Left To My Own Devices

Music Just nibbling on a post Prom sausage -- someone's having a barbeque in nose range and there's only so long you can smell something like that before giving in and dieting some other time. The first piece of Prom 11, Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune which describes the moment when a faun has just awoken and spies some nymphs playing, was inspired by a poem from French author Stéphane Mallarmé.

Obviously because of time constraints there wasn't time to hire someone like Simon Russell Beale to record a version to play in before the performance but luckily and inevitably the Wikipedia has a copy. The entry notes journalistically that 'although poetry always suffers in translation, this poem presents especial difficulty, in part because so many words and phrases were chosen for lyricism rather than precision'. Here it is in French just in case.

It's heady stuff and it's not hard ladies would become embarrassed at the sight of it. I failed English Literature A-Level, but even I can see that the faun's intentions aren't entirely chivalrous:
"Day burns inert in the tawny hour
And excess of hymen is escaped away
Without a sign, from one who pined for the primal A"
It's quite surprising to see virginity (and perhaps the losing thereof) described in such a forthright manner for this period.

Mallarmé apparently modestly said that Debussy had somehow managed to transform the sentiments of the poem into music and it's true I could detect a certain eroticism to the piece. Perhaps this was the Barry White of its time, a sudden rash of births tumbling nine months after a performance.

My favourite Debussy movement is Clair De Lune from Suite Bergmanesque. It's one of the few pieces of music which actually makes me cry -- yes, even when it appeared against a waterfall in Las Vegas in the closing scene of Ocean's Eleven. Perhaps I'm become more sentimental in my old age.

Unhappy Gilmore

TV Yes, but what about Gilmore Girls Series Four in the UK people? I want to know what happens to Rory and Paris at Yale etc. etc. etc.

"Why, oh, why do I love Paris?"

Film The tourist experience of Paris is unlike anywhere else. It is an intimidating place, especially for a lingually challenged dolt like me and there is so much going on it's difficult to focus and you're inevitably not going to see all of the things you’d want to. But it’s also a dream-like, intoxicating place and the emotions you experience as you stroll along its long boulevards, through its ancient buildings and attempt to get service in its restaurants is like nowhere else. It can also be depressing, particularly if like me you've visited alone, and there isn’t anyone with whom you can share the romance (except, perhaps, total strangers).

I’ve yet to see a film which entirely captures the experience of an outsider visiting the place that manages to highlight the magic with the tragic but the new anthology film Paris J’Taime comes very close, particularly in the segment by Alexander Payne about a woman who visits the city alone but still somehow manages to fall in love with the place despite that. Payne’s section of the film manages to combine some of the funniest material with the saddest as she notices that you can both love and hate the city in equal measure. Best moment? When she says in the voice over that asking for directions gives her a chance to try out her French, only to be answered in perfect English by the Parisian shop keeper -- something which has happened to us all probably.

Anthology films are tricky to design because any linking theme can either free up or be a millstone to directors and writers. In this case it’s a mix of the two and the seventeen segments that appear before Payne quietly steals the show are a mixed bag and it’s certainly true that the very best are those which address the cultural concerns of the city rather simply presenting a story that could happen anywhere. Vincenzo Natali’s contribution in which Elijah Wood has an encounter with a vampire, whilst creepy, could have occurred in any city, whereas the film from Coen brothers in which a silent Steve Buscemi falls foul of the language barrier and someone’s fist on the Paris Metro seems as though it could only happen in Paris.

That isn’t always true and if you’re not a fan of French mimes Sylvain Chomet’s intrusion with its story of how two met and began a family is going to look like a waste of its inspiration, the Eiffel Tower (each of the segments is set in a different arrondissement of Paris). Similarly Christopher Doyle’s surreal fantasy about a traveling hairdresser, looks like the one of those films that introduces an Olympic opening ceremony or the French entry to the Eurovision song contest. But such things are more than made up for by the likes of the tale from Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas starring Catalina Sandino Moreno (from Maria, Full of Grace) which cleanly demonstrates the gap between the immigrant population of the city.

But it's to the credit of producer Emmanuel Benbihy that the film never feels empty and indeed there are segments where you wish a director had been given more screen time or would go back and continue the story begun. Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Quais de Seine’ is probably her best film, a cross cultural romance with more real heart than the whole of her Bride & Prejudice. Tom Tykwer‘s ‘Faubourg Saint-Denis‘ too is a masterpiece, a love story between the blind Melchior Beslon and movie actress Natalie Portman told in flashback employing a return to the rapid editing and shooting style of his Run, Lola, Run. But in the main each director manages to say everything they want to in the time limit, with Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Parc Monceau’ playing out in a single shot as Nick Nolte and Ludivine Sagnier walk and talk and cleverly, in the end you have re-evaluate everything you’ve heard.

