More reasons why Love Actually is rubbish.

Film  The response to my Love Actually post has been surprising (and you should read that first if you haven't yet).  Usually the only thing anyone bothers to read here seems to be the Doctor Who posts, or at least the Doctor Who posts about the new series, but my rant, seven years in coming, was retweeted and commented upon quite a lot, which is really pleasing.  One of my favourite link tweets was from Jon Arnold:
Which did make me giggle. I hadn't meant to. Not really.

I did ask in the original post if there was anything I missed, and did I, oh did I.  As someone called Miranda noticed in the comments:
"I can't believe you glossed over the fact that Karen is perhaps the most deeply unpleasant character of the entire film: she brushes off Daniel during a phonecall literally after his wife has just died because her daughter apparently has something more important to say (ooh, parts in a nativity - clearly that beats a dead wife), and when he understandably gets upset later over his dead wife and his potentially-depressed son, she tells him to 'get a grip, people hate sissies. No-one's ever going to shag you if you cry all the time'. Monstrous behaviour, I felt absolutely no sympathy for her and can totally see why hers is one of the more negative stories."
Having not bothered to watch the film again before writing about it (some things are seared on your memory always), I hadn't remembered Karen's attitude, at least not in this way.  My memory was that she was implying that he should move on by letting him hear the bustle of her life.  But on reflection her attitude could be construed as lacking in empathy though I wonder if it is that because of something lost in editing, some revelation.

But I would add that I don't think it makes her story some kind of fate/revenge thing in which her husband cheats on her as some kind of karmic payback for her attitude to Daniel.  If that is the case it makes the whole film even more loathsome.  That said, if her attitude does turn off viewers it's still a black mark because she is one of only a couple of really prominent female roles.

Another sticking point is the PM's attitude to Martine's character.  Here's djm4, again from the comments section:
"Admittedly, I've only seen the film once (and, having had much the reaction to it that you did only more so, have no desire to see it again) but from memory, doesn't the Hugh Grant PM basically sack Martine McCutcheon for having the temerity to be sexually harassed by the US President? And yet she still loves him and ends up with him at the end, because nothing says 'romance' like the patriarchy fucking you over."

"IIRC, one possible reading of the PM's actions at that time is that he's deliberately engineered a compromising encounter for the US President in order to get him on the back foot, get some political leverage, and gain the advantage in negotiations. Which makes his actions even more vile."
Again, I don't remember having that reading when I last saw the film, but again given everything else which is going on in those two hours, anything is possible.

The expected viewer attitude to this story is strange.  When she is "redistributed", my understanding was that we're supposed to understand the difficulty of power, of not being able to show your feelings, all that gubbins.  To an extent, having already seen The American President, which has some of the same gracenotes, we're somewhat primed as to what to expect.

Also, as this brilliant blog post linked to by Lis asks, what kind of message is this storyline telling its audience and especially any teenagers watching.  Martine's character is forced to repeatedly apologise for something which was done to her, until Hugh relents and lets her into his life, a move for which she's entirely grateful.

As a wise man once said, "Fuck all that shit, Silent Bob".

Yet, as the author of that post explains, despite all of that, despite the rape overtones of the original encounter and everything her character is put through, until the spell's broken, we're desperate for them to get together.  We want to see them kiss, essentially because they're a couple in a romantic comedy.

Which kind of makes you wonder how many romantic comedies are predicated on men behaving badly with the happy ending of the film predicated on the women forgiving them usually because of some grand gesture.  When Harry Met Sally is to an extent, though the script is clever enough to give Sally a voice to tell Harry what he did wrong.  And slap him.

Now, I'm trying to remember a romcom where this isn't the case, which is tonight's homework, I suppose, if you like.  Is there a romcom where these roles are reversed, or where the couple get together because they just do?  It's hard.  For all its apparently innovation, even Friends With Benefits dips into formula.

Something different to end this on.  In the last couple of years, the Hong Kong film industry produced what sounds like a repost to Curtis's film. Here's what the wikipedia page has to say about Love Actually... Sucks!
"It explores several themes traditionally regarded as 'taboo' in Hong Kong society, in an unusually open, convention-defying way, featuring frequent full-frontal male and female nudity [...] (It) was inspired by real-life events, and opens with a dramatic wedding feast. It tells a variety of stories about love that has gone wrong: a brother and sister in an illicit relationship, a married painter who falls in love with his young male life model, a dance school teacher who is besotted with his senior student, and a lesbian couple, one of whom has role-play paranoia, and is caught in a complex love triangle."
Here's the trailer,  It's NSFW.  A lot.



Try watching that with "All I Want for Christmas..." playing over the top.

Life forms.



