Extraordinary Ear

Music M. Elizabeth Coy at Mental Yoga presents a dilligent yet fabulously witty analysis of what's changed in Fiona Apple's album Extraordinary Machine between the bootlegs and the release version. On "Window":
"What the hell happened to this song? Is this what happens when a producer goes mixing-mad in the studio or when a frustrated artist punishes the company that shelved her album for two years? I can't even explain, except that almost non-existant instrumentals on the verses used to match the piano on the chorus, without the extraneous synth, and if you just listen to the chorus of Window, you'll understand why this is a great improvement. Of course, even the vocals have been changed on this track, with changes in tempo, melody, and emotion. I greatly prefer the original to this mashup of over-produced, over-mixed bizarreness."
I forsee there being some debate online about which is the more valid edition and indeed there will be some who might throw together mix-cds that include tracks from both versions. Shades of the great White Album debate.

"I started out admiring him, then feeling sorry for him, and now I'm even more convinced that he is someone special." -- Michael Palin

TV Much as a continue to love Michael Palin's travelogues, one feature has never been the same since that first series Around The World In Eighty Days. I've tried many times and failed to put into words why these later series don't quite have that special quality. Now Ian Jones at Off The Telly perfectly captures my misgivings:
"Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Sahara and Himalaya are all journeys for the sake of it, uninhibited by time, and far more sporadic. As enjoyable as they are, each episode fails to pick up where the previous one left off. Viewers are still continually reminded what day it is, but such distinctions become irrelevant. We're supposed to think the fact it's "Day 59" carries weight. In truth it means nothing, and actually clutters rather than clarifies what's going on. The journeys are always mildly interesting notions in and of themselves, but somehow not the real deal, and nowhere near as compulsive an idea for a TV programme as one so beautifully simple and complete that it can be summed up by, yes, a simulated one-sided phone call."
Plus, for various reasons the new series are not filmed in one continuous filming block. They're done in sections, so that day 59 is the 59th day of shooting rather than 59 days in the Sahara, something which isn't always made explicit. For someone who likes to see the cracks this can be frustrating.

But we still love him and everything he does.

See also this great essay by Palin about his interest in Vilhelm Hammershoi, written at about the time his documentary about the painter was broadcast.

Night of lights in the night

That Day Bonfire night is in full swing with temporary lights popping all over the sky. As usual, up here at the top of the world, we can can see right across the park towards the Mersey on one side of the corner windows and past Toxteth to Liverpool Cathedral and the Pier Head. Three organised displays tend to be going at the same time, plus all of those which people are letting off in their gardens or in the parks. At about eight o'clock the sky is going to be filled with lighting signalling that the holiday season is drawing near. I'm just deciding what kind of music to play this year...

"What are you, my Zen master? Can I be in control of my own mind?" -- President Josiah Bartlet

TV Content for the upcoming live episode of The West Wing (1999-). Spoilery for anyone who hasn't watched past Season Four (me) but interesting. [via]

A surprise to no one.


You're so weird, you think you're *totally* normal. Right?
But you wig out even the biggest of circus freaks!
You Are 70% Weird
How Weird Are You?

[But really, you should see the questions. I mean who wouldn't rather be in the middle of country were you don't speak the language than some random street corner?] [via]

Hamlet With Cowboys

... and Bruce Willis as Hamlet Snr. Back to the pool again.


Site News I've been experimenting with the template for the blog. If you an RSS reader, go there now. It's really just some tinkering with the format of the posts. I've been using headlines in the RSS feed for months and I wanted to bring them to the main page, but I could never blend them with the date stamps very well. I thought about the content of the site, that it's not really about one thing and wondered how important that date is anyway. So I've dipped it underneath post and put it into bold. So it's still there but de-emphasised, with the title of each post front and centre instead. I'm still including those erzats catagories because I've been using them since day one and they still point to the content of the post after what can often admittedly be a pretty obscure or ecclectic title -- this effort will force me to have more clarity and for them to be less of a throw away. Plus I might change my mind one day and I'll be able to keep format. Please feel free to offer your comments or flames...

