Music & Life When I visited Carnforth Station on Tuesday, there was a woman sitting on the platform eating a sandwich and reading a paper. She was sitting patiently waiting for her train to work or home or wherever and had obviously sat in that same spot every day for weeks, months or even years. It occurred to me as I sat on the train home that although I'd gone all the way there for the film connection, for the tourist attraction, it was just simply part of her life. Perhaps she'd seen the film, day to day, she paid it no mind, it was part of the furniture.

As I stood at the end of Penny Lane, looking at the street sign painted on the wall which I'd passed on hundreds of occasions, with a group consisting of some Irish people, Americans, Japanese and South African in front of a blue and yellow bus with the words Magical Mystery Tour printed on the side in multicoloured writing I knew exactly how that woman felt. Something I found common place, to these other people visiting the home of The Beatles was like a place of pilgrimage. They stood in front of it having their picture taken and the tour guide said he'd tell us about it when we got back on the bus. But I already knew what he was going to say.

Sometimes at Christmas when I carry the tree home with my Dad, the Magical Mystery Tour bus will slow down and I can tell we've become part of the commentary for the guide. But each time I've wondered what the tour is actually like. But it's not something that you would naturally do. Why would someone from a place a take a tour around that place and go to lots of places they've already been to and hear stories they've already heard? And pay twelve pound for the privilege? But curiosity finally got the better of me so and by 2:30 in the afternoon I was standing in the entrance to The Beatles Story wondering when the bus was going to arrive and to make it even more bizarre obsessing over getting a window seat so that could get to see everything.

I got the window seat. The bus wasn't full anyway so I didn't feel guilty that I was stopping someone who hadn't seen all this before from getting a good view. As we pulled out of the Albert Dock, the guide did the usual head count of who was from where and I was amazed to find I wasn't the only Liverpudlian on the bus. I wondered what their motivation was but didn't get close enough to ask. I was too busy singing along quietly to the music which was swelling up from a speaker at the front of the bus. For some reason, some songs sound better when you're traveling.

The bus seemed quite subdued. I remember how excited I'd been in Paris on the Eiffel Tower and I expected there to be a party atmosphere on board. But nothing. The German people behind be were talking to each other in English about politics. Did they know there was a interloper. Had I broken some code? The reason why this wasn't the case was clear when the guide actually asked how many Beatles fans there were on board. Only a couple of people put their hands up. They were doing it because it was the thing you did if you were in Liverpool. Like going to see the Liver Birds.

The possible ludicrousness of what I was doing can probably be expressed properly when I say that the bus passes by my house (or flat) every day. So my Mum and Auntie (who was staying overnight) sat on our balcony and waved at us and actually saw me waving back at them. Then a bit later the tour took in my own birthplace (which is now a pub and student accommodation as the tour guide described), my old school, playing field and a pub where a friend's band used to play. So actually I can say that people are paying get a tour of my life rather than some musicians who did quite well for themselves. Especially since I came from Speke where Paul lived and I went to the same primary school as him and since the bus doesn't go there I can say it's ignoring part of my life as well. But actually this is a tour of the lives of everyone in Liverpool. That every scouser knew a Beatle isn't really a cliché because it's true. A friend of a friend or a relative did know someone who dated a Beatle, or watched them play at The Cavern or even played with them.

But this actually made the tour fascinating. Like a DVD commentary I was getting to hear the stories behind the places. Although I knew that none of the places in the song 'Penny Lane' were in Penny Lane itself but at the junction at the top end, I'd never known about the Fire Station, which was in fact a mile away opposite what is now a Tesco. That it was a co-incidence that Eleanor Rigby was buried in the cemetery of the church that were Paul had met John. The trip hadn't been as stupid after all - I learnt things about my own city which I'd never known before.

As the bus swung through the city I realized that I was hearing the song in a different way - The Beatles had always been writing about their own life, that lyrics in songs like Strawberry Fields Forever however odd they might seem were actually entirely clear from another point of view, in context. As the tour progressed, and people went to more place the excitement level increased. People were getting to see these places they'd always heard about. We all had those songs in common and now we had this experience in common as well.

