Film That said, I wish you luck in finding a copy of Before Sunrise. It's not out on DVD and the VHS was deleted some time ago (I think mine was a Christmas present the year it came out). But those who are lucky enough at least have that chance. But in an article linked by the Boingers, the US Copyright Office are actively trying to ban VCRs. That's right set home entertainment back twenty years and make it impossible to enjoy some new films. That'll prove popular. I only hope no one in the UK takes this seriously...
Film There are certain times (increasingly) when I seem to be the only person in a cinema audience who 'gets' the film we're watching. Who loves it to bits and wants to rush out at the end and paint five stars next to the title on the hoarding outside. It's a phenomena I can trace back to Wayne's World when Robert Patrick in full T-1000 mode pulls Mike Myers over, holds up a photo and asks him "Have you seen this boy?" Stoney faces all round apart from laughing my BCG scar off. It happened again at the end of Richard Linklater's new film Before Sunset. Everyone else offers a collective "Huh?" and I'm applauding and subsequently dancing out of the screen. It's the perfect ending to a frankly perfect film.

In the first movie Before Sunrise Jesse and Celine met randomly on a train in Vienna and decided to spend the night together. They were obviously in love, but deciding that their relative situations were too complicated they didn't swap details but promised to meet again six months later. In the sequel Before Sunset they bump into each other again in Paris and they again talk about how they're feeling about each other and this time what happened before. The little piece in the brochure at the cinema were I saw it advised that you didn't need to see the first film to enjoy this one. Hogwash. It's not that this film doesn't make any sense - it does - it's just without seeing what happened to them in Vienna, emotionally this simply doesn't have the same resonances - you needed to be there with them, because it's as much about your memories of what happened them as theirs. So if you can, get a copy of Sunrise if you haven't seen it already then go for this. It's important.

And now I'm in the utterly horrible position of trying to review it. The problem is that its 80 minutes of two people walking around talking. So anything I say about what I like or dislike will ruin some aspect of it. I've avoided other writer's opinions for months because I suspected this would be the case and going back to them having the 'been there', I'm glad I did. Most of them enthuse, enthuse about what they've seen but in doing so whole swathes of the surprises that are in there spirit away. Don't look here for a detailed synopsis because you're not going to get one. And whatever you do don't read anyone elses.

On a technical level though, it's amazing. Given the real time nature of the story you might expect Linklater, who has already had some experience working with digital video (see Tape) to follow the path of Mike Figgis in Timecode and record everything in one take or whatnot. Instead everything is in celluloid, just like the first film, but it all flows together beautifully - even though its mostly been photographed on single or two camera setups, it feels as though the characters walked around Paris and the film cameras just happened to be there at the right time (in fact I think principal photography took about nine or ten days). It's also a testament then to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, both highly underrated actors, that their performances also ebb and flow correctly and with great emotional precision. It feels improvised, but apparently every word was scripted by the director and these two actors, opening up some of the themes about autobiography which are apparent at times. But I'll talk about that when the dvd has comes out and I'm happy that enough of you have seen it.

What more can I say? I don't feel like I've said nearly enough to convince you to go find a showing, so tell you about the circumstances of how I saw the film. Since I realized it had been made, it's about the only film I've wanted to see this year (so I suppose the odds on me liking it were stacked in its favour). I assumed that on the first week of release it would turn up at the local Picturehouse @ FACT because its just the sort of thing they would carry amongst the more intelligent blockbusters, indies and international cinema (they had Neil LeBute's The Shape of Things for example). I checked their website last night and nothing. I looked at the cinemas across Liverpool and then Merseyside and it isn't on anywhere. So I went to Manchester tonight instead and saw it at The Cornerhouse. A whole other city, straight after work. Its 45 minutes each way by train so effectively I spent more time getting to and from the cinema than it took to watch the film. You know what? It was absolutely worth it. I fell in love again.
People I've always had paradoxical feelings about Nicole Kidman. My official answer is that I don't like her, that she irritates me and that I'd actively miss a film if she was in it (hello Cold Mountian). But when I actually get around to seeing said film I find her performances sintilating my attention drawn directly to her. So I'm saying I'm not going to see the remake of The Stepford Wives, but then I see the photograph of her on the official website and I'm already on the phone booking a ticket. I'm off to not watch To Die For again...
Obituary Jerry Goldsmith is dead. So is Sacha Distel. Sad day.
News According to the New York Post, linked by Memory Blog, New York City officials covered up dangerously high readings of asbestos in the air of Manhatten after 9/11. I haven't seen coverage of this anywhere else yet, but could be looking at a health time bomb which will articicially increase the number of casualties stemming from the drama. Scary stuff. I remember seeing the photos of survivors covered head to foot in dust -- did that dust include asbestos? Meanwhile the 9/11 report is available in PDF format to download. The devil is in the detail

