The Shakespeare Code.

TV I was watching an early 80s BBC Shakespeare production of The Tempest this morning. Michael Hordern plays Prospero (after the producers totally failed to grab John Gielgud) and in between the fake rocks and ship acting is Warren Clarke playing Caliban in a fur suit, David (tv's Ford Prefect) Dixon half naked and covered in gold paint as Ariel and Nigel Hawthorne and Andrew Sachs getting pissed together (although they may have been acting).

I'm telling you this, not just to recommend you see this 'masterpiece' because it offers the chance to hear the word 'Sycorax' in its original context (more on which late) but the demonstrate that I'm the kind of person who wakes up on a Saturday morning and watches an early 80s BBC Shakespeare production of The Tempest.

I'm as much of a Shakespeare fan as a Doctor Who fan. No really, my Shakespeare collection might actually be larger than the one have for the timelord - as well as numerous print copies of the plays in various editions, I've got multiple recorded productions - I've versions of Macbeth I don't think I've even worked my way around to seeing yet. It's an academic interest, certainly but also some of the recognizable fan genes we all recognize have been transferred to the Bard.

If there was a monthly William Shakespeare Magazine I'd be in WH Smith's on every fourth Thursday (or so) to buy a copy. I have a Hamlet weblog where I'm essentially stripping down as many interpretations of the Dane as I can, noting references in other works along the way. Hell, I even have an ongoing project to put the plays into chronological order (here's the most recent rumination - how do you deal with The Merry Wives of Windsor? And I'd thought UNIT dating was a nightmare).

If there was anyone who was predisposed to loving this episode it would be me. I mean its Doctor Who meets William Shakespeare! I know it's happened on audio and in the novels, but here it is on television for the first time in forty years. A chance to see the Tardis landing in Elizabethan London, The Doctor plus one standing in the Globe Theatre cheering the Bard on during one of the performances, the mud, the beer, the grime, the bit with a dog. So why did I pop out the other end feeling just tiniest bit disappointed?

I'm willing to entertain the idea that my expectations were so high that nothing less than Shakespeare In Love meets The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy with the combined wit of Tom Stoppard and Douglas Adams would satiate me, something which impossible really, even from a great Who writer like Gareth Roberts. I mean the idea of placing Love's Labour's Won at the crux of the matter was really clever (even if the resulting play had a slight wrongness to it).

I've seen elsewhere complaints that the story was too linear and perhaps that's exactly it. Instead of the traveling companions getting mixed up in a faux-Shakespearan plotline we had instead what amounted to a Fear Her-style procedural which just happened to be taking place in 1599 London, with a fairly generic story progression and ending in the expected confrontation with the alien at the end.

Perhaps too it's the choice of witches as the villains of the peace. Is that to the celebrity quasi-historical format every year? Dickens meets ghosts and poltergeists, Victoria meets a werewolf, Reinette and the body snatchers, now Bill and witches, and like Charles he's presumably inspired to include them in Macbeth later. I like that in the rational Whoniverse they are aliens and magic is simply advanced technology, but it just seems a bit predictable to have witches.

Russell suggested afterwards on Doctor Who Confidential that he knew it had to be fairies or witches and they went with the latter (presumably because the former had already turned up in Small Worlds) but my question is why? Nothing wrong with their performances which were pitched to just the right side of pantomime, and Hex's Christina Cole sizzled, but did there really have to be another race against time to stop a giant special effect from taking over the planet again?

But that leads straight into the positives, which I have to emphasise outweighed the negatives by some margin. Said special effect was destroyed by Mr Shakespeare through the power of words. I think the secret of the episode is that it took that fairly generic storyline and hung on it quite a thematically deep meditation on the importance and power of words and the role of the Bard the foundation of our language.

In probably the new series most Reithian moment yet, the episode was laced with soundbites from throughout the canon and even couple from elsewhere in literature (Dylan Thomas!), with the potential that kids watching might go off and find out which plays they're from and the context.

These references weren't entirely gratuitous and their sense of thematic intent mirrored the story or character beat in which they were being used. Even Sycorax, worked in situ here because in that play, she's the witch that Pospero apparently battled to gain governance of Caliban. I shivered when I noticed the connection - if I was a kid I think I'd find it really extraordinary.

The episode had the potential to make at least some kids passionate about Shakespeare and literature and it has to be applauded for that. Some might begrudge the intrusion of pop culture references - primarily the inclusion of Harry Potter, Shakespeare using Rowling's words at the end to finally vanquish the demon instead of his own - but it all helps to draw in viewers who even until that point might still care less about Shakespeare.

I was watching Cash In The Attic, the bizarrely addictive daytime antique auction programme in the week and there was a woman selling a very nice boxed Complete Works because her son wouldn't like that, he's more into Harry Potter, y'know. I thought about that kid during that sequence, this whole episode in fact and wondered if he'd be turning to his mum and asking if she still had those Shakespeare plays in the attic. Or cupboard. Or wherever she kept them.

Plus it's a different idiom, a different time. You have to balance out the English lessons with something else. Such as Back To The Future being used to explain why history can still change if The Doctor and Martha don't keep their wits about themselves and whilst that doesn't quite have the mystery of Blinovich it grounds the series in the now (well the mid-Eighties) and makes it comprehensible. Similarly the approach to characterization of the inhabitants of Elizabethan London was exceedingly contemporary, the TARDIS translator apparently contemporising their English, the only verilys in evidence coming from Martha's lips.

No complaints here about Shakespeare as rock star, perfectly logical especially at that point in his career. One of the problems which always crops up when characterizing this man is that he has to seem capable of doing all of that whilst still retaining his essentially humanity. Partly its in the writing, but mostly its in the acting as Dean Lennox Kelly certainly had just the right amount of charisma to make you believe.

