Stairway to Heaven and other tales.

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

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

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

Are We Still Friends?

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

Seasons Come, Seasons Go.

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

The End of this Blog.

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

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

Tessa Thompson on Veronica Mars.

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

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

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

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

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
FACT Liverpool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Destination:
Saw Mi .. Blade Factory.

My Favourite Film of 1937.

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

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

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

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

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

The Superlambanana looks fucking awesome.

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

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

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

Richard Schiff on the later years of The West Wing.

TV Another suitably brilliant Random Roles at The AV Club with Schiff offering his thoughts on what happened to Toby towards the end of The West Wing:
"There was that, but there’s also the endgame for my character on that show. [It] was not one that was pleasing for me, to say the least. The culture of the show changed at the end. Tommy and Aaron [Sorkin] left after season four. I don’t think anyone got Toby better than Tommy and Aaron. Aaron, I think, loved that character and loved writing that character. They understood it. I don’t think the next generation of runners really got him the way those two did. So the battles became difficult. There were some writers that were great with Toby, like Eli Attie and Debora Cahn. Then, I think, the culture of the show was more factory-like. As the show’s winding down, they want to squeeze every dollar they can out of it, which is normal and understandable. They had started to look for ways to save money, and part of it was offering us less shows the last year. I think they came up with a storyline in which they could reduce Toby significantly by making him a traitor. [Laughs.] Which is diametrically opposite of everything that I had fought and battled for for five years. It was excruciatingly painful to discover that that is what they were doing with this character."
One of the worst mistakes in television history and having just watched the final season of Gilmore Girls (a topic I should return to) that's saying quite a lot. I completely agree with his comments about Eli Attie and Debora Cahn who were as much a pair of pseudo-Sorkins as Rebecca Rand Kirshner reacted some of the Paladino magic in GG's closing stages.

Here's my old review of the final stages in which I note Cahn's contribution.  She wrote The Superemes, the best episode of season five and the moment when it seemed as though there might be some magic left in the show, so long as John Wells was nowhere near it.  Cahn went on to write whole swathes of Grey's Anatomy.

Email business.

Life Back when this blog was but a fledgling, it was being written while I was still using dial-up at home via a BT Surftime account with an included email address - which I quickly stopped using after beginning this mess and adopting its title and so for years my email address was  You might have used it yourself.

When I migrated over to a 3 dongle for my broadband, 15gb limit a month and such, and asked to cancel the Surftime account, so I could keep the BT email open I continued paying £1.60 per month to maintain it, partly out of laziness but also because it seemed as though there were enough services which would not allow me to transfer over without some fiddly business.

Imagine my surprise when I received my credit card statement and found the charge had increased to eight pounds and some pence.  With the service depreciating, BT have increased the cost of what's not called a "BT Premium email" service to £5 per month, something which they entirely failed to inform me about and I only discovered after some frenetic Googling.

A lengthy phone call later, in which it took an advisor ten minutes to realise what my query was and find my details, it was explained to be the extra three pounds and change was essentially the difference for the previous month I'd already paid for, they having decided to put the price up retrospectively.  I know.  I don't understand.

Which left me with choices.  Pay the £5 a month which over time is a bit steep really.  Connect the email account to our current broadband package which also happens to be with BT which I wouldn't want to do because I liked keeping them separate and wouldn't want to mess things up further.  Or cancel the account altogether.

With a perfectly good gmail account set up, I've since spent the past two days working through six months worth of emails sent to the BT account (and forwarded on to my gmail anyway) trying to find everything which is connected to that old email and deleting it.  As expected this has been fiddly, especially in relation to fruit based devices and methods of payment.

Dozens of mailing lists cancelled and resubscribed to.  A PR database which has been quite useful which I ended up having to make telephone call to.  Music services, film streaming services, my whole virtual life.  Slowly, slowly realising just how connected we become to email accounts and how used to them we become.

But I think I'm there or at least very close.  The folder I set up via a filter is empty and I'll simply watch it for a few weeks now to see what else appears in it.  I'm sure I've forgotten something and it's going to be interesting when I get there to discover how it's possible to recover the account if the primary email address no longer exists.

So if you're trying to contact me from now onwards, my email address is having swooped in early when they were still in beta (would you believe) and grabbed my full name.  Now I'm just going to have to remember to use it when signing into the innumerable places which previously used the other one.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Master Chef Restaurant.

