The Films I've Watched This Year #32

Film It's a long story which involves a lot of this:

Details soon.

La stratégie de la poussette
From Paris With Love
The Brothers Bloom

The Stroller Plan/Strategy (the anglaise title depends on where you are in the world) is a pretty typical example of why I've decided to watch all of this French cinema.  The tendency with national cinemas that are not your own is just to see the award winning material distributed by boutique labels or studios whereas to properly understand the structure of a national cinema you really need to see everything and that includes the pretty generic, mainstream romcoms.  In The Stroller Plan, a freelance artist attempts to win back his girlfriend who split with him because he didn't want to have children with her by pretending to be the father of a baby who's tumbled into his hands after a neighbour has an accident.  She happens to own a nursery having given up her job as a pediatrician and hilarity ensues.

Actually no it doesn't.  I laughed once, not that I can remember why .  It's a series rote comic situations that much better writers and comedians could probably make something of, a French studio reaction to Apatow by producing a movie length sub-plot from What To Expect When You're Expecting which is less vulgar than both.  The leads are all perfectly fine but they're given nothing to work with.  All of which said, it's still fascinating to see all of this playing out against historic architecture rather than the modernist steel and concrete of US films (unless they're brown stoning) and the credit sequence is really nice idea as the many floors up to their apartment each illustrate part of their initial relationship from the couple's first drunken night together after a party through to the break-up when they reach the top.

Six years after District 13, and two years after Taken ("I will find you..."), here's From Paris With Love another of Luc Besson's action productions which all pretty much have the same story of a mismatched couple destroying half of France through cars and heavy weaponry in order to do a thing.  Unlike Taken which was more akin the US-style in narrative and characterisation terms, this strings together a series of barely replated set pieces (something to do with a counter terrorism operation related to drug lords) (I think?) (it's a bit like Quantum of Solace in that it seems as though there's a whole scene's worth of exposition that's gone missing in the middle) and gives Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Travolta characters which barely stretch beyond their wardrobes.

Mostly it's the kind of this liked by the kinds of people who like this kind of thing.  In comparison to District 13 it feels a bit restrained and dirgy like John Woo's US films, as though a director is reigning in their abilities either due to time or needs of the mainstream marketplace.  The action sequences are nowhere near as balletic and impressive as District 13 or indeed any of the Besson related material in production in the late 90s to early 00s.  Much of the time it's nearly impossible to understand the structure of some sequences, just sets filled with squibs and bullet holes.  There's also a really depressing running gag about Travolta referencing past film glories that just seeks to remind us how good he was during his revival and how far he's fallen since.

Planet of the Spiders.

Music Video evidence that Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan are back together recording. Or at least they're together and afraid of spiders:

The Films I've Watched This Year #31

Film Surprisingly bijou list below considering there wasn't haven't been spending hours watching athletes and achievements (however tempting that was after seeing the Nanjing Youth Olympics opening ceremony. Instead this week was filled with going on Tuesday night with friends, watching the television version of The Girl Who Played With Fire and two documentary series, Andrew Graham Dixon's Art of China and David Olusoga's The World's War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire which as the deleted scenes which turned up during the Commonwealth Remembrance coverage indicated shows that even in relation to the so-called Great War, our general understanding of who fought who over what and who died is astonishingly simplistic.  For years I used to watch a documentary first thing in the morning.  Not sure why I stopped.  Begun again now.  Oh and Doctor Who.

Short Term 12
The Kings of Summer
Chronique d'un été
À bout portant
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Banlieue 13

You will have noticed the appearance of French in this week's list.  In the middle of the muddle of trying to decided what to watch but wanting to have some continuity to what I'm watching, I realised that since I actually do quite like watching French film and films set in France, I should watch some French film and films set in France.  So I've decided to work through all of the French cinema available on Netflix and Amazon Prime and assigned one of my Lovefilm by-post disc allocations to a massive unruly list of everything available as a kind of serendipity engine as well as adding in the material I haven't seen made by other countries but set there.  It's entirely unmetered and I've avoided reviews.  I want to be surprised and lose myself in another nation's cinema and this seems like the way to do it.

A bout portant, English title Point Blank, is a tight actioner (only 80 mins) about a trainee nurse whose wife is kidnapped by hoodlums and finds himself on the run for a crime he didn't commit.  The crime itself is a major shock so I won't spoil it because this is well worth tracking down.  As the set-up suggests director Fred Cavaye has in mind to offer Hitchcockian twists for the 24 generation and it works, partly because lead actor Gilles Lellouche has the perfect face for romantic comedy but compellingly finds himself dealing with murderous gangsters and police officers.  It's a bit like casting Adam Sandler in a Tony Scott actioner.  Expect this to gain an extra half hour when it's remade in Hollywood which it undoubtedly will be.  Starring Mark Wahlberg.

Throughout District 13, I was distracted by just how much it seemed to be a French remake of a US film featuring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel sans cars and sure enough the film has actually been remade in the US with Paul Walker, the final film he was working before the tragedy.  Having seen neither Escape from New York or Ong Bak, I can't comment in its similarity to those.  It's a very functional film in narrative terms, essentially three long set pieces but it's quite aware of this and happy to simply offer some spectacular parkour stunts amid some one dimensional social commentary, the majority of it created without the aid of CGI or wires which in retrospect makes it something of a successor to the old silent slapstick, to Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, but with more frequent cutting.

The advertising for Short Term 12 is a bit misleading.  My impression, admittedly based on the poster and Kermode's review was of an unremittingly grim investigation into the US care system full of heartbreak, pain and not much in the way of levity, one of those Ken Loach or Mike Leigh pieces which essentially reminds us that our society remains broken.  It is full of heartbreak and pain, but it's also incredibly warm, funny, has depthful characters you can really become attached to and utterly lacks the slightly (slightly?) judgmental tone which can marr my appreciation of both Loach and Leigh, presumably because writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton has worked in this very system and has an insider's appreciation that isn't just a enunciation of class.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is an enunciation of class and a great deal more.  Felicity Jones is back in period as a young woman who realises she's about to marry the wrong man but is held back from what she really desires by social convention and the needs of her family.  Based on a novel published by the Woolfs in 1932 and the only really prominent work by its author Julia Strachey, as filmed it's essentially a Poirot mystery without a body and the ensuring Belgian detective (an impression underscored by an appearance by Agatha herself, Fenella Woolgar) (it's a Unicorn and the Wasp reunion).  There are secrets and conspiracies, hearts are broken but no one dies.  There's a notable use of colour timing changing the hues of the image to denote the flashback sequences which I've not seen before too.

The Kings of Summer was released last year when I was in the midst of my hernia horror and so I decided to save it for the following Summer, planning to watch it on a nice warm day.  It rained.  But it didn't matter because I'd entire misjudged the content which is essentially Stand By Me without a body and not The Inbetweeners US (which is a function of me sometimes ignoring everything about a film bar the poster).  It rains in the film too, the dreamlike montage sequences seem to flashforward and suggest how these boys who build a house and emancipate will memorialise this summer, the details which will offer a nostalgic glow when they chained to a desk in an office or teaching kids the ages they were, themselves ready to go out and manufacture similar memories.

One of my guilty pleasures is the Teenagers React To series in which The Fine Bros introduce a piece of 80s or 90s technology or ephemera to people born in the following decade and film the results.  Some of the kids offer quite wise assessments usually in the order of knowing that when the Gameboy was first released it was cutting edge and their predecessors would have found them just as exciting as tablet computers are now. Inevitably:

Rewatching Scream this week, which is now eighteen years old, for the first time in over ten of them, through this lense, is like glimpsing an alien world.  Randy works in a video shop in a pre-dvd era and Tatum has to visit to bring a film for her and Sidney to watch.  The sheriff questions the fact that Billy Loomis has a cell phone (which must make teens now guffaw) and it takes them a day to request the records.  Plus these teenagers wouldn't phone in their threats so no scary voice.  The whole thing would be conducted over snapchat or some such and victims could simply block them.  Sidney does her homework on a DOS based programme which looks like some early version of WordPerfect.  Oh and nothing about the film would work in a world with a proliferation of CCTV cameras.  Other than that it hasn't dated at all.

Deep Breath.

TV Evening. Well then yes, ok, there wasn’t a possible scenario in which I wouldn’t write about Doctor Who on Doctor Who night, especially after Keith said such nice things in the comments. There was a moment when I thought, you know what, they can do without me, I want Doctor Who to be just about Doctor Who and not about spending the following two hours writing about it before bedtime and the fixing process during the wait for the ratings in the morning. Why can’t I just make a few weak jokes on Twitter, tut at Gallifrey Base for two minutes then go off and wait for it to appear on the iPlayer so I can watch it again in HD, my television still being one the ones which says it's HD until you try to watch Freeview and the true horror of the deception is revealed. Yet, it’s Saturday night and here I am typing along to Adele’s Daydreamer.  Again? Why? Why?

