The Spotify Playlist

Video Is Still Killing The Radio Star

Trevor Horn's song commemorated a milestone in popular music, so it seems right that there should be many different versions of it available on another. I wrote about Video Killed The Radio Star last year, so there's not much point in another analysis, except to underscore that it's one of those songs that brings back memories of more innocent times when music all seemed to be coming from one source and we in general all liked the same thing.

In the first series of British Big Brother when contestant Anna Nolan, the lesbian ex-nun (as she was described) was given a choice of song to listen to, the first music she would have heard in eight weeks (conditions were much harsher in those days) she chose this. She said it reminded her of a club she used to go to with friends. She cried too. Just a pity that year's winner Craig talked all the way through it.

This playlist constitutes all of the cover versions available bar karaoke soundalikes and one track which sounds like it has been knocked out from a midi-file. The preponderance of guitar bands of a certain age means that many of them sound quite similar, but the best covers are those which strip the elements of the song away and create something else.

The Presidents of the United States recording from the Wedding Singer soundtrack isn't available (you tube replacement) or the automated Tom Baker. I've topped and tailed the list with my favourites, Viva Voce's stunning live acapella and Mataha who along with Beverley Jo Scott transform the song into a folk standard, the sound entirely opposite to the partly electronic original, more Bob Dylan than Bob Moog.

Cool t-shirt available from Zazzle. I hope they don't mind me using the picture.

"Is that a helicopter?"

TV I've just been flicking through the channels and happened upon that Peter Andre and Katie Price reality tv thing on ITV2. The existence of them and this programme annoys me at the best of times and at the worst of times I just simply think that since they've moved to America, they're (you're) welcome to them.

Pete is sitting on the lawn of their massive house in Malibu playing with his kids as a helicopter drifts into view overhead.
"Is that a helicopter?" He asks. "Are they taking photographs?"
The camera makes an illustrative pan upwards to the 'copter.
"I don't understand," he continues, "What could they find so interesting?"


memory surfaced momentarily

Film In the mid-90s during my second year at university I didn’t really get on with my housemates. We parted company on a great many things, primarily the proper way to treat people and attitudes to cleanliness and by the middle of the year relations had deteriorated to the point that I tried to spend as little time as possible in their company. On a rare occasion that I passed all four of them in the kitchen and only communal room in the house, I overheard them talking about a friend who’d used the “c-word” and how it was totally unacceptable and unnecessary. At no point during the couple of minutes it took for me to scrape together some lunch did they spell out the word or even say it under their breath which is a shame because I might have though better of them if they had at least tried.

This memory surfaced momentarily while I was watching Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop (the film version of BBC Four's The Thick of It) during one of spin doctor Malcolm Tucker’s artistically filthy tirades and I thought about what the girls’ reaction might have been. Presumably they’ve mellowed by now, so hopefully it would have been much the same as mine, their head aching and throat stinging from laughing so much, not just in that nervous schoolperson way from hearing so many naughty words in close proximity, but also wishing that we could get away with this level of profanity and insults in the real world, able to tell colleagues and friends what we really think of them without any apparent consequences other than some mild irritation (with an option for savage cumulative revenge somewhere down the line).

What’s clever about the director's approach that he doesn’t use the language just for shock value or simply to punctuate speech, but also as part of the wider political satire, as dividing line between the interested parties. I’d have to look at the film again, but I’ve a feeling that the cuss count amongst the American characters was far lower in comparison with the British, which ironically, at least in relation to the real world events Iannucci is referencing makes us Europeans look far more bloodthirsty than the US regime. It would be interesting to see how this plays in The States, but from a UK perspective this dividing line also could have the effect for some of making Tucker become a somewhat heroic figure even when he’s doing some very bad things indeed and worringly at the conclusion, our reaction could be one of satisfaction even though the fictional result will be much the same as what's happened in Iraq.