"A silent wall! We must make mouths in it with our weapons, then it will speak more light."
-- Hetra, The Web Planet
Art I wander through the front door into the empty restaurant and glance around nervously. A man steps out of the kitchen.
"I'm looking for the Biennial painting?"
He points to the wall on the left.
He points to the wall on the right.
"And this."
"Ah" I say, "Thanks very much."

Just a short trip, this time. The Master Chef Restaurant on Renshaw Street is one of life's fixtures, a place which I've passed many times on foot and by bus but never actually entered. Not for any particular reason. Perhaps I'll return at some point to try the soup.

As part of the Chinatown episode, we have two paintings by Portugese artist Anna Jotta.  From the biographies I've read, she's most interested in the idea of not having, or erasing her own personal style, her inspiration based on mood and whatever works.

In the early eighties she was a film set designer and here's her IMDb page.  A glance through images of her other work and this interview indicate a strong interest in film, often painting or drawing on a fold away projection screen.

The Biennial booklet says that these two works, No No Sir!, were painted with the restaurant in mind, the colours influenced by some antique green pottery she saw in a magazine whilst on a train to Liverpool

But by coincidence the olive green colour utilised on one of them matches the paintwork on a number of the walls in the restaurant and the cream colour is similar to the white when bathed in artificial light.  The paintings reflect the surrounding walls back on themselves.

The most obvious similarity is to abstract expressionism, De Kooning and Rothko in particular although there isn't the same rich gradation of colours.  Plus they were working within a very rigid space, whereas these are unsupported pieces of canvas with raggedy edges.

Do I like them?  I don't dislike them.  The notion seems to be that they should blend in, that perhaps a restaurant patron should gradually come to realise that they looking at a commissioned piece of work connected to the art festival rather than some off the shelf B&Q sourced wall filling.

One of the notions connected to abstract expressionism was that they're almost drawing a distinction between casuals and the hard core.  De Kooning says that in order to appreciate his work you have to put in the time, to appreciate the play of light, the time he's put in.

Do Jotta's paintings pass this test?  Not sure.  I didn't spend a lot of time with them, it's a very odd space to be standing amid the tables.  My guess is that yes, if you were eating in the restaurant concentrating on them between courses more detail could become obvious.

Vworp.  Vworp.

Next Destination:

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Tate Liverpool.

"I think I ought to warn you that I've given second thoughts to the whole of this scheme, and I think it better we turn round and go back before it's too late. Hmm, hmm."
-- The Doctor, "The Myth Makers"
Art If the TARDIS looks like it's dropping in and out of phase, it's because the weather was utterly horrendous on the way to the TATE this morning, rain shifting horizontally across the waterfront, making it pretty difficult to control the time ship long enough to take the photograph.  Perhaps the shock of returning to the gallery so close to having been to the Biennial's opening press conference also discombobulated the controls.  After deciding to use a randomiser, I hadn't expected to be at TATE quite so soon and rather makes me wish I'd stuck around for the curatorial introduction last Thursday before toddling off to Caines.

Not that the exhibition itself isn't fairly self explanatory.  The key expression of the "Ancient Greece" episode of the Biennial, it presents a selection of busts and reliefs bought by art collector, Henry Blundell in the 1800s and now in the vaults and so on loan from National Museums Liverpool.  Having spent a portion of the late 90s cataloguing sections of this collection when I worked for the then National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, I was well aware that there was more in the donation than what's on display in the sculpture gallery at the Walker, so it's fascinating to see some objects which haven't always been on display.  The press kits gives a figure of 553.

The first floor gallery at the TATE displays about a dozen specifically chosen because of how they represent inaccurate restoration.  As the Biennial booklet explains, female heads could find themselves attached to male bodies, parts of the anatomy incorrectly fused, fragments married with later creations to form new sculptures by eighteenth century restorers.  Within the show, there are disembodied heads married to bases to become busts, mismatched breasts fused to females for which they were missing and even an example of hair extensions on a scalp for which they were never meant and look entirely incongruous.

Presented on a wooden boards atop pink-painted metal frames this is not the usual museum display, apart from the accompanying labels which are every bit the sort of text you might expect in an antiquities gallery, explaining how the object was restored and who or what it's supposed to represent.  The pottery selections are not presented in the usual manner behind glass cases and it's possible to walk almost right around them, again not something usually possible within a more traditional museum setting.  Perhaps I was expecting something a bit closer to a recreation of the Ince Blundell Hall interior as featured in the booklet photograph, but again the Walker's sculpture gallery exists for that.

