Art Yesterday, I finally managed to see the Whitworth gallery in Manchester for the first time since it reopened following a refurbishment and building of an new extension, all of which has been awarded Building of the Year by RIBA. Having rather loved the old place I was concerned that all its 60s wood panel and stone and modernist intentions and nooks and crannies had been swept away but I'm pleased to see that the architects at MUMA have simply built upon, what the introductory booklet rightly describes as "Scandinavian-style spaces" by Bickerdale, Allen and Partners.  The new large atrium cafe sits within and overlooks on ancient trees and opens out into Whitworth Park in a way which feels both urban and pastoral.  As I sat eating a cheese bap, I felt that any time I wasn't looking out of the window was being wasted, especially on a day with such changeable weather.

Unfortunately, the display of the Whitworth's other key draw, its permanent collection, which is arguably of national, if not international importance is nothing short of catastrophic.  The notion, as tends to be the vogue for smaller galleries, is to present the works in a series of shorter exhibitions around themes, rather than simply have everything on show, all of the time.  This is not something I necessarily disagree with, since it allows for a wider selection of the work to find wall space and also has the added benefit of generating repeat visits from an audience who might otherwise stay away having assumed that they'd already seen what was there.  At the moment the themes are acquisitions from the 1960s, Watercolours, Green textiles, New Acquisitions and Portraits.

Except the way they're displayed is dismal and abysmal.  In all cases, the policy seems to be to get as much out there as possible and so the works have often been splattered across the walls without any apparent notion of how they'll be viewed by the public, floor to ceiling with centimetres between the frames not unlike a commercial gallery and with what seems like an eye to how they work aesthetically in an interior design sense rather than how they relate to one another.  Whilst this isn't unusual in galleries, it tends to be with larger canvases - see the main atrium at Birmingham Art Gallery or many rooms at the Walker.  But with smaller works, these are watercolours, prints and even oils, it's impossible to focus on one image over another, the eye darting from one to the next, constantly intensely distracting from each other (not helped, however understandable it is as a conservation requirement, everything being glazed leading to obscuring bulb flair).

To make the job of enjoying the work even more impossible, because of the proximity of the frames to one another, there isn't any room for labels and so the gallery has instead provided booklets containing wall maps and silhouetted boxes as a key through to titles and their artists which works rather like an Argos catalogue which means the visitor spends half their time in the space with their head down trying to match the painting they're looking at with the details and I did hear visitors in pairs and groups not discussing what they thought of a painting but if it was the one that was in the booklet.  Oh and outside of the New Acquisitions barely anything has supporting material so in some cases its impossible to really appreciate a work and how its important within its own context.

I tried.  I tried.  In the Watercolour section there's a section filled with Turners, but they're piled into two columns next to each other reaching floor to ceiling and none of them at typical eye height.  The Portraits exhibition is the epitome of how damaging these choices are as Hogarth prints are thrown in with pre-Raphaelites paintings and tapestries, Freud paintings, photographs and video art but they're just sort of there, assuming your eyes can actually see them, assuming you're not having to crouch or which you had a step ladder to see things properly.  To be fair, all of this is also true of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which also has higgledy-piggledy staging and booklets, but it's also true that's a light airy space whereas the Whitworth has necessarily darkly painted walls and subdued lighting.  Eventually I walked, unable to cope with the confusion of images

Surrounding all of this too, I could see was empty wall space, or large dramatic walls with just one or three measly paintings or prints on the bottom so this isn't also just about maximising the potential.  I've been to many regional art galleries with a similar (if not necessarily as important) collections stuck on a landing or in a stairwell but that is usually because they don't have the budget or the room.  The Whitworth seems to have plenty of both.  Try and replace the display format if you want, but just as the page upon turnable page antics of the printed book have survived for hundreds of years because it works, the model of artwork at shoulder height with an information label does too because it allows the viewer to think, the ponder and to concentrate on a single image at a time.  Much is gained from sacrificing quantity for lucidity.

Elsewhere in the gallery at the moment, there's a really excellent exhibition of Chinese art from the 1970s which follows the classical display model with labels next to the paintings and free booklets containing pages of contextual information.  At the centre of the space is a really poignant Ai Weiwei installation, Still Life, in which the artist presents hundreds of Stone Age axe heads and various other ancient carved paraphernalia with the context deliberately removed, the reinvention as an art installation "an iconoclastic gesture designed to offset the value and importance of these ancient objects".  As I reflect on this, this is pretty close (albeit with more facile implications) to what the Whitworth's done to its permanent collection in these initial presentations.  Luckily it is just the initial presentations which will change and hopefully with a less chaotic, more thoughtful approach.