In The Loop has one of those stories in which these smaller, localised decisions have much larger, unforeseeable consequences. I’m trying not to spoil anything for people who’re waiting for the wider UK release in mid-May, but throughout there are instants in which an offhand comment or document passed between friends leads to chaos and mayhem seeping into these people’s lives and the other rich seam of humour is watching the reaction of the source as the world collapses about their feet. On some occasions even, because the writing is so dense and layered, I suspect you’d need Tony Robinson and the whole of the Time Team to dig in far enough to see the epicentre of the disaster as the consequences spiral out of control. Chris Addison (who’s older than he looks) and Anna Chlumsky (who’s older than you remember) are particularly good at desperation and the realisation that events have spun way out of their control.

Iannucci has predictably been very humble about his achievement here, and even though the release has fallen outside the normal awards nomination season, I’ll be very surprised if In The Loop doesn’t at least become listed as one of the classics, the kind that people bond over at the pub quoting lines at each other or discussed in university seminars (though I know in some places that can be much the same thing). This is a work that bridges the gap between complex political commentary and candid pugnacious comedy, which gives all of its performers memorable moments and offers the kind of thrilling but increasingly rare cinematic experience that doesn’t rely on explosions other than the popping veins on verbal force of nature Peter Capaldi’s forehead when he’s in full flow.

"Seeking the bubble reputation"

I'm always just slightly behind in reading weekend newspapers -- there's always many more words than can possibly be covered in those forty-eight hours even after skipping through articles about relationships, travel and property and everything else which is currently irrelevant. Now that I'm actually working at the weekend, that's going to become even more accute. I won't know what's happened in the world until at least Monday afternoon.

Today, I was actually reading Saturday's Guardian from the 14th April (Grand National Day) and fittingly that meant this rather wonderful piece by Jonathan Bate which illuminates William Shakespeare's passage over the years into become a legend and being tagged with the description 'genius' taking in his veneration by actors and academics alike.

If asked I will say that I'm a Shakespeare fan, in much the same way as I might describe myself as a Doctor Who fan or that I like films. A bit. I've as many different Shakespeare productions as anything else and like those other 'interests'. And like those other loves, I can't always quite put my finger on why I'm addicted. I do agree with the reasons usually trotted out by talking heads in television documentaries -- 'They're such great stories', 'The language is amazing' and 'He's a genius'.

But along with those forty odd works, there's also four hundred years of history to enjoy. As Bate somewhat describes, you can understand British history through the changes in attitudes to the plays, how they've been performed and the audiences that saw them. Charles I's decree that women should be allowed to take up the acting profession demonstrates a change in society and frankly its amazing that it took so long for you to get the vote after that. As Shakespeare is oft to demonstrate, nearly all men are pigs, especially the ones who make laws about things.

I think though that it's more to do with the fact that even though the words and the plot are the same, every production is different and more than any other writer its possible for a director and his actors to put their own personal stamp on them. I've seen dozens of Hamlets and each and every time, although the text is the same they're all different, they all resonate in different ways. It's simply fascinating intellectually to compare and contrast the interpretations to see who thought what was important.

Plus, in the media age, as this blog demonstrates, it attracts the collector in me. Even though I've eight complete works already, some bought, some presents, I'm gathering the Arden editions of the plays because of the notes and appendixes which often include the original texts such as the Ur-Hamlet that Shakespeare used as his sources. Then there are the collections of criticism, the biographies. On top of that there are the many hundred audio and visual recordings of the plays from the BBC Shakespeare (radio and television) through Argo to ArkAngel. Some people collect vinyl or music boxes or badges. I collect Shakespeare productions.

You would expect on hearing all of this, that I'd seen or at least read all of the plays in the canon. Not a bit of it. I'm working my way through my BBC Shakespeare boxset (in production order minus the histories -- oh yes) and greeting many of them for the first time. Just as I've not seen or heard all of the television Doctor Who (let alone the spin-offs), I think I've only actually come in contacted with about half of the bard's work.

