Stairway to Heaven and other tales.

Film On the occasion of his birthday, David Bordwell reviews the film which were available at what were his local cinemas and talks about how our approach to film releases has changed:
"The first thing that strikes me the quality that’s on offer. On that Wednesday you could have seen four superb films (Rebecca, Stairway to Heaven, Song of the South, Possessed) and two worthwhile pictures (Of Human Bondage and Miracle on 34th Street). These movies are still remembered and admired.

"Can this morning’s list of multiplex showtimes promise anything so enduring? Maybe Finding Dory and The BFG will be watched sixty-nine years from now, but our other current releases seem bound for oblivion. And of course the 1947 bill of fare was, with the important exception of Song of the South, designed for grownups."

"Those who want to use this 1947 data-point as an example of the death of American cinema are welcome to do so."
Remind me to visit the local history library and check the Liverpool Echo's what's on page for my birthday.  Fittingly, it was the year of the disaster movie.

Are We Still Friends?

TV Now that I've embarked on a Star Trek marathon, nearly at the end of first season of Enterprise which is often hilarious (Travis: "Have you ever been treated at an alien hospital?" T'Pol: "San Francisco."), the blu-ray boxed of Friends will have to sit on the shelf for a bit longer. But in the US, it's on Netflix and is gaining a huge viewership amongst the group is portrays who're viewing it as way of visiting much simpler times, in much the same way as my generation saw Pride & Prejudice or some such. Adam Sterbergh of Vulture investigates:
"Michelle Cerutti, who lives in Florida, has been a Friends superfan since she was a little kid, even though she was only in ­kindergarten when the show first aired. “I’m 27 years old now,” she wrote to me in an email. “This connection has never changed.” For a long time, she would fall asleep to DVDs of the show. “When I was 14 years old, going on 15, I went through depression, fights with my own friends, a roller coaster of emotions,” she writes. “The ONLY thing that kept me from crying were the six New Yorkers that I grew up getting to know.”"
Seems the lyrics to The Rembrandt song were quite, quite correct.

Seasons Come, Seasons Go.

Architecture The Four Seasons in New York is closing, or at least closing in its present state. Forever mentioned as the place to be seen in New York based films and so therefore on the list of destinations for those of us who aren't even sure if we'll make it there (or anywhere for that matter) everything is being shut down and sold off. The aptly named Jason Farago offers an obituary:
"There are elegant restaurants and erotic restaurants, restaurants for business and restaurants for pleasure – and one that was all of these things, more beautiful than any other. But after six decades, the Four Seasons, as stately as ever in its glass box off Park Avenue, will complete its last service on Saturday. Then the restaurant – the place Jackie Kennedy called “the cathedral”, an acme of modernist design outshining any other space in New York – will be despoiled. The tables, the furnishings, and even the pots and pans will be flogged off at auction later this month. The season is summer. But for architectural preservationists, students of modern design, and lovers of New York, this is a winter of discontent."
The whole article's worth it for the ending to be honest. You can just imagine the staff off camera leaning against stuff. We've all seen that film too.

The End of this Blog.

About In just over a week's time, this blog will be fifteen years old which means I've spent just under a third of my life writing here. Over the years I've contemplated ending things, the blog I mean, but every time I keep coming back to the same thing: what would be the point? I'd still want to write something and although it's arguable that I could be ploughing my energy into something people might actually pay me to write or indeed read, now that's looking increasingly like a shadowy possibility, the last thing I want is to spend the rest of my days retweeting a defense of whatever Taylor Swift as done that nano-second or pointless Twitter storms when have an actual blog I could do that on.

Diamond Geezer's also contemplated closing and like me has decided not to but is still contemplating what happens after. Would people notice and if people did notice what would be the result? He paints a picture of his blog succumbing to digital vines and weathering as his words fall into dereliction:
"For a while the blog'll look normal, indeed you might even come back and take a look, but eventually the number of visitors will drop back to mere background noise. The first physical thing that'll go noticeably wrong is likely to be that my Flickr subscription expires and thousand of links stop working, as well as certain embedded photos which could create a bit of a mess. Various spam comments will soon appear which I won't be around to delete, and the content will look increasingly out of date."
In stream he mentions that his blog has been archived at the British Library. So has mine. But their single mirror was in 2008 when as I mention on that page I was 34. Glancing through I don't remember writing any of that and mores the point I do seem to have been a braver writer back then, thinking nothing of turning out numerous paragraphs on multiple topic per day.  Plus whole swathes of links cribed from here and there.  Perhaps I'm already neglecting this patch of ground, for which I apologise.  I'm sorry too for the title for the post.  Just wanted to see if anyone would notice [via].

