Film Nat and MaryAnn discuss the new Sex and the City film and some of the publicity photos thereof: " And as an actual gay man -- albeit a sartorially-challenged one -- I I love S&tC's excesses, its totally rejection of reality, the mythic New York it barely conceals as a sugary fantasy playland for Oz or Middle Earth, but with great restaurants. The actresses are great, the clothes are jaw-droppingly out there (bad AND good), and the writers remember the all-important rule to avoid taking itself too seriously."
Technology Blue-Ray wins!: "Toshiba is widely expected to pull the plug on its HD DVD format sometime in the coming weeks, reliable industry sources say, after a rash of retail defections that followed Warner Home Video's announcement in early January that it would support only the rival Blu-ray Disc format after May."

Meanwhile, judging by this posting at Moviemaker, celluloid might not have too many years left in it either.

Three Times

A Likely Story (great blog name by the way) has a useful review of the latest Arden editions of the play -- or rather all three of them. As I've discovered elsewhere, some modern researchers believe that each was simply a version of the play at a different moment in its life and to conflate them as usually occurs still doesn't give a clearer idea of what Shakespeare intended. [via]

"I never think of the future - it comes soon enough." -- Albert Einstein

Life On the road to Warrington, there is a rather large, rather random sign. In big black Helvetica lettering on a white background it says:

Knowsley Is The Future.

As tv critic Charlie Brooker's fond of saying "Is it really? Really!?!" For the initiated, Knowsley is one of the bits of Merseyside that isn't Liverpool or The Wirral and in much the same way as a lot of people from my city get tired of being mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles, if you think of Knowsley, you think of the safari park.

The only reference online to the statement is at this job related blog in a post which discusses a government initiative about new schools. It says that "Knowsley is the future" was coined by Steve Munby of the National College for School Leadership because of the improvement in the area's school results which doubled over a five year period. Which means that Knowsley does have that to shout about.

But the sign lacked this context as far as I could see so it's worth asking -- can a geographical location be "the future"? At some point silicon chips were "the future" and so was the internet. I took it it to mean that either in the future other locations will use Knowsley as a model of development or that people will move to Knowsley on mass or that it'll overtake Liverpool as a regional centre and now perhaps its that other authorities should look to Knowsley for ways to improve their own school results.

Either way, it's a wonderfully bombast statement which shows real confidence in yourself. Well done you.
Blog! Congratulations Kevin & Suw!

"My dearest, you have pressed me so often to write the story of my life that at last I have decided to satisfy your desire." - Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun

Books Since it’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve no one to hold my hand again, I thought I’d write about the first girl in a painting that I fell in love with (if such things are possible). Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Le Brun was a portrait painter who worked around the time of the French revolution and the self-portrait which adorns the above cover is the first time I encountered her, at the National Gallery in the very early nineties. I’ve seen it a few times since though, even locally at the Face to Face: Three Centuries of Artists’ Self-portraiture exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery (catalogue still available).

I now can’t really say what I found particularly striking about this image and certainly, since Vigee-Le Brun was famous for flattering her subjects I wonder the extent to which she really looked like that. I think the point was she isn’t perfect; unlike the Pre-Raphaelite beauties who are meant to have an otherworldliness, my teenage mind decided that this girl looked as though she once breathed and that I could talk to her about painting and art and music and what life was like in France at the time.

She represented the exotic in comparison to some of the drabness I was living with then. I bought the postcard and the picture has followed me around, always somehow managing to find itself blue-tacked to some surface or other, at university or at home. It’s on the wall above computer as I write, adjacent to pictures of a pig flying around the Earth, a Chambre-Hardman photograph taken from the old Liverpool Museum steps, Robert Hopper’s Nighthawks and a watch in the shape of a book from late 16th century Munich.

Every time I’ve glanced towards it I’ve wondered actually what she was like, if she lived up to my imagination. Then passing through a second-hand bookshop in Southport not too long ago I stumbled upon The Memoirs of Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun in a translation from 1989. There are versions available on-line, but none of them really sound ‘right’ – or they don’t sound as though they were written by someone living at time, the idiom too modern perhaps. Sian Evans, the translator for this volume has purposefully attempted to preserve the style in which it was written and just reading the first few lines, I could imagine Elisabeth's voice narrating (or at least Julie Delpy’s).

