Film In a bizarre but pleasing movie, ITV4 broadcast a recording of last week's Independent Spirit Awards tonight. Apart from the absolutely excruciating red carpet preamble in which the likes of Angelica Houston and Andie McDowell looked somewhat embarrassed by the attentions of the presenter who was apparently a 'comedian' and 'flirting' it was entertaining stuff. Like The Baftas, it was largely a chance to see clips from lots of films I haven't seen although in this case it was, with the exception of the main categories, films I'll probably never see.

Which is a shame because most of them look to be a hundred times more interesting or entertaining than the dross that was released in the UK this week. The more I see that promo clip of Nic Cage explaining the plot of Ghost Rider to Eva Mendes, the most I'm thinking about selling my own soul to the devil, so that I can used a fiery sceptre to burn down all the multiplexes. I'm out of the habit of going to the cinema because of a general expectation that there's noting on and I might as well stay home and see what lovefilm decide to send through.

Sarah Silverman was a genial host but it looked like all of her best material was cut for time or content. Being about the only reason I would watch an episode of Star Trek: Voyager again, Silverman has that rare ability of being instantly funny without the smugness that sometimes entails. On this occasion though I think she was upstaged by Lily Tomlin's routine during the Robert Altman tribute in which the actress managed to do some Downey Jr. material whilst he was actually standing there.

Happy to see Pan's Labyrinth receive some Spirit for cinematography although it looked totally out of place next to all of the stories about small town America. Of course Little Miss Sunshine won everything, a film I avoided at the cinema because of the uk critical reaction which was generally pretty mixed. In accepting their awards everyone connected with the film stressed how difficult it had been to get the film into production and the reaction in the room at its mere mention suggested that they saw it as their collective representative in the majors, sorry The Oscars (TM).

Links for 2007-03-02 [] - Rmail

  • filmlog: This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
    Despite some odd structuring in which the documentary suddenly becomes about the lives of the PIs rather than the overall subject, this quietly demonstrates why the uks's BBFC is far less evil than I probably thought as a teenager.
  • BBC Press Office: BBC and YouTube partner to bring short-form BBC content to online audiences
    One of the big online stories of the day, which I'm sure is fairly exciting if you're on broadband. Which I'm not. And BT have just emailed to say that they're putting up the price of dial-up because it's not cost effective anymore. Bollocks.
  • Britannica Blog: book excerpt: 'Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards' by Bronwyn Cosgrave
    Six random chapters from the forthcoming book which look fascinating and go on the list of things I'll get around to reading sometime. It's a very long list.
  • Tom Cruise's starring role in 'Watchmen' narrowly averted
    I know there'll be at least one reader of this blog who'll be breathing a sigh of relief.
  • Year 10,000 problem
    Assuming my Win98SE machine lasts that long ...
  • Jacqueline Pearce: My Home Is A Tent In Africa!
    The actress who played Servalan in 'Blake's 7' is moving to Africa indefinitely to look after monkeys. Good luck to her. In the post she sounds like someone who's finally found some inner peace.
  • Grace Dent's TV OD: The Talk of Tinsletown
    "With 200 more minutes of Oscar coverage to go I've slightly lost the will to live. I decide to watch a bit of Sky+ Relocation, Relocation instead. This doesn't improve my mood. Why does everyone need two homes nowadays?"
  • 34 Reasons Why Readers Unsubscribe from Your Blog
    "Blog Titles that Don’t Tell what the post is about - 5" Really? What about the element of surprise?
  • Liverpool Confidential: Longing to be published?
    A chance to have a short piece about Liverpool, between 50 and 500 words published to celebrate World Book Day.
  • National Museums Liverpool Blog: Lion comes home to Liverpool
    I hadn't realised this was the same machine that appeared in 'The Titfield Thunderbolt'! As a child I always loved seeing it in the then Transport Gallery at Liverpool Museum.
  • Liverpool Art and Culture: Artinliverpool Celebrities in Today's Daily Post
    Art In Liverpool's Ian Jackson appears in the local paper. Nice place you have there.
  • "The Outstanding Exhibit"

    Architecture The newly restored model of the Liverpool church that never was, the Lutyen's largely unused design for a Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral is an imposing mass within the gallery space at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where it is currently being exhibited. Positioned at the opposite end of the display gallery from the entrance it conferring on the space and its visitors the same reverence as any completed architecture. The only way to look properly inside is to kneel down in front so that you can look down the specially lit naive and it's impossible not to crook your head slightly to try and get a better look at the dome inside which due to the presentation of the work is hidden tantalizingly out of view.

    Restoration of the model has taken nearly ten years - I know because I attended a talk at the Conservation Centre in 1997 describing the history of the model and work to be done, a story I've been paraphrasing to visitors of Liverpool ever since. I remember seeing the cathedral back then, in the centre of the top floor of the The Walker, its appearance a surprise to many Liverpudlians who assumed that Paddy's Wigwam had been the original concept. It was bashed about and unloved then and now it's a marvel. Not just cleaned up but completed too, Lutyen's original designs used to fill in ideas and proposals not achieved even in the model through lack of funds. Its all been done sympathetically, a collage inside and out of light and dark wood, plaster and metal figures.