The Story Of The Weeping Camel

Film I've been trying to find a way to review The Story of the Weeping Camel since I saw it on Tuesday, but I'm defeated. Nothing happens yet it seems to be about everything -- sort of like last year's French school documentary Etre et Avoir. It's one of those films which requires the audience to forget everything they know about celluloid and just enjoy. It starts slowly, creeps up on you and by the end you're hooked and passionately want to tell everyone else to see it. So that's all I'm going to do. See it. If it isn't at least nominated for the next BBC Four World Cinema award I'll be very surprised.

What was gratifying was the number of children in the audience watching it with their parents whispering in their ear explaining what is happening. I usually hate that kind of audience, but on this occasion I didn't mind. It was probably the first subtitled film these kids were seeing and if you can get them past that prejudice that young, a whole world of cinema is open to them for the rest of their life.
Music The Suw Charman piece about music file sharing has finally been printed by The Guardian. Its a wonderfully tight piece of journalism covering the main points, and has a real zinger at the end. A perfect example of the great writing she's been doing on her weblog for ages. Go read.
Books Boldtype was once the inhouse magazine for Random House. Now they've gone independent, offering reviews of the books they're enjoying each month, whoever the publisher. It has a refreshingly clear, simple blog-like interface which gets the job done. Pity my reading backlog is so large...
TV Incidentally in case you've not noticed, filming has actually started on the new series of Doctor Who. Outpost Gallifrey's news page has all the relevant links and news (including a click through to a piece from BBC Wales in which Russell T Davies proves yet again he was the perfect choice). Very spoilery though -- for example I could tell you who the aliens are in one of the new stories. I won't except to say they they're the perfect choice and chilling are exactly as they appeared in the first forty years, so they're still scary as hell.
Life I'm sitting on my bus home having just jumped on at the last minute. I'm out of breath because I've had to dash through the bus station. We're pulling away from the passenger loading bay, but have to stop because there is traffic in the way. A Bridget Jones of a woman, all business suit and 'just so' hair knocks on the door. The driver ignored her - he's pulled away from the stop, there are cameras everywhere and he could lose his job if he lets her on. She bangs again, but he just shrugs his shoulders.

So she runs around the front of the bus to the driver's window, into the middle of the road, and starts to shout at him. Sensing a confrontation he opens his windows and tells her all the things we passengers already knew, and that she could get killed were she is at that moment. Plus, this is rush hour - it's a pointless cause because there will be another bus behind in minutes anyway. But she stands her ground. There is an opening ahead so he tries to pull away.

So she dashes IN FRONT OF THE BUS and stands there still shouting. We can hear her. "But you were still at the stop! You should have let me on!" It's almost as though she's trying to start a protest movement for people who just miss the bus. Yes it's irritating, but less irritating than actually being on a bus and having some idiot blocking the way. She pulls out her mobile phone and starts to ring someone. I'm assuming it's the bus company to complain. By this time, we're all gesturing for her to get out of the way so we can go home. But she stands her ground. By now another bus has appeared behind us, same route, and it can't get in the bay because we're stuck there.

Our driver starts to honk his horn. Not a few brief notes, but long and continuously. I think he's trying to scare her away. A steward from the bus service arrives. She bares him now mind and carries on shouting into her phone. I wonder if inside her head she has the footage of the student standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square, a cause which was actually worth fighting for. I get worried because the steward in his florescent green tabard looks worried - its obvious he's going to end up putting his hand on her and he doesn't want to do this. She looks a bit like a lawyer. The action is concealed by the driver's cab, but moments later he's leading her away, hand on shoulder. She's still protesting. He's pointing at the bus behind and shrugging.
Blog! Speaking of cities, Anil has written a rather lovely piece about leaving the one city he's in love with, New York.
"And that's why I had so much trouble letting go of living in New York. I'd built up my own sense of obligation to the city, as if I were failing by leaving, as if I were failing the city by leaving. Even if only for a while. But I'm realizing that what seemed to me at first like a high-minded sense of obligation is really just hubris. New York City doesn't need my help. You don't need to help someone back onto their feet if they were always standing. And the city isn't going anywhere."
I think this is how I'll feel if I ever do turn my back on Liverpool on a more permanent basis. Wrenching.
Manchester Life One question crossed my lips as I stepped out into the morning air of the city today. What's with all the cows? Throughout the streets and inside the stations and shopping arcades I found cow sculpture after cow sculpture all brightly painted and lushly patterned. Some were seats, some made noises, all enhanced the look of the city. They were everywhere, in some places which I would have thought were off the beaten track. I didn't really want to know their origin. I just liked them to just be, especially the couple which appeared on roofs looking down on the shoppers below.