Some of this is simply because the same twenty-odd plays tend to be in production at the expense of others. But also its through avoidance, because I can't imagine that the likes of As You Like It can be as good as the version I have in my head through years of reading about them. Of course they can -- they're by Shakespeare, but there's also the matter of seeing them for the first time in a decent production. Thankfully my first As You Like It, from the BBC, featured the sexy Helen Mirren in a silly hat and David Prowse whose performance was strangely moving for all the wrong reasons.

There's a lovely moment at the end when Mirren delivers to camera the closing speech which features the line 'If I were, that is, a woman' and she pauses slightly highlighting the irony of a line that Shakespeare wrote that would originally have been played by a boy, being read now by, well, Helen Mirren. The viewer is sharing a joke with Mirren at text's expense. That's another reason I love Shakespeare, watching actors and directors cope with moments when attitudes have raced ahead of what's been written.

So Happy Birthday Mr Shakespeare, whether it was yesterday or today or whenever you were actually born. Thank you for over a decade of entertainment and intellectual stimulation and for inspiring one of the biggest laughs I had in an English class when the teacher decided to show us Roman Polanski's mad as cheese film version of Macbeth. For the amazingly intimate Measure for Measure I saw at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 when I once again inapropriately fell in love with the actress playing Isabella for the umpteenth time (see also Kate Nelligan in the BBC Shakespeare). And for Hamlet. All four hours of it.

the final set of British films Hitchcock made before going to the US

Film Onward through the final set of British films Hitchcock made before going to the US. He’s described them as his audition for Hollywood and certainly many of them were hits in the states which is why David O. Selznick gave him the offer to direct Titanic (more on which next time). These works show an increasing level of sophistication, both in their shooting style, his ability to deal with actors and primarily storytelling, knowing where to rest the audience’s focus and how much information should be revealed to them.

When Hitch later remade The Man Who Knew Too Much, he anonymised the villain and focused the story more on the parent’s search for the young girl. The original is a bit more even handed, with Peter Laurie stealing most of his scenes, his curious face both charming and sadistic, seemingly able to control the situation with a look. It was a privilege to see what the interior of the Royal Albert Hall looked like in the 1930s and was unsurprised that at ground level it hasn’t changed that much, though I wonder if there's still the apparent demonstration of the class system between the balcony and the cheap seats. The finale’s a blast too – literally – and entirely unlike some contemporary flicks in that the protagonist, the father, largely sits on his hands whilst the men of the British Constabulary save him!

So successful is Hitchcock’s adaptation of The 39 Steps, later films that are closer to Buchan’s novel have been criticised for not including elements that that the director invented – the recent BBC version was effectively a remake of this, re-lensing some some of its iconic images, such as the chase across the moor for HD television. Much as I enjoyed that, none of it was as effective as, for example, Hannay’s encounter with the woman who aspires to the metropolitan lifestyle trapped in a remote farmhouse, and her heartbreaking look as the potentially most exciting episode in her life ends as the London man on the run walks out into the morning light and you know that she’s going to be remembering and mythologizing that night for the rest of her existence.

There’s a genial matter of factness to the escapade as Hannay finds himself trapped by the police and his enemies, situation somehow becoming more sinister when everyone is being so terribly civilised because barbarism still constantly bubbles under the surface. There's also another example of one of Hitch’s abrupt endings which on reflection is nothing of the sort. Once the story has been tied up, the only impression we get that Hannay and Annabella have a life together is the clasping of hands. We’ve seen that they’re perfectly made for each other in the preceding half hour so what more needs to be said?

Secret Agent is the proper misfire of the period and Hitch himself knew it. The problem is that there’s no urgency to the mission of Gielgud’s reluctant spy and because this is such a small cast you can deduce what the twist will be very early on. Still, the dialogue mostly crackles as does his chemistry with the returning Medeleine Carroll and it’s quite a surprise to see an actor so often associated with aged establishment roles and that quiveringly recognisable voice of authority as such a young, vital figure. No denying too that the central moment were the plot turns on its head is very well edited, Hitch marshalling a tonal shift that just about works.

