My Favourite Film of 1931.



Film For its age, Mata Hari feels like a relatively contemporary film especially in its attitude to human relationships and in featuring a strong female protagonist (although even as I write those words we're still awaiting news of a film about another female spy whose arguably even more popular within the modern context). One of the reasons for this is that it was produced before the introduction of the The Motion Picture Production Code or Hays Code introduced in the wake of numerous Hollywood "scandals" in an attempt to sanitise what people saw on screen (even though those "scandals" occurred behind the scenes).

The Code pervaded between 1934 and 1960 and many great films were still released in the meantime as filmmakers went about finding creative ways to communicate those elements which it forbid without actually including them and it's arguable that many were in fact more erotic or violent because they didn't include the elements listed in the code. To an extent, US cinema is still a slave to this sort of censorship although these it's more to do with studios co-opting its principles in an attempt to attract as wide an audience as possible.

Having recently watched Deadpool, I'm going to see how many of these rules were broken by Deadpool.  There may be spoilers.

General Principles

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

Yes, broken.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

Yes, broken.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Yes, broken.

Particular Applications

I. Crimes Against the Law
These shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law and justice or to inspire others with a desire for imitation.

He's not a hero.

1. Murder

a. The technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation.

We don't know yet.  Hopefully not.

b. Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail.

Plenty of brutal killings.  Lots of detail.

c. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.

Well is revenge ever?  He has revenge in the end but he's really trying to find a way to get his face fixed.  The revenge comes after.

2. Methods of Crime should not be explicitly presented.

Vanessa is kidnapped so...

a. Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc., should not be detailed in method.

Boom.

b. Arson must subject to the same safeguards.

Boom again.

c. The use of firearms should be restricted to the essentials.

Actually in the end he does rely on his swords.  That's what you mean, right?

d. Methods of smuggling should not be presented.

Arguably the person in the trunk.

3. Illegal drug traffic must never be presented.

Sort of.

4. The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, will not be shown.

Deadpool spends half his life in a bar.

II. Sex

The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.

Stripclub.

1. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.

Actually adultery isn't specifically shown, although you could infer Vanessa's job might involve something along those lines.

2. Scenes of Passion

Happy International Women's Day.

a. They should not be introduced when not essential to the plot.

Well ... is the calendar montage important to the plot?

b. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

The calendar montage.

c. In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.

The calendar montage.

3. Seduction or Rape

[The Hays Code and go screw itself at this point.  Seduction and rape are not the same thing.  Just assume I have the former in mind across the following...]

a. They should never be more than suggested, and only when essential for the plot, and even then never shown by explicit method.

Is Wade seduced?  Seems to be more of mutual thing.

b. They are never the proper subject for comedy.

Yes ma'am.

4. Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.

Not in Deadpool.

5. White slavery shall not be treated.

What does this even mean?  If it means that white slavery won't be portrayed then oddly enough it is portrayed and so therefore breaks the code.

6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.

Actually Deadpool doesn't manage to break this rule.  Which doesn't make it right.

7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures.

Do strap-ons count?

8. Scenes of actual child birth, in fact or in silhouette, are never to be presented.

No one gives birth in Deadpool.

9. Children's sex organs are never to be exposed.

Nothing like this either.

III. Vulgarity

The treatment of low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects should always be subject to the dictates of good taste and a regard for the sensibilities of the audience.

"And let me tell you, he's got a nice pair of smooth criminals down under."

IV. Obscenity

Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion (even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience) is forbidden.

"Now, I'm about to do to you what Limp Bizkit did to music in the late 90s."

V. Profanity

Pointed profanity (this includes the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ - unless used reverently - Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd), or every other profane or vulgar expression however used, is forbidden.

"God, if I had a nickel for every time I spanked it to Bernadette Peters."

VI. Costume

1. Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.

The Men's Club scene.

2. Undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot.

I know right?

3. Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.

Does the scene when Ryan takes his top off count?

4. Dancing or costumes intended to permit undue exposure or indecent movements in the dance are forbidden.

The Men's Club scene.

VII. Dances

1. Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.

The Men's Club scene.

2. Dances which emphasize indecent movements are to be regarded as obscene.

Scene contains a lapdance.