These are not memoirs in the traditional sense. As she relates, her friends were always clamouring for her to write something about her life and at first she did this in the form of letters, each covering a different topic of her early life. So there’s her childhood, the first flowerings of her talent, her marriage, what she thought of music and theatre, on throwing parties and perhaps crucially for historians her visits to Versaille to paint Marie-Antoinette in the period just before the revolution and her own self-appointed exile from the country of her birth, although oddly not much about the craft of painting other than that she worked incredibly fast often fitting three sittings into a day.

You’re constantly aware that this is the older artists reflecting back upon her youth, with a certain amount of longing for before the Revolution when the aristocracy still held sway in France. It’s because of that status quo that her talent as a portraitist could flourish, being invited to their version of the Royal Academy as a teenger and moving in circles who were desperate for her abilities in capturing their likeness. Much of the time is spent simply describing those who sat for her, and she doesn’t pull punches in relation to whom she considers attractive or not. She treats them all with the same hand and the results as presented at the centre of the book are often breathtaking.

Contrary to expectations, she was a very forthright, largely independent woman at a time when such things couldn't naturally be expected. She married her husband out of duty. Inevitably he was a louse spending the money she was amassing from painting on booze and gambling and failed business ventures. Elisabeth carried on regardless; it was a loveless marriage and she has no good things to say about the man, but it provided opportunities which simply would not have come to a spinster. The couple had children, but Vigee-Le Brun doesn’t let that get in the way of her painting, her waters breaking between sessions, planning works between contractions.

She’s particularly lucid in regards to fame. Though she mixed with the rich and infamous, her own lifestyle was rather modest. Memorably she describes how, when at the height of her early notoriety she gave a party in their apartments and invited much of the local A-listers; it wasn’t a lavish affair by some standards and she offers some details as to the corners cut and the ingenuity which went into the food and costumes. But in a prescient example of how stories about the famous can get out of hand, by the time it reached Russia the party had become one of the greatest in history costing in excess of a hundred and fifty thousand francs and how terrible that such a thing might happen whilst her country starved. As she complains, it scarce cost more that fifteen fancs.

The most exciting sections are those related to the royal household in which she offers first hand though admittedly sympathetic account of Marie Antoinette sitting for her. One of the travesties of the recent Sophia Coppola film is that many of the costumes were inspired by Vigee-Le Brun’s paintings but the artist is scarcely seen. There is a shot of a figure that may be her and certainly the painting she’s working on is very like the 1787 work which is included at the centre of the book but the versions of her work which appear are travesties of the originals, perhaps deliberately cooked up by someone who lacks her talent.

What is similar to that film is that Marie comes across as a rather ordinary girl put into an extraordinary situation who in the end was guillotined because of the position she held rather than because of anything specific she did. When Elisabeth misses a sitting because of pregnancy pains, she’s given leave to return the following day and after moving awkwardly and dropping her paints to the floor it’s the queen who quickly moves to tidy things up for her.

Of course this is but one woman’s view of a well recorded situation but it’s difficult not find a twinge of regret that one of the ways the country decided upon to solve its problems was the murder of someone’s mother for the crime of being in a different social class. Perhaps my royalist tendencies are got the better of me here, but it seems unlikely that the populace would have held off revolting even if she hadn’t been keeping up appearances and instead been giving away all of her money.

These gossipy words capture a country in transition in which her friends and family and friends of friends are scattered across Europe to escape the onslaught. In the final letters she carefully lists all of the people she knows who were effected by the revolution and what their fate were. Even though Vigee-Le Brun was not writing in a literary style you can see that she regrets the shift from civilisation to barbarism and high-culture being thrown out almost wholesale as a product of the people they are fighting against. But in these closing moments that for some, even as they’re escaping the carnage, their reputation proceeds them and there’s nothing to be done.