    In the accompanying catalogue there is a line drawing prepared for a newspaper that shows how this edifice would have looked in situ. The angle of the picture puts the Lutyen's design in the foreground dwarfing the Anglican Cathedral but it still demonstrates, how, if finished, this building would have dominated the Liverpool skyline, its central dome visible for miles around even as developments swept through the rest of the city. Assuming work had continued on from the completion of the crypt in 1937 (which took three years) and comparing with the schedule of its neighbour, it's possible to infer that construction would still be continuing even now, modern technology utilized to perfect a design generations old.

    Please return your items to the packing area.

    Commerce Self service check outs in supermarkets are evil, especially the ones in Marks & Spencers, particularly those in the Liverpool Church Street store. Apart from the soulless voice of the computer telling me that I need to ask for assistance every few seconds because I'm either using the wrong kind of bag or not scanning the items quick enough which misses the point obviously, it's not entirely clear, once you've paid with notes that the change is returned from two slots at opposite ends of the till. Because if that had been clear I wouldn't have picked up the coins and left a ten pound note still sitting there, only realizing what I'd done at seven o'clock this evening when I'd finished dinner and the shop is closed. I'll be calling them tomorrow to see if it's been handed in. I'll let you know exactly how long the person from Marksies laughs before answering in the negative.

    Links for 2007-03-01 [] - Rmail

  • Alternative Film Guide: STRAW DOGS (1971) by Sam Peckinpah: DVD Review -
    Takes the film critics and writers who appear on the commentary and extras to task for fundamentally misinterpreting and misinforming on most aspects of the work.
  • The A.V. Club Inventory: 13 sidekicks who are cooler than their heroes
    I can't disagree with most of these, although to be honest it's all part of the narrative technique -- the hero tends to be fairly bland so that the audience can identify with them whereas the sidekick needs to be the character to provide the missing colo
  • h2g2: The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896
    "This war is notable for the bizarre reason that it lasted just 38 minutes1. The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on 27 August, 1896 between 9.02 and 9.40."
  • anna kiss: verse occurs
    "it happens that i am looking at my fingernails, / turning my head around, / humming to myself, / rubbing my hands through my hair and mussing it, / squinting and rubbing my head, urging the headache out,"
  • Forgotten Films


    That's about it then. Twenty-eight days, twenty-eight or so films. Some reviews have undoubtedly been better written than others, some choices obviously stretching the definition of the word 'forgotten' to its very limit. I'm embarrassed to note how few choices were from outside my own lifetime but I think I managed to accomplish what I set out to do, which was to highlight that the filmic landscape is an exciting, experimental place and that there are many, many great works of art which have been missed and under-appreciated because they haven't been given enough time under the studio's marketing spotlight to really shine. Please let me know if you seen anything on my recommendation and if you agreed.

    I did notice some themes. As I predicted, the list featured many romances, many narratives with quirky timeframes and weirdly a good few apocalyptic visions. I tried to cover as many different types of film as possible, although there were certain genres such as the western or the musical that were notable by their absence. The former because I've only really seen the classics and the latter because I haven't seen nearly enough. I nearly dropped in RENT which I do think is an underrated film in and of itself, but I don't think it's as forgotten as something like Life Story so what would be the point? You should probably too be pleased that I didn't try and justify a place for the Doctor Who television movie with Paul McGann or make every other entry a Shakespeare adaptation but I wanted to challenge myself a little bit which explains their absence.

    I was challenged. I absolutely appreciate the art of the film reviewer even more now as they have to try and find new ways of saying why they do and don't like some film. You vary your delivery, drifting from analysis to autobiography to didacticism. There was a fear that I'd keep leaning on crutch words like 'juxtaposition', 'absolutely', 'actually', 'exquisite', 'employing' and 'intelligent' but it turns out my vocabulary is larger than I thought. Although actually 'actually' is a very big word for me turning up once, actually even twice in the same review. As did 'although'.

    When I began, the idea was to highlight some great films so that my mate Annette would have something to add to her Netflix list and she says she's done that, which is good. It has been really disappointing though to discover that some of my favourite films aren't available on dvd or have been deleted since a millennial release. I've been sniffy about VHS but in some cases those ribbons of brown tape are the only way to see many of these classics, which is a tragedy, especially as they slowly oxidize from year to year. The problem, I suppose, is that because there isn't a perceived market for them, they're not apparently worth the cost of the transfer.

    This process has also reminded me that film is an ephemeral art form and that studios are more interested in creating new product than venerating what they have. The reason there weren't many films outside my lifetime is because I simply haven't seen them because they're even less available than their contemporary counterparts. Prints get lost, studios close and back catalogues are bought by companies that don't much care for them and the tip of the iceberg, the apparent classics, are re-released ad-infinitum as work from directors and actors and writers created at the same time are lost and yes, forgotten.

    Technology is shifting in our favour though. First steps are already being made towards a system where pay-per-view becomes the norm, and you'll be able to sit on your sofa and pull up all of the content a film company has in their archive in better than dvd quality streamed or downloaded to your television. Imagine the Internet Movie Database if it included an extra option to watch whatever film was listed, whole careers and genres available to us, forgotten films from throughout motion picture history suddenly revived at the touch of a button. A pipedream certainly in a world were distributors of dvds and television channels also need to make a crust, but something to work towards.