Hitch wasn’t pleased with Sabotage either. He didn’t think that Desmond Lester was up to the role of the undercover police office keeping tabs on the secret agent and broke his own rules about dissipating audience tension at the close of a suspenseful sequence. To explain why would spoil the thing and I’m not going to do that for once because I actually disagree with him – it’s a very brave experiment though you could see why the audience might turn against him the way they did. Watch out for the hilarious, totally irrelevant sequence in the middle in a pet shop about a woman complaining that her canary isn’t singing (which must have influenced the Pythons during the writing of the parrot sketch) and also the deployment of a Disney cartoon as a catalyst for the film's tragic conclusion.

More next week...

Useful bluffer's guide.

  • Twitter versus the Telegraph: you can’t stop the lulz
  • One of those Twitter memes you wish you'd been in for.

  • momentum from the party pit
  • What live football coverage can't capture, the joy of a pitch invasion from the pitch.

  • It's A New Day
  • What live Baseball coverage can capture, the joy of watching a pitch.

  • Prairie Burning
  • "Here's the fire from several different viewpoints..."

  • Radio head: Zoe Williams on a drama serial you follow on Flickr
  • Which is much the same experience Doctor Who fans have had 'watching' Marco Polo, cd in player, magnifying glass on telesnaps.

  • BBC2's The Culture Show reverts to longer format
  • Thank goodness. The show certainly lost something in just covering a few things an episode even in the extended version. I especially missed the busking challenge which dropped away altogether recently. I also agree with what Mark Kermode said recently about being co-presenter -- he tends to look a bit uncomfortable when interviewing someone about something other than film and it looks doubly strange when one of the other reporters covers the topic.

  • Miss California Take Heed: The Storm Is Coming!
  • Is that Zooey in the background?

  • 64 Things Every Geek Should Know
  • Useful bluffer's guide.

  • Colin's Sandwich
  • Useful bluffer's guide.

  • TV: Hater: Britain Is Officially Bored
  • America (or at least readers of The AV Club) discover BBC Three's My Life As An Animal. Generally wonders what the hell happened to the company that brought them Masterpiece Theater: "How many episodes will it take for a hyprid to be spawned begging to be killed to rid itself of the misery of being brought into the world by a bunch of people that have lost their god damned minds?"

  • Why So Few German *Bloggers*?
  • Are you still reading me, Caro?

  • Fun for the family: FEMA coloring book includes WTC...
  • That's just, well that's just ...

    currently appearing in

    Life Watched In The Loop at the Cornerhouse (review soon) with Roger Lloyd Pack who played Trigger in the popular comedy series Only Fools and Horses and is currently appearing in Widowers' Houses at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I think I heard him laughing.

    it’s often so passionless

    Museums LS Lowry is an acquired taste, and it’s a taste I’ve never acquired. Living in the general area, Lowry’s name and work crops up over and over both in local galleries and particularly on the local news whenever an anniversary is reached, an exhibition is opening, one of his 'lost' paintings is found or Oasis have put out a new video and there’s the usual clip of Brian & Michael (or rather Kevin & Michael) on Top of the Pops, shots of the real place the artist was trying to capture and then the work itself with its muted colour and naïve figures; social history through the prism of splodges and lines and dirt. The worst indictment possible is to say that it’s pleasant – it’s not art which stirs my emotions positively or negatively (which is the best kind of art surely?) but simply exists waiting for me to stand before it and shrug my shoulders and sigh.

    The shapeless forms of the people doesn’t help; he’s said: "I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me [...] Natural figures would have broken the spell of it, so I made my figures half unreal.” There are other artists that have followed the same pattern, but you’re desperate for Lowry create an emotional connection, one which is apparent to everyone and not just those who lived through those hardships and those places and their descendants. But he continues: “To say the truth, I was not thinking very much about the people. I did not care for them in the way a social reformer does. They are part of a private beauty that haunted me. I loved them and the houses in the same way: as part of a vision.” Which is probably why, considering his subject matter often included extreme poverty, the blitz and proper human emotion, it’s often so passionless.