I can’t say what happened beyond that because I’m savouring the book and have decided that for now, perhaps for this year, I’d just concentrate on the letters. Afterwards the book becomes more of a traditional autobiography with chapters and structure and more of a concerted effort to record her life and admittedly goes beyond the period in which that portrait was painted. Clearly because these are memoirs, Elisabeth’s fate is fairly certain but the back cover promises a grand tour of Europe and its aristocracies and a change in artistic direction.

That's for the future and I’ll report back. For now though at least I can say that the teenage version of me had very good taste. Pity none of the girls I knew back then thought so.

Happy Valentine's Day, the minutes that are left of it.


TV Am I the only one who would have preferred the post-Adam versions of the Torchwood crew to have stuck around for the rest of the series, on balance far fruitier and interesting than the characters we’re generally following around? Both Naoki Mori and Burn Gorman seemed far more comfortable in those skins, the former proving that the halting delivery of ‘real’ Tosh is her approach to the character and not performing in general, the latter a potential poster boy for a vocal percentage of the viewing audience (I could tell you stories). What fun to have Ianto just on the edge of homicide all of the time, the viewer never quite sure if he’ll save a weevil's victim or bang their skull against the shutters of the nearest off license.

Jack too benefited from having his memories back, since we no longer have to imagine what kind of a child he was – more on his home world later, but no wonder Jack developed such a open-minded approach to relationships if the only thing to do all day is play rounders (or whatever that was) on a beach. Only Gwen didn’t change that much although there’s probably a great sitcom in the idea of the bloke whose girlfriend keeps forgetting who he is. Oh hold on, someone’s already done that.

If Torchwood was a passenger train it would have a plaque on the side with the words 'entertainingly bonkers' emblazoned on it in golden Helvetica each weekly station stop a highlight and who would have thought that could ever happen? Adam was yet another episode which aped a well-worn sci-fi premise but still managed to shine. Genre fans probably noticed elements of everything from Red Dwarf’s Thanks For The Memories, as I predicted last week Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Conundrum and it even imitated the trick from Buffy’s Superstar of working the interloper into already familiar footage from previous episodes. But it more than made up for its lack of originality through sheer bloody minded invention and experimentation.

Writer Catherine Tregenna’s cleverest decision was to dwell on the changes rather than use them as a backdrop for some less interesting b-plot related to weevils or mysterious murder or whatever the series equivalent of Star Trek’s spacial anomaly might be. She's confident enough in her abilities and the viewer’s interest in these characters to let us simply enjoy the flip sides of their personalities and watching alien Adam change their memories, and in the midst of all that reveal far more about the origins of Captain Jack than we’ve previously seen but not in such a way as it changes his relationship with the team who still don't have a sodding clue who he is despite their apparently messianic devotion.

You could speculate that in the previous series, something like Gwen forgetting who Rhys is would have been the single focus of an episode, with the scene in which she pulls a gun on him being the finale, but here that was just the start of an episode, which despite being a character study developed with some crazy momentum. Giving people false memories is fascinating but then, in the case of Ianto, creating personality changing, murderous encounters as a weapon is pretty shocking and as shot by Andy Goddard probably one of the darkest moments yet seen this series.

I wonder if Tregenna used these kinds of negative memories to signpost that fact that in giving the episode a set piece construction in which each gripping moment is heralded by Adam’s touch, she’s actually it’s not too far from giving this theatre of cruelty the kind of structure you find in slasher films with detective figures -- in the Scream films that’s Sydney Prescott, in this Torchwood, Jack trying to discover who the source of the brutality. The beats were surprisingly similar with one victim becoming suspicious (Ianto) and getting disastrously close to the guilty, their sacrifice giving the detective enough information to figure out the murderer’s identity.

Which in this case was Adam. Every episode of Torchwood this series has the featured the disruption of the status quo by a guest alien or Rhys and this spectre of the mind, deliciously played by the fittingly named (for Torchwood) Bryan Dick fitted the bill perfectly, aided by those atmospheric inserts in which we actually saw the memories manifest themselves within each dupes cranium (does bullet time ever get old?). He wasn’t allowed to steal the show from the other characters though and even in the scenes when he inflicted pain the focus was very much on his effects rather than his malevolence.

