a blogging element

Geography Liverpool Tweetup on Thursday (a local Twitter gathering) was a far more relaxed affair than the earlier Twestival; it's a very different prospect to be walking to a room and recognising people, for there to be someone to wave to.

Within the crowd was John McKerrell, an old school friend who I last saw (he reminds me) on a train to Manchester in 2002, where we talked about blogging and he showed some new platform he was working on. That still seems like a remarkably long time ago.

His latest project is Map Me! which according to the neat card he gave me allows you to "share your current location and past trips with friends and family online", which sounds a bit like Google Latitude with a blogging element. I've signed up for an account and I'll let you know how I get on.

Updated! John's clarified some of mapme's applications in the comments, essentially what I haphazardly hazarded a guess at with the title to the post: "mapme.at is similar to Google Latitude in some ways, having the location tracking and social network aspects, but we store your history and let you browse through it too, which Latitude doesn't do it. If you're an existing user of Latitude though you can let us know your details and we'll pull your location in from there and store the history as well. "

geocities rescue

Ranking Professionals

Some of you might remember being a kid. When you’re young there are very few avenues for true comedy. There’s sound making (burping, farting, that thing with your hand under your armpit), hand gestures (sometimes with props like rulers) and finally, playing about with your face.

You’d sit there pulling bags down under your eyes; turning your eyelids inside-out; pushing the front of your nose up; sticking your mouth on a window and blowing (see Daryl in ‘Adventures in Babystitting’); pushing your ears forward; pressing down as hard as you can on you head and pushing the skin back and forth to prove you’re wearing a wig.

The fact you’re only just remembering you did all these things proves what happens after the age of – say – thirteen, took a lot of the fun out of life. You actually began to care about your physical appearance. What people think about your hair colour or whether that mauve tie with a picture of Tweety-pie on goes with that pink shirt (NO!). But you didn’t actually know whether all that hard work to make yourself look terrific was actually worth it. Then the bandwagon began.

In television and film, a bandwagon takes months, even years to come into effect. It took nearly a year for the ‘Scream’ clones to appear at the cinema. The Docusoap menace took six months. ‘Hot or not’ seemed to take three days. This rash has already claimed many casualties and destroyed hundreds of self esteems. Pity they can be so darned fun . . .

[The older version of me notes -- the only other one of these rating sites from the original page still in circulation is Pick The Hottie. Some of those photos must be ages old.]

links for 2009-06-18

the decency of the resistance fighters

Film Hitchcock worked as a propagandist during the war working with the UK’s Ministry of Information to produce a couple of shorts as a morale booster for the French Resistance.

The first, Bon Voyage, is a neat bit of suspense about an RAF who has escaped a prisoner of war camp and describes how he returned home. His story is presented in flashback, the events described from two perspectives Roshoman-style, Hitch demonstrating that there are always varying degrees of truth and that you shouldn’t believe everything you see. Clearly made on a budget and featuring few locales, it’s still more purely entertaining than many war films because the director isn't afraid to emphasise small details at the expense of the epic gestures, such as the decency of the resistance fighters. A scene in a farmhouse (between a soldier and a resistance fighter) has a clear antecedent in The 39 Steps, and the overall impression is that if he’d had the time and inclination Hitch would have been able to stretch the material over a longer duration.

Aventure Malgache has a similar flashback structure, but it’s the much clearer, more straightforward story in which an actor explains to his colleagues how he escaped from Vichy controlled Madagascar. The BFI have an incisive discussion of the political implications but my favourite scenes are the brief moments between the actors in their dressing room; Hitch returned to the theatre throughout his career, but this seems to be the most accurate presentation so far of what it is like, the friendly banter between actors just before subsuming themselves in character before going on stage. There’s also a wonderful moment within flashback in which a picture is replaced which could have been dropped in from Casablanca. And that’s that for the war period.

links for 2009-06-17

  • According to @anattendantlord the only positive contemporary review of The Last Action Hero and it does get the measure of the film. It's one of my favourites. As I told him it's a misunderstood, post-modern masterpiece. It's an action adventure film that references Hamlet and The Seventh Seal for goodness sake...

  • Rob explains why ITV1's in trouble but also why it's important to keep it around even though it is a bit rubbish. Lost In Austen was superb as was Boy Meets Girl (mostly); but I can see why neither of them brought in viewers since (a) the usual ITV1 audience doesn't seem to expect something that gives them something to think about and (b) the audience that's generally disenfranchised by ITV1 wouldn't expect them to have something that intelligent and assumes ITV's drama is rubbish so didn't make the journey.