    In the meantime, we'll keep hoarding the unloved, the direct to video Australian ensemble comedies, the bizarre sci-fi blockbusters, the obscure televisual science docu-dramas and the animated Shakespearean short. We'll persistently scouring the tv schedules for the unsung b-picture shot on the sets of an A or the small town comedy just a name above the title away from being considered a true classic. We'll continue checking ebay just in case someone decides to part with a nocturnal café comedy or suburban crime drama. We'll persevere with the film companies hoping that a holy grail will be granted a re-release so that we can show it to a friend and say:

    'See, look, I told you it was good.'

    The Play’s the Thing.

    TV On the BBC’s weekly arts strand The Culture Show recently, there was a very good preview of the new theatre production of Pinter’s People, which pulls together all of his collected short work for the first time and features such luminaries as Bill Bailey, Sally Phillips and Kevin Eldon. Coupled with the great number of newspaper interviews and previews about the show, and an appearance by Bailey on Radio 4′s Midweek slot, the production – despite a curmudgeonly two-star review from the Guardian – sounds really exciting.

    For a theatre fan like me who lives outside London, this is, as you’d imagine intensely frustrating. Given the amount of hype that’s surrounding the production, you’d think the producers would look for a way for a much wider audience to see the work and make the most of something that is obviously drawing interest.

    In other words what I’m proposing is that productions such as this could and should be broadcast on television. As we’ll see this isn’t a bizarre idea.

    Historically theatre has always found a place in the schedules, but lately their absence has become noticeable. Writing for the Guardian’s culture blog in relation to the BBC’s recent charter review, John Morrison notes that the perfect way to demonstrate the BBC’s commitment to the arts would be to increase the amount of Shakespeare on the box. I would cast the net wider to theatre in all of its forms.
    It simply doesn’t seem fair that classical music fans get a month of Mozart and the BBC Proms every year, devotees of classic literature are able to watch countless book adaptations (should they want them or not) and even opera and ballet followers can see whole productions on a regular basis (and not just clustered around holiday seasons or bank holidays). Us theatre-lovers can see little or none of the drama they admire on screen – even on BBC4, the last bastion of the minority audience.

    Obviously works for the stage ultimately work best in their natural home, but it seems strange that these art forms can make the jump into another medium so regularly and coherently now, when theatre – which has traditionally been viewed as aesthetically closer to television – has slowly become squeezed out. Indeed, when television began all drama mainly consisted of re-broadcasting existing stage plays by transforming the original into a piece of TV drama.

    The earliest scheduled example was L Allen Harker and FR Pryor’s Marigold in 1936, when selected scenes from a contemporary West End production were broadcast from the studio in the mid-afternoon to what would have been a massive audience at the time of about 300 viewers.

    This selected scenes approach became common, and could be seen in the series Theatre Parade, broadcast over the following two years in which moments from current stage productions were recreated, variety style, at Alexandra Palace. Slowly, whole productions were put before the cameras, with the first full broadcast of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night happening in mid-1937. This was followed later in the year by George Bernard Shaw’s How He Lied to Her Husband, which had the blessing of the writer himself, who visited both the rehearsals and the set.
    In Autumn 1938, another method of broadcasting theatre was introduced – JB Priestley’s When We are Married, which was running to packed houses at St Martin’s Theatre in London, became the first full length play broadcast live “from the stage”.

    In these early days, productions were not viewed by a large television audience, allaying fears within theatre circles that television versions might hurt box office numbers. But what’s really interesting is that, as the number of viewers increased with the resumption of broadcasts after World War II and the new prevalence of regional transmitters, the nature of the plays shown changed. The very day that broadcasts resumed, George Bernard Shaw’s The Dark Lady Sonnets premiered on screen skipping the theatre altogether.

    It’s at this point the strong ties between theatre and television really began to slip as drama began to be written to take full advantage of the medium. By the 1950s, such renowned slots as Armchair Theatre and, later, Play for Today and The Wednesday Play combined with one-off presentations, such as a version of George Orwell’s 1984 written by Nigel Kneale. That isn’t to imply television turned its back on theatre. Contemporary playwrights such as Pinter and Samuel Beckett would take advantage of the new medium and shift between the two, providing material for both, and sometimes work premiering on television would later be shifted to theatre and vice-versa.

    But its classical theatre that, as the decades passed, would begin to recede. Only the BBC’s Play of the Month slot – which ran between 1965 and 1983 – presenting any kind of commitment for showing challenging theatrical works from the past. Gloriously, though, this would be on every fourth Sunday each month and carry everything from Chekhov to Aeschylus, and particularly Shakespeare. Could you imagine something like that happening now, even on BBC4?

    My particular concern is Shakespeare, especially since, if television can’t treat one of the inventors of the English language with respect, what hope do the likes of Camus and Strindberg have? The last most visible act of Bard worship happened between 1978 and 1985, when, despite having covered much of his works in the preceding decades, the BBC set about recording every play in what was then considered the canon. A co-production with America’s Time Life and – oddly enough – an oil company and two banks, it was seen as a landmark, producing excellent versions of plays that could be enjoyed for years to come. However, not all of the productions were critically well received and were often stricken by silly costume syndrome (see the As You Like It for Helen Mirren in a big creme triangular hat so distracting it nullifies her performance). Most, though, do stand the test of time, and this series does include the only filmed record of lesser-known productions such as All’s Well that Ends Well.