I hope that they also won't bury the headline as much either.  Within what I think is another part of the extension is a study area and it's here that some of the real jewels of the collection are displayed, largely unheralded and well away from the main spaces, so easily overlooked.  A Rembrandt drawing.  Two Lowrys.  One of those Constable cloud sketches.  Another Turner.  I think I saw a Pisarro.  I definitely saw an Ian Hughes and a Stanley Spencer.  Why would you bury this stuff in what feels like the basement (albeit with a ground level entrance)?  Oh and again mostly without accompanying information?  Yes, at least I've seen them and it was nice to enjoy the experience in something akin to corporate office space rather than a "white cube", but it's listed as "Collections display" on the map which really does obscure what's here.  I could have missed it.

Well that was a rant but I think it's rare that I've been this disappointed with this kind of experience.  I'm usually pretty satisfied if there are some nice paintings to look at and an adequate toilet.  There are several toilets and they're more than adequate but like I said the building deserves the awards it's received.  Along with the Chinese art exhibitions, there's also a spectacular Cornelia Parker showing of a new artwork which consists of a massive embroidered reproduction of the Wikipedia entry about the Magna Carta stitched together by two hundred people often with a life connection to the words.  So the temporary displays are varied and rather special.  But I just feel, and I appreciate this is really a disagreement about a curatorial decision or policy, that the permanent collection should be as well served.  Rant over.

Extracting the BBC Genome:
Lost and Found.

Film Back in 1994 and 1998, BBC Two offered a strand called "Lost and Found", seasons of films described as being "rarely (or never before) seen on television, or presented in restored versions" something I was entirely unaware of until the VHS Video Vault YouTube channel, part of the VHistory blog, uploaded an introduction to Michael Mann's The Keep (see below).

The BBC Genome predictably has a list of all the films in this strand. Just as a test, I'm also going to see how available these ancient scheduling choice are now.  At a time when the notion is that everything is supposed to be just there, sometimes its good to see if that's actually true, especially with a list of film developed before the introduction of dvd.

1994 Season

Becky Sharp

(Rouben Mamoulian, 1935)

No official UK release but multiple other editions available from abroad.  But buyer beware.  The reviews are the same on all the editions listed on Amazon.  This page says the cheapest has atrocious sound.  There's an pleasantly poor print at the Internet Archive which says the film's in the public domain - which might account for what it's all over Google's video service as well.

A Star Is Born 
(George Cukor, 1954)

I actually have a copy of the Warner Home Video BD which is utterly gorgeous and seems to be the version suggested in the listings, with scenes restored from surviving footage (mainly the characters in long shot travelling and getting in and out of cars) and set photographs with an audio track underneath which looks for all the world like a Doctor Who recon.

The Ghost Ship
(Mark Robson, 1943)

Region one double pack with Leopard Man or region two double pack with The Seventh Victim.

The Keep
(Michael Mann, 1983)

Still no dvd release.  Only available on a deleted VHS.  Given that, it's quite extraordinarily on Netflix UK at the moment.  Best watch it then.

Caged Heat
(Jonathan Demme, 1974)

Multiple editions, with varying degrees of exploitation covers.

Before the Revolution
(Bernardo Bertolucci, 1964)

UK BFI release.

(Raoul Walsh, 1947)

Region free dvd release.

Tokyo Drifter
(Seijun Suzuki, 1966)

UK dvd release from Yume Pictures at a budget price.

Confidential Report
(Orson Welles, 1955)

UK release as Mr Arkadin.  There's also a Criterion release which has three different versions.

I Only Want You to Love Me
(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1976)

UK release of a restored print from Park Circus.

It Happened Here
(Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1963)

UK release.

(Lewis Allen, 1954)

UK multiple releases which suggests its out of copyright.

Le Samourai
(Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)

Criterion release (R1).  French BD.

1998 Season

(Michael Anderson, 1950)

UK BD release from Network.  Well done chaps.

The Man from Morocco
(Max Greene, 1944)

UK DVD release from Network.

