eventually pops out

Politics This FOI request about the Damien Green affair speaks for itself, the way the request knocks on for ages, goes through several internal enquiries and then eventually pops out with a couple of emails between someone redacted at ITN and Gutto Hari "former BBC Chief Political Correspondent (who) in May 2008 was appointed as supposed Communications Director for the Mayor of London Boris Johnson's administration at London City Hall" (wikipedia) then someone at the police. I don't know that any of it is really news, but it is worth looking at to see how people communicate within local government and with both the national media and the force. Those emails are in a pdf here, a mix of straight cander and not.

Liverpool.com are no longer with us

Liverpool Life Crumbs, I've only just discovered this. My former employers at Liverpool.com, where I had a web column about Liverpool for a time, are no longer with us. I'd noticed that the blog wasn't being updated, but that happened sometimes anyway but didn't think anything of it until I began catching up with some of my reading today. It seems the advertising revenue wasn't enough to keep the print version running, which is becoming an increasing problem within the media. Shame.

The Spotify Playlist

The Companions

There are many schools of thought about what constitutes a Doctor Who companion. Most often, they're described as someone someone who has travelled with the Doctor in the TARDIS, though there's not much consistency there. Liz Shaw, The Brigadier and their UNIT colleagues were Pertwee's 'companions' through many adventures on Earth in the 1970s (80s?) but they didn't travel with him.

It seems more natural to describe a companion as a character who fills the expected role of 'companion' in one of the Doctor's adventures, in other words, follow him around a lot and ask questions or put themselves in danger so that he can rescue them. And/or are described as such in the publicity. Luckily, that also rules out HG Wells who travelled with the Doctor in the rubbish Timelash and could, by no stretch of the imagination be described as a companion.

So into the playlist go Jackson Lake and Rosita from The Next Doctor, Lady Christina from tonight's Planet of the Dead and Sally Sparrow from Blink because Steven Moffat himself says she's the best companion the Doctor never had. I've also added River Song at the end, because I really like the Bebel Gilberto album it's taken from. I've skipped the spin-off companions. I would have been here all day looking for something about Oola the heat vampire or Zog the alien slave.

Companions tend to have very common names so it was quite easy to find something for everybody, apart from the early 80s when they had very uncommon names, which says a lot about the state of the programme in those days and unsurprisingly Adric, Nyssa and Vislor don't have songs about them and the only way to shoehorn Tegan into the list was through a track from Tegan and Sara.

Also, I know the Johnny Cash track is about Jackson the place and not a person, but it's all I could find.

Can you believe that someone had recorded a track called 'The Brigadier'? Pity it has nothing to do with Doctor Who. Imagine that. With references to the cane, wobbly moustache and 'Five Rounds Rapid' -- it's an ironic 90s influenced indie track just waiting to be recorded.

Happy Easter!


(not really)

TV If you've ever wondered what Tara Reid, Kirsten Dunst and Anna Hathaway (not really) would look like dressed as Daleks. Wonder no longer. I love that in their next post, they're entirely clueless as to on-line reaction. Girls just didn't do this back in the day ...

It's Doctor Who weekend everyone.

smoky atmosphere

Journalism I think this piece in which Roger Ebert about earlier in his career at the Chicago Sun-Times might be one of the best things he's ever written. Even if you've some knowledge of the time before computers, even before Woodward and Bernstein, it's miraculous the way he manages to resuscitate the era to the point that you can almost smell the smoky atmosphere of that old newsroom.

Easter Circus #2

Our new neighbours.

Are open for business.

Not even the fans are watching it now.

TV This is a bit complicated so we'll go one step at a time:

(1) Actress/comedian/pixie polymath Felicia Day tweets that the US Fox network aren't showing the final episode of season one of Joss Whedon's new opus Dollhouse.

(2) The Twitterverse and Whedoneque go into overdrive with the expectation that the show's been cancelled and the sky's falling in. Instacampaigns begin to get the Fox network to recomission the show.

(3) E! Online's Watch With Kristin column attempts to clarify situation. Explanation looks like a textual Escher drawing.

(4) Writer and director of current season ender, Tim Minear has another go and everyone breaths a sigh of relief:
"Because we scrapped the original pilot -- and in fact cannibalized some of its parts for other eps -- we really ended up with 12 episodes. But the studio makes DVD and other deals based on the original 13 number. So we created a standalone kind of coda episode. Which is the mythical new episode 13. The network had already paid for 13 episodes, and this included the one they agreed to let us scrap for parts. It does not include the one we made to bring the number back up to 13 for the studio side and its obligations. We always knew it would be for the DVD for sure, but we also think Fox should air it because it’s awesome.
Total duration of controversy? About two hours. Here's how I think the old media version would have looked:

(1) Nichelle Nichols mentions to Star Trek fan at the dry cleaners that Spock's Brain is going to be the first episode of Season Three and it's rubbish.