They're actually from something called The Cow Parade, a citywide exhibition taking place during the summer months.
"Over 100 life-size, fibre-glass cows, designed and created by top regional, local and celebrity artists will graze individually and in mini herds, throughout the city. Prepare to be amazed and amused and see how many cows you can discover on the cow trail, which will take in the best of the city?s landmark buildings and open spaces....

... As well as keeping the crowds amused, the cows have an ?udder? job to do. A selection of the cows will be the stars of a gala auction on 5 October 2004, with seventy-five percent of the net proceeds donated to Manchester Kids (Registered Charity Number 1087854), who provide funding for children?s and young people?s projects throughout the Greater Manchester area."
A gallery of the cows can be found here. I was worried about the vulnerability of them. Apparently there is a cow hospital which takes in damaged bovines every Monday and repairs any damage which might have been incurred over the weekend. Just incredible.
Life Spent the day in Manchester searching for a pair of new shoes which are similar to those I'm wearing. The problem is I'm used to not having laces which is a pretty picky pre-requisite in my search. Visited about twenty shops. Didn't find anything. I hate to paraphrase Forrest Gump, but you really can tell a lot about a man by his shoes, so it's important to choose the right ones. I think I'll be trying the factory outlets outside of town next.
Reader Letters Someone anonymous has just commented on my F 9/11 review: "nicely written review good to see someone writing about the technical aspects of the documentary rather than its political content the britney spears comment made me laugh out loud" One of the ongoing problems I've been having with the film reviews is finding a new angle to the writing. I think if the reader wants a straight down line is it good or not, they can check The Guardian or whoever their favourite reviewer is (I choose Mark Kermode, Empire Magazine, Sight and Sound or if it's an older film Time Out). Lately I've tried to look at how successful a particular apect of the piece was. So the other day that was the characterisation of Spiderman and in the F 9/11 review indeed the technical aspects. It's nice to know someone noticed.
Liverpool Life Living in our home in the sky paid off again last night as we had a fantastic view from our balcony of the fireworks display launched from the top of Liverpool Cathedral to celebrate the centenary of the building today. Over the twenty minute period the building was enveloped in a shower of random light, flying back and forth around the structure. It was truly one of the greatest sights Liverpool has seen in years. IC Liverpool have a great thumbnail of the dying moments. See also The Guardian.
Food Pancakes!
Theatre I don't go to the theatre quite as much as I should. Now that there are four or five venues in Liverpool with a constant stream of productions, most which are on for lengthy stretches, there is plenty of time for me to buy a ticket. I think part of the issue is the number of disappointing experiences I've had in the past. Overlong acts with average performances and slightly tedious stories. I tend to treat the theatre advertising up in the city with the same critical eye as a film poster - if something doesn't really catch my eye you won't get me through the doors.

But last night something presented itself which I simply couldn't miss. A few months ago as I passed the Liverpool Everyman leaflet stand I noticed an advert for Henry IV. Usually turning out for Shakespeare I checked it over to make sure it wasn't something from Northern Broadsides, who I utterly loath. It was actually Tom Stoppard's translation of Pirandello's Henry IV. I'd heard about something like this happening at the Donmar Warehouse in London with an all star cast. Moments later I realized this was that show on a national tour and that it would be turning up at The Everyman. It sounded too good to be true, even as I handed over the six pounds for the front row seat (the last one left in a sell out final performance).

I wasn't really certain what the play was about - until I sat down last night, as far as I knew it was another version of the same story Shakespeare told. But I'm a real fan of Stoppard's work (see also the screenplays for Shakespeare In Love and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), but it was the cast which was the real draw. I'd quite liked Franchesca Annis previous work, Orlando Wells from As, If was also in there and James Lance (who I'll come to later). But top of the list and on the advert in a blindfold was Ian McDiarmid. At which point I need to fess up for the uncultured sod I am. As a Star Wars fan of old, how could I pass up the opportunity of seeing Emperor Palpatine, in the flesh, so to speak?

