Sefton Park, New South Wales.

Photography I recently bought this extraordinary postcard from Ebay. It's of the bridge overlooking the fairy glen in Sefton Park around the corner from where I live. It seems to be late-nineteenth century and certainly captures a place and time, since if you stand in the same place now, the horizon is filled with houses and roads and a century's worth of progress.

Which would have been an excellent reason to buy it anyway. But look at the stamp that was on the envelope that it came in.

Somehow this ended up in Australia, New South Wales according to the address on the back of the envelope from the seller. There's nothing written on the reverse -- it was never used.

Did it emigrate with someone as a reminder of home?


Weblogs "The blog entries are PDFs. What on earth do they think they are doing? Why use a PDF? Blog entries are supposed to be easy to read in your browser at the click of a button, they shouldn't involved downloading anything at all, let alone a PDF." -- Suw Charman looks at the 'blog' of Watson Farley & Williams, an international legal firm and finds it wanting. I mean, really, the posts are in PDF files?


Jobs I'm job hunting today and since I'm looking at all possibilities, I'm finding some very unusual opportunities, especially at the Job Centre Plus site. In amongst clubs looking for Poll Dancers and factories looking for Lingerie Quality Control Experts, I found an 'essay agency', for which the job description suggests that a student would hire the agency to write an essay for them, and the agency in turn would ask you to do the work for fifteen pounds an hour. It sounds like the perfect job, but ethically dodgy, especially if you're then going to list it on a CV -- also isn't the student trusting that the agency has grade-A writers on their books who are able to write an essay that will match their ability? But really my favourite so far has to be this advert from The Stage:
"Ask A Man?
We need articulate, caring men who can listen & give no-nonsense, straight forward, honest advice, by video and telephone, to help women understand men!

Flexible hours, earn up to £20 an hour.
Full training & support.

Informal Presentation@[some place]
October 27th 9am -12 OR 1pm - 4pm
I don't know if its some new British wing of this organisation, but really, isn't this asking the impossible? I generally don't understand men and I am one.

Click somewhere ...

Bloginalia Can anyone tell how this works?

adopt your own virtual pet!


Liverpool Life This is amazing.

Hit? Miss?

Film "That formula, the theory goes, can then be applied to new scripts. If you were developing a $75-million buddy picture for Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell, Epagogix says, it can tell you, based on past experience, what that script's particular combination of narrative elements can be expected to make at the box office. If the formula says it's a $50-million script, you pull the plug. 'We shoot turkeys,' Meaney said. He had seen Mr. Bootstraps and the neural network in action: 'It can sometimes go on for hours. If you look at the computer, you see lots of flashing numbers in a gigantic grid. It's like 'The Matrix.' There are a lot of computations. The guy is there, the whole time, looking at it. It eventually stops flashing, and it tells us what it thinks the American box-office will be. A number comes out.' " -- Malcolm Gladwell on the men who think they know the formula for how a film works.

This impressive article is worth reading simply for its breakdown of how films can create a different reaction in a range of spectators. My issue is whether the formulas that are being postulated aren't common sense. It's very easy to look at something unrelated to the article like The Blair Witch Project and say -- actually, yes, that was always going to be a runaway success, but even before that really hyped I suspected something was going to happen -- simply because it was providing some fairly formulaic material wrapped in a cloak of something new -- cleverly it let the audience think they were being eclectic when in fact they weren't doing any such thing.

Similarly, even before its release, The Interpretor looked like something with pretensions of being a blockbuster that will probably be something of a failure. It has a story without a clear through line, two stars who tend to do well appearing in interesting films but never really catch fire in blockbusters (depending on the definition) and a director that in this day and age does not have the name recognition that he once did. Even if this had the best script in the world and a killer twist I don't think it would bring in some core sections of the market. But what do I know? I thought The Peacemaker had HIT written all over it.


Blog! I have no idea what this blog is about, but I do love the title.


