Human Nature.

TV Impeccable. There's no other word for it. Remember how we all felt after Daleks In Manhattan, so cautious not to stamp classic status onto something in case it all went wrong. Despite the inclusion of more alien possession and armies (which I'm willing to relax about since they seem to be de-facto genre elements now), nothing and no one in this forty-five minutes that is Human Nature put a foot wrong and its sequel, The Family of Blood is going to have to be a real stinker for this not to be listed as one of the greatest television stories of all time. When the only thing you can find wrong with an episode is a slightly dodgy bit CG scaffolding it's difficult not to simply list everyone who made it happen and drift off into sycophancy so I'll try not to.

Instead I'll attempt to look below the surface and try to find the key to its success. I think it's that the episode managed to be both traditional and ground-breaking in the same breath, melding traditional expectations and storytelling with contemporary narrative techniques. An array of characters greeting the threat from various angles before the Doctor becomes involved has been the series narrative stock in trade for decades and works much better here than in the Dalek story because that threat is as much of mystery to us as to Martha ranking up the tension.

But within that there were flashes backwards and forwards initially to elegantly explain how The Doctor became John Smith then to articulate the extra perception of the boy with a gift. Highlander-lite perhaps but its an innovation for this series and welcomed because it gives the show a much higher quality. It's the expression of mental imagery from the Tardis console room to the trenches, elegantly showing rather than telling the audience what they need to know. I've been guilty of slapping a cinematic label on some episodes but that was absolutely true here - there's nothing else that looks quite like this on British television right now.

It's a story that's also very aware of the history of the show, both in its new and old form. Certainly with Paul Cornell writing and Russell T Davies tinkering there can't fail to be something that doesn't resonate with the old guard. But unlike plonking the Macra in as a joke, the material here looked to the very DNA of the series, with the mention of its creators as literally the mother and father of John Smith and the following image, literally taking a page out of the show's history:

This could have been a picture of the Ninth Doctor only and in middle of everything else in John Smith's dream journal, which given that its filled with references to the new series that's exactly what you'd expect. Except there's Bill, Sylv, the tops of what look like Pete and Pat's heads and right in the middle Paul. It's the first time internally within an episode of the new series that the faces of those that came before have been acknowledged and strengthens the continuity and is an expression of the fact that despite the gaps it really is all one story. This animation shows were the portraits came from (created by someone at Outpost Gallifrey. Fans, eh? Cuh).

A glimpse, then it's gone but at least it's there. And like the re-emergence of Gallifrey at an opportune moment once again you wonder whether it's planting something for the future for the forty-fifth anniversary next year. The appearance of McGann here once again suggests that if the apparent adversary for the end of the series is he who must be obeyed that his fate in San Francisco might even be referred to. I know all of this is an over analysis of a single page in a prop artist's fantasy but it just demonstrates the integrity of the episode that such details can send this fan imagination into a spin.

This is also the first story that really expresses Clive's warning to Rose about the implications of the Doctor and who he is. Something that has bubbled under the surface throughout the history of the series is the extent to which the Doctor's appearance in breaking a status quo creates more harm than good, that he does in fact bring death. Essentially what happens in this episode is that the Tardis deposits him in a place and time to hide him from some monsters who when they arrive vaporize or possess humans in order to get to him - in other words isn't he responsible for their deaths by bringing those monsters here? Is his protection, his life worth more than theirs?

Questions for next time perhaps. My feeling is that The Family of Blood will be revealed to be attack dogs for Mr Saxon, like the Headhunter from the BBC7 audios sent into space and time to track him down, a scent created by the phone calls that Martha made home in the previous episodes. If that's the case it'll be a far more satisfying linking arc than either Bad Wolf or Torchwood ever were. Actually, I've just had a horrifying thought. What if Captain Jack is secretly working for Mr Saxon and the fighting hand was another way of homing in on the Doctor when he's in the right century - that he's not simply looking for a reunion with an old friend but following orders? It'd put a whole new complexion on the past series of Torchwood if that was the case ...

May the twenty-fifth be with you.

Film So Happy Birthday Star Wars, everybody's favourite film (inc). Thirty years and the franchise is still kicking, albeit in comics and novels and computer games and what not marking time until it turns up on television in some form. I'm just old enough not to remember the original release and maintain that I saw Empire Strikes Back before Star Wars although it was such a long time ago I can't really remember. I do remember a double bill of those two at the Woolton Cinema one afternoon with an ice cream and Kiora in the middle.

There have been all kinds of curious reports on television and radio all day. Jayne Nelson talks about giving an interview here, and a slightly startled sounding David Malcolm appeared on Radio Four's Front Row to talk about going to a special screening in London weeks before the release when George Lucas was apparently still sounding out opinion on whether the film was worth releasing. David told him it was (good man) and the rest is history.