Which meant that by the time I got to The Cavern I was slightly disappointed that I'd been there so many times before. For some people (including the giddy Japanese girl) it was the highlight of the tour and the free gift postcard something to treasure. I wanted to have that excitement, to be saying "I can't believe I'm here." But then I realized that I should just feel lucky - I can go to these places whenever I want to, and for that reason I shouldn't take them for granted they way I had been. They were my Eiffel Tower and in that way just as special. I'm from Liverpool, home of The Beatles. How cool is that?
Film Too sleepy for full reviews so a quick round up. Looney Tunes -- Back In Action wipes the slate clean after the Space Jam debarkle with a film which is a laugh riot and perfectly in tune with the roots of the characters. Unfortunately it's also heavy with references that can also on really be appreciated by anyone who has seen far too many movies, and I was perfectly happy that some bits and pieces went right over my head (although I did laugh at a sound reference to the DVD of Moulin Rouge which could not have been a co-incidence so I'm probably geekier than most). Also worth seeing is The Gingerbread Man in which a well worn formula, the John Grisham film, is handed off the a film maker unaccustomed, Robert Altman. As you'd expect the result is fabulously idosyncratic, what with Ken Branagh doing his usual not totally convincing American accent (see also Celebrity and a music track which seems have wondered in from another film. But it does benefit from being the only one not based on a book and does have some twists which aren't obvious from the start.
Life Birmingham today. It's the first time I've visited alone for a few years and so I was free to explore the new not retread the old haunts. The new Bullring might just be a glorified shopping centre but it's a massive improvement on the old structure even if it seems no place was found for the old style market what with both Debenhams and Selfridges setting up shop there. But as always with this city, like a sparky relationship between work colleagues, it's the little moments which infuriate but are also treasurable. Standing in line at the Edwardian Tea Rooms having to translate what the clerk with the rather strong brummie accent was saying to a moneyed old lady from the south who hadn't a clue. Standing in the ThinkTank at Millenium Point (a science museum which takes the Millenium Dome as its inspiration which may not have been such a good idea) following an interactive knee replacement operation ("Just use the pointer on the screen to make the first incision" .... "Now use the sliding bar to move the leg around so that we can get a better angle." .... "Keep pressing the button so that we can hammer the new joint in place...") Visiting a Yo Sushi for the first time and finding myself hypnotised by the little dishes going around the conveyor belt and remembering after the soup course that someone who doesn't like fish is sitting at a Sushi bar and will be ordering Chicken. Liverpool tomorrow.
H2G2 Strangely although this is absolutely tragic news it is well in keeping with the track record of previous versions and projects through the course of the 'franchise'. Broadcast of The Tertiary Phase delayed due to rights problems and will not appear on Radio 4 for the forseeable future. Even though it's been produced and is in the process of being edited. Does this mean it might appear on CD first? Are the rights issues because of the film version? And if so isn't that a bit silly? In other news a film version of Joss Whedon's cancelled tv series that isn't Angel has been comissioned. Firefly: Serenity is due for release some time next year. [see also Whedonesque]
Film and Life I'm standing on the platform of a railway station which I've never visited before but which is very familiar to me. Some things are wrong - the trains are electric not steam driven and small wooden tea room isn't there. And I know that the town which I would expect this to be gateway to is somewhere else. This is Carnforth, but I know it as Milford Junction in the film Brief Encounter.

My first brief encounter with the film was at a very young age. I remember seeing part of it on my gran's television set waiting to go home while my dad sorted out her household expenses. It was the end and I think I was quite interested in seeing the steam trains. It wasn't until university that I saw it in full when I finally gave my life to film and started working my way around the classics. It was on video, on a rented recorder and the cream bacolite tv I had in my third year. If I'm being honest I didn't really understand. My early twenties brain brought up on Neighbours and sitcom couldn't understand why Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard wouldn't leave their respective partners if they weren't happy and this was true love. Last week, when I watched again on dvd, with eight years of understanding that before the sixties people didn't enjoy the freedom they have now that despite their affections they couldn't continue, because of their responsibilities as human beings to themselves and their families - and that in fact this is still a fairly realistic representation even now.

I also understood why it was a classic. Like all classic film its an innovator. It has an incredibly intricate structure - the final moments of the relationship are shown at the start and then reappear at the end in a new light illuminated by the experiences of the characters and the audience - the 'how did we get here style' supposedly as equally innovative in Fight Club. The voiceover in which Johnson relates to her husband why she's been so mordant of late is echoed again in Fight Club but also in everything from Casino to The Shawshank Redemption. Cleverly, even the romance between the train conductor and the maid in the tea room plays out in the right order as we see the break down in communication at the start and during the film the lead up to the end of that relationship (which reminds me a bit of the narrative games Tarantino plays).