"Everybody's an act. Including you." -- Angela Chase

Film I have a Google News search set up in Bloglines for My So-Called Life (1994). Sometimes the results point to nostalgia pieces or if a former cast member randomly marries a rich scotsman (I wonder how AJ Langer's doing in that castle). But usually it's the Claire Danes news channel and lately there have been hundreds of interviews and reviews of her new film, Shopgirl (2005) in which she plays opposite Steve Martin and is generally being described at this year's Lost In Translation (2003). Actually the word has been mixed, but only in that wildly opposite 'Love It!' 'Hate It!' way of things. This review in Buffalo News is the best yet and frankly creates a warm glowy feeling. The final paragraph does it:
"And it gives a lot of people what they've been waiting for since she was an ultra-realistic smart-aleck teen on TV's "My So-Called Life" - Claire Danes as a major American movie actress."
I suppose you have to be certain age watching that darn television series to understand the cult of Danes. I've probably seen all of her released films and although some of them have been bad, she hasn't been awful in any of them. In fact often she's been the one performance which has held them together. Even in something like Terminator 3 (2003) when she'd be forgiven for being overshadowed by the special effects, the best moments are the characters scenes between her and that other underated actor Nick Stahl. I thought that Stage Beauty (2004) was going to break her but that got largely ingnored because it wasn't another Shakespeare In Love (1994) or Romeo and Juliet (1996) for that matter. So if this is the film which finally garners her the screen recognition she's always deserved, good luck to her. Now about that re-union film ... Bess Armstrong's available ...

You're not the boss of me now...

Quote "Guess what else I'm not the boss of." -- Joss Whedon comments on the dvd box art for the Region One release of Serenity. [context] After the studio decided not to release the film in Israel, Joss said "I'm not the boss of this."[/context] [via]

Is this a ... I see before me?

Theatre "The BBC Much Ado employs the same device, through a sonnet read at a wedding, but, while none of the scripts are badly written, they settle for the vernacular banter of mainstream peaktime drama. It's not the fault the writers that they can't compete with Shakespeare, but it may seem strange to future generations that Hollywood proved more respectful towards Shakespeare than the BBC. Drama producers probably wouldn't commission a series of plays based on the plots of opera because there wouldn't be much point without the singing. Shakespeare's plots without the language also lack the singing and the point." -- Mark Lawson on the new BBC Shakespare adaptations, which are probably worth it just for this week's cover of the Radio Times.

Darth Serendipitous

Film "Star Wars, at its secret, spiky intellectual heart, has more in common with films like Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books or even Matthew Barney's The Cremaster Cycle than with the countless cartoon blockbusters it spawned. Greenaway and Barney take the construction of their own work as a principal artistic subject, and Lucas does, too. "This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level," one of John Ashbery's works begins. Star Wars, we might say, is concerned with plot on a very plain level. Everything about the films, from the opening text crawls to the out-of-order production of the two trilogies, foregrounds the question of plot. As an audience, we grapple with not just the intricate clockwork of a complex and interwoven narrative, but, in postmodern fashion, with the fundamental mechanics of storytelling itself." -- Aidan Wasley considers the saga as 'The greatest postmodern art film ever.'


Life I'm using the easyinternet cafe at Clayton Square shopping precinct in Liverpool. As I've said before, it's convenient but really it's a horrible place to do anything constructive online. I think the chair I'm sitting on is broken. Really why is that man in a grey tracksuit pacing up and down and looking around? It's unnerving.


Obituary Michael Piller has died. The man was the father of modern Star Trek and television sci-fi in general.

Tape measure?

Photography That would be offputting.

He walked the line.

Ego I was right! Also, is anyone else using blogspot being asked to do the text entering test every time they want to post something? I feel I've been speeding on a motorway and a policeman is asking me to walk the line.

No we're never gonna survive ...

Music The new Alanis Morissette single Crazy heralds the release of a Greatest Hits album. The Collection.*

What I wanted is a kicking new tune which recalls the easy, dizzy heights of Jagged Little Pill and her best single release in years, ready to dash up the charts through word of mouth.

What I would have settled for is an acoustic version of the Patsy Cline song, idiosyncratic but special, the perfect way to end a mix tape.