For a while, the myth was that on release the original film received the kinds of notices greeting the final(ish) Pirates of the Caribbean film now (you can hear Mark Kermode being particularly angry opinion hear). Imagine my surprise when I look up Malcolm's own words here and find and indeed he was pretty positive about the thing. What's lovely about that review is that ultimately describes why the the film was a success -- the timeless qualities and the familiar aspects blended into something that no one had seen before.

When The Matrix was released in 1999, everyone called it the new Star Wars (and let's not forget that was the same year that there real was a new Star Wars film released). And yet just seven years later that film is hardly thought of with the same affection. If there are Matrix conventions the profile isn't as high. Partly this is to do with the lack of new product but to an extent it was simply because at its core it was smoke and mirrors and actually essentially doing everything Star Wars did all those years before. It also had those timeless qualities, same familiar aspects and in bullet time something no one had seen before.

But one they'd gone, there wasn't an expanding universe for people to become lost in and be curious about. In fact the two sequels (which I still maintain were pretty good films) went so far into explaining away the magic, they literally sapped the mystery out of the franchise. Looking up at the box set that contains the three movies and the Animatrix spin-offs in its lovely green box you don't feel as though there's anything else you need to know. In Star Wars, it's like you're watching the tip of a narrative iceberg, that there are hundreds of stories of which you're just seeing one. I think that's why its survived -- it has the power to open up the imagination.

Malcolm also mentioned in the Front Row interview how amazing it was, at least at the UK release to see people queuing up around the cinema to see the film. Looking at this review from The Times, I'm not surprised. The competition was The Deep and Goodbye Emmanuelle. Tough choice that.

Can I have a bid, please, Bob?

TV Some television history is on sale at eBay. A selection of the sculptures that appeared on the set and in the title buffers of the ’80s quiz show Blockbusters have surfaced. Hamlet, Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley, Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II were saved by the seller during the closure of the Lenton Lane ITV studios where they’d been adorning the cafe for many years.

Despite being made of polystyrene they’re pretty heavy – the Pope and Hamlet are four stones each so you can understand why they’re pick up only. In West Wales. Luckily for anyone planning a trip but doubting their provinance there are pictures of some of them in situ. My only question is were the seller is storing them. They’re pretty big, the height of a person.

"I thought I was the last Jew left alive. I walked out to the surface and waited for the Germans."

Film For the past few months I've been keeping a filmlog, short reviews of most of the things I've been watching, including a review as long as the note box will allow. It's quite a test reducing everything you think about a film to two lines and I think I fail more times than I succeed and sometimes it's basically impossible.

Claude Lanzmann's Shoah is a nine-hour film about the Holocaust which instead of following the usual pattern of including archive footage of the concentration camps and ghettos, instead relies on the testimonies of survivors, bystanders and even perpetrators.

It's simply harrowing as men and women force themselves to remember events and feelings that they've buried for forty years and you can often see a fear in their eyes as it becomes apparent that in some ways the Nazis succeeded in creating the legacy they strove for at least in the minds of these people.

At no point does anyone seem exploited; although Lanzmann sometimes nudges them to continue talking (painfully in some cases) they all have an understanding that they're putting their experiences on record. But he doesn't stop if he thinks an interviewee who had the capacity to do something about it, or even perpetrated the crime is being evasive with their answers.

I'll admit to not watching the whole film in one sitting. My rental service treated the work as a television series and sent it a disc at a time, so it was section of two hours or so. Even then it was a difficult ask and at times I would guiltily set the disc aside until I felt like I could just ...

Which explains the power of the film -- considering it mostly consists of talking heads and verite footage of survivors returning to the scenes of their nightmares. I have a vivid imagination and just with their subtitled words I conjured up all kinds of images, some of which I'll never forget.

Now and then, the grainy 16mm footage fills in the gaps with shots of the mountains of possessions collected by the aggressors before the Jewish people entered the concentration camps or of the train that carried them to their certain death. Often shots would be repeated to remind the viewer that this wasn't simply a single act of murder. The Nazis systematically went about their business, day in and out, week in and out, over and over.

I was originally going to say on my filmlog that everyone should be able to find nine hours in their life to sit through this. But it's really the kind of work that can profoundly effect the way you think about the world and what a certain version of humanity is capable of and if you're not prepared for it you'll have to be a very happy person to bounce back easily.