Well, because, frankly, there’s so much to write about. Even after nine years of being back on television, Doctor Who, the entity, the programme, the worldwide broadcasting phenomena, the franchise of franchises, still has the capacity, well the capacity to be old and new, borrowed and blue (actually with as slightly sepia hew but we’ll cover that in the relevant paragraph). It would have been very easy to simply continue the style and substance into the next Doctor’s reign, for the “Moffat era” to have a cohesive sheen ready for cultural theorists to pick over when the next person, sorry Mark Gatiss takes over, but like JNT when Andrew (one l) Cartmel took charge, or earlier under Graham Williams when Douglas Adams handed on to Anthony Root, the tone has changed.  It’s a different programme.  Except thanks to the differing mechanics of how television work now, it’s the same writer.

There’s a new executive producer of course.  But due to the differing balance of power now, this whole shift was Moffat’s choice. He’s been a bit cautious in the run up to publication/projection about exactly how he views the change other than to say it was important to refresh things, and all we've really heard otherwise from both opening director Ben Wheatley (that’s A Field In England's Ben Wheatley) (for goodness sake) and Jenna, was about a darker tone, the scenes being longer, being more like the classic series which seems like a decent structure for the next few paragraphs. There’s just a general sense, despite the presence of the Paternoster Gang and a familiar adversary from the past, of everything being in the air, of the last vestiges of what we might expect from nuWho becoming something which isn’t really, is something else. There’s a political analogy here somewhere, probably, but it escapes me in a way that it doesn’t.

Darkness is an interesting word. How is the show darker? Clara’s literally breathless escape attempt isn’t that different an action beat to Amy pretending she has her eyes closed in the forest even if the former lacks the Doctor’s comforting voice to guide her. Is it that we genuinely didn’t think for a moment that the Doctor wouldn’t return to save Clara? Is it that for a second we thought he’d done something unmentionable to the homeless person to gain his clothes? That he called him a tramp? That he was capable of piking the clockwork man? Notice that we didn’t see a human spontaneously combust, just the dinosaur. Is it that lots of the scenes are visibly lit darker? The new creamier hue to the photography over the previous blues and greens? I’m not sure that it’s much “darker” in terms of story than previously in the likes of The Waters of Mars. We’ll return to this I expect. At this point I’m not sure.  I'll get back to you.

Yes, the scenes are longer, and how. Whole scenes full of dialogue, characters talking that go on for minute upon minute without cutting away to something else. Which isn’t to say that in previous post-2005 years there haven’t been long scenes, and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit springs to mind in this regard, yet here the scenes often play out in oners, on steadycams like some John Wells production or indeed the camera simply abides, with the action playing out within frame. That creates a new sense of unease as we expect a cut away to some other piece of business and yet there’s Clara going and having a look out of the window.  We’re not already in the drawing room with Vastra and Jenny. This post-credits scene is six minutes long. Clara’s confrontation with Vastra’s another four minutes. Clara’s initial meeting with the Doctor in Mancini’s is ten minutes before the lift starts.

Lord knows how this will work in a much shorter run time and there’s the potential that along with the simplistic overall story, it’s simply a function of Deep Breath’s duration (finally mentioned the title) and introducing Peter Capaldi (and the new lead actor) nevertheless there’s a genuine sense of taking mid-twentyteens sensibilities and reintegrating the pacing of the classic series circa the 70s and early 80s.  Even to the point that you can guess which bits might have been shot in the studio and which on film even though its all shot on HD.  Even to the point that you wonder if some of those interior shots which are supposed to be exterior are purposefully looking like interior shots which are supposed to be exterior (because they do) (the beach). I’m almost amazed they bothered to create a CG T-Rex and didn’t simply buy a Walking With Dinosaurs action model from Amazon and push it into frame.

Except the tonal shift runs deeper. After previous regenerations we've been slap bang into a story set "now" (or "year from now"), partly because it was to RTD’s taste and expectation of the need for audience recognition and then Moffat aping such as a way of settling the audience into what was his new house-style then. Yet, here we are again in Victorian London, a place which in the past couple of years has the same claim to being the show’s “contemporary” setting as well, a contemporary setting. This isn’t quite like the shift from Pertwee to Baker.  The Fourth Doctor was annoyed whenever the Brigadier dragged him back to Earth. It’s a shift in how the Moffat somewhat trusts the audience to keep with the show (more later) even when the setting doesn’t reflect their world, presumably because at this point the pretence that Earth-5556 has anything to do with the real world is unforeseeable.

But like The Eleventh Hour, he’s careful to provide enough points of familiarity, not least Vastra, Jenny and Strax being brilliant (and complaining about their screen time is like moaning about the Brigadier and Harry being in Robot a lot). Clara’s vital in this too, since as the other main tributary of continuity, she’s now shifted from being plot point in search of a character to fully fledged companion and viewpoint figure for the audience saying all the things we might potentially say about the new Doctor, perhaps voicing many of the comments that greeted Capaldi’s announcement in comment sections across the web. You could view that whole scene as Vastra telling such people to behave themselves and hold in their ageist prejudices. To an extent, that’s the bad cop approach, essentially saying “He’s the Doctor whether you like it or not…” and people will react to that the way that people will react to things.

Having always been a fan of Jenna Coleman, but understanding people’s resistance to her because of her status within the arc of the bottom eight last year, I was unsurprised by her luminance in Deep Breath. Having been hired because of her chemistry with one leading man, she’s continued that, albeit in a different way, with another and yes, I’m going to say it, in much the same way as Lis Sladen back in the day. Unlike Sarah-Jane however, this is arguably the same Clara. It’s simply, as we’ve discussed, she has tons more dialogue and character beats which aren’t about plot so much as giving her some extra dimensions. One oddity is her not apparently knowing who Amy is, or indeed the notion of regeneration which is which is at variance with what we saw in The Name of the Doctor, Clara and the TARDIS and The Ultimate Guide. Hmm….

The good cop approach is Matt Smith storming re-emergence at the end. This had been spoiled months ago by someone eavesdropping on set that day, but they’d surmised it was some message, yet instead here he was, the previous model interloping on his successors introduction. When was this shot? During the Time of the Doctor with Jenna filming the other side of the scene months later?  Pixley only know but if so, it’s seamless and again, a new approach to an old problem but a problem which has changed slightly also thanks to the reason why the show went on the transcontinental publicity tour. Matt Smith helped break the show across the world and to some extent it is for that audience to reassure them that this is the same character with a different face. It’s also for kids for whom he was their first Doctor to reassure them of the same thing, in a different way.

You could ask why this is necessary - Tom’s Doctor didn’t phone Peter’s companions to reassure them ("Hello, Adric? Is that you? Could you put Nyssa on, I want to have a chat about the new chap.") but like I said Matt Smith is, or rather was as much a part of the brand as the TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers and although the show has always sold internationally it was nothing like this. Even the New York Times today ran a Capaldi interview and I haven’t seen Twitter speaking with one voice to quite this degree outside of proper news stories since the 50th. More than ever this is a managed transition and if those closing moments resemble anything, it's a US presidential inauguration albeit with a time and space machine being handed over rather than a country, and a single fictional constituent who didn’t vote for change to be convinced that it’ll be ok.

Having just rewatched that scene back it’s notable just how well directed and edited it is. When Twelfth asks Clara to look at him, his eyebrows and the rest of his face fill the frame but when we cut back to Jenna it’s from a side on view, then back to Capaldi’s face and it’s like we’re viewing him together and I bet there were a few of us who did finally accept him as the Doctor in the moment when she finally hugged him (though given the complex cleverness of his performance I expect it was much earlier than that). In an episode which if Extradential is anything to go by was shot in continuity, we can see the actor learning to play the character on screen as the character discovers himself and in those moments it is as though the performance reaches a nexus point (having toured a fair few Baker and Tennant-like moments along the way). He is the Doctor and I like it a lot.

Which would be the perfect conclusion to this thing I wasn’t going to write especially since it’s gone midnight, but what to make of the ending after the ending? Having said that the story arcs would be on the low-low this year here’s Michelle Gomez dressed as Eliza Doolittle and claiming to be the Doctor’s girlfriend Missy (“I mean Mom.”) (no scratch that, wrong telephone box) in what looks like the garden simulation from The Girl Who Waited. It seems like a classic misdirect from Moffat to cause to us moan about the adherence of the repeated Melody-Lem but if she is the one who's helping to keep these two together, whatever could her motive be? All will be hopefully be revealed in time for the 51st anniversary, give or take a couple of weeks. Has the Doctor given up on his quest for Gallifrey or will she turn out to be the vital clue that leads to its resurrection?

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0: Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen).

Written by Mary Schmich
[from the single: 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)', EMI, 2000]

Five pieces of music which make me cry:

(1) ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ – The Spinners
(2) ‘Moonlight Sonata’
(3) ‘Abide with me’
(4) ‘Dignity’ – Deacon Blue
(5) ‘The Sunscreen Song’


Five more pieces of music which make me cry.

