My Favourite Film of 1940.



Film For quite some time, I was in two minds about the notion of an in-vision announcer presenting films, either as part of a strand or the house style of a television network. Being something of a spoiler phobe to the point of trying not to discover too much about a film beyond who's in it and what's on the poster, the idea of someone providing an introduction should be anathema.

Done badly, and I've seen this done very badly, the critic offers too much of an analysis, almost assuming we've already seen the film and in the worst case giving away the ending. At their best, they give some information as to how the production was initiated, how it fits in the time period, themes and ideas to look at for and generally a sense of celebration and excitement about what we're going to witness.

Sometimes they're included on dvds, Leonard Maltin popping up to present a "Night at the Movies" on the Warners dvds which also include an animation, short documentary or drama, a bit of newsreel and an introduction to the main presentation, providing a flavour of the context in which the film would have been originally shown, albeit in a much smaller auditorium.

But thanks to YouTube many of these old and some new introductions are available so should you not want to go into a film without some back-up, you can always watch someone against a white background or sitting on a study set offering some guidance. Here's a short guide and some examples of the kinds of introductions available.

TCM

For decades, since its launch in 1994 TCM has utilised researched in-vision introductions to their films during prime-time as way of setting themselves apart from other film channels who almost seem annoyed that they have to interrupt the commercials with content. Here are a couple of examples featuring stalwart Robert Osborne introducing His Girl Friday, my favourite film of 1940:





Moviedrome

Doesn't need much of an introduction and indeed there's a website with a wealth of information about this 80s and 90s BBC Two cult film strand usually broadcast on a Sunday night. YouTube is filled with the introductions by Alex Cox and his successor Mark Cousins. Here's Cox's intro to what would be my first viewing of The Terminator in 1990 at the age of sixteen:



Here's Mark Cousins's first introductory gig for Scarface, again the first (and last time) I saw that film:



Booklets were published listing the films in Moviedrome with some of the text from Cox's introductions and you can download these from his website.

Film Four

Film Four's channel is awash with film introductions. Some were recorded for broadcast before films, others to fill the gaps between as publicity for some new release. Some are with directors and actors and some of them are with critics, notable Mark Kermode who himself used to present horror films on Channel 4 as a rival to Moviedrome.



Mark Kermode's Movie Club


A short lived attempt by Kermode to resurrect a version of Moviedrome, introducing his favourite films via the Kermode & Mayo YouTube channel. Here he is on Breathless:



BFI Player

Now a hyperbolic Kermode has a regular gig introducing weekly selections from the BFI Player's catalogue. On Brief Encounter:



Epilogue

The easiest way is probably to the search for the name of the film and whatever the strand is and see if anything crops up. The other seam is the Q&A often recorded at film festivals in which director and/or cast were present for a screening of the film and although the results can be interminable, with the correct moderator they can be fascinating. Here's a bootleg recording for the TIFF Q&A for St Vincent:



An official BFI Q&A about the Shaun The Sheep film:

Shakespeare's Globe at the BBC: The Complete Walk.



Theatre The Complete Walk was a "festival" of short films which appeared on giant screens in and around the Thames and throughout Liverpool on the weekend of the 23rd & 24th April to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's death, each providing reworkings or excerpts of each of the plays from his canon.

Working that weekend so unable to do the local tour, I'm pleased to see that they're slowly being uploaded as clips to the BBC's Shakespeare website.

Although they're being provided with blog posts as the Shakespeare's Globe website, I thought it would be useful to create an easily clickable list with expiry dates (because they're not going to be online forever), unless they're not obvious.  I'll keep updating as and when new clips are released.

COMEDIES

All's Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour's Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice (expires October 2016)
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night's Dream (expires October 2016)
Much Ado about Nothing
Pericles (expires October 2016)
Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest (expires October 2016)
Twelfth Night (expires October 2016)
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter's Tale

HISTORIES

King John
Richard II (expires October 2016)
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry V
Henry VI, Part I (expires October 2016)
Henry VI, Part II (expires October 2016)
Henry VI, Part III (expires October 2016)
Richard III (expires October 2016)
Henry VIII

TRAGEDIES

Antony and Cleopatra (expires October 2016)
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet (expires October 2016)
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Macbeth (expires October 2016)
Othello
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida

Soup Safari #65: Pea, Lettuce and Mint at the Hayloft Restaurant in Erddig.







Lunch. £4.50. Hayloft restaurant, Erddig Hall, Erddig, Wrexham LL13 0YT. Telephone: 01978 355314. Website.

Erddig.



Erddig’s story is all about relationships – those of the family, the servants and the wider community. It is unpretentious, unconventional and unexpected, always offering a friendly welcome.

It was home to a family that took an almost curatorial attitude to their possessions. Many are recorded in verse, as are generations of servants whose portraits were commissioned by the family. With their working areas almost unchanged, Erddig is a place where servants and their lives are not forgotten.
Heritage On the day before the EU referendum or "let's not be Werner Herzog's penguin" I decided to visit a nearby country and so hello Wales, hello Wrexham and hello Erddig, the next National Trust property on my trail.

Some necessary route talk first.  Train to Chester from Lime Street, train to Wrexham General from Chester, the Cardiff train in fact.  Short walk across town to the bus station, to Stand One where the number 2 bus leaves from as directed by the National Trust website.  Twenty minutes early, I wander around town and buy a chicken salad sandwich from the Co-op.  Eventually the bus leaves with the driver promising to shout when we reach the road to the house.  On reaching here, I ask him for times of the bus back assuming it would be the 2 again which runs hourly.  "Every ten minutes" he tells me, "All the buses come this way."  Ok.

A brown sign points towards Erddig.  One mile it says, and I follow.  A little way in I reach a cross roads with another couple of signs.  One points towards the house and garden, the other towards "Felin Puleston" whatever that is.  So I quite logically follow the house and garden sign.  I walk, I walk, and I walk some more. I walk past this view:



I walk past this sassy sign:



But there's no real indication I'm going in the right direction other than the cars I'm persistently dodging. At one point I panic and try to phone the house but there's just answering machines at the end of the line. Eventually I reach another Erddig sign. I follow this. Which leads to more walking.

