hawk-like glare

Politics When BBC Radio 4's Today programme took the, as presenter John Humphries says, "unusual step" of promising an MP anonymity if he would write about the atmosphere in Westminster and then hide their identity by having their words spoken by an actor, I wonder if they (the MP or Today) were expecting this performance.

Extraordinary, isn't it. Usually when such things are read out, the actor drops into their audiobook voice, not quite monotone, but certainly with a degree of neutrality. Here, whoever the actor is (he sounds a bit like the late Alistair Cooke) gives it a level of emotional intensity that borders on the ludicrous, as though he's appearing at the National, Olivier Award on standby.

If this wasn't on a news programme I would have been impressed; he is very effective. As he says "I'm not corrupt. I didn't come into this for the money", the expression is so convincing you can almost see him, an old political warhorse, sitting in his office at Westminster, revolver resting on a typed suicide note, glass of ancient whiskey in his left hand confessing his sins to Harry Pearce from Spooks, who's hawk-like glare is almost willing his right hand towards the gun.

But this was on a news programme and eventually I corpsed at the sheer ludicrousness of what I was hearing, and was still laughing when the actor reached what he (and the MP) hoped was the apotheosis ("That's what makes it such a nightmare, and a nightmare that may never end.") and Humphries breathed in audibly before introducing his guests.

Update... Just watched the extended version of Have I Got News For You (because what's the point of the Friday version?) and noticed that Paul Merton, I think, make a comment about someone with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and gun in the other in relation to the expenses scandal. "Great" minds, etc.

not awful

TV Here are some clips from a pilot that wasn't picked up by the CW network in the US. It's fairly entertaining, but also strangely familiar:

It took me a couple of seconds, then I realised: it has to be the work of someone who's watched This Life and Party Animals and decided to do that, except set it in Washington. It's not awful, just familiar.

geocities rescue

Ma Histoire de Film

At the risk of sounding like a character from ‘The Fast Show’ some hobbies are with you a short time and others are with you your whole life – something like a first love. It all started one day I was sitting in The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds watching ‘Ba wang bie je’ (Farewell My Concubine) in a sold out screening getting excited by the machinations of Chinese opera. Where else could a subject like this create such an emotion but in the cinema? The following week, when someone shushed me during ‘Como agua para chocolate’ (Like Water For Chocolate) because I was getting into the story, I knew what my first hobby/love/interest was.

My first film (at the cinema I think) was ‘Pete’s Dragon’ of all things. From there I couldn’t say. My first conscious 18 film was ‘Robocop’ which I saw on video when I was 13 or 14. I saw ‘Empire Strikes Back’ before ‘Star Wars’ (and wondered why Luke was trying to kill his Dad); my first film star crush was Virginia Madsen in ‘Electric Dreams’ or possibly Elizabeth Shue in ‘Adventures in Babysitting’; The first film I recorded from the TV was ‘Starcrossed’ the early James Spader classic; My first DVD was ‘The Opposite of Sex’. The second was ‘Pleasantville’. The first film I walked out of was ‘Batman and Robin’, which is probably the worst film I’ve ever seen (or at least it was -- the older version of me).

Extract from Madeline Peyroux's "Bag of Bones"

In the title track of her sublime new album Bare Bones, Madeline Peyroux writing the lyrics herself for the first time, uses Hamlet to talk about the recent death of her father. She sings:

"Old Hamlet's done now, dead and gone
And there's no ghost who walks
Poor Yorrick tells you everything he knows
With no tongue to talk"

As she told The Telegraph: "I looked for ideas in literature [...] I checked out a few writers that I hadn't been able to grasp: Lorca, Neruda. I even tried Dante's Inferno because I wanted to look at the Christian idea of salvation in another poetic light outside the Bible."

That's in interesting way of looking at the play: to an extent perhaps the errant Hamlet, which is somewhat how he's portrayed at the outset is seeking salvation from his ways by seeking his dead father's revenge. Peyroux herself has had a chequered history -- is she implying that she too is trying to become a respectable person?

an entertaining experiment

Film Hitch’s one and only romantic comedy, Mr & Mrs Smith is a bit of a misfire though it’s still an entertaining experiment. It’s a comedy of remarriage in which the couple discover that their original certificate was invalid and Mr Smith has to prove to his wife why they should continue to be together. The kind of story Billy Wilder or George Cukor would have treated with a light touch, under Hitchcock the material becomes rather leaden so that though the jokes are in there, Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery are sexy performances (Lombard in her next to last performance before her untimely death) and the viewer knows what’s supposed to be funny, you find yourself watching stony faced not entirely sure why it’s not working.

In their book on the master, Rhomer and Chabrol suggest that it’s because unlike other romantic comedies which are shot in an objective style, Hitch decided to shoot everything subjectively, we’re forced to identify with the characters which undercuts the laughter: “Generally speaking American comedy gets it effects from the assumption of objective observation: it is a report on madness. Here, we are accomplices of the characters. The laughter, when if does arise, abruptly shrivels up: the “gag” is not funny to the person at whose expense it is carried out.” In other words, because we’re identifying with both characters at the same time, we’re too sympathetic to the concerns of the both of them to laugh when there’s a gag at the expense of either of them.