Car of Dreams
(Graham Cutts & Austin Melford, 1935)

UK DVD release as part of a John Mills boxed set by ITV Studios.

Owd Bob
(Robert Stevenson, 1938)

UK DVD release from Odeon Entertainment.

Street Song
(Bernard Vorhaus, 1935)

No dvd release.  Not at the Internet Archive or on YouTube.  The list has finally defeated us.

Nevertheless for whatever reason most of these films are available in some form or other and loads in the UK thanks in large part to Network.  Congratulations to the modern world.

The Underwater Menace DVD. Now available to pre-order? Again?

TV George Bush famously said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Well, here we are again, another page indicating a pre-order of Doctor Who's The Underwater Menace on Amazon.

This has one more thing in it's favour than last time. A tweet from the club journal:

We don't know how they're getting around episodes one and four not having moving images available. Probably recons though expect the omnirumour crowd to be out in force.

The BBFC hasn't classified anything new yet.

But yes, on this occasion I want to believe.  In the recons version at least.

Incidentally, I've decided to try something and put my "associates" thingy in the above Amazon URL to see what happens.  After about ten years of being registered, I'm just £15 away from my first gift voucher.

My Favourite Film of 1983.

Film The first copy of the The Big Chill I owned was a first wave VHS rental release bought at a car boot sale. The inlay was appalling.  Badly trimmed out image of the ensemble slapped onto a cyan background, it featured a synopsis which looked like it had been dictated down an especially bad telephone line to someone who wasn't a film professional and thought an actor called "Jess Coldblulm" existed.  But the tape itself was perfectly fine and ended up being watched about once a month for a few years, sometimes in a double bill with 1992's Grand Canyon (also an ex-rental) for no reason other than that they were both directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Kline.

You can probably imagine what happened when the younger version of me discovered that he could buy films for a pound each at car boot sales.  Every Sunday morning dragged to either the multi-story car park in St Helens, or the cricket club on Aigburth Road or a massive wasteland in Bootle, handed some pocket money and sent off to forage, returning on most occasions with ten or fifteen tapes.  In the years before Netflix and Lovefilm, this was my Netflix and Lovefilm, across genres and periods, selections made based on how quickly I could scoop the films up before someone else grabbed them and whether I recognised an actor on the cover or (later) the name of a director.

Disney films would be at least £5 for reason I've later realised were to do with some tapes only being available for short periods of time in shops (towards the end of watching my way through the lot, they recently re-released everything on dvd on mass and now they're available in Tescos).  Same Star Wars before they were released on dvd.  It was always obvious which seller was simply having a clear out and who knew exactly the worth of what they had.  Also there were pitious numbers who when you asked how much their tapes were would say the gut wrenching words, "Oh um, they're all different prices ..."  But I don't have time for this!

Eventually I migrated from car boots to "legitimate" media sales chains and charity shops (and I replaced my VHS of The Big Chill with a DVD bought at the old Virgin Megastores XS (which has since been replaced with Zavvi, a Music Zone, then nothing) (the WH Smith has gone too)).  You are more likely to find the interesting oddities in these places but the selection is increasingly homogenized.  In Chester the other week I saw a copy of All About Steve in at least five outlets.  No I didn't buy it.  Instead I found the Gere starring remake of Breathless, Gigantic (with Zooey) and the German comedy Kokowääh.  No, me either but as with The Big Chill all those years ago, I was intrigued.

Now, after about fifteen years, I recently returned to boots and tables and was pleased to discover that nothing much has changed.  It's still entirely possible to spend the same amount of money and walk away with as many films, especially now that dvd is at about the point VHS was then, with sellers replacing or simply getting rid of their collections.  Plus there's somewhat less pressure it seems with some boxes and bags on floors left untouched for ages so there's plenty of time to look which is useful because of the secondary problem of trying to remember if a given title is available to stream at home.

Except, with so many other viewing options now it feels more redundant with the exception of material from boutique publishers and television series.  The thrill of the chase has all but dissipated, knowing full well that I'm unlikely to stumble on someone selling their BFI back catalogue or Criterions and I'm not sure I have the patience now to persist in returning on the off chance.  Plus children like me then are notable by their absence now which makes me wonder if the contemporary version of this trainee cineaste would have received their first introduction to You Can't Always Get What You Want via a cover version played on a church organ at a funeral.