(6) 'The JCB Song' - Nizpoli
(7) 'This is Heaven To Me' - Madeline Peyroux
(8) 'Closing of the Year' - Wendy and Lisa
(9) 'Claire De Lune'
(10) 'Into The West' - Annie Lennox]

Free Shakira.

Music Musical artists having their music given away free has a range of implications, so it was with a deep breath and heavy sigh when I was notified because I'm on her publicity mailing list that Shakira's new album is being given away free to people who download her iphone app.

But I still quite like Shakira (having been there since just on the cusp of Laundry Surface) but had entirely forgotten to buy the album. Now a mobile phone company has paid for a copy for me. Which is fine.

You can have a free copy too if you download the app and follow the instructions. They do ask you to fork over your email address and mobile number so I suppose it also depends on how squeemish you are about that sort of thing.

The track Empire has the lyric"And stars make love to the universe ..." if that helps.  Rihanna's on one of the other tracks too.

"Where's Earth-1?"

TV While I continue to ponder what I'll be doing after Doctor Who on Saturday night, here's what's happening in some other mythology trying to tie-down the rules of how their universe works as though that's a good thing and won't end up handcuffing or more accurately straight-jacketing creatives and fans for the next few decades. Some notes:

(1) The best thing about the video is the presenter's t-shirt. That is a very cool t-shirt.

(2) Where's Earth-1? Is that the pre-52 Earth? Why's it not on the map? Or is the whole Flashpoint thing supposed have changed the whole of the multiverse?

(3) In this context, presumably "Earth" means "Universe"? In which case what about Krypton?

(4) So Hades is also the phantom zone and it exists outside of normal space. Does that mean all of the various Kryptons in all of these universes send their criminals there? Can these criminals meet each other and interact? Isn't there some duplication? What about the good people sent their by the Justice League of super-villains?

(5) I like all of the maneuvering in trying to crowbar in all of the monotheistic and polytheistic religions, though its notable that its essentially "heaven" and "miscellaneous land".

(6) I do like the classical philosophical vibe.

(7) How does this fit in with the Omniverse?

(8) Haven't DC readers suffered enough?

"an utterly beautiful expression of human achievement"

Dance Find above the opening ceremony for the current Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing which I watched this afternoon, and, frankly, it's awesome. Empty theatrics in comparison the London 2012 achievements, but still an utterly beautiful expression of human achievement. The first hour is essentially the admin, flag parade and speeches and you can skip that if you like, but shift to minute 1:08 and prepare to gape. If the dance version of Andrew Graham Dixon's Art of China doesn't do it for you, the chunk after that really should.  Wow.  Oh and watch on a big screen if you can, yes definitely.

Confidential Extra.

TV You will have read about this everywhere else already but in an unexpected or not unexpected move, the BBC, or more specifically the iPlayer which has quickly turned itself into a new television channel via the back door (and the line leading BT Wholesales junction box) have announced they're resurrecting Doctor Who Confidential Cutdowns, sorry Doctor Who Extra:
"The BBC has today announced Doctor Who Extra - a brand new series, exclusively on BBC iPlayer. Doctor Who Extra is much more than a ‘making of’ show as we follow Peter Capaldi every step of the way throughout the creation of his first season as the Doctor. Over the course of 12 programmes we trace the highs and lows of Doctor Who’s most ambitious run of episodes yet, getting the inside take on series 8 from the people who made it."
Or the "lows" as far as we can tell you now because let's face it you'll have to wait another twenty years when everyone's left the programme and the extra features on the super enhanced version of the show on whatever medium its delivered on for the real dirt about fallings out and actors being grumpy on set (but not too much because we've all still got to meet each other in Big Finish's green room) (in the unlikely event they have the license for nuWho by then).

Of course the real question now is whether I'll watch this before I write each review, assuming I am going to review the next series.  I still haven't decided.  Sometimes I quite enjoyed myself post episode knocking together an opinion.  But sometimes it was a real trial and part of me wants to be simply be able to watch them to watch them, rather than having the need for an opinion knocking around at the back of my mind right the way through.

"everything is just about Doctor Who"

Books More proof, as if you needed it, that everything is just about Doctor Who. Not having read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, I didn't have any idea that there was a character called Jamie. On the occasion of the tv adaptation beginning transmission and Fraser Hines being cast, Doctor Who News has highlighted this post on the author's website about what inspired her to write the series:
"I rarely watch TV, but at the time I was in the habit of viewing weekly PBS reruns of Doctor Who (a British science-fiction serial), because it gave me just enough time to do my nails. So, while pondering the setting for my hypothetical historical novel, I happened to see one very old episode of Doctor Who featuring a "companion" of the Doctor's-a young Scottish lad named Jamie MacCrimmon, whom the Doctor had picked up in 1745. This character wore a kilt, which I thought rather fetching, and demonstrated-in this particular episode-a form of pigheaded male gallantry that I've always found endearing: the strong urge on the part of a man to protect a woman, even though he may realize that she's plainly capable of looking after herself.

"I was sitting in church the next day, thinking idly about this particular show (no, oddly enough, I don't remember what the sermon was about that day), when I said suddenly to myself, Well, heck. You want to write a book, you need a historical period, and it doesn't matter where or when. The important thing is just to start, somewhere. Okay. Fine. Scotland, eighteenth century."
The character's full name is Jamie Fraser, but she says he didn't know what the actor's name was until ages after she named him because the episode's credits were missing.  Now, that is weird.  Three sleeps.

"and Steven Moffat"

TV In an surprising move, the BBC's official Doctor Who site has released this complete episode guide to the new series. Previously fragmentary lists have appeared in Radio Times, and it might well me that something similar will be published tomorrow which is why this is up tonight so that people who don't want to fork out their £1.60 don't feel like there's content out there they won't be privy to (even though it's being copied and pasted elsewhere as we speak) (seriously, it's already up on the Wikipedia). Either way, it makes for intriguing reading.

For one thing it means that none of these titles offer spoilers of the magnitude of "Bad Wolf" or "The Wedding of River Song" a couple of notoriously omitted titles of the past. Part of me wished I'd not seen any of them but boy if a couple don't make me giggle. I'll not actually say which ones just in case you want to keep entirely spoiler free.

I think I'm safe highlighting that three of the episodes directed by women which is all to the good. I would have been even happier if some of them were actually written by women, for goodness sake, but it seems Helen Raynor remains unique, at least in nuWho terms, in that regard.

The other headline of sorts is the number of writing credits Steven Moffat has.  In previous seasons he's written about five or six episodes himself - and if you count Deep Breath as two (which most people seem to be on the strength of its duration) then this year it's five.

But he also has a number of co-writing credits, on Phil Ford, Gareth Roberts and Steven Thompson's episodes.

As anyone who's read The Writer's Tale will know, Russell T Davies extensively rewrote other writers, even Mark Gatiss.  Some of them come across as near page one rejigs, knocked out at 3pm amid emails to Ben Cook.  But only rarely did he take a credit for himself; in my memory its only the 2009 specials were that was the case.

So what's the jig here.  Did he present an outline which they completed or did he redo their material and take a credit because its as much is voice as theirs?  What was the division of labour here?  It doesn't matter that much, especially if the episodes turn out ok, and we don't know who really wrote what in the last few years anyway, it's just interesting to see Moffat's name as well as theirs and with authors who have previously worked on the show, not with newbies.

Five sleeps, everyone, five sleeps, then deep breath and ...

Amnesty Local.

Politics The one occasion I gave in to a chugger was outside the old Blockbuster Video on Allerton Road. It was a rainy day, I was in a fresh, romantic mood and she was working on behalf of Amnesty International and needed to do the bare minimum to convince me to hand over my debit card details. I'm not sure what good my £5 does each month but I always like to keep an eye on what Amnesty is doing.

Now they're in Ferguson, Missouri. The situation in Ferguson, Missouri is now such that Amnesty International observers have moved in. From Buzzfeed:
"Jasmine Heiss, a senior campaigner with Amnesty who is a part of the team in Ferguson, said the use of the “cross-functional team” — which she said included community trainers, researchers, and human rights observers — was “unprecedented” within the United States for the group."

Rumour Has It.

Music As well as watching the extraordinary performance of the Team GB athletics people at the European championships this afternoon, I was having one my regular clear-outs of Twitter people, the followed, because having reached the two thousand limit I can't really justify keeping an eye on anyone who's only tweeted a couple of dozen times or once a month.

Manageflitter was a pretty decent aid in this, with its many sorting option helping to ferret out feeds that I'd followed after having met a person at a thing five years ago but who hadn't tweeted since or who'd been part of someone ongoing news story the context of which I'd forgotten.  Managed to lose a good hundred and fifty, though I with I could just follow more than two thousand people.  That would be easier.