Music Eric Idle has rerecorded The Galaxy Song with new lyrics on the occasion of Dr. Brian Cox's new series Wonders of Life. See above the trailer, which is beautiful and hilarious and with its captions also echoes The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. In a bit of a coup for Nerdist, Idle's written a blog post explaining the collaboration:
"I soon found out that the great thing about Brian is that he loves knowledge and he really loves imparting it. When he replies to any question you can see the great joy he takes in informing, and he has a smile on his face as he gets into the cosmic details. In short, a bloke right up my alley. After a time, he says, “You wouldn’t consider writing a song for my new series would you?” It’s clear he knows about the “Galaxy Song” and we discuss it a bit, and I say “what’s the subject?” and he says “the wonders of life.” “Oddly enough,” I say, “when I was adapting The Meaning of Life for a musical which never made it past seven drafts and some lovely songs, I did a biological version of the “Galaxy Song,” which did for Biology and the chemistry of life what the original had done with astrophysical distances. I’ll dig it out and send it to you.”"

No right to The Silmarillion.

Film Some thought The Hobbit's opening chunk too long, whereas I could have watched many more hours of that sort of thing. The problem is, as The Smithsonian points out, Peter Jackson only has the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so can't draw on the extratextual material in The Silmarillion or any of the other supplementary texts.
"At one point, Jackson edges dangerously close to the fine line of intellectual rights. “The Quest of Erebor,” a story contained in Unfinished Tales, retells the opening chapter of The Hobbit from Gandalf’s point of view. In it, Gandalf justifies his uncanny attraction to Bilbo, a hobbit with “a love of tales” and “eagerness in his bright eyes.” In the film, Gandalf chidingly asks when Bilbo became more interested in china and doilies than in adventure, mirroring those lines from Unfinished Tales. “I wonder if the Tolkien estate will sue over it,” Drout said. “They are litigious.”
The piece then goes on to flesh out some of Jackson's fudging. Given the uplift in sales, you would think the Tolkien estate would just have made all of the material available to Jackson to play about in. Perhaps this is why the original, orginal plan for two Hobbit films then another throwing together piece of Tolkein lore to bridge the gap between the two book adaptations didn't ever come to fruition.

WHO 50: 1969:
The Krotons.



TV Some time in November 1981, the BBC repeated the final episodes of a series of stories every Thursday in a special season called “The Five Faces of Doctor Who”.

The idea of not showing a whole story seemed a bit odd even to the younger version of me (I was seven), yet I was still terribly excited to see these earlier Doctors no matter how much of it they decided to reveal.

Looking at what was available in the archive, the BBC schedulers chose The Krotons to represent the Troughton era and right through the rest of the decade I always had a vivid memory of Patrick at his most excitable, jumping about, shouting.

I could never quite remember what it was he was so excited about, why he was jumping or what he was shouting, but I always remembered his big friendly face.

It was a precious memory which remained doubly vivid because I didn’t think I’d ever see it again.

It wasn’t until many, many years later whilst reading a Doctor Who Magazine article about the season, I discovered that whole stories had been broadcast.

For some reason, I’ve never quite understood, I’d only happened to have been sitting in front of the television each Thursday which I later reinterpreted as a scheduling decision.

Which is sort of was. But at my parent's end rather than at the BBC.

I was simply busy between Monday and Wednesday having meals or out and about.

Wouldn’t happen now. We’d simply watch it later on the iPlayer, or buy the dvd.

Which is clearly better. You lucky children.

The most popular posts of all time (on this blog).

About  Time for the first annual audit of the five most popular posts of all time on this blog, or at least since I installed the Google Analytics thingamy.

(1) Like tea bags. But with coffee.
The all time most read post with 14,o69 page views adding a dozen or so daily thanks to the inadvertent SEO of the title. It's a review of some Lyons coffee bags dashed off in a desperate rush one evening, rather like this very post.  I would add an associates link to the Amazon website but these searches are coming in from all over the globe.  As one of the commenters asks, "Why aren't these available in Estonia?"

(2) The Opinion Engine 2.0: 4/31: What's your opinion of Zooey Deschanel?
Most of the 3150 page views were as result of me inadvisedly reposting the text late at night (because everything inadvisable happens at night though in my case it's usually sleeping) in a thread at a different much more visited website on a negative post about the actress, it being "featured" and having one of their members seeking the original source online and linking to it. Cue a shit storm of hits over a few days and some really ugly comments there during which I considered closing the blog down.  After being scolded by one of their mods I eventually convinced them to take the "featured" tag away and so it was lost in the massive long thread below.  Let this be a lesson to you.

(3)  Scene Unseen: The Matrix Revisited: The Woman In The Red Dress
People are fascinated by this string of words about an easter egg on the dvd. But it is a fascinating easter egg.  2898 page views.

(4)  the IMAX 3D experience at Odeon Liverpool One.
Despite having been given a free ticket, I still haven't returned to the faux-max at OLO such was my disappointment.  The traffic generally comes via google searches for "imax liverpool one" for which this is the third result directly below the official Odeon information pages and above a Daily Post piece.  I don't know what effect that would have on their business.  1730 page views.

(5)  a viewing order for all the "contemporary" episodes in the modern Doctor Who, including both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Which oscillates a bit with my review of the final episode of Torchwood's Miracle Day (with its rare blog appearance of my face) which is still linked from the main BBC page for the series (so all those people have seen my face too), and the one about how The Impossible Astronaut can be happening during Miracle Day (which is the most viral post that ever appeared on the blog) (it even made io9).  I'm currently trying to decide if this post should be updated to reflect the coherent arguments of Lance and Lars's AHistory, but I'm not sure if that's plagiarism or not.  It probably is, so I probably won't.  1687 page views.