He proved an excellent foil for an on-point Tennant and if the episode didn't refer directly to past or future encounters, their chemistry hinted as to why the Doctor would keep returning to his company. The opening meeting dealt with all that because The Doctor lacked that first time meeting excitement we've seen elsewhere - he knew were Shakespeare was and how to get hold of him.

Another criticism might be the Rose callbacks but again I think that's just a shock of the new, something unexpected in a franchise were a companion dies and they're barely mentioned two episodes later. Plus, the Doctor's obviously playing a few mind games, trying to tease out of Martha the companion elements he's looking for, testing her, making sure she can fulfill his needs. Freema continues to surprise and perfectly played up the 'everything's brilliant' attitude we all have when we visit a new place.

On reflection, then, it looks like I enjoyed The Shakespeare Code far more than I thought - and like the Cybermen episodes last year will enjoy it much more on subsequent viewings without my exponentially high expectations, relishing the various nuances. The sense of history was perfect, the painterly backdrop capturing the time with the same spirit as the opening few scenes of Olivier's film rendition of Henry V. And The Globe looked absolutely gorgeous. I have to go there. Now.

And that coda - for once, no big emotional crescendo, an actual joke, and the potential for a sequel. Quite what he's done to get the Queen riled up in that way wasn't clear but it's going to be fun finding out. Anyone remember if he's already met her in a previous incarnation (an UnBound not withstanding)?

Next Week: New Earth. Cat people. What could possibly go wrong?


Life Conversation between two pensioners overheard in the local Oxfam shop whilst I was attempting to buy a vhs copy of Jacque Demy's French New Wave classic Lola:

Agnes: Well, I didn't know what else I should so with it.
Clerk: What did she say?
Agnes: She asked me not to.
Clerk: Did you tell here why you were doing it, Agnes?
Agnes: Yes. But she just said that throwing it over the hedge was unhygienic.
Clerk: But if her cats were doing it in your backyard.
Agnes: I know.
Clerk: Has she got a litter tray?
Agnes: That's what I said to her. I told her she should get a litter tray.
Clerk: And what did she say?
Agnes: She said she'd only have to clean it out before she went to work in the morning and she didn't have the time.
Clerk: That's terrible.
Agnes: I know. It's terrible.
Clerk: And what did you say?
Agnes: I said she should get rid of them.
Clerk: No she shouldn't have cats.
Agnes: And she said she couldn't do that.
Clerk: She couldn't do that. So what did you say?
Agnes: I said we should come to an arrangement. I said if I see them doing that in my back yard again, I'd whack them with a broom.
Clerk: (laughs) Did you?
Agnes: I said I'd whack them with a broom.
Clerk: Yes.
Agnes: She didn't like that.
Clerk: (laughs)
Agnes: Yes.
Clerk: You should one of those hoses and put the nozzle by the door.
Agnes: Yes.
Clerk: And if they come in (laughs) turn it on and all the water'll shoot out the end.
Agnes: Yes!
Clerk: (laughs).
Agnes: (laughs) Oh well, I've got to go into Tesco and buy some disinfectant.
Clerk: I'll see you later.
Agnes: I don't like moaning. I mean there are more important things happening outside of my little world. But still.
Clerk: Oh. (turns to next customer)
Agnes: Bye.
Next customer: Have you got one of those things the council have for picking up litter. What are they called?

Links for 2007-04-06 [] - Rmail

  • filmlog: Capricorn One (1978)
    Brilliantly entertaining if slightly gonzo. The real draw is the dialogue, which even when the situation is grim seems to have strayed in from a 1940s screwball comedy. The scene in which a man has to drink a snake's blood to survive is a hoot.
  • Hack Stand-Up Comedy FAQ - hack.txt [01/01]
    This might be about ten years old, but still rings true. The reason the likes of Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard have done well in stand-up is because they've never done these things. That said, Peter Kaye has built his career on them.
  • YouTube: Cheney is a Creep
    What was the man doing stuck out in the bushes sorta speak?
  • A little Jack with that?: The most beautiful place on earth
    "Here’s hoping that tomorrow is a better day, and eventually that the road leads home."
  • Metacritics: Grindhouse (2007)
    Thank goodness for that. Although some reviews are a bit cautious about the respective films being too authentic, mostly raves are greeting the new Tarantino/Roderiguez.
  • filmlog: The Final Countdown (1980)
    Ultimately promises more than it delivers. The story of an naval officer having to relive a period of history in seclusion knowing the timeline but unwilling or unable to change anything seems far more potent an idea.
  • Da da da de da da de da da da

    Life I'm writing this to a soundtrack of Russian music. The Moscow State Circus is back in town or more specifically the park and I can hear what I think must be the third show today sonically bubbling through the window. You know those moments when you think that a performer may have made a mistake and then quickly rectifies it and you all applaud. It may be staged. Because I'm hearing that same applause at the same moment in each show breaking the illusion somewhat.

    In other news, if ever I was going to develop a crush on a newspaper columnist, I think it would be Laura Barton, whose music columns for the Guardian are often a Friday highlight, simply because her tastes so perfectly match mine. Once again today I found myself grinning in that 'me too!' kind of way. As well as name checking Regina Spector (whose new album I seemed to buy about four months before anyone else noticed it) there's the following which literally made me yelp:
    "An album I play most Sundays: the soundtrack to Kissing Jessica Stein. I picked it up in Moscow airport once, inexplicably. It blusters in with Blossom Dearie's Put On a Happy Face and ends in the wallowing depths of her I Wish You Love. In between it flutters with Sarah Vaughan, Ernestine Anderson, Shirley Horn, and Dinah Washington singing Teach Me Tonight: "Let's start with the ABC of it/ Roll right down to the XYZ of it ..." It's jazz-lite, it's how I imagined New York to sound before I ever visited, it's a really good album for eating boiled eggs and soldiers to."
    Which is of course one of my favourite albums. It's just wonderful and has probably indirectly influence my musical taste for at least three years. Certainly wouldn't have listened to as much Diana Krall if I hadn't heard her work here first. It's one of those rare occasions when a film soundtrack lives up to the work that inspired it and also works as an entity in and of itself. Laura, I know this is sudden and we hardly know each other but ...