About half an hour later I reached Erddig. My first reaction is to explain my troubles to the volunteers in reception. They know, oh, they know. Also it turns out that I'd gone the long way around. I should have walked the other way towards "Felin Puleston" which would have halved the journey and they drew over a site map to point me in the correct direction out.

I didn't need it in the end. After my visit, just as I was starting to follow the directions (after first walking the wrong way due to having the map upside down), one of the volunteers from inside the house pulled up in her car and offered me a lift and took my all the way back to the outskirts of Chester where she lived. Which meant I got to do some bonus charity shopping in Chester at the end of the day (the BBC series How We Build Britain with David Dimbleby on dvd and a t-shirt for a Malaysian Four Seasons Resort are now mine) and I was home much earlier than I would have been.

Erddig then.  The quick version.  The house was originally built in the 1680s for Joshua Edisbury the High Sheriff of Denbighshire.  It was so expensive it bankrupted him, but as a volunteer explained during a tour of the gardens which began my visit, not before he asked his brother who was in government to pull money from the general exchequer to help clear his debts.  They both ended up in jail.

Erddig was then bought in 1716 by the London lawyer John Mellor for reasons which have never been explained since he'd never even been to Wales.  In any case with the help of his nephew Simon Yorke, he extended the house on either side, filled it with all mod cons including a chapel and then unfortunately died in 1733 before he'd really had a chance to make use of it.

Simon picked it up in the will and so began just under two hundred and fifty years of ownership by the Yorke family which eventually ended in 1973 when it became too much of responsibility for the final owner Philip Yorke III thanks to general decrepitude and the local colliery having mined underneath the house creating subsidence.  He gave the house to the National Trust who thanks to a public appeal and compensation from the coal industry were able to renovate the place and buttress the foundations and opened it to the public in 1977.

As they indicate in the leaflet, what it lacks for in architectural distinctiveness, it makes up for in possessions and social history.  The current cataloguing and recording project indicates that when Philip III passed the house on (with the understanding that nothing be added or removed) there were over 30,000 objects in the collection.

But the key point of interest is how across the centuries, the various owners of the house kept records of all the servants they employed with paintings and photographed portraits, each commemorated by lengthy rhyming verse biographies, endless stanzas extolling the virtues of cooks, stable lads, gardeners and footmen.  They all still on display in rooms and corridors just as they were when the house was passed on in the 70s and they really are a curiosity, notably a painting of the coach boy who stands out by being a person of colour.

It's for this reason that visitors enter the house through the servants areas in reverse to as usually occurs in stately homes.  In renovating the house, the chosen period was early in the 20th century when Philip II became a father and Erddig became a family home.

None of the family were really art collectors.  Although the house is filled with paintings, they're mainly portraits by minor artists and reproductions of other works lots of "after" designations and "British School".  To bury the headline, their two star items are this portrait of Philip Yorke I MP (1743–1804) by Gainsborough and of John Mellor the second owner of the house in which Gainsborough overpainted everything but the face in an attempt to improve on original artist Charles Jervas's work.  Both are a cut above anything else on display.  The collection is available to view on the ArtUK website.  Plenty of them are attempts by members of the family including this rather nice image of a kingfisher in the frost.

My favourite room in the house is undoubtedly "the state bedroom" which was latterly joked as being  so named because of the state it was in due to rain water damage, messing up the bed and walls.  A photo in the guide book shows it to have indeed been in a horrendous state, certainly worse than most of the rest of the house.

The key item is the bed, which was purchased by John Mellor in the 1720s from a London furniture maker and then travelled up country to the house.  After the damage it incurred in the 60s, the V&A, who judged it to be one of the most important examples of that type of furniture in the county agreed to restore it on the understanding that when it turned the room would be protected by a glass walk through rather like a quarantine room in a research facility.

This gorgeous room, decorated with 18th century hand painted wallpaper, containing a coromandel lacquer screen is only viewable through this protective glass which just adds to the feeling of standing in some kind of time capsule viewing a moment in the past.  You could image Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey shuffling in wandering of the monolith has changed the breakfast order.

The house is in a constant state of renovation.  Some rooms are barely accessible, the Tapesty and Chinese Rooms require a volunteer to unlock a rope for entry and they stand watching as you look around although there's more than enough time to gawp at the orientalist fixtures, tapestries illustrating aspects of the empire actually produced in the Soho Factories for Mellor in the 1920s.  The Music Room is mostly under wraps and other locations, such as the library, are being used for storage, all of which is necessary but breaks the illusion a bit for visitors.



But for all that it's probably at least worth a visit for the gardens, which after being left to overgrow for years have recently been redesigned by the Trust's head gardener to resemble an earlier period and now resemble something you might find in a French chateau.  To look out of the window is to imagine yourself in Versaille or Marienbad.  How do you grow topiary like that?

My Favourite Film of 1941.



Film The only occasion I saw Citizen Kane in an auditorium was in screen six of the then newly refurbished Odeon cinema on London Road in Liverpool.

For a period they decided they were "fanatical about film" and in order to somehow demonstrate this, they decided to run a series of repertory screenings during weekday afternoons and one week that included a print of Citizen Kane. My guess is it was on tour from the BFI although I can't easily find any evidence of this.

Having already watched the film a few times, I still wanted to see it projected and having enjoyed  The Blair Witch Project (despite the booing of fellow audience members) which had been presented in its correct aspect ratio was pretty hopeful Kane would receive the same treatment.

It wasn't. Soon as the film began with the top and bottom actually being project on the ceiling and floor of the screen with the middle of the image on the screen, I knew I was sunk.

There were about ten people in the screen (an audience which explains why these screenings were discontinued pretty quickly) and no one moved.

I did. I ran to the back of the screen and out the door but there was no one around and the long walk to the foyer would have meant missing a whole chunk of the film.

So I slunk back in my chair and watched it as is. At a certain point an usher did visit briefly but not long enough to notice that anything was wrong even as Orson Welles's artificially bald pate disappeared off the top of the screen. Greg Toland designed the look of Kane to highlight the ceilings. On this day it didn't matter.

Afterwards I went to the box office to complain. The person at the counter didn't have a clue what I was talking about. Just suggested I filled in a comments card, which I did with many forceful words, then asked to speak to the manager.

