This Blog's 15th Birthday.



About It has been fifteen years since I began posting here and to celebrate Annette, who first interviewed me on the 5th birthday and then the 10th about the history of the blog, wondered if I'd like to be interviewed about the next five. It was an offer I couldn't refuse ...

Wow, I never imagined when I did the five-year interview that I'd be doing another 10 years later! But it's great to have the opportunity. When you started the blog, did you ever think you'd still be writing 15 years later?

I know! No. I probably didn’t even think it would last a year. Not that long after it started, the next year, I lost access to my computer for months so updates were sporadic anyway – not that it matter because, as I think we've discussed before but for the benefit of new readers, I was busy with volunteering at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Glancing through the sporadic posts from that period just shows how much the process of even accessing the web has changed. Then, I was offline for ten weeks with barely any access after a dodgy install of WinAmp on the PC I had and then having to wait for a new computer to be built for me. Partly that was to do with having limited funds, but nevertheless ten weeks without web access and I was fine about it. I’d like to think I’d be the same now, but in a world with laptops and tablets and ipods and free wifi, the point is I wouldn’t have to.

Yes, it's a lot harder for me to be off the web also. I was recently without internet access at home for nearly two weeks and it felt interminable. And true, the devices sure have changed from 15 years ago – back then you basically had to be on a desktop. Out of curiosity, do you usually post to the blog on a desktop or has that changed?

Well, it’s a laptop at the moment but the actual process hasn’t changed. I’ve tried blogging using an iPad mini but the process is much too fiddly and the website isn’t very mobile friendly. Even if bought a keyboard, I much prefer a mouse to shift the cursor around and I multitask too much.

It seems a lot of the chatter I hear about blogs lately is how to make money off of them – directly through ads, through guest posting or product placement, or just as a way to promote yourself or your products. It seems rare that anyone does it purely as a hobby anymore. Have you explored much of the business side of blogs? Is it still mainly a hobby for you?

For about two seconds. I did have a Google AdWords on the sidebar for a few months earlier in this decade but no one clicked and I was slightly embarrassed about it. Some people have suggested I set up a patreon but the whole idea makes me feel squeaky because if someone is paying you and you have a paying audience, there’s an implicit need to service that audience, whereas if, as you say, it’s just a hobby, you can post what you like. The closest I have is that wishlist support box in the top left which hasn’t worked at all, if I’m honest. Plus I’m a bit hazy on the UK tax rules in relation to having a PayPal tipbox or somesuch and I probably don’t have enough readers for it to matter anyway.

Ha, that wishlist has been there since I started reading, I think. I think “tipping” rarely works on blogs, though I wish it were otherwise.

Well, it depends how many readers a blog has. I wonder if it is possible to run a blog, just a blog and make a wage based on advertising and tips. Podcasts undoubtedly do and YouTubers. But blog, now? I don’t know.

How did you come up with the ideas for the blog projects “My Favourite Film of” and “Soup Safari”? “Soup Safari” seems like an odd subject to take on, food-wise, and yet I am totally sucked in by the pictures. “My Favourite Film” is fascinating to me because there is an almost inexhaustible number of angles to take on it as far as looking at old films and thinking about past experiences with viewing films.

Someone asked me about the Soup Safari last year and I wrote them a very lengthy explanation which at some point I was going to post but then decided to keep with the mystery. But since you asked and this is what it is, I might as well pop it here.

A couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia, or hernia of the groin, the first words out of the surgeons mouth during our consultation were, "When are you going to lose weight?" I'd been overweight for most of my life and he explained he wasn't prepared to do the operation until I'd put my body into a condition that would make the surgery much easier.

After some tears, the usual, I went home and set about working out how to accomplish this in the four months until the operation. I dropped the cereal in the morning replacing it with a Weight Watchers yogurt and some fruit and at lunch times cheese on toast or what have you would be replaced with tinned soup, and following the recommendations on the tin, half of the amount in said tin which is supposed to contain two servings.

The weight did indeed drop off. I'm compulsive and obsessive to a benefit when I want to be or as was the case needed to be and sure enough I lost lots of weight, certainly enough for the surgeon to agree to the surgery and a couple of years later the post-op pain has pretty much subsided and having lost all of that weight I've continued rather than put it back on an rather spectacularly dropped ten inches waist size. For the first time ever I can fit into a 38 inch pair of jeans.

Congratulations, that's quite an accomplishment!

Thanks.  As well as still having not really gone back to drinking milk, sticking with black teas and coffees, I don't eat biscuits, chocolate apart from the odd cake a mostly in Weight Watchers portions, raw sugar hardly ever and although eating proper meals at tea time and porridge in the morning has slowed progress somewhat, I think it's probably fine to be more gradual now that it's changed anything much. As I write I'm wearing the first L t-shirt I've been able to wear in two decades.

Plus I stuck with the soup. Pretty much every lunch time and not just at home. Out and about rather than, as was the case before, heading straight to Boots or a sandwich shop, I'd find somewhere serving soup instead. This became a habit and I continued with it where possible. Unless I was in a rush in which case I'd be peering at the calorie content of the sandwiches and wincing at just how many hundreds there were in cheese. Oh I don't eat much cheese now either (if I can help it).

Searching for soups meant I was visiting cafes and restaurants I wouldn't previously otherwise visit and the results were more often than not fine and sometimes quite pleasant and I realised that this forcing me to visit the sorts of places I wouldn't previously have visited, preferring to munch through a cheddar and onion sandwich in a windy street instead. That was another benefit. Most of this soup is served indoors.