VIII. Religion

1. No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.

"Jesus Christ. It's like I made you in a computer."

2. Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used as comic characters or as villains.

Ah, interesting, not sure.

3. Ceremonies of any definite religion should be carefully and respectfully handled.

Again, hmm...

IX. Locations

The treatment of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and delicacy.

Does having the toilet directly in the room next to the bed count?

X. National Feelings

1. The use of the Flag shall be consistently respectful.

I expect it is.

2. The history, institutions, prominent people and citizenry of other nations shall be represented fairly.

"Your right leg is Thanksgiving and your left leg is Christmas. Can I come and visit you between the holidays?"

XI. Titles

Salacious, indecent, or obscene titles shall not be used.

Deadpool.

XII. Repellent Subjects

The following subjects must be treated within the careful limits of good taste:

1. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishments for crime.

What if they're used illegally?

2. Third degree methods.

Yes, torture is involved.

3. Brutality and possible gruesomeness.

That too.

4. Branding of people or animals.

Yes.

5. Apparent cruelty to children or animals.

No.

6. The sale of women, or a woman selling her virtue.

Yes.

7. Surgical operations.

Yes.

There then follows a list of justifications which I won't bore you with suffice to say that it's the sort of sanctimonious claptrap which treats humans beings as children and although I appreciate it's difficult to envisage us as complex beings based on recent events, it makes you grateful that the UK now enjoys a ratings body as thoughtful as the BBFC.

Madeleine and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

Music As a consequence of becoming ensconced with the Olympics and also cancelling my old BT email account, I've unaccountably failed to notice that two of my favourite musicians, Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux have new albums coming in the next couple of months, only noticing after Amazon pushed some recommendations to me. Algorithm 1, Serendipity 0.

Of course, a new Norah Jones album isn't that much of a rarity. Although it's only her sixth solo release since 2001 and the first in four years, she's filled the time between with side projects, supergroups and soundtracks and the like. Her spruced up website explains:
"Coming October 7th, Day Breaks is Norah's sixth solo album and a kindred spirit to her breakout debut Come Away With Me. It finds her returning to the piano and her roots.The album features Blue Note luminaries including saxophonist Wayne Shorter, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, and drummer Brian Blade on a 12-song set that presents 9 new originals alongside covers of songs by Horace Silver, Duke Ellington and Neil Young."
Here's the promo for the single, Carry On:



Text book, and as advertised a return to the simpler sound of the earlier album. Here's the pre-order page at Amazon.

Madeleine Peyroux's disc is Secular Hymns. From her website:
"The story starts with a concert in the countryside of England where I received a most gracious compliment, that our show had filled the hall with spiritual humanism. This is the result of subsequent recordings in that same little church, and it is because of that the album is titled Secular Hymns."
Promo:



Dance me to the end of love ... also the usual run of play.

If only Borders still existed so I could take my customary trip to Speke retail park to think about buying them for half an hour before convincing myself it's ok.  Here's the Amazon pe-order for the Peyroux instead, sniff.

Soup Safari #68: Pea and Mint at the Egg Cafe.







Dinner. £2.75. The Egg Cafe, Top Floor, 16-18 Newington, Liverpool L1 4ED. Phone: 0151 707 2755. Website.

"Set a goal. Work. Achieve."

Sport Kathryn Bertine is the cyclist who has led the campaign for an official women's Tour de France, a fight which is still ongoing.

  Her life has seen many obstacles and complications as this excellent piece from Bicycling magazine explains:
"She’s the powerhouse behind the women’s race at the Tour de France, the athlete who wrote three books, made a documentary, and clawed her way into the professional ranks of three sports. But walking away from a goal might have been her strongest move yet."
See also this Guardian piece about the forgotten story of ... Marianne Martin and the Tour de France Féminin, the first attempt at creating a women's race.

Clea Duvall on the Invisible Girl.