What you get is a demented cover of the Seal hit in a return to her pre-Pill days. I've heard of kisses to the past but did she have to go as far back as Now Is The Time? When Jewel Kilcher made a pop record, she was being Ironic (I think). This is done without a hint of that. It opens with few bars of an organ which sounds like it was sampled at a funeral and heads off into one of those samples that is really familiar but you can't quite remember were you heard it before. I'm listening to it over and over hoping for something good and actually there is some nice vocalisation in the middle-eighth but it just seems so ... backwards.

Good lord I'm in a snarky mood tonight.

*Given that I own everything else she's released it's either totally inessential or I'll buy it in three years from ebay to complete my collection.

K9 and Company.

TV Who was K9 and Company made for? It's about a robot dog with a laser snout so you'd think -- kids. But consider. Witchcraft. Smoking. Heavy drinking. Poor driving. Chunky knitwear. Long scenes of people sitting around in living rooms just talking about ... stuff. Very little onscreen action. Incomprehensible dialogue "I rendered aggressor insensible. Suggest he is pinioned." More chunky knitwear. More incomprehensible dialogue -- "This soil has a PH of 6." Human sacrifices.

My only two favourite moments (other than finding out that Sarah Jane is Guardian reader, thank goodness) were both connected with the use of sound. When Sarah goes to pick up Brendan at the station, the only evidence that he's stepping away from the platform is the sound of a train whistle in the background. It's a perfect example of creating a setting on a tiny budget and a trick someone obviously picked up from working in theatre. The other is musically when K9 mentions The Doctor and there are just three notes of the Ron Grainer theme. It demonstrates how ingrained that sound is in our collective psyche and I was sad that the timelord wasn't going to burst through the door, all teeth, curls and scarf to give the story a lift.

But then - "Give Sarah Jane Smith my fondest love and I shall remember her always." Does that sound like The Doctor? Can you imagine Tom Baker saying those words? Wrong. Although I love that he dropped the robot dog off in Croydon in 1978 and it's sat in an attic for three years until it's finally been opened by Sarah. I'm guess the silver foil kept the dust off.

The golden rule of spin-offs that you have to assume that your viewer hasn't seen the parent series before and at least make some attempt to pretend that this is a whole new show. The introduction of Sarah Jane is massive fumble. Getting out of car and knocking on a door? Compare and contrast with the opening moments of the first episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer which layers on all kinds of information about who she is and her mission right up front. By the first commercial break the whole premise is set up. Here it's a full twenty minutes before we have any idea who she is and before we meet K9. His introduction scene wise is just about ok, although wouldn't have been too hard to have the whole box fall open for the reveal and not just the front section making him seem a bit shadowy).

Inconsistencies abound:

Brendan: Who is The Doctor?
K9: Exactly.

Is that supposed to be funny or a factual statement?

Really it's not very good is it? There does appear to be a lot going on without anything much happening. There's barely enough to fit one of the short stories which appeared in the subsequent annual which turned up a couple of years later. But whilst that's also true of the Rose episode in the new series, that spent the rest of the time setting up and introducing the main characters. The witchcraft itself doesn't seem to have any real purpose, they don't seem to be trying to do anything in particular with it.

What is it with George Lucas and limbs? I've just been watching Revenge of the Sith again and everyone loses an arm or leg or head. The only person who seems get get away is Obi-One Kenobi, but then he loses his whole body in A New Hope. I know that has nothing to do with K9&Co, but it's been bugging me.

By the end of the episode do we have any idea what the premise of the show will be? Are Sarah Jane and K9 going to be spending all their time in this small village investigating the supernatural or will they be traveling about? How much would they exploit Sarah Jane's journalism and is that going to be the driving force of each story? Is Brendan going to be following them around? It all seems a bit limited to me and I'm not sure that there's hardly enough going on to sustain this one episode let alone a whole series.

This was no way to launch a spin-off. 8.5 million people tuned in to watch and I wonder how many of them talked about it afterwards or were excited enough that they couldn't wait for a series to be made. It does the usual early Eighties approach to tv drama and Doctor Who in particular of taking a really great concept and then drowning it in dull production and poor writing. This is one of those occasions when I'd really wished I hadn't rewatched something because the nostalgia was better than the real thing. Another part of my childhood has been taken away...