    Yet he has a huge following, huge enough that after decades of acquiring his work, Salford City Council opened The Lowry centre as part of the Salford Quays project in 2000 as a way of celebrating his contribution to the local area (and you thought this was just a random rant about an artist!). It’s an exhilarating design by James Stirling and Michael Wilford with a giant glass atrium for an entrance, sweeping curves that give the impression of a ship and waves influenced by the surrounding waterways and as Edward Morris notes in his Public Art Collections in North-West England, “in the tradition of the Barbican Arts Centre in London” has, as well as a theatre, shops and a very nice (if a bit expensive) café and restaurant. It’s the kind of place that used to only happen in the south which would be looked at with envy from the north and shows that high end arts venues can literally be built anywhere these days.

    The Lowry, then, is an exciting yet comfortable building -- and a complete failure as an art gallery commemorating the work of a famous local son. Given that his name is stamped on the front, just four or five small white box rooms are dedicated to displaying the artist’s work, less floor space than the café or perhaps the toilets and the adjoining waiting area for the theatre. Given my opinion of the man’s work, I shouldn’t be too annoyed about this – the idea of room upon room of the work to stroll through would fill me with dread – but in these circumstances, after the amazing architecture leading up this meagre haul, it’s still an anti-climax, especially having specially travelled in from Liverpool. I thought all of this when I first visited in 2002 and nothing has changed.

    Exhibitions should be stories or in the best cases arguments explaining why the work on offer is noteworthy and notable and I was genuinely hoping that this time I might stand before some of these works and finally understand what they were trying to say, why they touch people. What counts against this happening here isn’t just the fact that so few works are on display but also that they’re displayed at what looks like random; some of the finest shows place the work into a chronological order so that you can see the artist’s ideas and technique develop reaching their zenith and then in some cases decline. At The Lowry the work doesn’t even seem to have been collected thematically. Instead, decades are mashed together and sometimes has the effect of actively arguing against his brilliance as works from the 20s are shown next to works from the 50s and nothing has apparently changed at all.

    I say sometimes, because one of the gallery's few successes is to demonstrate that Brian and Michael did the artist some disservice; he didn’t simply paint the matchstick men and the rest, the stereotypical images of factory workers and dark Salford concrete, his range was much great taking in the rural landscape, maritime and portraiture. There’s a portrait of Ann, a fictional character around whom he’d weave stories for his friends, and for all its art deco stylings jet black hair and off-red top she has more humanity than anyone else Lowry painted. There’s an early image of Wigan’s industrial landscape that’s musty and impressionistic and show signs of the artist still getting his ideas straight.

    The biggest surprise are his natural landscapes, which reduce what might be the lake district to a simple arrangement of shapes, olive greens, blacks and off whites so abstract that if they were hung on their side or upside down, without a label, they’d pass easily as something far more muscular. All of these were created concurrently with his more familiar work, and give impression that he was a man who wanted to try other things, develop his art, but was forever locked into a cycle of fulfilling popular expectation, presumably because it’s this that paid the rent. When he says he himself didn't want to give to layer some deeper meaning into this work, was it because he didn’t care much for it?

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, unable to bypass my own deep seated prejudices. Throughout the gallery there are labels with quotes from previous visitors offering their opinions of the work, why they like them. There are celebrities (Les Dennis likes one of the houses because it reminds him of the place he lived growing up in Liverpool), but the more insightful comments are from younlings, the best from a child who finally understood the horror of the blitz from seeing Lowry’s depiction.

