The Opinion Engine 2.0:
10/31:
Can you truly love someone you have never met?



Question asked by Tonia via her friend on Facebook.

Life  Of all the questions I’ve been asked in this past couple of weeks, this is the one which has really caused me to stop and think. Not because I don’t have an answer. To save some time, my answer is no. What’s created the difficulty is how to frame that answer over five hundred or so words, because it’s also an answer for which the complexity is in the working out, and I didn't want the result to be covered in red pen.

So you’ll forgive me for dropping the artifice (assuming that dropping the artifice isn’t an artifice in and of itself) and structure and go with my gut (see what I mean?). What my gut says is that to an extent I don’t have the emotional maturity to really understand why. My lack of emotional maturity has become a useful prop when trying to explain why human beings are generally so awful to each other. I don’t understand because I don’t have the “emotional maturity”. But it’s true. For various reasons, I don’t.

It was much simpler for the pubescent version of me, the one who kissed his poster of late 80s Kylie each night before he went to bed, who compiled scrap books about the Minogue and in those pre-YouTube days filled VHS tapes with interviews and pop videos but who’d also travel one stop on the bus so that he could smile at the mysterious tall girl in the brown uniform so that she’s smile back when he alighted just outside his school, early enough that his friends wouldn’t see. He’d say, yes, yes you can.

Fiction also suggests that yes, it is indeed possible to truly love someone you’ve never met. Apart from courtly romance, there’s the famous scene in City Slickers, a film that is otherwise becoming increasingly relevant the older I become. It’s the famous “one thing” scene in which Jack Palance’s old cowboy Curly explains to Billy Crystal’s Mitch that the secret of life is the “one thing”, a “one thing” which is different for everybody.

But the earlier part of the scene, the preamble, is more pertinent here as Mitch asks Curly a question which is particularly pertinent.

Mitch: You ever been in love?
Curly: Once. I was driving a herd across the panhandle. Texas. Passed near this little dirt farm right about sundown. Out in the field was this young woman, working down in the dirt. Just about then she stood up to stretch her back. She was wearing a little cotton dress, and the settin' sun was right behind her, showing the shape that God had give her.
Mitch: What happened?
Curly: I just turned around and rode away.
Mitch: Why?
Curly: I figured it wasn't gonna get any better than that.
Mitch: But you could have been, you know...with her.
Curly: Been with lots of women.
Mitch: Yeah, but you know, she could have been the love of your life.
Curly: She is.

I’m thirty-seven now and know it’s not that simple.

For one thing in social networking, which I think is the context of this question, where the idea of meeting someone becomes more ambiguous, can you have “met” someone if it’s not in real life? Dictionary definitions suggest an acquaintance is enough and you can certainly become acquainted with someone via Twitter or Facebook. Many are the relationships and even marriages built on an initial web friendship, but have any of those people really been in love before they’ve met in real life?

I’ve "met" people online, perhaps even become a bit infatuated with them. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in love with any of them. For all the ways in which we’ve connected, I’ve always had the niggling suspicion that they could never be that perfect, moreover that the person I’m speaking to is unlikely to be the person I’d see in real life, largely because I’m sure, I think, the person typing these words he isn’t the person he is real life.  The people who have met me are best placed to judge that.

I have been in love. A lot. I don’t know if anyone’s ever loved me back, but there’s something I do know. That if there are any women I’ve truly loved, it was always because I’d become friends with them first. When I have been truly, madly, deeply, although they’ve been objectively attractive it’s not that which has made me love them. It’s been about how they’ve made me feel both while I was around them and all the seconds in-between.

Someone asked me recently if any of them where the love of my life. My answer was that I hoped not, because I knew they didn’t love me back, at least not that way, at least as far as I knew, and that would mean I’ve nothing to look forward to. But I’ve also been horrible at noticing the signs which explains the qualifications. If someone had loved me, truly loved, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
9/31:
Weren't we happier before the internet?

Technology is a Cruel Despot: Post-Defenestration, Two of Four

Guest answer by Laura Brown.