    Links for 2007-04-05 [] - Rmail

  • IGN: Big Gets Bigger
    After the news of a Special Edition of 'That Thing You Do' (remember, 37 minutes -- that mean the film is nearly 50% longer) comes the news that Penny Marshall's 'Big' will soon be gaining an extra 25 minutes. Where?
  • ABC News: From Prozac Nation to Yale Law School? Elizabeth Wurtzel's Unlikely Journey
    Wurtzel reaches forty and graduates from Yale Law School. New book coming: " a series of essays about patriotism and great American inventions — like Bruce Springsteen, and "having a pill for everything." "
  • Same. But different.

    Art Wang Peng seems to be the Dom Joly of the Chinese art world. Two of his video art works appear as part of Tate Liverpool's The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China and both would not have looked out of place within Trigger Happy TV and are an absolute hoot. In Gate, Peng lured a group of what appear to be fellow artists and art critics into a space and showed them a film of him visiting a hardware store to buy a padlock. He tells the shop keeper that he doesn't need the key and leaves it on the counter. The assembled crowd haven't quite twigged what's going on, until they realise that Peng is suddenly using said padlock and a large amount of chain on the large metal doors that provide the only exit to the space, locking them shut and more importantly trapping the guests inside.

    As the artist retires to a safe distance to enjoy the result of his handwork, it slowly dawns on the visitors that he has no intention of letting them leave just then. Frustratingly for them, Peng has a camera outside feeding live what the situation looks like from outside the room. Some of them take it in their stride, still more simply light a cigarette and wait for the ensuing mayhem. For there is mayhem as others become downright irritated by Peng's attitude and pull hard on the lock, the chain and gates, desperate to leave.

    It won't budge.

    What doesn't occur to them is it's at least a six man (or woman) job but they're all flying the mission solo. But they each keep having a go, mostly laughing nervously because probably when they received the private view invite this was the last thing they were expecting. Oddly enough, although for some reason it's not surprising, none of them really try brute force. Anyway you can imagine what happens eventually, and it doesn't involve a lynching - but the accompanying information suggests that some of the artists haven't forgiven Mr Peng.

    The other piece is Passing Through which plays on two screens, running concurrently films recorded ten years apart. In each Peng literally takes a line for a walk. Using a specially prepared jacket, he drifts through the streets of New York and Bejing, loosing a long thin piece of chord from his hole in his back. It's simpler to watch than describe, but practically what happens is that a long piece of silk is pulled across roads and wraps itself around lamp posts and traffic lights, cars and even people. Like the other work, this sudden barrier to people passage across the streets and passages creates a mixture of bemusement and irritation and the results are similarly amusing.

    What both of these works share with Dom Jolly's material is that they demonstrate our human capacity to integrate the patently bizarre into our lives. In the first film, the vast majority of people simply stand around even though there's the possibility that Peng would be quite happy to spend the day there. In the second film, it's simply peculiar watching people actively avoiding this tiny line in their way, sometimes walking the long way around in order to avoid it. Sometimes people duck underneath and on one occasion a rather tall man selflessly holds it aloft to let other people through. But none of them, ever, simply break the cord. When greeted with this new addition to their environment they work around it as much as possible. You laugh - for exactly the same reason that you did when two men dressed as dogs kicked seven bells out of each other on Trigger Happy TV and Londoners would just walk on by as though it was the most normal thing in the world.

    A similar example of humanity working within the environment they've been given is currently showing at the Open Eye Gallery, also in Liverpool. Lars Tunbjörk's Office is a series of photographs taken in Japan, North America and Sweden of people working within office spaces. Despite the wood paneling and desks, these are bleak, banal places systematically sucking the humanity out of their inhabitants. It's depressing and enough to make someone visiting in their lunch hour consider their career options. Tunbjörk emphasizes these claustrophobic spaces with close ups that omit the outside world; even when windows do feature its frequently dark outside inferring the lengthy hours that the people are working.

    What I think thematically links Tunbjörk's work with Peng's is that once again, people are essentially working within the limits of the environment that they find themselves in, and even worse than that, unlike Peng's playground, they're private spaces and the opportunity is there to some extent reconfigure them to suit the task at hand. One photograph, taken at a New York law firm shows a group of people working on a case, piles of paper covering a giant oak table and the floor, a woman crouched on top putting sheets together, a man underneath apparently counting. Big case, but it does look like the whole operation could be more productive if they simply moved the table out of the way. Like their neighbours at street level who won't cut the chord to be on their way, there's a kind of worshipful attitude to a space.

    An even more shocking image for me is of what looks for all the world like the old trading floor at Enron, in which again a desk bisects the middle of the picture. This time a broker is completing a deal above, and below a computer engineer has squeezed himself between a PC tower and the inner edge of the table, deep in concentration as he attempts to repair the thing. It looks dangerous and he seems to be in some pain. Not only is he's servicing that machine and apparently putting his own life in danger to serve the corporate machine. Most everything else is probably just disheartening; like the image of a bigwig getting their shoes shined in situ, the shiner looking balefully at the camera the very epitome of the old Bjork lyric, 'There's more to life than this...' It's all nonetheless intoxicatingly fascinating and well worth a visit. Unless you're on your lunch hour from an office that is