Amid these ancient relics are new commissions and other business by contemporary artists reflecting on ancient Greece.  Andreas Angelidakis's digital video explains how Ancient Greek vases were on of the ways in which news and myths were communicated, relating them to social media which arguably works in a similar way albeit on a much quicker timescale.  That's accompanied by various shapes, some of which appear in the video, created through 3D printing displayed in a similar fashion to the ancient greek objects.  But it's fair to say my interest was always directed back the magnificent museum piece cobbled together by various makers across history.  Now, where next?

Next Destination:
Master Chef Restaurant.

My Favourite Film of 1938.

Film As we've discussed previously, the news archive on YouTube are an endless, seemingly bottomless supply of footage of our collective past, hundreds and thousands of moments in time captured in a way which wasn't possible before the invention of photography existing so that nothing much can be forgotten about anything. For that reason and because every other film you can think of from that year's been invalidated by the various rules I decided upon at the beginning of this project, my favourite film(s) of 1938 is the Pathe News archive. Yes, cop out has two words. Anyway, having hit the wall and made a hole in it, let's choose some examples which cover the usual interests of this blog.

Their Majesties In Liverpool (1938)

My Grandfather was in the Liverpool Scottish, though he died before I was born. I didn't know either of my Granddads. This from the "Royal Tour of Lancashire" spoken with the same exoticism as any other part of what was then the British Empire. I like to think I displayed similar athleticism when our school cross country was on Wavertree Playground but in truth I came second to last and only because the other person turned up late and ran the wrong way.

The National Theatre At South Kensington (1938)

George Bernard Shaw receiving the deeds, a sod and a twig at the launch of the National Theatre. Shaw of course wastes no time in comparing himself to Shakespeare. At this early stage it was designating itself as the home of the Bard in London, years before the Barbican and the Globe.

Henry VIII Model Aka Model Film Stars Issue Title Ride 'em Cowboy (1938)

A quick scoot about online to find out more about Harald Melville. He was an author with many books about set design published later in the 40s and 50s. 1948, ten years later, was a busy year for him. His one screen credit according to the IMDb was as an actor and art director on a film called Castle Sinister, a spy thriller. That same year he was the set and costume designer at a Glyndebourne production of Die Entfuhrung in the Bath Festival 1948 (Theatre Royal, Bath). He also appeared at the Gateway Theatre in two shows.

Billy Mayer And His Claviers (1938)

And now some music. Since even the legacy of the Sugababes doesn't stretch back this far not counting the release of Angels With Dirty Face starring James Cagney, here's some other musical dexterity.

Window Cleaners on The Empire State Building.

Welcome to New York, it's there waiting for you.  The Pathe archive is filled with these sorts of films of events and happenings which in later years are the stuff of askew montage sequences in the likes of Amelie, Stephen Poliakoff dramas and Adam Curtis documentaries.  It's not just that this happened, it's that it happened regularly. Here's another bonus example:

Musical Dawson Birds (1938)


Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Cains Brewery.

"We are not of this race. We are not of this earth. Susan and I are wanderers in the fourth dimension of space and time, cut off from our own people by distances beyond the reach of your most advanced science." -- The Doctor, An Unearthly Child.
Art This journey through space and probably time, since we're all travelling into the future even if it's the slow way, by seconds, minutes, hours and days, begins at Caines Brewery.  Caines was one of the key Liverpool businesses, founded by Irishman Robert Cain in 1858 and at its height owned a chain of over two hundred pubs but over the years through mergers and takeovers its licensed premises and brewing have been watered down to the point that there are just five establishments left and the Cains name is being lent to a collection of craft beers.  This factory was closed in 2013 with a view to redeveloping the entire site as a leisure and and housing complex [wikipedia].  Caines's website is still up and running as though none of this has occurred with all its bells and whistles and no mention that the Biennial has temporarily made it's home here.