Tessa Thompson on Veronica Mars.

TV The intersection has finally happened for Tessa Thompson with key roles in huge films this past couple of years, Creed, Selma and Dear White People which has led to a further three big roles in amongst other things Thor: Ragnarok.

Buzzfeed celebrates the occasion with an extensive interview in the old Rolling Stone style, following the actress as she goes about her business.

The writer, herself black, expresses embarrassment that a large percentage of the piece is about the implications of their position within society in a way which would not be a topic if the subject was white or a man, but agree that it's important that these stories are told so that everything can change.

Here's the paragraph when it brief alights on the moment when Thompson played Wallace's girlfriend in Veronica Mars, one of a series of a bit problematic elements of an otherwise great series. Her character was set to be some sort of femme fatale figure but the execution was at times somewhat one dimensional:
"Two years later, Thompson landed her first TV gig as a 1930s lesbian bootlegger in an episode of Cold Case. For the next near-decade, she picked up roles in dozens of television shows and movies, learning early on she had an affinity for characters whose race was central to the performance — whether she wanted it to be or not. On Season 2 of Veronica Mars, she played Jackie Cook, the title character’s best friend’s girlfriend, a role that was ultimately written off the show due to poor reception from fans. “Even on that show, a show that was so smart, I felt like my character was still boxed into a space of being the black girl,” she says."
Dear White People is on Netflix UK and one of the best films I've seen this year. It should be a fixture for a while - Netflix have announced a television series and although some of the film cast will return, Thompson is onwards to other things.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
FACT Liverpool.

"I am not a student of human nature. I am a professor of a far wider academy of which human nature is merely a part."
-- The Doctor, "The Evil of the Daleks"
Art Most of the time when visiting venues, I tend to start at the beginning and stay until it's done. But with the randomiser conveniently dropping me here on Picturehouse at FACT's cheap Monday and during the proper release week for nuGhostbusters, I paused in the middle for two hours of supernatural comedy.  nuGhostbusters is fine.  It passed the six laugh test within the first half hour and although it spends a bit too much time trying to please all the people including fans of the original who were going to hate it whatever and suffers from the CGI finale problem and some rough editing, the actors and their characters are excellent company. Indeed, Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann is such a unique creation she steals the film from under everyone and I probably spent most of the duration simply watching whatever she was doing even when the other actors were on screen.  Oh and she's quite clearly a Gallifreyan, but that's by the by, if quite apt for how I'm dealing with this year's Biennial.

FACT's hosting two of the official episodes, Flashback and Software.  In the entry hall is the third section of Yin-Ju Chen's Extrastellar Evaluations although in truth it's really just a reiteration of the sections also at Cains Brewery with the metal plates in formation on the ground and a projection of a nebula on the wall.  The additional pieces are a triangular mirror leaning against one corner and geometric shape in white light projected across another.  However intriguing this is, it simply doesn't make any sense if you haven't seen the sections at the Brewery despite the justification on the wall and more important doesn't add anything to it.  As with the multi-threaded approach to the display at the Old Blind School in 2014, there's a danger in splitting these sections in reducing their power, making their message less cohesive.  The otherworldliness of the installation at Cains isn't noticeable here.

Otherwise both of FACT's other displays are deeply impressive.  Extracting the feel good busting in the middle from the duration, I probably spent about two hours working my way through both displays, the Krzysztof Wodiczko retrospective on the ground floor and Lucy Beech's film show in Gallery 2.  As ever I'm bewildered how anyone can try and "do" the Biennial in a day or two and feel as though they've fully absorbed all the work on display.  Many of the press reviews published after the opening weekend will be from journalists who may have only been able to see what they could in that opening weekend or even just in the press days and I can't see how they can fairly pass judgement on this many displays with this variety of artwork, especially with the increase in venues on last time.  Granted it's not quite back at the peak, partly because City States is long gone, but neither of these artists appear in any of the major press reviews I could find.