Then in September 2014, just after I visited the Lake District to see the Ruskin and Wordsworth Houses I realised that all my various blogging projects were coming to an end, notably the Public Art Collections in North West England and knew I wanted to start something else. But I also knew that I wanted something which was relatively low maintenance but wasn't as artificial, came out of something I didn't naturally anyway.

The soup. All the soup. So I began to collect photographs of the soup. I made myself a mental list of rules and then began last September near the one the one year anniversary of my hernia operation (although that was entirely coincidental) with Lunya which I chose because I'd just seen the owner speak at TEDx Liverpool and decided that if the project was to be about anything it would be about eating at all the places I'd always meant previous to go about eating at.

On a practical level too, soup tends to be the cheapest item on the menu which means that it's possible to visit relatively expensive restaurants, the sorts of places I wouldn't previously have thought would be the sorts of places I could afford to visit or have the wherewithal and having something approximating a meal at a relatively cheap price (even if there's always a moment afterwards when the waiter will ask, "Would you like anything else?" Sometimes twice.)

What are the rules?

Mornington Crescent.

Why just the photographs? Why not reviews?

I'm not Jay Rayner or Marina O'Loughlin or whoever. I can say whether I like a soup or not, if it tastes of the thing it's supposed to be, but what would be the point of that? I could talk about the whole experience but like I said earlier the whole point of this project is that it's low maintenance and in their own way the photographs speak for themselves, I think. It's cumulative. Um.

Yes, I think the simplicity is key to this series. What have you learnt so far?

That the project both is and isn't about soup. Considering that historically soup is the simplest of meals there are a multiplicity of ways in which it can be served and as I've visited these various places and taken the many photographs, what I've found is that I'm not really documenting the soup or even the experience as such but the potentially infinite ways in which this single food product can be served, the amount of thought which goes into its presentation. Or not.

At the most basic level, all soup needs is a receptacle for it to be drunk from and a polystyrene cup is as good as anything. Except as I've discovered, for a hot, hearty, flavoured liquid, there can be a lot of other business and what I think makes these photographs interesting is comparison in the variety of ways and configurations of presentations that there are, except there is still the same basic dozen or so items which appear in each photograph which are:

Soup
Dish
Spoon
Plate for the dish to sit on
Napkin
Bread
Knife
Butter
Table

But there are additions. Most often the bread and butter sit on the same presentation plate as the soup dish but sometimes the bread has its own plate to sit on. Sometimes the butter comes in it's own little dish. Who makes these choices? Is it like a meme, do cafes and restaurants copy others in this regard or go with what they simply feel is common sense or they think will be most convenient for the customer.

Although, good lord, this is pretty facile in comparison, the effect reminds me of a culinary version of Bernd and Hilla Becher's collections of photographs of water towers or blast furnaces. Are they a sort of social document? You can't have this bowl of soup now, not that you can have any of them again because they're all unique incidents in time and space that only I've experienced, but the Cornerhouse is closed now, you can't go back there. But a photograph of their soup survives.

Ha ha, I've never thought of soup as a meme. In the U.S., there's not always bread and butter with soup – sometimes only bread and no butter, and sometimes it's just saltine crackers.

Also, I've discovered, not every restaurant serves soup. Somehow the alliterative title I chose for the series makes sense because I do sometimes have to really search out soup. Goodness knows what a waitress or maitre-d must think when I visit a place and on hearing they don't serve soup turn around and walk right out again. That's why I've been tending to save the food chains where possible. I don't want to be stuck in a place where none of the indies have soup and I've already visited an Eat.

How do you choose the places?

Generally it’s by destination. If I'm visiting a museum, I'll do their cafe. I ended up in Poundbakery because I was visiting a bank nearby. If there's no destination then I often work through everywhere in a particular street systematically. But I don't want to simply do all the same kinds of places so I try to have some variety and not just do all of the unique places first if you see what I mean.

How long will it continue?

Don't know. I quite like the idea of doing every possible place in Liverpool city centre but I'm a way to go on that, I think. Due to blog rules (or rather amendments to blog rules) there are things I can't and won't talk about and this is a nice way of at least documenting them and the period in which they're happening in a roundabout way so I can be at least reminded of the period even if I'll only have my own memories of the period otherwise.

My Favourite Film of”?

The process of reviewing almost every film I watched in 2014 came to an end and then after deciding which was the best film of that year, I realized that I wanted to do something similar but which covered the whole of film history that was something like the Doctor Who project from 2013. Plus I needed a theme for the logo bar at the top of the page and this seemed like as good an idea as any. I didn’t want to actually review the films which seemed redundant when so many other outlets exists so I decided to write around them instead, talk about when I first saw them or highlight something unusual about them.

Some weeks are easier than others. The rule of not repeating directors means that admittedly sometimes I’m not always covering my favourite film of a given year and sometimes it’s the film which I have the most to talk about because of something significant which happened which is worth writing about within the limits of the blog. I was also interested in using it as an excuse to write some biography about the twenty-six years when this blog didn’t exist, somewhat influenced by the film which I decided was my favourite of 2014, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. But clearly less interesting.

Great film, I was excited to see that was your favorite that year. Really an interesting family mystery with a director who has the talent to make the absolute most of the material.