Suddenly convinced of the film's classic status, I recalled watching one of Michael Palin's travel programmes in which he visited the derelict station at which Brief Encounter was shot, and saying how awful it was that a national landmark should have fallen into such disrepair. The original architecture had gone, replaced during the sixties by an overzealous architect and some concrete, the place were the tea room had stood a brick shell. I didn't understand then so gave it no mind. Earlier on this year I was watching BBC News' North West Tonight and saw a report about how a local group had been set up to raise money for the renovation of the station and how the derelict buildings had been save and turned into a tea room which replicated the film and a visitors centre. It was this story which I remembered last week when I thought about what I was going to do during my holiday.

The curious thing about visiting film landmarks is that as you look about, the film plays through your head like a inplanted memory, the strange becoming familiar. So as I walked through the tunnel beneath the platforms I saw Johnson and Howard stealing their kiss and standing on the platform I remembered the moment the express train flew through. Which is odd because on the whole as I've described, the station isn't all that similar. The tea room in the film was a façade built for David Lean the director because the actual location of the thing wasn't dramatic enough, for example.

So in renovating the station, the conservators have tried to produce a medium between what's there and what people remember from the film. So the interior of the tea room, which for the shooting was created on a sound stage, has been re-developed within one of the existing rooms. The bar from the film has been re-created and placed in situ, with the memorable taps, tea urns and display cases. The frosted wording from the windows in the film are here too, as are the chairs and tables. It's not the same, but its enough to create the feeling of stepping into the film. And it's a working tea room, and was incredibly busy - so I had to sit in an overflow back room which was fine - larger tables and slightly warmer. Leek and stilton soup, pot of tea and a scone with cream £4.25 and all lovely.

It's still relatively early days so the visitors centre is more of an exhibition space. There's currently a display highlighting the oral history of Carnforth which is interesting, but to be honest not really something a tourist might be visiting for. They want to know about Brief Encounter. There are photos from the film here and there and an archive letter from Celia Johnson, but it's almost an apology. The most exciting thing is a dvd projection system, showing the film on a wall and it is enthralling to be watching the story in the place it was filmed - and it does make a change from fighting with a chocolate dispensing machine when waiting for a train. There are things in the pipeline. I overheard a guide saying that by the summer there would be building a gift shop so that they could sell film merchandise and they had some old seats ready for a purpose built mini-cinema, which is actually a really fun idea.

I watched the opening moments of the film again at the station, then had a walk around Carnforth, went to the loo, realized my train home wasn't for some time then returned to the projector and saw the last twenty minutes. Having missed the courtship, I was back for the breakdown, the realization they couldn't go on and the parting. I was struck by how realistic those final moments they have together actually are. We have an idea of how something will happen, good or bad, that for a few brief moments things will go our way, then something will jump up unawares and throw things off course. Then we realize that's the only way it could end. When dotty Mrs Baggot appears and interrupts their silence it saves the couple from having to say goodbye and Laura can concentrate all of her what ifs on the hand that Alec places on her shoulder, his final moment of affection. From what the guide told me, if you're going to visit the station, give it a few month until they've produced the brilliant tourist attraction this will undoubtedly become.

[for an exhorstive insight into the making of Brief Encounter this is a brilliant resource. For insight into David Lean, he has a dot com.]
Film Just got my first dispatch notice from ScreenSelect, so I have The Gingerbread Man, Chain Reaction and Perfect Crimes on their way to me. Funny how they managed to pick the three films I could care less about. We'll see how quickly they're delivered.

[Update: Delivered 02/03 which was startlingly quickly.)
Film I eventually went to bed at 5:30 this morning. It's odd how quickly time speeds past, as though once you get to three you're going to be awake for the rest of the night. Having woken up at 9:30 I'm subsisting on four hours sleep so forgive any typing errors or if I fall asleep at the keyboard. So to present...

The Oscars 2004: A review

The highs ...

- No beating about the bush, but Rings winning everything. Not to draw away from the achievement of the other artists nominated in the technical catagories, but I do feel that Rings deserved to win, not just because I'm a fan but because there seems to have been a lot more innovation going on in New Zealand -- in the costume design for example, everything was designed from scratch, whereas in the other pieces, a real life frame of reference already existed. But I think it was tough on the other films, some of which would no doubt have done very well in other years. But I think the trilogy's main achievement was to break out from a kind of genre ghetto and appeal to a wider audience which wouldn't go anywhere close usually.