Wodiczko's main interest is in utilising curious technology to magnify and project the voice of marginalised groups including the homeless, army veterans and immigrants.  Homeless Vehicle is a specially designed cart created in collaboration people living in the streets, covering their most basic needs whilst simultaneously not obscuring their problems.  Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection displays testimony from veterans and their families about their experiences surrounding war onto the statue of Lincoln in Union Square.  The Tijuana Projection offers exploited factory workers with a way of expressing their problems by recording their face utilising a special headset (not unlike the motion capture wonder beloved by Andy Serkis as used on The Hobbit) which then projects the results across the spherical surface of El Central Cultural.  In all of these cases, what we have is a video recording of each piece, captured in a similar way to performance art which means we often also have the reactions of passers-by to what's being shown.  There are many tears.

Although the centre piece is clearly supposed to be Guests, an atmospheric 2009 commission origination from the Venice Biennial in which the visitors finds themselves in a darkened room looking out through frosted windows at immigrants carrying out menial jobs or leaning longingly at us through the impenetrable glass, the piece I spent most time with is Alien Staff from way back in 1992.  Whilst staying in Paris, the artist became interested in the plight of non-EU migrants living in Europe and designed a pole with a monitor and speaker fixed to the top from which the recorded testimonial of the migrant carrying the pole could be played.  Again, this is represented by a recording (from VHS camcorders!) of each participant wandering shopping centres and tourist attractions, staff in hand,  their words filling the air and attracting the attention of passers-by, who stop, listen and ask questions, about the technology and about the person wielding it.

One of the staffs is also in the display in the gallery, but it wasn't until some way into the video that I even considered how much of a technical marvel this would have been in mid-nineties.  Now it could be accomplished by placing a cheap smart phone at the top with the video copied on the memory or through a bespoke app.  But in 1992 when the earliest of these recordings was made, although tiny LCD televisions were in existence, I can't quite understand how it was possible to project the recording into them.  A small video-cd and player?  A mini-disc?  Some kind of projection technology or broadcasting in from somewhere nearby?  Which is rather the trick, as I said, drawing people in who're curious about the technology and then engaging with them about the subject at hand.  As well as the video testimonial, each staff also has clear spaces within the tube where the migrant has placed personal objects, photographs, mementos, often a watch.

The ensuing conversations, some featured at length are fascinating as they include exactly the same rhetoric and discussions which became the currency of the EU referendum campaign and if only the audio survived, albeit with a translation, most of these conversations aren't in English, you could assume that they'd been recorded in the past few months.  One man voices his annoyance about how immigrants wear their own clothes rather than trying to blend in before admitting that yes, when he travels abroad he wears his own clothes too.  On the other side, another bloke who stops during a visit to the Centre Pompidou offers a passionate defense of migrants and immigration, outlining the divisive language of those who blame the problems in education and health on outsiders rather than a lack of investment and how they're stereotyped even if locals commits the same misdeeds.  We're still having these discussions two and half decades later.

In preparing her film, Pharmakon, Lucy Beech interviewed clinicians working in the field of delusional infestation, as well as visiting advocacy website and patients forums as she crafted a script about how support networks, as the Biennial booklet proposes, "can care for the individual whilst conversely intensifying symptoms."  Without giving too much away, we watch as a security person who suffers from panic attacks finds herself attracted to the message and the help provided by a guru like figure working in one of the buildings she's guarding.  Shot across Liverpool, most prominently in Concert Sq in the city centre and Sefton Park Palm House, it has a similar ambience to Yorgos Lanthimos's film The Lobster with its absurdities within a clinical atmosphere.  We're never quite sure if we're watching an expression of some near future society in which a disease is real or some kind of mass hallucination.