Ask I'm just wondering, how many people reading this are using a dial-up connection? If you are, do you think that your connection has actually become slower since you began?

Cow Trod Ho

Life Oh what the heck -- there's no point doing something if you're not going to write about it afterwards (well there are some things obviously). Last night I attended a special preview of Torchwood, the new spin-off from Doctor Who that I may have mentioned once or twice. Because I don't want to spoiled it for the few people who care and are reading this, I'm going to save the overly excitable madascheese review I knocked out into the wee small hours last night until Monday when everyone else has been there, but all I will say is that it's brilliant. Really, truly brilliant. Life on Mars, first season of Spooks, Whedonesque brilliant. I can only echo Graham's comments in a post which is also one of the funniest things I've read today. Most of the crowd at were winners of a competition through the BBC7 website so I'm not sure how many were 'fans' or just the generally interested. What I can say is the reaction was great, with people laughing throughout and gasping in all the right places. Although I'm sure only a fan would say it was worth a round trip to Manchester from Liverpool (or Coventry in the case of my neighbour) for an hour's worth of entertainment. But sometimes, you just have to be there ...

Pitched up

Film Erik Blevin's Kick Ass Movie Pitches. Why is my favourite 'Die Hard in a skyscraper building'? Who wouldn't want to see that? Before someone comments. I know. [via]

Theatre Museum, Liverpool?

Theatre The story of the closure of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden as taken an interesting twist with the news that the local council is bidding to bring the collection to Liverpool. Not much information yet, but I do have to ask -- where would it go and who would have responsibility for it? National Museums Liverpool or the council or a private investor?

'But I've just traveled in from Liverpool and I've also taken two taxis to get here. You have to let me in!'

Life So it's 3:45 and I'm clock watching. I need to be in Manchester, by 6:15 and I can't be late. Work, which isn't exactly in the centre of town, ends and I dash out onto the road and start walking. A taxi comes. And we get stuck in traffic on Renshaw Street. I'm clock watching. A train is leaving in five minutes. Get to Lime Street Station and make the rookie mistake of giving the driver a ten pound note. Waiting seemingly ages for him to find a five pound note. Dash across the concourse and the train is still there. Get the ticket booth. Order the ticket. The card machine splutters through the pin acceptance. Get ticket. Run through ticket checkers, just as the conductor blows his whistle. I roar, out loud, for the first time in my life. Stroll back onto the concourse. New plan, new train, in five minutes. By pasta meal deal to tide me over. Dash through and get on train. Driver tells me it'll be at Manchester Oxford Road for 5:33. Plenty of time to dash across town. Eat dinner as we pass through Warrington Central. Then at 5:26 the train stalls. We sit in the carriage, all glancing at each other. One girl reading a book smiles at me. Then she smiles at everyone else and I realise I'm not being singled out. 5:30. The driver announces that a train in front of us has broken down and he's waiting for instructions for them to push it into the station. Collective groan. 5:45. I'm getting worried. 5:47. Train moves again. 5:54. Stop. 5:55. Start. 5:59. In the station. Run across the bridge between platforms, dash out of the station and the free bus I was expecting that would have taken me to Victoria is missing. Or not there. Dash out onto Oxford Road, and jump into a taxi. Give my destination, and I'm traveling again. Stuck in traffic. I'm watch watching. It's 6:10. I'm there. It starts at 6:15. I dash through the foyer and stop someone to ask them were I need to go. He tells me. I dash up the escalator, through three floors. Notice someone else going in the same direction to the same place. After some tooing and frowing with security ('Half of the names aren't on my list and I'm just a temp', she says) I dash through into the place where I'm doing the thing. I sit at the front. I'm inevitable chatting with the person sitting next to me. I'm about to describe how I got there, because I can't believe what I went through to get there, and I ask them how they got there, expecting a bus, perhaps some walking. 'Coventry', they say. Always remember that someone else has probably had a greater trial in life than you. But oh the mystery. Why did I travel all the way out to another city? Where was I sitting chatting to this man? What was I doing? All will be revealed Sunday. Which should give some people a clue ...