What I will say is that at the age of thirty-two, having seen Schindler's List, Conspiracy and countless other dramas and documentaries about the holocaust I've only now gone some way to really understand what happened and for the first time in ages wanted to pray that something like this never happens again. Even though I know that such evils have happened day in and out, week in and out, over and over since then and continue to happen today.

Anyway, back to the filmlog. Next, Congo (1995) ...

Can I have an 'H', please Bob?

The title on this ebay sale says everything really:


This piece of television history is yours for just £25-. Assuming you can get to West Wales to pick it up. Says the seller:

"Originally commissioned for the ITV set of the popular 80’s TV gameshow with Bob Holness, “Blockbusters” After starring in the studio gameshow set, they spent a long period of time decorating the Lenton Lane ITV studios, in the café and high up on the scene dock walls. They came into private ownership last year after Carlton closed the Lenton Lane Studios in a unbelievable and saddening fit of “account’s red mist.” (The accountants then ran amok and also closed Tyne Tees as well as Meridian, both superb, irreplaceable and famous studio facilities.)"

And that's Blockbusters.

"to give its full title"

Elsewhere I went to town on another Hamet tonight whilst I watch Liverpool lose. Features an amusing photo for fans of television detectives.

12 Marc Culwick

Hamlet played by Marc Culwick
Directed by Michael Croft

Surprisingly, the moment when I really began to understand what Shakespeare was trying to do wasn’t during Hamlet but Measure for Measure. I was watching the BBC television version from the eighties and it had reached the fourth scene of act two. Angelo, a hitherto emotionless logical character (think Star Trek’s Spock in his bearded mirror universe version) has fallen in lust with a nun, Isabella, whose brother he’s condemned to death for making a baby outside of wedlock. He gives a speech in which he slowly comes to terms with these feels and decides what he’s going to do about it.

A young Tim Piggot-Smith plays it impeccably in that production and for the first time I understood that Will was writing about real human emotions, something I’d missed during the remote classroom readings that I’d sat through beforehand. I wasn’t a fan yet, but I completely related to Angelo in this moment, especially since I was dealing with similar emotions myself during these post-puberty years, which were a history of unattainable girls who I could even conceive of approaching. Luckily I didn’t follow his lead because, y’know, that would have been bad.

The point I’m trying to make is that Shakespeare works best in performance and the best way to inspire kids to enjoy is work is to put a really good, really accessible production in front of them, literate, clear and filled with the kind of passion and emotion that they might find in the typical movie and soap opera. That version of Measure for Measure has bags of that (it won a few awards) as did Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. The problem is that you can’t really plan for it. You can certainly try, but if just one of the elements is missing or not quite right you’re wasting your time.

The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain in Michael Croft’s production of Hamlet (to give its full title) is one of these attempts. This is a video published in 1984 by Schofield and Sims video designed, according to the box, ‘for use in schools, educational institutions and privately at home’. What this means is that the viewer is presented with the bare bones of the plot, whole speeches curtailed to the minimum, and a narrative shrunk to fit into just eighty minutes. The guts of the story are narrated and explained by Martin Jarvis, who appears between scenes dressed in a brown corduroy jacket sitting on a dirty orange armchair.

The effect reminds me of the treatment the half finished Doctor Who story Shada got on video were Tom Baker featured to talk the viewer through the bits that went unfilmed because of industrial action. It’s pretty sympathetically done and Jarvis is an excellent presenter and there is wonderful moment at the opening when he remembers his own time with the youth theatre. It’s just a bit frustrating when he says things like ‘and then there’s a very famous speech from Fortinbras about this…’ you can tell the purpose is to force the viewer to go and actually pick up a copy of the play to fill in the gap.

It’s all very noble then but unfortunately it doesn’t really work. This whole enterprise has been produced under the impression that its audience simply can’t be bothered to sit through a complete production of the play and would much rather have this garroted version instead. It is literally Shakespeare without the apparent boring bits. They might as well have stuck a label on the front that says: ‘For people who don’t have a couple more hours to sit through the whole thing’. It might have helped if the cuts hadn’t been quite so peculiar, but what’s the point in dropping a classic such as Polonius’s advice to Laertes yet leaving in the unfunny business with Osric? The emotional heart of the play has been cut out.

The other problem is the production itself, which seems designed to fulfill all of the prejudices that potential students have of what it might look like. The costumes are all faux-Elizabethan for a start and all of the young actors affect RC accents that are just silly. Frankly if this had been my first introduction to the play or indeed Shakespeare, you wouldn’t be reading this blog as it does everything wrong that the BBC Shakespeare, Luhrmann and indeed the off the ground show I saw a couple of weeks ago did so right. If the tape was produced to try and make the thing accessible to the uninterested they’ll continue to be uninterested.