    Maybe that’s the best time to view these works, when you haven’t already absorbed some of the other things art and culture have in general, the darkness, desperation and structure that can make you irritable, cynical and sad, so that you can look back on them with a certain nostalgia. But then, I’m not sure at that age I’d be able to view the major stand out piece in this exhibition, and still be able to sleep at night, Tollhouse on the Moor (1959), which, with its simplistic, symmetrical background and forbidding central building, which has all of the welcoming qualities of the Bates Motel.

    Easter Circus #3

    Show's over ...

    Moving out ...


    Come the morning ...

    scandals revealed by bloggers in New Zealand

  • Deborah Hill Cone: Bloggers get more bitter by the day
  • Mostly for the title and reading about scandals revealed by bloggers in New Zealand.

  • Letter From America by Alistair Cooke in New York
  • A complete archive from the BBC of the final five years of Letter From America in transcript and some audio. Here he is on the death of old media in January 2000.

  • Gaby Wood on the US TV phenomenon In Treatment
  • I was having a conversation today about how poorly scheduled television is today and how no one seems to want to take risks. So the BBC decide to bung The Weakest Link on every day before the news in perpetuity in a slot which could accommodate documentaries or new drama neither of which need to be that much more expensive and done well enough would find an audience. Failing that why not an intelligent import like In Treatment which is designed to be stripped across the week and would offer a useful alternative to the chat shows, game shows and rerun detective dramas on elsewhere.

  • Matthew McConaughey’s Next 10 Movie Posters
  • I honestly thought the first one was the spoof -- surely there's no way Jennifer Garner would turn up for something this formulaic -- yet, that's the real one. Which somehow makes the fakes all the funnier.

  • Space-Based Storm Control
  • "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die..."

  • Low-Fi Sci-Fi
  • Inevitably I'd like to see the version for Doctor Who and the Daleks. Might I propose a tall spiral in the shape of the pepperpots, with the title and author around the curved edges?

  • An appreciation of Dexys' "Come On Eileen”
  • "“Eileen” is at once a chantalong fiddle-fuelled novelty, an enduring public pop landmark and the biggest hit of a band whose integrity was dearer to them than fame or sales or, well, anything. It is also, of course, partly a pop record about loving pop records, whose beautiful opening lyrics are some of the most evocative I know."

  • The TV Industry Must Avoid Acronym Hell
  • PVR? DVR? Sky+ed. Freeviewed?

  • Panasonic first with UK Blu-ray recorder
  • Why do I still want one with a VHS player?

  • Very Diff’rent Strokes
  • Bernard Herman scores 80s tv.

  • Film Director Mike Figgis and Tate Liverpool work together on film project
  • "Four works of art from Tate’s Collection will be taken into separate locations around the city, including the hardware store, Rapid, and Liverpool University’s Guild of Students, where members of the public will be invited to talk about the works in these new contexts."

  • Man Plays Simpsons and Star Trek Themes... At the...
  • He's the new wizard of speed and time.

  • Oliver Burkeman on the future of US Republican party
  • Two and a half in months people and he's done more for you than the other guy did in eight years. In the following clip, notice that the reporter from CNN completely fails to ask the most important question. "Do you even know what fascism is?"

    someone I didn't know

    Life On my way home from work yesterday, first day back at that place, very tired, it's warm for once, and as I reached the bus stop, a girl passed by on a bike. She grinned at me, and said "Hello!" brightly almost knocking someone over as she turned around. I smiled enthusiastically and waved and said "Hello there!" back and we asked each other how we were and then she was off again down the street. The whole exchange took seconds but the effects have lasted much longer because ...

    ... I didn't recognise her. No clue. When this has happened before, I've usually been able to work it out in retrospect and then wished I'd remembered to ask them about this, that and the other. This time, nothing, and I've a horrifying feeling that I should know them really well, that they might even, eep, read this blog. The other problem is that, well, I have a weird feeling they weren't in fact saying hello to me, but perhaps someone else who was at this packed bus stop and I was the loser saying hello back to someone I didn't know anyway ...