- Billy Crystal. The ceremony always seems a little flat when he's not about. Yes his adlibs (and actual script) are very US-centric, but as he reminded us time and again, this is a celebration of Hollywood. The opening montage was particularly good this year even if I wasn't so sure about Michael Moore making fun of his speech last year. Cheapened it a little bit, but I suspect he's been trying to re-affirm his reputation, and we did get to see him trying to film orcs so ...

- The Best Song performances. It's interesting that there has been a definite move away from the 'theme song' which we all know and turn off when it appears on the DVD. No Celine Dion or Leanne Rhymes singing some piece Dianne Warren threw out in her tea break. Instead we find genuine musicians with pieces which are very specifically of a genre, be it folk, old country or jazz. The moment when A Mighy Wind's Mitch and Mickey kissed (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in character for goodness sake) and the ensuing audience reaction demonstrates how some films carry.

- Jack Black and Will Farrell.

- Sophie Coppola winning something for Translation. I genuinely feel that unlike some of the film nominated this will be something people will be returning to for years to come. Like the forthcoming Before Sunset it was film making for the hell of it. Pity Sophie forgot to thank Scarlett who I forgot didn't receive a nomination at this one. Still she got a Bafta, which is OK for a nineteen year old.

The Lows...

- The BBC coverage. Who decided that Rob Brydon, Ronni Ancona and Alastair McGowen would be the perfect guests. Although initially amusing their interjections just became irritating as time went on, to the point that on a couple of occasion they cut back to the Oscars as Billy Crystal was halfway through a sketch. I know who I was tuning in for. And Jonathan Ross turned up with his comedian head on, not his Film 2004 face, so instead of incisive comment about the films and awards we had the rather repellant moment when he described Phyllipa Boyce from 'as the fat bird from Lord of the Rings'. Just awful.

- The unfair pit orchestra. It really doesn't seem right that the people who create the short films and documentaries who are probably at The Oscars for the only time in their lives and wanting to enjoy the moment are driven off the stage by the music, when the Charlize Therons of this world get as long as they like. One nadir was the Best Song, when Annie Lennox hogged the mic for ages and poor Fran Walsh in one of her few rare appearances in public had to stand her ground waiting for the musicians to stop so she could get a word in and then made to look guilty when she just wanted to do what everyone else had.

- The pre-show. Reducing yet again what is supposed to be a celebration of film to a lowest common denominator fashion show. I'm not surprised Bill Murray hadmuch the same look on his face here as he did in the film when he appeared on the Japanese gameshow. On more than one occasion they simply didn't seem to know much about the people they were interviewing in a way which made Rosie Millard look like Jeremy Paxman. Too many times did the interviewee have a 'necessary evil' glint in their eye.

- Sandra Bullock and John Travolta. I wish that man would go back to the obscurity from wence he came. His chronic ad-libbing here was just unspeakable.

- The ending. It just sort of did. No closing flourish from the orchestra (nice one again guys) and that grouping of Oscar winners. The winner of Best Documentary Short obviously just wanted to go back to her hotel and it was one of the few moments when even Billy Crystal looked uncomfortable. Let's not do that again next year ...