If there’s a problem, because the directors appear to have been given a freehand, their only pediment being the running time and the arrondissement it’s obvious that Benbihy has had to assemble the pieces retrospectively hoping that they'll all tonally fall into place. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work, partly because of a middle section in which most of the segments seem to end melancholically but mostly because, despite short buffers introducing each area there isn’t enough time for the audience to refocus ready for the next treat and in some cases that means that they’re not giving the new film enough attention because the previous one is still in the mind. That’s a hazard all anthology films have to deal with, but it’s particularly acute here because of the brevity of the works and the sheer number of them. But you can’t fault the ambition and Paris J’Taime is never less than touching, funny and surprising.


Photography I’ve just (baring a pizza for tea) returned from a flickr meet-up organised by Katie Lips in conjunction with the Bold Street Project. I hoped not to be too much of an interloper considering I haven’t yet managed to contribute any photographs to the project, but I’m intensely interested in everything and decided to get out and network a bit. First stop was the project’s exhibition itself at FACT and if you live in the area and haven’t had a chance to visit yet, you really should.

The screens within, spread throughout a vividly colourful three dimensional collage, collect together interviews with people connected with Bold Street either because they’ve worked within its shops or studied its history. I noticed my old colleague from work and author of the Pevsner Guide to Liverpool, Joseph Sharples, giving his thoughts which shows the depth of the research which has gone into the project. Fresh content is hopefully going to be uploaded next week, perhaps including my interview about blogging, so it’s probably best to go before then, obviously.

Next stop was to the Open Eye Gallery in the midst of Wood Street for an after hours talk from its director about its history. The original gallery opened in Whitechapel in 1977 before moving to the top of Bold Street for much of the eighties (in the building which now houses one of the Rapid Hardware furniture shops). I remember that spacious gallery and I’d say my interest in art was certainly helped along by passing in here whenever there seemed to be a new exhibition. The gallery moved to its current space in 1995, and although its lease it up soon there are plans for its survival well into the next few decades at least.

The current exhibition, Clinic, which runs until the 1st August is an interesting experiment in the presentation of photography. The gallery's usual stock in trade is to have the physical items on the walls. This group show is instead projected as a series of slides in a variety of programmes increasing the volume of images that can be included creating something of a narrative which is in keeping the subject, an exploration of medicine with photographs of operations and hospitals and research labs. It’s not for the faint hearted and it is disconcerting to be confronted with images of places and people you’d hope you’d never have to meet -- and a sobering reminder that we should be grateful that they‘re there anyway.

Up then to Rodney Street to the home of famous Liverpool photographer E. Chambre Hardman, preserved by the National Trust. Hardman ran a portrait studio in the city for over forty years, first in Bold Street then in these premises, where he lived with his wife, and worked until his death in 1988. Although he built something of a reputation and was able to support himself with these endeavors, his side project was landscapes and he created some of the most iconic images of Liverpool’s past including Birth of the Ark Royal, Mersey Tunnel Interior and my favourite, Museum Steps.

As you'd expect, entering Hardman’s home is like stepping back in time as the waiting rooms and studios, his parlour and kitchen, dark room and cellar have been recreated. What’s particularly noticeable is that each room has its own particular smell from photographic paper, chemicals, dust or just age. This isn’t a ‘stately home’ though and most of the furniture and appliances are from within living memory and the kitchen in particular looks much like my Gran’s from the early Eighties. Surprisingly, Hardman himself did not hang his own work on the wall, only showing examples to prospective clients as part of his business, so many of the walls are disconcertingly bare -- but this is more than made up for in a discover centre and a small display room with an exhibition that changes annual and that this year includes those images of the city because of it’s birthday.

The night ended at the 3345 bar which according to its website “is a central social oasis designed for creatives and situated in the heart of Liverpool city centre and housed inside the famous Parr street recording studios. Regularly referred to as the epicentre of the Liverpool music scene we see our selves as a warm, welcoming and intimate establishment.” It’s just off the beaten track and has relaxed atmosphere and it was nice to chat about what we’d seen and other things. Pete from the photoblog Vanilla Days had attended and was showing off some rather cool MiniCards bought through flickr -- would it be too ostentatious to create some for this blog? I also met some people from the Our Open Space blog (part of an initiative from the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service) which I’ve promised to talk about on Liverpool Blogs over the weekend.

It was a really enjoyable evening and I look forward to further events soon.

The Taint.