Marc Culwick’s central performance doesn’t help. He adopts a shouty mad gurning approach which divorces the viewer from the character. More often than not he seems to be reacting to vocal cues and never appears to be listening to the other characters – there’s little chemistry between them and him which amongst other things makes a nonsense of why Ophelia would ever fall for him. About the only time this understandable is during the Ghost scene when he’s obviously been filmed separately from the other actor who’s appearing via the magic of wizzo mid-Eighties video effects.

There are still some solid performances though. The standout is obviously Nathaniel (call me Nat) Parker as a devilish Claudius who steals all of his scenes and in hindsight obviously looks destined to have a great career. His stand out scene is when the new King seeks penitence, his magnetic eyes breaking the fourth wall as he seems to be asking the viewer for their forgiveness. You can only imagine how brilliant his Hamlet might have been. Rachel Bell’s Ophelia works too, injecting a darkness right from the beginning which rationalizes the decent into madness perfectly.

If the tape fails as an literature education tool it gains a novelty value because of the section that appears at the end of the production in which Ron Daniels (pictured), a director with the RSC, works the young actors through some of the scenes and situations redirecting their work. Obviously in hindsight its fun to see the kinds of fashions a young actor in the mid-Eighties might wear for these kinds of things (The The t-shirts and bright red leggings) and to see which of them are thesps ™ waiting for their career and which might be doing it for extra credit.

But, the real curiosity is seeing how some of these performances, so stilted during the main production suddenly gain nuances and depth. Daniels’s general message to them is to really think about their words and really understand their import. He interrupts, he asks them to repeat some things and slowly they all, Culwick in particular, begin to look and sound more like the characters they’re supposed to be rather than actors working through lines. For example, he has Culwick play Hamlet’s greetings with Horatio and Marcellus, then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in quick succession, teasing out that usually missed notion that he’s genuinely pleased to see the former, a confident, but suspicious of the latter two whom he should be question as to their motive. That often played as Hamlet teasing them, but Daniels’s idea is that they he should be putting them on the spot and that seems right too.

Watching that band of actors, their whole careers in front of them, I wondered what they did next. Nat Parker (Claudius) is easy; as well as turning up in the Zefrelli film as Laertes he’s had a steady career in character roles before hitting the prime time as Inspector Thomas Lynley, in the BBC television series based on the novels by Elizabeth George. I jotted down everyone else in the cast list and with the help of the wikipedia, found that only a handful went on to become the kind of people who have profiles on the wikipedia.

Marc Culwick (Hamlet) is ‘married with three children and currently works as a Theatre Studies teacher in Devon, England. As a teacher he is considered by his students to be truly inspirational, and has successfully directed several school musicals and co-directed several Shakespeare pieces.’ Good for him. I wonder if he’s ever shown his students this video and what they thought. It’s important to remember, should any of them be googling that all of the above is just an opinion – I could have simply misread what I saw.

Rachel Bell (Ophelia) ‘now works in theatre and as a teacher for an English boarding school. Previously appeared as Margaret Holmes in Grange Hill (1997-2002); Edith Pilchester in The Darling Buds of May (1991-1993); and Louise, the overbearing chair of the divorcee support group in Dear John (1986-1987). She also appeared in the Doctor Who story The Happiness Patrol (1988) and the Only Fools and Horses episode "To Hull and Back" (1985).’ She was in The Happiness Patrol with the pink hair and everything?

Lloyd Owen (Ghost) ‘is best known for playing Paul Bowman-MacDonald in the BBC television series Monarch of the Glen (2002-2005), and for his portrayal of Indiana's father Dr. Henry Jones Sr. in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-1999). He recently played the role of solicitor William Heelis in the film Miss Potter (2006).’

Jonathan Cake (Lucianus) ‘has worked on various TV programs and series. His most notable roles include Oswald Mosley in Mosley, 'Tyrannus' in the TV epic Empire and Dr. Malcolm Bowers in the NBC TV series Inconceivable. In summer 2006, he played the title role in the Shakespeare's Globe Theater's production of ‘Coriolanus’. He is married to American actress Julianne Nicholson.’ Lucky sod – and not a bad career trajectory. I wondered what his reaction might have been if he’d learnt that his bit part in an NYT production would eventually lead to a title role in a re-created Globe Theatre.

"our aim remains the same"

Magazine In a surprising bit of scheduling on Saturday night, Film4 are showing Cecil B DeMille's 1929 silent film The Godless Girl. Finally receiving its UK television premiere the film tells the story of 'an atheist couple sent to reform school' at least according to this week's Radio Times. They give it three stars but I'll certainly still be recording it, especially since it's not out on dvd and love DeMille's early work. That's exactly what I love about the Radio Times and why I'm a regular reader -- although other listings magazines have roughly the same information, the BBC backed publication seems highlight these little broadcasting oddities more clearly.