(2) Fan goes home and types up special issue of fanzine. Gets boyfriend to produce a line drawing of Uhura. Puts 'exclusive interview' on cover.

(3) Goes to that week's meeting of the Starfleet Watchers hands out copies.

(4) Fans begin letter writing campaign to get network to show non-rubbish episode first to ensure that people will watch the rest of the series.

(5) Network schedules Star Trek at 10pm on Friday.

(6) Network cancels Star Trek. Not even the fans are watching it now.

Total duration of controversy? About four months, probably.

on the platform

Things and stuff Lis has tasked her readers to suggest some Star Wars or things and stuff she might not have had a chance to do yet. Here's what I came up with:

an experience:
Standing on the platform of a local station as an inner city train shoots through roaring into the deafening noise, your hair untied and your arms out so that the wind nearly blows you over.

Happy Endings (Don Roos)
The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
Last Night (Don McKellar)
Stalker (Tarkovsky)
Solaris (either version, preferably both)
The Limey (Soderbergh)
Martha Meet Frank Daniel and Lawrence (Nick Hamm)

Prozac Nation (Elizabeth Wurtzel) (my review)
Are You Dave Gorman? (Dave Gorman) (my review)
To The Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)
The Dying Days (Lance Parkin) (free ebook here)

Symphony No. 3 (Aaron Copland)
Ghetto Style (Gil Scott Heron)
quelqu'un m'a dit (Carla Bruni)

That was off the top of my head trying not to think about it too much.

never go out of fashion

People Gwyneth Paltrow's website Goop was greeted with snorts of derision on launch but it's rapidly turned into one of my favourite reads. She's not really doing anything too much different to some bloggers -- especially Lifehacker -- writing about things which interest her and offering some tips along the way. She's just got a larger budget to play with and her friends happen to be in showbiz. So when she asks some people to offer some film suggestions they happen to be Steven Spielberg or Wes Anderson.

This week's post/newsletter is about rediscovering what's still fashionable in your wardrobe and actually includes shots of her wearing what are supposed to be her own old clothes which she's then selling off on ebay for charity. I know I'm not likely to wear nautical stripes any time soon it's a reminder that someone else dictates what fashion is and it's not always necessary to do what that someone else dictates. Plus, t-shirt and jeans never go out of fashion, so I'm OK.

some wild coincidence

Film Concurrently with watching Hitchcock's films, I'm reading Truffaut's life long interview with him, which began with fifty hour long interview in 1962 and was then supplemented throughout the director's life. Though filmed footage of the master exists from various documentaries (some of which turned up in the Merton documentary on BBC Four) this is a far more intimate exploration of the work from a cineaste perspective, with some wonderful insights into his processes and choices in between the anecdotes. Here is one of them.

"To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately. What's the ultimate in representative painting? Colour photography. Don't you agree? There's quite a difference you see, between the creation of a film and the making of a documentary. In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life. And in the process of that creation, there are lots of feelings, forms of expression, and viewpoints that have to be juxtaposed. We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it's not dull. A critic who talks to be about plausibility is a dull fellow."

For years I've seen reviewers, professional and amateur that hinge their discussion of the quality of a film on its plausibility, grinding my teeth as they've noted something must be rubbish because it would never happen, no matter how well written, directed, edited, photographed and acted it might be. This becomes even more annoying when the work is in once of the fantastical genres like sci-fi were the laws of physics have already been chucked out of the window. People will accepts such things as sound in space, artificial gravity and teleportation beams but god forbid a missile is shown hitting the sun inside the requisite minutes it takes for light to reach the Earth.

For years I've been looking for something to back up my contention that so long as it's entertaining, makes it's point and doesn't leave muddy footprints on the carpet it doesn't matter if not everything is explained (apart from the party scene in The Dark Knight and this is a special case - what happens to the Joker after Bats jumps out of the window after Maggie?). And here it is. And I can't wait to deploy it next time someone moans about the TARDIS pulling Earth back into its orbit the kinds of wild coincidences that fuel Hyperlink dramas such as Crash.