In the midst of all this I was reminded I was following Adele (official), whom it ranks as "inactive" and "quiet" but who in a rare moment tweeted the following news which I'd entirely missed and has been widely interpreted as the singer suggesting a new album is imminent:

Doctor Who's back on Saturday and as you might know I usually review whilst listening to Adele's first two albums. Lately, I've been straying and had the Haim album on in the background because my familiarity with 19 & 21 and meant they'd lost their creative potency.  But there's only one of that and the utility of the Adele albums is that I know that I can usually write a whole review within their duration and if I'm still writing in the middle of Someone Like You, I've gone on too long.  25 could be just the thing.

The Films I've Watched This Year #30

Film Heavily abbreviated list this week (and a bit back catalogue at that) because I've been catching up on Veronica Mars, The Honorable Woman (which is storming towards a pretty marvellous conclusion), Extant (which frustrates beyond measure) and the European Athletics Championship which is a potent enough drop of methadone after coming down from the Commonwealth Games. The clear highlight's been the mascot, Cooly, far more visible on screen than usual, and the commentators reaction to his existence. Their befuddlement at his or her sheer energy and athletics skills clearly has them wondering just who is behind the mask, though after this monumental bit of hurdling the other day, they probably know full well.

It Rains On Our Love
Bright Young Things
John Dies At The End
The 6th Day

Some people don't like Bright Young Things.  The machinations of "society" people are an acquired taste.  Bbut I think Stephen Fry works hard to magnify the satire in Waugh's book (not that I've read Vile Bodies) but also to make the characters sympathetic enough that we understand that there was just as much human wreckage at the top of the society as to the bottom, especially at this nexus point in history between the two wars when many such families lost everything.  I was interested to hear on the commentary that Waugh set his book in the future ending it in a world war.  So many other narratives seem to suggest it wasn't inevitable, that we had seen the war to end all wars.

The other reason to watch, especially if you're of a certain disposition, is that it's simply easier to list the people who haven't been in Doctor Who.  Tennant's in there of course and Fenella Woolgar plays a character called Agatha for goodness sake.  At a certain point in this rewatch I joked that Mark Gatiss would probably wander through, not suspecting for a minute that he'd actually turn up about ten minutes later.  It was the screen debut Stephen Campbell Moore and he's remarkable and if we had a proper film industry would have gone on to bright young things himself.  Unfortunately for him Toby Stephens exists in the world and probably snaffled what could have been some his perfect roles.

John Dies At The End is fine, but you can see that something as mega as Guardians is just at the edges if only the filmmakers had been working with a massive budget rather than the coppers which led to whole sequences being played out against green screen and cgi settings less convincing than early period Wing Commander or Red Alert cut scenes.  Bits of it are fabulous, and there are dozens of interesting ideas and some funny jokes not least in relation to Paul Giamatti but there's an incoherence which doesn't quite work in its favour.  Comic films are always less funny when the action is undermotivated or the storyline poorly explained which is odd in this case when you consider how much of it is narrated.

The 6th Day was genuinely simply a round to it; for a while Columbia/TriStar dvds (I think) had the same advertising booklet within and this was about the only film on it I hadn't seen.  It's about what I expected, Arnold thrown into a sci-fi concept (cf, Total Recall) and dealing with the consequences.  Apart from the way it dancing around the fringes of "Religion good!  Science bad!" without quite committing to either, is how back in 2000, there was no concept of a future with tablet computers (despite the preponderance of PADD on Star Trek: The Next Generation) and their lack is strange, especially in the remote control helicopter sequences which seem bizarrely antiquated now.

Jennifer Lawrence's Cinematic Crush.

"I met Bill Murray once and I was like can't even can't get started, I can't talk to you."

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
My So-Called Life.

Composed by W.G. Snuffy Walden
[from: 'My So-Called Life: Original Soundtrack', 1995]

Music  There is something gut wrenching about the cancellation of a favourite television show, especially a drama. Over the period of broadcast the viewer invests a certain emotional interest in the lives of the characters. So when these characters are left in the middle of story arcs or plotlines we are denied something which he rightly expect in real life. Closure. One show in particular was a particular pain.

For some reason I keep coming back to ‘My So-Called Life’. Every year I get the shows out and watch them again. Every year I see new things. I understand more. I'm twenty-eight now. What's going on?

When you're a teenager, and you have those problems, and you know your friends will make fun of you if you tell them, you look to film, music and TV for answers. Living in England, honest to goodness teen shows are pretty thin on the ground. There's 'Byker Grove', 'Grange Hill' and hints of 'HollyOaks' and that's about it. The trouble is that none of them quite has the audacity or time slot to cut to the heart of what its actually like to be a teenager. Most of the time you have to look to US shows like 'Dawson's Creek' or 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer'. But standing above them all was 'My So-Called Life' a television programme that answered all of our questions. When the show was transmitted on our Channel 4 in 1995 it was stupidly popular.

No one had seen anything like this. Suddenly you knew what to do about that older boy or girl you fancy. Or if you have feelings for the girl next door. Or if you weren't sure about your sexuality. Or if someone loved you but you couldn't return their feelings. Or if you got handcuffed to a bed. Your heart was broken by it week after week, but you came back for more because you knew it was doing you good. A free hour of therapy.

Even if you didn't want to admit it, you were one of them. You were Rayanne Graffe, afraid of the world and overcompensating. Sharon Cherski, searching for your own identity beneath the expectations of others. You were Ricki Vasquez unsure who you were but quietly finding an equilibrium. You were Jordan Catalano torn between your friends and something else. You were Brian Krakow, the romantic with so many high expectations of people. You were Danielle Chase, always being kicked out of different rooms. You were Patty Chase fighting to keep your family together. You were Graham Chase fighting to keep yourself together. And you were always Angela, your world falling apart around you, every choice being wrong, every moment a battle, but somehow slowly working it all out.

Then, after nineteen episodes, it was gone. Replaced, I believe, by a rerun of 'Matlock'. The show should never have been cancelled. It wasn't fair goddam it. And not on that cliffhanger. But perhaps it had the right end. The perfect ending. The only ending this show could have had. Making a choice then watching in pain the road not travelled. So like life. So-called Life.

This year we would have had its sixth season. All of the contracts would have been up for renewal. The teenagers would have been twenty something. Characters would have gone, new characters brought in. The writing teams change. But it would not have been the same show.

The show I keep coming back to.

[Commentary:  One of my many, many obituaries this was originally posted to the IMDb on 27 October 2000 where it sat on the front pages for many, many months.  Since the series wasn't released on dvd for at least another two years, the above was written from memory and multiple viewings of the final episode, the only episode I managed to record on original broadcast because I happened to be home from college that week (I think).  We've probably talked enough about this in the blog's history, though there's always something new, like discovering this track by The Ataris which probably sums up how most of us feel about Claire Danes, even now.]

Liverpool Biennial 2014:
John Moores Painting Prize 2014:
The Exhibition.

Art Having studious attempted to ignore seeing much of the exhibition at the press event, today I had the opportunity to see the John Moores Painting Prize exhibition in full and my overall impression is that it’s the best show in some years. In recent times there’s been an overall lack of balance between the abstract and figurative, the former overtaking the latter by quite some margin which hasn’t always been to it’s favour. In 2014, there’s a startling number of people on the walls, walking, working, living, sleeping and although there are works in which the absence of us is the point, often it’s the results of their interference with the landscape which is.

Admittedly the most eye-catching imagine in the largest room is an expression of the very worst of humanity. Reuben Murray’s Sister Is That You? shows us a young woman’s swollen, beaten face, her eye covered haphazardly with bloodied bandages hiding goodness knows what painful horrors beneath. The title indicates that her treatment has been so severe her sibling doesn’t even recognise her. But it’s the scale which creates a confrontation with the viewer, this face at the height of an average person, always in our peripheral vision as we walk around the rest of the room, and no matter what else we might see here, it’s this face we’ll remember.

On the opposite wall, in People 69104, Frank Pudney reduces his people to the size ants and renders them across his canvas like point on a map, in various shades so that collectively, looking at the entire composition, they resemble a topographical map, or is it a cloudy alpine mountain side, or even the detail of a pencil drawing of human anatomy? There’s no accompanying notes, but we have to expect that there are 69,104 tiny people here or close to, a staggering painting achievement in and of itself? What is that statistic? The population of the country? Is this the map of that country? There are other examples at his website.

But these are the extremes. Between we find Robin Dixon’s abstract teenagers beneath Estuary Bridge. We find the naked form of Frank As Androcles, Robert Fawcett’s photorealistic investigation of the mature form. We find Nicholas Middleton’s Black Bloc, in which hooded figures, scarves across their faces prepare for a fight. The void behind them accentuates the deliberate blankness of their identities, “black bloc” being the choice of clothing which makes it near impossible for authorities to prosecute them or is supposed to. Anarchism ironically utilises conformity for its own ends.