Despite not being much of a drinker, I had always planned to book a visit for a tour of the factory fascinated as I am with manufacturing process as well as how they're communicated to the public.  But meant doesn't always translate into do, and so this was the first time I'd really set foot on the site, apart from the occasion when I got lost on the way to The Gallery art space a few years ago.  Like the Old Blind School and the Copperas Hill post building back in the day, it's an opportunity to see inside old working buildings otherwise shut off from the public with their fixtures and fittings still largely intact.  The space, the old canning hall, has a similar atmosphere to The Furnace, the hall utilised at AFoundation during the 2006 edition of the Biennial and which now houses the main eating area with the caravans at Camp and Furnace.  High roof, concrete floors and an adequate toilet.

Three of the Biennial's "episodes" feature, Chinatown, Flashback and the Children's Episode.  These are are separated by Andreas Angelidakis's Collider, a large structure of concentric circular walls apparently inspired by the Large Hadron Collider (for which the University's Victoria Gallery and Museum currently has a fascinating exhibition).  Immediately it's apparent that although the concept of the episode implies separation between sites just as they would be in a televisions series, these themes will in fact be somewhat intermingled - there's also an exhibit from the Software theme here too.  The effect seems more analogous to someone changing channels on a television and skipping between different series or the crosscutting of storylines in an ensemble film, especially if those storylines don't interact directly like Griffiths's Intolerance.

As you might expect my favourite piece in the show, Yin-Ju Chen's Extrastellar Evaluations riffs on the theme of alien presences interacting on earth.  The idea is to gather together evidence of a race of beings from the lost continent Lemuria, living on Earth in another dimension but visiting us periodically and most notably as a group of conceptual artists in the 1960s.  Most recently on display at the Kadist Gallery in San Francisco, it's spread across Caines and FACT and in Caines inhabits the Chinatown and Flashback "episodes".  Rather like a story told across multiple episodes, we can only really appreciate the whole effect once we've experienced all of the sections creating an incentive for visitors to travel to the various venues  Knowing my luck with the randomiser, I'll be seeing the rest of the piece in a couple of months.

The first section, in Chinatown, is in an office on the edge of the main space, a long darkened room with a video projection at one end, metal tiles arranged in two patterns and easy to kick if you're not watching what you're doing arrangements of crystals.  You're initially greeted by a letter (in very nice joined up handwriting) from someone called Lucia, who claims to have been channeling the message of the Lemuria indicating, rather poignantly given how 2016's gone so far, that if "Earth beings become one" they'll be happy to bring their higher civilisation back to this "blue marble".  So we're in Eric Von Daniken territory territory, or Arthur C Clarke's monolith, the notion of higher beings nurturing humanity.  In Doctor Who this tends to mean Scaroth or the Silents and there's very much an ulterior motive.

The screen features a figure bestride the landscape, long blonde hair, look of intent.  Now we're presented with the notion of alien visitor, Jeff Bridges in Starman, Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth or indeed a Time Lord.  He wanders about, investigating, walking.  He, we must assume is Adama, the person communicating with Lucia.  Words are superimposed across the screen, greeting us, explaining his intent, advising us when his message is sent.  We must then conclude that the metal plates are part of his communication device and the crystals indicate in their shape his constellation of origin and some other things.  Are we supposed to be visiting a recreation of the site where he's been or the devices he uses to communicate with us?  Given everything happening elsewhere in the canning room, the suspension of disbelief is impressive.

The exhibit continues in Flashback with photograph of the cosmos projected on the wall, a television set on the floor and a chart filled with geometric shapes and photographs from Earth's past nearby.  I sat on the floor and watched the screen as it filled with images similar to those in the other space, of green landscapes and snow filled vistas but instead of the starman, it's what must be his ship, a giant mirrored cube floating through like a Zardoz head or the Pandorica in flight-mode and with all the elegance of Skagra's sphere in the BBC Video restoration of Shada.  I whooped with delight.  The photographs in the chart indicate divisive or tragic moments of the 60s, the Vietnam War and the death of the Apollo 1 astronauts, mixed with examples of abstract public art, obelisks and other weirdly shaped structures, which we must infer are the  Lemurian's handywork.

An Interview with Yin-Ju Chen, Kadist Artist in Residence 2016. Extrastellar Evaluations is on view 5/11-6/25 from Kadist on Vimeo.