  • "Hey, stop pulling me along! That guy has a rose. He might be nice..."

"Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, things happen and they make you jump, they make you jump ..."

Music Exciting news. One of my favourite bands, Bush, The Tree And Me have reformed and have a new album and gigs lined up. Jimi Ashmore writes:
"7 years on, we are jumping on the reforming bands bandwagon and have decided to do some shows.

Our London gig is @ Dingwalls (Camden) on Wed 23rd September. http://www.dingwalls.com/

Part of the ticket sales will be going towards the Sands charity and we're aiming to keep the venue open after the show for dj and drinks.

The eagerly awaited new album, "Mouthful Of Bees" will also be available."
For some background, you can listen to their first album, How To Get Home, on Spotify, or if you're not in the area, here's their myspace page and the video for one of their best songs ...

sometimes (you do that)

Isn't that great? God, I've missed them.

I have seen the last few episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Warning, spoilers ahead. Obviously. Click away now.

TV Concluding a television series is an impossible business. Unlike film, which Hitchcock, Welles, Goldman, Bordwell, all kinds of people acknowledge should always strive to have a clear and obvious ending mapped from the opening of the film, either because of the nature of the characters or the type of story that’s been set in motion, television series are designed never to end.

Film characters are destined to experience the most exciting/important/life changing event in their lives – on television they have a succession of them and like real life, the only definitive conclusion to their story can be death. Similarly in most films the story has a beginning, middle and end and in the best films, and the climax is so satisfactory we don’t wonder what happens to the characters afterwards.

You know all of this already, but I just wanted to put that up as a way of explaining my feelings about the close of Battlestar Galactica, the critical reaction and so that the next sentence doesn’t appear at the top the post thereby rendering the spoiler warning in the title a complete nonsense. Treat that last sentence as a buffer as well. And that last one – and this one. Here we go …

Well, why not the Douglas Adams ending?

If it’s going to mimic anything why not the closing moments of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (primary and tertiary phases)?

I mean how could you possibly conclude Battlestar Galactica satisfactorily?

Essentially the choices must have panned out as follows –

What we got.

The Blake’s 7 ending – everybody dies and the last human standing is Baltaar, hands up looking into impassive face of a cylon.

The Galactica 80 ending – they reach Earth, but discover a civilisation already in ascendancy and have to work out how to integrate themselves.

The fatalistic ending – they return to the rubbish post-apocalyptic version of Earth and decide it’s what they deserved and try to make the best of it as they slowly die of radiation poisoning

The Voyager ending – they reach Earth in the last few seconds of the episode with the fleet jumping into orbit but we don’t actually get to see them go 'home'

The Angel ending – the human race finds itself in a hopeless situation against insurmountable odds against the cylons and the series ends on a freeze frame of Apollo and Starbuck and the fleet grinning into certain doom

The surprisingly bleak ending – what we saw, but instead of the flash forward we find that the cylons were playing the long game and Caprica, Sharon and the final three turn on the humans as the centurions return along with the remaining cylon models and the final few shots are of Adama watching helplessly as the final remnants of the human race are wiped out as planned since the beginning because his son decided they need to enjoy the rural lifestyle rather than keep some way of defending themselves.

None of which would have been quite worked – wouldn’t have seemed right – because television is built that way – we always need to want to know what happens next. That’s why Angel could still continue in comics even after it ended on television, why the Star Trek franchise rolls ever onward. That’s why the Douglas Adams ending – well almost –- I’m not sure Douglas would have been too happy about the quasi-religious mysticism and the angels – is about as good as it could have been. It’s not perfect, but it’s ok.

As is the usual way of things, most of the criticism seems to be about the detail, the nitpicking. Why would the human race give up all of this scientific development like this? What about all of the diseases? Why is ‘our’ Earth in the wrong place – look at those star maps? What’s all the guff about ‘god’s plan’? How come the two most morally bankrupt characters get continue existing into our time? Does this mean we’re all cylons? Is Bob Dylan? It’s all rubbish, I tell you, rubbish!

No it isn’t. Yes, we’re back to me getting annoyed at people for expecting fiction to obey the laws of reality when it doesn’t need to. It’s fiction. I’ve quoted Hitchcock before on this. You can do what you like in fiction so long as it obeys the rules of the world you’ve created and it's entertaining in the pure sense.

