Special Features?

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

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

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

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

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

Still buying it.

What's the strategy here?

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

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

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

Won't that jar even further?

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

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Exhibition Research Lab.

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

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

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

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

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

Next Destination:

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Hondo Chinese Supermarket.

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

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

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

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

Next Destination:
Exhibition Research Lab

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Pullman Hotel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Destination:
Hondo Chinese Restaurant.

My Favourite Film of 1934

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

The Black Cat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Granby Workshop.

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

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

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

Next Destination:
Pullman Hotel.