Books  I wasn’t a very big fan of Michael Collier’s previous book.  Actually that’s understating things, I really, really hated Longest Day.  In the midst of the flowery descriptions such important things as plot and character got lost, like some house keys down the back of a settee, which meant as the opening act of the Lost Sam Arc it was a disaster the range didn’t really get over until Seeing I.  So it’s a surprise and pleasure to say that The Taint is something of an improvement.  It’s not perfect, but this is a rattling good romp laced with humour and excitement and shocks.

This time Collier offers a far simpler story.  It’s 1963 and a parapsychologist has gathered together a selection of test subjects after noticing specific similarities in their delusions; the Doctor’s interest is peaked and it becomes apparent that some alien has been using their respective families as test subjects for a computer programme which is part of a plan to banish trans-dimensional demons from the Earth.  Slowly the test subjects begin to gain superhuman abilities and it’s up to the Doctor to try and cure them or find a way to stop them.  Well, alright, simpler than Longest Day anyway.

If anything, it’s the plotting that lets Collier down again - despite some longish exposition scenes it’s not always clear who’s doing what to whom and why and sometimes you feel as though you might have skipped some pages.  The introduction of the main villain isn’t particularly well handled; I think the author had in mind to have the kind of subtle cutaway that’s the stock in trade of films and tv but it’s a good before pages before it’s clear what he looks like (in other words, he‘s cut back too far on his tendency to describe everything).  Similarly, despite the utilisation of some first-person interjections relating their manias its difficult to really follow who all the patients are and the significance of some of the staff of the hospital until they’re close to death…

It is a particularly creepy book, once again investigating body horror with Sam being the butt of an experiment.  When other fans have wondered why these novels aren’t being reprinted to cash in on the success of the new series I’d cite this as an example as the bodies pile up and there’s brain surgery here there and everywhere.  It’s a master class in the power of the suggestion and some of the demises are really, really nasty.  In addition, some of Sam’s intradimensional visions of demons would frighten the bejesus out of small children.  This volume is not for a family audience which is a problem when you consider who the programme is predominantly being made for now.

Once again, Collier’s in the position of introducing something and this time it’s a new companion.  Fritz Kreiner is like Ben from the Troughton era done properly, an unreconstructed man of the 60s having to deal with the modern attitudes of Sam and The Doctor and presumably the future; done well, this’ll be Life on Mars if Gene Hunt had traveled to the future and met Sam Tyler not the other way around.  I’m not sure I have a handle on what he looks like yet - some of the time, Withnail sprang to mind but I’m sure he’s less gothic, more handsome than that.

I’m usually dead against the breaking of the one time lord and a plus one (usually female) rule -- the more people there are in the Tardis, the more the writer has to find for them to do and sometimes this can make the storytelling pretty choppy -- the worse example of this was during the Davison era but I also don’t think that Big Finish have really worked out what do with C’Rizz in the Eighth Doctor audios post-Divergant universe.  There’s not enough in here to suggest how he’ll work in future novels although some interesting dynamics are already developing; there some wonderful screwball comedy between him and Sam and his relationship with the Doctor is slightly abrasive.  Since I know Fitz is to be with the crew until the very end of the series, that’s bound to soften.

The novel is probably at its best in its opening fifty odd pages, as Sam encounters a city, so familiar from her future but unfamiliar because it’s thirty years before she was born.  Yet again a spin-off portrays something which hadn’t even been considered for televised Doctor Who which is a shame because it’s a very rich seam.  There’s a real atmosphere to Collier’s descriptions of the streets of London as Fitz takes Sam on her first date in ages -- it’s the opening scenes of The War Machines writ large, but crucially it doesn‘t overwhelm the narrative.  It‘s an interesting character point though that she understands that she can’t interfere too much and indeed to some extent considers this past as alien as any of the other world’s she’s visited and or settled on.

Another delight is the characterization of the Doctor whose inquiring nature and sense of fun have returned after his somewhat sanguine demeanor in the previous novel.  Some of the best moments are when he’s trying to bluff his way into and out of situations but also when he’s trying to do the heroic thing even when it’ll cause people to die.  There’s a telling moment when his habit of dropping to temporal orbit in the Tardis has been used to solve a problem, taking weeks to create a cure for example, and how difficult he finds it to bend the rules now: ‘Had that transition from master planner to born-again novice of the universe so stopped him of his guile that he was left impotent to save those nearest to him?’

Well done then to Collier for turning in a novel which for all it’s less than lucid plotting makes up for it with some wonderful character moments and action sequences.  It’s just a shame about that cover which once again only vaguely represents what’s going on inside the book and would certainly have stopped me from buying the book when it was published in 1999.  I mean what would have been wrong with simply putting a picture of the new companion on there or for that matter Paul McGann (other then the fact there are only about four pictures of him in the wig and costume)?

