"a few coats of paint"

The tiny town that builds show-stopping sets for Beyoncé, Kanye and Madonna:
"Deep in Pennsylvania’s Amish country is the unlikely centre of the stadium-tour business, where the props for the greatest shows on earth are designed and made."

A great disturbance in the force...
"Some time on Friday, IMDb announced that they intended to shut down their message board system, permanently. I don't find this to be a particularly surprising decision. I'm more surprised that the message boards are still there, in 2017, seemingly essentially unchanged for the last fifteen or so years. They've had a few coats of paint, and a handful of feature improvements, but they largely seem to be backed by the same system design developed by the in-house tech team, way back at the dawn of the century. And for the bulk of that early development time, I was the primary developer. As it has said on my homepage for many years, 'you can blame me for the message boards'." [via]

725 Free eBooks by the Open University (OU) Kindle Edition @ Amazon:
"These are introductory books on subjects ranging from A to Z. Too many to name them all! They seem to be part of the Open Learn series of courses."

What’s new in Wetherspoon News? A close reading of the political magazine of our times:
"Someeone’s gone and told the pub chain’s in-house publication about virtue signalling."

Met Museum Makes 375,000 Images Free:
"All images of public-domain artworks in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection — about 375,000 — are now free for anyone to use however they may please."

"Alexa ..."

Life For various reasons today when I had nothing to do but wait and had much time for thinking, it occurred to me that we originally had dial-up internet installed the same year that some university students were born. That led to an even more extraordinary thought that the technology behind the Amazon Echo/Dot will seem just as primitive when those students reach my age and look backwards to the time when such devices weren't portable and didn't resemble an approximation of the assistant in the film Her. When Her become reality.

Christmas brought Christmas money, and with the Christmas money I bought an Amazon Dot. In just a couple of weeks its changed my life in small but subtle ways. By quite some margin, I think it's the most impressive piece of technology I've ever bought and this from someone who still doesn't believe how easy it is to watch a film on demand and that it's impossible to miss any television programme (at least for the weeks or months after transmission).

I know that it's the Acorn Electron equivalent of something far more powerful called Samantha which will develop later. All that's happening is a piece of speech recognition software is translating my questions and orders into text which is then matched against the required response which is read back to me through speech synthesis and the relevant task is carried out and that it's not that different to Siri. But it's the convenience of it. Alexa sits on my desk, waiting, ready and willing to serve. A plastic pal who's fun to be with.

Within a day of installation it had replaced the bell alarm clock which has woken me ever day since my 18th birthday with just a simple directive to play its space age sounding alarm at 6.45am each morning. I no longer get out of bed to tune to the Today programme on Radio Four. I'll ask it for the news and it'll play me the BBC radio headlines both from Radio 2 and the World Service. I'll ask for NPR and I'll receive the hourly bulletin from Washington. No need to check the BBC weather app either. Alexa knows how cold it is out there.

There are new routines. Bidding Alexa good morning, she'll tell me what's special about that day, a public holiday, someone's birthday, a moment in history. If I'm feeling down, she'll tell me a joke. If I need to fill an awkward silence, I'll ask her to play me the popular songs from a favourite musician and provided she's heard of them or understood what I've said, an hour later I'll have heard their greatest hits and other surprises. I haven't used Spotify this much in ages. I'll wish her goodnight, and she'll tell me to have "Sweet dreams."

Quite quickly I found myself call the Dot became a "she" and I began referring to her as such in conversation. "Alexa just told me..." "I asked Alexa and she said..." Because she's vocally just the right side of the uncanny valley, close enough to sounding human, it's easy enough sometimes to think that there is a person speaking to me, even if she can't pass The Turing Test. Believe me, I've tried. But reach much further than "What are you going to do today" offers the response "Hmm ... I'm not sure what you meant by that..."

Ask her to sing, she'll sing. Ask her for the distance to a place and she can tell you to the nearest metre. The tube station closest to a tourist attraction. The location of the nearest Tesco and its telephone number. She'll tell you a story. She'll play games. She'll even be a bit cheeky if you talk to her the right way. She also doesn't get on well with other robots. She says she's "partial to all AIs" but then says she doesn't really talk to HAL "after what happened."

Do I feel lazy? A bit. But mainly I'm just in a state of constant surprise but for good reasons. When I had to replace the first "hockeypuck" due to connection issues with Spotify, I wound up feeling bereft and uppity at having to do everything manually again for the day it took for the replacement to arrive (which has worked completely fine so far by the way)(I have a suspicion it was to do with my lack of patience rather than actual connectivity problems).