Now, wasn't that interesting?  Night, night.

Bedtime Stories.

Sport This past week, since Christmas, I've been enjoying the glorious commentary free version of the Olympic opening ceremony which is available on BD, in which just the stadium announcers and a few captions tell the viewer absolutely everything they need to know about what they're seeing.  Sadly, the BBC's own commentary bordered on the inane in places with Trevor Nelson apparently hired for no reason other than to talk at inopportune moments.

All of which said, it was still a hundred times better than the NBC version of which a snatch is viewable on Mediate from the bedtime stories section in which Matt Lauer and Meredith Veira talk across everything as they state the bleeding obvious over and over and over again. For blind viewers perhaps this is a useful service, but unlike the bespoke commentary which appeared on More4 during the Paralympics ceremonies, it's not detailed enough for that to have been the intent.
Also helpful was the narration of Boyle’s celebration of the National Health Service, which might well have otherwise been lost on the American audience, but when the interpretation of bedtime stories turned evocatively nightmarish, it’s a good bet that everyone watching was aware that the giant Voldemort puppet was really tall, without Meredith Vieira chirping “Voldemort is 100 feet tall.”
Yes, really.

The Spotify Playlist: Susanne Vega's Solitude Standing Redux

Music An experiment to see how some of Vega's back catalogue rerecords work within the context of their original track listing, with some other oddities to fill in the gaps, along with original tracks.

Love Actually is rubbish.



Film There’s a moment and it happens with increasing regularity because apart from American Pie: Band Camp it seems to be the only film ITV2 has the terrestrial rights to, that Twitter decides to collectively watch Love Actually. Often it’s a Sunday night and for about two or three hours (or longer thanks to ITV2+1) my timeline will fill up with people crying over Emma Thompson’s performance or Liam Neeson’s performance or offering their strongly held belief that it’s the greatest romantic comedy of all time.

I hate the film but much of the time I ignore it and carry on reading whatever The New Yorker’s allowing non-subscribers to read or listening to This American Life. But the other night, I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and tweeted, “Love Actually is about middle class white men seducing their employees and the only two female lead characters have unhappy endings.” Which was RTed a few times and led to a stream of replies in agreement with the sentiment and noting a few other issues.

My enmity for the film stems from deciding to study it for my dissertation at university. That dissertation was about hyperlink cinema an idea originally proposed by critic Alissa Quart and popularised by Roger Ebert. As I discovered after watching a couple of dozen examples and a couple of dozen more, what this can be boiled down to, is films in which a bunch of different characters appear in a bunch of different stories which might be thematically linked but are otherwise narratively unconnected, designed to compare and contrast geographical, class, race or gender differences.

Whenever I’ve had to describe all that to people who’ve asked me, I’ve generally resorted to listing the kinds of films which have this kind of structure, such as Short Cuts, Nashville, Magnolia, Crash, Syriana and Love Actually. One of the elements of my dissertation was in pointing out the distinction between these and simpler “ensemble” films like Hannah and Her Sisters or Parenthood where the connections between the characters are made obvious from the start. Hyperlink films go out of their way to surprise the audience in that regard.

It’s important to note at this point that the wikipedia page is a bit of a mess on this point, including stuff like Go, The Player and Pulp Fiction or 21 Grams all of which are wrong as is the main definition which is designed to toss in anything which has a slightly loopy narrative. Go and Pulp Fiction are just old fashioned anthology films without a linking narrator. The Player is a single protagonist story which has lots of surrounding cameos. 21 Grams has a perfectly traditional three act structure with additional flashbacks and flashforwards.

Anyway, in writing the final chapter I had to analyse three films and chose Short Cuts, Don Roos’s Happy Endings which was the film Quart had originally applied to description to and Love Actually because I quite liked it and it seemed to have the interesting angle of attempting to apply genre rules to the format. But having in-between times learnt a few things about film analysis, and after watching the text about five times for the purposes of that analysis, realised it’s a horrible, horrible film. For a start …

It’s not a romantic comedy.

The original advertising for Love Actually trumpets that it’s the “ultimate romantic comedy” and as we’ll see that was Curtis’s original intention. Except somewhere in the writing he’s obviously realised you can’t have nine romcoms happening at the same time because you’ll end up with the same ending over and over and over again, which as anyone whose seen Valentine’s Day will know doesn’t work. At all. Instead he has to resort either through design or happenstance on the usual hyperlink film tactic of “genre artifacting” in other words having essentially different kinds of story in the same film. So Crash has relationship dramas, detective stories and that sort of thing mixed in together.