Yes, she does. I’ve since gone back and seen Mr. Nobody, the film she mentions that she’s in the process of making when she hearts some big news in Stories We Tell. In that she plays a manic depressive and so a difficult mother and that plays about with alternate realities and memories and works as a kind of fictional companion piece to her documentary. It’s not amazing but worth seeing at least for these reasons.

Is your “Playing the Dane” series the longest-running Shakespeare project? Which performance has been your favorite thus far?

It’s the only one, I think. If I have to nail it down, my favourite Hamlet has been Ken Branagh’s 1996 film because it’s most of the whole text presented lucidly and coherently with great performance and thanks to the 70mm camera work, an epic approach. But as I hoped at the start of the project, every Hamlet, even some of the duds, have memorable moments. My favourite performance in the central role is still Natalie Quatermass, star of a student group who presented it at the Crypt in Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral, because of its honesty and sense of being in the moment. I just checked and she eventually went on to study Drama, Applied Theatre and Education at the Central School of Speech and Drama which I'm pleased about.

Ah yes, the female Hamlet. Very inventive.

Over time that project has transformed a bit. Initially I planned to cross the country to see Hamlets here and there but without infinite funds and the majority being in London, that wasn’t going to happen so now I’m sticking with “accessible” versions, on tv, in film and audio, embracing obscurities where possible. I’m a bit behind, partly because I needed to take a break. Sometimes if you love something it’s good to take a break and when you know the play backwards and forwards, you stop watching it for the drama and instead to see how it’s different to the last one which destroys the point for which it exists in the first place.

Do you generally like seeing Shakespeare performed in a non-traditional way, or do think it's a distraction? (I'm thinking the '90s “Romeo and Juliet” as an example.)

As I said recently on the blog when reviewing Russell T Davies’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m a bit of a purist in relation to the text when it's being performed in its natural habitat or on the radio when it’s pretty much all you have. Not in terms of costume or set dressing or whatever, it’s when a director cuts the text to fit an interpretation of the work which Shakespeare didn’t intend. As the RSC’s creative director Gregory Doran said recently at Hay, having a view on the text before starting work means you’re bound to start generalizing and ignoring what’s in the text. If you decide that Hamlet’s a domestic drama, you’re immediately stripping from the play the undercurrent of futility bubbling under the surface because no matter what happens Fortinbras is going to turn up at the end and take over.

But I do love a good film or television adaptation because you then have the scope to treat the text in the same way as someone who’s working with a classic novel or some other material, plus it has the scope like the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet or Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, to bring people to the text who might not otherwise have considered it. My first big experience of Shakespeare, the moment when I was properly excited was Branagh’s Much Ado, visiting the local multiplex on its opening day, first showing, alone in the cinema and the experience was magic. Patrick Doyle’s score is one of my favourite albums, especially the way Emma Thompson speaks “Hey, nonny, nonny” across the opening.

Which only goes so far, of course. The recent Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender is a disaster, trying do the Scottish play in a kind of Terrance Malik idiom which makes it impossible to follow as a piece of drama. Plus there are the occasions when a relatively obscure play, or at least one the plays which doesn’t already have a good, in-spirit adaptation which is landed with a travesty. Michael Almereyda, who brought us a really good Hamlet set in the 90s aristocracy of New York made a mess of Cymbeline as a predictable criminal underworld piece which has all the hallmarks of having been messed about with by the studio. In the UK, it went under the title, Anarchy: Ride or Die, which tells you everything.

Do you find that there is not as much of a loyal fanbase coming back to the blog day after day or week after week in recent years, versus, say, at the time of the last interview five years ago? It seems like there are so many outlets that emphasize individual posts now – social media, aggregators, Google searches – versus the experience of going to a homepage. (I have a confession to make myself – I read your blog almost exclusively through my Feedly app now. While I find it convenient, I wonder if it is discouraging for a content creator to not know about people reading your work through a channel like that.)

Having consumed content through RSS readers for years, I don’t have a problem with it at all. I would prefer to visit the actual web page because I like the sense of variety, of visiting the web rather than glancing at it all through the same prism, but it’s too convenient not to. Though I have taken to clicking through to a website anyway to read the content even if its all available so I can see it as intended, especially since often the graphics don’t appear in the reader version. But RSS feeds are on the wane anyway. Lots of website have gone back to e-newsletters.

E-newsletters are definitely an interesting trend. It's like we're going backwards in time...

As ever, I have only a very basic notion of who’s reading this stuff or how. It’s actually much harder now to see where people are clicking from, although I know that a larger percentage of them are from Twitter because whenever I tweet a link and check the Blogger metrics that individual post gathers readers. Feedburner tells me I have 245 subscribers but the majority of them are reading through an “unknown” reader, which is roughly equivalent to the old Google Reader number so for all I know they could just be uncancelled subscriptions lingering on a server somewhere.

I miss Google Reader!

Me too! I don’t know about a “fanbase” though. I don’t know how that works now. Do people visit the blog because of me or because there’s a post about something they’re interested in? Posts about certain things always have a much higher click rate than others. The visitor numbers still go crazy on the weekends after Doctor Who’s broadcast so clearly a few people like those even though I’m clearly running out of things to say and they’re much less articulate than they used to be. Unfortunately, I seem to be at my best when the show’s toilet.

Ha ha. That's so refreshing that you don't care more about click rates, audience and such. Perhaps that's the key to longevity on the web...