Life Remember when you didn’t know what a trending topic was? Remember when students had to go to a proper library and research from proper books instead of just Googling their essay question? Think back to when that eejit you only send Christmas cards to out of guilt got in touch once a year and you weren’t forced to read their hilarious insights into how their pet pooch prefers mega chunk biscuits instead of petachunks, or whatever dogs eat.

Happy wasn’t it.

I for one was more productive before the Internet. Perhaps I should clarify, before the Internet stretched its malevolent hand over my world and cast a shadow over it. Granted, I was 18 before I sent an email. This is not because my parents likened internet usage to developing a healthy relationship with alcohol or casting a vote – although they probably should have done – but because it was 1998. Mobiles needed a bag of their own and everyone had pay as you go. You stayed in touch with people by, you know, talking to and seeing them. You shopped in proper shops. You read the news in newspapers. There were changes and technological wizardry yes. Instead of whirring and burring into life the super duper Nintendo had replaced the gigantic BBC computer in our living room. But life and the happy routine was much as they always had been. We did the shop on a Saturday. My dad rang his mother on a Sunday. I came home from school at 4.30 and proceeded to speak for at least to hour to every person of my gang.

It was content. It was ordered. It was safe.

It is no longer safe. Danger lurks behind every click. My day can be thrown into disarray by a simple status update. I now know my friends are pregnant because they tell me on Facebook. I read my news online with my netbook perched on my lap or squinting into my smartphone. I am contactable 24/7, and don’t my clients know it. I have developed a cramp from leaning over too small computers with too small screens in uncomfortable chairs. These are merely aesthetic concerns and selfish ones at that.

No my real concerns about the Internet and its effect on our general mood lie deep within its
underbelly. We are crueller online. We revert to childhood, taunting and teasing. The Internet, particularly comments boards and social networking sites have become one big playground where the school bullies have been replaced by the boy who can type the fastest or the articulate left-leaning journo with a sharp tongue. The weakest is anyone.

We have real double standards. We abhor right wing media from stitching up members of the public, yet we will gleefully mock their journalists and columnists. We don’t know how many have written the text that appears under their name or whether it has been modified by a sub editor. We don’t ask. We criticise not just their writing but their looks, their mental state, ability to procreate, the paternity of their mother and their relationship to various despots in history. And we do it in an instant, for laughs, with no remorse. There are no consequences online.

We do not have real relationships. On my first day of marriage, in between watching Liverpool lose to Arsenal, having a friend breakfast, looking moonily into my husband’s eyes, I told all my friends (many of whom had not been invites to said event) on Facebook. I cannot have been the only bride who considered it might reflect a real cut in cost to invite people via Facebook. There must be someone who has done it.

Look at the effect the Internet has had on our national media. How much is content about being a bastion of virtue or a chase to get hits, add comments, generate bitchy, trolling debate in a bid to get advertisers. The Mail Online is the most popular news site in the UK yet it can’t make a profit out of advertising. The Internet doesn’t make money. It might help you widen your business and it has created new jobs but it hasn’t been successfully monetised yet. How much of that is because of how we behave online?

Society never truly became free until we realised that we don’t have true freedom. Instead we have limits placed on our freedom and behaviour to ensure we can all have a reasonable level of liberty that doesn’t encroach on other people around us. Yes, I would like to slap the irritating woman next to me on the bus. But I could take a picture and tweet it. Isn’t that just as bad? As much as Paul McMullan might have taught us this year that privacy is only required by paedophiles (why is there no punctuation mark for ‘what the fuck’ by the way?) in fact it is one of the cornerstones of our freedom. Respecting eachother’s privacy and right to it is a bastion of our culture. Until we start adopting the same kind of rules online the Internet will make us worse not better. As #thewomanontheleft or Jemima Khan who was outed by an erroneous super injunction busting twitter feed as being Jeremy Clarkson’s mistress, when she wasn’t.

Online we behave as though we have no personal responsibility. It has become a mad, bad world of all that is wrong about how we communicate. Even Wikipedia has been bastardised by Bell Pottinger (yes, Ed, allegedly) There is no safe haven online. Until we recognise that the Internet needs to be an extension of our civilised society we will never really reap the benefit of it. Or perhaps a reflection is exactly what it has become and that’s why it feels so rotten to the core.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
8/31:
Your thoughts on the Royal Wedding.