After explaining the business to the manager I was still met with a blank face. The manager who didn't understand anything of anything I was saying to them, of aspect ratios and matting and ceilings, said simply that it was "projected in that way because it was how the film had been supplied to them" and that was that. They did give me a refund, so there is that.

Fifteen years later (at least) (I don't quite remember when this incident happened), I wonder about the extent to which this has changed.

Apart from ITV and some of the minor freeview channels, films tend to be presented in their correct aspect ratio on television and in streaming services.  99.9% of the time this is also true of blu-ray or dvd (even to the point in some cases of preserving IMAX sequences and cutting between the two).

The Grand Budapest Hotel, a hugely popular film, even plays around with aspect ratios as it portrays different time periods.

How much has this educated audiences to aspect ratios and the importance thereof?

I don't know.  Kane's an old film and the academy ratio is rarely utilized in film now apart from in artsier cases.  Plus it requires the viewer to know which ratio a film was originally shot and edited in and even as such works are pillar boxed on widescreen televisions, do people really know how that should be replicated in cinema screenings?

I tend to be so attuned to this that I can usually tell if a film's been cropped for television to fit the 16:9 frame but it doesn't seem to bother others.  It's perplexing.

38 Maxine Peake



Theatre Let's begin at the ending or indeed further than the ending into the credits which include the following statement: "The text of HAMLET was created for the 2009 production starring Jude Law and directed by Michael Grandage which played London and New York".  Does this happen much?  It's certainly the first time I remember seeing a production in which, rather than the director and possibly actors taking a view on the text of the play themselves, effectively pulling something prepared earlier from the shelf.  To an extent, doesn't this mean that you're interpreting someone else's interpretation rather than Shakespeare's own words?

The statement appears on the Royal Exchange's own website and was presumably in the original programme, but deliberately ignoring such things before watching any production so as to preserve some surprises, I had spent the duration considering the bold textual choices of stage director Sarah Frankcom when in fact it's Michael Grandage's thought process which should be considered.  It's certainly made me retrospectively rethink my opinion on the production and the role of the actors and director.  Without having seen Grandage's production, how am I to know how much of what I've just seen, such as cutting Fortinbras, was down to the current director and how much is a simple replication of 2009?  Yes, I could go glance at some reviews, but one shouldn't really need to.

So it's to Grandage we look for the choice to shift "To Be Or Not To Be" far later in the play to just after the closet scene, making it a meditation on that act as much as Hamlet's own mortality, though chilling emphasis given on the latter due to the Prince brandishing the revolver which did the deed, weakly pressing it to his temple.  It's fine and I'd be interested to see how it fits in the original staging.  But this textual purist is also bound to say it's not what Shakespeare wrote and unbalances our understanding of his psychology at that moment and the extent to which his feigning madness and shifted off into something else, which is something I'm not sure this production ever really takes a view on.

The one big textual decision which can be attributed to Frankcom is also wrapped in the casting which is to regender a large number of roles to female, most prominently Polonia, Marcella, Rosencrantz and the Gravediggers with pronouns necessarily edited to compensate.  Sometimes a syllable is dropped so "gentleman" becomes "lady" and in one case an extra joke is added as Hamlet on first seeing the Gravedigger initially hails "Whose grave's this sirra?" without reaction before quickly changing it to "Whose grave's this madame?"  For the most part it's invisible and only now and then does it disrupt the rhythm of the pentameter but not the extent of creating too much of an imbalance, an imperfect if necessary solution.

The dynamics do change.  As with Julie Taymor's film of The Tempest, the connections between Polonia and her children reverse with Laertes becoming the favoured of the two, the relationship with Ophelia markedly resembling that between Lorelai and her mother in Gilmore Girls, especially during the embarkation scene which is set around a dinner table similar to the one which Rory's forced to eat at every Friday night.  The style of Polonia actress Gillian Bevan's hair even resembles Emily Gilmore actress Kelly Bishop.  Bevan's the standout of the production actually, dominating the stage, with the advise scene become a moment in which genuine wisdom is being imparted, albeit with Laertes forced to listen as a condition for receiving her credit card.

Although I've seen criticisms about the decision to not regender Hamlet too, but because Peake's blistering in the title role, suspension of disbelief is easy.  Aspects of the performance are problematic, with moments in which Peake is working against the text, or parodying its more masculine aspects, but for the most part its a study in grief, how someone has to deal with so many changes in the house within this foreshortened timescale.  There's a telling look from Peake when she's asked or more likely ordered to stay at Elsinore rather than return to college which shows that an escape plan has been snatched away, underscoring the notion that "Denmark's a prison".  Hamlet's being held against his will.

Nevertheless there is a sense in places that some decisions were never quite worked out in rehearsal in favour of the grander set pieces.  As well as whether Hamlet's actually mad or not, his relationship to Kate West's Ophelia's also poorly developed, the nunnery scene feeling very make-do and actually oddly rushed through.  Similarly his friendship with Horatio, so rich in other productions never quite gels.  This isn't a plea for some LGBT+ shading but the text calls for certain things and the performances don't quite rise to them.  Although it's also true that in the film version, the editing always favours Peake and so it's possible elements of either of their performances have been lost.  The full power of John Shrapnel's Claudius isn't demonstrated until he's alone and commanding the space, his motivations unspooling like Richard III.

More than most filmed production, it seems as though the reaction to seeing the piece in situ could have differed to on television (or indeed at the cinema which was where this recording was originally designed - it's even described in some publicity as "Hamlet The Film".  Although recorded in front of an audience (and can't we, cough, here, cough, it, beep, beep) they're largely invisible within the darkness of the space, with lighting which keeps the illumination of the actors to the minimum required for a given scene.  Like the television version of the RSC production of Macbeth with McKellen and Dench, the characters emerge and disappear into to the black, and there's rarely sense that anything exists beyond.