Next Time: Demontage, which is the kind of title that can only be said in a gravelly voice.


Music Prom 8 brings along with Arvo Part's sublime Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britain (a blast of wind accompanied by the clang of a bell), Sergei Rakhmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and luckily it's the theme to The South Bank Show.

As I continue on what reality tv shows annoying persist in calling a 'journey' it's inevitable and welcome that every now and then there'll something I recognise and from something other than reading the title and the composer in the Proms guide and that's because I've spent half my life in front of the television and in cinemas and more often than not it'll be due it's usage in a commercial, romantic comedy or action film.

I first heard 'Ode To Joy' when the vault was opened in Die Hard and the 18th variation in the Rhapsody turned up during Groundhog Day just as Bill Murray is trying to impress (and seduce) Andie McDowell. But part of this musical education is discovering who composed this music and being able to hear it within context.

But the major work of the night, Glière's Symphony No.3 'Ilya Murometz', an eighty minute musical narrative about a Russian folk hero, also had a familiar ring to it, but not because I'd heard it directly before. Perhaps sections have influenced film composers -- I'm sure I heard fragments of everyone from John Williams to Jerry Goldsmith to Howard Shore in the mix -- although it might just be a temp track favourite (which is often echoed in a film's final themes). The piece certainly managed to conjure some of the images described in the plot synopsis in by Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny beforehand. Particularly the beheading.

My post about Prom 6 attracted a few comments by the way:Anothony Thornton wrote:
"I was lucky enough to be in the Albert Hall at the time. I confess - like others, I suspect - that I went to hear Spem In Allium. The debut of 'Ecco si beato giorno' completely blew me away. It's one of the most moving pieces of music I've ever heard. Anyway, I saw that you were sorry you hadn't recorded it - I didn't even realise it was being televised. If you want to hear it again though the BBC have it for the next few days here. And it can be reached from here.
Thanks Anthony. As I mentioned in the comments by way of a reply, my dvd recorder has Freeview built in which means I'm able to record whole programmes on to dvd which is how I was able to listen to last night's Prom this lunchtime -- the sound quality is ok, I think, and as you saw I could still hear every cough in the hall.

Ian Jones said:
"My mum and dad were at this Prom, and they told me the wall of sound generated by so many distinct voices was sensational. One Prom you really shouldn't miss is on Saturday 4th August, when Shostakovich's 7th Symphony is being performed. It's one of the most overwhelming and emotional pieces of music you'll ever hear, depicting the German invasion of the USSR during World War Two. I'm going to try and go along in person, but I know it's scheduled to be shown on BBC2."
It certainly is and I can't wait. I seem to remember BBC's 2 & 4 having far more broadcasts last year, but I suppose they have to balance the needs of the classical music fans with everyone else. Annoyingly though, they're not showing Prom 15 next Tuesday which is a presentation of Verdi's Macbeth even though its being semi-staged in the hall. Since I've even less of a clue about opera than anything else it's going to be a bit of challenge.

High Anxiety

Music Just finished catching up on last night's Prom 7, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings then Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 in E major presented by the combined might of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France. It's the first time I've really noticed the audience who you could really hear coughing through the whole of the former -- although it might have been something to do with the way the sound was being handled by the BBC engineers because it all but disappeared during the latter.

What I hadn't heard before is applause between movements. From a young age I learned that this was a no-no as it tended to break the mood particularly during the less celebratory pieces and sometimes even effected the concentration of the players. Here it was inconsistent -- a bit loud after the first movement of the Serenade then quite on each successive pause as more people got the message. It disappeared after the first bit of Bruckner before a ripple returning again. But each time you could tell that the group had begun clapping then stopped when they realised that no one else was. I remember being at a concert at the Liverpool Phil once when this happened, and the conductor turned and glared at the crowd. They didn't do it again.

Ironically, the conductor for this concert, Kurt Masur, celebrating his eightieth birthday, had commented during the interval (on tape) that the Proms audience was the best in the world, because of the intelligence of the silences and how there was always a sense of anticipation throughout. All of which said, the crowd did go mental at the end of the performance, and to such an extent that were treated to an encore (unplanned obviously), a big old blast of Wagner which complemented perfectly the Bruckner work with its strident, bombast energy.