    Links for 2007-04-04 [] - Rmail

  • filmlog: Gladiator: Special Edition (2000)
    Despite come flashes of visceral excitement, this is a strangely unmoving film; perhaps its that the moments of empathy are too clearly signposted to the extent that you're drawn out of the story. Excellent performances and action though.
  • filmlog: The Weather Man (2005)
    Or Gore Verbinski ruins another hour and half of my life. Has the irritating faux indie sensibilities of someone whose seen 'Me, You, And Everyone We Know' and decided to do something similar. Meh.
  • YOU CAN'T TAKE A PICTURE: My Guide to Babylon 5: Season One... and beyond
    "A Note on "Crusade": Don't watch it."
  • Electric Youth: The Musical
    This sounds like one of those made up things that appear in sitcoms, but here it is a stager based on the music of Debbie (sorry) Deborah Gibson. This I'd love to see, if only to see how those songs can be turned into a coherent narrative ...
  • Rolling Stone : Dignity : Review
    Continuing with the theme - 'Rolling Stone' gives Hilary Duff album good review shocker.
  • Homeland Security Classifies TRON as "Sensitive"
    I think its an April Fool. But it was posted late March. I'm confused.
  • Music Like everyone else online I've been watching Alanis Morissette's stunning parody of Fergie's My Humps. Not since Nina Gordon's version of NWA's Straight Outta Compton has something quite so wierd sounded so right. The video is the preverbial icing, simply mocking exactly the kinds of fashions and poses that turn up in said videos. Frankly its mesmerising and it's certainly made me fall in love with her all over again.

    Sometimes readers of the blog will know that I've had something of an on-off listenership with the woman who once played God. For every time I've felt compelled to karaoke Ironic I've had to endure the more wrong headed cover versions and her last album of original material. To be honest I probably never got over Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, for reasons explained here.

    But I've kept the faith. I wouldn't say Jagged Little Pill changed my life but ironically considering its rocked out sensibilities it still has an ability to reduce me to a nostalgic residue and I still harbour a small hope that the genius can return. I mean contrary, to popular belief the acoustic version of her earlier work wasn't all bad. Apart from You Oughta Know redux which sounded like the MOR virus had infected the monkey in Outbreak and gone airborne.

    It's a couple of years old but the b-side Polyanna Flower was evidence of that and now this cover version suggests that something really interesting is coming. It's the intent, the appreciation of a certain sensibility at the heart of it, and it just doesn't look like something you'd simply knock up as a joke. But then as her mate Kevin Smith found out (and descibed on his An Evening With... dvd, Prince has a stash of music videos no one has seen in a bunker somewhere in case people want to be entertained after the apocalypse -- so it's possible Alanis was just having a bit of fun. The reaction has been massively positive, so if nothing else its rehabilitated her image and not just in my eyes.

    Links for 2007-04-03 [] - Rmail

  • Comment is free: Charlie Brooker on how to understand the news
    I know the feeling -- I'm decidedly foggy about the causes of most of the world's events; I think the reason that there are so many conspiracy theories is because people assuming that something must be up if they can't understand it.
  • A Word In Your Ear: Rejection hurts
    Jonathan's journal piece is rejected. Then he gets confusing signals as to how it should be revised: "One said it had no conclusion, the other said it had too strong a conclusion."
  • filmlog: Heat and Dust (1983)
    Begins slowly but eventually engrosses as the cross cultural divides take hold. The time scheme which crosscuts between two stories works well and Julie Christie and Greta Scacchi are magnificent as the women with differing life opportinities.
  • More on The Rules

    Life JP's been asking in the comments about how my job search is going. I was apparently a bit too subtle during this post about finding a job. I wrote at the bottom -- "for various reasons I won't be going to that same paper shop on a Sunday. Because I won't be completely unemployed" -- which on reflection was ambiguous to say the least. Yes, I've actually found some work -- it's a weekend job, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. I haven't started quite yet. What will I be doing? I can't tell you. But not for reasons related to the Official Secrets Act.

    Some readers might remember that when I set up the blog I gave myself a set of rules. They're there so that I can stop myself getting into trouble, so that anything I write online can't adversely effect anything that's happening in the real work. The rules were originally posted here. But I'll repeat them anyway:

    (1) Don’t write about your friends unless they’re doing something amazing
    (2) Don’t talk about work unless you’ve left
    (3) Don’t talk about things you know nothing about
    (4) Don’t make the rules too conspicuous
    (5) Some rules can be broken ...

    All very Fight Club. But they've been really useful for those times when I've wanted to slag off an employer in a fit of pique or wanted to say what I really think of my friends or relatives when they've pissed me off for whatever reason. They're also a good way of making sure that the blog doesn't simply become 'Stuart's rants' and therefore boring. Rule (5) mostly relates to rules (3) and now (4). Obviously.

    I might continue to be in a state of paranoia when I haven't got a job, or an interview that someone's googled my name and found the blog and decided I'm not the person for them. Anonymous blogging isn't for me -- and I don't trust myself not to slip up and post the wrong bit of text in the wrong place and blow the whole thing. Besides, you also have to keep something back for the inevitable autobiography.

    I've actually spoken to people who've been reading the blog for years and had no idea what my job was. Which does add a bit of mystery, although I'm always sure I can detect a flicker of disappointment in their eyes when they find out it was a call centre or whatnot. Sometimes they'd say I was far too good for that, which is nice of them, but my ongoing self-esteem issues can't agree. So from day to day, not talking about work on here has provided some protection. You wouldn't believe the big huge job related excitement I've been through sometimes which would have made for exciting reading but I haven't gone there on here.

    Which is of course a few paragraphs worth of justification and explanation as to why I'll not be naming names or mentioning my new employer. That sort of thing could lead to this if I'm not careful and that would really be a shame. Just be rest assured, it's exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for and as I said at the interview, slightly more articulately, it'll offer me some great experience which will help me get to where I want to be.

    Feed Me, Sidebar

    About I hope you enjoyed the interview with Amy Riley yesterday. If anyone else has something they'd like me to plug, let me know and I'll treat you like a queen. Or king.

    Elsewhere, non-RSS readers will have noticed I've been spring cleaning the sidebar and taken advantage of the Blogger's page elements features. I've updated my wishlist and found AmazonBox, that pretty javascript graphic feed which creates a mosaic from just the covers. It's set to include the ten cheapest items, although oddly it selects the order based on Marketplace prices. So, look Annette -- I've updated my wishlist!