Hitch later talks about The Birds and how an ornithologist happens to be in the cafe when an explanation is needed at to the fowl's foul behaviour. He says he could have added a couple of scenes to explain her presence but no one would really be that interested and I'm amazed at how many modern films take time to introduce this kind of exposition repository and give them a proper character even though they only really have this one function. Film would be much shorter and snappier if the director or writer could simply trust the audience to understand the language of cinema a bit.
Film Drawn to the devil. Mark Kermode interviewed by Mark Lawson!

reliable service

Commerce Looking for shoes, I found this sign in Debenhams:

"we are replacing both of our customer lifts to provide a more reliable service"

What's more reliable than a lift? They go up, they go down. Some are slower than others but they're not easily delayed on route unless they break down. Yet this refit is due to 'customer feedback'. Having enjoyed the comfort of the lift that was working, it seemed perfectly fine to me apart from having to look at myself in the mirror and realising that I needed a shave, and it didn't take that long.

I don't buy shoes.

Life I don't buy shoes. That is to say I don't buy shoes for pleasure. I don't have a shoe collection. In fact, when the 'what number of shoes do you own?' conversation develops which it always seems to amongst any group of people who've nothing in common and nothing else to talk about, I'm forced to admit I have two pairs. What I'm wearing (or wearing when the conversation is taking place) and some foot torturers for best.

It hass always been this way, as long as I can remember. There was a phase in my twenties when I had three pair, but I still seemed to only wear one of them so that was redundant. I'm a create of habit, and I'm sure this habit is one of the few I've not grown out of since school. I'm 34. I do have retired pairs now, broken old leather things which have gone past their usefulness and I probably only keep in case I need to lie and say I have more than two, but really, yes, just two.

I'm choosy about shoes. Walking about Manchester today I must have seen hundreds, but could find fault with all of them. More often than not it's because looking at their thin soles, fragile sides, wiry laces and knowing how I tend to treat the things once they're on my feet, I know that it's really not worth spending the price of a holiday on anything too stylish, whatever stylish is these days. They won't last twenty-four hours.

They must be robust. Thick soles, snug sides. I also tend to dislike the styles. I like a patternless round frontage to look down at, yet everything seems to have wild old moccasin style stitching, or from the sides leading up to a point. Or some giant, grotesque brand logo on the side which looks like it was designed by a teenager on an exercise book during a boring lesson. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I walked and walked today, in and out of shops. Chains, independents, also the kinds of place which lead to the treatment Julia Roberts received first time around Pretty Woman, were nothing has a price on and you know that there's a reason for that.

I glance about at people's feet looking for ideas and realise that I don't like what they're wearing either. I curse myself for not hopping on that bus to Cheshire Oaks and buying some clones of what I'm wearing again, of sticking with what I know, instead of taking this risk of trying something different.

As time goes on all of the shoes are beginning to look the same. When I do find a pair I otherwise quite like they've got bright yellow stitching. I briefly consider buying them anyway and colouring them in before realising that's stupid. But this whole thing was stupid. What was wrong with me? What is wrong with me?

I'm desperate enough ultimately to get a bus then tram then bus out to the Trafford Centre even though I know it's just the same shops (just smaller, huddled together under roof) hoping that perhaps the stock's different, that perhaps that place I saw four years ago, last time I went to Trafford Centre, would still be open.

It wasn't.

But I found these in Clarks. And on budget:

I've decided to buy some trainers as well. I'll have any colour as long as they're not white.


Film 10 Star Wars characters with more history than you'd think: "The EU tells us that Lobot received his cyborg headpiece (the "Borg Construct Aj^6"...Borg Construct? Wrong franchise, people) as part of a punitive sentence for stealing on Cloud City when he was but a lad. Sentenced to 15 years of community service, they drilled a couple of holes in his skull, plonked on the hardware and hooked his brain up to the central computer, allowing him to control "issues of bureaucracy, law enforcement, computer programming and repair, and security, as well as the communication systems, repulsorlifts, and life-support systems."

Easter Circus

The Moscow State Circus arrived in the park yesterday morning.

This morning they've begun to put the tent up.
It will probably take most of the day.
Is that the same red car?

Watching the sound films Hitchock made for British International Pictures

Film Watching the sound films Hitchock made for British International Pictures is a relatively frustrating experience. During his four silent years, he’d mastered the art of visual storytelling, able to communicate cleanly a range of information about plot and character with such precision that his recourse to title cards was relatively rare in comparison to other films of the period. As I suspected, when he’s gifted the ability to use sound, the quality of the work disintegrates.