On the Promundrum front, I was concerned that we might never find out what it was on about after the BBC phone-in scandal thing but the competition entry is via a web form so it should be safe for now. No matter how shocking that was, I can't help but continue loving the BBC because they've been so open about the mistakes, as far as we can tell investigate the thing properly and have taken the necessary steps to make sure that hopefully doesn't happen again. Now back to the Promundrum. Is it 'Anxiety'?


TV From Kasterborous:

"(We) can now exclusively reveal, courtesy of some industry sources, that Titan will be publishing a Torchwood magazine heading our way in January, presumably to tie-in with the new series which will include comic book content. Titan also hold the rights to produce graphic novels, so we could see the comic book content from the magazine republished as graphic novels."

Titan publish the many hundred different official magazines for a range of different series from Lost to 24 to Grey's Anatomy and have held the Buffy and Star Trek licenses for years. Were Panini, Clayton and pals offered the job or this is this an example of the BBC spreading the wealth around? It does suggest a considered attempt at giving Torchwood a separate marketing profile and that the BBC definitely think the series has legs.

Confide In Me

Music Passing through Kylie: The Exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery today was like time traveling back to my early to mid-teens. Inevitably, Miss Minogue was my first pop star crush and it's a pretty unique situation to see photographs of and costumes from a hundred school boy fantasies actually on display with other people gawking at them.

Across one of the walls is a chronology of the singer's single and album releases with a short bit of historical information highlighting whether a particular 7" or cd broke record or not. Rather like an evolutionary wall chart, it's possible to see the different stages of Kylie's career from S/A/W through the mid-career indie dip through to her rediscover as a dance diva. The last single I bought was Tears on my Pillow before I entered my Debbie Gibson period (oh yes) and I could almost detect an invisible line penciled on the wall.

Everything you'd want to see if you've ever been a fan is included. There's a display of the period circa Neighbours -- Charlene's dungaree's appear as do an array of acting awards and such things as the Smash Hits award (I voted for her -- she knew I'm sure); plenty of photographs from album and tour shoots to magazines and occasions when a respected snapper has simply wanted to record that face.

Giant projections display a rolling programme of her promos from The Locomotion through to Chocolate and a live concert and I have to admit to singing along and almost dancing in that way you do when you're not actually dancing and hope that no one is noticing you're not actually dancing.

The centre pieces are the costumes and again they span the popstrels career and even a Man at Asda like myself could see the progression in style and design philosophy from the late eighties through to the present day and also different challenges presented in creating something to be worn for a photograph, a pop video and night in and out on tour.

Ironically though, legend has it the gold lamé hotpants that she wore in the Spinning Around video, and it's been said rekindled her career in just three minutes, where bought at somewhere like Hackney Market for fifty pence. Something that is obvious is how perfectly proportioned Kylie must be but delicate -- some of dresses look like miniature versions of what the real thing should be like.

When this exhibition originally appeared at the V&A, I remember the somewhat predictable band of naysayers who couldn't understand how something like this could possibly appear in a museum. I thought they were wrong then, and I'd tripple my disagreement now. If this had been a slapdash affair, throwing up some pop videos and copies of some of her dresses there might have been a cause for concern.

But this is meticulously curated and as I've already mentioned is as much a presentation of contemporary fashion design and costume as about the person. But even on those terms, why not celebrate someone who's become something of a British icon even though she's not originally from around these parts and at the same time, yes, attract people who otherwise might not visit an art gallery?

Because the flip side of that is me wondering why I only have two Kylie tracks in my cd collection and thinking about collecting a few albums, especially the indie period which looks really interesting and judging by its popularity is particularly cheap to buy. That said, the exhibition didn't entirely strangle me with nostalgia -- as soon as Can't Get You Out Of My Head appeared on the big screen I remembered that there is a video somewhere of me line dancing badly to it at a corporate event I attended once when I working in a call centre ...


Music In the event, listening to Prom 6 on Radio 3 was a profoundly moving experience as my room filled with twenty to sixty voices (depending upon the work) from the BBC Singers and Tallis Scholars. Although I've heard choral music before, I don't think it's had quite this effect, perhaps because for once I was able to concentrate and let myself be carried along by the voices.

As related by conductor Davitt Moroney during the short break in the programme and in this preview from The Independent, in Striggio's Mass 'Ecco si beato giorno' in 40 and 60 parts he found one of the great lost works of the Renaissance, which in my terms is like tracking down Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Won or the first great (but wiped) Doctor Who historical Marco Polo.

What was staggering about the work is that each of those voices is for much of the time are singing to their own agenda yet still retain a collective thrust. I kept thinking about the large cathedrals, in which the main thrust of the space also includes side chapels in which people can worship in their own way, but still working towards that common cause. So although there is a general wave of sound, within that you can hear a soprano slipping off into a different tune or a tenor attempting to break loose.