    Concurrently, ITV was also producing plays, and even featured Lawrence Olivier’s final appearance in Shakespeare as King Lear in 1983 but dropped out of the “race” in 1988 with Ken Branagh’s adaptation of Twelfth Night – the last time the channel presented Shakespeare with the original text outside of a South Bank Show. The BBC continued with four productions during the Performance slot, which included National Theatre productions of Richard II and King Lear, a version of the whole of Henry IV compressed into a single three-hour drama and an Orwell-influenced Measure for Measure. The latter was part of a two-month celebration called “Bard on the Box”, which included documentaries, repeats of earlier productions, and screenings of what seemed like every film ever made based on Shakespeare’s writing.

    This is when I became really interested in his work, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Compare all that with today, when the appearance of a new Shakespeare on television using the original text has seemingly become an annual occurrence, with only two live broadcasts from the Globe Theatre for Richard II and Measure for Measure and a Christmas outing on Channel 4 for a rare studio-bound Twelfth Night gracing our screens in the past three years.

    Otherwise, in terms of anything that isn’t a documentary – such as Michael York’s excellent In Search of Shakespeare – it’s a repeat showing of the Animated Series on children’s television, or modern day adaptations such as Andrew Davies’ Othello in 2001 and the recent Shakespeare ReTold series, which placed four plays within a contemporary setting – mostly making nonsense of the stories.

    It seems unbelievable that just at a time when the government are committing themselves to keeping Shakespeare on the curriculum, television companies aren’t still presenting quality productions on screen. Instead, the BBC often points to its radio output – broadcasting both classic and new plays meant for the theatre, often in its Drama on Radio 3 slot on a Sunday night – whenever it’s criticized for not supporting theatre.
    Alas, almost all of the plays featured have been written directly for the medium, with their classic serials being adaptations of prose works.

    The most likely appearance of classic theatre is the Bard again. During the Shakespeare Re-Told series, a number of works were run on Radio 3 and BBC7. As a supplement, it’s a perfectly fine idea, but as the substitute it’s essentially become, it does the business of theatre a disservice.
    The problem with theatrical plays on the radio is they’re even further from the real experience and not simply because – well obviously – you can’t see the actors. While there is an intimacy between the performer and listener that would not be possible in a visual setting, I’ve yet to hear something adapted in this style that works to the benefit of the original play. Indeed, sometimes it can make a nonsense of what the writer was trying to accomplish.

    In 2004, much was made of a broadcast on Radio3 of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. What’s often forgotten about Godot is that it’s a very visual play – mixed in with the textual games are many vaudeville influences with some sequences being very suggestive of Laurel and Hardy’s repartee. The presentation made good use of stereo to capture the sound of the two protagonists, Vladimir and Estragon, shifting about the area under the tree. But the director also employed a narrator, literally reading the stage directions out to explain the action that would have been occurring had the play appeared before an audience. There were movements that really could only really amuse visually. Literally, in this format, half the play was missing.

    It would be easy to suggest the reason television has turned its back on theatre is because of the massive transformation of drama production into something more akin to cinema, with much shorter scenes, shot rates and higher quality production values. Except that in the world of soap operas, sitcoms and continuing dramas, not that much has altered. They’re still produced in the style of renowned plays of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. I think it’s actually a perception issue. I think that since “the theatre” denotes “culture” and “quality”, the expectation is that it needs the same budget as so-called “quality” drama, but that the anticipated audience can’t justify the expense.

    In fact, recently there have been some excellent theatre adaptations, such as Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen with Daniel Craig and Stephen Rea, produced on a small budget. The trouble is, it was made for BBC4, a channel whose controller Janice Hadlow admitted recently, “We have to plead limited resources for homegrown drama – of course, we’d like to do more.” Essentially theatre, like so much else, has been shunted to a channel that can’t really afford to do it justice on the budget it has available.

    That said, I’ve never been entirely happy with productions adapted into television drama. Watching comedy in particular can be a flat experience, and the performances – which are often more expressive because they were originated on stage – sometimes look ludicrous in close-up. An exception would be the docu-theatre productions such as BBC4′s broadcast of the Tricycle Theatre’s Justifying War: Scenes from the Hutton Enquiry, which was based on transcripts of the enquiry and had a much subtler emotional landscape than most. My preference is for recordings of theatre productions in-situ, which take into account the obvious issue of suspension of disbelief and – in the best recordings I’ve seen – make the audience as much as part of the entity as the play itself.

    There was an electric moment in BBC4′s transmission of The Day in The Death of Joe Egg where Victoria Hamilton dropped out of character momentarily because Eddie Izzard was off improvising again and she wanted to good-naturedly complain about what she’d been putting up with for weeks. This is the kind of impromptu moment that would not have occurred in a studio-bound reproduction, and the audience’s reaction – no doubt replicated at home – brought the viewer not only into the world of the play, but the theatre space as well.
    The really exciting discovery I made last year is that many theatre companies are sitting on a back catalogue of material that could be made available, providing rights issues and agreements with performers and directors are made. I was fortunate enough to visit the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden before it closed due to a funding crisis. Throughout the exhibition there were screens containing extracts from a staggering number of really important productions.

    A scene from John Osbourne’s Look Back in Anger featuring David Tennant and Kelly Reilly was on a loop and it seems a shame that what looked like a kinetic performance from Tennant is stored but can’t be seen. It slowly became apparent that many theatrical productions are being recorded for posterity and educational use through the National Video Archive of Performance Recordings. Only students of theatre can view these presentations and only in person under their screening conditions.