It’s also because I’m not selling anything I suspect. If I did have advertising or was making a wage from writing a blog, I’d be much more interested in what people would like to read and do more of that. But other than Doctor Who, I don’t know what people are particularly reading the blog for, which is for the best.

What's your attitude toward social media as of late? Do you think it's a help to the blog as far as promoting content, or a hindrance, as in you are spending time keeping up on social media that could have been spent blogging?

Well, like I said, a lot of people do click through from Twitter and Facebook so that’s good since it’s replaced RSS (assuming RSS was even a thing) as the primary way that people access the web. I don’t use Facebook much and would have closed my account, but I know there are people who keep up with the blog through there so I keep my profile going for that reason at least.

As we discussed last time, the newer social media has all but killed new old-form blogs. On the odd occasion I do visit Facebook, I do see writing which even ten years ago would have naturally fitted on blogs and tweetstorms are the same. I’m often seeing people posting screen grabs of text on twitter so they can get all their thoughts down and always think it would be easier if they had a blogspot.

True!

The problem with Twitter is the immediacy. It’s too easy to be able to retweet something of interest rather than write a blog post with a link and paragraph and if they blog’s changed much recently it’s that I’m posting longer posts rather than simply offering a link blog, probably because I assume all my readers are on Twitter and Facebook even though clearly that isn’t true.

Yes, if I see an interesting link Twitter is my automatic go-to. Before Twitter, my instinct was to copy-paste a quote and link to the article on my old blog.

There was a period when people automatically posted all their tweets on their blog on a daily basis which on some occasions meant you could watch the slow death of a blog, as proper posts gave way to these lists. I did go about copying anything I’d linked to in a week for a month or two but it seemed so terribly redundant. By the time I’d gotten around to it, most of the links were old news anyway. Let’s see what happens in the next epoch.

How do you feel about the end of year reviews? Do you still think they’re worthwhile?

Having been writing this thing for nearly a third of my life, it’s picked up all sorts of traditions including the annual review and feels strange that there wouldn’t be something at the end of the year. For ages, they would oscillate between me writing something then there be being a guest blog palooza but there’s no doubting that it’s getting harder mainly because we all have gotten older and amid everything else which is happening, who has the time? Or the inspiration?

But I do think they’re worthwhile even if they rarely fulfill the initial idea which was so I could take a break from blogging over Christmas thanks to the amount of organization involved sometimes. I’ve not gotten that quiet right. I’ve just decided when writing this what my review of the year is going to be, assuming I remember by then.

What are your thoughts on streaming services like Netflix at the moment? What do you think the rise of streaming has meant for film fans?

Netflix and the like are both magnificent and terrible. On the one hand it’s amazing to be able to watch film and television on demand and the push of a button, but the selection is tiny in comparison to the history of film and we’re forever at the mercy of release windows and licensing deals and the commercial decisions of people who aren’t us as to what it thinks we’ll be interested in. In other words it’s an even more focused microcosm of the whole film industry.

Recently I cancelled by Lovefilm-by-post service after twelve years of receiving dvds via rental which was a pretty big deal because I’m subscribed to Netflix, Amazon and NowTV, which are the UK services, providing access to about four or five thousand films and hundreds of television series. With the films I already own which go unwatched, plus the iPlayer, it was simply gratuitous to have the discs coming in the post too.

But a fair amount of choice has been removed. Whereas before, if I decided I wanted to catch up on some film noir or films featuring a particular actor, I’d load up the Lovefilm queue and go, now it’s whatever happens to be available on both services and in terms of the classic genres this means the most popular from each and in the latter probably the films I’ve already seen. Huge swathes of material isn’t available.

Good point – streaming services are now controlling what's available like broadcast did in the old days. I also canceled my DVD service on Netflix for budget reasons, but like you, I'm not super satisfied with the variety. It does seem ironic to have access to thousands of films, and yet I often find that there is nothing I am really excited about watching. Especially since I'm not a huge fan of Netflix-produced series.

Not even Sense8? Sorry, that’s not fair. Perhaps the situation’s different in the US.

It's not.

Ah, but it does mean your pattern of behavior changes and the variety of material you watch limits although I’m aware that it is probably increasing the range of film a lot of people are watching because, at least in terms of newer indie material, the likes of Netflix are providing an outlet for a larger range of material than broadcast television. There’ll be a lot of people whose field of vision is “Whatever’s on Netflix.”

Which is, to be fair, better than the olden days when it was whatever you were able to video from the television or travel to a video shop to hire. There are also paid options and Amazon’s been an especially good way of hiring films that aren’t on the other services or aren’t on the other services yet. But we’re a long way from Netflix and the other services being a substitute for the old methods even though it’s being treated as such.

That's true.

I do miss not receiving the dvds though, especially the random nature of it, being surprised with whatever was being sent out. At the moment, I’m watching @maft’s NewOn websites like a hawk and watching anything, which is about to expire as a way of taking the control out of my hands. Plus without Lovefilm-by-post or buying them (heaven forefend) this’ll be my last chance to see them until they turn up on television assuming I remember when they’re on.

In an ideal world we’d have a Spotify for film, everything potentially available for a monthly fee from a single source, a much bigger catalogue. I understand Hulu in the US is close to this with its inclusion of such things as the Criterion collection and various studio archive material. But yes, a streaming service with a similar catalogue to Lovefilm-by-post would be the bees knees. Instead we have a range of different services with different licensing deals and if you want anything art house it’s the BFI Player which has limited app options. Hmm.