There’s also a void in the painting I chose for the people’s vote, Charlotte Hopkins Hall’s A Private Space. A women in a purple checked blouse is side on to us, her face obscured by shoulder length straight blonde hair. Like the anarchists she’s lost her identity but on this occasion we’re not sure why. Is the blouse a uniform, is this some shop worker on her break trying to find some space to herself, the void her attempt to block out the outside world or some far simpler reason? What’s striking is the fine detail of the painting, each individual strand of hair distinct from the others, the squares of her clothing. But not photo-realistic. We’re always aware it’s a painting.

Which isn’t to say it’s my favourite painting. My favourite painting is Juliette Losq’s Vinculum, but that’s already a prizewinner so I decided to send my love elsewhere. The internet tells me that a Vinculum is an overline horizontal line used in mathematical notation, but it’s the English translation which is most resonant in this context, "bond", "fetter", "chain", or "tie". As we look up at this massive watercolour, were looking down some precarious stairs into an overgrown garden covered in weeds and ivy, graffiti and bin bags, perhaps a shared garden at the back of ancient office spaces or shared housing. What of the barred windows?

As with many of the paintings in the exhibition it’s the massive scale which draws the viewer in, as well as the detail, and the mystery. But it’s also the perspective, the sense of looking up and down at the same time, the three-dimensionality. Judging by her website its typical of Losq’s work, to emphasis those spaces created by us but almost relinquished to nature. Her installation work often combines similar images together with furniture-like sculptural pieces almost to remind us that man or woman still retains some control over space, that we can never quite abandon it. Which now I come to think about it could be a theme which underscores most of the paintings here.

The Films I've Watched This Year #29

Film Non-film viewing activity this week largely involved the BBC's superb coverage of the World War I commemorations on Monday, coverage which struck just the right balance between covering an event and providing enough contextual information about why that event exists.  The voice of Eddie Butler for the lights out service late in the evening was an especially good choice, with his deep, resonant, authoritative sound so reminiscent of Robert Hudson or even Dimbleby snr.  About the only criticism I might have is of the moments when the technology failed and we were left looking at a red or green screen, something I haven't seen before in a BBC live broadcast event to quite that extent.  But these things happen.  It was probably the weather.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Labor Day
American Hustle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Under The Skin
Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari
Adventures in Babysitting

Busy week and I almost don't want to spoil it by writing about it.  Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari was covered yesterday.  Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is as exciting as all of these DC animations offering the kind of entertainment that you'd hope the live action film will but know for definite that it won't because for one thing it would require television's the Flash to exist in the big screen universe but the powers have deemed they're not connected so that's that.  Labor Day's a morally suspect, dull as dishwater misstep whose foley artists can't even distinguish the difference between a ripe and unripened peach (the latter do not crunch).  I think you know how much I love The Guardians of the Galaxy already and I can't understand anyone who would look at that thing and say they were bored.  Because, well, bored?  Really?

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit's an efficient, entertaining thriller which doesn't have much to do with any of the previous installments about an analyst called Jack Ryan but proves once again that Chris Pine is at the spearhead of what can be best described as a new vanguard of film stars, even if the production and distribution model as it exists now won't let them "open" films in quite the same way as the old guard.  Of course, if you know Liverpool at all, one of the major action sequences falls apart as you notice the adversaries driving through the Mersey Tunnel, past our town hall, up and down James Street and Victoria Street and crash in front of Mann Island and the Three Graces.  But it's probably fitting that it should return here.  The first shot in The Hunt for Red October is of St George's Hall.

Much as I enjoyed American Hustle, I did, very much, it has a confusion of styles not many of which have much to do with David O Russell, as throughout I had this nagging sensation of seeing someone evoking other directors while submerging his own cinematic interests.  So there's a bit of Scorsese, bit of Woody, bit of Pakula, Soderbergh's in its DNA too along with 70s Pollack.  Perhaps his point is to as well as pay homage to the clothes and music of the time, the filmmaking style too, which is fine, but it can have a similar effect to the Liverpool location shooting of pulling the viewer out of the story.  There's also the nagging sensation of having seen this story before, until you realise that if you were to take the nationality from the title and set it in London in the 00s, you largely have.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a disappointment and I'm actually pleased that I decided to watch the Netflix stream when it became available rather than await the extended cut at the end of the year.  Kristen Thompson has a typically in-depth examination of what went wrong in the added material and the extent to which it ruins the integrity of The Lord of the Rings by retooling various story points and character points so that if you watch the whole lot together its full of pointless repetitions but the main point I'd like to add is just how rote the whole thing feels, the work of a filmmaker trying to make the best of a contractual obligation.  All the middle earth elements are there, glances to the future, the characters and peoples exist but its empty, rather like the disastrous third season of Star Trek under new producer Fred Freiberger.

Having deliberately avoided reading The Hobbit all these years in anticipation of watching a film adaptation without "it's not as good as" syndrome, I didn't know that the material with the elves didn't exist, but it seems that in laying on extra jeopardy, Jackson's fallen into the trap of many blockbuster filmmakers of replacing spectacle for heart and character, or at least forgetting how to integrate the two.  The best moments, the best moments in these Hobbit films are the character scenes, when these peoples simply talk, laugh, fight and fall in love.  In The Lord of the Rings films, Jackson realised that the very fact of us not having seen these characters on screen before, seeing an elf and a dwarf negotiating was as interesting as any action sequence, creating consequence when the battle scenes finally did occur.

But the most damaging is the lack of focus in relation to who the protagonists are.  In The Lord of the Rings, each of the different strands had a very clear point of view character, be it Frodo, Aragorn or Gandalf.  The first Hobbit retained this clarity by making it the story of Bilbo's acceptance.  As a consequence of some of the uneven structural elements of Smaug, it tries to be more of an ensemble piece when in reality it should still be about Bilbos adventure, but he becomes a background character for stretches as Thorin is given leading man status until he isn't because the story demands Bilbo takes key actions.  It's odd.  Perhaps it'll be make better sense when the whole trilogy is viewed as an eight hour binge but as an individual film The Desolation of Smaug doesn't work.  Sigh.

What stops the film entirely being as I'd imagine a Lord of the Rings film being is Jackson had been replaced with Brett Ratner, is his casting eye and immersive production design.  Never mind Cumberbatch, the real find here is Evangeline Lilly who carries the stateliness of the elf remarkably, that hierarchy of physical presence which isn't just to do with relative height in relation to other races.  Like Blanchett, there's a moment when she gives a look of recognition to Kili which seems to bounce of the screen into our own stomachs as they flip over in awe.  Her next film after these three is Ant-Man, but I think we can add her to the list of actress who should have played Wonder Woman.  Let's hope she's able to find the right projects to propel her forward.

I'd also be interested to know how the transfer of the film was given to Netflix, in what form.  Famously shot in 56 fps but released in the majority of cinemas in the usual 24 fps, through Netflix on my television, parts of it, particularly when they were on sets looked extremely odd, yes, televisual.  The sequences in the forest and amongst the wood elfs in particular looked like sets, which of course they are, but in a much clearer 1970s Doctor Who way, planet Hell from Star Trek.  My guess is that the frame rate of the stream is keying into the format of the original footage somehow, but not having seen it at the cinema, I don't know that it didn't look like this here as well.  That was another distraction.  Shooting digitally is all well and good but something has gone desperately wrong when the resulting image is this inferior to film in places.

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari.

Film  Coming soon to a cinema near you is a brand new, as distributor Eureka suggests definitive restoration of director Robert Weine’s German expressionist classic, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari and I’ve been lucky to be sent a preview disc ahead of the London press screening because I’m somewhat out of the area. In Sight and Sound’s 2012 poll this seminal silent came 235th amongst critics, 322nd with directors which is surprising considering the near century long influence it's had on the cinema which came after with obviously horror and film noir most clear in its debt thanks to its dramatic lighting and sinister overtones.

Away from its film studies canonicity, now that it’s back in cinemas, can it be simply viewed as popular entertainment? The set-up is entirely unlike anything in contemporary mainstream film. In a small German town, carnival entertainer and hypnotist Dr. Caligari introduces his audience to a somnambulist and apparently clairvoyant Cesare who sets about predicting the future of audience members. At least it seems like clairvoyance until Caligari sends his cohort out into the world to carry out his bidding. Cue mystery, murder, mayhem and lashings of psychological horror as the towns inhabitants seek to find the truth of this unusual force.

The extent to which this scares you rather depends how much you can buy into the artifice. The sets, deliberately jagged and abstract are the stuff of a Munch painting and the actors frequently have to shift their weight in unusual ways in order to fit through rhombus like doors. The performances are expressive but that works with the general mood of excess. Perhaps the best entry point for modern audiences is the new soundtrack composed by John Zorn, which partly utilises the Karl Schuke organ at the Berliner Philharmonie and mixes classical, jazz and other genres to thoughtfully enunciate the emotional undercurrent of events.