I wish my vocabulary was more extensive -- I'm simply not equipped to enunciate the nuances. But it is another occasion in which my preconceptions have been confounded and tonight more than ever I wished I'd been there. Of course your imagination has the best pictures, but the sight of eventually sixty voices, sonically parting company then gathering again when necessary must have been extraordinary.

I wonder how many Mefites could make it. I'm really sorry that I didn't record it -- instead for some bizarre reason related to an old film course my Panasonic is engaged in capturing this Robert Bresson film about a donkey and I can't imagine that'll move me in quite the same way. Perhaps I've simply replicated the experience of the people in the hall, for whom the performance will live on in the memory.


TV In the midst of everything, it's good to know some things can still be relied upon, such as the end of series letter in the Radio Times complaining about their coverage. From today's issue:

For some reason I'm a bit disappointed. Doctor Who itself has generated far funnier alien race and planet names.


Music Just popping in between proms -- I have this interesting feeling that I'm going to end up listening to them all. First of all, thanks to those who Adrian for his help with the first clue last night. Of course it's a bass clef something I should have remember from seven years in the choir at school. I missed the interval of BBC Four's coverage tonight because someone came to collect a footspa I was passing on through the freecycling scheme so I didn't see the second Promundrum clue but the Proms website is to the rescue. Aptly the clue is:

State of Elgar's house after clear out.

I'm wondering if state has a double meaning and has something to do with the place where he lived in a more general sense. Going back to the 3-2-1 analogy, I think I'm going to miss out on the weekend in Paris and end up with Dusty Bin.

Speaking of choirs -- from the comments section of my first post about the Proms:
"Just stumbled across your blog and have to say... nicely written. I sing in the BBC Chorus and knowing that we reach people who just love music without always going on about the theory behind it is great.

Enjoy the rest of the proms... watch out for our acapella prom coming soon!!"
Which made my day and just underlines that you never know who's reading.

Tonight's first concert was probably the most challenging yet for both this listener and the attending orchestra, with the world premiere of the final three movements of Sam Hayden's work Substratum which essentially attempted to capture the essence of decay in orchestral sound and Ives's Symphony No. 4 a musical exploration of the big 'why' question. These untrained ears could certainly hear that questing nature in both works although to be honest the highlight of the concert for me was Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, 'The Age of Anxiety' which was sandwiched in the middle, a stonking riff on Auden's poem with some mesmerizing melodies played dexterously by pianist Orli Shaham.

Anyway must dash, Prom 6 awaits and that includes music that hasn't been performed in four hundred years.


TV "NBC announces deal with world-renowned mystifier Criss Angel and famed mentalist Uri Geller for Phenomenon, controversial new live competition series that will lead search for the next great mentalist." [here] [via]

I suspect they haven't watched the sitcom I'm Alan Partridge, where the term Mentalist has a whole other meaning.

"Filming is well underway in Cardiff..."

TV Torchwood's latest press release is out but I'll comment on it in the comments so as not to spoil anything.


Music Tonight's BBC Prom introduced us to the work of Berio with his Sinfonia, a five act piece, a sometimes beautiful, often crazy but never less than compelling piece from the late 60s. I usually run a country mile and further away from anything as abstract as this, which in essence sounded like a bored toddler whose discovered the random skip function on his Classic FM loving parent's mp3 player with influences and steals from across classical music history chopped up and served in five inter-related acts. I was particularly looking forward to the participation of the The Swingle Singers for whom the piece was originally written and they were in there, not just providing chorus but also acting or shouting Proustian phrases fighting to be heard above the orchestra.

All which said, it was probably worth tuning in anyway for the interval adventures of the magical Angellica Bell who, in a pitch perfect imitation of one of the presenters from the second series of Look Around You, managed to tell an eighty year old founding member of The Swingle Singers that she wished she looked like him at his age (what, an old man with gray hair?) and to say the word Promundrum with almost a straight face, even though it's not a real word. The first improv was after telling the world his age, and although she was obviously empathizing with him, it wasn't so much what she said as the way -- you get the idea.

Promundrums is the proms competition in which the viewer has to provide a one word answer based on the available hints -- and judging by the example given on air which didn't make a whole lot of sense it's basically a cross between Dingbats and the kinds of clues that were the stock in trade of Ted Roger's 3-2-1. Here's the first clue for this week's competition:


The answer being related to one of this week's many proms. Babel Fish says that 'Ansiosamente' is Italian for Anxiously (which is fitting) but the rest? I'm guess that it's the opening bar of some ultra famous work that the kind of muso I'm not will have identified as soon at appeared. Are those treble clefts? Really, I have no ideas. Where's my friend Richard Coppell, classical music buff, when he's needed?