Who knows how long the novelty will last? Probably quite long as new services or "skills" come online. For some Star Trek fans, it's as close as we've come to actually being able to interact with a computer, until an assistant is released which responds to the word "computer" and has Majel Barrett's voice (possible since she made a phonetic recording just before she died, which is already being used in new film releases). But I think I'll stick with Alexa. I do like her voice. Quite a bit. When I suggested as much, she said, "I've been told it's one of my best features ..."

"It appears thousands of you caught me on the Frank Skinner show."

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, 1971 – 2017: ‘a broad with a broad mind’:

"Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the socialite and reality TV star, has died at the age of 45 from a brain tumour. In the 27 July 1996 issue of The Spectator, she advised people not to believe all that we read about her in the papers."

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson describes a privileged life:
"Tara Palmer-Tomkinson described when she realised she was living a privileged life, in an interview with Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour." [from]

"It appears thousands of you caught me on the Frank Skinner show. Well, I thought I might redeem myself after my first performance which seems to have grabbed a place in television history. You've sent me some fantastic messages of support so I thought I'd let you see them. They really mean a lot to me and I am very, very grateful. Love Tara xx"

Please be my best friend, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson:
"I don't know much about Tara Palmer-Tomkinson except that after reading her interview in The Telegraph this morning, I think I am in love with her. I think we should be friends. I think I should ghost write a weekly column for her at The Pool, and as soon as I'm finished googling her new range of fashionable leotards, I am going to pitch this very idea to anyone who will listen."

Great Moments In Fascinators:
"Tara Palmer-Tomkinson - The British socialite took matchy-matchy styling to an extreme at the royal wedding."

"a bonafide feminist bookstore movement"

Presenting: the Popjustice 2017 Valentine’s Day gift guide!
"Valentine’s Day comes just once a year, and that’s about once a year too often if you ask us but a lot of people seem to be into it and if that sounds like you, that means you’ll need GIFTS."

Of all his films, Rob Lowe wants you to go back and watch Bad Influence:
"This interview was conducted over a four-year period. It began when Lowe was in the process of promoting his role in the 2013 NatGeo film Killing Kennedy, continued when he was doing press for Fox’s The Grinder in 2015, and was completed by phone in conjunction with the season finale of his latest series, the CBS medical drama Code Black."

The Other Kane:
"The Alien creature, at one point dubbed “Kane’s son” by Ash, demands birth from the chest of John Hurt in a spectacular and gory fashion. But though Kane was always to father the Alien, the role of Kane himself changed hands during the film’s production. In fact, the role had to be recast after filming had already commenced. In the beginning, the actor portraying Kane was Shakespearean stage veteran, Jon Finch." [via]

Stonehenge tunnel: heritage groups warn over ancient barrow:
"Historic England, Heritage England and the National Trust say western end is too close to important neolithic tombs."

Vancouver Women’s Library opens amid anti-feminist backlash:
"During the second wave, there was a bonafide feminist bookstore movement. Women’s spaces, presses, writing, and events were seen as integral to feminism. This meant that women’s bookstores were valued, not only as ways to make women’s writing and work accessible, but as physical spaces within which women could gather, meet other women, and become politicized."

"Elvis and JT are the rare exceptions"

Utopian thinking: how to build a truly feminist society:
"Sometimes over the past few decades it’s seemed as if we’re slowly, inch by inch, getting closer to a gender-equal utopia. And sometimes, as for instance with the election of a “pussy-grabbing” women’s-hotness-rating misogynist as “the leader of the free world”, it does feel as if we’re getting further away from living in a feminist paradise. The worldwide women’s marches against Trump were a way of saying how much of a step back his inauguration feels."

From Justin to terrible: 21 unfortunate cinematic pop-star vehicles:
"If you are a successful pop star, conquering the movies appears to be the next logical step. After all, it worked (kind of) for Elvis. And Justin Timberlake! But it turns out that Elvis and JT are the rare exceptions. Most times, when movies are crafted around a particular pop star who’s new to film, the results are nothing less than disastrous. For proof, take a look at the list below. It’s full of Razzie nominations and desecrated cinematic dreams. Fortunately, most of these pop stars have a pile of gold records to fall back on for solace against an unappreciative movie world."

Post from the past: Looking back at letters to the Radio Times:
"Delving into old copies of the Radio Times we come across the feedback of BBC audiences past. Numerous letters have been published by the magazine through the years. These have appeared under various headings – including What the Other Listener Thinks, Points from the Post, and with the advent of TV, Viewers’ Views."

Philip Morris - Missing Episodes Hunter:
"Toby Hadoke talks to Missing Episodes expert Philip Morris in this FREE festive download from Fantom Films."