The balcony at Buckingham Palace

Question asked by @kariebookish.

History One of my favourite enclaves on-line, at least the most unusual, is the British Monarchy’s flickr feed. You may have seen examples posted on the blog, of princes and princesses pointing at food, of the Queen meeting actors. It’s a constantly updated visual record of the royal family at charity events, film premieres, factory visits and opening supermarkets. I look on with a sense of bemusement as what amounts the living embodiment of British history out in the world, greeting their subjects in 2011 like anachronistic time travellers, as contextually post-modern as seeing Wren’s churches overshadowed by the contemporary architecture that surrounds them.

If I’m a monarchist, it’s because of that. It’s because maintaining our royal family as is, with all its pomp and ceremony, its trials and tribulations, even its foibles, is as important as preserving and repairing the palaces they live in, the churches in which worship and the castles their ancestors once utilised to defend our land (with the help of several thousand commoners). Which is why I’m so excited about royal weddings and spend the day in front of the television absorbing every moment, the dress, the vows, the kiss, the honeymoon drive. Like every other hatch, match and dispatch at some point in the future, even after we’re gone, assuming the sun’s not burnt us to a crisp, books will be written, films made about their legacy.

The wedding in April was a near perfect expression of that. A couple so clearly in love and so nervous they didn’t know what to do with their hands during the ceremony. Their brother and sister openly flirting with one another suggesting another marriage might be in the offering soon (though it looks like Pippa has other plans). The rest of the family calcified in that way that royals tend to be, just now and allowing the poignancy of the proceedings to break through in a grin or glint in the eye. Westminster Abbey, itself a storage device for so much of our history, data accessible by William and Kate should they need it, about failed marriages, poor reigns and the emotional wreckage of the past.

They’ve appeared in the flickr feed now too, but don’t yet have the curiosity factor when seen with members of the public and private sector, partly because they themselves are attempting to have something of a life outside the normal run of royalty, shopping in supermarkets and saving swimmers from certain death. They’re new builds, but as the world moves on, they too will need sustaining, but not yet, there’s plenty more charity events, film premieres, factory visits and supermarkets openings to come. And hopefully, even if the commonwealth crumbles, we’ll still have the will as a people to want them to continue in their present form so that our children can watch their children marry too.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
7/31:
3D - do we actually need it this time around? And is it ever, EVER a good idea to convert a film into it?



Question asked by @Discodave75.

Film Usually when I’m asked for my opinion on 3D, a question which seems to crop up with a regularity second only to something Doctor Who related, I’ll usually say that film companies are desperate to find something to bring audiences back to cinemas and have fallen on the return of 3D with the same glee as sound, colour and letterbox. But that it would remain a gimmick until films are made whose stories or at the very least characters and themes are less comprehensible in 2D, just as some colour films are diminished in black and white, letterboxing is spoiled by cropping or panning and scanning and actually take advantage of format in the same way as sound, especially surround sound.

The problem has always been however that really all I’ve been doing is parroting out the views of Kermode, Ebert, Bordwell and a legion of internet commenters all of whom are firmly against 3D, essentially having, as some correspondents on This American Life suggested a couple of years ago, someone else’s argument. 3D to me has been either the two colour process, the experimental format employed for Doctor Who’s Dimensions In Time which required the camera to keep moving or in the present format an old style IMAX demonstration film from ten years ago and this admittedly positive Odeon preview of some trailers to really go on. I needed to see it employed in a narrative format at some point.

Which has meant, for the purposes of answering this question, I took a rare trip to the cinema this afternoon, to FACT Liverpool, for the 3D presentation of Martin Scorcese’s new film, Hugo. This wasn’t approached without some nerves. Thanks to so many horrible experiences with audiences, poor projection and immense ticket prices, I’ve gotten out of the habit of even attending the cinema, preferring instead the large television and comfy seating of my home, with the added plus of the pause button now that I’ve developed the bladder constitution of a pensioner at the age of thirty-seven. I’m pleased to report that this was an attentive albeit small audience, the film was beautifully projected and although the ticket price was £9, it included some reusable glasses.