We've always bought the Radio Times. Even though it's slightly more expensive than most other listings magazines it always seem like better value, certainly more authoritative. We're a BBC family in general and the magazine seems to be an extension of that. It heralds Christmas, it greets a new series of Doctor Who and it has the oddity of still being called the Radio Times when television has taken over the majority of its pages (presumably because the obvious other choice is being used by someone else).

This week, the magazine has had a spring clean as it still tries to come to terms with digital television and the myriad channels available beyond the terrestrial. The design hasn't changed overall, except perhaps in the features pages. Some sections have been expanded, others re-prioritized, but I would say there has been a slight re-energising of their primary ethos; now more than ever trying to be a bloody good listings magazine. As Gill Hudson, the editor notes on page three, "our aim remains the same: to offer the best possible guidance to the week's top programmes, no matter how many channels and stations are out there."

To this end, the recommendation pages for television and films on television have been gathered at the front and joined by a smaller radio list too. The ensuing features pages are much the same with both the Behind the Scenes and Doctor Who exclusive articles being a visual feast with very bold photography. This week's main feature is a Film Special introduced by Andrew Collins which is tangentially connected to the movies being broadcast this week, in which various directors talk about their favourites - a small box indicating when some of their choices are going to be on. It is a great little article and you've got to love the editorial choice of putting it in there just so they could put Daniel Craig on the cover.

The redesign of the columns and film pages are an attempt to bring order to chaos - this new format makes better sense. Each of the contributors gets a whole page to play about with and the look is far more uniform. Gareth McLean isn't simply dropping a catch-up synopsis of each of the soaps now, he's a whole column of comment to fill - it is a shame though that the Real Me TV Me slot has been dropped. Same for the sports page and there's a new page called Living which has sucked in the old gardening coverage but provides room for the likes of food and homes.

Stuart Maconie's taken over from Phill Jupitus in the music department with a slightly less specific column that the comedian's album review. Oddly, though, Stuart's new page is called 'Music+TV DVDS+THE WEB' (the last one written by someone called Jack Seale instead). It somehow makes sense on the page but the DVD review's length has been cut back - I just hope it keeps its eclecticism - last week he wrote about Mr Magoo for goodness sake.

The film pages then are slightly more robust as they envelope back in Barry Norman's 'Film Star of the Week' and Andrew's Film DVD review. The front page no longer features the films of the week and is replaced with a wonderful 'Hidden Gem' thing by David Parkinson, the Movie Moment of the Week and some comment by Collins and Adam Smith (ex-Empire Magazine). This seems fresher and gives the section a much stronger identity. Films of the day are now peppered throughout the text that makes better sense and the interesting facts also dribbled through in circles.

Alison Graham's always fabulously outrageous column has been moved to the front page of the television listings and again this gives them a much more distinctive presence. The format of the television listings has been in something of a spin for the past decade, since the advent of Channel Five. Previously the evening programmes for each of the four main channels spread across the page, half a side each. When Five sprang up it suddenly had to deal with an odd number and over the years ITV flipped back and fourth across the margin. In the last reformat, BBCs Three and Four, ITVs Two and Three, E4 and More 4 were dropped over to these main pages essentially creating six columns which visually made greater sense but was still a bit of a mess, no matter how much shading was dropped in.

In this new version, the problem has been solved by keeping the old terrestrials were they are and giving a whole extra spread to the second string digitals. This acknowledges their increasing viewship in multi-channel homes with ITV4 in particular gaining much clearer coverage (which is great - I used to miss all kinds of things on there because I could never find the listing). The biggest anomaly is Five's coverage. That network's still being treated as a bit of runt - their main channel is much thinner than the other four and Five US and Five Life are also given slightly less space. There's not a lot on them, but it's an interesting choice which perhaps reflects how the channels have still yet to make their mark really, between the endless reruns of CSI.

A slightly smaller anomaly comes with the treatment of films. Nestled next to the listing for More4 is Film4 which is a great idea since it's the only film channel on freeview and gaining in viewership. But then curiously, the same information is repeated two pages later in the main satellite film listing, which makes it its third appearance after the 'at a glance' on the first pages. Overkill or just a clever realization of how people will want to access the information? Freeviews won't need to venture onto those satellite orientated pages any more and the channel isn't going to be overlooked quite so much. To these eyes it's a very clever choice, especially if it means that some viewers will now be more likely to find and tune into their more culty choices.