What both artists and their work share is the appreciation that the best way to attract people is through their natural curiosity and that although our usual attitude to the unlike is to run away from it, throw some rocks or begin deportation proceedings, we're otherwise always intrigued by something we don't understand.  Wodiczko could simply present his work in gallery spaces and to be fair in the end, as the FACT exhibitions shows, that's their ultimate demonstration, but if you confront people with these messages in the streets utilising, to some extent the language of advertising, but in such a way that they don't feel as though they're being sold to, you're more likely to get your message across.  In the protagonist of Beech's film we see someone being sucked in through similar means but for purposes which at least on the surface seem exploitative and nefarious.  Kind of makes you wonder what the end game might be with Pokemon Go.

A few suggestions if you are intending to visit.  The Lucy Beech piece lasts about 21 minutes and is on a loop but it does have a clear narrative, so like her other pieces notably Cannibals which appeared at Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2014 in the Horseshoe Gallery at World Museum and shared similar themes related to self help and female group dynamics, it's important to watch from the beginning to fully grok the meaning.  When I arrived it was about five minutes from the start but the invigilator was good enough to let me know after I waited outside, having presumably at least heard it a few times since opening, when the film was about to start again so I could enter then.  Krzysztof Wodiczko's display lacks chairs even though a few of the pieces are quite lengthy.  My option was to sit on the floor but that wasn't exactly ideal and led to some viewing of works at slightly odd angles.  But like I said, in most cases this was more than worth it.

Right then old girl, what have you got for me next time?  Oh hold on, the time space coordinates are drifting.  This could get rocky ...

Next Destination:
Saw Mi .. Blade Factory.

My Favourite Film of 1937.

Film Contrary to the opinions of some, and by some I mean probably you, there are limits to the amount of films I've seen. Granted three or four hundred a year is a grand total, but it's smaller than most film critics and the breadth of types of film isn't that great. As this project reaches backwards into the earlier parts of the last century, I'm bumping up against years in which its possible to count the number of films I can categorically say I've seen, let alone enjoyed can be counted on less than two hands if now one.

Some of those films sound extraordinary and there's one in particular which had me salivating when my eyes glanced across it on the IMDb, a Josef von Sternberg adaptation of Rupert Graves's I Claudius starring Charles Laughton in the title role with Merle Oberon as Messalina. The notion of seeing Laughton's expressive face essaying that role sounds remarkable not to mention the challenge of compacting a book, which on television filled twelve episodes with a duration of fifty minutes each, into a couple of hours.

Except, some quick Googling reveals, it wasn't completed. Sternberg wasn't having an amazing time of it on set, clashing with Laughton and so when Oberon was injured in a car crash during filming, the director used it as an excuse to walk away. The footage still exists however and appeared in a documentary by Sir Alexander Korda, The Epic Which Never Was, broadcast numerously on the BBC during the 70s and 80s and apparently also available on the I, Clavdivs boxed set.

As a proud cineaste the notion of seeing these vestiges of a lost film should fascinate me in a similar way to seeing the restored cut of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (which would have filled this slot if not for the "directors rule" and I hadn't already reviewed It's a Wonderful Life upstream) with its stills filling in the visual blanks after a complete original audio was found in the vaults.  Or the many iterations of Doctor Who's Shada (and don't think I'm not holding out hope for Big Finish to have Tom and Lalla do it again).

But the version I have in my head with its shots of Laughton growing in strength and power working in the shadows as numerous emperors come and go in an extras filled Rome framed by the academy ratio can't be as good as the reality.  Plus with the constant comparison with the BBC series, the scenes I'd be fascinated to see aren't likely to have have been filmed.  The whole business of it not being complete is likely to leave me empty and disappointed.  But doesn't most film?

The Superlambanana looks fucking awesome.

Art After my post the other day and the Radio Merseyside report, the Superlambanana has had a paint job, which as the Liverpool Echo reports was carried out by "artist Julian Taylor who was involved in the original installation of the Superlambanana in 1998".  Thanks to his intervention, it's also in the shade of yellow with which is was first adorned.

You can't quite see from the pictures but the only oddity is the paint seems to be lighter up towards the tail so you can see the paint brush lines and some of an earlier coat is visible.  But you'd only notice if you were really looking for flaws.

Otherwise, as you can see it's as good as new, if not better because the patination on the surface gives it a new character.  The bin's been moved too.  Job, well done, all round.