The film itself is wonderful, magical and everything the less sniffy, more positive reviewers have led us to believe. The fictionalised story of an orphan who discovers the history of cinema and in particular pioneering director Georges Méliès in his bitter, penniless dotage working as a toy salesman in Montparnasse Station, it captures the magic of those earlier times through recreations of his film studio and working methods, as well as the simple pleasures of their stories through romances and chases in the station itself. Life affirming is a phrase ruined because of kitsch over-deployment, but in Scorsese’s love letter to the medium in which he's made his career, we’re reminded of cinema’s capacity to heal the soul.

All of which said, I’m disappointed to say that I’m not sure that any of those things wouldn’t be as true if I’d seen it in 2D. Hugo was shot using 3D cameras, and the director himself has also said that he’s still getting used to the format, suggesting it’s still in its infancy and should be judged as such. Certainly there’s a certainly breathless excitement as the camera cranes and zooms in and out of Hugo’s world, past trains (in homage to the early Lumiere film) and into the clock tower were he lives and hides, weaving between the cogs and mainsprings. Scorsese and his regular cinematographer Robert Richardson make full use of these new tools to dimensionalise the painterly Paris pioneered by Marcel Carné and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

But to some extent, as I expected, in the quieter moments, when the film isn’t putting images just in front of our faces, when two people are chatting in a room, I did wonder if I was tolerating the 3D, enjoying the film in spite of the format rather than because of it. Some of the most exciting moments are when clips are shown of  old films including the famous pink-tinted aerial shot of Babylon from Griffith’s Intolerance, during which I took my glasses of in order to marvel at them with my own eyes, especially since it’s the first time I’ve seen them projected at the intended scale with such a clean print. It’s not until you can see every figure on that ambitious set that you can fully understand the grandeur of what Griffith was trying to accomplish.

I'd also agree with Kermode et al, that 3D gives the image an extra layer of unreality beyond the CGI and artifice already inherent in cinema, thanks to how objects sit on the dimensional frame.  Some critics are suggested the effect is similar to a Viewmaster, in which figures seem rather flat, like cardboard creations in a child's table top theatre but the effect is also akin to the landscape sprites in early home computer racing games, just about acceptable as a car or in this case camera swoops past them, but without distractingly undimensional when caught with the corner of the eye.  Scorsese is also still employing focus with a two dimensional sensibility which means that very often an object fuzzily lurches out towards us drawing our vision away from the most important element of the shot.  Following the rapidly updating geography of the 3D picture is hard work.

There are also practical concerns. The glasses are uncomfortable and I spent most of the film fidgeting with them as they slide up and down my nose and made the side of my ears itchy. Although Scorsese makes it work to the film’s period, the glasses do make the image dimmer and the lenses were also reflecting visual information from behind and beside me, such as the light on the emergency exits. When instructed to put them on before the trailers, I also noticed a number thirteen floating in my peripheral vision. It wasn’t in any of the adverts and I feared I’d spend the whole of the film with it until I realised that the seat number had been screwed to the back of FACT’s comfy new seats. It went as soon as I hung my scarf over it.

All of which sadly confirmed everything I’d been hearing about the experience of watching a 3D film.  I am willing to admit that some of this might have to do with fulfilling pre-existing prejudices. Except, I’m a fan of cinema and was genuinely excited to see my first whole film in the format but there were just too many moments when I wanted to take the glasses off and simply watch the film without them, especially when shots were lost in a mist of hazing when the two images which make up the picture didn’t quite match (especially true of during one particularly important scene at the end). Scorsese’s tried his best, but the 3D’s distracting, the glasses are distracting and I can’t imagine why I’d ever want to go through this again.

So I’m back to watching everything in 2D again for a while. But 3D has changed the way films are constructed. Even when films are filmed flatly, it’s often with an eye to retrofitting which means the shot selection and pace of the thing changes. To some extent it’s helped action sequences especially amongst sympathetic directors and editors who seem pleased to be able to shift backwards from the punishingly fast shot durations which populated the thriller genre in the late noughties. But for technical reasons its also seen a vast increase in the medium close-up (heads and shoulders) and I do wonder if its had a knock on effect on tension in some character-based scenes. Would the Joker's interrogation in The Dark Knight have been as intense if shot for 3D?