Some of the staging is beautiful and beautifully shot.  When Hamlet meets the Ghost of his father (doubled by Shrapnel), lightbulbs are lowers from the ceiling creating an orange glow across the actors faces familiar to anyone who's seen the interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (it's notable that light bulbs were also a feature of Adrian Noble's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream representing the Forest of Arden).  A camera has also been mounted in the gods, so scenes often begin from above or punctuated by overhead shots to emphasise the action.  When Hamlet rips up Ophelia's remembrances and throws them at her, it's in slow motion.  The home viewer is in a privileged rather than audience position.  During fishmonger, Polonia even breaks the fourth wall.

For all that, Yorick is a mess.  The performances are fine, great even.  Grandage's script privileges us with a rare viewing of both gravediggers and all their banter, both female with the key clown played with a very good scouse accent.  One of the few occasions I laughed here was during the back and forth with Hamlet in relation to whose grave it is.  But Frankcom has gone symbolic, with dirt or some such replaced with a jumble of clothing with Yorick's skull represented by a cardigan with knot in the middle (pictured).  When Ophelia's funeral arrives, her body is represented by the blouse she was wearing during the madness scene and its lain on the ground, the whole business just looks silly, plus it feels wrong that Peake be denied the opportunity to play with an actual skull.

Ultimately not the best production I've seen but it thrums along to its own rhythm.  It takes a special production for me to really become involved in the story any more having seen it so many times, and although there are too many Brechtian distancing effects on this occasion, the compensation of hearing the text performed well is its own reward.  Having Peake play Hamlet doesn't feel controversial and she's more convincing than many of her male counterparts.  Ideally in future there'll be much more gender neutral casting across all productions so long as there's enough leeway in the text and Hamlet's the most accessible of the lot.  Now I'm imagining what Catherine Tate, Gugu Mbatha-Raw or even, yes, Romola Garai would do with the role.

Art Museum.



Books  In case you've been wondering why I've been a bit absent from around these parts this past couple of weeks, assuming it's even been obvious, it's because six months after buying it at a bargain price from the local Costco, I've finally been working through the Phaidon coffee table book Art Museum. As described on their website, Art Museum "is the finest art collection ever assembled between two covers. This revolutionary and unprecedented virtual art museum in a book, features 992 oversized pages of nearly 2,700 works of art" which in chronological terms is roughly eight days of reading from about nine to five with the knowledge that you'll only absorb about ten percent of what you've read or seen.

Structured to resemble a building and almost as big, the Art Museum book replaces page numbers with rooms and chapters with themes attempting to mimic a visit an art gallery the size of a planet beginning with prehistoric cave paintings and ending at roughly the publication date of the book.  These are peppered with "exhibitions" in which single or groups of work are highlighted, for example, to demonstrate how an aspect of art like portraiture developed during a particular period.  Each theme is introduced by a block of text not unlike that which appears on the wall at the entrance of a display and each piece is accompanied by the sort of explanation you'd see on a label next to the work of varying length and detail.



Reading and glancing through the history of art in just over the week (give or take gaps here and there for work, eating and sleeping) has been an exhilarating, a mass of human creative achievement passing across my eyes like a malfunctioning Generation Game conveyor belt set to super fast.  On the first day I'd already reached the turn of the first millennium and by the end of the first week seen myself into the twentieth century, connections between eras and forms both subliminal and explained in the text left and right or top and bottom, with constant reminders that artistic creativity is in a constant state of evolution and not a linear development.  Just because someone discovered how to use perspective on a two dimensional surface, not everyone had a reason to utilise it.

For all that, despite this being a book rather than a building, museum fatigue did set in pretty quickly on the first day.  Like a real museum or exhibition, breaks became important, moments to savour what I'd seen before setting off into the next section which eventually coalesced or timed itself around roughly every ten "rooms".  As a side note, one of the great frustrations of visiting larger museums, especially if you're only in town for the day is an inability to see everything.  I once tried to see the National Gallery in an hour.  I spent so much time in the newly opened Sainsbury Wing, I barely had time to run over and have a glance at the Rembrandts.  At least having this particular museum in book form meant I take my time if needed.

I'd like to say that the experience illuminated some eras in a new way, caused me to reconsider some of my likes and dislikes, prejudices perhaps, but for the most part I left having had my appreciation for some artists maintained and my lack of interest in others confirmed.  One of the great themes of the book is how religious verver has been the engine of art history which means there are pages and pages and pages of annunciations, nativities and crucifixions with some artists being considered experimental because they've delved into old testament stories.  Sometimes I longed for the genre paintings and landscapes, my eyes metaphorically running across the room to see images of ordinary people going about their business.  Usually in darkness or snow or both.

Inevitably much of the book isn't just a history of art, it's the history of civilisation.  In earlier centuries, the introductory text acts as a history lesson putting the objects in the room in their historical context with kinds and epocs passing by within pages, family legacies and allegiances never quite managing to stick.  Almost everything is interrelated.  There are fascinating passages which show how western painters were influenced by the small amount of imported artwork from the far east and vis-versa and how the natural development in some countries was snuffed out by invading armies in some cases to such a degree that it's now impossible to date what's left and develop a meaningful history of that culture's early development.

Having spent all of this time between its pages it's impossible for me not to find flaws, not least, the mechanics of reading this huge volume, too huge for the lap and too big even for the coffee table.  Eventually I found myself sat on an office chair at the dining table with the back of the book pivoted upwards by a pillow so I could see both the explanatory text at the top of the page and all the art, with the curtains closed so as not to create glare on the glossy pages (if only this was possible in actual art galleries when lighting interferes with the viewing of paintings with necessary glazing).  I wondered throughout hour the publishers themselves coped with this.  Did they have a lectern made?  Did they try and read it cover to cover themselves?

Plus there's the constant sense that you're not seeing the artwork at its best, which of course you're not because with the exception of some of the photographs, for all the book pretends to be an art museum it can't replace the originals.  A vast percentage of the book is filled with images of sculpture and decorative arts and with few exceptions, it's impossible to really gain much more than a glimmer of visual insight into what's being presented, especially in the ethnographic portions where dozens of pieces are strewn across the page in tiny proportions.  The quality of some of the images too is shockingly poor, the publishers presumably having sourced them from a third party rather than photographing the artwork themselves.  In some cases that misrepresents what we're seeing.  Examples of embroidery or mosaic look more like paintings.

