" It is sobering to think that when Mozart was my age he had already been dead a year." -- Tom Lehrer

Music Posting brevity tonight can be explained by the fact that I'm watching opera's Die Zauberflote or Mozart's The Magic Flute. It's a 1991 production recorded at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York with designs by David Hockney. I'm really quite enjoying it, probably because it has the atmosphere of a Christmas panto, including a fairy tale princess in the shape of Pamina and the comedy relief bird, Papageno (who might as well be called Buttons) and a fairly rubbish adventurer. So far, it's the fairly simple tale of the adventurer falling in love with said princess on the basis of a painting and then heading off to a castle to save her, with titular instrument and the anthropomorphic fowl to help his quest. As it stands they've been sent into some kind of punishment room and I best get back to see if they survive...

"Gripping. It's not Jane Austen, it's not Henry James but it's gripping." -- William, 'Nottting Hill'

TV Cazz Blase makes a plea regarding television literary adaptations: "Don’t get me wrong - I like costume dramas. I just wish writers, producers and schedulers would be a little more imaginative in their choice of books to adapt. For starters, why the fascination with the Bront√ęs, Dickens, Hardy and Austen? Even George Elliot and Elizabeth Gaskell only got a look in a few years ago, similarly Trollope and Thackeray."

"Oh, don't worry, he's absolutely harmless. All you have to do is sing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." -- Superintendent, 'Help!'

Film Another article from The Guardian's special classical music edition. Joe Queenan offers up a guide to the movie cliches:

"Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach: From the moment this lugubrious music is first heard in Ingmar Bergman's Sarabande, you know that death, disappointment, despair and disaster are right around the corner. Death, disappointment, despair and disaster are always right around the corner in Ingmar Bergman films, but in this final work he's not even making an effort to sugarcoat the misery that lies ahead. Used in many other films, Bach's cello suites are the very last word in menopausal grief."

"'Me mam goes. She goes at Christmas. Apparently, she took me there once when I was a kid." -- Voxpop from article linked below.

Music An interesting piece by Stephen Moss trying to discover why and if audiences are 'returning' to classical music suddenly became even more interesting, at least to me, when I read this:
"I went to two concerts in Liverpool. An enjoyable Grieg evening - the piano concerto and the incidental music to Peer Gynt - and, the following lunchtime, a recital by Boris Giltburg, the previous night's soloist. Giltburg attracted a small audience for his recital - perhaps 250 - and made a valiant attempt to drown out the pile-drivers that currently surround the hall. The Grieg concert drew the Liverpool Phil's most traditional audience. As I arrived at the hall, the coaches and mini-buses were disgorging groups of mainly elderly music-lovers. The Liverpool Phil has close links with Classic FM, and here was the tuneful fare that station prefers." [my italics]
I attended that recital -- and wrote a semi-review of it on here. It's intriguing that Moss only mentions what the audience looked like for the evening concert -- perhaps it's because or two-fifty were a far wider cross section -- older people certainly, but also students, people in my generation and slightly above, and not all as far as it's possible to tell these things 'white middle class' -- I'd consider myself 'lower middle-class liberal' for what that's worth. There were three girls from St. Hilda's School at the back too.

I've already bored you with my road to Damascus but that was why I was sitting at the front of that recital. But then I was listening to George Michael (and I should preface this by saying I've never been a huge fan) on Desert Island Discs this morning and as well as turning in a Radio One playlist as his selections, talked about how he became curious in music. It seems he received a bang on the head when he was young and it completely changed his interests. The Proms began just a couple of weeks after this happened to me. Connected?

"I go all in... what the hell!" -- Victoria Coren, 'Late Night Poker'

TV My semi-review of Tuesday's Screen Wipe has been linked by the BBC Four front page:

Seeing my words next to a picture of Victoria Coren is a very, very surreal experience.

"Typically, the subject being copied is terminated." -- The Terminator, 'T2'

Film Terminator 4 to be directed by man lacking in christian and much in the way of a surname. When all you can say is that at least it's not Brett Ratner or Uwe Boll ... I suspect Claire Danes won't be reprising her role.