    I've also exploded the old Elsewhere list of links of other place I write online to small feeds with links to actual posts. I had some fun with Yahoo Pipes so that I could pull my own work out from group blogs. The Behind The Sofa feed was specially created by site runner Damon -- who then went on to win a 'no prize' for being the first to notice that the link to this blog that I've had all these years as my email signature has been using a \ instead of a / and therefore made no sense. I hadn't even spotted that.

    As for the logo bar. I know that hasn't changed for some time. To reveal a bit of history, it's a shot taken through the window as a train rushes through a station between Liverpool and Manchester. I took it whilst I was commuting to university. Symbolically it was supposed to indicate the fact that I was sort of living in both cities. I was tempted to change it whilst I was tinkering, but decided that actually it still works, at least for me. It reminds me that I still have the capacity to keep moving forward but also that I'll always have a home to return to.

    Amy Riley, film maker.

    Amy Riley is a new film maker in the mould of the true US indies who worked from the early to mid-nineties, those with the can do attitude that interesting movies might be made on the smallest of budgets if you're willing to make sacrifices. Amy's debut feature, Only Stopping tells the cross-genre parallel stories of Dan (Luke Ashby), a young Brighton teenager coming to terms with a family tragedy and Gigi (Aura-Iris Canet), a Spanish girl on the run from gangsters.

    [Updated! 06/09/2011
    The film is now available to watch at Vimeo

    What's particularly striking about the film is the ambition; made for just a thousand pounds, in an ironic twist on the title, neither characters spends much time in one place and bucking the trend of films created on a micro-budget of setting the story on in a single room, they're seen shifting through a range of locations, from pubs to beaches to roadsides to lounges.

    The stories are related one after the other portmanteau style, linked by a meeting between the central characters. Dan's takes up the majority of the sixty-five minute running time, as he shifts from a comfortable domestic lifestyle to living with a series of friends and family, meeting a range of new acquaintances, searching for somewhere else he can fit in.

    This proves to be most effective section of the film, as Luke Ashby's convincing bewilderment helps to draw the audience through the kind of freewheeling storytelling that isn't about artificial plot points. Although Gigi's story is less compelling you can't help but applaud the spirit of experimentation that runs through the centre of what's obviously been a labour of love, latterly willing to throw in the unexpected likes of a drag queen.

    Shot on Digital Video the film never looks flat with some beautifully composed scenes, the stand out being a heart-to-heart on a beach. Like those early indies, most scenes are played out in one shot which gives the film a theatrical quality but nothing's ever static. If some of the editing feels like it could have been tighter, cutting in and out of scenes later and sooner, perhaps its because Riley is interested in expressing these situations realistically, noting that sometimes conversations can reach on longer than they need to.

    Overall it's a promising work and at time of writing, Amy is writing another screenplay that will hopefully build on what's been achieved here. She has been kind enough to grant me an interview and we talked in detail about the inception of the film, the story and the production process.

    Why did you want to become a filmmaker?

    Basically, I wanted my message to reach wider audiences. This was something I was thinking about when I was sixteen, after I stopped worrying about the national deficit. I kept thinking about the fact that I was writing stories (fiction) about people who were immigrants from Mexico --- about people who perhaps were not very well read or anything. And were they the people who'd ever read my stories if they were ever printed in the New Yorker? This was a really serious concern for myself at the time. I know it sounds a bit improbable, but if you were to know -- I won't say -- it was a serious thought. The thing I really want to do, perhaps I'll do it someday. The thing I really want to say -- and the only way I can say it is to an audience that would never read. Anything. In English. etc. I will make the film I want to make. At some point, Maybe?

    What prompted this story -- there seems to be a lot of plot going on for the running time -- was that a conscious decision?

    What I think you're asking - the inspiration for the script was a particular late night in Oxford in summer 1999. I'd been to a hip hop night at a small club in the city centre called the Cellar. It had recently been refurbished and relaunched as an alternative "left field" hiphop joint, which is great in such a conservative tweedy place like Oxford. After the club kicked out, I headed back to East Oxford for a party with a group of young skateboarders and graffiti artists, who were all friends with my husband. I was 24 at the time, but I felt incredibly old, just because I'd gotten married the year before and I was in this really responsible high-flying, high profile job which made me miserable. The kids were about 18,19 some of them, and as we walked down the Iffley Road towards Rose Hill, where this party was, I remember talking with them and they were telling me about their lives. One guy left all of his family in Poland to come over to England to make a better life - he was only 17 or something and also a really good artist. The other kids had similar stories - just really young and here on their own without any family and trying to make lives for themselves. I was moved.

    As we walked, some people were playing drum n bass and it was such a cinematic moment. I knew then that I wanted to capture what I heard that night. Hence the character Dan, the 16-year-old emerging artist! That was the seed of the script, but as I developed the first draft, it obviously came to take on other things as well. I suppose an alternative title for the film could be "The Story of the Graffiti Artist as a Young Man." That probably would have been more fitting.

    As an aside, Dan was played by Luke Ashby, who I actually met and knew from Oxford, but had moved to Brighton to go to uni. Luke was about 15 or 16 when I first met him and he could have been Dan actually when he was that age. He was part of the skateboard scene and was really good mates with my husband. Come to think of it was probably actually with us in that night I was describing! As a teenager, Luke was such a nutter and seemed like such a random guy, but he actually secretly had his head screwed on and knew exactly where he was going in life.

    Perhaps I should have said 'a lot of incidents' for clarity. Something that was drilled into me on my post-grad film studies course was that 'story' is what a film is about and 'plot' is the incidents that are shown of that story.

    Thinking back on when I wrote it, I really have no idea why I made it so episodic. It's not how I'd write a script now. I suppose it shows my lack of skill in scriptwriting since it was my first stab at putting one together (apart from the screenplays I wrote as a kid) and it was also my bridge from writing literary fiction. It doesn't really explain why the dialogue is so terrible, though! Oh well.