Film Here's a rare thing. In this week's Random Roles at The AV Club, Clea Duvall talks about her guest appearance on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer:
"It was pretty early in my career. I’m almost positive we shot it before it had aired. Or maybe I just didn’t know they were doing that show, and when my agent told me I had an audition for it, I was like, “They’re making a TV show of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? That’s insane.” Then I went on to also become obsessed with the show, because it’s so good. But I was pretty new, and I was really young. I think I was maybe 18 or 19 when we shot it. I was nervous and very shy, but really related to that character so much because I am a shy person. I am an introvert. I was so taken with the sensitivity and the emotion in that role. When I first heard the idea they were making a show about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I thought it was insane and then read that script and was impressed, and it’s something I’m happy I was a part of."
The whole of the first season of Buffy was indeed filmed before it aired, the studio and channel were that confident about its success. The full story is in the utterly brilliant in place (illegibly wonkish in others) Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN which I reviewed here [via].

“Go. Now. Go.”

TV The Art of the Title finally reaches the credit sequence for My So-Called Life, of the best uses of montage in titles and theme song. They interview director Scott Winant and title designer Kathie Broyles and reveal a titbit about what Claire Danes was like as an actress at this point:
There is also a good deal of movement, lots of swirling of cameras and characters. Was that to represent her metamorphosis?

Scott: When Claire was cast, she wasn’t an experienced actress, so she didn’t know how to hit her mark or stand still while we were shooting. They wanted me to stop her from doing that and I said, “No, I actually want to embrace this.” So we worked around Claire.

If you look at that image of her silhouetted in the street with Brian Krakow, under the trees, I waited to get to that moment because I knew Claire would spin on her toes and spin her purse behind her and it would make a great silhouette. Television allows us to adapt not only to the story but the actors themselves.
After watching the credit sequence again, I want to watch the whole series again. Oh to have the time to have a time.

Soup Safari #67: Fennel and Courgette at the British Library.







Lunch. £3.60. The British Library Restaurant and Terrace, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB. Phone: 0330 333 1144. Website.

Reversal of the Muse.

Music In the middle of everything else, the astonishing musician Laura Marling has begun a podcast in which she interviews women working in the music industry. Here's the first episode:
"In our first Reversal of the Muse podcast, Laura speaks to female sound engineer Vanessa Parr. Vanessa was the in-house engineer at the renowned Village Studios in LA, and has worked with some of the greats: Elton John, B.B. King, Coldplay and John Mayer amongst others.

"In her chat with Laura, Vanessa recalls how she broke into a male dominated field, where female engineers are few and far between. Together, they share their insights on both the benefits and challenges faced through being the only women in the studio."
Worth noting that Marling is more professional and engaging than half the people who work in professional radio. Oh wow, just noticed the second installment is with Haim.

My Favourite Film of 1932.



Film As anyone who's read my Love Actually evisceration will know, my dissertation, completed nearly ten years ago this month, was about hyperlink cinema, films with lots of characters, storylines and locales so called because of their similarity to how the web is structured. The question I asked myself was whether this constituted a genre or narrative form.  I concluded then that I didn't know.  Now I'm sure it's both. The second chapter which considered their narrative properties began by summarising their antecedents, the key influences and it's in this area as I was writing somewhere in mid-July that I realised that I'd made the error of selecting a PHd topic for my MA dissertation and that there was clearly thousands of words which could be written about this. So I wrote thousands of words, many of which then had to be trimmed before the handing in date leaving that second chapter as a summary of what I would have written, lots of phrases like "space does not allow for the presentation of a detailed analysis of literary history" that sort of thing. Since my favourite film of 1932, Grand Hotel, would also spark the cycle of that sort of film and was arguably the key influence on what went later, I thought I'd offer a mild rewrite of that portion of my dissertation.

After some preamble explaining the point, I went straight into literature and the shop floor with Shakespeare, who, despite having been influenced by earlier sources, was arguably the key ancestor of the cross cutting storyline structure (not counting the Bible). Both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure, for example, share similarities particularly in relation to the depiction of different classes and geographic locations and with storylines that are only connected during the main body of each play by a single character – Puck in the former, Lucio in the latter with all of the characters and some of the stories dovetailing together in Act Five (Shakespeare, 1964; Shakespeare, 1979). Tolstoy’s War & Peace (1865-9) relates the stories of a variety of families over an eight year period reacting to the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, introduced together in the reception given by Anna Pavlovna Scherer at the opening of the novel (Various, 2006). The novels of Charles Dickens are famous for their digressive narratives, with Bleak House (1852-3) in particular featuring storylines that are only connect through chance (despite the utilisation in places of the orphan, Esther as a first person narrator) (Allan, 2004: 101). In Our Mutual Friend (1864-5) too, the storylines of Boffin and Wrayburn are only connected through the waterside murders (Hayward, 1997: 41).

