without the sound wave patterns Hamdan submit, it wouldn't otherwise be clear at all.  It's an enthralling piece which demands our patience, because we can only see the words of the court transcript and so we're constantly having to dart our eyes between what's being "said" and what's being "shown".

Not that I thought this first time around.  As is often the case with video art, I can in the middle and didn't have an understand on the context.  Plus three security guards were being shown around the building by a fourth and at the vital moment when the artist's own voice emerges from the speakers to provide some necessary context, the guard decided to raise his voice so he could be heard over the sound of the artwork.  All of which distraction led me to feeling a certain tedium as the legalise played out.  Like many of the Biennial presentations, there's a clear narrative which simply doesn't work if you enter in the middle.  But after deciding to watch the whole piece again from the beginning, I managed to grasp what was being presented and was mesmerised.

Next Destination:
Granby Workshop

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Exchange Flags.


"Gracious. During all my travels, I don't think I've ever come across this. Magical. Isn't it extraordinary? I say, are you there Chesterton? Chesterton. What are you doing, dear boy? Fiddling and gaping over there. Come over here and learn something."
-- The Doctor, "The Web Planet"
Art The TARDIS lands near an unusual artifact, a wooden structure covered in clay which resembles the back end of a Zarbi burrowing in the block paving.  As you can see from his tumblr, the artist Sahej Rahel, creates artifacts and objects influenced by science fiction and fantasy as though they've then subsequently become lost for thousands of years and become fossilised.  There are tables filled with items at Cains Brewery in this vein, set out like the results of some archaeological dig and in Exchange Flags here's what could be the uncovering of the remnants of some Pompeii level disaster.

Next Destination:
The Oratory. 

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Everton Park.



Art As well as the territory of this year's Biennial, the accompanying booklet also highlights "annual commissions", artworks created by the Biennial as part of their community outreach. Koo Jeong A's Evertro is a key of example of the approach, a fully functional "wheels" park just on the edge of Everton's lung for the use of local people which also fits within the artist's usual interests and processes.

Finding the wheels park was surprisingly easy, a 19 bus to a stop outside Everton Park, a walk to the concrete pathway which presents on the most picturesque views of the city, followed by asking for directions from some overalled gentlemen in a white van directing me to wander down the hill towards St Anne's Street.  Afterwards, it was easier to continue walking on into town than back up to the bus stop.  And cheaper.

Typically, I visited the sculpture at its least presentable moment, what with its key asset being an ability to glow in the dark and finding myself standing on the edge in the early afternoon.  But it still feels like a more developed, thought through design than you might expect from a skate park, with definite curves and triangles and death defying dips in the middle.  Walking the park and stepping between the shapes I pondered how dangerous it must be,

The only visitors were two boys on bicycles, just at the moment when I was trying to take some photographs of the site.  They'd not seen this public information film.  Luckily I have.

"Hey, mate, are you playing Pokemon?" they shouted.
"No."  I replied abruptly.
"Do you play Pokemon?"
"No."
"What are you doin'?"
"Taking photographs."

At which point I gathered my things and ushered myself away as quickly as possible.

Next Destination:
Exchange Flags.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Derby Square.


"Doctor Who is required! Bring him here!"
-- WOTAN, "The War Machines"
Art What to photograph in Derby Square? With the TARDIS landed, do I turn my camera to the Victoria statue or the Law Courts? The description in the Biennial booklet mentions the latter directly, so here they are looking like part of the landscape from an off-Earth Pertwee story.  Which is quite apt because Lawrence Abu Hamdan's Hummingbird Clock, three sets of white tourist binoculars resembling CCTV cameras trained on the Town Hall and its clock, with their buzzing electrical current could be part of a UNIT viewing and listening post quite rightly out in the open for everyone to see.

The visual joke is obviously a take on "who watches the watchers" with the Town Hall notionally being the centre of government in the city, although it's the police control room which has the power to view citizens as they go about their business.  Two views are fixed on the clock and the Minerva statue on the roof.  The other can be shifted left and right although at such angle that all it can glimpse are the edges of tree branches and nondescript chunks of building.  The only distinct image viewable is also the clock.

The Humming Bird Clock refers to what the Biennial booklet says is "a new kind of public time piece that exists physically and online" (online here in fact) (fair warning that website contains strong humming from the start).  As the text on the object explains the National Grid gives off an almost silent humming the disruptions in which have been used by security services to check if a recording has been altered by matching the time and place with this noise.  Hamdan's piece online and on the street is an attempt to create a sort of public domain version.