Music A couple of days ago, the Huff Post's supercut group posted a video of Donald Trump saying China a lot:

Which is pretty mesmerising and also dislodged an earwig as I remembered a snatch of lyric from an ancient song in which a male singer said something which sounded like "China, China, China, Chinaaaa...." After stumbling around Spotify for a while to little success I decided to ask Metafilter. Here are embeds of all the songs Metafilter thought it might be:


History The New York Times has an obituary for Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was a pivotal member of Martin Luthor King Jr's group.
"Mrs. Boynton Robinson was one of the organizers of the march, the first of three attempts by demonstrators in March 1965 to walk the 54 miles from Selma, Ala., to the capital, Montgomery, to demand the right to register to vote.

"As shown in “Selma,” the Oscar-nominated 2014 film directed by Ava DuVernay, Mrs. Boynton Robinson (played by Lorraine Toussaint) had helped persuade the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would lead the second and third marches, to concentrate his efforts in that city."
There's one key moment in Selma which resonated with me while watching the film last night, when, during the second attempt to cross Edmund Pettus Bridge in Montgomery, MLK decides not to go. After a prayer, he turns the group, who've travelled from across country to support him, around and walks them back again. This Guardian archive collection describes it thus:
"In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, King himself led a symbolic march across the bridge once again. While demonstrators were more determined than ever to proceed, federal protection was needed if they were to make it to Montgomery safely. Stopped by police, the marchers kneeled and prayed, then turned around and retreated back into Selma."
The King Encyclopedia has further details.  A key character and story point then becomes the question of why this happened, why Luther King made this choice something which I haven't been able to find an answer for.  It's not really explained in the film, other than that there were safety concerns and that King received a message from God.

But my understanding, my takeaway, is that King decided not to go, either consciously or otherwise, because he was effectively being given permission by the white folk.  As portrayed in the film, the police who at the first attempt in Bloody Sunday had beaten and tortured the marchers were stepping aside to let them through.

The only acceptable scenario King would have had for marching would have been if the road had been empty ahead anyway.  But then of course, if that had been the case, there wouldn't have been any reason to march in the first place.

The film doesn't make this explicit.

But as continues to be the case, in terms of both race and gender, the fight for equality and human rights remains a process of convincing those in power to give a permission there shouldn't be any question of them being in a position to decide to give in the first place.  They shouldn't even be in the way.

The back of my head one day.

TV As part of the BBC's Pop Art season, the latest edition of What Do Artists Do All Day? focuses on Peter Blake and in particular his work on the Liverpool Biennial's Dazzle Ferry. The whole programme can be watched here for the next few weeks. You'll remember I attended the launch of Snowdrop in April and posted lots of photographs of it here but as you'll also have gathered from looking above this block of text, there I am taking said photographs in the programme, so the back of my head has now been on national tv.  Here's the photography I took at almost that exact moment:

And here's the shot I chose to put on the blog in which Blake looked directly at me:

I'm wearing the same coat I featured in this picture with Pete back in 2009.  Still going strong.  Still warm and much needed on that day which despite being sunny was also pretty chilly.

"I hate Bobby Davro. There you go, I've said it. Even my mum and dad hate Bobby Davro."

TV Glancing through the names of celebrities who're soon to enter the Channel 5 rendition of the Big Brother house trying to work out who these people are and what they want, I notice that one Bobby Davro will be joining them. Those of you with long memories will remember that Mr Davro was a key part of the very first seminal series of the show as the four remaining housemates were shown episodes of his television series quite logically as a reward for their abilities as impressionists.

When I was still watching the programme this was high on the list of my favourite moments (along with pretty much anything which happened between John Tickle and Nush in BB4) and here it still is on YouTube. Scroll through to 20:35 on the above embed to hear Anna Nolan's perfectly timed rant on the work of Mr Davro and later Darren as he realises who he is and then the later shots when he's disavowed of his own opinion.  Classic television.

The Starbucks on Bold Street has closed.

Commerce Quite suddenly. My last visit was last Thursday where I sat on the ground floor beneath the stairs near the Wood Street entrance and read that week's comics. Passing by this morning I saw the above. Asking at the check out in the Home Bargains next door but one, it seems have shut on Monday.