Monumental artworks are presented across a two page spread which towards the centre of the book means a lot of visual information is lost down the spine, which is especially problematic in the case of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Guernica.  I can see how this was the prefered option because of the impossible logistics of having extra leaves attached to some pages or putting the on a single page and losing definition instead.  It's an impossible situation.  My preference would have been to split the image in two with a clear line down the middle where the sections could be joined up in the middle across the spine if necessary.  Not perfect either but at least all of image's information would be present.

It's frustratingly orthodox in its presentation of art history itself.  Although it's true that the Western white male has for the most part been the prevailing voice because he's been allowed to shout loudest, even when female artists have been of key importance in some areas they've been ignored.  Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun, court painter to Marie Antoinette is missing with only her husband warranting a mention and Anne Vallayer-Coster is gone too.  No Bridget Riley.  When they do appear they're represented by single piece, which is also true of some of the men, but why are Cindy Sherman or Louise Bourgeois the only woman artist to merit a page of her own?  Just a page mind.  Why not Georgia O'Keeffe or Paula Rego or Marina Abramović?

Some of the artworks chosen to represent artists and eras are frankly bizarre.  According to interviews they've deliberately tried to find unusual work that aren't that easily accessible, which is laudable, but given that it has a dual function as an educational tool why omit Leonardo's The Last Supper or represent Magritte with images that don't feature bowler hats, apples or a pipe that isn't a pipe?  Why is so much of the non-Western and non-Continental European world treated as a historical document when contemporary art thrives outside London and New York?  Granted even with nine hundred odd pages there are bound to be omissions but if the idea is to illuminate unseen areas, surely Hammershoi deserves better than a single image.

Oh and some of the proof reading is up the wall.  All too often the main text gets the numbering of the items of the page in the wrong order or in one case, I think, refers to an artwork which isn't there.  The text also sometimes refers back to works on earlier pages and these can be incorrect and although its usually obvious which work its actually referring to, given the RRP of the book, £80, such mistakes should not happen.  I was at a newly opened exhibition recently and two of the labels and their connected objects had been transposed.  It was obvious which matched which but you still had to take a moment to work it.  When I told the curators (because you know I told the curators) they said, "Oh we hadn't noticed" and had a general sense of shruggary.  This is that in book form.

But for all that I enjoyed almost every minute of it and I did find new paintings to love.  There's Agnolo Bronzino's Eleanor of Toledo one of the most expressively beautiful portraits I've ever seen which I'd have another peak at before heading off back into the book each day.  Jan Troorop's The Three Brides, a rare shift into deco from an otherwise impressionistic artist.  The genius of Giotto, who in the fourteenth century was creating images which feel entirely cinematic.  The book also manages to somehow render Yves Klein blue with what feels like the correct luminosity across a single page, seemingly a single colour at first glance but with all the gradations obvious in the printing.

There's been a lot of moaning in here and for things beyond the book's control.  For much of the time I was genuinely giddy, especially when I came across an artist I particularly love or there was an artwork I've seen in an actual gallery space, usually Tate Liverpool.  At the end my interest in visual art is reinvigorated and I feel emboldened that when I next visit a real art gallery it will be an even more meaningful experience because I'll be able to put the paintings and sculpture into some kind of historical context, however hazy.  Luckily with the Liverpool Biennial beginning next month, I'll soon be able to put that into practice.

Emmy and the Doctor.

TV Crikey, this is a turn up:
"BBC America’s “Doctor Who” has been submitted for Emmy consideration for the first time ever. Now that the American cabler has come aboard as a co-producer, the venerable Brit series is finally eligible for consideration. Although it was not submitted as a drama series, star Peter Capaldi is on the lead actor ballot, showrunner Steven Moffat and director Rachel Talalay are on the writing and directing ballots for the episode “Heaven Sent” and the series is a possible nominee for costumes, production design, prosthetic makeup, and visual effects."
The most deserving of episodes too.  Here's what I said at the time:
"Heaven Sent is the best episode of this series and indeed of the Capaldi era, I think we’re quite comfortable in saying that. This is Steven Moffat on top form with a simple question ("What if the Doctor was trapped in a castle which acted like the the shack on the poster for The Cabin In The Woods?"), rich with ideas, of potent imagery, stunningly realised by Rachel Talalay, composer Murray Gold channelling everyone from Beethoven (the Allegretto in 7th) to Paddy Kingsland (Castrovalva) and Peter FUCKING Capaldi. Few series have the sense of jeopardy in relation to shifting quality and after two distinctly average instalments dropped us back at the metaphoric base camp, now we're back at the top of the mountain."
I still stand by that. Let's hope the Emmy voters agree.

Cooked.

TV The BBC Genome blog regularly interviewed television and radio presenters with huge footprints on the scheduling archive database, a bit like the AV Clubs random roles column. This week it's Sue Cook and it's a good insight on the process of being hired to present at the BBC in the 80s:
"In the mid 70s, a new invention arrived on the scene – the telephone answering machine. Shortly after joining You and Yours, I bought one. The first day I set it up, I came home in the evening to find a message from the deputy editor of Nationwide, asking me to come over to Lime Grove to interview for a job as one of the show’s film reporters. I was offered the job and jumped at it. A few months later, Sue Lawley took maternity leave with her second child on the way. Again to my amazement, I became one of the presenters, alongside Frank Bough, Bob Wellings, Hugh Scully and John Stapleton. It was a job I loved until the show was deemed to have reached its sell-by date in July 1983."
Now arguably much of the BBC's factual output is Nationwidesque in some way.

"What is Iambic Pentameter?"



Shakespeare There's always something inherently disappointing about book exhibitions or exhibitions of books. All the visitor can ever see are the two pages selected by the curator assuming they haven't decided the cover isn't the more interesting aspect of the artifact. With its utility lost, all we're left with is frustration as the point of its existence, to impart knowledge or entertainment become secondary to the fact of its existence in and of itself.

We want to pick them up and hold them, turn the pages, read them if possible and although in some cases the pages have been scanned and are available to be seen on some app or website, that's no substitute for the smell of an old book, the texture of the leifs.  Which is impossible because for the most part these are precious volumes too delicate to survive this behaviour and so they remain behind their glass display cases, sometimes illuminated by a spotlight, frozen like taxidermic animals.