Some ordinary Joe.

TV The Stage is reporting Kudos, the independent production company behind, Spooks, Hustle and Life On Mars has been commissioned by ITV1 to create a new drama.

Ordinary Joe is about: “life and the ramifications of decisions you make and what determines your destiny. It follows one man’s life in four different ways but each narrative takes place in the same timescale. It will use the same cast to tell the different stories. It explores to what extent you can shape your own future.”

Bizarrely this isn’t a completely new idea – it sounds very similar to range of films including Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blind Chance (1987), Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run (1998) and the underrated 11:14 (2003) – oh and all right Sliding Doors (1998). But the genius of Kudos’ other work has been distilling a range of influences to create something that still feels fresh and new.

The real story here is probably that ITV1 are going out on a limb and actually commissioning something with such an experimental concept. It’s not clear from the description the extent to which the fantasy elements will lead the story, but the channel’s recent flirtations with genre have been mixed. The Eleventh Hour with Patrick Stewart and Ashley Jenson was dulled by bizarre directorial choices, imagery and a publicity campaign that tried to describe the series as speculative drama rather than science fiction (oh really, and the difference is?). After Life with Lesley Sharp and Andrew Lincoln is better and currently enjoying a second series.

The real trick for Ordinary Joe will be selecting the correct time slot – let’s just hope they don’t do something silly, like play it opposite Life On Mars as a spoiler…

Not only, but ...

Elsewhere I have been busy. In brief, Ordinary Joe, Kevin Kline plays Hamlet, Koichi Nishi played by Toshiro Mifune and my favourite, putting Shakespeare's plays in historical order.

07 Kevin Kline

Hamlet played by Kevin Kline
Directed by Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline's production and performance was one of the key experiences I was looking forward to in this endeavor. During the Hamlet documentary that inspired everything (mentioned in the introduction), Kline was one of the most lucid in regards to the effect the part has on an actor and the sheer endurance required in getting from the young dane seeing a ghost and becoming one. He tells an anecdote about being on stage and being so exhausted during a run that he forgot where he was up to in 'To Be Or Not To Be' - he'd said 'to die, to sleep' but couldn't remember if it was for the first or second time and so he ploughed on ahead certain that if he had skipped a few lines the audience would have heard it anyway.

Kline's is a very moist Hamlet. By that I mean during much of the play its rare that he passes through a scene without welling up, the sheer weight of Hamlet's endeavor and its psychological effects dwell upon his face at all times. I think in the documentary he mentions how emotionally draining the experience is and watching the actor as he runs the gamut of emotions its easy to believe. It's measured too - at first there's a hint of going through the motions as though he's holding back some reserves for later in the play, but then, in the appearance of Hamlet Snr, he snaps to attention and he begins to convince. Kline says that in this version (the second time he'd played the character) Hamlet it borderline mad, and actually this is quite a straightforward reading in that way - I didn't detect that he was feigning madness - he appeared to be floating in and out of the malady.

The confrontation with Gertrude just after the manslaughter of Polunius, so often played as though her son is convincing her of his sanity and bringing her into his confidence, she simply seems to be coping with her son, actress Dana Ivey's eyes reflecting that she's humoring her daffy offspring. The selected intermission reflects these readings, appearing after Hamlet and Ophelia's only (if not private) scene together which confirms once and for all his madness. But then, cleverly, once he's been to England, R&G are dead and he's seen the deceased Ophelia and he understands to an extent what the end game will be, the tears dry and he's a much, much more controlled character. Yet, his still seems a surprise, not something predetermined. His performance is subtler than most, but none the worst for it. Sometimes the shouters lack texture.