When these films are retro-fitted such choices find their purpose, except if Hugo presents what a great director working at the top of his game with cutting edge technology achieves, I really hate to think what some of these faux-D films must look like. Hugo also highlights how Méliès himself indulged in a primitive form of retrofitting, shooting Le Voyage dans la Lune in black and white before hand-painting each frame in colour as part of his post-production process. Is this any different? Perhaps it isn’t. But having seen plenty of 2D presentations of these films over the past twelve months I can’t think of one which would have been benefited by an extra dimension, or at least may have become more entertaining.

But Méliès thought that by adding colour to his films, however crudely, he would enhance the magic of them and that’s been Scorsese’s thought in producing Hugo with the latest technology. But each time one of his directorial ancestors films appeared all I could think was how the Frenchman was able to produce what were then and are still visionary works in two-dimensions and how, in the few moments when that work is also retro-fitted during this work, it detracts from his achievement. Ultimately, then, from my meagre experience, I don’t think we need this form of 3D right now. Which isn’t to say when the technology moves on and we can watch them without glasses as has been hinted, my opinion won’t change.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
6/31:
We look forward to receiving your (Doctor Who) reviews.



Review copies sent by AudioGo.

Books Despite the casting notice on the inlay, neither the synopses or indeed the cover of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine are backwards in coming sideways on the casting coup at the heart of this final two part chunk of Doctor Who’s Serpent Crest, David Troughton putting in an appearance as Doctor 2 and lending his interpretation of his father’s performance previously heard in audio books. Sure enough, he’s uncanny, especially when articulating Second’s catchphrases, his "oh dears" or "giddy aunts" and for the most part entirely respectful to his father’s work and there are moments, especially with Mrs Wibbsey then Mike Yates narrating each episode, that we could be listening one of the missing episode releases (after Mark Ayres has pulled a few all nighters to remove the static and sound of someone having their dinner in the background).

But Tom Baker still stars as teeth and curls and this is the resolution of a five parter which bewilderingly had seemed like it was resolved after just three, with Alex returned to take up his princely place in the Robotov Empire and the Fourth Doctor heading back off into the time vortex. The Hexford Invasion picks up months later with Wibbs ensconced in village life, suspicious of the next door neighbour’s bee hives and nauseated by a novelist who’s moved into Hexford and become fast friends with everyone. This is Paul Magrys channelling Posy Simmons, employing Wibbs’s acerbic wit to comment on the boredom of life after the Doctor. But it’s not long before UNIT, led by a re-commissioned Mike and Doctor 2 roll into town, set up shop in Nest Cottage and the usual shenanigans ensue.

The Hexford Invasion then becomes a Pertweean village caper from the point of view of the citizens, their tranquil yet sinister life disrupted by these army men and their befuddled, hoboish friend. Wibbs doesn’t like or trust Doctor 2, he’s not her Doctor and seeing him through her eyes, neither do we. When Tom finally arrives, of course we look forward to how the two men connect (having missed each other in The Five Doctors) and sure enough there’s some magic, as the play becomes a kind of Time Lord Spy Vs. Spy, as they each attempt to discover the motives of the other, Fourth not remembering anything which is happening, no Time Crash informed bootstrap paradoxes here thanks to a veiled reference to Season 6b. I won’t spoil things, but it’s safe to say this isn’t a “you were my Doctor” weep fest.

It’s also barely a spoiler to say that the alien hoards massing above the village are the Skishtari seeking the egg which was buried at the close of Aladdin Night though to say much about their methodology would be, so I’d stop reading here if you don’t want to know the score.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
5/31:
Do you agree with Tennyson, that "Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all"?

Lincoln Cathedral

 Guest answer by Alynn Gibson.

Life  My grandmother passed away in July after a long decline due to a dementia that robbed her of her physical vitality and her mental acuity. We had a difficult relationship, she and I, over the last six years of her life, years in which my parents and I worked to take care of her. She was difficult and emotionally distant when I was a child; in my adulthood, as she declined into dementia, she somehow became more difficult and more distant, but she also became increasingly detached from reality, which made her difficult to relate to. I had been expecting the end for six months, but when the end finally came I realized how wrong I had been the previous months in thinking the end was near; the final week of her life, her final decline, were noticeably different as her body and her mind shut down.