Last night I turned up massively early as usual. I was slightly thrown as soon I trotted through the entrance to the theatre because I knew the clerk selling the programmes. Well we were acquainted. I used to chat to her at the bus stop when I was at secondary school. The one memory I have of our brief non-friendship was her spilling a plastic box full of curry she'd made in Cookery all over the road and crying. With all that flooding back (and the fact she'd grown up to look like Liv Tyler with a mass of fuzzy blonde hair) I didn't hear what she'd said about the programmes which turned out to be a photocopy of the real thing - they'd run out. It cost 20p if I wanted to make a donation. I gave her a pound coin expecting change. She looked at me oddly and I searched around and found twenty pence in shrapnel, which I swapped over. This was becoming unnecessarily complicated.

Someone announced that the auditorium was open. I trampled up the wrong stairs, then the right stairs and found myself in a completely empty room. The clerk (who I didn't know this time thank god) ripped my ticket and I went and found my seat. Although I'm used to sitting in amongst row after empty row at the cinema, here it was creepy. I irrationally wondered if I was still going to be alone when the actors arrived and I'd be sitting there like an apology for the apathy of the theatre going public. Everyone else did arrive though. The crowd was on average slightly older than I was expecting. For an age the seat next to me was empty. At the back of my male mind I hoped that some Erin Jacob lookalike looking for some help with the plot would join me. Of course I got the man who looked like a refugee from Abigail's Party (crossed with Glen Hoddle) in a dark cream shirt and brown tie. He had no lips. I wondered about that for some of the performance.

Something else would niggle me for the rest of the time. The theatre programme listed the cast's film, tv and theatre work. Everyone seemed to have been The Bill or Casualty at some point. Under Ian McDiarmid there was the expected (and abbreviated) Star Wars Episodes I, II, III, V & VI. Something was wrong. I read it again. Star Wars Episodes I, II, III, V & VI. And again. Star Wars Episodes I, II, III, V & VI. I glanced over at the utterly professional and intriguingly mock-medieval set. I glanced back at the page and read it over again. There it was. V. He wasn't in The Empire Strikes Back. It was some other bloke. Did Ian go about telling everyone that he was in a film he wasn't in - was it on his official CV that he was in it? Was it a typo? An over zealous researcher making assumptions. Or did he know something we didn't about the upcoming dvd release? Had he filmed extra scenes? Wait until I tell Chris?

I was still thinking about this as the lights went down. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't like the last show I saw there when a school party all made ghostly oooh noises. But this wasn't the night for that. Almost immediately I realized this wasn't the play I was expecting. That day at work I'd been telling someone about going and how having been up early for work I wasn't sure I could sit through a three hour historical play with a tragic ending. Well it wasn't that. Four men run on the stage and start yacking on in contemporary English, swearing and giving a helpful primer about which Henry IV we should be expecting. It was actually a millennia old German man not the British Shakespeare model. They had visual aids in the form of human size portraits. Then I had my "It's James Lance!" moment.

James Lance is an actor who's been knock around television for some time. But over the past few years he's been around a lot more than usual. Every time I turn on the television he's there and each time I'd find myself saying: "It's James Lance!" (I think the closest film equivalent is William C Reilly who's just been in everything). It works retrospectively too. He's Daisy's boyfriend in the first series of Spaced and was one of the hotel clerks in I'm Alan Partridge. Now here he was in the flesh. I knew he was going to be there, I'd read the programme with its handy list of everything he has been in (The Upper Hand?) But as he turned his head from the shadow and I realized I just had to say under my breath ? "It's James Lance!" (I wanted to say it out loud but that would have been wrong).

A capsule of the plot which is knocking around the internet reads something like this: "An Italian nobleman falls from his horse during a pageant When he comes round, he believes he is the medieval German Emperor, King Henry IV. For twenty years he lives this illusion, but today a plot is being hatched to shock him out of this 'madness' and into the twenty-first century." It's an intriguing idea. Once Lance and his cohorts had left the stage, 'Henry IV' ex-wife and family and the doctor show up and we get the second scene which fills in the details of his mania. Or rather, in fact, all the information we already knew because someone had taken the bizarre step of printing it in a 'The Story So Far?' section of the programme. This was the moment in the night when the play sat there, the audience shuffling in its chairs. We know all this. We've read all this. Sorry Francesca, Orlando and friends but you've been upstaged by an editorial decision (I wonder if this would be another of shaving some time off Hamlet. Knock out a synopsis of the first two acts, make sure the audience has read it then cut straight into the 'To Be or Not To Be' speech).