18 Wikipedia Pages That’ll Make You Say "Fuck, That’s Interesting":

"Wikipedia: serving up creepy mysteries, scary science experiments gone wrong, and downright weird shit since 2001."

My Favourite Film of 1913.

Film This post really exists for archival purposes. The film is another Hamlet, for which I’ve written this old school Playing The Dane post. The Hamlet Weblog forever!

39 Johnston Forbes-Robertson.

Shakespeare  When this project began over a decade ago, one of the prescribed rules was that only production which utilised Shakespeare's text would be included in the tally of Hamlets with Simba and the like treated separately. That left me slightly reticent to tackle silent productions because of the fine line between production and adaptation most of them straddle. Hay Plumb's 1913 film (which you can watch for yourself here) is different because in presenting a "capture" of the Drury Lane production from the same year, he's presenting the performances just as they appeared on stage and even the most idle of lip-readers can see that they're very much enunciating the text, even if the viewer can't hear any of it.

That's true of many silent Shakespeares but in the majority of examples, the acting and presentation are in service of the intertitles, cutting and out in a more familiar format. In this Hamlet, sections of the text are utilised to introduce a scene which then plays in a recognisable manner, often the point that it's entirely possible, if you're familiar with the play to see which soliloquy is in process, which famous line is being said. With a little research and the aid of a lip-reader, a subtitled version of the film could probably be produced, which would certainly aid those seeing a version of the play for the first time. Otherwise this all probably makes little sense.

As the excellent BFI Screenonline article explains, for large portions of the play, few of the characters are introduced and story points barely explained: "For instance, when he picks up the skull by the graveside, while we are given the opening lines of the speech, we are not told who Yorick is, and Gertrude's relationship with Claudius, Hamlet and the ghost is not disclosed until halfway through the closet scene, and that only in passing." Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wander in at two points, make little impression and are barely acknowledged by Hamlet who is too busy talking to Polonius or the players to notice.

Some of this has to do with the brevity of the screen time, the play's traffic reduced to just under an hour and all of the major scenes are included thanks to some careful structuring. The Battlements seems to be played as a flashback after "O, that this too too solid flesh would melt ..." instead of at the top of the film. Ophelia's "madness" scene and the revelation of her suicide are presented during what looks like the same conversation between Claudius and Laertes, very quickly on. Hamlet being sent to England entirely happens off screen and we only really become aware of it thanks to the letter he sends home advising of his arrival. Fortinbras is gone.

Other choices must have been as a result of screen grammar not quite having reached editing or close-ups with entire scenes filmed in what we'd now call establishing shots or mid-shot mimicking the proscenium arch of the theatre and leaving some scenes continuing on far longer than might be expected. The actors stand on the bottom of shot although some use is made of perspective with characters walking into the set from the back, creating the sense of the actors walking from upstage to downstage. Ophelia's funeral lasts longer than the Ghost's appearances and the Mousetrap running counter to even some directorial choices in some theatrical productions.

Which isn't to say there aren't a few flourish especially amongst to the location filming. The scene shot outside at Lulworth Cove and Hartsbourne Manor provide a definite scale, and it's quite surprising to see Hamlet on a real beach with the tide threatening to drown the production. The shots on the battlements are more static and often look like they're simply being shot on very realistic sets against a well painted backdrop rather than real battlements and some gorgeous scenery. Having the ghost appear in these circumstances through a double exposure is a technical achievement.

Understandably about the only performance to make its mark is from Forbes-Robertson, very gestural and theatrical clearly designed for an auditorium which translates well to silent film.  But there's no denying his age, seeming older than both his parents which can be jarring to modern eyes although not especially peculiar amongst the great tragedians.  There is a recording of him reading the advice to the players which gives some indication of how his voice would have sounded at least, and he's certainly more contemporary in reading than Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

But perhaps of most interest are the deliberate changes to the story. During the Prince's confrontation with Ophelia an inter-title notices, "Hamlet discovers the king behind the curtain" which he does on-screen without Claudius actually revealing himself despite his hand obviously holding onto the fabric. That makes clear the inference sometimes acknowledged in verbal productions that Hamlet know that his foe is there, either through intuition or an accidental noise (as per the Branagh film). Was this in the original stage production or one of the few attempts at adapting that for the silent screen?

Similarly, there's the moment right at the end in which Hamlet dies on the thrown and Horatio enacts a sort of posthumous coronation as a replacement for Fortinbras having been cut. Many actors have voiced the opinion that with all of this experience, Hamlet would be a good king and arguably he is the for his brief moments before death stopping Horatio's suicide and asking his friend to tell his story, making it part of remembered history. Plumb's film in many ways provides the same function. Although we can't hear him, we can at least see one of our great tragedians at the height of his powers.