Find above an interview with the artist from its appearance at Kadist (with excerpts from the videos) in which she talks about this mythology in much the same way as any writer does about science fiction.  Her ideas are rich and based on existing stories, Lemuria was part of a theory from the 19th century designed to explain incongruities in platechtonics which have since been discredited.  This fictional land has nevertheless spawned a range of genre fiction, notably as an antagonist for Namor The Sub-Mariner's Atlantis.  The word "Lemuria" has appeared in Doctor Who, in the Alan Barnes's Seventh Doctor audio, Daleks Among Us, but it seems to be attributed to something else entirely although the notion of extra-dimensional beings having and effect on human history is almost a cliche in the Whoniverse.  Almost?

In some ways, I wish that video was available in the gallery space by way of explanation although perhaps the fiction as it stands is supposed to be opaque, hoping to fire our imagination.  It succeeds, especially if you're a fan of this kind of fiction.  My favourite element is how it co-opts other artworks in a similar way to newsworthy events in alternative history fictions, the metal tiles and rocks implying that the Lemurians have been communicating through other artists.  I wonder how I might have approached these sections if I'd seen the FACT material first, something I won't know until I make it there.  Let's have a look and see if the randomiser on my time ship will land me on Wood Street next.  Set the controls and .... no, not yet ... fast return switch it is then ...

Next Destination:
Tate Liverpool

Liverpool Biennial 2016:

Art  Here we go again ...  Up until about half ten this morning I didn't own a collapsible umbrella. Having recently bought a new coat because my old faithful had become tent-like due to losing all this weight, I'd been wearing it pretty much on and off since last December due to the inclement weather. But now we've reached July, it's still raining but it's also too warm to wear the new faithful. So lacking an umbrella I headed out to the Liverpool Biennial press day in just by jumper and within seconds of leaving the house resembled a very sinister sponge having not noticed that it was raining. This was not good and so after walking some, I ended up at Sports Direct in Liverpool One buying a Dunlop-branded TARDIS blue collapsible umbrella which was relatively flimsy stopped me from getting wetter as I trudged across the Dock Road and to Tate Liverpool.

Even after all these years, I'm still very excited about the Liverpool Biennial and especially the Liverpool Biennial press launches.  Even though I'm pretty well on record, well on this blog, in not exactly loving everything about every Biennial, because human taste dictates that when faced with challenging artwork we're unlikely to like everything, there's always that same sense of anticipation.  What will there be?  What will I see?  Even the press days are different each time.  In 2014, we met in the shell of what was called The Blind School for a relatively low-key affair but this was a full on bash with accreditation tables in the foyer, lecturned introduction in a meeting room and around eighty to a hundred members of the real press.  And me.  The new innovation are the pictured wristbands, much easier to navigate than the old cardboard signs on lanyards.  Yes, I know I have hairy arms.

Speeches.  From Sally Tarrant, director of the Liverpool Biennial.  From Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of Tate Liverpool.  From Culture Liverpool Director, Claire McColgan.  From Wirral South MP Alison McGovern.  Although not expressed specifically, Brexit underscored much of what was said, about how since the Capital of Culture, Liverpool has transformed itself out of all recognition into a truly European city and how even as we face this needlessly uncertain future, we'd be reckless of toss that effort away (and since we're on of the few cities which has voted to remain, I hope that won't be the case).  Alison McGovern's speech very powerfully described what it's been like seeing the Biennial's introduction and development and how it's helped shape the city's perception of itself and how we all embrace it.  I tweeted her afterwards to thank her for her words and compliment her on being her and she replied.  Like me, she's a Biennial fan.

The overall tone felt much more confident than in 2014, more robust, much closer to earlier editions and that's reflected in there being a much clearer theme which is, to quote the booklet, to explore "fictions, stories and histories, taking viewers on a series of voyages through time and space."  Der-der-der-dum.  "These journeys take the form of six 'episodes': Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children's Episode, Software, Monuments from the Future and Flashback."  Der-der-der-dum.  Effectively while Doctor Who is on hiatus (or whatever you want to call this gap year) the Liverpool Biennial is picking up the slack, the arts festival equivalent of the Colin Baker starring art-themed Radio 4 drama Slipback.  Cue the sound of drums.  After the theme of the Biennial being the absence of a theme last time, now there are effectively six.  I'll see over the coming months just how closely the work reflects those themes and how they mesh together.