    Envisage the potential of that production being broadcast on national television just as it might have been in the ’60s. I would imagine there will a number of viewers who haven’t stepped into a theatre in years, and certainly wouldn’t go out of their way to see a groundbreaking example of 50s “angry young man” drama, who would tune in on the strength of appearances from Tennant and Reilly. A proportion of that audience who are intrigued enough by the experience might then seek out similar productions locally or at the very least lose some of the fear that they might have of stepping into an auditorium.

    Unlike opera or ballet which are perennial fixtures on network television but still classed as minority pursuits, theatre has these in-built points of accessibility and they should be taken advantage of to help promote and reinvigorate the one art form that is forever under the radar in comparison to music, film and books. Outside London, you simply can never detect a buzz around some new production unless it’s one of the aforesaid comedy adaptations or musicals. If more people are interested in theatre and attending in greater numbers, the buzz will increase exponentially and – assuming this fantasy can become reality – this could be reflected back into audience figures, as theatre on television once again fulfills the potential it certainly has.

    But, say other doubters, if these kinds of broadcasts become commonplace, ticket sales at the actual theatres will drop because punters could argue there’s no point paying for something you can get for free. The trouble with that opinion is theatre, by its nature, is ephemeral. Particularly in the West End, certain actors will only appear in some plays for a limited time. Like music, the theatre audience witness a production because they want to see how it’s done by that particular company as much as enjoy the narrative itself. No two interpretations are the same. Unless you were at the Theatre Royal in Bath between Monday 14 February and Saturday 19 February 2005, you won’t ever be able to see that version of Look Back in Anger again.

    It seems strange that production companies, predominantly in the West End, aren’t following the lead of film companies and taking advantage of secondary revenue streams, selling the rights for a show to television and DVD release, particularly when there is an A-list celebrity appearing in the production. Profits – once residuals have been paid – could be ploughed back into the company and their favoured theatre, meaning they’re not as “in trouble” as so many of these establishments (not naming any names) seem to be. An excellent example for this model is Jerry Springer: The Opera, which, after a successful – if controversial – broadcast on BBC2, became a best selling DVD.

    People will still attend the theatre in the same way they go to concerts and the cinema for the experience of being there. Television broadcasts and DVD releases would simply provide a way of reminding themselves of the moment, and allow others, like me, to catch up on what they’ve missed.
    It would be good for the audience, because they would be given another dish on the menu of drama and comedy. And by extension, it would also be good for the television companies, particularly the BBC, who could be seen as enriching and highlighting the country’s cultural heritage in a much more substantive way than a phone-in poll.

    As the shape of things stand at the moment, there are still glimmers of hope. In the week I write this, More4 are broadcasting an all-star studio-based production of Harold Pinter’s final play, Celebration. It’s another one-off but it does suggest television companies haven’t completely turned their back on broadcasting theatre. I just wish they would do it more often.

    Tales from the Con

    TV Elisa reports from the floor of the Gallifrey One Convention ... Day One ... Day Two ... Day Three ...

    Links for 2007-02-28 [] - Rmail

  • Dave's Long Box: CIVIL WAAAAH! Marvel Comics, 2007
    Dave's take on Marvel Comic's Civil War arc. I haven't read a cross comic extravaganza since Inferno but this sounded interesting if a bit unwieldy. Remember the old days when it was the supervillains who were behind everything?
  • Liverpool Confidential: End of the line for Lewis's?
    Lewis's in Liverpool City Centre has gone into receivership. Shocking news really because as the linked article said it was once dubbed “the store that even Hitler couldn't kill”. What'll happen to the statue exceedingly bare?
  • Wikipedia: Ian Levine
    For some reason I never realised that the Ian Levine who saved many episodes of Doctor Who from the furnace is the same man who wrote and produced for Take That. Good lord.
  • Popjustice: Let's have a look at the new Avril CD
    Ugh! Although my love for Lavigne's first two cds has been described as 'dubious' this really looks like a step backwards. I mean that font. The hair. The clothes. The colour pink. Ugh!
  • filmlog: It's All About Love (2003)
    Tarkovsky meets Hitchcock at a dinner party given by Winterbottom and Twyker. It's daffy, it's extremely eccentric (flying Ugandans?) and runs out of steam towards the end but it's heart is in the right place and it's ravishing to look at.
  • filmlog: Pygmalion (1938)
    An utter joy. It's difficult to watch after being so enraptured by 'My Fair Lady' but it's still very much ahead of its time, particularly in editing and photography. Leslie Howard's Enry Iggins is a far crueler sod than Rex Harrison isn't he?
  • The A.V. Club reviews 'Ghost Rider'
    "Any potential the film had for making pop art in a contemporary manner is drained away by the familiar demands of second-tier action blockbusters." Damn. Though strangely unsurprising.
  • Televisual theatre

    Elsewhere I can now reveal the article I've been beavering away at is this argument newly published on Off The Telly about the need for more theatre on television. Which is ironic because just this week, More4 broadcast a rather good Pinter, and I've reviewed that here.

    Also on OTT this month, TJ Worthington reviews Douglas Adams's Out of the Trees (which means he's seen a copy the lucky sod) and Steve Williams, Chris Hughes and Simon Tyers begin their journey through the history of tv football commentators.