Now I know what a couple of you are thinking, and presumably poised to type into a social media text box, it's just an outlet of a multi-national company which doesn't pay as much tax as it should and there are still plenty of independent coffee shops in the area and here's a list of them, and yes all of that is true.

But I like Starbucks coffee and I liked this space which like the best outlets was modular.  The seating area at the front and beneath the stairs.  Half way up the stairs overlooking Wood Street and at the top with the massive table and easy access to the toilets.  Plus it tended to be less manically busy than some cafes, which was probably ultimately its downfall.

Like any space you visit regularly we have history and this blog has history with it. Not as much as I thought, but there's plenty of business here in which a visit to this Starbucks would also have been involved.  In any case, to memorialise, here's an archive of links to previous posts on this blog specifically about Starbucks on Bold Street.

When I entirely failing to deal with a private view at the venue which filled the space before Starbucks moved in (about 2000).

When one of the items I'd Bookcrossed in there was found in 2003.

When another of the items I'd Bookcrossed was found too.

When I went for a coffee with the best new person I met in 2003. Which I reflected upon in 2013.

When it became a third place in 2004.

When I badgered them about buying the acoustic version of Alanis's Jagged Little Pill (which was an exclusive in the US).

When I the Christmas blend for the first time in 2006.

When I read the first issue of the Buffy: Season Seven comic in March 2007.

When I into a Gingerbread Latte while listening to the Doctor Who audio The Auntie Matter in August 2013.

Bye then.


Books Yes, indeed:

With Big Finish mixing new Who characters with their own and some old favourites (can you believe this now exists?) comes a further example of Doctor Who's "expanded universe" coming into contact with the revival.  To save you a click, @twilightstreets is Who legend Gary Russell, who has form on this.  When we was an editor on the Doctor Who Adventures strip way back when, Mephistopheles Arkadian from the Gallifrey audios made a cameo in one of the Tenth Doctor strips and with a plot point which eventually played out at Big Finish.  Expect a sarcastic line from Clara about "What is it with you and archaeologists".  Your move, Iris.

My Favourite Film of 1984.

Film  Despite my obvious love of film I've never really had a home cinema set up.  My screen sizes have slowly grown larger over time, I've graduated from VHS to dvd to blu-ray, but never 5.1 speakers or 7.1 speakers or any of that malarky and certainly no projectors, however longingly I've looked at them in the BOSE shop at Cheshire Oaks or in Richer Sounds.  Mainly cost but also space.  The rooms in the flat really aren't big enough to accommodate them and we have neighbours who might not be too pleased about having a subwoofer vibrating their ceiling.

Which isn't to say I didn't try and there was a year or several when I plugged my VCR into a hi-fi for the purposes of watching the Star Wars: Special Edition when my parents were away (like said, small flat) and it was at this moment I happened to watch Electric Dreams which I'd just bought on sell through video (in a clever pack which included the soundtrack on cassette) and found myself roundly disappointed because it didn't sound as I'd expected to the point that rather like Mike Figgis during some screenings of his Timecode, I began manipulating the sound live.

The key scene is commonly known as The Duel and it's the moment when newly sentient computer, Edgar "meets" his neighbour Madeline for the first time at least in sound, though its enough for him to fall for her (and me to be honest).  Having bought a vinyl of soundtrack when it was being sold off by the Central Library in town I had fixed in my imagination how I thought it would sound, with Edgar's electronic noodlings bursting from one speaker and Madeline's cello from another underscoring the distance between them physically, geographically and otherwise.

Find above an Spotify embed of the track as it appears on a compilation album though it's identical to the version on the soundtrack. Even listening through headphones, there's a palpable sense of different intelligences communicating from each of the speakers, talking to one another as they improvise around a Bach minuet.  Edgar falling for her, she for Miles his "user" (in more ways that one) and the man she perceives to be her neighbour.  Having imagined this exciting, pulsating piece and how it would issue out from the film, imagine my disappointment on hearing this:

It's fine but it lacks the urgency of the soundtrack version and of course it doesn't work in quite the same way because it's the job of a film's soundtrack to put the audience in the same room as the characters, especially if the music is diegetic, as it is here.  Plus by intertwining the two sounds together earlier, it underscores their emotional connection.  But for all of those rationalisations, I wanted to hear Madeline from one speaker, Edgar from the other.