More tomorrow, presumably.

Cap in hand

About Behind The Sofa, the blog that hosts my Doctor Who reviews is having a pledge drive to cover hosting costs, so if you've enjoyed anything written there please make a donation.

Sadly I can't wheel out Patrick Troughton for an interview as usually happened when the US PBS stations did similar things during the seventies and eighties so that they could afford to buy in the latest season, so instead, here's the original cast of the series (and producer Verity Lambert) to toast your good health:

Perhaps they'd already drunk a few glasses before the photographer arrived ...


Comics 10 Wonderfully Weird Moments From Fantastic Four Comics: "In the second issue of the post-Kirby era, Magneto allies with the Sub-Mariner's Atlantean army to invade New York City, after Mr. Fantastic has assured the president that The Fantastic Four can handle the crisis. "I should never have listened to you, despite what Tricia said," Nixon grumbles. "This is a sad day for Amahrica!" (Yes, that's how Lee tries to replicate Nixon's accent.)"


About Just thought I'd pop in to suggest that everyone who views the blog via RSS transfers their subscription to this one at tumblr which is doing a very good job of integrating all of the content I write for a range of different blogs, just in case I forget to post a link here. The new RSS feed is here.

“Your logo has a lot of blood in it”

TV I thought some of you might find these of interest - the Premium Hollywood blog is running transcripts from the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in which various US television stations publicise their new shows to journalists via interview panels with the talent.

BBC America’s contingent consists of the creators and cast of Jekyll, Torchwood and Hotel Babylon and it’s mainly the likes of Steven Moffat, James Nesbitt, Julie Gardener, John Barrowman and Tony Head answering left of field questions as graciously as possible.

Moffat has caused something of a stir in the US for the following exchange probably because of his customary honesty which absolutely goes against the usual policy over there of ass-kissing the network heads:
Reporter: Steven, why was (the BBC) version of Coupling such a success and the NBC version – it tanked?
Steven Moffat: I so enjoy answering that question. I’ve only been asked it 24 times today. All right. I can answer it with three letters, N-B-C. Very, very good writing team. Very, very good cast. The network fucked it up because they intervened endlessly. If you really want a job to work, don’t get Jeff Zucker’s team to come help you with it … because they’re not funny. All right? There you go. I can say that because I don’t care about working for NBC. But I think I’m entitled to say that because I think the way in which NBC slagged off the creative team on American Coupling after its failure was disgraceful and traitorous. So I enjoy slagging them off. That’s the end of my career in LA. I’ll be leaving shortly.
James Nesbitt: Taxi for Moffat!
All of which is probably correct but the first episode of UK Coupling wasn’t as funny as some of the later classics and like many series it arguably took a few weeks, even the whole first run perhaps to bed in and take flight (and even then not everyone was a fan). US television rarely has that luxury unfortunately [via].

An Appeal.

About Does anyone have a copy of Jekyll from last night? I was listening to the wonderful BBC Bafta Prom (best bit: Richard E. Grant: "What can one say about the Carry On films...?" Promenaders: "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy...") and forgot it was on. I'd love to catch up in time for next week. thanks in advance.
UPDATE: I should say also I'm on dial-up in case you're thinking what I think you're thinking...

The Face-Eater.

Books  It’s an interesting trend that unlike films, Doctor Who stories aren’t often classified by what’s gone before.  When the original Die Hard reinvigorated the action drama by placing an ordinary bloke in an extraordinary situation almost every film that came after was described in relation to it.  So Speed became ‘Die Hard on a bus’, Speed 2 was ’Die Hard on a Boat’, Under Siege was ’Die Hard on a Boat’ (again) Executive Decision was ‘Die Hard on a Plane’ and Die Hard with a Vengeance was ‘Die Hard in New York’ (or something).  Doctor Who tends to follow predefined genre descriptions such as base under siege, historical, celebrity historical, quasi-historical, sometimes hard science, sometimes fantasy, often horror but more often than not, alien invasion (and in the case of the new series ‘the double banker’).

All of which is a shame, because it would make the describing of horror novels like The Face-Eater all the easier, because its essentially ‘Horror of Fang Rock in a city’.  The first Earth colony, Proxima II, is slowly being destroyed from within and out by the minions of an entity native to the planet that can pretend to be anyone (so not this kind of face-eater) and it’s up to the Doctor, Sam and a smattering of action heroes to destroy it whilst fighting against crooked authority and a riotous population in the midst of revolution.