I'm with you there – perhaps a service like that isn't too far away.

Mubi has a fascinating alternative model. They upload one film per day and then you have a month to watch before it drops off. They only have thirty films available at once but they’re all classics or art house, heavily curated and chosen by experts. They’ve recreated the old cinema repertory model as a streaming service. It’s £5.99 per month which seems a bit steep, but my guess is if you watch at least one film a week from the selection you’re more than getting your money’s worth. Plus most of the stuff on there isn’t generally available from the other streaming services, at least as part of a subscription.  Although there is some, but I tend to check everything on findable.tv and if I have access to it elsewhere will leave it until it's going to expire their instead.

Here's something you wrote in a review of “Pitch Perfect 2”: “I tend to prefer films with female protagonists, especially if they’re about friendships (cf, Frozen). At a certain point I grew tired of films by men about men doing men things.” Can you elaborate a bit about that?

For years, decades, films have predominantly been directed by men and featured male protagonists especially in particular genres, almost every blockbuster, nearly every independent film with women as love interests or in supporting roles. If it’s not one man, it’s a gang of them. At a certain point repetition sets in and as you find yourself watching yet another man dealing with this problems either through gun play, cars, fists or in romcoms finding the right way to talk to a woman and it becomes just tedious.

This wasn’t always the case. Back in the 30s and 40s, there were a great many strong female roles and often as the protagonist of a film. But somewhere in the haze of the 60s such things became forgotten and by the so-called beginning of the blockbuster cycle of the 70s, most films were about men having men problems and women receded into the background into stock roles and the range of characters available to them diminished. When women did lead films, it was generally in a very small number of genres.

The original Ghostbusters should have had more prominent female casting. All those buddy films of the 80s should have had more women in the mix. Male police officers were more likely to be twinned with dogs than women. Why did Michael Douglas or Harrison Ford become the default lead in all of those erotic thrillers? Why were Glenn Close or Sharon Stone seen as antagonists, Anne Archer or Joan Allen the wives? Couldn’t all four have worked just as well in the lead role, and not just as a one off but as repeatedly as Douglas, Ford or Gere?

Recently that’s reached its apogee and it’s still considered a risk to have female protagonists in films outside of romantic comedies or melodramas with a few exceptions. Yes, it’s great that The Hunger Games exists but can’t be seen as sea change when there are so many other action films which still headline a male by default. As Hadley Freeman noticed in a recent interview with Melissa McCarthy, when New York Magazine looked for precursors, they were all men. This is not ok.

All of which preamble explains why in the main I tend to seek out films with female protagonists when flicking through the various streaming services and elsewhere. Sometimes the stories aren’t, tellingly, that different to what might appear in a film of the same genre with a male protagonist, especially in the b-picture action films. But more often than not, I’m seeing actresses which elsewhere have been stuck in supporting roles finally being given the opportunity to carry a film and doing it superbly.

I am definitely in agreement there - “Zero Dark Thirty” comes to mind.

Yes exactly, and yet, in the mainstream it’s still being treated as a curiosity. We’re still in the veneration stage, congratulating directors like George Miller or Paul Feig for foreground female characters. Ideally we wouldn’t need to, they’d be treated like any other film, and if they failed or weren’t of good quality it wouldn’t be held up as proof that female led films don’t work, rather than simply that this particular female led film doesn’t. It’s insane how many shitty films some male directors are allowed to churn out while female directors are given once change to shine.

Yes. The overall lack of diversity in Hollywood in 2016 is shameful, but that is another story...

Yes.

Back in 2007 you did a “Forgotten Films” series that I really enjoyed. Following up on that, are there any standout “forgotten films” you've seen recently?

Advantageous, the psychological thriller, which was my film of the year in 2015. When asked to write about it on art website The Double Negative, I said: “Bought for distribution at Sundance by Netflix, ironically causing unfortunate obscurity, Jennifer Fang’s indie wonder Advantageous glimpses a dystopian future in which an older woman is given the choice of losing a job which guarantees her child’s future, or sacrificing her own identity. Tense, impressionistic, refreshing and warm filmmaking. Classic.” Essentially it’s the latter stages of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse in the style of early Wayne Wang or Ang Lee.

But the concept of the “forgotten film” has changed somewhat in between. If a film is available on a streaming service, can it be forgotten? Perhaps everyone has seen Advantageous despite its relative obscurity. Does it simply have to reside on a disc-based format? No one seems to have heard of Ten Inch Hero which is essentially Empire Records set in a sandwich shop featuring Clea Duvall, Elisabeth Harnois and Jensen Ackles. Or Uncertainty, a genre busting take on Sliding Door in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt ends up either in an action chase film or family drama. Will that do?

Yes, thanks, those all sound intriguing. Perhaps “often overlooked” is the right term?

I like that. But it is increasingly difficult now, especially when the number of releases seems to have increased exponentially for a film to stake its territory and find an audience, especially since the audience automatically skeptical about everything having been disappointed so often.

This is a bit of a personal question, but I am curious, and I know you'll be honest: What does it feel like to turn 40?

Weird because I don’t feel forty, especially since for various reasons I don’t have commitments of a lot of forty year olds, the need to become an adult. Although I can detect that the person writing this is more mature than the person who wrote this blog fifteen years ago, our world views haven’t changed and if anything I’m even more liberal than I was then (with a certain realism about what's achievable given the ignorance in society were constantly pushing against). But with life expectancy extending, there’s less of a demand for maturity I think, at least outside of work, no great rush to the end. To be honest, I don’t know how to answer the question. Ask me again in five years.