Some works also feature a map of the location to help orientate the reader, in the following cases a township and train carriages. Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) is a novelistic anthology with a narrative that flits back and forth amongst townspeople each with their own stories connected through George Willard the author’s autobiographical presence within the town. As Malcom Cowley indicates the author ‘would have liked to tell the stories of all the faces he had ever seen’ (Anderson, 1967: 5) and all of these short tales contributes narrative details to the others (Anderson, 1967: 13). Geoff Ryman’s 253: The Print Remix (1998), covers a seven and a half minute commuter journey between two London underground tube stations which ends with a crash, the reader being presented with descriptions of travellers and how their actions, however small, effect one another. Ryman’s book, which began as a website, is somewhat interactive in that the reader can ‘visit’ each of the characters in any order – however if read from cover to cover in the traditional way, like Anderson’s book, the effect is cumulative, some details only becoming illuminated as the reader’s knowledge of events increases (Ryman, 1998: 2).

Intolerance appears to be the first film that consciously exploits a multi-strand narrative structure, intercutting between four very distinct storylines (the fall of Babylon, the crucifixion, the Edict of Toleration which led to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and a contemporary story about a young Irish Catholic boy), although as David Bordwell notes the film eschews ‘causal connections’ (Bordwell, 2006: 93), with instead the thematic link of social injustice. The process of watching the film is still very similar to that of hyperlink cinema since it requires the spectator to absorb a group of parallel storylines refocusing their attention with each shift in timeframe. The next film that visibly demonstrates the structure of ‘a cross-section of life, taking it and leaving it where you found it – a story without a beginning and with no ending’ (Anonymous, 1982: 156) was Grand Hotel (1932) which also contained four or five distinct stories none of which have primacy and the inferred main protagonist, The Baron certainly does not receive narrative closure; the critic of Grand Hotel quoted above hints at a weakness of the format that will be considered later: ‘a more careful scrutiny might reveal that the interwoven plots seem to fall somewhat short of building suspensefully to clearly defined climaxes’ (Ibid., 1982: 156).

The film would spark a production cycle of works that featured a large cast of stars in cross-connected storylines, although the majority would be far less experimental in their plotting; with the exception of Dinner At Eight (1933) all deferred to a ‘one locale’ setting -- ‘Columbia’s American Madness (1932), which is set in a bank, Warner’s Employee’s Entrance (1933), which is set in a department store, and Paramount’s The Big Broadcast (1932), which is set in a radio station’ (Balio, 1995: 101). The reticence towards using a spread of locations, with the need for a more complicated shooting and editing style may have been a production decision, but it could also be proposed that more locales would lead to even greater amount of the exposition that was presumed needed at the time to keep the narratives coherent. It could also be inferred that these films would notionally influence the development of television soap operas, which also have surface similarities to hyperlink cinema. As Nick Lacey suggests, these ‘do not centre their narratives on one, or two, main characters; instead they follow the lives of several characters in a particular setting with a multi-stranded narrative structure’ (Lacey, 2000: 38). It could also be argued that soap operas as well as television drama series such as The West Wing (1999-2006), Desperate Housewives (2004-) and The Sopranos (1999-) are even more complex because they require the viewer to follow these causal narratives from week to week over many years, with the expectation that the audience will retain enough character information to sustain the resonance of the drama.