The stories of author Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lucia Moniz), the PM (Hugh) and Natalie (Martine) and perhaps John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are classic romantic comedies, Billy Mac (Bill Nighy) is arguably in a back-stage musical, Mark’s is a tragic romance (perhaps, see below), Colin’s story has all the hallmarks of a sixties sex comedy (the kind that usually starred Robin Asquith rather an Kris Marshall as here), Karen (Emma Thompson) is in a domestic melodrama dealing with the possible infidelity of her spouse and Sarah (Laura Linney) is in the kind of women’s film that Molly Haskell proposes in which a female is stifled from love by responsibilities to her family.

So Love Actually is not just a romantic comedy. Indeed most of these stories, for all the comedic incidents put it closer to the romantic drama typified by something like Life as We Know (the one with Katherine Hiegl) or Love and other Drugs (the one with Jake Gyllenhaal) which have all the hallmarks and advertising or a romcom but due to tragic incident have a greater puffed up thematic interest. See also The Notebook. Interestingly not Four Weddings and a Funeral, because the unfortunate incident whilst the point of the thing, doesn’t become the point of the thing. If you see what I mean. Um, the point is, to say Love Actually is “the ultimate romantic comedy” barely prepares the viewer for how all of the stories conclude.

It’s poorly edited.

Even having done all of that, each of those stories still needs a beginning, middle and an end. Curtis says as much in the script book published a few months later, where he says, having decided on the Short Cuts model, “I thought I’d like to have go at writing that kind of film – to see if it was possible to write a film that with nine beginnings, nine snappy middles and nine ends – without any of the stuff in between.” Except it’s the stuff in between that people watch these films for, the series of mishaps which impede the couple getting together, which in his previous films were weddings or fame or in When Harry Met Sally, friendship.

As the script book later reveals, the first cut of Love Actually was three and a half hours long, which is about average for this kind of film (cf, Magnolia, Short Cuts) but is simply untenable in a romantic comedy which is optimally an hour and a half, or romantic drama which as we’ve discussed this is closest to at between 105 mins or 120 mins depending on tone. The problem is having included all of these stories, Curtis has to include enough incident to make them worthwhile which means the film’s a mess, with repetitions, little in the way of narrative flow and some characters barely given enough screen time to establish themselves.

They’re barely characters.

One of the convenient ways Curtis deals with not having enough time to establish characters is to have his actors reprise their previous work or screen presence, primarily Hugh and Colin who’re essentially playing variations of Charlie and Darcy allowing the writer/director to omit expository information that would usually have been required to make emotional and dramatic sense of each story.

Being critical of a well honed genre tactic is probably slightly harsh, like being annoyed at John Wayne or Meg Ryan for playing John Wayne or Meg Ryan in every film (apart from when they’re deliberately trying act against type). Except in Love Actually it doesn’t just work as an emotion gap filler, it actually seems to be used to fill in holes in the storytelling.

During the film’s set-up very little information is given as to why the PM is not married but sympathy is arguably conferred because of a similar predicament faced by Charlie, the character Hugh Grant played in Four Weddings and a Funeral which gives room for Liam Neeson to give a more formal display of acting to create sympathy in the audience for his character. Ish.

It’s a really poorly edited.

These problems are particularly visible in the climax which is packed with incident and has two barnstorming finales that would not seem out of place in a romantic comedy with just two parallel protagonists, the crosscutting between Jamie’s march to find Aurelia and Sam’s dash through the airport to Joanna being visually unwieldy because their stories are unrelated. Seriously, neither of these stories have anything to do with each other, yet Curtis attempts to connect them with a bit of music and fingers crossed. People shout at Peter Jackson for all of the ends at the close of Return of the King, but he’s at least, in the extended versions, closing out twelve hours worth of narrative. Love Actually’s only two hours long.

But you can really see the torture of the editing room in the last half hour of the film as characters exhibit all kinds of strange behaviour in order for the film to actually end promptly. Colin Firth’s character Jamie apparently enters his family’s home after the radio chart show ends (usually at seven o’clock on a Sunday), and the audience is expected to believe that on Christmas Eve he is then able to flag a taxi to the airport, fly to Marseilles, take a taxi to Aurelia’s village, find her house then the restaurant at which she is employed before proposing to her. Shout all you want about this being a fairy tale like all romantic comedies, but if it was that, as we’ll see, he would have given all of his characters happy endings.

Even more bizarrely, earlier in the climax Martin Freeman’s character Jack drops Joanna Page’s Judy off after their date in the early evening, walks away happy and then the couple are later seen entering the school for the nativity scene, wearing different clothing. Just how long was the original date? Evidently, judging by the deleted scenes on dvd that nativity scene was much, much longer. Emma Thompson’s character gives a speech from the stage. Lord knows what would have led up to that, what’s missing from that escapade. No wonder the ending doesn’t make any sense.

It’s less funny and even a bit creepy the second time around.

Of course nearly all comedies are less funny second time around because the viewer already knows when the jokes are coming, unless its one of those rare examples where the anticipation of the joke is just as funny as the joke itself, or has that even more unique ability to become funnier as the viewer changes/gets older and our understanding of the situation increases.

