TV With all the Star Trek I'm watching at the moment (three hundred episodes to go), I'd almost forgotten Doctor Who's back in April. Here's the latest trailer which looks to be a bespoke piece of a kind we haven't seen in a while suggests the sense of reboot and presenting something new, perhaps taking on board Tom Spilbury's criticism in the club magazine about the "same old, same old" feel of the publicity campaign for the last series (whenever that was).
Not an awful lot to be said other than just how much it evokes wilderness years Who with the dynamic shots of Nardol's dufflecoat and Bill with the tracksuit over stripy top and bow in her hair. Seems like they're both going to be companion's throughout which also somewhat brings back the classic show's notion (continued past 1989) of throwing a bunch of random disparate souls together on the time machine and seeing how they interact. Could be refreshing, especially is Matt Lucas's character becomes more than just comic relief.
Life For the past six months or so I've been travelling to London for one day per month and visiting all the places which I've read about in books, seen in films, simply known about but never seen. As I said in the V&A post about one of these such days, it's because at the age of forty-two I'm not getting any younger and if anything were to happen to me, or lets face it at this point potentially all of us, I don't want it to be without having had these adventures. Plus for years I've complained about how so much of our cultural heritage is concentrated in London and realised that if it wasn't going to visit Liverpool any time soon, I'd best drag myself down there instead. "Down there." Such a Northerner.
One of the elements of these visits has been to purposefully not write them up as blog posts, a rule which I've already broken on a couple of occasions. Much of this had to do with not wanting to make the visit about what I'd subsequently scribble here, wanting to experience everything like someone who doesn't have a blog. But the problem is, this blog does exist and if when I look back at this time in a few years there isn't anything here, that negates the whole point of writing it in the first place. I'm grouping everything under how I'd describe them on a bucket list, which doesn't really exist other than as a set of random ideas for "things I haven't done yet". Oh and purposefully just a paragraph or so each. I still don't want to overthink things.
The Docklands Light Railway.
The idea of the DLR has fascinated me since seeing a report about its initial construction on, I think, Tomorrow's World. On reflection and after having travelled on it, I can see that it's really just a glorified tram, but the idea of a near driverless train seemed entirely space age back in the 1980s. The real novelty is being able to sit at the front where the cab would be and seeing the railway and oncoming stations from what would be a train driver's point of view. A guard told me that he'd watched the area build up around the track during his years on the service. My favourite moment was pulling in to Limehouse which has lost all of the character which would have inspired the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng Chiang.
On part of the journey, an actual driver was sitting on the passenger seat across the way, controlling the train from a panel, although his entire job seemed to be to press one button on reaching a station to open the doors then another to let the train know that it could leave. His eyes were permanently fixed to the front, deep in concentration, no sign of boredom or apathy. Even with my sense of occasion, there's no denying that there's only so much of the same track you can watch. Thank goodness for the moments when the carriage lurched upwards and sideways rather like a roller coaster to provide some extra excitement as it sped through the landscape between the locations its contrived to visit.
The Prime Meridian.
One of the three key reasons for this London visit was to finally see the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory. Navigating to the line is part of an audio tour; you can't simply see it for free, it's part of an extended narrative about how we measure time and space across the globe. It's smaller than I expected, at least the visual representation, a short strip of metal about fifty metres long in the courtyard outside one of the observatories. Along the edge various cities are listed with their relative longitudes and distance from the equator. For the most part it seems to exist to allow tourists to have a photograph taken with their feet straddling the east-west divide. The real measurement, check and balance, is a laser projected from the rafters about forty kilometres across London.
Harrison's Longitude Clocks.
These clocks are smaller than I expected. After having read Sobel's book about their creation and the various documentaries and dramas, these mechanisms had writ large in my imagination, but they're proportionally similar to a small microwave. Which isn't diminish their beauty, these great technical achievements also translate into kinetic sculptures as the balances and wheels bounce back and forth. They're presented within a larger display which rather emphasises the astronomical method as well it might and to an extent their total achievement is underplayed as are the reasons why John Harrison wasn't rewarded when he should (of Sobel's version of the narrative is to be believed) because of the sneariness of astronomers. There also isn't any mention I could see of Rupert Gould's contribution in restoring the clocks to the condition in which they are now.
Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity.
Ever since seeing That Hamilton Woman and Vigee Le Brun's portraits, I've been fascinated by Emma, a figure who began life in poverty, managed to build her reputation to the point of becoming Nelson's mistress then returning once again to penury in her final years, dying at 49. She was a remarkable woman, constantly re-inventing herself as a performer and somewhat politician turning men's frequently callousness to her advantage, packing so much into her short life. This exhibition at the National Maritime Museum collects dozens of portraits by Romney as well as some incredible artifacts including the love letters, the antiquities she would have studies and Nelson's own uniform. There's also a stunning ten minute presentation in which her "attitudes" are recreated by an actress in video on a stage.
The Cutty Sark.
Briefly. As the posters advertising the friends programme for Greenwich Park explain, it's impossible to see it all in one day. So I missed most of the National Maratime Museum (apart from Turner's painting of the Battle of Trafalgar), the planetarium and the Queen's Gallery and the interior tour of the ship. But as I've learnt from previous visits, it's best to make a point of seeing the things I've travelled down to see first and then make everything else secondary. The Cutty Sark probably does indeed deserves a whole day, but I was happy to walk past its exterior for now. It's larger than I expected, having only otherwise seen it in helicopter shots during coverage of the London Marathon. Perhaps once I've completed my personal A-List of London attractions I'll return.