On then to the Radio pages and again it's a more full-bodied entry; a two page spread filled with highlights gathering together the daily choices all in one place and includes podcast suggestions. That change is to make way for listings pages that sort the various radio stations into genre, acknowledging the growth of digital listening by dragging the likes of 1Xtra and Planet Rock (me neither) into the mix (were they'd previously been ghettoized at the end). There's load more information here and it's achieved quite simply - by reducing the size of the font. I can already see the angry letters in the next issue from people with poor eyesight, but it works well, and again means that people might increase the variety of their listening. Plus they've also somehow managed to cram in some illustrative photographs, revealing the faces behind the voices and on Monday that means Myleene Klass (which is a very good thing indeed).

The Kids TV pages have been enveloped into the main listings and are much easier to read - I never did quite understand the whole repeated programmes across the week thing especially when they clearly weren't - but everything else is much the same. I love the letters pages. Sometimes they're a haven for small mindedness especially in the Letter of the Week choices (they got a free radio for writing that?) but often there's some genuinely witty or wry comment. Not this week though - some bizarre letter in here from someone complaining about Robert Carlyle having an independent thought about politics on the Today programme: 'I used to be a three-hours-a-day Today listener, but now I'm even considering Radio Five Live'. Not really a classless society is it?

So all in all, well worth the extra two pence that's been slapped onto the cover price to pay for the rejig. It's now an even more substantial magazine too adding an extra twenty-odd pages to accommodate everything. My only criticism is that I'd like to see even more radio listings pages to redress the imbalance between that and television - there's a lot of scope there for longer articles and interviews with radio personalities, especially at a time when listenerships continue to rise. More serious analysis of television trends too - I think it could withstand a return to the printing of ratings and their implications. But overall this new Radio Times version however many it is now makes it even more indispensable even though, of course, other listings magazines are available.

I still miss the old wavy logo though.

"The tempter or the tempted, who sins most, huh?"

Theatre I was horrified to wake up this morning and see the cinder that is the Cutty Sark. I know that optimistically it can be repaired and it's a blessing that fifty percent wasn't there for repair, but it is one of the national's landmarks and something I always wanted to revisit as an adult (my parents remind me every time the athletes dodge past it during the London Marathon that once went as a child, an event I don't remember). Interesting to note that Sky News's coverage was suitably doom stricken with 'Cutty Sark destroyed' whereas BBC Breakfast were surprisingly measured with 'Cutty Sark damaged' which isn't the same thing and far more optimistic.

For some unconnected reason it inspired me to do something I'd been wanting to get around to since I was the age of seventeen. Way back then I was studying Shakespeare's Measure For Measure and in the midst of the research for the exam I would ultimately fail, I read about an adaptation of the play from the late 1600s which mixed in elements of Much Ado About Nothing. It's something that's intrigued me all these years and so today I finally did some research and managed to identify both what it was called and where I could find a copy. The hybrid goes by the apt title, The Law Against Lovers and was written by Sir William Davenport in 1662.

I found a facsimile of the play in a local library published in the 1970s by Cornmarket Press. As a facsimile it was a bugger to read with these modern eyes, with the letter 's' randomly substituted for an 'f' and other mad punctuation due to what amounted as printing technology back then. The play was written and first presented at the newly established Duke of York's theatre in its early days and did not go down well with most critics. According to the introduction Samuel Pepys thought it 'good play, well performed' but another with the kind of acid tongue you'd expect from someone like Lyn Gardener in The Guardian said that the author was 'a far better cook than a poet' mixing 'two good plays to make one bad'.

Without hopefully getting ahead of myself, they're not wrong. The rational isn't that awful but it does have a ring of poor fan fiction to it. Walking in from Much Ado Benedick is made Angelo's brother and Beatrice becomes the stand-in ruler's ward. If you're not familiar with either play, have a quick look at the wikipedia entries. It does look like a stretch doesn't it? Especially if you want to keep any of the really important stuff like the language. Essentially what happens is that Beatrice and Benedick are plotting against Angelo instead of Claudio towards the end of the play and to make room for the them the 'low comedy' scenes with the likes of Mistress Overdone are chopped out taking away the class dimension and turning the play into something more courtly.

It's a Frankenstain of text with Shakespeare's material from both wedged together regardless of the fact that textually they're tonally very different. Benedick is given dialogue from the likes of Escalus so that he can participate in the action from Measure for Measure, whilst at the same time sharing the familiar banter with Beatrice. The other authorial voice, Davenport tries his best to pastiche the bard's work but he's simply a blander writer and like those moments on old BBC programmes when someone would indoors and the picture quality would shift from film to video, Davenport is simply a blander writer and his work looks like an intrusion, especially when he's rewritten Shakespeare's words to try and cover the joins, the rhythm of some lines becoming corrupted.