Like the Mariana Castillo Deball's To-day 9th July 2016, this contribution to the Monuments from the Future episode is interactive and as I sat pondering where to be put my camera, I noticed a huge number of people, children and adults looking through the viewfinder, reading the text, perhaps wondering what the digital read out on the front meant.  There's already some graffiti, someone's been at it with a pink marker writing slogans, initials.  But this is a very bold place to put a piece of public art at one of the nexus points in the city

The objects are also giving out hum, but mixed with the usual bustle of the city, buses and chatter, the lunch eaters sat on the benches nearby didn't seem unduly irritated.  In the evening silence, especially after midnight, the effect must be stranger, more ominous.  Rather like the surveillance we know is taking place surrounding our lives, it's easy to block out its existence, forget like the noise in daytime.  It's only when that surveillance makes itself known, through some news item breaking the silence do we appreciate how far its encroached on our lives.

Before leaving, I attempted to recreate the shot in the booklet of the Town Hall clock.  Remarkably. by holding my iPod's lense up to the viewfinder on the binoculars and setting it at the correct angle, I was able to see the image on the generic fruit based mp3 player's screen in all three instances.  Indeed the resulting photographs are crisper than what I was able to see with my naked eye.  Which either means machines have overtaken humans as the dominant species on the planet, or I need to go and get my eyes tested.

Next Destination:
Everton Park

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Epic Hotel.


"It seems to me there's so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamt of."
-- Vincent Van Gogh, "Vincent and the Doctor"

TV I'm standing outside the Epic Hotel glaring at a sign.

 With no visible way of entering the property, I'm now trying to discover where exactly the Biennial piece might be.

There's a direction on the front of the property to visit Seel Street for access, and yet the map very clearly states that the visitor needs to be on Duke Street.

Just as I'm about to pull away, a smartly dressed woman with long dark hair approaches carrying a Biennial booklet.

Now she's glaring at the sign too.

We agree that we should probably walk to Seel Street and see if we can get any help there.

As we begin to stroll up Duke Street, she decides to stop and photograph some fly posters and graffiti, so I continue but go completely off course, turn back into Wolstenholme Square instead of walking further up Slater Street and turning onto actual Seel Street.

If you're from Liverpool, you'll know this is entirely foolish.

Ironically, it's here that Nation used to be and I would have visited anyway if the fire hadn't led to the Mark Leckey video being moved to the Blade Factory.

Realising my error, I begin stepping backwards up towards Slater Street.

My one off companion for this adventure is coming towards me, so I hold my hands up in a "hold on" gesture.

I begin rifling through the Biennial booklet looking for the office's telephone number.

My companion waits nearby fiddling with her phone as I'm connected to the office.

After one voice I'm passed to another, who at first doesn't seem to know which piece I'm talking about.

So I turn to the relevant page in the Biennial booklet and begin reading.

See if you can spot the moment when the penny drops.

"Lu Pingyuan has written a series of stories that can be encountered across episodes, and in the Biennial’s book. One describes a two-sided lake that a diver uses to swim between continents, and another tells the tale of little Kiki whose origami figure comes to life as a disgruntled artist. A third, which can be seen painted on the side of the Epic Hotel ..."

There is more text but I didn't need it.

Thanks, I say, so that's what it is.

I tell my companion.

She says as I did, "Oh that!"

So we walk back down into the Wolstenholme Square, stopping for more photographs, this time of Jorge Pardo's Penelope sculpture, originally created for the 2006 Biennial, then cutting through a car park and back on to Duke Street.

There it is on the side of the building, this Lu Pingyan piece which describes some business about Vincent Van Gogh and cloning.

The Biennial website has a photograph with a tree obscuring some of the text so you'll have to visit if you want to read the rest of it.

We'd both noticed it on the way down to the hotel but thought it was some form of derelict advertising which can often be seen on old buildings so didn't pay it any mind.

With a tree obscuring some of the text we crossed the road so we could read the rest of it.

After that my companion offers some thanks for my help.

"I don't think I was much help" I tell her, before offering directions up to FACT.

Luckily she has the map in the Biennial booklet so doesn't have to rely on my directions.

Sometimes I wish I read the Biennial booklet before seeing a piece.

But I like surprises.

After taking the above illustrative photo in the kitchen catering supply shop opposite, I'm off to my ...

Next Destination:
Derby Square