The problem with Love Actually is because Curtis is trying to be clever he ruins one of the comedy scenes for the viewer the second time around. It’s not necessarily his fault but his lack of awareness is astounding. One of the points of the hyperlink films is the unexpected connection, when the connection between two characters is revealed and illuminates what’s gone before. Think the Cruise and Robards characters in Magnolia.

On the first viewing of Love Actually when Harry (Alan Rickman) is introduced as Sarah’s helpful boss and the object of Mia’s desires it feels rather touching – he seems a kind, perhaps lonely middle aged man with a budding office romance bringing some warmth into his life. Then some fifty minutes into the film, a simple cut from Karen (who is excited about her brother the PM’s diplomatic success) to a reverse shot reveals that Harry is her husband and the spectator was actually watching some potential infidelity.

The moment was a result of editing as Curtis explains: "‘You used to know that Emma was Hugh’s sister earlier in the film and you knew that Alan and Emma were married earlier [..] so you should be thinking about the Heike/Alan story as a fun story, funny let’s see what happens and then you suddenly realise that the flip side of it’s not so good." In other hyperlink films he would have been right. Except, Curtis is supposed to be making a romantic comedy.

At this moment the audience’s reaction to Harry changes, both in the rest of the film and on repeat viewing particularly the later comic scene in which Rufus the shop clerk (played by Rowan Atkinson) gift wraps the necklace, Harry’s gift for Mia is arguably uncomfortable even on first viewing because the humour is predicated on whether the gift will be wrapped before his wife returns so that she doesn’t see his indiscretion.

The spectator is meant to hope that his wife does not catch him even though their sympathy is now firmly with Karen. This may have been another result of the editing process; in the original version of the film Rufus was a Christmas angel supernaturally helping each of the characters – in which case he would have been extending the length of time taken for the gift to be wrapped so that Harry is caught before he does something silly.

Then the Emma Thompson scene happens at the end, an admittedly bravura piece of acting and something we can’t unremember, so when we see the film again, Rickman’s character’s a nasty, morally ambiguous fucker from the start so when he is helping Sarah we wonder what his motive is which has implications for her story going forward. Grr. Ugh.

It’s about middle class white men seducing their employees.

You won’t believe it, but I noticed this even before reading AO Scott’s barnstorming review/take down of Love Actually (which you should also read once you've got through this lot) (or instead of) in which he says:

“Most of the picture's half-dozen or so romantic subplots -- which lie scattered about like torn wrapping paper on Christmas morning -- involve workplace dalliances of one kind or another. The ones with the best chances of success all involve an older male boss and a young female subordinate. Jamie (Colin Firth), a writer cuckolded by his own brother, retreats to a villa in the South of France and falls for his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia, who speaks no English and who obligingly strips down to her underwear to rescue manuscript pages that have blown into the lake.”

“Harry (Alan Rickman), the head of a nonprofit organization, is besotted with his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsh), who makes no secret of her attraction to him. The prime minister, moral exemplar of the nation, develops a crush on Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a member of the Downing Street household staff. When the goatish president of the United States, in London for a state visit, puts the moves on her, the P.M.'s jealousy precipitates a chill in British-American relations (and also makes him a national hero).”

He has more positive things to say about the couple who work as body doubles perhaps because he believes their attraction to be more equal. But that doesn’t stop Curtis only giving us Jack’s reaction to their post-date kiss and not hers, falling into the usual romcom hole of making it all about the man’s reaction and not the woman’s, about him winning her over. But I digress.

Did Curtis know? Did he realise the socio-economic implications of these stories as he wrote them?  Directed them?  Why did he choose these characters and these situations? His idea is obviously to show love is all around and apparently this includes creepy class distinctions. It’s interesting that he doesn’t have a female PM romancing a male subordinate or a female novelist falling for a male cleaner isn’t it, but then …

Nearly all of the men are creeps anyway.

It is true that the reason Sarah’s romantic story ends badly is because Karl, the man she’s trying to date sods off because of all the interruptions she has because of her brother’s ill health, the impatient fucker. Her unhappy ending is in discovering the man she really fancies is an arsehole. At least she didn’t get stuck with him, I suppose.

Plus as someone replied the other night, “there's no sense in which what Andrew Lincoln's character does isn't stalking.” Unrequited love storylines are one thing, but there’s a strangeness to the way Lincoln’s character has that video and then turns up at Keira’s door essentially telling her that it’s ok that she doesn’t fancy him which is portrayed as an affirmation moment for her.

And what is that Kris Marshall story about anyway? Loveable loser goes to America and meets some walking sex dolls who throw themselves at him? It’s a wish fulfilment fantasy and on top of that makes you wonder exactly how this film is supposed to be for girls. Do they laugh at this loveable “loser”? Grin as he winningly fights against type.

Neeson’s character is given roughly the same gift. Having established that he really fancies Claudia Schiffer, he eventually meets a nice woman who’s played by Claudia Schiffer. #ffs About the only male character given any kind of redemption is Billy Mac and that only happens as part of a bromance story where he realises his manager is the love of his live. #ffs again.

The only two “main” female characters have unhappy endings.