What are some of your most popular posts at the moment? Are there some posts from the early days that still get a lot of traffic?

The biggest, new post this month was the sweary one about the Superlambanana, which was anonymously picked up by BBC Radio Merseyside (in other words they did a story without mentioning me which was fine and exactly what I wanted) and it has since indeed been repainted. The old Scene Unseen about folding the painting in The Thomas Crown Affair has been resurgent too perhaps because it’s turned up on Netflix.

Luckily, the widget in the sidebar of my blog offers some easy answers for the rest. The mostest, mostest popular post is the Doctor Who watch list, mostly because it’s what appears at the top if you type those words or versions of them into Google, higher even than some of the official sites. Before that it was the coffee in tea bags review which is now second.

Wow, Doctor Who is no surprise, but coffee in tea bags?

Shrug, I know. People seem to like the idea, and it works in theory. I can see why people want filter coffee with the convenience of a tea bag. The process of cleaning the various coffee making paraphernalia is annoying. I use a lot of Starbucks Via for just this reason.

Are there any topics (people, shows, music, films, ideas, etc.) you wrote about in the early days of the blog that, if someone told you you'd still be writing about them 15 years later, you'd be shocked?

Not really, I think that for the most part the tastes you have in your twenties pretty much stay with you. There are topics which have fallen away. I barely cover music now, mostly because I don’t listen to a lot of music, or at least make a point of listening to a lot of music. When I’m about and about I’m usually listening to podcasts and audio plays and elsewhere because I’m easily distracted, I tend to prefer silence or ambient sounds.

Will there ever be a day when “Love Actually” is not rubbish?

No.

What's next for you, and what's next for the blog?

Blog rules inevitably lead me to not wanting to talk about the future. As for the blog? Well, the favourite film posts have at least another year to run so whatever happens there has to be a blog to house them. Although the whole thing will no doubt change again to encompass something else I’m interested in, the post frequency will oscillate, but I can’t see any reason to shut it down, not now.

Good to know. Definitely a comfort knowing one of my favorite blogs is sticking around!

For now.

Let me conclude by saying there was a post the other day that really reminded me of why I read feeling listless. It was the post about visiting the Ella Kruglyanskaya exhibit. It was about the last thing I expected to read about that day, but reading it was like inhaling a breath of fresh air - the unique perspective, that blend of curiosity and honesty and insight and enthusiasm about art/life that's apparent in a lot of your work. It certainly left me intrigued. I like that about the blog – on a given day you never know what to expect. Thanks for keeping your longtime readers on their toes, and I hope to be reading for many more years to come.

Thanks that’s very kind. See you for the twentieth?

I'll be here.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Blade Factory.


"Every story ever told really happened. Stories are where memories go when they’re forgotten."
-- The Doctor, "Hell Bent"
Art The original venue for Mark Leckey's Dream English Kid was supposed to be the Saw Mill, originally the entrance hall to Nation the building which hosted Cream. Sadly a week before the Biennial was due to open, a fire led to too much structural damage for it to remain a safe place to have an artwork so it's been moved to the Blade Factory, part of the complex which includes the Camp & Furnace bar and restaurant.  Which means instead of finally stepping inside a building which I somehow managed to avoid in its heyday, I instead enjoyed a Proustian rush as I returned to the building which, when it was still owned by the AFoundation, I worked as an invigilator ten years ago, something I eventually revealed on this blog.

Apart from the orange lighting which heralds the entrance to the display room, another Leckey piece titled SOX Lamps, the single other piece is Dream English Kid, a 22 minute repeating found footage montage.  As the Biennial website explains: "In 1979, Eric’s nightclub in Liverpool hosted a gig by Joy Division that Mark Leckey attended in his youth. Recently, the artist located amateur footage of the event on YouTube. Realising that many of the personal memories that we have can be found online, Leckey began to assemble a film, Dream English Kid, that uses archival material from television shows, advertisements and music, to recreate a record of all the significant events in his life from the 1970s until the 1990s."

In other words, a more esoteric version of Terence Davies's Of Time and the City or the recent Arena documentary about 1966, with a more contemporary time frame which shifts from the mentioned shots of the gig at Eric's through film of the first test launches of media satellites, what look like clips from BBC's Threads, amateur material of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s and some repeated shots of a corseted lady in a dressing room.  This is all accompanied by asynchronous sound, snatches of single bars from popular songs, a word or beat, pieces of voiceover evoking a particular time as well as the inevitably wheezing and groaning noise of the TARDIS (over black and white footage of a small boy playing in a garden - perhaps this is supposed to be Leckey himself).

The result is fascinating, just as all found footage concoctions tend to be, even if some of the connecting threads are even more maddening to comprehend than some of Adam Curtis's recent voiceoverless creations.  Like Davies, in presenting elements from his own life, he's inevitably forcing us to juxtapose them with our own memories or feelings and although our fields of reference are slightly different, I was certainly sympatico with the way in which he evoked how our minds sift through memories when gripped with nostalgia or at least wanting to make a connection with the past, something which, visually is far easier thanks to the internet.