"I've not read his columns, but I have to agree with him about the concept of heaven that is presented to us." -- Kat, Starbucks Gossip commentor

Commerce Blinks. Blinks again. Walks away unsurprised.

"We're gonna be big Stu, we're gonna be too big for Liverpool..." -- John Lennon, 'Backbeat'

Liverpool Life Some useful commentary from Liverpool Confidential on the announcement of some of the events which will be happening across 2008. Many exciting events, obviously and far better than most of us feared. I am disappointed to see that there's less of a film component but this is only the opening salvo and hundreds of other 'smaller' events will also be happening. Ian at Art In Liverpool has produced a user friendly month-by-month diary of them all which will be added to as the year progresses.

"Gosh, you've... really got some nice toys here. " -- Batty, 'Blade Runner'

Film Here's a wonderously specific article about the restoration of Blade Runner for the forthcoming dvd release: “I think The Final Cut is the best version of them all. The picture and sound on it are just astounding. We really put a lot of work into the restoration, and we transferred the actual original neg at 4K, and it just looks stunning. Even more stunning are the visual effects, which were originally 65mm elements, then scanned at 8K. It looks like 3D. It's so sharp, with all these details that I'd never seen before.” [via]

"No more enjoying the Doctor Who theme tune. No more '"You Have Been Watching". No more dramatic coda following the final credit." -- Charlie Brooker

TV Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe was an absolute corker tonight. The programme opened with Victoria Coren presenting what looked like a fairly traditional BBC Four documentary about corner, absolutely seriously describing to camera the (fictional) history of corner -- so she’s standing in front of some concrete and bricks and since I’m mesmerised by Vikki so much at the best of times, particular when she’s playing late night poker, I genuinely believed that this was going to be really quite interesting documentary about corners.

Until Charlie pushed her out of the way with a ‘Get lost Coren’ and a ‘Run credits’ at which point the man was squeezed in the new horrific house style that’s invaded the BBC so that he could essentially present a tv version of this rather good old column from The Guardian. He’s absolutely correct of course -- if television credits had always been like this we wouldn’t have been able to sing along to the lyrics of Rentaghost and for that matter, the death of Ronnie Hazlehurst would not have been greeted with the kinds of obituaries we’ve seen simply because we would not have been able hear his work quite so well.

Then, as Screen Wipe drew to a close (after an equally hilarious dissection of The Secret Diary of a London Call Girl which I’ve finally remembered to record tonight, y’know for later study) Brooker said that there would be a special next week about television news and that since they’d already run the credits that he would simply dump us back into BBC Four and the next thing we saw was that blanket trailer for Radio Week which seems to have been shown after every programme on the network for the past fortnight. It was just about one of the most exciting and surprising and abrupt things I've seen on television lately.

On the one hand, this is simply falling into the hands of the television net workers who frankly seem to want to abolish credits anyway; but he’s also demonstrated that actually you do need some kind of breathing space not just between programmes but also between programmes and programme trailers. There isn’t anything worse than watching a really effective piece of drama or documentary and having your attention shattered by someone shouting at you to watch something inappropriately different. But then, I’m awaiting the moment when film companies start to throw adverts for their future wares into the credits after a film. But there we have the power to walk out and here we the ability to turn off completely scuppering their whole plan, hah-hah.

Balderdash & Piffle

TV [spoiler] Balderdash and piffle I say, once more. Look at the source. [more inside]

[Links broken: From the comments -- "I can't even believe I'm giving this house room, but even narratively speaking it's a joke and would annoy me even more than Catherine Tate's appearance is bugging other people. It cheapens the close of Doomsday for a start, plus it doesn't strike me that Billie even wants to go back even for a short time. It'd be like Sarah Jane Smith turning up for Tom's regeneration in Logopolis. Yes, I know they asked Liz but she didn't want to do it and I suspect Piper would be anti too even to commemorate David's 'era'. Once again, balderdash and piffle."]

[Editorial intervention: Um, yes. Looks at shoes.]