I thought, before she passed, that I wouldn't really mourn her -- in many ways, I'd been mourning her for years, because her dementia had turned her into someone that looked like my grandmother in body but didn't resemble her at all in mind; in other ways, I knew death would be a release for her -- but the truth is I was devastated. I sat on the stairs. I didn't just weep, I howled. My father asked me to call my siblings to let them know she was gone, and I couldn't make it through any of the conversations without breaking down. My mother asked me to say a few words at the memorial service, and despite thinking I would be fine, I had another meltdown at the podium. Despite living daily for six years with the knowledge of my grandmother's mortality, I hadn't emotionally processed it. I hadn't mourned her the way I told myself I had. As difficult as my relationship was with her, as distant as she so often was, I loved my grandmother and I was hurt that she was gone.

In my teenage years and in my twenties, my relationship with my grandparents was not close because, like a teenager, I didn't need them, I didn't relate to them, and they weren't interesting to me. When my grandfather passed away, the day Star Wars Episode I opened, I was hurt and I was sad, but it was a distant kind of hurt. In the subsequent decade, I grew up, and I grew into a person who would have appreciated his grandfather more. There are things I want to know from him today that I didn't want to know fifteen years ago. I want to know about his father Allyn, the name whose name I carry. I want to know what drew my grandfather to my grandmother when they met in the years before Pearl Harbor. I want to know what my grandfather's service in World War II, as part of the Navy's ballooning corps, was like. I want to know what my grandfather's hopes and dreams were, I want to know which dreams went unfulfilled, I want to know which dreams came true. My mother knows some of the answers, but she knows them as stories. My grandmother knew many of the answers, but her dementia robbed her of them. I knew my grandfather, I even loved him, but I knew and loved him as a kindly elderly man. Today, I wish I had known him as a person. Fifteen years ago, I was not the person who would have wanted to know these things, who would have wanted a deep and meaningful relationship with him. Today, even five years ago, I want to know all of these things -- and the sad truth is that I'll never have the answers.

One of the English language's great poems, Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "In Memorium, A.A.H.," wrestles with the same problems -- of death, of loss and regret, of mourning and coping. Its two most famous lines -- "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all." -- are invariably quoted out of context today, given the gloss of romantic loss. Tennyson, however, meant the lines to be more universal; the poem as a whole was written over the span of nearly two decades as his reaction to and working through his grief for the sudden death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, and these two lines speak to Tennyson's belief that the grief one feels at the loss of a meaningful relationship, such as the one he had with Hallam, meant that one has lived and that one is still alive. Grief is a sign that we have had friends, that we have let others touch our lives, that we have touched the lives of others. Grief means that we feel, grief means that we have loved, and there is far more to love than the romantic. A life bereft of grief over its span is a life bereft of love.

I loved my grandmother. I knew her, she touched my life, however distant we may have been over the years, however frustrated I may have felt by her dementia. I wish at times I could have known her better. I wish often I could have known her husband better. I wish I hadn't pushed them away like a teenager. I wish I had worked harder to know them as people when it mattered. But I didn't, and even though I've grieved for them and mourned for them, I have regrets, and I will always have regrets. That's Tennyson's message in his oft-quoted couplet -- grief is always better than the regrets.

The Opinion Engine 2.0:
4/31:
What's your opinion of Zooey Deschanel?


Question asked by Annette of Annette's Notebook.

“One day, you’ll be cool.”

Film & Music  The first time I really noticed Zooey Deschanel, though in truth it felt like she'd noticed me, was near the beginning of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, in which she plays Anita, the rebellious big sister of William, Crowe’s avatar in this autobiographical piece.   She was leaving home to become an airline stewardess and before toddling off around the world she said goodbye to her little brother and as ever Crowe employed a point of view shot because he wanted us to see the world through William's innocent perception.

As she loomed over her brother, she looked directly at us and although the effect of this is lost even on the biggest television, in the cinema on a massive screen, we were collectively hypnotised by her saucer like blue eyes. I’ve never been cool, never will be cool, but when she said, “One day, you’ll be cool", a decade ago, I could well believe it and watching again for the purposes of taking the not quite convincing low angle shot reproduced above for illustrative purposes, I believed it again.