Generally it's like watching the last three Sorkinless seasons of The West Wing -- the characters seem the same and their speech is sometimes similar or even identical but there's always the nagging feeling that something isn't quite right. The horrifying apogee of this is a new third scene between Angelo and Isabella at the climax of the new Act IV. In the original Measure for Measure, the first two scenes are real powerhouses of drama filled with double meaning, moralistic meditation and high emotion. In the first Isabella, the nun, pleads with Angelo to spare her brother whom he has condemned under a newly re-enforced law regarding sex out of wedlock. In the second, after a great speech in which he admits to himself he's fallen for Isabella's passion and has no clue how to deal with it, Angelo says he'll let her brother live if she'll sleep with him.

In Davenport's version that self-realisation is missing and in this new scene we find out why. It's revealed that actually he had no intention of killed Claudio - it was all a ruse so that he could test her virtue and that by not succumbing she passed his test. Then we find out what he was up to:
"But since you fully have endur'd the test.
And are not only good, but brave, the best
Of all you sex, submissively I soo
To be your lover, and your husband too.'
Yeah, thanks mate. What he essentially seems to be saying there is that since she passed his test and wouldn't sleep with him when he'd condemned her brother to death, he thinks she an alright gal and would happily sleep with or marry her now. Not only does this make Angelo an even bigger creep but it desecrates the integrity of the character, the cold man unable to control his new feelings and venting them in completely the wrong way. Instead, he was apparently in control of the situation all along which makes the Duke's masquerade as the friar deeply inconsistent too - Mariana, the wife he would have wed in the closing act and Isabella's get out clause is omitted altogether.

None of which should suggest that my disappointed opinion couldn't change should I see a really good production if anyone wanted to give it a try. There is probably a range of character business which I totally missed reading from the printed page. As with all theatre, it simply isn't given a chance to work properly until it's performed or at least attempted. But reading this text at least demonstrates that even after sixty years people were looking for new ways into Shakespeare, to interpret his work. As now, sometimes it won't always work, but it all adds the to mystique, the question of why those works endure and the magical quality that makes the best of them what they are. And I do consider Measure for Measure to be one of the best, even if its performance regularity and lack of a recent filmed version suggest otherwise.

Delicious Links (for the past fortnight)

Whedonesque: Let's Watch A Girl Get Beaten To Death.
Joss Whenon briefly uses the fan site as a blog to highlight something that's troubling him which I think it interesting in and of itself. He's not wrong too.
Nathan Fillion: Tasty Riffs, Continued Requests, and Birds of Precious Metal.
How not to get his attention on MySpace: "Post another blog/photo: Don't tell me what to do. I don't tell you what to do. Now, go make me a sandwich."
Something Awful: Talk Crazy to Me
NOT SAFE FOR WORK. Reads like a Seinfeld monologue, but funny.
LRB : For his Nose was as sharpe as a Pen, and a Table of greene fields
Another review of the new RSC reprint of the First Folio of Shakespeare's complete works -- goes into detail regarding formating which is something I haven't seen anywhere else.
filmlog: Point Break (1991)
Another action film that academics love to write about because of the gay subtext, this oscillates wildly between brilliance and so-bad that it's good. Gary Busey largely steals the thing from under everyone's noses.
BRINGO : Stop Talking to Machines and Talk to a Real Human
"Find the company you'd like to call by category, enter your phone number, wait a few seconds while we navigate the phone tree and when we call you back, pick up your phone and you're done. No more phone trees." But only in the US. Damn.