On rewatching the film, I actually sat with the balance knob on the stereo attempting to recreate the moment manually, even attempting to play the cassette in conjunction with the image but they were out of synch.  I can't explain my obsession with this other than being a teenager but it was my first realisation that film soundtracks are sometimes, indeed usually, nothing like the films from which they hail, often because a musician's allowed to present his original ideas unfiltered.  In this case, arguably the pinnacle of Giorgio Moroder's career ...

... with the exception of Madeline's theme which is just ...

... spoiler warning.

"I walked into that crowd again and I lost myself..."

Music Natalie Imbruglia's back then. After the debacle of the deeply average Come to Life, which still hasn't had an official release in the UK and so is missing from Spotify (was on there for a week then pulled), its emergence borked by the singer's duties as a judge on Oz X-Factor.

Now she's released a pretty good cd of covers of the men's songs including Friday I'm Love and Let My Love Open The Door. It's not Tori's Strange Little Girls (few things are) (well perhaps ScarJo's Anywhere I Lay My Head) but if this BBC Breakfast interview is an indication it has had the effect of reigniting her inspiration:
"Natalie Imbruglia started her career in the Australian soap Neighbours, but when she made the switch to music she picked up a Brit Award, several Grammy nominations and sold 10 million albums worldwide.

After six years away from the music scene, Natalie's back with a new album of cover songs which all have one thing in common - they were originally performed by men.

Natalie told BBC Breakfast why she took a break from music, and how it feels to be singing again."
For new readers, here's some of my previous with Imbruglia from back in 2004 writing about one of the best pop songs of all time.

Here's MEN on Spotify:

New Doctor Who Season 9 Trailer!!!

TV ... which is a thirty second version of the last one. Sorry.  On the upside, this is a rare post with high SEO potential about a show with plenty of CSO.  On the upside, Pertwee's People exists now too.

Talk Hard.

Film The AV Club on Pump Up The Volume:
"The movie originally came from a script called Radio Death,” he explained to The A.V. Club. “It was the story about a guy who was planning to commit suicide on the air, but was having so much fun announcing it and discussing different ways with which he could off himself. But every night he would have his suicide on his mind and he’d go on-air and say, ‘Stay tuned, because this night could be your lucky night. I might kill myself on the air.’ And then that became his whole thing. So I wrote the script about this much darker guy than Happy Harry Hard-On wound up being."
Somewhere I have an old cassette on which I missed all of Christian Slater's DJ material from the film with music from the soundtrack which with the old tape to tape system sounded just like I'd nabbed it from a dodgy broadcast from pirate radio.

Extracting the BBC Genome:
This American Life.

Radio Although Radio Four Extra rebroadcast some classic episodes of TAL recently, there are a couple of mentions of the show and it's prehistory in the BBC Genome.

In 1993, two years before TAL began in its original form as Your Radio Playhouse, Ira Glass was the producer on the first episode of a series, Your Place of Mine?, "a collaboration between documentary makers from five countries. Over the next ten weeks, programmes from Australia, America, Canada, Ireland and Britain. Stories which cross boundaries - of geography and generation." The synopsis of the episode is pure TAL:
"1. Big Sisters. "Whatever the guys do we can do better. "On the streets of Chicago the girl gangs rule the patch. They are rough and tough, seeking power, friendship and "family".
The episode was co-produced with NPR but their audio archive "only" goes back to 2001 and I can't find another trace of it.

Then in 1998, the Postscript strand on Radio 3 ran a series called "This American Life" in which "Ian Peacock attempts to understand America through its self-image on radio and television" and in episode 3, Niagra Falls:
"From a rain-swept pier on Lake Michigan, award-winning broadcaster Ira Glass attempts to decode America on his weekly national programme. Recently, he has covered every possible American concept, from Canadians to wackiness and the cult of Frank Sinatra. He, of all people, must have an overview of what an American really is."
The strand has since been discontinued and I can't find audio of this either but here are the three TAL episodes referred to in that synopsis:



"the cult of Frank Sinatra"

iPlayer Update.

TV Let us return briefly to the iPlayer shenanigans of the past and specifically the malfunctions in the Roku 3 app.

The short version is that they've been fixed. The black bars have gone and the Roku app's working better than it ever has, no need to mess about with the interface between the iPad version and the Chromecast.

That's (1) sorted. None of the other items I addressed in that post - at least the suggestion portions have yet - but the app is being improved with tricks I didn't mention and has already.