For years, I had the memory of a terrifying nightmare involving a giant blue man-shaped tiger which I'd experienced as a baby.  Now, thanks to YouTube, I know it was only Animal Kwackers.  If I want to see footage of Speke Airport in the 1970s, here it is.   Liverpool City Centre in 1989?  Ok then.  You'll be surprised how little has changed.  Clayton Square had just opened.  What about the bus I used to get to school?  Might as well call the thing ProustTube or some such.  But as I was reminded in returning to the Blade Factory, the real places are usually still there if we want this blast of memories.  Does Mark Leckey return to Eric's often?

Next Destination:
Welsh Streets.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Liverpool ONE.


"On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs, as if to say, well done. Well done, everyone. We're halfway out of the dark. Back on Earth, we called this Christmas, or the Winter Solstice. On this world, the first settlers called it the Crystal Feast. You know what I call it? I call it expecting something for nothing."
-- Sardick, "A Christmas Carol"
Art For a few brief moments I was able to wrestle control of the TARDIS from the randomiser and managed to land in Liverpool One (or for those not buying into the fiction walked past the structure on the way to the Blade Factory and decided that it would be ludicrous to come all the way back).  After the disappointments of 2014, it's great to see the noticeable increase in public art included in the 2016.  As well as providing a sort of promotional tool for publicising the enclosed venues were the festival takes place, they provide inexplicable additions to the city not to mention talking points for people on a different order to the weather or whatever's happening at work that day.

During the process of designing this Biennial, the curatorial board held a series of meetings or seminars with the constituency explaining their ideas process, of deciding upon the Episodes theme and what that might entail.  This included Q&As with Colin Muir, the leading script writer and lecturer who explained how he thought television episodic narratives are structured and Celine Condorelli, an artist whose work often involves exhibitions which reconfigure themselves for different spaces.  Hearing about the Biennial at these early stages was a valuable experience, especially when it felt like our contributions mattered.

The longest session was at the Blue Coat's bistro when one of the ideas was for an episode to focus on a particular date and we were asked to suggest that date and offer our own justifications.  Because at that point, the idea of episodes was much more strongly tied to television, with my limited field of inspiration I chose 26 June 2010 which led me to doing a five minute presentation explaining the plot of Doctor Who's season 5 to the curatorial board of the Biennial plus another thirty-odd strangers.  The best moment was having everyone huddle around my iPad as I showed them Vincent van Gogh's Exploding TARDIS.

The only surviving remnant of this idea seems to be Mariana Castillo Deball's To-day 9th July 2016, part of the Monuments of the Future episode (although the artist has been working on the project since 2005) .  This is a large wooden structure in Liverpool ONE in the middle of Paradise Street, stretching from opposite Cath Kidson right up to Starbucks and is supposed to "represent an infinite staircase for a character who can jump across the same date in different years throughout history" which brings to mind everything from The Time Traveller's Wife to number Doctor Who spin-off stories in concept and Castrovalva and Escher drawings in realisation.

The object has an accompanying newspaper (available at other venues) which includes diary entries from passengers and crew members aboard various ships who happened to be travelling on that date culled from the Maritime Museum archives, as well as news stories.  Sitting on the structure reading the paper, I realised that the drawings on its surface, silhouettes of Liver Birds and Liverpool landmarks, of the dinner which celebrated the clock for the Liver Buildings and the William Morris woodcut are repeated in its pages (or vis-versa).  It's a public art piece which expects the viewer to become part of a performance of sorts.

Most people seemed to be having their lunch and children are climbing across its enticing giant steps.  Standing back from the object reveals that its sections, a tower with notches and two pyramidal step structures could be slotted into each other to create a box but there doesn't seem to be any danger of that.  But it does remind us of how even though we can't physically time travel, it's just possible for us to do so in our memories if something significant enough happened that day for us to remember or as highlighted by the paper in diaries.  With this blog's birthday coming up in a couple of days, let's see what it talked about or linked to on each 9th July.

2016 -- Moaning about having to change my email address.

2015 -- The trailer for Doctor Who's ninth season was released.

2014 -- A still useful post about film distributor streaming rights for Netflix and Amazon Prime.

2013 -- A link to a 2009 episode of Radio 4's The Long View which compared Cardinal Richelieu and Lord Mandelson.

2012 -- Doctor Who's A Company of Friends: Fitz's Story reviewed.

2011 -- An interview with another Sarah Palin, Carl Bernstein compared the News of the World scandal with Watergate and a Beatles home video

2010 -- Adam Curtis finds complete footage of the BBC in Afghanistan (which led to his film Bitter Lake), The Courtney Love Experience and a BBC Proms database.

2009 -- Torchwood's Children of Earth: Day Three was broadcast and reviewed and a link dump.

2008 -- Superlambanana search update and an interview with Katie Grand, editor of Vogue Magazine.

2007 -- nothing

2006 -- viewing figures for Doctor Who's Doomsday.

2005 -- a review of MSN's website and the Wikipedia entry about H2G2.

2004 -- I was getting over a manflu, Orson Welles fact of fiction, I was quite wrong about Coyote Ugly but had already decided Love Actually was "dubious" and Becki Sedicki was booted off Big Brother 5.

2003 -- I watched Love Story for the first time and Doctor Who's Scream of the Shalka was announced.

2002 -- Nothing

Next Destination:
Blade Factory.

The Great British Baking Show.