This was no more apparent when he became the trigger for Jack and us to discover some of the origin of the ‘Captain’. A healthy contrast from the urban sprawl of the dinas a sir Caerdydd, this sandy wilderness was redolent of nostalgic golden Sundays on Rhyl beach and Star Wars’s Tatooine, especially the fashions, all towels in Earthy colours. Sympathetically realised, this world, wherever it was (Boeshane Peninsula?), teased with what we didn’t find out about it – like that city, part-Logopolis, part-sandstone New New York. Who were ‘they’ and why was the invasion so inevitable? And as a bonus question did anyone else think ‘Daleks!’ for a brief moment before the shrieking began?

It seems that all lead characters with broken personalities are doomed to have endured the death of a parent at a young age (nice one Propp and Campbell) and to lose a sibling in mysterious circumstances is doubly bad luck and since this is the second mention of it this series will probably be of massive importance towards the end. All this sequence lacked was a closing shot of young whatever his name (might as well be Anakin or Luke) was standing on a dune looking up at twin moons as the music swelled. Of course we’re now in the interesting position of knowing more about Jack’s past than he does (unless the grains of sand which filtered through his fingers offered a successful momento mori).

I expect that the closing scenes of hypnotherapy will divide fans but for me they were another extraordinary risk in an episode chock full of them. Why shouldn’t we have glimpse into the relative ordinary memories of the team after the Jack flashbacks? Most of them were sweet too even if it seems an opportunity missed that Tosh didn’t say something along the lines of ‘I was in a hospital. There was a pig in a space suit and a tall goofy looking man in a leather jacket. That was nifty…’ They’re also retrospectively justifying Owen’s attitude – his mother didn’t love him explaining a lot. But I will miss the nerd version, his cartoonish pining for Tosh far more poignant than the reverse status quo.

Only in the very final moments, as the team realised they'd lost two days of their lives, was a rather obvious haulage firm managing anomaly overlooked. Imagine the conversation between Rhys and Gwen when she finally decided to put in an appearance at home. Him: “Hello love. Who you feelin’ now?” Her: “Hwot dyoo mean?” “Ave you got your memories bakk?” “I’ve lost two days, but other than thaatt….” “Yooo pulled a gun on me. Jakk and Adam were the only ones who remembered who I was and we went to the supermaakett and well y’knooow.” “Don’t be dafft. What’s for teee? Ooo’s Adam?”

Next week: On and on she goes, Little Miss Martha Jones, I said on and on and on and on …
Elsewhere Set Adrift On Memory Bliss. If it's going to be early nineties hip hop reference, make it a P.M Dawn reference. Another superb Torchwood episode. Who would have thunk it?
Elsewhere Seven paragraphs with nothing to say, as I review a Torchwood novel for the first time.

"Many a slap 'twixt a cup and a lap."

TV For the interested, a reminder that tomorrow night on Radio 3's Late Junction, "Fiona Talkington travels back in time to mark 50 years of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with the Dr Who theme, Frederick Bradnum's 1957 radiophonic poem Private Dreams Public Nightmares and music by Benjamin Britten."

"Music is an outburst of the soul." -- Frederick Delius

About All being well, and following on from last year's semi-successful Forgotten Film February, in a few short weeks the 'onslaught' that is Mystery Music March will be upon me/us/this blog. I've written before about my inability to review music and I thought I'd give myself another challenge. Each day I'll be writing about some music you might not have heard about or certainly hasn't been on most people's radar.

Clearly this is an even trickier prospect than writing about film simply because it's a far more subjective artform, polarising people left of centre. In addition, there's the temptation to take rhe opportunity to demonstrate a person's expansive musical knowledge and just how far off the mainstream its possible to stray. All of which said, if you are a regular reader for the most part I'm a pretty middle of the road kind of listener who can't get along with guitar bands at all. I've just spent half the evening watching ABBA videos (the special video effects on Eagle are wild!) so don't expect too much proto-Peel business from here.