Now it's possible to begin watching a programme from the start even if its in the process of being broadcast, which means I'll now be able to toilet properly between the end of the Agents of Shield and Have I Got New For You on a Friday night. Many is the evening when I've feared laughter in case of accidents.y PVR to hand.

In the coming weeks the ability to transfer favourites between devices with keyboards and screens and devices that are just screens will also be added so we'll be able to add potential viewing experiences on a computer and have them appear on a television version which is immeasurably exciting.  Replicating favourite in various places has become especially tedious.

My Favourite Film of 1985.

Film As with plenty of films on this list, St Elmo's Fire is so ingrained in my psyche it's almost impossible for me to offer a critique. The usual meagre research for this article/post/exposition reveals to me that Rob Lowe won Worst Actor Razzie for his performance as college nostalgist Billy Hicks and so close am I to this hundred and ten minutes, it's impossible for me to objectively judge if they were right.

All I can think about is the key scene when he comforts Demi's flibbertigibbet Jules with an explanation for St. Elmos Fire and how warm Lowe is, so much so it comforted me on a number of occasions during my teenage years (when I probably saw the film as often as Adventure In Babysitting).  On the few occasion people have needed me to help them in similar ways, I'm sure it's Billy Hicks I'm channelling.

Except the problem with that scene, with his speech is that it's completely false. Here's what Billy says:
Jules, y'know, honey... this isn't real. You know what it is? It's St. Elmo's Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them... there was no fire. There wasn't even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you're making up all of this. We're all going through this. It's our time at the edge.
Let's pick our way through this now and painfully debunk the message utilising passages from what seems like a pretty well referenced Wikipedia entry.

Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere.

Actually, St. Elmo's fire is a form of matter called plasma, which is also produced in stars, high temperature flame, and by lightning. The electric field around the object in question causes ionization of the air molecules, producing a faint glow easily visible in low-light conditions. Roughly 1000 volts per centimeter induces St. Elmo's fire; the number depends greatly on the geometry of the object. Sharp points lower the required voltage because electric fields are more concentrated in areas of high curvature, so discharges are more intense at the ends of pointed objects.

Conditions that can generate St. Elmo's fire are present during thunderstorms, when high voltage differentials are present between clouds and the ground underneath. Air molecules glow owing to the effects of such voltage, producing St. Elmo's fire.

The nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere cause St. Elmo's fire to fluoresce with blue or violet light; this is similar to the mechanism that causes neon lights to glow.

Sailors would guide entire journeys by it ...

It is a sign of electricity in the air, which can interfere with compass readings, making it poor as a navigational tool and some sailors may have regarded it as an omen of bad luck and stormy weather. Other references indicate that sailors may have actually considered St. Elmo's fire as a good omen (as in, a sign of the presence of their patron saint).

.... but the joke was on them... there was no fire.

Physically, St. Elmo's fire is a bright blue or violet glow, appearing like fire in some circumstances, from tall, sharply pointed structures such as lightning rods, masts, spires and chimneys, and on aircraft wings or nose cones. St. Elmo's fire can also appear on leaves and grass, and even at the tips of cattle horns. Often accompanying the glow is a distinct hissing or buzzing sound. It is sometimes confused with ball lightning.

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin hypothesized that a pointed iron rod would light up at the tip during a lightning storm, similar in appearance to St. Elmo's fire.

There wasn't even a St. Elmo. They made it up.

St. Elmo's fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formia (also called St. Elmo, one of the two Italian names for St. Erasmus, the other being St. Erasmo), the patron saint of sailors.
Disappointing, but educational.  You could also rationalise it as Billy deliberately disregarding the science because sometimes (and this is even a shock to a rationalist like me) faith and hope are more palpable and useful emotions than reality.

St. Elmo's Fire is one of the few films on this list for which my memory fails when trying to remember when I first saw it.  On release in 1985, I would have been too young to even know what it was let alone see it at the cinema (though as I type this I remember seeing adverts for it in Smash Hits).  But I did know John Parr's theme song very well, and may have bought a seven-inch of it at Penny Lane Records in Matthew Street before even seeing the film.  Eventually I owned a VCI copy of the VHS, then the dvd in the late 00s.  It's on Netflix too.