    What was the writing process like? Did you have a working script before shooting or did you have to change things during the shooting process?

    I started writing the script in summer 2002, shortly after I started working at a DJ project as an arts administrator. Initially, I only had about five pages but they contained the scene where some young kids buy drugs from Dan's nan and later tell the story to a friend. At the time I was also finishing my 1st novel, so the script was more of a doodle.

    Then I went to Gay Pride in August and met a short gay Italian filmmaker who I saved from a bully in the Wild Fruit tent. We kept in touch by email and when he said he wanted to see my script, I set to work manically for two weeks until I had about twenty pages, the first draft. During this period, I was also bouncing ideas of my mate Danny, who helped me fully develop the Gigi character. I knew I wanted it to be a two character storyline, to have this young guy but also have a really strong bold female character as well. I had the New York drag queens I used to be friends with stuck in my head and initially Gigi went to New York. But Danny pointed out that she could easily go to Brighton and find drag queens. In the script, she's going to Barcelona, but unless I can find some stock footage of Barcelona, she might as well be in Brighton! Danny helped loads but said he couldn't write dialogue so I carried on by myself.

    Then I met a Spanish woman at a two person care call (I did care work part time) who told me she was an actress and she read the script and said there was enough material not just for a 20 minute film (which I was first thinking of shooting) but an actual full-length feature. I laughed when she told me that. I didn't think I could ever afford to do anything like that. But in my heart of hearts, I secretly knew I did have a burning ambition to make a feature. My friend Georg made one in 95/96 in New York and I was so impressed by this and I just knew I had to do it too. The Spanish woman, Iris, became Gigi.

    Steve Crossan, a computer entrepreneur and then-Director of Runtime Collective (now Magpie), took interest in the script. I didn't realise it at the time, but Steve was an executive producer in a few films. He read an early version of the script and told me to cut out Dan's voice-over, which was an important lesson.

    In February 2003, I went on a scriptwriter's course in London focusing on coming-of-age and film noir with Charlie Harris (Paradise Grove Films) and met Tracey Klyne, another scriptwriter. She offered to read my script and give me feedback. She read it on the 11th hour, when I was starting to do auditions for parts. We spent about an hour and half on the phone, where she gave me the complete run-down on how to write a coming-of-age script and was basically a lesson on how to write scripts period. She gave me loads and loads of advice, from where to put in turning points to how to develop Dan's relationship with his best friend Manuel. I basically wrote the rest of the forty pages based on her advice, fully developing Act Two and Act Three.

    My then boyfriend read the script and helped me change some of the language that sounded too American.

    During rehearsals and shooting, I had to re-write parts of the script that weren't working. And of course, during shooting I let the actors change some of the words. I unintentionally developed a method while shooting to make scenes more naturalistic, where I told actors they had to stay in character until I shouted cut. What this meant was that in some of the scenes the actors have run out of lines and are just making stuff up, as their characters. This happens in the scene where Gigi is telling Dan that she's leaving Brighton.

    The film employs a pretty extraordinary structure speeding through time and incident pretty rapidly whilst also being part of a flashback structure. What was the idea behind that?

    Basically, Martin, the film's editor, suggested it when we found ourselves with a situation with not enough footage shot. There's quite a bit of Gigi's story that's just action, with her doing stuff around town that we just didn't have time or energy to shoot. Also Iris could only give us a few days to shoot all of her scenes before she went back to Spain. I knew this was going to be a problem if we edited the film strictly as it was written in the script.

    I met Martin to discuss what we were going to do about it. In a funny coincidence, I'd just read the script for The Usual Suspects and Martin had just watched it that weekend. It was that film that inspired the non-linear structure for the edit. So basically, it was just a technique we used to camouflage the fact that we didn't have enough footage!!

    So how was the shooting script structured? Does it cross cut between the parallel stories more? As it stands its more of a portmanteau film linked by this central meeting. Did you ever consider concentrating simply on Dan or Gigi's story?

    The script weaves Gigi's story and Dan's story together so you get a sense that their respective scenes are happening in the same time. The story became about how two different characters lives could intersect - and also how two different genres could collide (Dan-coming of age and Gigi-film noir). I'm not sure why I wanted to mix up the genres - maybe just to see if it could be done, perhaps!?

    In the script, there were more scenes with Dan when he was living with his brother and also when he and his siblings were arranging the funeral. We did get footage for both, but Martin said that when they were added, the film's pace slowed down too much and it felt too padded.

    Why these two stories?

    As I mentioned before, the initial inspiration for the film was the young British and European graffiti artists I'd met that one night (and other nights!). Later, the film became a reflection on the idea that Brighton is a graveyard of dreams. Or another variation is that it's the graveyard of artists. Ouch! I was really spooked when someone told me this when I first moved to Brighton. Was this true? And why?

    The reason why Gigi's story was included was because I wanted to have a strong female protagonist. Initially, Danny and I created a very French, very Gautier character who was tough as nails - if we'd managed to shoot all of the scenes that were in the script, this would have been more apparent. The other reason was I wasn't sure how interested I was in telling just a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy in Britain. How interesting is that? A lot of films I used to like when I was younger, like Quentin Tarantino's flicks (apart from Jackie Brown), all tended to portray women as a bit stupid or silly so I definitely had that in mind when I created Gigi.

    How was the music selected?

    I got loads of CDs from all of my musician and producer friends and gave them all to JFB, who assembled the soundtrack. He picked out the tracks that fit for the scenes. Unfortunately, he used some music that is copyrighted so it means for the final edit I'm going to have to write to all of the record companies to see if they'll give me clearance for free (probably not) and failing that, replace the tracks with music from people I know. Which hopefully shouldn't be too hard. Also, I'm not too sure about how appropriate the drumming tracks work so I might change that as well for some of the scenes. I got permission to use some music from really well-know Dj/producers which JFB totally failed to use so I'm also going to see if I can incorporate that.