The Grand Hotel cycle might equally be considered the first in a group of what are described as ‘ensemble films’, which according to Linda Cowgill are ‘essentially subplots which have to be connected without the benefit of a main plot to hold them together’ (Cowgill, 2005). Understandably hyperlink cinema is usually assumed to be part of this group and indeed when a survey of recommendations was published in the Summer 2006 issue of DVD Review magazine, Magnolia (1999) and Short Cuts (1993) featured alongside The Big Chill (1983) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) (Bainbridge, 2006: 34). Cowgill suggests films as diverse as The Great Escape (1963), Independence Day (1996), Twenty Bucks (1993), The Right Stuff (1983) and Diner (1982) (Cowgill, 2005). Many ensemble films link their characters together by having them meeting periodically – in Late Night Shopping (2001), four twentysomethings share insights on their own stories at an all-night café during their break from work. Mallrats (1995) continues the MGM tradition by setting its stories largely inside a giant shopping centre. Others utilise what Cowgill describes as a ‘story frame’ – a main narrative that either sparks or binds all of the storylines together (Cowgill, 2005). In A Bridge Too Far (1977), although there are many separate plotlines featuring both officers and civilians, they are all a reaction to the war and in particular Operation Market Garden the failed Allied attempt to bring a decisive victory against Germany in World War II. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) despite having qualities similar to hyperlink cinema, a story frame is created by the war of Middle Earth, the ring quest and the two films that book end this central film of a trilogy. But a story frame can be much simpler than that – stories detailing the final night of a school year (American Graffiti (1973), Dazed and Confused (1993)) or a wedding (Diner (1982), A Wedding (1978)).

Bibliography

Allen, Janice. 2004. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Routledge, London.

Anderson, Sherwood. 1967. Winseberg, Ohio. Introduction by Malcolm Cowley. Jonathan Cape, London.

Anonymous. 1982. Grand Hotel. In. From Quasimodo to Scarlett O’Hara: A National Board of Review Anthology: 1920-1940. Edited by Stanley Hockman. Frederick Unger Publishing Co., New York.

Aronson, Linda. 2000. Screenwriting Updated: New (and Conventional) Ways of Writing for the Screen. Silman-James Press, Los Angeles.

Balio, Tino. 1995. History of the American Cinema: 5: Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise: 1930-1939. University of California Press, Berkley.

Bainbridge, Gavin. 2006. Shelf Space: Ensemble Films. In. DVD Review. 92.

Bordwell, David. 1985. Narration in the Fiction Film. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London.

Bordwell, David. 2006. The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Bordwell, David & Kristin Thompson. 2004. Film Art: An Introduction: Seventh Edition. McGraw Hill, New York.

Cook, Pam. 1985. The Cinema Book. British Film Institute, London.

Cowgill, Linda. 2005. Writing the Ensemble Film: Part One: The Gang's All Here. In. Creative Screenwriting. Available at: http://www.creativescreenwriting.com/csdaily/craft/04_08_05.html. Accessed: 13th June 2006.

Hayward, Jennifer Poole. 1997. Consuming Pleasures. University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky.

Jameson, Frederic. 1985. Postmodernism and Consumer Society. In. Postmodern Culture. Edited and Introduced by Hal Foster. Pluto Press, London.

Johnson, Steven. 2006. Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter. Penguin Books, London.

Jung, Carl. 1972. Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Translated from the German by R.F.C. Hull. Routledge, London.

Lacey, Nick. 2000. Narrative and Genre: Key Concepts in Media Studies. Palgrave, Hampshire.

Marks, Greg. 2005. Filmmaker Commentary with Director Greg Marks. In. 11:14 DVD. New Line Home Entertainment Inc., Los Angeles.

Műnsterberg, Hugo. 1999. The Means of the Photoplay. In. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings: Fifth Edition. Edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Propp,Vladimir. 1958. Morphology of the Folktale: Edited with an Introduction by Svatava Pirkova-Jakobson: Translated by Laurence Scott. Indiana University Research Center In Anthropology Folklore and Linguistics, Indiana.

Ryman, Geoff. 1998. 253: The Print Remix. Flamingo, London.

Shakespeare, William. 1964. Measure for Measure. Edited by S. Nagarajan. Signet Classic, New York.

Shakespeare, William. 1979. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Arden Shakespeare. Edited by Harold F. Brooks. Routledge, London.

Sobchack, Vivian. 2004. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. University of California Press, California.

Todorov, Tzvetan. 1975. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Cornell Paperbacks, New York.

Various. 2006. War and Peace. In. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_and_Peace. Accessed: 8th August 2006.

Wood, Jason and Eileen Anipar. 2005. An Introduction to ‘Me And You And Everyone We Know’ by Miranda July. In. Me And You And Everyone We Know DVD. Optimum Home Entertainment, London.