Bells and bunches of flowers

Quote "And perhaps just as importantly, I learned that you can define love and life on your own terms. Our families and friends came together from all over the country and all over the world to bring us together. Other couples who inspired us overcame obstacles ranging from family pressure to geography to finances to legal prohibitions to old-fashioned cold feet to build a commitment to each other. And in the end, that inspiration is what we're trying to honor by making this step together." -- Anil's married. Congratulations Mr. Dash.

Shiny discs

DVD Busy day at Whedonesque, as well as a link to this letter from Joss which appears with the Angel (1999-2004) boxset, they've also mention of the artwork for the region one release of Serenity (2005). I hated the poster campaign for the theatrical and this cover isn't much better. I mean how hard is it to make those guys look cool. This looks like a Chronicles of Riddick (2004) knock off. What's so difficult about having a money shot of the whole crew with the ship? I mean it worked for the Firefly (2002) shiny release.

Do ya wanna?

Film At the risk of the blog becoming a shallow news update on male facial hair.

Mel Gibson.

Someone at BBC Online obviously saw that photograph and couldn't help themselves. Gaze into those eyes too -- I haven't seen Mel look like that since the 'Do ya wanna?' speech in Lethal Weapon (1987).

The news story itself is about Gibson's new film project about Mayans. Apparently he wants to "shun 'European faces' to keep it authentic." Oddly enough this past couple of weeks at college we've been studying Passolini's Arabian Nights referencing Edward Said's book on Orientalism [wiki] This seems like another extrapolation of that.

But it also reminds me of an interview I remember reading years ago with one of the script writers on the original Star Trek motion picture who was having producer problems. At one point the script was finally going well and then the producer had been watching National Geographic one morning before a meeting, came in and said he wanted the whole thing overhauled to include Mayans because they seemed 'spiritual' and 'cool'. The writer walked...

Dyslexic Heart

Music I was in Manchester yesterday shopping and for college reasons. I visited Vinyl Exchange. I nearly bought The Best of Paul Westerberg. Then I saw the title and thought better of it. The Best of Paul Westerberg is called ...


This was the scariest thing I saw through the whole of Halloween. No wonder the man has his hand over his face on the cover, as though he can't look. I couldn't buy it after that. Why not just call it The Best of Paul Westerberg and be happy with that? Why go that extra crazy mile?

I bought the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge instead.

Noam Chomsky's nose

That Day It took about two hours from waking up on my birthday yesterday to realise that thirty-one isn't that old. It was at about that time I saw the cover of The Guardian's G2 supplement which featured a photograph, a close up of Noam Chomsky which seemed to have been taken to highlight the hairs on his nose. The man has a small forest there. I've seen the tip of my nose and there are folicles so certainly potential but that I'm not there yet made me feel much better. But really what was the photographer thinking? Not very flattering. I unfortunately left the picture on the train back from Manchester so you'll have to take my word for it (unless someone would like to send me a scan and I'll post it). You can read the actual interview here. His nose isn't mentioned.

A bit parky in here

Quote "It seems impossible for Parky to be able to conduct any sort of press interview without prattling on about being not only a journalist, and therefore supremely and even uniquely qualified to interview the rich and famous (which logic rules out David Frost but rules in Johnny Vaughan), but also bemoaning everyone else's efforts in the same field. This very week we we're faced with yet another diatribe by Parkinson in the Radio Times in the form of an interview by one Benji Wilson (who we assume is a journalist and therefore fit to ask somebody questions off a sheet) which has produced in typical fashion a raft of useless answers from someone who really should know better." -- TV Cream hates Michael Parkinson for some pretty good reasons. Now. He's been known as the king of the world and he's been a friend of mine for many years since I interviewed Cassius Clay, Lauren Bacall and Leonard Rossiter. Will you give a warm welcome please to ...

The Think Of It

TV The BBC are streaming their BBC Four political comedy, The Thick Of It on their website. Even looks great in dial-up. UK only viewers though.

Hell men

Film That's the last thing I expected to see at Cinematical. Jennifer Ellison and Mayonnaise. I once saw Ellison on Church Street in Liverpool City Centre. She'd been shopping and had lots of bags and was walking along with a look-at-me expression on her face. No one was. Well apart from me. But I was just startled.