Except today I visited an exhibition in which despite those frustrations, I wasn't disappointed and was more than slightly moved.  As part of the commemorations of Shakespeare's death.  Blackburn Museum has pulled together copies of the first four folios and are displaying them together in their manuscript room.  Despite having seen copies of all four volumes separately at some time, this felt like a pilgrimage I had to make.

The First Folio is on loan from nearby Stonyhurst College, bequeathed to them Lord Arundel a former pupil of the school.  This isn't the first First Folio they've owned.  As the BBC's reported, a copy found in a French archive during the preparation of an exhibition there was revealed to have been left there during a school trip back in the mid eighteenth century.  That book is featured in BBC Radio 3 documentary which visits Folios and considers their history.

The Second, Third and Fourth are in Blackburn Museum's own collection. Blackburn rope manufacturer Robert Edward Hart collected hundreds of ancient manuscripts which he gave to the museum in the mid-1940s for the enjoyment of the local public. The Hart Collection turned my head when I was last at Blackburn as part of the public art collection tour and even without the Shakespeare's displayed nearby, despite the frustrations listed above it is spectacular.

Seeing the four of them together is a remarkable experience, the publication history of the Folios in four glass boxes with the tops of the books pointing towards the middle.  The First (if you'll excuse the nicknames) is open on Martin Droeshout's portrait of Shakespeare and the title page, the second on Milton's epitaph, the third on the opening page of Pericles to highlight its addition in that volume and the Fourth on the title page proclaiming the inclusion of seven new plays.

Each is accompanied by an explanatory label.  The Third is especially rare because plenty of the original copies perished in the Great Fire of London.  There's also the matter of how that and the Fourth have the apocryphal additions all of which, with the exception of Pericles, do not show any sign of having been written by Shakespeare no matter what it says in big bold letters at the front (though given their attribution during his lifetime you can see why they'd be mistaken) (ish).

These Folios despite their posthumous publication, retain a certain awe, because of what they mean, relics of an earlier age, remarkable objects.  What I did notice is how similar they are despite there being fifty years between the First and Fourth.  The quality of printing and the page are roughly the same despite the gap between spanning the same chronological real estate as the whole history of Doctor Who.  We didn't even have home computers in 1963.

Near the beginning of my visit, the curator of the exhibition was attending to the display cases and was chatting to two older female visitors and because I genuinely didn't know, I asked her if she knew if the later folios were still sold as piles of pages by the bookseller to be bound by the purchaser themselves or if they were being hard bound by then.  She wasn't sure, but them the other visitors were intrigued as to where the question came from.  I explained.

Then, they wondered, did I know anything about Shakespeare's family which led to some consideration of whether Shakespeare's family originated in Lancashire.  I busked.  I didn't know.  But that led on to more questions about whether Shakespeare himself had visited the area and I led into the missing years and the possibility he was part of a touring company which led on to another question about iambic pentameter and then another and ...

In my element, the information flowing out of me, as the questions turned from facts to opinions.  What's your favourite play?  Do you agree with modern dress?  Do you think the Globe production of The Merchant of Venice should have the conversion scene added.  At one point I was explaining the origins of Hamlet's bad quarto, words, words, words, years of reading about Shakespeare becoming words, words, words.

It felt great and even though I'm really no expert, I had to look up Martin Droeshout's name before slotting it in above, there's something quite empowering (and I know that's not the right word but I'm a bit tired) about finding out that you're actually capable of talking about a subject within which you're interested and seemingly in a way which hopefully isn't boring.  "You should be here all the time" they said, "In case people have questions."

The Bard at Blackburn: A Unique Display of Shakespeare’s First Four Folios runs until 31st August. Admission Free.

Mi Madre Cocina Mejor Que La Tuya.

TV The Guardian has a piece listing European television shows and friends, there are few formats here which wouldn't work spectacularly well in the UK. Blokken's a perfect Richard Osman vehicle. Alt For Norge looks like something Channel 4 could put into the Gogglebox slot and here's the BBC's new Saturday night show:
SPAIN: Mi Madre Cocina Mejor Que La Tuya

Hosts Sergio Fernandez and Maria Jimenez Latorre.

That boasting title – My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours – adds a gladiatorial edge to this culinary challenge show, which recently became a sizzling sensation in Spain. Each contestant has their dear old ma on the sidelines to offer advice while they cook up a dish against the clock. If things go badly, the matriarchs can wham a “panic button”, allowing them to don their apron and wade in, at the dual cost of speeding up the timer and infuriating their offspring. Who doesn’t love family tension kept at a roiling boil?

The VHS Awakens.

Film The official Star Wars website has an interview with Greg Grunberg which includes the revelation that VHS lives - as a way of showing films on an airline:
StarWars.com: Being in Star Wars and being such a big fan from the very beginning, do you actually ever reach a point where it feels real? I mean, you see yourself in comic books and in action figure form, do you ever fear that it all might be a big elaborate prank?

Greg Grunberg: Yeah, it’s weird, I’ve had films available on planes before that I’ve done, but I was recently flying back to L.A. from London and they’re showing Star Wars, and I actually tweeted about this because they were showing a VHS copy of The Force Awakens!

StarWars.com: What?!

Greg Grunberg: Yes! . . . But I couldn’t believe it, so I text J.J. a picture of it and said, “Do you judge an airline by the technology they use? And if not, maybe you should.” But anyway, I have a picture on my Twitter stream and it’s with my face on the screens in the background as Snap Wexley! And that’s when it really hit me that, wow, this is real. And again, I’m not a star of the movie, but to get an action figure, a Pop! toy, to be in the comic book series, it’s just so cool.
Delta Airlines -- keeping the low-grade image quality dream alive.

My Favourite Film of 1942.



Film It's I Married A Witch, but let's take stock.

When I began this project, back in January 2015, I knew there'd be a point when my ability to anecdote around films would become appreciatively more difficult. Honestly, I thought it would be once I'd breached the year of my birth barrier, but due to catch up and actually having seen a fair few films in my forty odd years that wasn't the case through the rest of the seventies and into the sixties.

But the slowdown has come and here we are in 1942 with I Married A Witch, a film about which I have absolutely nothing to say.