One of the important structural elements of hyperlink dramas is its treatment of characters. There are loads of characters, some are still more or less important story-wise than others. Much of the time in each of the stories there’s still a single main character with a number of supporting characters (some of whom are main characters in their own stories.

In the stories above, Aurelia, Natalie and Mia are all supporting characters. We don’t visit their homes until well into the films and their stories aren’t about them but the blokes who’re falling in love with them. In a traditional single story romcom, these figures tend to be the manic pixie dream girls or unrequited objects of affection.

Now that means the only two leading female characters are Sarah and Karen. As A.O.Scott notices these are also the only two characters whose stories end unhappily:

“The fate of their characters suggests that women who are not young, pert secretaries or household workers have no hope of sexual fulfillment and can find only a compromised, damaged form of love. Perhaps Mr. Curtis wishes to offer this as an insight into contemporary social arrangements; if so, his indifference to the cruelty of those arrangements is truly breathtaking”

Before criticising Curtis too harshly for his apparent lack of balance, it should be noted that he originally wanted Karen’s story to end optimistically but was overruled by his producer Duncan Kenworthy, who felt that the ‘roaring rampage of romance’ required leavening (as enunciated in the supporting material on the dvd). Bastard.

It’s true that male characters do experience tragedy in the film, Daniel’s in particular. But they go on to have happy endings. To not allow either of these figures a modicum of romantic joy in the end, in a romcom, isn’t just shockingly insidious it borders on the m-word.

It also could have been much, much worse. The deleted scenes section of the DVD includes this entire story that was removed about the headmistress of the school tending to her dying lesbian life partner. It’s impeccably acted and heartbreaking:



Except it’s also another potential female main character, another unhappy ending and with a few more cliché’s thrown in for good measure.

Assuming they’re main characters at all.

Objectively from a hyperlink pov it’s also possible to suggest the only actual “main” character is Sarah. Karen until the revelation regarding her husband’s possible infidelity, is essentially a secondary character in her friend Daniel’s story, attending his wife’s funeral and providing him with a shoulder to cry on.

But it goes further than that. Even the scenes between the stand-ins on the movie set are about Jack nervously asking out Judy – at the end of their date, the audience views Jack’s reaction to the kiss – but not how Judy feels about it behind her closed front door, the man’s reaction again.

It has a stunning lack of diversity.

The only two prominent black characters, Tony (Abdul Salis) and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are facilitators in other stories; Tony is the doubting friend of Colin and the assistant director on the film set who brings Jack and Judy together; Peter’s wife Juliet is the target of his friend Mark’s affection. They don’t have their own stories.

There’s no reason any of the characters in this film couldn’t be non-white. Chiwetel Ejiofor could just as well have played the Neeson character or the Firth. But Love Actually is just another example of a film in which non-white actors find themselves marginalized into particular types of roles.

This is changing, but not much. At this point I can’t remember a “mainstream” uk romcom about non-white characters that isn’t specifically trying to make Curtis’s own point about love being all around, where the characters just happen to be black or Asian. I’m sure there must be one.

It gets worse. On the dvd are some deleted shots in which the poster behind Sarah in the fair-trade office comes to life and as Curtis describes ’two old women carrying a heavy burden of sticks [..] they’re not talking about the problems with the land they’re talking about husbands and children and boyfriends and all that kind of stuff’. Oh purlees.  As Black Book (which has an embed) says in its analysis of the deleted scenes:

"The idea was to skew the typically "Western" portrayal of Africa, although Curtis kind of reinforces it by displaying the whole "joy in poverty" thing usually seen in the Facebook albums of your well-meaning friends who went on mission trips or whatever there. See, they're poor, and their crops are dying, but it's okay, because they have each other, and that's all you need. Except when you live in an agrarian society and... anyway, the scene is cute and all, but it doesn't present Kenya (or the unfortunate blanket, continent-as-one-country sort of perception of Africa) particularly differently and would have only really worked if Curtis had then gone all over the world to find other stereotypical, It's A Small World-ish love stories to complement it. But then the movie would have been, like, three hours and..."

Other random crimes:

According to the wikipedia (though I’m not prepared to watch this thing again and check) Jeanne Moreau is seen briefly waiting for a taxi at the Marseille Airport suggesting she had a longer sequence of scenes which were cut.  The opening tasteless 9/11 referencing sequence which Will Self described as: “the most grotesque and sick manipulation of a cinema audience's feelings that I've ever seen since Leni von [sic] Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will'.”  The US version of the film has a “Sugababes” track replaced by one from Kelly Clarkson. No actually, that’s not such a bad thing.

Three redeeming features:

The directors commentary on the dvd in which Hugh turns up late and takes the piss out of the thing all the way through, piercing Curtis's piety.  The moment where Nighy can't remember which is Ant or Dec.  The Joni Mitchell scene which is an amazing piece of acting from Emma, even if you don't agree with the story that it's supporting.  Kind of makes you wish Curtis had simply made a film about her character's story and not passed it off as a rom-com.

In Conclusion.