    Forgotten Films

    Happy Endings (2005)

    This is the film that indirectly inspired my dissertation. In an article for Film Comment magazine, journalist Alyssa Quart identified it as an example of a new genre called Hyperlink Cinema which inspired me to spend last summer trying to define exactly what it's conventions were. In the end, I decided it was a film that featured multiple characters from different backgrounds, with plots that happened in a range of locations that all criss-crossed into and out of one another without a main story to hold them together. In other words Happy Endings is a hyperlink film, and Deep Impact isn't. And don't get me started on 21 Grams.

    The three interlocking stories in Happy Endings are as follows. Otis (Jason Ritter), a drummer, is trying to keep his homosexuality from his father (Tom Arnold) whilst dealing with Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a gold-digging singer who has talked herself into their lives. Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) is a depressed forty-something who agrees to help a would-be documentarian Nicky with his film because he says he has information about a grown up son that she gave up for adoption when she was very young. Her step-brother Charley and his life-partner Gil discuss whether to confront a lesbian couple (Sarah Clarke and Laura Dern) about the paternity of their son since one of them is supposed to be the father.

    Writer/director Don Roos is perhaps most famous for his debut The Opposite of Sex, in which an acerbic Christina Ricci trod over all in sundry to get what she wanted. He then went on to write the studio film Bounce, the airplane crash drama featuring then couple Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow which he was roped into direct and wasn't the happiest of experiences as the studio wouldn't give him final cut and wanted a much more up-beat tragedy and he felt he could give them.

    Happy Endings was a way for him to return to the kind of filmmaking he wanted to do all along - lower budget, more creative control, more personal themes. What that means is that like Sex he's able to talk about the more autobiographical issues related to his own homosexuality but give them a spin which doesn't make them seem like the primary concern.

    He does this though strong unstereotypical characterization and by employing a device in which backstory and information how each of the characters is dropped in through text from the bottom and side of the screen. When Jesse is waiting to meet Mamie for the first time to ask her to help him, we're given a potted history and are then told he has to pee, which we're then thinking about through the rest of the scene. This is gives us an insight into the characters far deeper than most films that is surprisingly, given the process, unprosaic and subtler than a voiceover might be.

    As with the majority of the films on this list Happy Endings is an underrated pleasure that reaches under your skin. Having had to watch it probably as many times as the filmmakers in preparation for my dissertation was simply amazed to see how many subtle details are crammed in and how carefully Roos considered such things as set design and costumeto make sure that they were distinctive enough that we're immediately aware of whose story we're following and at what point. Each character's environment was designed matched their personality - so Mamie's is generally functional and so her house is rather empty and angular.

    In most contemporary films, scenes are linked emotionally through music, but in Happy Endings, the approach as close to be an extension of the characters as it can be without becoming a musical. Often, montage sequences are accompanied by Otis's band, with Jude's vocals (Gyllenhaal's magical voice) drifting over the visuals her words illustrating the actions within - the best instance being the rendition of 'Just The Way You Are' during a climax that takes the idea of American Graffiti 'what happened next' captions to a whole new level with each of the character's future lives delicately revealed. As one critic suggested, there's enough material in the closing few minutes to fill a whole other movie, something I'd really look forward to seeing.

    Happy Endings is available on dvd everywhere.

    "Timelash"? Freakin' "TIMELASH"?!

    TV To paraphrase All The President's Men, the fallout from the Timelash implications continues. One of the best rants so far is this meltdown from SFX's Ian Berriman:

    ""Timelash"?!? Not "The Seeds of Doom"? Or "Kinda"? Or "The Silurians"? Or "The Deadly Assassin"? Or even, if they simply must release a Colin Baker story (and god knows why, there can't be much demand...) "Attack of the Cybermen"? It'll be "The Twin Dilemma" and "Time and the Rani" next... If that happens, I'm organising a protest march. Who's with me?"

    That link's worth visiting for the ensuing flame war. Elsewhere:

    Simon: " Someone over at 2Entertain must be on crack."

    : "Timelash includes the finest example of "I'll explain later" before Curse of the fatal death; tinsel is used to devastating effect; the Bandrils - everyone's favourite alien race discuss grain supplies or some other agrarian delight (I have tried to wipe it from memory); a plot device is used in relation to the episodes ubervillain The Borad which effectively ruins a much more explicable use of the same plot device in the following story - Saward's LOved One tribute, Revelation of the Daleks..."

    Links for 2007-02-27 [] - Rmail

  • Clerks II: Back Behind The Counter
    Page that pulls together links to all of the 'Train Wreck' making of documentaries.
  • filmlog: Shadowlands (1993)
    Although the biographical details are simplified this remains a fascinating investigation of how a man later in years learns to love and express that love which gives some of us all kinds of hope.
  • filmlog: Into the Blue (2005)
    Just dreadful. Despite some spectacular diving scenes, sometimes you really do need more than the banal dialogue, one-note dialogue and listless plotting on offer here. Except for Sin City, has Jessica Alba been in anything good since Idlehands?
  • filmlog: The Family Stone (2005)
    One of the most surprising films I've ever seen. The trailers and UK advertising really, really missed the point. This is a funny, acerbic yet touching investigation into what makes a family function.
  • Forgotten Films

    The Family Stone

    Sometimes a film transcends expectations and leaves you emotional. The Family Stone could have been soapy television movie fodder, the kind of thing that Channel Five broadcast daily in the late afternoon, sometimes staring Kelly Martin but usually Jennie Garth. It's Christmas in the Stone household and prodigal son Everett (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his partner, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home for their first festive season with the family (Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Tyrone Giordano, Elizabeth Reaser).