I’d argue that it’s inherent in all romantic comedies that we have to identify with both parties, it’s just that in most cases it’s turned on and off depending on the needs of the story and more often than not we’re asked to identify with one character more than the other. Up until this point, all of Hitch’s romances have been from the male perspective. In Mr & Mrs Smith, Hitch attempts to balance our sympathies across the couple and because we can see why she thinks he’s a slop and why he thinks she’s being unreasonable we don’t really know where to look. You can’t blame the director for trying something new and it is still more entertaining watching his failure, clearly the work of someone who loves the medium, than sitting through yet another cynical exercise in high concept unhilarity directed by Andy Tennant and starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

Hitch doesn't have much to say about the film when talking to Truffaut. He says he was 'tricked' into it because he wanted to work with Lombard and just followed the script as it appeared on the page clearly unhappy himself with the results. Years before, annoyed with the attitude of some people in the profession, the director had described actors as being little more than cattle. This was Carole's chance at revenge for that. When he appeared on the stage the first day, Hitch found that she's had some corrals erected and inside three cows, each with name tags around their necks, one for her, one for Robert and one for Hitchcock!

in his medieval phase

Music I'm trusting you Mr Spotify.

In the ongoing battle with the stuff virus that threatens to consume my whole room and me with it, I've sorted through and had a clear out of my cassettes. I was quite late in buying a cd player, so well into the nineties spool-to-spool was still my primary source of music, but eventually shiny-disc took over and most of them were consigned to a crate under the bed where they've sat unloved for too long.

Time to send them to the charity shop. What surprised me was how easy it was to sort through. I'd expected sentimentality and memories but I felt nothing as I put some of these slightly worn sacred objects into the carrier bag. If the sixteen year old version of me had known that I'd be getting rid of that copy of Debbie Gibson's Anything Is Possible, he would have made two copies and put the original in a bank vault.

Now I have the cd (!). Rule one. If I have the cd, it's gone. Rule two: if it's on Spotify, it's gone. I know this means I'm trusting third parties to have this music available to listen to when I'd like, but I've not listened to most of it from tape in years anyway so if its not there, I'm not sure it's too much of a loss. If anything it's made me want to go and listen to it again. I'd forgotten about Voice of the Beehive, Coldcut, The Lilys.

In Spotify related news, they've added a label search. It looks like this:


or whoever.

It's as bog-standard as the genre search in that it spews out an unedifying, horrifyingly random list of tracks, but this is another useful way of discovering music if you have the patience to load the whole updated list into view and go random. I'm listen to Virgin at the moment and it's an odd mix or Roxy Music, classical music and Kelis. The most popular track is The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony. Do we know where that royalty money is going to these days?

I've also discovered that despite what the record company itself says (and I have emailed and asked) Deutsche Grammophon do have a presence on Spotify to the tune of just under a thousand tracks, mostly Bach, Bryn Terfel, Elvis Costello and Sting in his Medieval phase. Still, it's a start.

is wonderful

Radio This week on the BBC Radio 4 blog, the network's announcers are being given the opportunity to talk about their job. It's also a chance to show us the personality which tends to be submerged when reading out the Shipping Forecast. Here's Cathy Clugston. She's funny:
"3.30AM The alarm goes off, but it doesn't bother me. That's because I'm already staring at it. In fact, I've been staring at it on-and-off since about two o'clock, when I jolted awake after a horrible dream in which I overslept until half past seven, raced in to find Radio 4 on a loop of Sailing By and got told off by James Naughtie, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and my old primary school teacher Miss Carruth. Still, it could have been worse. I could have been naked."
Much the same thing happens to me now. I've been waking up at seven o'clock every day for months now, and I too can anticipate the alarm. I also can't even attempt to have a lie in because I wake up anyway. At least it's not 2am. That is early.

Kathy's also on Twitter. Her biog is wonderful: "Amazonian anosmic newsreading ukuleleist."

great piece of advertising

Film I hate, hate, hate the films of Guy Ritchie. They're hateful, laddish things, filled with horrifying stereotypes doing nasty things to one another, self-consciously arty to the point of artlessness. Unless they're about his ex-wife on a beach. Then I saw the trailer for his new Sherlock Holmes film:

Wow, that's a -- great piece of advertising. Some things to think about:

(1) Holmes was filmed rather a lot in Liverpool and if you know the sit well enough, you can spend much of it's duration saying: "That's ... that's ... that's ..."
(2) Mr Downey Jr seems to be continuing his renaissance. That's a unique and interesting interpretation of Mr Holmes.
(3) Rachel McAdams. In a corset. Just saying.
(4) Seems to be a spoofier production in the vein of Without A Clue.
(5) Linguistically it sounds just right.

satisfyingly parochial

TV Understated entertainer John Barrowman's countrywide bearhug staggers into the Liverpool Phil tonight. Here he is grinning out from the What's On page in the Echo:

And here's the actual listing, which I think is about the most satisfyingly parochial thing I've ever seen:

Which proves that when you think about it, Liverpool's just a massive version of Stars Hollow or some other small town. Isn't St. George's Hall just our posh community centre?