Mostly this is because of the ‘technology’; cameras became static and housed in what amounted to small rooms so as to shield the hammer of the shutters away from the microphones which means that often scenes that would require a collection of different image types are now often reduced to a single continuous shot of two or three people in a room talking, which I imagine was the novelty back then so audiences were far more tolerant of the languorous pacing but now are a horrifyingly tedious experience.

Only when Hitch is given a piece of the story which can only be told visually do these films truly sing; the cutting is now pretty ropy as is the sound editing (from what I heard, when you shot something you were stuck with whatever background noise was evident). Yet, there are still moments, which I’ll mention below, that are as good as some of his silent material and definitely point to him working through his ideas as to the kinds of films he was interested in making, this nine year period starting with The Pleasure Garden his film school.

Strip away the historical relevance of Blackmail (first British talkie), the elements that point to Hitch’s future tastes (a climax at a national landmark in this case the British Museum) and the reason I’d recommend the film is for Anny Ondra’s central performance as the tobacconist’s daughter who’s caught in the blackmail plot after she murders an artist in self defence. It’s often trivialised because Ondra’s heavy Czech accent, not a problem in silent film, led to Hitch having her mime her sound scenes with another actress standing on set filling in with the words, and there’s no doubt in those moments she’s distractingly uncomfortable.

Hitch doesn’t actually show us the murder. It all happens behind the curtain, first the girl’s screams as the man takes advantage of her, then her hand reaching out to grasp a knife, then what we assume to be a stabbing, and the dead man’s hand relaxing into view. Then it’s all up to Ondra to relay what has happened and it’s in these silent moments, the actress offers a tour de force in reactive exposition as at first the gravity of what she’s done hits her then the quite resignation in realising that she’s a completely different person, that there’s nothing to be done, and she rather coolly cleans the murder scene as best she can, her eyes wide and glassy throughout.

Hitch next made the tedious Juno and the Paycock, a film he hated making at the time and had nothing good to say about later on, and it's almost as though Blackmail never happened. Based on a play about the slums of Dublin during the Irish Civil War, he decided to faithfully shoot the thing word for word without much in the way of directorial intervention and I think it’s about the longest hour and a half I’ve spent in front of any film. The pacing is catatonic, the acting superficial, and it’s near impossible to follow what story there is (about a non-existent inheritance) because the strong accents coupled with primitive microphone technology renders much of the dialogue inaudible.

There’s a famous scene in which the characters sit listening to a gramophone record and the only way to achieve this was to have singers and a band on set off camera playing in the music. But on screen it still amounts to the action stopping so that we can watch the characters sit listening to a gramophone record. About the only interesting element is the relationship between the head of the family, Boyle and his friend Joxer, who look like prototypes for Vladimir and Estragon from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot with jokes about groinal problems, drunkness and at least initially a general impression of inertia.

Predictably, judging by the title, Hitch is far more comfortable with his next film Murder!, his only murder mystery (which he also made in German). He’s back in experimental mode as the director offers the first occasion of a lead actor’s thoughts appearing in voiceover on the soundtrack as a member of the jury at a trial comes to the conclusion (whilst shaving!) that the woman he helped to convict is in fact innocent. It’s still relatively creaky stuff though; some of the scenes continue on beyond his point being made like he’s still directing the character scenes in a silent film, and the resolution is pure Scooby-Doo as the real villain is revealed to be some hitherto unseen assailant.

The Time Out Film Guide notes that the film offers British cinema’s first gay stereotype which is true though Hitch euphemistically describes him as mixed-race or 'half-caste' instead. The film is a menagerie of odd balls and lost souls as the director delves into the theatrical world for the first time and can’t quite seem to decide how sympathetic he wants to be. Theatre has rarely been given a fair display on film, just as plays about film rarely work either unless there’s a Shakespearean element, chemically the two simply can’t mix unless the Bard is added as an agent.

Hitchcock’s next project was this sketch for the revue film Elstree Calling. It’s hilarious.

Lol, rofl etc.

Another theatre adaptation, The Skin Game is saved from Paycock-style tedium by three things. Firstly, it’s thematically interesting as new wealth in the form of a nouveau riche northerner breezes into the lives of some aristocrats as he attempts to buy the land next to their stately home to build a coal mine so it’s about the class struggle and the industrialisation of the countryside. That's The Skin Game, the rivalry between the two factions that eventually leads to tragedy.