As is customary for the press days, there's a very carefully worked out itinerary, in which visitors are shuttled by bus between venues with curatorial explanations in each but since I don't have a deadline and because I didn't want to rush through everything in a couple of days, once the press launch had completed, rather than sticking around at the Tate, I wandered instead down to the second stop at Caine's Brewery and once the rest of the press pack had arrived, we were served a pizza lunch at The Brewery Tap nearby.  This was very nice pizza and I may have eaten more than my fair share of it.  After that as everyone else headed off to the announcement of the John Moores Painting Prize, I stuck around at Caine's for the rest of the afternoon and although this wasn't quite as involved a process as The Blind School had been in logistical terms, there was more than enough to keep me occupied and I'll write about that soon.

Some route talk.  In recent years, my process for visiting the venues has been in numerical order based on the map in the official booklet, but since the theme this year is episodes and there's much talk of time travel, I've decided instead to engage a randomiser and visit them all in whatever order this website dictates.  Although I'll be taking my TARDIS (you'll see) through space rather than actual time, my hope is that there'll still be a sense of visiting other conceptual periods as I work my way through the exhibitions.  According to the booklet there are twenty-seven official venues and commissions as well as the Centre for Chinese Culture in Manchester which is twenty-eight.  There's also the usual fringe or independent section so I'll be slipping a time track now and then to see what's happening there.  The pamphlet produced by The Double Negative implies great things.  Overall, with any luck, it's going to turn out to be "quite a great spirit of adventure."  Here we go again ...

Next Destination:
Cains Brewery.

Cathy Come Home: The Stage Show.

Theatre Last night The Barbican offered a stage version of Ken Loach's seminal film Cathy Come Home and have presented a recording of the live stream on YouTube:
"Catch up on this incredible performance of Cathy Come Home by watching the video above (starts from 19 minutes 25 seconds - an edit will be uploaded shortly). The shows runs for approximately one hour and is directly followed by a panel debate asking the question: "Homelessness 50 years on: what's changed?" featuring legendary filmmaker Ken Loach, BBC journalist Samira Ahmed, Shelter's CEO Campbell Robb, our Artistic Director and Founder Adrian Jackson, Mercury Prize nominated musician Eska and Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray. Have your say and join the conversation."

The Superlambanana is in a Fucking Mess (Updated!)

Art Excellent news. This blog post was picked up by Radio Merseyside who reported on it this afternoon. They've spoken to the council and ...

Here's the original post ...

Art Some friends visited Liverpool today and I gave them a tour of the city taking in the major sites one of which being the Superlambanana which is currently outside one of John Moores University's libraries on Tithebarn Street. As I discovered back in the late nineties when researching public art for various reasons, although towns and cities are very grateful to have them installed, their upkeep is a whole other thing and so it's proving with what's become a modern icon of the city.

As you can see from the above photo and the close-ups below, the paintwork is pretty much knackered, less cared for than the average bus shelter. At a certain point it has had a second layer but rather than doing what's needed which is to sand the whole thing down and start again with a more weather resistant paint, it was simply touched up between the gaps and now in large sections the paintwork has dropped away leave bare concrete. It looks sad. Unloved. Forgotten.

This shot is of a major portion of the side. As you can see the paint has almost completely fallen away.

You may have noticed in the midst of that the addition of the litter bin which has been put next to the underbelly of the beast. Here it is in-situ. I've blanked out the face of the members of the public nearby. Apologies for the language by the way but I was trying to get the getting one people who this on social media. Some intemperate bad language seems to work.  For some reason.

Who administers the upkeep of the sculpture I wonder?  Is there a special budget somewhere?  Does original artist Taro Chiezo need to be involved?  It's just extremely weird that a piece of public art which is merchandised this extensively, which has spawned all of those children, notably those produced in 2010 which are now outside the Museum of Liverpool and clearly loved by some many people should now be in such a shabby state.

My Favourite Film of 1939.

Film The first time I heard the soundtrack album to Good Morning Vietnam was during a sponsored walk at a scout hut in Garston in the late 80s. I remember vividly sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car having completed my wander around the grounds, pressing play on the cassette in the stereo and hearing Robin Williams pipe up with his opening monologue with little knowledge of what the film was about or even having seen it, despite having seen the posters covering the walls of the local Video City when the film was released on rental dvd. As we've discussed I was too busy with Star Trek and Police Academy.

Within days I was provided with a bootleg copy which I then spent the following weeks and months listening to incessantly until I had memorised his monologues and knew the songs off by heart. This was also the first time I'd even heard anything from the original film of The Wizard of Oz, my choice for 1939, even in this parody, which is strange considering one of the earliest books I owned was The Marvelous Land of Oz and my parents had taken me to see Walter Murch's Return to Oz at the Woolton Picture House one birthday.  My first viewing of Oz wasn't until many years later in the library at Leeds Met one idle afternoon.