My first experience of Caligari was at the Liverpool Biennial 2006 when I was invigilating at Afoundation in Greenland Street building, in the furnace section of what’s now Camp and Furnace, or the big room with the long tables and caravans. Goshka Macuga’s Sleep of Ulro installation included a giant wooden architectural construct directly influenced by the sets in the film, particularly in the studio bound moments when Caligari is apparently being chased across the landscape. At The Furnace, visitors could run up such a space then find themselves trapped in a dead end, much like the structures on screen (images here).

Accompanying the screener was an explanation of the how the restoration came about the gist of which is in the video I’ve included above. Even on this timecoded single layer dvd-r I can see clarity the new image has, the care which as been taken in sourcing the best materials to create as lucid an image as possible. To some extent it’s almost too unblemished. Scuzzier prints have ancient quality to them which in the case of silent horrors always enhanced the atmosphere. But it would be churlish of me to suggest that this isn’t an improvement of some rep copy which has done the rounds and it might just mean the film will survive for another hundred years.

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari is released theatrically in he UK & Eire on the 29th August.

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
Eric's Ghost.

[from: 'Eroica: Piano Improvisions', Virgin, 1990]

Music Looking over the compilation I’m not sure now what I was trying to achieve. I think I was hoping to complement the tone of the weblog, include some of my favourite music and also offer a few surprises. I think I’ve done that. The trouble with compilations is that they can imply that this is my musical taste, and look over the track listing I’m not sure that’s what’s here. ‘The Heights’ track is on the edge, as is ‘The Flying Pickets’, curiosities more than anything else. Ironically, ‘Extremis’ may well also have been a mistake. But it could have been a lot worse. I nearly did include the aforementioned Richard E. Grant dance record. And a ‘This is the World Trade Centre’ track I’m particularly fond of. But this was originally put together in May this year and I’ve discovered a bunch of new music since then so I’m thinking about a sequel featuring just instrumental music. Which would be an odd way of expressing a medium built so much on words [originally written twelve years ago].

[Commentary:  Yes, well, if you say so.  The choice of the Lisa Coleman tracks will probably require some explanation.  They make better sense in the mix tape where they're interrupted by the Morissette and McEvoy acapella tracks.  They originally appeared on one of this five inch cds in the box with the above album as a bonus.  I'm yet to find an interview which bothers to mention this, so instead, here's Richard Keys patronising both Wendy and Lisa on the TV-AM couch in 1989.  Opening gambit: "Are you sisters?"  Minor kerfuffle: "His surname is Nelson, well, I never knew that."]

The Circle Line of Life.

Music If the Circle was in NYC, but I couldn't think of a better punning post title. The second best thing about the video is the general shrug of the commuters, the general collective sigh of "not this again" as they keep their eyes firmly fixed on their phones which at no point are even raised to record the hub bub. The commenters at Gothamist are pretty much in agreement that this kind of marketing is just intrusive but if the cast of The Lion King turned up on Merseyrail, I'd be thrilled. Not that there'd be much time for them to get the song out before they'd be halfway to Southport.

Liverpool Biennial 2014:
St. Andrew's Gardens.

Art Ridiculous. Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous. This is ridiculous. How ridiculous? I’ve just spent an hour this afternoon sat on couch in front of a plasma screen in the housing office at The Bullring, sorry, St Andrews Gardens watching a stupifyingly boring art discussion programme from Belgium in the late eighties and when I had finished, after I’d been to the onsite toilet and photographed a copy of the accompanying explanation in the booklet sat on the coffee table in the space, said my goodbyes to the very kind invigilator who’d begun the screening over again especially for me right from start, all I could think was why? Why had I done this?

Apart from the existential realisation, not in a good way, that I’m currently in the place in my life when I can spend an hour on a Friday afternoon sat on couch in front of a plasma screen in the housing office at The Bullring, sorry, St Andrews Gardens watching a stupifyingly boring art discussion programme from Belgium in the late eighties, I have few answers. As the final venue on my tour of the official Biennial exhibitions, the A Needle Walks Into A Haystack cluster, it’s at best anti-climactic. But as I discovered at the last Biennial when I did the venues in numerical order based the figures selected for the map in the official booklet, they’re not meant to be done in numerical order based the figures selected for the map in the official booklet. It just sort of happened that way this time around.

The idea of bringing a curated collection of work by Belgian television director Jef Cornelis isn’t unsound. At least as a student of television history, there’s something potentially enthralling for me about seeing any television from the continent, especially arts television, because it’s something which hasn't been broadcast much in this country. When histories are written and documentaries are made about the history of art television, it’s always from a British perspective and we simply don’t get to see or hear about the Beligian or French or Spanish equivalents of Kenneth Clarke, Melvyn Bragg, Alan Yentob, Caroline Wright or Humphrey Burton.

As the Biennial booklet and website indicates, when Jef Cornelis worked at VRT (the Dutch-language Belgian public broadcasting corporation), he made over 200 films and here we have the ability to dip in and see this voice and see how a different culture reflected back on itself through its own programming. Like a one man Arena, across the decades, which oddly mirror the period "classic" Doctor Who was on the air, not that this is important but is on my mind for some reason, he covered a similar range of topics across many disciplines and titles which stand out from the list of works here in the booklet, including “Things that aren’t mentioned: Alice in Wonderland”, James Lee Byars: The World Question Centre” and “Landscape with Churches”.

Yet despite all of that, my own intellectual justification for why this is relevant, as I walked away from the display, I still asked myself, what is the point? Partly it’s the delivery. There’s no particularly connectivity between the Bullring and Jef Cornelis’s work other than perhaps the deliberate incongruousness of it, in which case to choose this venue in which we’re asked to concentrate on a television recording while the housing office quite rightly goes about its daily, noisy business, is, like I said, ridiculous and doesn’t do the work any favours. If this hadn’t indeed been necessarily subtitled I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of following any of, let alone the miniscule amount I did latch on to.

On top of that, I’d also ask how we as an audience are supposed to interact with it. If I was following the rules of my own project which was to watch all of the video art on display the Biennial I’d be spending the best part of the next two months at the Bullring working my way through this stuff. I will not. Apart from the fact that we’re in the grey area of whether this is art or commentary on art or both, I can’t imagine the Biennial's curators expects us to either. It's worth asking how much of it they've seen themselves given that the show's been curated by Koen Brams, the director of the Jan van Eyck Academy instead. So how much of this do they expect us to see? Across the hour I was there, I saw three other visitors, a couple and someone on their own and they each stayed for about five to ten minutes, not much of which was spent sat on the sofa or accompanying armchairs watching the programme.

What did they make of it? What did it do for them? You can’t legislate for the reactions of every audience member or visitor but I wonder how many of them have also sat and watched a whole programme, or sat in the back room and watched one of the other documentaries and do they realistically have the time? I’d be genuinely interested to know if anyone reading this has either (through through usual channels please). If all the visitors are doing is wandering through, glancing briefly at a snippet of a seventy-five minute fashion documentary (or whatever), reading the information boards then heading off to another venue, it’s worth asking exactly what the point was in specially subtitling all this material in the first place. What’s it all for?

Container 3: Heine’s Paper Crane (Jef Cornelis, 1989)

The work is being displayed through a weekly screening selection on that main screen and through headphoned screens in a room at the back so it really depends on when you visit as to what you’ll see. This week it’s the turn of the third episode in the producer’s ten part philosophy discussion programme which began broadcasting fortnightly in early May of that year as a way of giving the a voice to the intellectuals of Flanders, who he thought at that point had no particular tradition in that regard. Two regular moderators and two guests hashed around a topic and in this third episode the participants read and discuss the relationship intellectuals have to history as a construct through letters by the likes of Goethe, Marx and Schopenhauer.

Which sounds pretty run of the mill and the sort of thing which might turn up on Radio 4. It’s not that much different to In Our Time. It killed Cornelis’s career. As the accompanying notes describe, “the Flemish press could not find a single good thing to say about Container” and the reason it only lasted ten episodes was because the VRT ended it. It’s not hard to see why. Ridiculously (there’s that word again) the Container of the title is an actual container, designed and built especially for the programme by Belgian architect Stephane Beel. Throughout there are cutaways to outside of the container with these four intellectuals sat around the table inside which entirely tip the viewer out of whatever point is currently being made.

It’s just the kind of experiment that Channel 4 might have carried out in its early days when they were allowing anyone to make programmes and which would later show up being sneered at by Mark Lawson on the A-Z of TV Hell or parodied by Adam & Joe. It’s After Dark filmed on the set of Network 7. And boring, so, so boring. The problem is that unlike In Our Time or After Dark, there’s no attempt to bring the viewer up to speed. Like turning up in the middle of an Oxbridge seminar, we’re expected to know who all these figures are and why their centuries old words are interesting. I would say I managed to follow about ten percent of it (see below), but the rest, what I could concentrate on amid the bustle of the office, was a fog.