filmlog: The Constant Gardener (2005)
Plays much better on second viewing when you're able to enjoy the evocative imagery and touching performances outside of the sometimes clunky exposition. Weisz is adorable which is why completely understand Feinnes's motivation.
filmlog: Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
'Showgirls' with geishas. Appropriates the aesthetic of the Japanese heritage and although this leads to some wonderfully evocative images, the film unfortunately feels airless in places. Generally saved by some wonderful performances.
A comment in this post at 'Off The Telly' lists a range of ITV drama produced but never screened. About the most intriguing is something called 'Avenging Angels' with Jessica Stevenson.
Pomona College Orchestra Audio Excerpts
Free downloadable music. Includes the “Aquarium” movement from Saint-Saëns’ 'The Carnival of the Animals' which is one of my all time favourite pieces of music and was featured prominently in the films 'Visions of Light' and 'Days of Heaven'
Kasterborous: Woody Allen...? Who's Next, Michael Jackson?
Filed deeply in the 'if only it were true column'. Woody Allen reportedly (by The Sun) appearing in the Doctor Who Christmas special as Albert Einstein. Sounds like bobbins, but the source has called right everything else so far ... ulp ...
BBC NEWS Entertainment | Malta slates Eurovision's voting
Malta's judges complain about the routine voting. Say that the twelve marks that the UK got from them were a protest against this block voting. Apparently the phone voting isn't used throughout Europe. This explains ... so much.
Popjustice interviews Russ from Scooch about that bloody song
Russ: ''I honestly thought that the one place that would support us this time would be Popjustice and you haven't. You've been horrible.' PJ: 'The problem is not with you but with 'Flying The Flag' and that it is shit.' Russ: 'I can see your point of view
Observations on film art and FILM ART : New media and old storytelling
Excellent (as usual) essay from David Bordwell, this time about the nature of dvd and how people view them and how that effects storytelling techniques in films. Have they become richer and edgier since the turn of the millenium?
Wikipedia: Primer (film)
Excellent primer about Primer. Includes diagrams and timelines lists.
The Seven Streets of Liverpool
Fascinating website explaining in greater detail what I discovered a few weeks ago at the Liverpool 800 Lectures about the foundation of Liverpool. Thanks Ian!
TrekToday - 'Next Generation' Episode Causes Controversy in Ireland
It would be about right if a seventeen year old episode of Star Trek derailed the peace process ...
Metropolis: An Interactive Toy Story
It's the cuddly toy that actually knows when you're hugging it. Realistic beating heart included.
MetaFilter: Eurovision starting in less than 1 hour!!! Watch online!
'Good grief, the appalling Europap Turkish entry got 12 points from the UK. But compared with the British entry, it's worthy of a Grammy.' 'Is this what the end or the world as we know it looks like?' 'Memo to UK: you are not ABBA.'
Guardian Unlimited Arts Theatre story: Playing to the crowd
"Far from being the tourist trap some predicted, the Globe is much loved by audiences and actors alike. Howard Brenton on the thrill and terror of having his own play performed in Shakespeare's theatre..."
filmlog: Xchange (2000)
Fun post-exploitation thriller with an amiable script and some good ideas. Loses something when Kyle McLachlan is replaced by Stephen Baldwin who is understated to the point of narcolepsy. Pascale Bussières is brilliantly exotic too.
filmlog: This Island Earth (1955)
Another disappointment. Perhaps I've been spoiled by such modern inventions as forward narrative momentum and characterisation to really appreciate the spectacle but it's a shame there simply isn't more to it. They go to a planet, then...
Guardian Unlimited Film: As chosen by you ... the greatest foreign films of all time
Not a lot of surprises, except for how democratic and historical the list is -- Seven Samuri at three? Amazing. Perhaps this is Lovefilm in action, people catching up with classic foreign cinema. I'm just off to list those items I've missed.
BBC NEWS Entertainment: McGregor returns to London stage
As Iago at the Donmar Warehouse in a production of Othello with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role and Kelly Reilly as Desdemona which sounds amazing. Can Ewan do evil?
Andrew Collins: Cleaning up in Europe's cleanest town
His sitcom 'Not Going Out' wins the Rose D'Or beating out 'The Royle Family' and 'The Thick Of It'. See, I told you it was good. Unfortunately Andrew arrived after the ceremony had finished...
Guardian Unlimited Arts Theatre story: A Shylock for today
"How do you play Shakespeare's famous villain without resorting to anti-semitic caricature? One young actor asked Jewish religious affairs specialist Nathan Jeffay for advice."
filmlog: Grease (1978)
Or some great songs and dance numbers searching for a decent film. Feels like heresy after all these years but the movie's a slog despite the winning presence of Newton-John, Channing, Travolta and Conn. Is subtlety such a bad thing?
Adam Buxton: HAVE I GOT LAST WEEK'S NEWS FOR YOU? (yes, I do.)
His Dad said: 'Have I Got News For You is exactly the kind of programme on which you are thoroughly ill suited to appear. It's full of people being witty and telling jokes and that's not what you're good at all.'
BBC News 24 is being streamed permanently
... but only for people in the uk, which is a shame but understandable. I suspect it'll be useful if you're at work or college and one of those massive, interesting stories hits.
filmlog: Gone with the Wind (1939)
... is a very long film. The first half is pretty entertaining fitting the melodrama around the civil war, but by about hour three I began to sag and couldn't wait for it end. Very disappointing although the photography just about saves the day.

"Here Comes The Sun"

Pretty damp weather last night so ...

7.0 million (36.0% share)

Most watched programme in terms of audience, second most in relation to share because of the football (which got 53.7% share but also oddly enough 7 million odd viewers).