    Sometimes the music and the dialogue fight for prominence in the sound mix -- was that an artistic decision (I'm thinking of the club scene in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

    That was an accident and will need to be fixed! When JFB added the soundtrack, he used some tracks from a local twenty piece all percussion band I'm friends with for the some of the scenes and in every one of those scenes, the music is way too loud - I don't know why he didn't notice this!! Unfortunately, I noticed this too late to fix it. It happens in a lot of scenes that are especially crucial or emotional, like the one where Dan is asking his brother about their parents - doh! the most annoying part is that everyone came up to me after both screenings and said, 'Did you realise that the music is too loud?"

    What was the casting process like?

    Interesting. Obviously, I didn't have a casting director so I had to do all of it. Gigi was the first character I cast, so once the script was finished, we proceeded looking for the other parts. I did two things that I will never ever do again: first, I had a write up in the local newspaper, the Argus, which called out for young people to play the roll of Dan and then I stupidly put up signs all around the 7 Dials (my neighbourhood) describing the roles we were auditioning for. Putting up public notices for local acting auditions is like basically an open invitation to every weirdo and their grandmother to come see if they could be the next big thing. Seriously.

    I had one guy who had TB and kept coughing throughout our audition who'd brought a CD of a musical he wrote about football. When I expressed concerns that he didn't fit any of the roles we were looking for, he offered to do different accents. He explained that his Yorkshire accent, which he could do as though authentic, would be a real asset to our film if we cast him. Again, I explained that we didn't need anyone with a Yorkshire accent and I pointed out that if he had an ongoing serious health condition, how would he be able to make auditions. He seemed undaunted!

    Another woman, who happened to be a very good actress, insisted on auditioning for parts in the film that she wasn't suitable for when she found out that the lead role was spoken for - so essentially doing roles that weren't her age -- or gender (?), as in the case of the older drag queen Dolores, it didn't need to be played by a man, but that's kinda what I had in mind, if you know what I mean. Essentially, she was trying to get me to re-write the script for her. Perhaps filmmakers do that. I've definitely heard of filmmakers writing a part with a specific actor or actress in mind.

    As far as I was concerned, changing even a "minor" character would upset the balance of the whole -- it would change the whole story in some subtle way. Like a carefully crafted spiderweb, my script...okay, perhaps my script wasn't perfect, but when you get to the stage of casting, as a director, you have to take that crystallized vision of the film in your head and run with it. Because that vision is the only lifeline that's going to pull you through the entire process of making the film and beyond.

    We held the auditions in the open plan office where my boyfriend worked, which was a trendy IT start up with loads of unnecessary space and a small private glassed office for meetings and a massive Ikea sofa with a coffee table. For about two weekends, we invited people to come down for auditions. Joe would be outside to greet arrivals and get them a drink and wait with them in the lounge area and chat with them about the film. Inside the meeting room was where the auditions took place. We taped the auditions and then at the end of the two weekends, got back to people who were successful. In some lucky cases, we were able to audition people in other locations.

    Dan: It was a fluke that I cast someone for the lead role who I'd known for years, from a previous life in Oxford. It all happened by accident. Joe and I were walking through the Level when we bumped into Luke and I think I was talking to him about some mutual friends from Oxford who were now living in Brighton as well. Luke and I were both involved in the Da Roof skateboard project on the roof of Brighton Youth Centre, which is how I'd found out he was living down this way. As Luke headed off down the path, Joe and I suddenly looked at each other and had the same eureka moment -- Luke was so clearly Dan. I ran after Luke and told him the score and told him to give me a ring if he was interesting in auditioning for the role.

    We didn't hear from him, so we began the auditions. Some were just too young to successfully pull off a fey but street-smart kid like Dan, but we found one guy who was the right age (16) and not a bad actor. Then out of the blue, Luke phoned up and said he was in. Then began the uncomfortable task of trying to decide between the two actors. The 16 year old was disarmingly charming on camera and funny and the only real drawback was the fact that he had to work that summer. Luke was a bit older (21) but he looks young on film and in real life and he had that easy air I imagined Dan having. We taped both guys doing a few key scenes and then we did a faux interview where they had to be in character. Joe, Mark and I sat down once we had enough audition footage and watched all of it. And still couldn't decide. Then the other guy backed out because he had to get a summer job, and that was that. Luke was Dan -- end of story. I'd love to work with that other guy now that he's a bit older -- he definitely had talent, with a John Cusack look about him. It would have to be something written for him. Maybe an English Grosse Point Blank?

    Dan's brother and sister, Spike and Sarah: Embarrassingly, I don't think I gave Jason or Hazel an audition. Do you know when you have a feeling about people? I had that feeling about Jason and Hazel. I asked both of them if they were interested and they were. Later, it came out of the woodworks that both had acted before. When they came together for scenes with Luke, it was bizarre -- the three of them all gelled straight away. Before we shot the scene where Dan asks his brother what happened to their parents, we had problems setting up the lighting and while Joe, Mark and Sampsa were sorting things out, I did some exploratory exercises with the guys to help them pull of the necessary emotion. As we talked, both Luke and Jason discovered that they had very similar family situations, with lots of half and step brothers and sisters. Their bonding on this completely changed their relationship to each other in real life, so when we came to shoot the scene, the crew and I were literally unable to breathe and the hairs stood on our arms. That scene was completely real and alive to them as much as it has been for us.

    Leon (Gigi's abusive husband) and the interrogator: Iris (Gigi) went to a local renowned acting school in Brighton with Pete and Helen. I'd seen both of them perform in a few student shows that Iris invited me to, so I knew their acting skills already. Helen came in at the last minute, when we had someone back out and she learned her line literally on that day of shooting. Most of the people in the film were untrained actors, so it was a real treat to watch them work. Watching them act made me wish I'd written a better script (sigh).