    Meredith is a controlling highflying businesswoman who never relaxes and who, despite their liberalism, they just don't like and their mutual dislike develops further when it becomes apparent that Everett is going to propose to her. Meanwhile, the real tragedy that bubbles under the surface of this close-knit family is slowly revealed.

    It should be horrible - and indeed marks are lost for the inclusion on the soundtrack at a crucial moment of Tchaikovsky's Trepak (Cossack Dance) from the The Nutcracker (which has been used in so many movie trailers now that it simply doesn't sound right unless a voiceover man enunciates 'Coming this holiday season to a cinema near you… Rated PG-13') and a chintzy title sequence that looks like it was borrowed from an early eighties sitcom.

    But writer director Thomas Bezucha seems to have been aware of the pitfalls and does essentially two things that elevate the work. Firstly, unlike Meet The Parents and good gosh Relative Strangers, the enmity between Meredith and the family isn't the whole story -- it's simply used throughout the reveal more about the characters and their attitudes. The possible real reason for their dislike isn't exposed until at least halfway through the film and depending upon the viewer it has the potential to make us like them less; we could think that they're as judgmental as she is.

    Secondly, he shows and doesn't tell. It's a very sharp script, very funny at times. But he cuts the words if a look will do, he lets subtext carry a scene, holding back the big speeches for when they really matter so that they have more impact. He knows that the less someone speaks the more interesting they become. The biggest shock in the film is revealed economically through an oblique line of dialogue and a hug. It's very refreshing to find a film that actually lets the audience try and work out some of the story for themselves.

    All of which wouldn't work if the ensemble cast weren't so genial and importantly actually give the impression that they could be a real family, despite the obvious problem of not looking alike. The production design helps - the place really looks lived in. But I think the key is Thad, the hearing impaired brother. Throughout, whenever he's in the room, one of the other characters is signing a translation for him and sometimes unconsciously as one person leaves another will pick up were they left off. This highlights a chemistry between them which isn't usual in these family dramas and also provides another line of silent communication for how these characters are feeling.

    The best at this are Diane Keaton's matriarch and Rachel McAdams who hasn't been around much since Red Eye and is as luminous as ever in what is essentially a secondary role. It's unfair to single out any performer out because the whole cast is outstanding but a word or two for Sarah Jessica Parker who, after a career of being the likeable one, is utterly convincing as the stiff. It's impossible to reconcile that this is the same actress who bounced around Steve Martin in LA Story all of those years ago. Oh and Claire Danes is in here too in the tricky role as her sister who turns out to be her opposite and of course they like her.

    The dvd is available everywhere and before anyone starts to question if it's a forgotten film, according to the Internet Movie Database it only had a limited release in Brazil and a dvd premiere in the Netherlands which is good enough for me. Like The Core this seems to be one of those big release films that no one has seen. Then again, look at the poster!

    Forgotten Films

    One Night Stand (1984)

    This Australian film has the kind of indie spirit that was the hallmark of the Sundance generation despite being made in the early Eighties. Four main characters. Single location. And the off-beat situation is unusually grim. Two boys and two girls are double dating when they become trapped in the Sydney Opera House just as nuclear war is announced.

    Think Fail Safe meets Mannequin with the production values of sex, lies and videotape. But for all the movie's bizarre cross genre roots it's a refreshing demonstration of the strength of the human spirit when faced with potentially spending your last night on Earth with total strangers. Another entry in the occasional pre-apocalyptic movie genre, this film deftly shows what would actually happen in case of such an emergency.

    Nothing much. People would still go on dates. They'd probably hang out. Some sex might go on. Then everyone might die. What's so lovely about this film, is that they are real people. You can't really tell them apart. They don't have stereotypes. In fact only the navy officer really stands out. We like them because they are like us. If I was in that situation, I'd probably go a bit stir crazy.

    Director John Duigan would go on to make the classic coming of age dramas The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting. But this earlier work is a gold standard example of obscured greatness. I haven't watched it in some time, and I'm almost afraid to go back in case it's simply not as golden as I remember. But I might if nothing else to see what the Sydney Opera House looks like at night when everyone's gone home . .

    Careful when you're looking for a copy though, because there have been about ten films with this title, including a pretty good ensemble piece by Mike Figgis. I bought my ex-rental copy from a Blockbusters in Headingly, Leeds in 1993 and I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else since. Good luck.

    "Bad? No, it's disastrous."

    [Spoilers] Just in case you missed them in the RSS feeds at the bottom of the page, 2Entertain have furnished Doctor Who Online with the release schedule into June...

    Update: The BBC have confirmed it here.

    [Lots of broken links. Essentially it was lots of people losing their temper over Timelash because at the time it seemed like a crazy release given the popularity of the new series and wanting to get new fans into old Who. Now it makes perfect business sense because it was just the right time to rush out any old shit with a Doctor Who logo. -- comment added 18/12/2015]

    Too Many Secrets

    RSS Jason from Download Squad is having difficulty keeping up with all of his RSS reading and is asking for strategies. I use the Sesame Street approach:

    On each day I generally only read the feeds whose title begins with the given letter, unless it's the end of the month in which case I chase themes. So today's internet was brought to me by the letters Z, U, N and G on the number 26.