The Wikipedia page makes Veronica Lake sound like a total nightmare and also tremendous fun entirely in keeping with her on-screen character, something which her co-star and crew totally failed to reconsile.

Yet I have no words. I saw it on the iPlayer last year after a broadcast on BBC Two one weekend morning in their classic film slot. I loved it to bits and have fond memories.

Here's an introduction from Joe Dante.  No one liked Veronica Lake it seems.



Looking towards the next forty odd years and so forty odd weeks of entries, I'm beginning to wonder about the extent to which I'm going to sustain this or try your patience.

Next week's film is obvious and you can expect some funny discussion of aspect ratios and the one after that is inspired by something in this post.  Everything is linked together.

Apologies for this fortnight's freak out.

"Photographs are unreliable souvenirs."

Dating Stand down. If you're a long term reader you'll know that the emboldened keyword in front of this sentence indicates this isn't going to be a personal blog post. Remember those? Oh the good times when no one was reading this blog and I could say things about things. Sigh.

 Apart from work, and enduring the usual forty-five minutes of desolation and loneliness at Saturday tea time because there's no new episode of Doctor Who again, one of my Saturday rituals is The Guyliner's Table Manners/Impeccable in which he "reviews" The Guardian's Blind Date column working through over the answers of the participants and offering a critique. It's clever, witty and thoughtful.

The upshot is that I haven't read the actual Blind Date column itself first, if at all, in months because in providing commentary he also injects a greater element of jeopardy and depth to what usually look on the page (or screen) and if you're not clued in on such things (which I'm not) relatively benign blandisms.

By the time they get the kiss the question, we're either nodding sagely in full understanding of why this would be the case or heartbroken, devastated and there'll be an animated gif of Dawson Leery sobbing to share in our grief.

This week's is something special and although you probably have to have been reading these reviews for a while to appreciate the full implications of it, it's also probably an excellent place to start.

"It is a beautiful day in Chicago. Temperatures in the upper 70's."

Film Fans of the old Now and Then documentaries on the Doctor Who dvds and of Ferris Bueller's Day Off will like this AV Club article. On Ferris's school:
"The railings got an upgrade, and in a sign of the times, there’s now a security camera mounted on the wall. The principal surely would have loved to have that kind of surveillance at his disposal in his day—perhaps he could have pored over the parking lot footage and discovered the true identity of the doting “father” who pulls up in a vintage sports car and greets Sloane with a deep, passionate kiss."
It's incomprehensible to me that Northbrook haven't acknowledged the tourism opportunities of keeping the "Save Ferris" sign on the water tower. The heartless wenches.

Sunset at the Villa Thalia at the National Theatre.



The National Theatre were kind enough offer a ticket for the press night of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play, Sunset at the Villa Thalia (illustrative image © Manuel Harlan). Geographically challenged and unable to attend, friend of the blog James Cooray Smith went instead and offers this review:

Theatre  I’m a sucker for a production that takes place on a single set. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s strong new play Sunset at the Villa Thalia not only does that, and very effectively, but also obeys classical ideas of unity of action, time and place for much of its running time. (There is one, very effective, moment where it goes all Time And The Conways on us). This is clearly deliberate.  The setting, a Greek island on a single evening in 1967 (Act One) and then another in 1976 (Act Two) is an appropriate one for a play that works in such a manner.  At one point the play’s anti-hero Harvey (Ben Miles) points out to his friends, and thus the audience, that they are very close to place where classical theatre was born.

Harvey is an American, a CIA spook, in Greece ahead of, and anticipating, the Colonels’ coup of 1967 which, it seems he has done something to help bring about. He’s having a drink with his wife June, (a nuanced, hilarious, sad Elizabeth McGovern) and two new friends Charlotte (Pippa Nixon, strident and sympathetic) and Theo (Sam Crane, bookish and relatable), a younger English couple, an actress and a writer respectively, who are renting a house on a small Greek Island for the summer.

Before long, Harvey has gamed Charlotte and Theo into buying the house they rent from the owners, who are intending to emigrate to Australia within days. With his easy, coercive manner, surface reasonableness and kiss curl, Harvey initially seems - in a superb piece of symbolism - like a malignant Clark Kent. But Harvey is not malignant, nor is he a hypocrite; he’s merely delusional about America’s role in the world and his role within it. Yet he also has powers of insight, as well as persuasion, asking the other characters and the audience pertinent questions It’s a towering, persuasive, detailed performance that’s the best thing in Miles’ career. (He also convincingly ages a decade between acts with changed posture and a pair of Nixon sideburns.)

The first half, then, is essentially perfectly shaped and perfectly delivered by the cast. The second half, in which Harvey and June visit Charlotte and Theo again nine years later, as they prepare to sell the house, could do with some very small cuts. A brief discussion of ‘cultural appropriation’ feels more of 2016 than plausibly of 1976, and the point has already been made through action. A final argument between Charlotte and Theo is again mere repetition, spelling out explicitly things the plays has already told us, sometimes more than once, and drawing too much attention to how the house and its history and the black ops in which Harvey has been involved mirror each other. By this point every member of the audience either understands the metaphor or never will. It doesn’t need spelling out quite so prosaically. The actors and the play have, as Harvey argues he has done in many of the world’s ‘trouble spots’, already done the dirty work so the rest of us don’t have to.

Sunset at the Villa Thalia runs until 4th August 2016.  Click here for details.

The Curse of the Fugue (Big Finish Audio Short Trips)

Audio A pleasingly small scale adventure in which the Doctor drops Lucie off in the year of my birth (1974) amid the blackouts to help investigate something strange happening in relation to an old woman with many secrets.  The answer is unlike something you'd find in Agent Carter, wartime secrets as a result of alien intervention and although there's nothing here which really stretches much further than could be created on television, everything happens in and around a single house, that simply adds to the sense of authenticity.  The writer Alice Cavender also nicely captures the TARDIS team, especially the magnesium spark chemistry between the two characters.  The headline here is the return of Sheridan Smith to Doctor Who and although she's a bit unsteady initially in the textual reading, just as India was when she began with the Short Trips, almost as soon as she's asked to voice Lucie again everything snaps into place and we're back.  There's one especially great moment when she's allowed to go full throttle into some piercing anger and we're reminded of just how good Sheridan's performance was back then.  It would be fascinating at some point if Big Finish put together a boxed set ala the Sixth Doctor's swansong with one story working its way through the Eighth Doctor's era, so we could he McGann and Smith interacting together one more time.  Placement:  Feels more like somewhere in the second season of With Lucie stories.