I’ve probably overwritten this and the original tweet probably captures everything much more succinctly but I thought it was worth finally putting into words.  Or into words again.  It’s a ghastly, ghastly film, and even ten years later exemplifies a particular type of filmmaking which gives the viewer some stars and amusing situations while subliminally, unconsciously or no, confirms or emphasises some of societies least digestible elements.

Curtis would go on to make The Boat That Rocks, a film that’s even more grotesque with its astonishingly ill-conceived “bed trick” scene which has the distinction of somehow making the viewer hate Nick Frost because he agreed to act in it apparently without noticing the psycho-sexual implications. But I’ve thankfully only had to watch that once and even then I wasn’t happy about it. But Love Actually? I feel like I’m watching it every time it’s on ITV2, even when I’m not.

Have I missed anything?

Also: More reasons why Love Actually is rubbish.

The Master.

Books  In 1940, George Orwell wrote a very long article about boys weeklies in which he suggested that Frank Richards, who created and wrote the Billy Bunter stories for Magnet magazine had to be a cover for a great number of different writers simply because of the sheer volume of work required to produce the amount of stories in publication.

He was half right. Frank Richards was a pen name, but for a single person, Charles Hamilton, who decided to write an equally long rebuttle in which he doesn't just take Orwell to task for misunderstanding his work load, but throwing The Magnet in with what he considers lesser publications but also argues against charges of plagarism [via].

Gulliver's Travels.

Books As you might expect, The Internet Archive has many editions of Gulliver's Travels and one of the more interesting is a Harcourt, Brace and Company publication from the 1920s, the introduction of which sees Ernest Bernbaum, then Professor of English at the University of Illinois argue that for all its satirical intent, Swift's book is a celebration of the human spirit:
"Gulliver's Travels, hastily termed a masterpiece of cynicism, rests on assumptions which a true cynic would deride. In each of the voyages, Swift forcefully intimates the greatness of man's soul or reason: he, like the 'Lilliputians" supposed truth, justice, temperance, and the like, to be in every man's power; and, like the Houyhnhnms, believed that "reason alone [i.e., the spiritual as well as the rational faculties] is sufficient to
govern a rational creature."

New Year.

Music Happy New Year! And speaking of which, oh my goodness:



I think that makes the mark I gave myself here all the more solid. PopJustice (who also have embeds of Overload and a cover of Rihanna's Diamonds) says this was at Ponystep’s New Year party (Ponystep has an interview with the girls this month) (though it's not online yet) (if it is at all).

 You can barely hear them over the talking, sick-inducing camera work and people singing along, but beneath all of that you can still detect the harmonies and that sound and is back.

PJ also says they performed Freak Like Me, but no one thought to upload it.  Well, hum.  Perhaps along with the new material we'll get an album of "Sugababes" covers with the right vocals.

The Queen and The Countess of Wessex leave St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rapunzel.

Books SurLaLune publishing has a heavily annotated edition of Grimm's Rapunzel which includes details of sources, later updates and literary criticism. Here it is the on the implications of the marriage:
"On one level, this story is entirely about procreation and life cycles. The tale begins with one couple, man and wife, and ends by bringing another couple together to marry and have more children. In earlier versions of the tale, the prince doesn't always ask for Rapunzel's hand in marriage although a sexual relationship is implied when Rapunzel gives birth to twins near the end of the story."

Review 2012: The Projects:
Annual Predictions.



That Day It's that time of year again when I assess what were my predictions for the passing year and make up some new ones. Well, and indeed, then:

Obama re-elected.
He was and by a wider margin than might have been predicted mid-term. As a disciple of Nate Silver, I entirely ignored the polling numbers and simply watched his chancing of winning percentage graph and although it took a dip coming out of that first debate, by election day it had surpassed the previous peak. So while Republicans rubbed their hands together and the media, especially in the UK, were talking about the election being too close to call, I was quietly confident, if not entirely. Now one of Romney's sons is suggesting that his father didn't want to be President anyway which is either sour grapes or explains why the Republican candidate ran such a lacklustre campaign.  But the most important thing is, ONE MARK.

Murdoch's empire collapses.
Not quite, not yet.  To an extent it's too big to fail.  It's not about Murdochs to much of an extent anymore even though they're still the figureheads.  Their foot soldiers are now well trained enough to continue their legacy even if sections of the business are being separated.  Now you could argue that splitting the empire into two separate companies is a collapse, and that I could award myself half a mark at least, but it's not good enough.  Sky still broadcasts. His newspapers still publish.  He still owns 20th Century Fox.

Sugababes reforms.
Aha, the jokey outside chance comes through again.  Last year is was the lost Who episodes.  This year, well, blimey.  The album isn't out yet, but Siobhan, Keisha and Mutya giving interviews and recording is good enough for me.  ONE MARK.

Shakespeare found.
No manuscript, no lost play, and actually no old plays conferred new canonicity even if an Arden edition of Edward III's been confirmed for a 2014 publication.  Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre remains were found though, which is still a huge discovery given the archaeological implications so I'm taking HALF A MARK.