TV In an example of how global the BBC is now (now?), The Great British Bake Off has reached the US. Renamed The Great British Baking Show (for some reason), it runs on PBS and the AV Club has an explainer which is fascinating for what it focuses on which is essentially how it differs to similar US shows:
"The Great British Baking Show presents—without hesitation or apology—an ordered and rational world. The challenges change week to week, but viewers and contestants alike can count on the fundamentals. There will be bakers in a tent, a series of themed bakes, and at the end of the weekend, a bittersweet group hug to wish the eliminated baker a fond farewell. The ovens will work as promised, each baker will have the supplies they need, and should something go horribly awry, hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are there for moral support, helping the unlucky baker get back on their feet. Rather than being thrown into random or unpredictable situations, the contestants are set up for success, with tools and ingredients they can rely on, letting them relax into their work and focus on the task at hand."
Sadly someone decides to give away the ending the comments but I wonder if this is a show which somewhat still works even knowing who will ultimately be victorious.

Star Trek Beyond Theory.

Film Saw Star Trek Beyond at lunch time unfortunately in my second to least favourite screen in an otherwise good cinema, shunting to one side by the Ryance thing. The screening began with subtitles on the screen, but unlike The Motion Picture, it's because the projectionist had pressed the wrong button. Yes, I did spend many seconds saying I wasn't going to be the one who went out to complain. 

Fortunately someone else did, presumably thinking "Why is it always me?" and it was fixed pretty quickly after restarting the film and fastforwarding to the scene we were on. Apart from screen size, watching a film at the cinema has now officially become indivisible to Netflix. Yes, I did complain about all this at the end. Yes, I did get a complimentary ticket.

All of which biography is to leave a decent paragraph or two so that you can have fair warning that I'm about to say some spoilery things about the film. Stop now if you've not seen it.

Stop now.

Now.

You have been warned.

Right, one of the more interesting choices in the film is the extent to which it draws upon the Enterprise TV series for its background mythology. This really useful blog post goes into some detail in uncovering what there but it's actually to a quite startling degree, far beyond the references to Admiral Archer's beagle in the first nuTrek (paid off hilariously in the ensuing comics series).

Having decided that Enterprise is a pre-cursor to both the Prime universe and this offshoot it's now quite correctly drawing on it, even if some of the mythology doesn't quite match.  The approach to the Klingon empire in Star Trek (the movie) in which its still a relatively alien place is markedly different to Enterprise were they're very much a known quantity.

In Beyond, we're now handed a ton of new Enterprise era mythology notably in relation the origins of the film's antagonist.  Here's the question then.  If all of this "happened" in the Enterprise era, doesn't this mean that the Farragut and its captain and that planet also exist in the Prime era but it's just that they didn't happen to be bumped into because for some reason the Yorktown space station as is doesn't exist in the Prime universe?

Isn't that lucky given what they're capable of?  Given that he's utilising technology which is keeping him alive, isn't there the potential for some other version of Star Trek, perhaps set in the future to do a Prime universe version of the same story?  Perhaps it'll be in comics form or as a novel but at some point in the future there has to be some potentiality for this.  I wonder how the 1701-D crew might deal with him.  Hmm.

That's all there was.  I just didn't want to smear this all over Twitter in case there's someone who hasn't seen the film yet.  Feel free to DM me comments if you can't get stupid Disqus to work.  Yes, I know.  It's on the list ...

My Favourite Film of 1936.



Film The first time I heard W. H. Auden's "verse commentary", specially written for the GPO Film Unit's Night Mail was during a third year English class in secondary school (more recently called year nine) when the teacher utilised it as a way of explaining how rhythm works in poetry. He had us walking around the room incanting the words both separately and together. Although it was the late 80s, with the exception of references to steam, little if none of it felt archaic or unimaginable. Back then, old carriages with wooden interiors were still in use on some journeys with their smell of rotting fabric and soggy nicotine and we still received letters, many letters, every day.

All gone now.  Almost every type of post listed in the poem has been replaced by web and telephone communication, although even the latter is slowly drifting away to be replaced by text on screen, short chats and small verbal connections forgotten.  The night mail itself still exists, of course, but it's more likely to be shifting parcels than letters, blu-rays and books and bathing suits rather than missives between relatives.  Even though I'm writing this into a box on a website, I don't trust the internet with my financial affairs but letters from banks have dwindled with some only issuing statements every three months as the less paranoid of their customers conduct transactions online.

But progress is progress and there's no doubt that people are more connected than ever.  Within a few years of that lesson, I was at university and without the finances for a mobile phone, still rare enough amongst students that when one rang everyone in the library or computer room would turn and look, my only connection with home was a timed phone call and shoe box sided care parcels from Mum which as well as canned goods and noodles and chocolate included articles snipped from the Liverpool Echo to remind me of home.  Now all students seem to have a powerful computer in their pocket and Skype exists.  Effectively they carry a communications channel to their home around with them.

Apart from those statements and the odd e-commerce purchase, my post has dwindled, especially since cancelling my Lovefilm subscription.  The most letters I've received in a day recently was three or four and they were all revealed to be connected with the referendum, from the various campaigns and parties, all for naught because I'd already made a decision (not that it made much of a difference).  I miss the very excitement Auden spoke of, the quickening of the heart.  I do feel forgotten, to some extent even though I know that the fact of me not writing letters to others adds to the obsolescence of what was once a vital communication network.

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 feelinglistless@btopenworld.com.  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 stuartianburns@gmail.com 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.
"Hello."
"Hello."
"I'm looking for the Biennial painting?"
He points to the wall on the left.
"This."
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:
FACT

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.