[In case anyone is wondering checking through my predictions, I got 13 right. It would have been more but I kept saying to myself ... 'Lord of the Rings can't win everything.' I like to think that the accademy voted that way just to show yet again how wrong I usually am about most things.]
Life And only as it draws to a close do I realise that today is the day which only comes around every four years. I feel like I should have gotten out of bed and done something with the day now. I mean some people are proposing marriage to fellow comedy performers. Now I really am going to have to go out and do lots of exciting things during my week off to compensate. Except for tomorrow when I'll be sleeping off my disappointment.
Games An idiosyncratic Amusment Arcade in Flash at a Greek News website. Questions abound. Is Rachel Lee Cooke a big star in Greece? Why does the PacMan game have all those dead ends? Everything very quick to load though...
FFilm If you thought my recent review of Love Actually was mean spirited you should read what the Taipei Times thought of it:
"It is disturbing to see Thompson's range and subtlety so shamelessly trashed, and to see Laura Linney's intelligence similarly abused as a lonely, frustrated do-gooder. The fate of their characters suggests that women who are not young, pert secretaries or household workers have no real hope of sexual fulfillment and can find only a compromised, damaged form of love. Perhaps (Richard) 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."
In the short piece in the DVD section of this month's Empire magazine the interviewer hammers Curtis a lot about the scenes that were cut out (remember that I said that if everthing had been left in it would have been a much better film). It seems there was supposed to be an interlude set in Africa as well as the bit with Anne Reid. He says: "I was very sorry to lose them. I wish I could have made a longer film." Which suggests the studio, having contracted him to a length refused to be flexible when the film came in overlong. Which is a shame because the piece which should have been the icing on the top of the project which began with Four Weddings ... is instead just OK. But I'll still be buying the DVD so they must be doing something right.
TV Or rather TV Offal. A good primer:
"Probably the most controversial of TV Offal's regular features is the Gay Daleks: "They're camp ! They exterminate ! Better watch your backs ! It's the Gay Daleks !" You either feel that the sketches are crude, tasteless and offensive, or they're a splendid parody of both the Daleks and of gay cultural stereotypes; late night Channel 4 viewers (on the whole) would interpret them as the latter which is probably just as well given the content."
From the days when Channel 4 was still producing challenging television, not pretending it does.
Life Having spent the day in bed which I could have needed on Thursday, I'm finally on the mend. My voice is now closer to a Mariella Frostrup which is a bit disconcerting for someone who would tape her late night video review show for that one reason during his adolescence. It's Oscar night and so I look at my clock and know for a change I won't be going to bed for another seven hours. Each year I stay up into the wee hours hoping that for once the Academy will get it right. Apparently Rings is the favourite but I just know that when it comes time for the envelope it'll go to Master & Commander. We'll see...
Film I've taken the plunge and signed up to ScreenSelect. I'll let you know how this new innovation in home entertainment progresses in the coming weeks. For completion's sake, here is the initial fifty discs I've got queued up...

A Bout De Souffle, Bande A Part, Le Mepris, Jules Et Jim, 400 Blows, Punch-Drunk Love, Down With Love, Great Expectations, Seabiscuit, Les Enfants Du Paradis, Three Colours Blue, Three Colours White, Three Colours Red, Whalerider, Dirty Pretty Things, La Jetee / Sans Soleil, Cinema 16, Norah Jones: New Orleans, The Hours, American Pie: The Wedding, Chain Reaction, The Mummy Returns, City Of God, Hulk, Malena, Irreversible, The Conversation, Arsenic And Old Lace, The Third Man, Blue Crush, Phone Booth, The China Syndrome, Wrong Turn, Two Weeks Notice, Sheryl Crow... The Videos, Welcome To Collinwood, The Thin Red Line, Perfect Crimes, Buena Vista Social Club, Wild Strawberries, Last Party 2000, 8 Women, U-Turn, Serpico, The Gingerbread Man, McCabe And Mrs Miller and Barry Lyndon

I love the idea that I'll never know what's going to be turning up and in what order. Especially since I've already forgotten what Last Party 2000 is....
Film House of Sand and Fog is administrative error as drama. It's rather like watching an interlectualised version of Crown Court (or Judge Judy if you're elsewhere). It's a story in which no one is right or wrong particularly. Everyone is a victim of circumstance. Which is half the problem. Because we are supposed to care about all the characters in their own way, the Adrian Lynne style drama suggested in the trailer doesn't materialise and as a viewer we are left in the position of watching rather than experiencing the story without actually caring about the resolution.

Ben Kingsley's performance towers over everything. There is a dignity and rage to his character, a proud father wanting to do best for his family. The problem is it over shadows much of anything else anyone else is doing. Whenever Jennifer Connelly is on-screen, even though she's putting on as good a show as we've seen in her other more serious work we're mostly wondering what Kinglsey is up to.

It also feels like a very long film. It's brave to present what is a thriller plot and then give it a medatitive pace. The trouble is that after the first hour and a half, I felt at least, as though the point had been made. There is repetition to the scenes in which Connelly keeps visiting the house, or Kingsley shows some dignity or Shep from e.r. looks pissed off with the hand he's been dealt. There are perhaps too many scenes of characters giving superfluous back story which doesn't drive things forward. Plus transitions are created by cutting constantly back to shots of sand or fog. Clever...