So despite having an incessant difficulty learning anything off by heart which has curtailed my acting career, hum, and means I'm still plugging away at "To Be Or Not To Be..." I still have scraps of this speech in my head from years ago.  Perhaps it's because I remember laugh at the time, perhaps it was that the same relative had also memorised the speeches and I didn't want to be outdone, I'm not sure why it's lodged up here, but even after all these years, everything which has happened, I think I'm still able to recall at least that opening section.  Let's see.  Apologies for any mess syntax and grammar.  Translating speech to text is hard.

"Gooood Morning Vietnam, hey this is not test, this is rock and roll. Time to rock it from the delta to the DMA. Is it a little too early for being that loud, hey too late. This is oh-six-hundred. What does the oh stand for? "Oh my god it's early." Speaking of early, nunee-nunee-noo-noo, nunee-nunee-noo-noo, picture a man going on a journey beyond sight and sound, he has left Crete, he has entered the demilitarized zone. What is the demilitarized zone? Sounds like something out of the Wizard of Oz. "Oh look you landed in Saigon, you're among the little people now." "We represent the other, other army." "Oh no, don't go in there ..." "Ooeeoo, Ho-chi-min." "Oh no, it's the Wicked Witch of the North, it's Hanow-Hanoy!" "Aaah little GI, you and you're little tu-to, too. Aaah I'm melting... don't you my pretty ah...!"

A quick listen again to the soundtrack on Spotify reveals I've forgotten "Is that me, or does that sound like an Elvis Presley movie? Viva Da Nang. Oh, viva, Da Nang. Da Nang me, Da Nang me. Why don't they get a rope and hang me?" and some business about calling "Hanow" a slut. It's not the most PC business but probably completely in period.  Certainly at the age of eleven or twelve people saying naughty words was inherently funny, however un-PC they are now.  When our primary school gave out free dictionaries, our first instinct was to look up all the rude words and even in secondary school we all knew which page number of the Biology textbook had line drawings of genitalia.  254. 

Here's a supercut all Adrian's business, which reveals that the material on the album was heavily edited from the material in the film:

Hamlet: A Critical Reader. Edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson.

Books  Yesterday whilst writing about Thompson and Taylor's introduction to the revised edition of their 2006 Arden Third Series publication of Hamlet, I noted how for the most part they ignored general literary criticism and focused instead on textual matters.  Here it is instead in Hamlet: A Critical Reader, an extension to that original work expanding on some of its themes and introducing others.

Part of a series which will notionally cover all of the plays, numerous authors tackle various, now standard elements of literary criticism, through chapters with largely self explanatory titles: The Critical Backstory, Performance History, The State of the Art (survey Hamlet lit crit in the past decade), New Directions: Hamlet and Gender, New Directions: Hamlet, Cinema, the World and New Directions: Being Hamlet Not Being Hamlet (a piece of original lit crit by Frank McGuinness).

Mostly allergic to literary criticism for recreational purposes, especially when it's simply restating other people's work on a particular topic for student research purposes rather than injecting something original, I nonetheless found the Lois Potter's performance history particularly valuable.  I'd not known previously that when Garrick toured his portrayal, he'd play the role against a backdrop of popular local players, which on one occasion led to him sharing billing with the star playing Osric.

Catherine Belsey's brief survey of feminism in Hamlet studies is also useful in recording the extent to which female actors have played the Danish prince both in English, abroad and on film, emphasising to varying degrees the potency of his femininity and the extent to which the text is rewritten to explain the change in gender.  We're yet to really see her played simply as a woman, Rosalind-style disguises or simply playing it as a "man" the general rule.

The book closes with a section listing resources, texts, websites, films and essays.  The Hamlet Weblog is not mentioned, which is probably for the best.  The film list is selective, mostly covering the more high profile entries, ignoring those starring Kevin Kline, Campbell Scott, Richard Burton and Christopher Plummer.  But I imagine if I was studying Hamlet at school or college this would act as a very good jumping off point.

Hamlet: A Critical Reader. Edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson is published by Bloomsbury. 2016. ISBN: 978-1472571373. Review copy supplied.