Planet saved.
"I have high hopes about us all finding a mutually agreed decision on climate change," the thirty seven year old version of me said, "though what I really mean is that we’ll simply move from being negative to positive about the future. I’ll leave it to the thirty-eight year old version of me, next year, to measure exactly what that means. Sorry, future me." You bastard.  And to think I let you discover the majesty of Scott Pilgrim vs The World that year.  Well, it's probably your fault that that Doha was a bust, the global financial crisis continues unabated and I've been unable to find a clear direction in life.  Well, the third one at least.  Though in all fairness it was a tall order.  At any point in Earth's history has anyone felt positive about the future? The planet was saved in The Avengers, but I don't think that counts, sadly.

Another two and half marks, so still keeping to the average even after all these years.  Now then 2013, what have you got for me.  Or us?

Lab/Lib coalition in the UK by the end of the year.

Paul McGann in Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary television special.

BBC announces new complete works of Shakespeare.

Andrew Stanton hired to direct Star Wars.  Aaron Sorkin works on script in some capacity.

Liverpool artist wins Turner Prize.

After last year's vagaries, I've decided to go specific, though not so specific that I'd risking adding that I think Tim Farron will be the new leader of the Lib Dems having replaced Clegg because Milliband won't work with him and Vince Cable won't want the job.  I'll reserve the right to half marks if McGann is in the special but not playing the Doctor in case they utilise the Zagreus strategy of employing past cast members in new roles.  The rest is self explanatory.  Good luck 2013, I'm counting on you.

Toy Soldiers.

Review 2012: The Projects:
Mystery Music March.



Music  Over a year after Forgotten Films, Mystery Music March was my attempt (in 2008) to force myself to write about music, not something I'd ever been comfortable with.  I'm still not.  When was the last time this blog carried a music review of any kind?  Unlike the previous blogcapade, this was ultimately even more autobiographical and the culture under consideration mostly available.  Which is why I've gone through and updated these old posts with illustrative YouTube clips of nearly everything.

41 Original Hits from the Soundtrack of American Graffiti
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Carla Bruni’s quelqu'un m'a dit
The Doctor Who Theme – David Arnold
Bold Street – Eugene McGuiness
Funny How -- Airhead
Godspeed You Black Emperor's Raise Yr Skinny Fists To Heaven
The Elements – Tom Lehrer
I’m Like A Bird – Nelly Furtado
The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feeling Groovy) – Woodstock
Intro / Tokyo -- Richard Beggs
Me To Be – I Am The World Trade Center
BBC Music Magazine
Once More With Feeling – The Cast of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
The Rough Guides To World Music
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron
Losing My Religion – Tori Amos
Qui-Gon's Noble End – John Williams
Imperial Bedroom -- Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Supermarioland -- Ambassadors Of Funk Featuring M.C. Mario
The JCB Song – Nizpoli
Plays The Music of Oasis – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Video Killed The Radio Star – Buggles
Zadok The Priest -- George Frideric Handel
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Guilty Pleasures
Answer Machine Message (Baby Call Me Back) -- Britney Spears
By The Sea – Roosta
The 'Internet'
God Be With You Till We Meet Again – Ralph Vaughn Williams
Thank You -- Dido

Perhaps one of the most interesting isn't directly about music.  In the post, I condescendingly include a scan of an old BBC Music Magazine article about the dawn of the internet as an illustration of how far we'd come.  Ironically, two of applications mentioned underneath would be superseded by Spotify just a few years later, the Wired blog was shut down and the other posts far less than it used to.

Not long after I completed Mystery Music March, which due to illness was some time that May (!), on a visit to Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, I stumbled upon a promo copy of Scarlett Johansson's album Anywhere I Lay My Head.  Having noted the richness of her singing voice in her cover of Summertime a few years before, I was looking forward to more of the same.

Anywhere I Lay My Head disappointed me.  Her register seemed an octave too low, the content of the songs was, I thought, too maudlin, and not really understanding the music of Tom Waits then, decided it just wasn't my sort of thing.  So I put it in a drawer and forgot about it for the next four years.  Four years is a surprisingly long time.  Four years in my case is the difference between being in my early thirties and late thirties.

Four years is long enough to realise what I've been missing.  Over the past month, along with a bunch of Christmas music, my mp3 player's been filled with curiosities, albums which I've not listened to for some time if barely at all and so threaded through Chrissie Hynde and Wizzard have been Johannson's what I now realise, magical, lustrous cover versions of Tom Wait's songs.

Now it's one of my favourite albums.  Scarlett's voice is low, wrecked almost (see above) with that slightly tuneless Dylan quality, but there's a poignancy to the way they're communicated, especially with the multi-layered production filled with uncommon sounds and percussive experimentation.  It's all the more extraordinary because of its very concept, however potentially vanity driven, of Scarlett Johansson singing the songs of Tom Waits.

Waits himself turns up in a couple of tracks, notably the finale Who Are You in which Scarlett, having apparently tried her best throughout seems to finally find Tom's trademark growl, amid synthesised noodlings from the band including what sounds like one of the basic rhythm selections from a Bontempi.  All of which sounds utterly bonkers, and it is, especially when you consider that this is the actress who played the female lead in one of the biggest films of this year.