That being the case, as usual I'm seeing contributors/guestbloggers/both. This is your opportunity to introduce some favourite music to the rest of the world. Anything will do so long as its about music and you can write about it in any way you wish. Even haiku. A single, an album, even a concert. Be as willfully obscure as you like or it could simply be a known artist doing something you'd never expect them to. Sheryl Crow once sang opera with Pavarotti -- who would have thought that could ever happen? No genre barriers either. If it's grindcore, it's in.

I'm bringing the band back together. Who's with me?
Film The BBFC have passed Woody Allen's new film Cassandra's Dream with a 12a and their website suggests that it's opening on May Day. Which is later than expected but better late than not at all. Wow -- being able to see a Woody Allen film, y'know in a cinema.

"Quand il me prend dans ses bras Il me parle tout bas, Je vois la vie en rose." -- Edith Piaf, 'La Vie En Rose'

Film Hooray for Marion Cotillard! For weeks we've been reading and hearing that Kiera Knightley was a forgone conclusion in the Best Actress catagory at the Baftas -- as much as Helen Mirren last year and all that fell by the wayside in seconds. I've been a fan of the French actress for years, from her turn as the girlfriend in the Taxi films through the bittersweet romantic comedy Love Me If You Dare to her supporting roles in the likes of Big Fish and A Very Long Engagement and here she is on the English stage accepting an award from us (she's even, bizarrely played the actress Gretchen Mol in the Abel Ferrera film Mary which I really have to see at some point). I've not seen someone shaking that much at a podium since Anna Paquin and bless her for that too. I can't wait to see La Vie En Rose.

Otherwise my engagement with the Baftas was a bit limited because I haven't seen any of the films. Well, apart from the apparently British The Bourne Ultimatum (Sound Design and Editing of course), which is a terrible confession but it really is for the previously expounded reasons of having to deal with appalling audience and sky rocketing ticket prices at the local cinemas. That said it was a lean, though never mean ceremony and Jonathan Ross wasn't as smug as he usually is. Along with Cotillard, everyone was suitably surprised especially Tilda Swinton and the entire audience when Shia LaBeouf won the Rising Star Award. You really can tell the difference between polite applause and enthusiastic mania. I thought he was quite good in Holes. Five years ago. Daniel Day-Lewis gave his usual speech in which he took us on a biographical journey and Jeff Goldblum was oh, err, yeah, grr, Jeff Goldblum. Do you think he's going to play that role in the same way on stage every night? Repeating all of those ticks is sure to be a challenge.
Film Your Video Store Shelf interviews David Prior, writer and director for Action International Pictures purveyors of straight to video masterpieces: "During the 80s and 90s Action International Pictures was known as the go-to-company for low-budget schlock. That’s not meant as an insult to the company. The quote above by one of AIP’s three founders, David Prior, demonstrates that the people behind movies like Mankillers, Future Force, and Space Mutiny knew that their perogative was shooting guns, flipping cars, and exploding anything combustible. People didn’t rent AIP movies to see something with meaning. They rented them to see macho heroism and stock footage of missile blasts."
Technobabble Fickr users parody what the site would be like should Microsoft take over. More at Wired.
Nature The Galápagos Islands are under ecological threat due to their popularity with tourists: "Last June, Unesco added the archipelago to its "in danger list," specifically citing the fragile ecosystem and the negative effects of a sizable growth in tourism. The number of visitors to the Galápagos rose more than 250 percent to 145,000 in 2006 from 40,000 in 1990, while the number of commercial flights to the area has increased 193 percent from 2001 to 2006."
Man in Black: [intrigued] You've done nothing but sword-play?
Inigo Montoya: More pursue than study lately. You see, I cannot find him... it's been twenty years now and I'm starting to lose confidence. I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There's not a lot of money in revenge.
[after a moments silence, the Man in black stands up and prepares to battle]
Man in Black: Well I certainly hope you find him someday.
Inigo Montoya: You are ready then?
Man in Black: Whether I am or not, you've been more than fair.
Inigo Montoya: [drawing his sword] You seem a decent fellow... I hate to kill you.
Man in Black: You seem a decent fellow... I hate to die.
Inigo Montoya: [confidently] Begin. [via]