The bit I did latch on to at about the twenty minute mark (I could keep an eye on the duration thanks to the massive screen showing BBC News on the wall nearby) concerning the notion of history not existing or rather what we think of as history actually being something cobbled together by academics and politicians, the winners, through the prism of their concerns and interests. This reminded me of the coverage of the World War One commemoration on Monday which included packages about the contribution the then British Empire made to the war, and how the native peoples of the areas of the world participated and died defending the very people who’d conquered them.

Having written this stinging criticism, again I ask myself what it’s for, what’s the point? Container 3: Heine’s Paper Crane won’t in any way be representative of Cornelis’s work and can’t be if he managed to previously carve out a thirty year career at the station it was produced at, like assuming all of The West Wing is like Disaster Relief. If I’d visiting a week earlier or later the previous four paragraphs would have been entirely different. Is Biennial therefore asking me to watch a range of his programmes in order to gain some knowledge of the kind of work he does? Is this art appreciation or screen theory?  If the piece had been displayed in a white cube rather than what's otherwise a student common room would I be asking the question in the same way?

The Biennial text suggests he was attempting to work against the grain of what television expects which does make him as much an artist as programme maker but within the limits of being a Biennial visitor, what’s the goal? Not for the first time this Biennial, I’m perplexed by the curatorial choices. On the basis of Container alone, with its artifice, I can see his artistic intervention (in a similar way to the Suzanne Lacey piece from two years ago) but by putting it in an exhibition does it become a piece of art and did Cornelis want it ever to be judged in these terms or was his primary focus simply on making this discussion programme visually interesting in a similar way to Roland Rivron when he decided to present a chat show while floating in the Thames?

Liverpool Biennial 2014:
Tate Liverpool.

Art Either I’ve been taking on too much caffeine again or this Liverpool Biennial is finally starting to get to me. There’s no other way I can explain my Room 237 moment while visiting the Claude Parent installation in the Wolfson Gallery at Tate Liverpool. Room 237 is an increasingly notorious documentary regarding the conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, that more than a pretty good horror film, it’s at the nexus of socio-economic intellectual mush, which includes such things as the director subtly revealing that the footage of the moon landings was all created on sound stages with himself in charge. Like a fever dream, these theorists drag together disparate elements like Danny’s t-shirt, the shape of shadows and the colour of the carpet to reveal a truth which just simply isn’t there.

Clause Parent’s installation is a multi-level architectural construct which like much of his work, attempts to disrupt our expectations of a given environment, in this case filling the white cube space with ramps and balconies and splitting the levels turning the Wolfson into a kind of mini-Guggenheim. The works housed in La colline de l’art are supposed to extemporise and complement the space it seems, full of abstract shapes and circles on canvases against three-dimensional curves. In some respects it reminds of the fears expressed by artists in an open letter to the Guggenheim when it opened that visitors wouldn’t be able to experience their works in the best environment because they’d effectively be standing on a slope. As it turned out the gradient there wasn’t as exaggerated as they were expecting. It is here in places.

Now, join me in Room 237. After spending some time in the space, engaging with some pieces, reviling others, I walked up the ramp at the very centre of the space which leads up to the main balcony. At the top of this ramp is Paul Nash’s Voyages to the Moon, an abstract pieces which as apparently the result of him sitting in a restaurant and noticing a glitterball refracted the moonlight across the space. We see what looks like the moon gradually rising through the space and up into the sky. At the other end of the balcony is a Roy Lichtenstein piece, Moonscape, a gorgeous image which utilises plastic to provide the gradients in colour in the deep blue sky, like cosmic currents. Thinking about the both pieces, it occurred to me that in moving up the ramp onto the balcony, I’d essentially watched Nash’s moon rise in Lichenstein’s sky.

At which point I began to think about the other pieces I’d seen and the recurrences of moon and space symbols in them. Paul Delvaux’s Sleeping Venus has a crescent moon in the sky. Naum Gabo’s two pieces Model for ‘Construction in space, suspended’ and Model for ‘Monument to the Astronauts’ have it in the title. Francis Picabia’s The Fig-Leaf has a moon shaped ball on it with a person on top – moon landing? The video piece Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR has a slow motion section in which the dance looks for all the world like its happening in low gravity. Looped Network Suspended in Pictorial Space by Gillian Wise resembles a rocket scaffold. I was sure that the other pieces would reveal some connection but I just hadn’t seen it yet. I was enthralled. I'd found some hidden message right there.

Yes, well, ok. I did what you need to do in these situations and asked an invigilator and of course it was the first time he’d heard of it. This was not, as I suspected some hidden joke by Claude Parent. He hadn’t selected the art, just designed the space. The art had been selected by Biennial curators Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman and although its possible these connections were intended, it seems unlikely. In the main Tate collection display which investigates mundane domestic objects in art, we’re told in no uncertain terms that this is what its doing. If this whole moon connection was more than a coincidence it would certainly be mentioned in the accompanying text. It is not. The accompanying text is all about how the art complements and contradicts the space. Welcome to Room 237.

Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR (Babette Mangoite, 1978)
Felix Gets Broadcast (Mark Leckey, 2007)
Instructions No 1 / Instrukcije br. 1 (Sanje Ivekovic, 1976)
The Coat (Karen Cytter, 2010)

Since this is a Tate collection display, most the pieces are already heavily documented. Babette Mangoite has written at length about the making of Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR on her website and the Tate has its own critical appreciation which is the basis for the text which appears with the work in the gallery space. Both of these rather blow the wind out my sales and I can’t be bettered so you might as well go and read those. To offer a quick description, it depicts legendary postmodernist American choreographer and dancer Tricia Brown performing her WATER MOTOR piece in black and white in single takes firstly at normal speed then slow motion taking full advantage of her obvious abilities to compulsive effect. It’s projected at Tate and is arguably the most eye-catching piece in the space.

In her text, Mangoite says her one regret is that she didn’t record synchronous sound because as she says, even though the dance occurred without music its impossible to convey that without recording the silence, which of course wouldn’t be silence because microphones would have picked up the sound of the camera, Brown’s breaths and shifting footwork and ambient noise. For my part I probably violated the artist’s wishes by listening to my own music during the two or three occasions I watched the piece, various tracks (some Kevin Shields, Eliza Doolittle) all of which eerily synched up. Seeing it instead with the ambient noise of the gallery space was also counterproductive, the mix of children screaming, random chatter and feet banging on the woodeness of Parent’s sculpture working against the magnetism of Brown’s athleticism.

Having just spent the past week and a half with the Commonwealth Games, whose visual language, especially in the gymnastics, includes the slow motion replay, it didn’t occur to me that the recording of the second dance wasn’t simply the first duplicated and slowed down. But it isn’t. This was recorded in 1976 when such technology was still magnificently unreliable. Mangoite filmed the piece three times, twice at normal speed, the third in slow motion then selected the best takes. In the third take, did Brown especially emphasise certain moves for the purposes of extemporising on the underwater feel of the whole dance? Perhaps. Not sure. But it’s a starting, emotional piece of choreography which repays multiple viewings even if we can only imagine what it sounded like.

We Need To Talk About Peter Quill.

Film If you've seen MARVEL's Guardians of the Galaxy already you'll know that it ranks with Inception, Gravity and Boyhood as one of the greatest film exploits of all time, one of those epoch changing moments in cinema which can do nothing but inspire awe. Much of this has to do with both the film itself which is as spectacular a space adventure as we could hope it might be based on the trailers, but also the effect it potentially has on the film business and the nature of the blockbuster. If MARVEL's Captain America: The First Avenger was innovative in how it extemporised the narrative synergy between film and television, MARVEL's Guardians of the Galaxy has the potential to change everything.

Such hyperbole probably need some explanation and in short order, here it is.  MARVEL is the shit.

Guardians made over $90m in its opening weekend in the US.  It's beaten by Transformers: Age of Extinction so far in annual totals but its the second biggest opening of the year and looks to have a huge second weekend.  But, whisper it, this was never a sure thing.  Transformers was a sure thing because even people who hate what Bay's done to the characters will have gone and it has a wide popular appeal with children.  Plus its the fourth installment in a franchise which has been massive despite the variable quality of the product.  Transformers was a sure thing.  Transformers was always going to be a massive opening.  People will go and see Transformers.

Guardians was not like this.  The trailers were excellent as was the poster marketing.  Arguably it had the best marketing campaign since all of the films listed above.  But it was never a sure thing.  Even up to a few weeks ago I was seeing online commentary, professional and amateur which talked about it being a risk.  No one was sure.  This Forbes article tries to have it both ways.  Nothing about the film made sense in relation to what people know about the film business.  Only one of the main characters is human, and two of the others are a digitally animated talking racoon and a tree.  The trailers betrayed a certain offbeat humour more akin to the cultiness of Firefly/Serenity, which have only really found an audience amongst the kind of people who like that kind of this.