Revenge of the Slitheen (Part Two)

TV I carried on watching CBBC after The Sarah Jane Adventures tonight so that I could catch the news headlines during Newsround (or nr as it seems to be called now). I knew that the Burmese horror might not be mentioned but I was interested to see how they’d treat the Tory party conference. During the seventies, I remember the John Craven version of this stuff being pretty literate and in fact I knew people who would actually get their news from the interestingly coloured shirted one sitting on the brown set. How times have changed. Instead there was a shouty young correspondent who looked bizarrely like a girl I knew at university (no not in that way) standing in front of the Houses of Parliament with the camera at a weird angle talking to me like I was four years old.

Now I know that nr is supposed to cater for a wide youth audience but this was literally ’Gordon Brown is the prime minister. He may call a general election because he wasn’t voted for by the over-eighteens as Tony Blair who used to be the prime minister y’know handed it to him. It all depends what happens in Blackpool where the Conservatives are meeting.’ Cut to some VT of Dave, Dee, Dozy, Mick and William Hague sharing some laughs around a breakfast table on the promenade. I was being talked down to, something I don’t ever remember Craven doing and in fact it was like a kids version of the old Alas Smith & Jones sketch, ‘And now some news for the elderly’ (‘Hello. Hello, yes. The prime minister, THE PRIME MINISTER, yes, nice woman, nice woman who runs the country, yes, well she says it’s all going alright basically, yes […] Well take care, I’ll pop ‘round again in the morning’.

The reason I’m mentioning all this is because it’s in stark contrast as to how well The Sarah Jane Adventures is pitching to it’s audience, packing in enough fun and action and jokes for the kids and actually a fair amount of comedy and … oh hold on I’ve forgotten to do something …

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Revenge of the Slitheen: Episode Two

… what was I saying? Oh right, a fair amount of comedy, surprises and call backs for adults. Even if I wasn’t a fan and therefore bound to watch anything the series currently with taxi cab logo is connected to, I think I would still want to tune into this and not be to embarrassed about it. Only now and then when a point is being stressed does it seem as though it’s anything other than a family show and couldn’t be broadcast in a later timeslot, perhaps on a Saturday night. Unlike the approach to politics in new new nr (which admittedly won back some of my respect for a viewer piece about eczema) it grants that the viewer has a modicum of intelligence.

The Slitheen youngster, for example, could have been the Scrappy-Doo of the clan, an irritating little shit undermining the genuine menace inherent in these maniacal beings. Instead as the episode went on, writer Gareth Roberts underlined that this was indeed a family to the point that when the inevitable happened at the conclusion it seemed genuinely shocking that our heroes would let the father and son die despite everything they’d done. Certainly it’s the same lesson that occurs at the conclusion of the TV Movie when the Eighth Doctor offers The Master his hand, but the explosion of Slitheen matter, a moment which previously in both their debut story and earlier in this episode has been played for laughs became genuinely shocking, the thematic implications of Boomtown taken to its deus-ex-machina-less conclusion, providing an unexpected depth which implies that actually this series isn‘t going to be going for the cute and funny all the time.

Once again the episode was structured in a very old school way, with a ten minutes scene in which the aliens developed their plans and the Doctor, sorry Sarah-Jane and her companions, sorry, young friends worked out how they could be beaten. Mr. Smith (Blake 7’s fish tank computer Orac with a decent screen) is a useful narrative shorthand, but like K9, he’s not perfect, he can’t give an answer to every question immediately. As I’d feared last week, we were taken over some old expository ground, but as the infernal machine lost power just as it was about to reveal the Slitheen weakness, I wonder how many kids shouted ‘Vinegar!’ at the screen (I did). This beat worked either way because in the subsequent scene in which Clyde remembered something which was seeded in the previous episode there was a fair bit of excitement in watching the characters trying to work out the answer, both if you knew the explantion or not and demonstrated once again that Kelsey’s replacement does have a fair few more rocks in his head. But judging by his interigation of Mr. Smith, he does seem like he’s going to be a bit of a Turlough though with the potential to go rogue before find redemption.