Night Tube.

Travel Overnight travel has begun on the London Underground and as well as passengers, the lines seem to have been filled with journalists (or at least two) trying to discover the kinds of people who're using the service. Here's Martin Belam in The Guardian:
"Friday’s service started with little fanfare at Walthamstow Central, as the 00.10 departure, newly classified on the timetable as a night tube, left with only a few people on board. Naso Koutzoukis was one of them. Originally from Athens, and having lived in London for five years, he’d travelled on the train specifically to head in to town to “see the drunken crowds. It should be fun.”
The Buzzfeed takes a more listicle approach.  Chris Bethell:
"Nandi and Adam, 2:53am, Chancery Lane

Nandi and Adam had been at a “great house party” in Peckham. Nandi said the night tube gave them more freedom and flexibility: “So we were like ‘should we go home? Yeah’.” Adam added: “Or we would have had to stay til 5am. We didn’t want to do that but we might have had to otherwise.”
Both stories contain some wonderful photography capturing humanity and it's most tender or real trying to get home.  I wonder if Chris and Martin bumped into each other or passed by as strangers unaware that they were on the same story.

Wait, no, I'm wide awake.



Sport Day 11. It's Day 11 already and rather like Claire Balding whenever she's trying to keep track of who won which medal and when on what day and indeed even what time, on live television, the Olympics days are starting to blur into each other. The four hour time difference from the UK to Rio wasn't apparently enough to create too many jetlag problems amongst athletes, who tend, thanks to international competition, to be pretty used to such things, but it's left me in a kind of competition miasma. I'm sorry, what's on now? Women's Open Water swimming? Ok.

The four hour time time difference has also meant everything in broadcast terms.  The big ticket events, the swimming and athletics finals, which  usually dominate prime time in the UK exist in the middle of the night accessible only to those with flexible sleep patterns, a job with excellent hours or sympathetic employers.  That means the sports which usually rolled around (literally in the case of the cycling) during the afternoon and tea time, are enjoying prime time slots and the opportunity to promote their sports in a way which is generally unheard of.

I don't have flexible sleep patterns, taking at least a week to get over the insomniatic bump of the Oscars or an election so my approach has been to wake up before six o'clock in the morning and watching the overnight broadcast from the iPlayer on my tv over breakfast and much long afterwards, before listening to the radio, before picking up an iDevice, in the hours before having to go work, sessions of sport, on days which have included swimming, athletics and tennis, which have stretched on into four or five hours.

But it's been well worth it even if I'm losing track of when these titanic struggles have actually occurred.  This morning I saw the extraordinary pole vault final, which I won't spoil but was certainly one of the most thrilling events in this Olympics, and even though I know it happened last night, everything else is telling me it happened this morning, which it sort of did due to the time difference, if only three hours before it reached my eyes.  Yesterday, I'd forgotten Max Whitlock's double golds had been Sunday night, it felt like it was a couple of days before.

So here we are at Day 11 with the prospect of more golds in the velodrome tonight, or rather the afternoon if you're in Rio's time zone and whatever other surprises crop up during the day and night.  Although I'm not quite enjoying it as much as London due to the time differences, not being able to watch with social media during those events I really love, the loneliness of watching the long distance runner alone, I am at least seeing events which were somewhat in the background last time.  If Netball is still my favourite team sport, Rugby 7s is now a close, close second.

My Favourite Film of 1933.



Film Something which is persistently annoying about film criticism, especially the sort of film criticism perpetrated in Amazon reviews or comment threads on blogs, although plenty of professional reviewers are guilty, is of lambasting genre pieces for not having a strong story or deep characterisation. In recent years it's the stick smashed around the heads of comic book films but you'll see it mentioned in relation to musicals, westerns, comedies, dance films and notably action films essentially anything which wasn't premiered during Sundance or Cannes.

Typical examples are the Ultraviolet and Resident Evil series, both of which I hold in high esteem for their action set pieces, strong female leads and general campness.  Both franchises are regularly reviewed badly, both are criticised for the genre credentials and in general treated as though they don't know exactly the kind of fare they're trying to be.  What story they have is a scaffold for gunplay and visual pleasures and although I seem to be able to see this, others find the whole business quite tedious.