The said epitome of new money, Hornblower is played by one Edmund Glenn who’d later essay the part of Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street and seems to channel one of Brian Glover’s performances from the future as he chews through some whacking great political speeches that also recall Shylock. Thirdly, when the land is up for auction we see the bidders from the auctioneers perspective, the camera darting from face to face across the room as the strategies of the interested parties playout.

It’s difficult to like Number 17. Another play brought to the screen, this time Hitch decided to take the piss somewhat and do it in the style of his previous thrillers with lots of editing, shadows and men in hats and coats culminating in a chase sequence using steam engines. Consequently it has bags of atmosphere with some beautifully lit bits of suspense and excellent use of close-ups. Paul Merton spent some time in his recent documentary highlighting the model work in the finale, which is probably revolutionary, but I just wish it had been in service of something a bit more coherent.

The problem is he’s also stripped out anything related to logical storytelling and none of the characters are introduced properly and he only really spells out what’s been happening for the past hour in the closing minute or two. There’s also some particularly irritating clowning from Leon M Lion as a manservant, whose sole purpose is to point out where and when the ‘jokes’ are happening just in case we miss them.

Hitchcock’s final film for BIP was Rich and Strange a fantastic little curio and the one film that isn’t Blackmail I’d recommend you seeking out. A bored suburban couple with marital difficulties come into some money and decide to go on the south sea cruise they’ve always dreamed of and extra martial affairs and other adventures ensue. A labour of love, Hitch returns to all of the elements of silent cinema he was forced to lose in the sound era, the illustrative titles, the fast, punchy editing, expressive acting and exaggerated make up style and yet it’s the most modern of these films. Most of the dialogue is functional and naturalistic and there’s a sense of anecdotal storytelling, a free wheeling structure.

And it just works. The screwball chemistry between the leads Henry Kendall and Joan Barry (who was the voice of Anny Ondra in Blackmail just to bookend things) is as good as anything I’ve seen from old Hollywood, especially in the final quarter of the film when for various reasons the plot steers into black comedy and a kind of loopy desperation sets in. Proceedings only really lag during some of the longer dialogue scenes and when Elsie Randolph’s old maid stumbles through as the comic relief. Even then, she’s deployed at a crucial moment to add a layer of tragedy – think Mrs Bagot during the closing scene of Brief Encounter. It’s worth speculating what might have happened if this film had not been a critical and commercial failure – would Hitchcock still have become the master of suspense?

crackling on and off

Life I have a new mobile phone. The earpiece on my sickly old Nokia finally stopped speaking in the middle of the week so though the rest of the phone still works it's of little use -- there's no point keeping it charged just for the calculator. I had got quite used to it crackling on and off, even the shouting to be heard even though the person on the other end could hear me just fine it seems. I'll miss its little clamshell design and smooth ZX80 style buttons.

In keeping with my commitment to technology that is just slightly out of date, the new phone is a Samsung SGH-E250 (and half the price Amazon are currently quoting). It has all the top of the range features which people were excited about a couple of years ago such as a camera, picture messaging, Bluetooth and FM radio, and well, I'm excited too, since I've not had all of those in one place before. I can even send emails. Watch the accompanying adverts for news of other exciting features.

It's certainly more flexible than the Nokia. You can use MP3s as a ringtone. I mean, like, wow. Currently, that's set to blare out Tom Lehrer's The Elements. I chose this because my first bricksized phone sang a tinny version of OMD's Enola Gay and the Nokia offered its rendition of the minute waltz and since the first is about one of the biggest expressions of elemental forces ever and the other was written for piano this seems to be the perfect mix of the two. MP3 ringtones. What will they think of next?

clear as mustard

Journalism I was just reading this blog post at The Guardian's Comment Is Free blog and noticed the mixed up terminology in this sentence:
"He launched a furious denial on his blog which met an equally spirited blog from Cohen, in which he admitted to sharing Maher's "contempt" for the Fabians."
The word 'blog' is being used both to describe the blog itself and an item on the blog or blog post. I've talked before about this and why this is wrong (and Meg Pickard has this handy chart) and was about to fire off an email to the reader's editor before realising that it was written by the reader's editor. I decided to check The Guardian's own style guide instead:
blog (noun) collection of articles, (verb) action of publishing an article to the blog: "I just blogged about that" post (noun) single article on blog, (verb) action of publishing an article to the blog: "I was going to post later" (also: blogpost)
Which is clear as mustard, but I think says that as far as The Guardian's concerned the word is being used correctly in the sentence above. I note it also apologetically adds an 'also' for 'blogpost' at the end.