The second half was the race against time, an attack on the Slitheen base with two bottles of vinegar and some wits, no less ludicrous a frontal assault than the kind which appeared in the classic series which usually involved Pertwee rolling up in a milk cart dressed an a cleaning lady or whatever. Their dash through the street demonstrated that either this series has some clever accountants or it’s not been a victim of BBC budget cuts just yet. Look -- a street full of cars and people! Well alright, the cars are at odd angles which is strange considering the power is supposed to have instantly rendered them inoperable and the people look nothing like the kinds of people you find in suburbia (unless those fashions are supposed to be a nod to that fact this series is set in the future, by the Whovian calender). But look cars! People! No quick cut from Sarah’s house to the foyer of the school. Actually some of the action in this story has been better directed than in the mother series and we haven’t even reached the Graham Harper one yet.

In the Doctor Who Magazine preview Russell T Davies said that he was concerned that the stories might be a bit small scale but in the end they all became epic and the Slitheen’s plan was the first demonstration of this. How fun that in this adventure, the problem at hand spanned the globe and even led to a dimming of the Sun! A similar threat in the closing episode of Torchwood seemed overblown and wasted but here it was handled perfectly well (Texan Slitheen!) and logically and in keeping with stories of the past -- where once it was Earth being crippled by the same three Cybermen now it’s apparently two male Slitheens and their spawn. Just as you were thinking -- actually Sarah-Jane, there a military organisation you know who could be helping out with this, she’s on the phone to them in the closing moments (’My love to the Brig…’ -- squee). You could gasp at a conclusion in which the whole plan is scuppered by a blast from the sonic-lipstick, but it gave Luke an important redemptive moment and a neat bit of alien avoiding action to boot (he’ll make a great Rugby player when he gets to college).

Ultimately though the episode was about the name within the title. Liz Sladen, given some breathing space, an attic to pace in or the arm of a couch to sit on, mesmerizes and commands in way I‘m not sure we‘ve seen before, even in her earlier ‘solo‘ appearances, the likes of Downtime or the Big Finish series. Watch the moment when she’s relating her life story to Clyde and talking about traveling in space and time; to some kids it’ll be a revelation, to others it’ll be a confirmation and to the rest of us, nostalgically reliving those old adventures through dvd, it’s a communion because we’ve been right there with her and you almost feel as though it’s Liz herself as well as her character thinking back over those old times. The character has very much come to terms with her own place in the universe and how the Doctor fits into that; she’s no longer resentful of being left behind, happy to be a defender of the Earth (and lord knows with the Torchwood approach to that, it’s going to need it). When she says that she hopes the Doctor returns, you wonder if a late season cameo isn’t entirely beyond the bounds of possibly. When asked about it in the pre-show publicity, Liz cheekily didn’t rule it out …

Next week: Things look decidedly mid-period Pertwee -- nuns AND a gorgon?

"Not weird weird, but like exciting weird." -- Stephanie, 'Grease 2'

Film Earlier on today I found out that Doctor Who fandom has no limit. The latest DVD release is The Key To Time, the boxset I was lucky enough to win a couple of weeks ago, is a limited edition of fifteen thousand individually numbered copies. In order to make some attempt at working out the sales, prove that it really is a limited edition and possibly as a way of keeping a record of who has which copy, visitors to the Outpost Gallifrey discussion board are actually posting the number on the side of the box (in between fretting that they'll sell out very quickly). At some point I suspect someone will start looking for patterns.

Anway, I thought that was the most fanatical thing I'd lately see online, and then I saw a fan site for the film musical Grease 2. This isn't just something knocked together on Geocities through. In all its pinkness, this is as much an act of love as anything I've seen online. The About page demonstrates that any film has the potential to strike a chord with anyone, even that sequel. At least it gave the world Michelle Pfeiffer and the subsequent piano scene in The Fabulous Baker Boys. It's just a matter of being in a particular mood at a particular time. Imagine my disappointment then on seeing that adventuresinbabysitting.com is a link farm [via].