But this wasn't always the case.  Back in the day, film musicals, especially those choreographed by Busby Berkeley had a gossamer story acting as little more than a framing device.  In Footlight Parade (1933), James Cagney is tasked with presenting three "previews" or musical numbers designed to preface a film release on the same night and in the final hour of the film we're presented with all spectacular three.  Even taking into account the vertical studio releasing process that was wildly popular, taking $819,080 at the box office.

Why this change?  Have audiences become more sophisticated?  Have expectations increased?  Yes to both.  But I also think that it's incumbent on filmmakers to enunciate what their film is really about and also, if the story is purposefully simplistic to justify such.  Melissa McCarthy vehicle Tammy is almost art house in the way it chooses not to give its lead character any goals in particular and have a road movie structure without a clear destination, but also doesn't manage to be especially funny when it has to be.  Which isn't to say it didn't turn a profit.

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:
Bluecoat.

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.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
The Oratory.


"Listen!"
-- The Doctor, "Listen"
Art The Oratory is one of Liverpool's hidden jewels.  Sitting in the grounds of Liverpool Cathedral it must look like some old mausoleum, and only when it's open does it show its true purpose and if nothing else, the Biennial provides people with the opportunity to see inside for an extended period.  Back in 2010, the Biennial held a press preview at the Oratory showcasing transcendent Laura Belem’s The Temple of a Thousand Bells, in which what must have been that many small, glass objects were hung from the ceiling whilst a story was told to us.  That wasn't first visit.  My first visit was part of the Art Collections project and you can find a detailed review of the statuary and the building's history on this very blog.

Although there's work from other artists around the edges of the interior of the kind which is threaded through all of the many venues, the key focus is on a giant flat screen television presenting Lawrence Abu Hamdan's Rubber Coated Steel, in which the artist (who we previously encountered in Derby Square) utilises the mechanism of a gun range to illustrate a subtitled but not heard transcript of a trial in which he successfully proved that two Palestinian boys were shot by real bullets rather than rubber rounds.  As the visual evidence is presented to the court demonstrating the difference in sound between the two, they're brought forward on the clips usually filled with the targetable torso or else video footage.

The Biennial booklet suggests "it's a work about aesthetics, politics and the potential violence inherent in both noise and silence", which, I'd suggest, includes the inherent biases we have in interpreting both we see and more importantly hear.  If we're conditioned to assume we're hearing a rubber bullet then that's what we'll hear.  If it's a live round, then that instead.  Those in the court admit that they can't tell the difference and without the sound wave patterns Hamdan submit, it wouldn't otherwise be clear at all.  It's an enthralling piece which demands our patience, because we can only see the words of the court transcript and so we're constantly having to dart our eyes between what's being "said" and what's being "shown".

Not that I thought this first time around.  As is often the case with video art, I can in the middle and didn't have an understand on the context.  Plus three security guards were being shown around the building by a fourth and at the vital moment when the artist's own voice emerges from the speakers to provide some necessary context, the guard decided to raise his voice so he could be heard over the sound of the artwork.  All of which distraction led me to feeling a certain tedium as the legalise played out.  Like many of the Biennial presentations, there's a clear narrative which simply doesn't work if you enter in the middle.  But after deciding to watch the whole piece again from the beginning, I managed to grasp what was being presented and was mesmerised.

Next Destination:
Granby Workshop

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Exchange Flags.


"Gracious. During all my travels, I don't think I've ever come across this. Magical. Isn't it extraordinary? I say, are you there Chesterton? Chesterton. What are you doing, dear boy? Fiddling and gaping over there. Come over here and learn something."
-- The Doctor, "The Web Planet"
Art The TARDIS lands near an unusual artifact, a wooden structure covered in clay which resembles the back end of a Zarbi burrowing in the block paving.  As you can see from his tumblr, the artist Sahej Rahel, creates artifacts and objects influenced by science fiction and fantasy as though they've then subsequently become lost for thousands of years and become fossilised.  There are tables filled with items at Cains Brewery in this vein, set out like the results of some archaeological dig and in Exchange Flags here's what could be the uncovering of the remnants of some Pompeii level disaster.

Next Destination:
The Oratory.