My ears!

Game The music of this pixelgame, Underworld, sounds like it was recorded by Malcolm Clarke. It's quite the most imitating aural experience my headphones have had [via]. My ears! My ears!

a few possible libels along the way

Politics The reaction to UK speaker Michael Martin's statement was one of the most exciting pieces of parliamentary coverage in many a year. BBC News Channel played it well by holding back the commentary and simply letting the drama unfold as MPs stood and actually asked the man to his face when he'd be resigned, why the resolution to get rid of him wasn't being debated and offering a few possible libels along the way.

Not that any of this stopped the whole thing from turning into this scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. In case you're wondering, in this scenario, Reg is Michael Martin, the PFJ are the Labour Party and Judith is Douglas Carswell, the Conservative backbencher who is putting forward the motion of no confidence:

REG Right, now, eh. Item four: attainment of world supremacy within the next
five years. Eh, Francis, you've been doing some work on this.
FRANCIS Yeah, thank you, Reg. Well, quite frankly, siblings, I think five years is
optimistic, unless we can smash the Roman empire within the next twelve
REG Twelve months?
FRANCIS Yeah. Twelve months. And let's face it... as empires go, this is the big
one, so we've got to get up of our arses, and stop just talking about it.
PFJ Hear hear!
LORETTA I agree. It's action that counts, not words, and we need action now.
PFJ Hear hear!
REG You're right. We could sit around here all day talking, passing resolutions,
making clever speeches, it's not going to shift one Roman soldier.
FRANCIS So let's just stop gabbing on about it, it's completely pointless, and it's
getting us nowhere.
PFJ Right.
LORETTA I agree. This is a complete waste of time.
--[Judith runs in, panicked.]
JUDITH They've arrested Brian!!
PFJ What?
JUDITH They've dragged him off. They're going to crucify him.
REG Right. This calls for immediate discussion!
JUDITH What?!?
REGULAR Immediate.
DIET Right.
LORETTA New motion?
REG Completely new motion. Eh, That, ah. That there be, ah, immediate action...
FRANCIS ... ah, once the vote has been taken.
REG Well, obviously once the vote has been taken, you can't act on a resolution'till you've voted on it!
JUDITH Reg, for God's sake, let's go now, please!
REG Yeah, yeah. Right, right. In the, in the light of fresh information from,
ah, sibling Judith.
LORETTA [taking notes] Ah, not so fast, Reg.
JUDITH Reg, for God's sake. It's perfectly simple. All you've got to do is to go out of that door now, and try to stop the Romans nailing him up. It's happening, Reg! Something's actually HAPPENING, Reg! Can't you understand? Yaaargh! [She rushes out in a rage.]
FRANCIS Oh. Oh dear.
REG Hello... and a little ego-trip for the feminists.
REG Ah, oh, sorry, Loretta. Ah, read that back, would you?
Hopefully the actual vote of no confidence will not be like The Phantom Menace.

investigating a Government department

TV How times change. BBC's Watchdog in 1984 investigating a Government department. It looks like an episode of Panorama:

shades of grey

TV I've been mulling over whether to buy the Region One release of Dollhouse but this piece which compares the series to Shakespeare's Measure for Measure might just convince me:
"Like “Measure for Measure,” “Dollhouse” is a calculated venture into “dark comedy” – if we mean very, very dark comedy indeed, like Dante’s “Comedy” in the deepest reaches of Hell, where the betrayers of trust are situated. Or it’s Whedon’s venture into “problem comedy” or “tragicomedy.” All of these are labels applied so uneasily to “Measure For Measure,” of course, because in it Shakespeare chooses to give us a noble brother in prison, facing execution for a sexual misdemeanor, who begs his devout little sister to leave her convent and give her body to the magistrate (a man obsessed with her virginity) in exchange for his own life. To put it in the modern vernacular, “you only have to do it once and then you can forget it ever happened/act like it never happened.” This is the dollhouse protocol too, only it’s for a five-year contract and you do it over and over…."
Having not seen the series yet, I'll admit to only having glanced through much of the post so as not to spoil anything, but the reaction to the series has been much the same to the general opinion of Measure which is rarely produced and hasn't seen a proper film version. People don't tend to know what they think of it because though it asks a great many questions about the human condition it's also extremely bawdy in places and all of the characters have shades of grey. Other than Hamlet it's my favourite of his plays. So will that mean Dollhouse will be my favourite of the Whedons?

Stand by for action!

Music The best set design from Eurovision on Saturday night was this dystopian nightmare, ironically accompanying the Russian entry:

How ever did the authorities let that slip through? Let's see which passage from its clear inspiration, George Orwell's 1984, most appropriately sums up the process of watching the contest....

"I tell you Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. "


"Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves."

Though in truth it's probably:

"We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science."

Or if you're that way inclined:

"This is an emergency! Control must be believed and obeyed! No-one in the colony believes in Macra! There is no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! There are no Macra! [...] Stand by for action!"