That single moment probably defines her entire career, the girl who makes you feel cool.  She does it again in the disappointing film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To Galaxy which despite the best efforts of Stephen Fry as the book, is an abomination, but offers the best of the Trillians, which isn’t hard because (a) Douglas Adams himself had admitted that he always underwrote her in the early stories and (b) because Zooey steals every scene she's in, even when acting opposite a hypertensive Sam Rockwell as Zaphod.

She is understated. Human. Even more so than Martin Freeman whose main crime is not being Simon Jones, which is odd because Zooey is neither Susan Sheridan or Sandra Dickinson.  But unlike either of those her Trillian seems like someone you could meet at a party, fall for, but who'll ultimate leave with some other, spacey guy, unless she's in the mood to make you think better of yourself, work through your low-self esteem and, yes, one day make you cool. 

It took a few more years before someone neatly defined that special quality, the manic pixie dream girl. Since being coined by Nathan Rabin at The AV Club, it’s become the key discoursal phrase when describing the girl who saunters into a rather straight protagonist’s life and shakes it up, the kind of figure Arthur Dent epitomises even if the weird meta-narrative he's trapped in has other plans. Not every role. You could argue against Anita and certainly Alma in The Happening barely qualifies (a film which we’ll return to),

But in Elf, Yes Man and 500 Days of Summer and countless others, she’s the slightly quirky, bo-ho figure, usually with an ability to sing who causes some male to look again at their life and find it wanting. But unlike other MPDGs, the Kirsten Dunsts or Natalie Portmans who’re acting the role, and despite having not appeared in Rabin's original list, Zooey embodies it and when in the above examples she's not offering the smirk of giddy tolerance every five minutes, she's working against her natural tendencies.

From what I’ve seen of her television series New Girl (which is admittedly not much), it’s also a continuation of all that tone. You know what you’re going to get from a Zooey Deschanel performance which is really quite comforting. We expect musicians or directors to keep within their own style, with one or two exceptions, so why should we expect anything more or less from an actor? She’s the master of the precise thing she does and projects have probably suffered when she's trying other things.

All very old Hollywood and it continues into real life (or the version of real life that's filter through gossip blogs).  Recording the soundtrack album to Winnie the Pooh is a very MPDG thing to do, as is wearing vintage clothes, co-owning a lifestyle website called Hello Giggles and marrying the lead vocalist from a mid-level band like Death Cab for Cutie, presumably breaking the heart of some other bloke close to hand, before perhaps breaking his heart too.

Not that she’s the reason to watch every film. As with everyone else involved, The Happening almost ended her career, though I still argue that even if you disagree with intent, “Night” directed the actors to “do it that way” so they can’t really be held responsible (not that admittedly “following orders” isn’t a recipe for trouble).  Most recently she was wasted in Your Highness (incidentally with Portman), a film which only seems to work if you’re the breed of person who thinks Danny McBride is the comic genius he isn’t.

Zooey’s musical career has happily been more adorable. As one half of She & Him, M. Ward being the Him, she’s produced the musical equivalent of her fashions, recalling the vintage tones of the 40s and 50s but with a modern twist. The original material was summed up well by Pitchfork in an interview when they suggested “listening to your lyrics I sometimes feel like a big sister is giving me advice” (bringing us back to Almost Famous).

The cover versions are something else, amongst other things recapturing Gonna Get Along Without You Now from a myriad tonally incorrect disco versions though somehow also influenced by the rendition on Laverne and Shirley Sing. Yes, that Laverne and Shirley.  Their new acoustic Christmas disc is right on form, with almost minimalist accompaniment to old faithfuls like Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, the art redolent of dime store LPs from the 1950s.

In other words, my opinion of Zooey Deschanel is that she’s adorable and just the big sister I would have wanted growing up if I hadn’t been an only child and far younger than I am now. I appreciate she’s not to everyone’s taste, the reaction to her singing of the US national anthem proved that, but I’m yet to particularly find a flaw. Anyone who can be plagued by her similarity to some new singer who’s just turned up yet still agree to appear in a photograph with her has to be a bit funny and they’re the kinds of people I tend to like.