The rest of the ensemble features many actors that would go on to appear in multiple episodes of the Law & Order franchise (work your way through the imdb cast list). Josef Sommer's Polunius, comes across as a Shakespearean detective using interrogations and tests to examine the form and nature of Hamlet's madness - the fishmonger sequence in particular is presented from his point of view and lacks the asides that some Hamlet actors drop in to show who's in charge - in this case Polonius is. Brian Murray's Claudius is surprisingly sympathetic much of the time, which should work against the character especially in the closing act but somehow works - he deeply regrets what he has done to his brother and is looking for a way to save his kingdom. Oh and, heroically, Leo Burmester's Osrich enters my fantasy casting - he's portrayed as an English gent rubbing up nicely to Kline's American - I thought of Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler.

Something that is noticeable is the emphasis on Hamlet's absentia. Whether this was a decision taken by Kline as an actor and director to give himself a breather obviously isn't clear, but its a far more democratic production than some. Embarrassingly, this is the first time I've noticed that a full month passes within the first few acts of the play (either that or its generally ignored) which makes Hamlet's decent into madness far less sudden - and indeed this is exactly what Polonius is describing to Claudius before being called a fishmonger. This also leads to the pleasing appearance of Fortinbras, so often cut in shorter productions, who's story as presented here contrasts Hamlet - they're both much the same age and both attempting to avenge their fathers. Everything Ophelia is there too, including a short speech after Hamlet leaves her for the last time, so often omitted. Also welcome is the run-up to The Mousetrap including the Player King's turn. Impressively, Kline has managed to drop in everything that's usually omitted in a production that times out at two and a half hours, without obviously wrecking the momentum.

In the main then, this recording of the production produced for New York Shakespeare Festival and broadcast in 1990, doesn't disappoint. This isn't a recording of a performance before an audience, rather a transplanting of everything into a television studio - which is a shame actually because in places it deadens the drama as moments that may have been electrifying with spectator reaction don't quite have the same power - the Hamlet/Gertrude post-Mousetrap debrief for example (although I suppose it depends what kind of audience you're expecting - I gasped and wonder if a crowd might have too). Non-specific modern dress with simply sets pretending to be stone with lighting and dry-ice employed to create mood and landscape; the 'wooden' floor is particularly noticeable and the deep edges of the floorboards become props in places, for example during Ophelia's decent into madness, excellent actress Diane Venora (who would later play Gertrude in Michael Almereyda's film) claws away at the floor.

As with all of these recorded theatre productions, there is a sense, unavoidably, that half of the production is lost because of the requirements of its new media - in other words a lot of acting going on, but only the decisions of the director revealing what he believes to be important. This can obviously slant further the decisions of actors and the stage director so you do have to tread carefully when commenting. There are some spectacular moments though; after the ghost leaves, Hamlet faints, falling from the battlements into the waiting arms of Horatio and the guards (which demonstrates a lot of trust amongst the company), the image mirrored at the end of the presentation as the Dane is carried off to a military funeral by Fortinbras's men. The duel too has a kineticism, but has an added twist of Laertes allowing the palpable hit, almost as though he's given up and wants Hamlet to win. The only read disaster is the music. A hodge-podge of percussive instruments and oh-god synthesizer music recorded by Bob James that sounds for all the world like the material that ruined some of Doctor Who during the eighties. It's particularly destructive during Hamlet's death scene, Kline's final moments steamrollered by James mickey-mousing. Ugh.

There's a review of the original stage production in 1990 at the New York Times, and also of Kline's earlier attempt in 1986. On reflection I have to agree with much of what the reviewer says, although I'd say that that the scene in which Kline directs 'The Murder of Gonzago' is the moment when he truly shines.

New Canon

Theatre Could a new play soon be added to Shakespeare's canon? Apparently some scientists have used some attribution software and have decided that Arden of Faversham fits his writing style. I'll be very pleased if its agreed and added but my one skepticism is that other than an article in Saturday's Daily Mail this has not been big news -- no one else seems to care (yet). If you look at Google News, which is a pretty good gauge of the currency of a story, no one is writing about it. But then, they said that about Watergate once.