With the Museums closing at five o'clock and a few hours to fill before catching the train home, I decided to visit Torchwood One or as close as possible. As a receptionist at One Canada Square cautioned, apart from shops and restaurants there isn't much to do but after a visit to Pizza Express, I was quite happy to stroll about the place, looking into the windows across vast brightly lit foyers, usually populated by a solitary security guard behind a giant desk. Although I've visited La Defance in Paris with its Grand Arch, this is the first time I've stood in front of a skyscraper or any building and not been able to see the top floors. It's dizzying and claustrophobic. How must it be to live or work in Manhattan with these edifices permanently obscuring the sky?
Most notably, Canary Wharf doesn't seem to have any litter bins. After impulse buying a coffee from a cafe bar situated in the base of one of the buildings I eventually found myself with an empty paper cup and nowhere for it to go. After not seeing anything on my route, I eventually decided enter one of the foyers and ask of they had a bin. The next building was some kind of medical company. I tried pushing the door but it was locked so rang the intercom, which was on a post nearby. The guard walked slowly across the foyer and opened the door. I asked him if he had a bin. "No" he said. "No bin at all?" I ask again. "No." He repeated then shut the door in the my face. Fortunately the bank headquarters next door were more accommodating ...
The Stealth Homophobia That's Slowly Poisoning Us:
"Equality for the LGBT community now faces its greatest but least visible hurdle yet, says The Guyliner."
Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber:
"As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I've gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It's a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go."
Crowdsourcing for Shakespeare:
"Around 1675, a woman named Margaret Baker wrote out a remedy for aches whose active ingredient was a puppy. “Take a whelpe that sucketh the fatter the better & drowne him in water till he be deade,” she advised. The reader should then gut the dog, fill its belly with black soap, “putt him one a spite & roste him well,” and apply the fat drippings to the patient’s skin, wafting the scent of warmed sage over him at the same time. “It will helpe him by the grace of god,” she concluded.
Oscar’s Siren song 3: A guest post by Jeff Smith:
"Our colleague and Film Art collaborator Jeff Smith is an expert on film sound, particularly music. He’s contributed several items to our site over the years (for example, here and here and here). Today he’s back with his annual survey of Oscar’s musical categories. He offers in-depth analysis of how the films’ scores and songs enhance the movies’ impact."
Why do all the women on Fox News look and dress alike? Republicans prefer blondes:
"From pundits like Ann Coulter to Kellyanne Conway, American rightwingers are a uniform vision of don’t scare-the-horses dressing."
Films When Geppeto set about creating his artificial boy (as in Giulio Antamoro's adaptation), little could he comprehend, probably because he’s a fictional character, that centuries later, later craftspeople would be capable of producing near lifelike digital marionettes through photographic technology. But that’s what we witnessed this Christmas, when Grand Admiral Tarkin and other special guests appeared in Rogue One: a Star Wars prequel (story).
Which isn’t to say the results are entirely perfect. Beneath the digital Cushing mask, a real actor with an equally impressive stage and screen career, Guy Henry, provides the voice and motion captured performance providing an underlying sense of humanity, yet the results still tip into the uncanny valley. We’re not completely convinced that Sir Peter is back giving a performance, probably because it’s not easy to forget that someone has died.
Much as has been written about the ethics of this decision, of attempting to make an actor posthumously “live” again and give a new performance and I can understand why some would find it distasteful. My adoration for Audrey Hepburn leads me to conclude that the appropriation of her image for selling chocolate bars is an atrocity as is Gene Kelly’s reanimation for a car commercial (his meticulous choreography replaced with something else entirely).
In Ari Folman’s film The Congress, Robin Wright plays a version of herself in alternative future in which actors are able to sign away the use of their image for film work in perpetuity, even past their death, the version scanned and capture as part of the agreement allowing them never to age on screen. The difference there, I suppose, is that the actor agrees to the procedure, even if they regret it afterwards as they see their image used in projects they fundamentally disagree with.
Back to Star Wars and where I stand. I think it’s fine. But I think the ethical fine line is hair thin. In the case of Star Wars, they’re recreating a character, albeit in a near photo-realistic form, which is no better or worse than when the same being appears in the tv series, in Rebels or The Clone Wars. It’s all animation with someone other than Cushing providing voice work or a performance, fulfilling a particular narrative function.
The other potential approach would have been to have Henry simply playing Tarkin and expect the audience to simply accept that the same character was being played by a different actor, as per Saavik across the Star Trek movies. And although it’s true that digi-Tarkin still pulls the viewer out of the film because he doesn’t feel quite right, it does create a clearer sense of continuity with A New Hope.
But this is one of only a few examples where this would be acceptable. If Hammer suddenly had an uptick in budget and decided to create a new horror film starring Cushing, that would be a more dubious decision. Or if someone decided to create a new romcom with Emma Stone swapping meet cute with a young Cary Grant, or a western with Ryan Gosling sparring with John Wayne.
Not that there would be frankly much point. Film is built on renewal and change, the old guard giving way to the new, for better or worse and I’m not sure there’s even an appetite from the audience for this sort of thing. Given the choice, I’d much rather watch a Monroe romcom within which I can be sure she was creatively invested rather than some contemporary pale imitation. There are enough remakes and sequels which fit that category already.