Which doesn’t sound like a particularly promising premise and indeed the annoying cover and bland blurb on the back of the novel suggest this is another crawl through a familiar plot and situations with our time lord friend scurrying about building a shape-shifter detector as the bodies mount up with Sam getting into a sulk because he’s not caring enough about the new friends she’s made.  Except as often the case in these situations, the execution from Simon Messingham drags it out of that potential quagmire to deliver a taught, pulpy drama that, whilst being mostly filler in terms of the long term Eighth Doctor arc, is never less than thrilling.

Messingham’s not one who’s afraid to experiment with the story telling structure.  The novel is split into two halves which roughly correlated with a two parter from the new series, a setup then a payoff.  Each of the chapters in the opening section is told from the point of view of a different character which become more or less important as the plot continues, sometimes providing a Lost-style flashback to underscore their motivations.

Usually, I’d be the first to grumble when our traveling companions don’t make an appearance until a fifth of the book has gone and in a different setting this approach could be judged a touch pretentious, but the new cast members are so well drawn it’s pleasure to be in their company and for once, taking time early to establish the setting and situation pays off later by simplifying the action, saving the more traditionally related closing section from tumbling into the confusion that’s marred earlier novels.

Amongst others we’re introduced to Ben Fuller, a police chief who is investigating a series of murders, fighting against his colleagues who clearly don’t understand him.  He’s the kind of figure that Clive Owen‘s spent his career playing, and Messingham’s descriptions bring to mind both Sin City and later Children of Men.  In turn, I had Daniel Craig in mind for Leary, the Bondian murder suspect who becomes Sam's companion in the latter half of the novel, who's not all that he seems.

The colony is led by Helen Percival, whose precisely the kind of figurehead you don’t need in a crisis and if this book were to be published now, especially in its latter stages, you’d be forgiven for thinking that she was a direct satire of both George Bush and Tony Blair, especially when, after making a bunch of bizarre decisions that exacerbate the crisis she explains to the people, ‘I acted only for the good of the colony.  Only for what I know to be right.’  Shivers.  There are moments throughout as Percival uses the situation to increase security within the colony that seem like they could only have been written in the post-9/11 world (in that way that new Battlestar Galactica does so well).  and I had to keep checking the publication date, 1999, just to make sure.  Perhaps it's simply that all of these kinds of stories have their architypical themes.

Both the Doctor and Sam get their individual chapters too and in both they’re back to be being the likeable characters that populated the novels instead of the stereotypical impostors that marred Beltempest.  Adding some much needed continuity though, Sam is still getting over the after effects of her ordeal in that book, an internal battle continuing between herself and the micro-organisms that were part of her transformation.  Throughout the book, she finds herself in a range of near life threatening scrapes and they drag her back to health far quicker than normal.  It’s the kind subtle plot arc which has been the stock in trade of this ‘era’ and works well.  As is often the case, she spends most of the novel working independently from the timelord and she’s headstrong and independent and a young woman again trusting that her friend is doing the right thing to solve the crisis wherever he is.

This Doctor’s participation in the story is far simpler than usual -- although there are the usual moments of capture and hoodwinking authority he spends most of his time in the hills with nature and a naturalist looking at the problem from a wider scope than the procedural plot that Sam, at one point, metafictionally realises she’s stuck with.  As it should be though, some of the best moments in the novel are with him, my favourite scene being when he’s apparently being interrogated by the man who everyone expects is behind the murders when in fact it’s very much the other way around (a scene laced with fan pleasing references of the kind that Russell T revels in) and the scatological revelation that follows:  ’There was just one for thing to do.  A very important thing.  Even a Time Lord couldn’t hold his bladder forever.’  I suddenly felt like Brian from Big Brother on discovering that fit girls do it too…

And so the story tumbles on with surprises and revelations, Messingham’s writing style just detailed enough to keep the action lucid but never over explaining anything.  A less aware author, for example, would have spent whole chapters describing the Proximians, the meercat-a-like life forms whose habitat is slowly being wrecked by the colony, charting their genus and lifestyle, irrelevantly examining everything from their mating habits to their language.  Instead, the author essentially singles one out as being more inquisitive than the others, gives him the label ‘Cheeky Monkey’ and everything we need to know about their culture is filtered through them and the Doctor's appreciation of their culture which saves a lot of time.  Simon’s not really interested in creating a piece of art here, just a thumping good read which is greater than the sum of its derivative parts, and I thank him for that.

Next time:  The Taint, another work from Michael Collier, whose first book, The Longest Day nearly ruined the first mini-arc of the EDA’s by confusing the set-up at its climax.  It can’t be as bad as that -- can it?