Then Ian McDiamard turns up and he's mesmerizing. Utterly haggard and in a sack cloth he entirely convinces everyone he's mad especially when he threatens to take it off. Again his appearance wasn't entirely a surprise (more photos in the sodding programme) but with his slow talking and tight gestures it just shattered me to watch him. Then, having freaked everyone out, he shuffled back off the set.

And then stage lights went down. And the auditorium lights came up. The entire audience looked startled. They began to stare at each other wondering what to do next. They clapped. Some people looked at their watches. That had been the first part. All 35 minutes of it. No one was criticizing, probably, just surprised. It took a couple of people getting up to convince everyone it was time for ice cream. I went to the toilet and after a brief discussion with my bladder I still had time to pop downstairs for the aformentioned iced dairy treat. I almost asked the clerk whether I was wrong and McDiamard had actually been Empire but instead I commented on the brevity of the first half. She nodded needlessly apologetically. ' The second half is a bit longer.' As I headed back upstairs to the auditorium I noticed a sign with explained the play length. Another fifty-five minutes to go.

Second half. Although it isn't The Mousetrap I'm not going to give away this part of the play. It's fabulously interesting and certainly unexpected and if you do get a chance to see a performance or read it at least I would recommend. I hope you get a chance to share it with a cast as good as this. I once saw the professional Australian Netball team play against a part time team from Sri Lanka. The Ozzy's ran rings around them and offered one of the most extra-ordinarily beautiful dances I've ever seen. That's the difference between this cast and most of the casts I've watched before - it's like second nature for them and it's just extra-ordinary.

At the centre of this section is a speech from 'Henry IV' which brings together the themes of the play, explains the source of his 'madness' and sets up the final scene. As McDiamard reached his crescendo, the apex of his performance, from somewhere in the audience, the Sugarplum Fairy plays. From a mobile phone. In quadraphonic sound. And plays. And plays. It's obvious that whoever's phone it is doesn't want to admit to it like (like they've farted) and are hoping it will go away. Ever the professional Ian stops acting mid-sentence and we wait. No one is laughing. Eventually a young woman, all eyes on her, reaches into her bag, mortified. And the play continues. Sometimes hearing the clerk telling people to turn their phones off a hundred times as people walk in isn't enough.

I knew how Ian felt because I was plagued by miniature distractions all the way through. The pensioner just off to the side who kept repeating the funnier jokes, the legs of the no-lipped man sitting next to me knocking together now and then and the mint guzzler behind me. She had a packet of Trebor Extra-Strong mints in her handbag. Ritually, ever five minutes she would unclip her hand bag, click, pull out the mints, rip open the top of the packet, slosh one in her mouth, wrap the mints back up and then put them back in her bag, clicking it shut. Why not just keep them out. WHY ARE YOU MAKING SO MUCH NOISE?!?!?

Then the play ended. It felt that sudden. There was flurry of activity on stage, then some of the calm which usually follows. I checked my watch as subtly as I could and decided there was a good twenty minutes to go. Brief exchange between James and Ian and it was over. Lights down. Same moment of puzzlement from the audience as had happened in the interval, then lights up and masses of applause. I gave James Lance a thumbs up. I think he saw me. It was the last night and I thought someone should tell him how good they had all actually been.

So there we have the Donmar Warehouse's production of Tom Stoppard's translation of Pirandello's Henry IV. Patient. Exciting. And gratifyingly brief.
Film The Observer belatedly (but thoroughly) covers the non-release of the film adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation. Whatever you do, don't ask Miramax about it though:
"Since then, noises have occasionally been made about a possible release - in spring of this year, for example - only for the wires to once again go quiet. Among those involved with the film, all this has led to an evident tetchiness. An email to one of the key players, tentatively asking if I might be allowed to see it, brought forth the following reply: 'Just leame [sic] alone, ass hole."
The piece also looks at it from Christina Ricci's point of view -- this apparently one of her best performances and it's stuck in a vault somewhere. That must be frustrating.