Essentially it's asking the audience to accept the stuff they like about PiXAR films in a "real world" setting, in the middle of space, amongst giant alien empires filled with masses of preprepared mythology.  Star Wars and Lord of the Rings accepted, these are not the sort of things popular audiences like.  John Carter (of Mars) is a prime example of this kind of film, and although it's not quite as good as Guardians, it's still better than Transbloodyformers.  The storylines aren't dissimilar either in some respects and toally they're not that different either.  But a nervy ad campaign meant people didn't come even though that was also made by Disney.  If people didn't come to that why would they to this?

People came.  Boy did people come.  Look at them on the Twitters talking about this being the new Star Wars, even suggesting JJ's wasting his time because whatever he's doing can't be as good as this (which would make the Star Wars studio pretty nervous if it wasn't for the fact that it's the same studio).  It helps that the film itself is akin to the new Star Wars capturing quite a bit of the same humour and wonder of the original trilogy which the prequels sumerilly failed to offer.  It's funny, poignant, has some jaw-dropping visual moments and more importantly you forget the racoon and tree are being animated only now and then marvelling at just how accurate Rocket's fir is.

And in coming, they disproved the expectations of what we'll call the mass audience are tolerant of. The humour in this is offbeat and like I said the trailers told the audience that it was offbeat.  But they came and they came some more and social media suggested their friends come too.  Right up until I went yesterday, people I wouldn't imagine in a hundred years would see Guardians signalled their intention to go and afterwards tweeted how awesome it was in some way or other.  Having seen it myself I still can't quite believe this has happened.  This is a cult film.  It has all the elements of a cult film.  It's practically a remake of Space Truckers.  Yet there we are.  Over $90m opening weekend.

Now the previous MARVEL films will have something to do with this, what with MARVEL being a PIXAR like brand now.  But Captain America and Guardians are such different films you can't imagine there would be much crossover.  Tonally, Guardians is effectively a Troma film (as it would be given the career origins of the director) on a massive budget.  It's the kind of film which you'd find unheralded at Blockbuster in the mid-90s with c-list actors including Stephen Dorff directed by an auteur whose next film is The Incredible Ice Cream Suit but which more than lives up to your low expectations and which you know must have looked even better in widescreen before the studio panned and scanned the thing on the cheap.  Actually, no, that is Space Truckers.  $90m.

Amazing.  Game changing.

It's game changing for a number of reasons.

Not too long ago one of the blogs I read joked when seeing the plans DC has for their characters in cinema that MARVEL should just make a Squirrel Girl film to rub their faces in it, which was became even funnier when it emerged that MARVEL had copyrighted the character meaning that she's likely to turn up in film or on television in some capacity.  But the point is whereas before Guardians no one would think it possible that a character whose main power is the control of squirrels, who has cameoed in a Fantastic Four cartoon as a visual joke to demonstrate how low down the pecking order their recruitment process for a team replacement had sunk now looks like a sure bet.

Even Ant-Man looks like it could be a sure thing at this point even though in no way should they even be making it.  But Guardians gives them the flexibility to and make it another massive release.  Apparently yet more screenwriters are taking a pass at it, which is what happens when you have to replace your director.  If anything even at this point Ant-Man looks like about as appetising as the failed Gen 13 pilot with Alicia Witt but even turned out to be pretty good.  All Ant-Man needs to be now is pretty good and it'll open huge or at least huge enough for the whole thing not to have seemed like the massive waste of time it currently looks like.  Edgar Wright might even agree to direct the sequel, though probably not.

Right now, Disney's MARVEL could pluck any of the characters they have the rights to and turn it into a film and people will go.  They're still being cautious and they have every right to be.  They're not greenlighting projects left right and centre even though Black Widow has to be on the cards now, especially when you add in Lucy's opening weekend.  The trailer for Lucy ran before Guardians at FACT yesterday and as much as I enjoyed it and can't wait to see it, there's not one moment when I didn't wish it was a trailer for Black Widow.  Never mind Squirrel Girl, MARVEL at this point could probably make a Captain Barracuda film work and he's a pirate.  Obviously.

As a sidebar, Kevin Feige is still prevaricating on the point, but Guardians's screenwriter says on Twitter that she worked on a treatment in 2010/2011 for a film, the kind of statement someone only makes on the Twitters if they've been given the go ahead from someone to make that kind of statement even if she says that its not in active development, like a governmental leak designed to sound out some new policy.  At 80 odd retweets and fifty-five favourites its not exactly gone viral, but the news sites picked up on it, and you can imagine someone at MARVEL development is watching the reaction.  My guess is they're waiting for Captain America to have its threequel before offering Black Widow up as a replacement.

Sorry, second indulgence, but that's my theory about what MARVEL's doing here.  They're not thinking about the market in terms of characters but tones.  Now that Iron Man 3's shuffled through they're launching Ant-Man another film about a technoscientist.  Black Widow or even Hawkeye won't be launched until Cap is done because it would be strange to have another SHIELD agent based film series on the go.  I'm not sure what will happen after Thor, although you could argue the Doctor Strange film carries on the fantasy/horror element.  Guardians truly is offering a different genre to all of them.  But don't be surprised if in ten years when that's done, and after Fantastic Four tanks and they reintegrate the rights that we'll get Silver Surfer.

Anyway, they're sticking to two or three films a year which is a shame but probably all they can usefully produce without the quality dipping.  When the MCU was originally announced I remember one thought being that there would be a series of prestige films based on the bigger characters then smaller budget projects for the c-listers.  Arguably these smaller budget projects have migrated to television.  But think on that.  Agent Carter and the Daredevil series exist in the same universe as Guardians and Thor, which they do in the comics of course, but this is unprecedented in film and television.  But I've already covered that at some length elsewhere, so let's not do that again.

Because audiences turned up for Guardians, it means that studio expectations, notably at MARVEL but also elsewhere should widen, hopefully widen, and they'll take more risks with the kind of films they'll produce and the projects which look slightly offbeat may well get greenlit now [see this io9 piece].  My hope has been that MARVEL in particular will range out into other genres but set in the MARVEL universe and there's been some of that on television in the Netflix deal but I'd love to see a cop drama or rom com set in the MCU for the big screen.  I expect the question they'd ask is exactly why they would but if nothing else Guardians proves that a MARVEL film doesn't have to have superheroes in it in the traditional sense, even aliens, to be successful.

But what does that mean for the other studios?  Given their idiotic decision to not fall in with MARVEL and attempt to construct their own cinematic universes around the characters they have (though I still wonder if Disney and Sony attempted a proper deal over Spider-man which fell through) Guardians will either have a positive effect on them or it won't.  It depends on the percentage of the audience who went because it was the next installment of the films set in the MCU or simply with the MARVEL logo on the front.  That I simply don't know.

The other game change is in how DC reacts.  Up until this point they've been pottering along knowing that MARVEL's doing well but straight on with their plans.  But Guardians has to have given them pause not least because of comments like this found on Youtube under a copy of the trailer for Guardians:

Yes, exactly.  Superman and Batman are top draw characters which is why DC are so desperate to make films about them even though there have already been plenty of films about them and now MARVEL have come along and turned the equivalent of their Legion of Superheroes into a film and made it one of the most successful films of all time.  This shouldn't happen.  If DC are pinning their hopes on the same-olds it certainly wasn't even on their radar.  After writing that sentence, now I would be more excited to see a Legion of Superheroes film that Batman again even starring Ben Affleck.

But no one is excited about Superman v Batman that I can see.  Despite the release of the various images at Comic Con and the teaser footage with the glowy eyes and some ensuing excitement, I simply don't see the same level of excitement about that film than for pretty much every MCU release.  Everyone has something to say about everything, but people are already talking about Guardians 2 and what might happen in Guardians 2 in ways which I simply don't see with SvB or whatever it's called this week amongst the non-geeks, or should I say the people who would identify as geeks in the old usage.  That's a problem for DC and its unsolvable.

The other problem DC has is that its only making one film for release in 2016 [correction: actually two see below].  MARVEL will have at least four or five films out in the meantime not including the other version of MARVEL from the other studios.  Which will either mean that audiences are sick of superheroes anyway by 2016 and will simply shrug in the face of Kal-El and Bruce or the intervening films are so awesome they'll still shrug and wonder why they should care.  As Man of Steel shows, they will make money, but purely from a business perspective, taking into account the television series, in film terms they're sitting on a whole universe full of characters and still doing nothing with them.  HAHAHAHAHAHA.

Updated 07/08/2014  No sooner had I posted this and gone to bed had it been announced that DC have effectively blinked and moved Batman v Superman from its original release day of the 25th March 2016 opposite the third Captain America film to late March.  Deadline also reports they've offered up release dates for a raft of projects through 2020, none of which have titles yet but which exists to show that they aren't sitting on these characters and they do have some ideas.

Neither Variety or Deadline make the connection but I find it inconceivable that this announcement which has come under a week after the release of Guardians has nothing to do with Guardians.  The release dates will already have been decided but the fact of their announcement has to be connected, doesn't it?  Either way, in just ten years we've come to the point were DC actively believe a Captain America threequel would beat a film starring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman at the box office.  MARVEL is the shit.