Extracting the BBC Genome: Shakespeare at the BBC: Hamlet.



Shakespeare With the Shakespeare Festival still in full swing at the BBC, I thought it would be an idea to see how often some of my favourite plays have appeared on the BBC, which is now somewhat possible thanks to the BBC Genome. We begin with Hamlet, because having seen a fair few of them now, it would be nice to see which ones I'm yet to catch up with.

Find a list below.  Since they're all Hamlets, I've highlighted the transmission details.  They're all with BBC selected casts unless otherwise stated and I've just included the first transmission details - Gielgud's 1948 effort was repeated numerous times in subsequent years.  I've also only included complete or near complete productions.  Including excerpts would make this list five times longer.

Note that I've also included data from outside the Genome in relation to the World Service because due to the vagaries of how the database was set up - utilising Radio Times data, for some reason there are gaps specifically the version starring John Duttine.  But I'm adding him back in for completions sake.

Notes:  The first film Hamlet to appear on the BBC was the Kozintsev version.  The Olivier didn't appear until 1973.  Cedric Messina, who produced the Michael Redgrave version on the Third Programme in 1960, was the producer of the 80s TV adaptation with Jacobi.  The Ian McKellan broadcast was a complete surprise.  I wonder if it's still available.

2LO London, 15 February 1924 19.30
Radio.  Hamlet unknown. Produced by Sydney Russell. Company is the B.N.O.C.

5WA Cardiff, 29 May 1924 19.35
Radio.  Hamlet unknown.  Directed unknown.

2LO London and 5XX Daventry, 18 July 1928 21.35
Radio.  Hamlet played by Gyles Isham.  Director unknown.

National Programme Daventry, 5 June 1932 16.15
Radio.  Hamlet played by John Gielgud. Produced by Barbara Burnham.

National Programme Daventry, 16 December 1934 17.30
Radio.  Hamlet played by Stephen Haggard. Produced by Barbara Burnham.

Regional Programme London, 2 January 1938 21.05
Radio.  Hamlet played by Leslie Howard. Produced by Barbara Burnham.

BBC Home Service Basic, 6 October 1940 21.25
Radio.  Hamlet played by John Gielgud. Produced by Barbara Burnham.

BBC Home Service Basic, 8 April 1946 19.20
Radio.  Hamlet played by Barry Morse. Produced by Howard Rose.

BBC Television, 7 December 1947 20.30
TV.  Hamlet played by John Byron. Produced by George More O'Ferrall.

Third Programme, 26 December 1948 18.00
Radio.  Hamlet played by John Gielgud. Production by John Richmond.

Third Programme, 23 October 1960 17.40
Radio.  Hamlet played by Michael Redgrave. Produced by Cedric Messina.

BBC One London, 19 April 1964 20.05
TV.  Hamlet played by Christopher Plummer. Directed by Philip Saville. A BBC-Danmarks Radio recording. [review] [amazon]

BBC Home Service Basic, 20 January 1965 14.20
Radio.  Hamlet played by Michael Bryant. Produced by Robert Gittings.

Network Three, 18 September 1966 18.10
Radio.  Hamlet played by Kenneth Griffith. Directed by John Gibson.

BBC Radio 3, 30 March 1970 19.30
Radio.  Hamlet played by John Gielgud. Produced by Bennett Maxwell. Recreation from vinyl records.

BBC Two England, 11 September 1970 20.50
Film.  Hamlet played by Innokenti Smoktunovsky. Directed by Grigori Kozintsev. [review] [amazon]

BBC Radio 3, 31 October 1971 18.50
Radio. Hamlet played by Ronald Pickup. Produced by John Tydeman. [review] [amazon]

BBC Two England, 23 September 1972 21.05
TV. Hamlet played by Ian McKellan. Directed by David Giles. Prospect Theatre Company.

BBC Two England, 22 September 1973 20.45
Film. Hamlet played by Laurence Olivier. Directed by Laurence Olivier. [review] [amazon] [free legal stream]

BBC Two England, 12 March 1978 22.35
Film. Hamlet played by Nicol Williamson. Directed by Tony Richardson. The Roundhouse Theatre Company. [review] [amazon]

BBC Two England, 25 May 1980 19.15
TV. Hamlet played by Derek Jacobi. Directed by Rodney Bennett. [review] [amazon]

BBC World Service  4 September 1983 
Radio.  Hamlet played by John Duttine.  Produced by Colin Davis. [review]

BBC Radio 3, 26 April 1992 19.00
Radio. Hamlet played by Kenneth Branagh. Directed by Glyn Dearman. A Radio 3/Renaissance Theatre Company co-production. [review] [amazon]

BBC Two England, 7 December 1992 19.25
Animation. Hamlet played by Nicholas Farrell. Produced by David Edwards. [review] [amazon]

BBC Two England, 30 October 1994 22.25
Film. Hamlet played by Mel Gibson. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. [review] [amazon]

BBC Radio 3, 12 September 1999 19.30
Radio. Hamlet played by Michael Sheen. Directed by Jeremy Mortimer. [review] [amazon]

BBC Knowledge, 6 March 2002 21.00
TV. Hamlet played by Adrian Lester. Directed by Peter Brook. Theatre de Bouffes du Nord. [review]

BBC Radio 4 FM, 30 June 2007 19.00
Radio. Hamlet played by John Dougall. Directed byu Eoin O'Callaghan. Tom Stoppard adaptation. [review]

BBC Two England, 26 December 2009 17.05
TV. Hamlet played by David Tennant. Directed by Gregory Doran. Royal Shakespeare Company. [review] [amazon]

BBC Radio 4, 24 March 2014 14.15
Radio. Hamlet played by Jamie Parker. Directed by Marc Beeby. [amazon]

Further details of all these productions can be found at An International Database of Shakespeare on Film, Television and Radio.