The soundtrack even on cassette was very expensive and became a key Christmas present in about 1992.  What I do have a vivid memory of is inviting three of my course friends, Melanie, Alex and Madeline to my dorm room for a group study session, one of the rare occasions my course mates visited me at home and putting the soundtrack on while we waited.  Mel smiled and said that she'd just paid £25 for the cd.  That was just eight years after the film's release which is the same length of time between now and the first Iron Man film.  It's our time at the edge, and how.

No Adrics.

TV The Office for National Statistics published the list of chosen baby names in 2014 and I thought I'd try and see how many of them have clearly been selected by Doctor Who fans. So after feeding all of the tv companion names (with the loosest definition to save arguments) into an Access database along with all the names and numbers (which I'm telling you so you don't think I spent a lot of time over this) we discover the following. Ace is surprisingly popular ("Ace!") and there are three new Peris in the world along with eight Romanas.  I'd do the spin-off companions too but I'd be here all day (and there's no point disappointing fans of Olla The Heat Vampire any further).

JACK - 5804
HARRY - 5379
AMELIA - 5327
GRACE - 2785
ADAM - 1790
ROSE - 990
MARTHA - 807
RORY - 755
JAMIE - 749
AMY - 668
SARAH - 601
JOHN - 601
SARA - 596
ZOE - 580
CLARA - 464
BEN - 364
POLLY - 193
TEGAN - 130
RIVER - 116
IAN - 80
LEELA - 79
RIVER - 63
CRAIG - 50
ACE - 39
JAMIE - 35
MIKE - 18
SUSAN - 15
PERI - 6
JO - 3
LIZ - 3

Poor Adric.

Extracting the BBC Genome:

Film Storyville is one of the BBC's primary documentary strands, co-funding and licensing non-fiction films from a range of sources under the guiding hand of producer Nick Fraser. Beginning on BBC Two in 1997 and now well embedded onto BBC Four, it's become a valid alternative to the televisual storytelling of the dominant form of presenter led and talking heads documentary, although obviously includes examples of both.

Between 1997 and 2002, Storyville was just on BBC Two.  Then for the opening months of 2002 it was exclusively on BBC Knowledge and when that closed shifted to BBC Four before eventually sharing between Two and Four, the former carrying the prestige, usually theatrical releases and repeats in a late night BBC Four on BBC Two slot after Newsnight and later.

As with Close-Up, I've often wondered which films were included in the strand across time and thanks to the BBC Genome that information is now readily available, so I decided to make a list.

Which isn't to to say there aren't other similar lists already. But the TVDB is pretty inconsistent and incomplete for much of the time. The Wikipedia covers the period beyond the Genome, as does obviously the BBC Programme page which began gathering scheduling information some time in 2007.

There isn't anything I can find which goes back as far as 1997 when the strand began.

Until now.

Which isn't to say this list will be perfect.  Obviously.

Firstly, I've left out transmission dates and descriptions.  For the purposes of this exercise I'm not sure how useful they are.  But if that is important for the purposes of your exercise, you should be able to find that information by copy/pasting the title into the Genome search box, along with the word Storyville if necessary.

There may also be omissions.  My process was to search for "Storyville" on the Genome and rekey the results.  If it wasn't designated as a Storyville broadcast on the listing pages of the Radio Times, it won't be here.

The Wikipedia, for example, has Winged Migration as a Storyville entry, as does Box of Broadcasts (so would have been listed as such on the Freeview EPG at some point, even though the Genome doesn't mention it so that information wasn't in the Radio Times listing and it has its own BBC programme page (but also this stubby page on BBC News where it is caption as Storyville).

Do let me know if I've missed anything.

I've ignored duplicate broadcasts too.  Some of them have been repeated dozens of times.  Paris Brothel.

Also, I've added director surnames in brackets where that information is available in the Genome which tends to be when the film was broadcast on BBC Two, for which entries were longer due to the position of the listing in the Radio Times.  Only post digital switchover did BBC Four's listings really become as detailed as the so-called main channels.

So the best I can say is that this list is largely accurate, I think.  I have only included the programmes listed in the Genome, which ends at the end 2009, so if you are interested in what happened after that you'll also have to consult the BBC programme pages or the Wikipedia.

Halcyon Days.

Film Fascinating insight into what was state of the art in digital manipulation twenty-years ago, courtesy of Film 95. Look at all the paper on Dr Boudry's desk!