    Hector (Dan's drug-dealing friend): Dan Shelton is a local artist, actor and performer. I met him at a participatory youth conference aimed at those working in the youth sector -- he was 'performing' there with a troupe. He's a great comedic actor and though we did tape his audition, we probably didn't need to. Dan made himself famous by shipping himself to the Tate in a box crate and won a £10k artist prize. He's been a great inspiration as a fellow artist for as long as I've known him.

    Tenshun(beatboxer/rapper): Tenshun is a very well-known local character, often seen in front of the HSBC drumming with a makeshift drum kit of cardboard boxes and plastic buckets and in the evenings, drinking at Riki Tiks with JFB. He is invariably found at every drum n bass, hiphop and some breaks nights. He's got a dark mean streak, but definitely a Brighton "character".

    Rose and her lover: are played by real-life wife and husband Sandy and John Ahmed. John worked his early retirement at my local newsagent, Bright News. They're a lovely couple. I just asked them to do it and they said yes. None of the older people I knew (of which I know many!) were brave enough to face the cameras.

    Care home resident: Richard Raphael spent his life as a concert pianist and in a previous life, played a minor character in American 80's soap opera General Hospital.

    Is there anything you would have done differently? If you'd had a larger budget?

    Knowing what I know now and with a bigger budget, I would have:
    -- spent more time developing the script with the help of professionals
    -- used HD.
    -- had more production crew ie continuity person, more runners
    -- story boarded everything at the beginning (as opposed to on the day)
    -- had editing on location for daily rushes
    -- sat in during the editing process during post prod
    -- used a casting director and a postproduction supervisor
    -- planned more (than I did)
    -- not hired the lights for some scenes
    -- paid crew for their time!!
    -- finally, made sure to shoot every single scene, establishing shot, everything that was in the script.

    It's hard to say beyond that without doing permanent damage to my brain (writing a script at the moment!) but with the skills and experience I had as a film scriptwriter/director, I don't think it would have been very sensible to invest more money into it than I did, because money doesn't make something good.

    At one point during filming, I did wonder what I was doing making a film and secretly wished I'd just stuck to writing stories and novels!! However, there was such camaraderie and solidarity throughout the process of making the film that I wouldn't trade that for the world.

    I nearly cried when we Joe, Mark, Sampsa and I met at the Sanctuary Cafe on a Saturday morning one spring to plan the final day of shooting and Mark said "this is the last time we're ever going to do this, you know?" It was sad because we'd had so much fun. Exhausting but fun. Imagine that your life suddenly included thirty extra people -- and even though you were working your ass off, it still felt like one great party.

    Thanks Amy.

    Only Stopping is due to be screened at select cities in the UK, United States and Europe. Information about those screenings can be found at the film's myspace:

    Links for 2007-04-01 [] - Rmail

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  • Sloof Lirpa

    That Day Did you get caught out by anything today? I teetered on the edge during The Observer's Tony Blair treading the boards piece until about the second paragraph which says a lot about my mental state right now. I've always loved April Fools, although there does seem to be a regimentation to it, especially online, where ultimately it ends up being Google announcing some new product or two companies least likely to merging.

    About the only time I successfully ran with an April Fool was at school when I cruelly managed to convince someone who was then a fellow Star Trek fan that all of The Next Generation sets had been burnt to the ground -- he was the kind of man who would start throwing off contingency ideas, his best being 'They could run a set of episodes set in the past whilst they get the bridge at least rebuilt', but secretly I could tell he was crushed. So I had to tell him - and he punched me in my BCG scar.

    My favourite example is still probably the Harmony Cousins interview in The Guardian, which I managed to perpetuate and puzzle a few Americans with on Metafilter. As I later mentioned here, it seemed to perfectly capture exactly the kind of profile interviews that the paper published then and still does. There's only a hairs breath and a sheen of fact between that and this piece from Friday about Jennifer Lopez. The point being made was that in the end most of the people who appear in these things have had roughly the same lives except in a slightly different order.

    Which sort of makes you wonder who the joke was on...

    Ho and indeed hum.

    TV Mainstream reviews of last night's debut are trickling through and perhaps the most bizarre is this item from Jon Wise, the self appointed 'wise man of tv' who writes for The People. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, etc, but never have four hundred odd words been so misjudged. Example:

    "The constant changing of actors leaves a continuity problem larger than Simon Cowell's ego. A problem that could have been overcome if this series offered something new to distract. But if the opener is anything to go by, then we're in for the same tricks over again.

    Rather than a big, bold, Dalek-filled start, we were palmed off with naff aliens and a schmaltzy storyline."

    Seriously, what's he expecting? You simply can't introduce a new companion in some massive complicated story without them becoming lost, especially not with such a short running time. The man might like his Daleks, but you can't have them every week. They tried that during the Hartnell era and they became boring. As the beer commercial says, you need to take your time.

    Anyone else noticed anything unusual going on in the land of the professional tv reviewer?

    Barb Jungr

    Straight from Outpost Gallifrey central:

    BBC 1 ITV 1 BBC 2 CH4 CH5
    19:00 .. 7.4 (37.5%) .. 4.4 (22.1%) .. 1.8 ( 9.3%) .. 1.0 ( 4.9%) .. 0.6 ( 2.9%)
    19:15 .. 8.3 (39.6%) .. 4.4 (21.0%) .. 1.9 ( 8.9%) .. 1.3 ( 6.1%) .. 0.6 ( 2.9%)
    19:30 .. 8.9 (41.3%) .. 4.3 (20.3%) .. 1.2 ( 5.7%) .. 1.5 ( 6.9%) .. 0.7 ( 3.2%)

    Overall: 8.2 (39.5%)

    I find it really strange that the umpteenth rerun of a Harry Potter film can still get as high a rating as that against something which is made for roughly the same target audience. Still a great result. It'll be interesting to see how much of a dip there is next week during Easter weekend with TV Burp showing on the other side.

    Links for 2007-03-31 [] - Rmail

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