    TV Even with the odd sporadic bit of Shakespeare and the odd piece on BBC Arts and the iPlayer, theatre continues to be a no show on television even in adaptation. Back in 2007 (crumbs) I wrote this opinion piece arguing for more of it to coincide with a Pinter production on More4. This Pinter production:


    Monday, February 26, 2007 by Stuart Ian Burns

    The speech given by the announcer heralding More4′s presentation of Harold Pinter’s play Celebration couldn’t have been more disheartening. Beforehand, in one of their conversational station idents, star Michael Gambon had described how he loved Pinter’s work because of the deep subtext. That he liked the fact the characters never said what they really meant. That there were “two miles of other thoughts” underneath.

    Then the man from More4 delivered his warning: “And you can enjoy those layers of thought right now on More4 as Michael Gambon amongst many others delivers a very thought-provoking and at times challenging script. Expect strong language from the start and throughout for …” In other words, there’s some swearing and stuff. Has commercial broadcasting now reached the point that when something more substantial than the norm is dropped into primetime, it has to effectively warn the viewer that they’re going to need to use their intelligence?

    The play took place in a single setting, a restaurant, and for much of its duration cut back and forth between the inhabitants of two tables. In the first Lambert (Michael Gambon) and Julie (Penelope Wilton) were celebrating their wedding anniversary with his brother Matt (James Bolam) and her sister Prue (Julia McKenzie) who were also married to each other. At the second table, Russell (Colin Firth) is discussing his future with his wife Suki (Janie Dee).

    Periodically they were interrupted by the staff of the restaurant, the owner Richard (James Fox), his assistant (Sophie Okonedo) and a waiter (Stephen Rea) who appeared to be afflicted with a false memory syndrome which meant that depending upon their topic of conversation, be it TS Elliot or the Hollywood Studio system, he would describe to the patrons the various random famous people grandfather was apparently acquainted with.

    The subtext highlighted by Gambon was evident throughout, as for all their airs and graces, the three couples lacked some fundamentals of civilization and used their words sharply as weapons to cut each other to shreds. Though Suki was obviously trying to boost her husband’s confidence, she still found time to tell him he lacked a clear personality. Meanwhile, just as Julie remembered how she and Lambert met on the top of deck of a bus, he undercut her reminiscence by describing a walk he took with a very pretty girl by a stream. Unctuous characters all – the old men were apparently gangsters and Russell was a banker who at one point describes himself as a psychopath.

    But even though the dialogue was often very funny, it needed a genial cast to keep the audience interested – and that’s exactly what it got here. Presenting the work with such a stellar line-up gave it a real sense of occasion with Gambon and particularly Firth clearly enjoying the chance to speak lines a cut above the fare they will have become used to recently in film. Rea was touchingly humble, but the best turn was probably from Janie Dee who conveyed a life spent fighting to become something more than a secretary with just a few looks.

    The entire production was a perfect demonstration of how well theatre plays can work on television. Filmed on location in the ravishing atmosphere of The Aster Bar & Grill in London, it still retained a certain theatricality in its staging but, possibly because this production originated for television, displayed a rare intimacy. It was somewhat like BBC3′s strange early reality TV experiment Diners, in which the viewer eavesdropped on the chat of the likes of Roland Rivron and Paul Ross while they were having their dinner; here the viewer could almost be sitting at each table possibly getting pissed on the wine.

    One of the reasons sometimes given by commercial broadcasters when discussing the appearance of theatre on television is that it’s difficult to know were to put the ad-breaks. Shakespeare is fine because there are acts – but what of the likes of Pinter who generally, as with Celebration, sets everything in one space in a single scene? Potentially the biggest pleasure of this piece was that More4 decided to broadcast it without any interruption, allowing Pinter’s writing to breath. More please, 4.

    Celebration is not available to watch on 4od.  For some reason.

    Forgotten Films

    The Red Siren (2002)

    Or I can't believe it's not Luc Besson. Last time I had anything which could be described as a holiday was a three day trip to Paris about five years ago. Not really knowing the city and as they say 'on a budget' I inevitably spent both nights at the cinema. One of the movies I enjoyed was the already mentioned I'm With Lucy and the other was euro soup action drama La Siren Rouge, based on an award winning novel by Maurice Georges Dantec and directed by Olivier Megaton.

    A rebellious pre-teen, Alice, turns up at a police station in central Paris and tells them that her mother (Francis Barber) is a murderer. There's no evidence so her mother isn't charged, but Alice goes on the run. She falls under the protection of Hugo, an ex-soldier turned hit man and gang member (Jean-Marc Barr) who because of a tragic experience during an unnamed war agrees to help her look for father who might be in Portugal. Meanwhile an Italian policewoman (Asia Argento) is dispatched to look for Alice, just as her mother sends in some paramilitaries to do more than that.

    Essentially it's a chase film across the continent, with the three parties dodging in and out of each other's way with Alice in the middle just wanting to reach her goal. The script isn't perfect tending to drift into faux-Tarantino territory, but it's saved by the performances, subtle in the case of Argento and Barr or scene chewing in the case of Barber, and the action sequences which are as good as anything in The Transporter films. Like Besson's actioners such as Nikita and Leon there's real heart to the relationships, with the guns and explosions developing from rather than being shoehorned into the plot.

    The film is in English despite the locales (which makes for some appealing accent spotting). I originally imported it from France in a boxset that includes the slightly overaught soundtrack on an extra cd and all the extras in the native language without English subtitles (obviously). Thankfully, there has since been a dvd release everywhere else.