Liverpool Splendor

Life My old friend Fani is back in the country and is visiting Liverpool. Long term readers will remember how devastating it was when she left and yet there she waved looking almost completely the same, standing in the doorway of Lewis's. We both agreed we'd each put on a bit of weight. She talked about my hair being slightly longer -- I was simply wigged out that she was there. We each pinched each other to make sure.

It's funny how even after a couple of years people can fall back into patterns. I think I've changed but being around her I've realised that actually parts of me haven't changed a bit. Somehow I still managed to make a whole Costa Coffee shop turn and look when I shouted her name across to our table seats in the window to ask if she wanted a muffin (her name is pronounced to rhyme with nanny). I'm still better at giving advice when asked rather than following my own common sense.

And now she's going again, back down south. I've only seen her for a few hours (she is staying with other friends) but everything I said in those two linked posts above still stands. It really doesn't help that I think I'm on the tail end of a cold so not exactly in the altogether -- also the reason I didn't attend the Manchester Blog Awards. After watching American Splendor tonight I'm beginning to hope that this isn't just a state of mind.

He s'word

TV As Russell T Davies would say: Hoorah!.

Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru (1960)

Koichi Nishi played by Toshiro Mifune
Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Or The Bad Sleep Well for the English translation. Akira Kurosawa's approach to Hamlet (in TohoVision!) reminds me of the quip Eric Morcambe once made to Andre Previn during a Christmas spectacular. "I'm playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order." Which isn't to say that in this admirable film anything is in the wrong order. Rather than slavishly following the beats of Shakespeare's story, Kurosawa reconfigures the icons, so that the Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude, Horatio, Laertes and Polonius become apparent as does the deployment of a ghost, as is the motivation for the Hamlet figure Koichi Nishi's revenge. The approach is refreshing, since although I loved both Throne of Blood and Ran, its good to be in the territory of influence rather than retelling.

For me, the film has more in common with old Hollywood than the bard. The opening has hints of the early Frank Capra films written by Robert Riskin, a gaggle of newsmen following and commenting on the police investigation into the company that stands for this retelling's Elsinore. As the story proceeds the framing of shots and the cold anti-hero status of Toshiro Mifune's Nishi who will stop at nothing, even reducing his identity to a shadow smacks of film noir and the gangster films of the forties and fifties, particularly the work of John Huston and Fritz Lang, both of whom revelled in the darker edges of society. Lang in particular often featured a female character with some kind of disfigurement similar to Keiko (Ophelia)'s lame foot. Nishi is complex rather than sympathetic, his methods only vaguely different from those that wronged him.

Oddly enough, my favourite moment is early in the film when Tatsuo Iwabuchi (Laertes) gives his wedding speech. He's played by Tatsuya Mihashi who was the genial lead overdubbed in Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily? to become Phil Moscowitz and initially he seems to confer that geniality here. The opening of the speech is fairly natural best man stuff, a few jokes, and then from nowhere he notes that if Nishi doesn't treat his sister correctly he'll kill him. This is not a joke. He's deadly serious. But cleverly, Kurosawa films him from behind allowing us to see the reaction of the congregation for whom this threat is as unexpected as it is for us. Joe Pesci's Funny How from the overrated Goodfellas is a fair comparison. Only the intervention of an elder who congratulates his passion allows the proceedings to continue.

Chuck Stephens has written an excellent essay on the film, The Higher Depths.

Torch Sherwood

TV Something I did wonder -- who in the BBC had the wisdom of showing trailers for the distinctly post-watershed Torchwood in and around the apparently family show Robin Hood? Although there is obviously some audience crossover, there really is a grey area in relation to creating a problem for parents having to tell their kids that no, actually they can't watch this fantastic looking new sci-fi series thats a spin-off from Doctor Who. But then there are adverts for 18 certificate films pre-watershed ...