The human race unilaterally give up technology to attempt to end the cycle which got them in the mess they’re in and after what they’ve been through have clearly decided to think of the future of the race, the long game, the hope for a better future for their ancestors. So what if the Earth’s in the wrong place – it’s in the wrong place in the world created by Ron Moore! Why can’t there be a deity in that version of reality – there was one in Clash of the Titans. No we’re not part cylon – the people walking around in the fictional version of New York might be.

I like this ending.

All of the main characters recieved a decent send off – the characters we’ve been following since the first year at least. Most found peace, some surprised themselves, a few found retribution, there was atonement and one just faded away. The show didn’t rest on its laurels and gave us the massive/epic/banzai epic space battle, humans (and some cylons) against cylons we’d hoped for, with the added incongruity of watching centurion battle centurion, new style and against old. It even surprised structurally, as it so often does, providing Lost-style revelations via flashback which will add texture when we decided to watch the series again.

Gestures large and small.

More than that it winds up the central themes of the series, about how we’re usually doomed to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, of history, despite our best intentions and the Asimovian conjunction between androids and humans and how we’re not averse to playing god ourselves. And I did adore the controversial coda with the return of the iconic image of Six in the red dress which I’ve always seen as a nod to the figure in The Matrix and the montage sequence of the robots we’re desperate to be in our image. But not in a preachy way, with that cheekiness which has been at the core of the series.

Except, of course, this isn’t the end, because this is television. There’s to be a new tv movie, The Plan, retelling the story from the cylon perspective. There’s the prequel, Caprica, set fifty years before the fall, in the world we glimpsed in the pilot and in the flashbacks here. And I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see a proper continuation set somewhere down the line, returning to these characters, now farmers, eeking out their simple existence as some new catastrophe befalls them. Aren’t they going to be doing the cave people what the cylons did to them?

it's a bus destination

Liverpool Life Though mainly for Annette since it's something we've talked about:

Liverpool Penny Lane are to become 'The Beatles Quarter'

It's always been slightly curious that there's nothing much for tourists to see when they visit one of the city's most famous place names. When Annette and I walked the length of Penny Lane, even I could see that if this was the sight of a pilgrimage, there isn't much to thank the traveller for visiting. On the one hand it's nice that it is still just an ordinary street unaffected by its musical legacy. But on the other, if I was a tourist and I had come miles, I'd at least expect to see something marking its 'importance', at the very least something pointing out where the various elements of the song are -- and they are there if you know where to look.

This is more than that. A coach stop, art centre and general renovation of the area from Allerton Road right up to Smithdown Road, my own neck of the forest. An artificial tourist trap then, but if it brings money to the area, then fine, and in some respects it has to be better than what we have now, the derelict shops and shell of a bistro. It'd be nice to have somewhere close by, within walking distance, which has a guaranteed atmosphere, continually buzzing; in other words, the Penny Lane that exists in The Beatles' own video where it's a bus destination and there are men on horseback.

dashing through the narrow streets of the city

Harris Museum, Preston, originally uploaded by Tony Worrall Foto.

Museums Edward Morris’s Public Art Collections in the North of England has this to say on the subject of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston:

“The huge classical Harris Library, Museum and Art Gallery, with its inscription over its great portico: ‘TO LITERATURE ARTS AND SCIENCES’ and above it, Roscoe Mullins’s sculptural group, The Age of Pericles, dominate the centre of Preston like a medieval cathedral. Cultural and intellectual spiritual nourishment for the citizens of Preston now seemed to be the responsibility of the municipal museum and art gallery, of the church.”

Certainly, dashing through the narrow streets of the city in a downpour searching for the entrance was exactly how I’d imagine it would be if I was a character in an Ingmar Bergman film desperate to tell some god about my sins. Luckily, I didn’t have any sins worth sharing, which saved the security guard and lady working in the shop a bit of bother.

Harris, the name above the door, was a local solicitor, a very rich man, who at his death bequeathed £300,000 to the city for the building of new municipal buildings, and the council used a third of that towards this resplendent palace to house a collection which had developed during the previous few decades. The usual mix of gifts and bequests, this has built primarily from the industrialist John Sheepshanks and another local solicitor, name of Newsham. The fads of the time passed Newsham and his fellow donators by; you’ll not find the Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites or Classical Revival on these walls. His conservative tastes stretched to Etty, Herbert and E.M. Ward. Collectively, and baldy, a central theme emerges – women -– and they’re generally hung in thematic clusters, similar ages, contrasting ideas, from a range of periods, like the controversial initial layout of Tate Modern.

Unlike the controversial initial layout of Tate Modern, this works very well. Grimshaw’s melancholic In The Golden Time, an autumnal scene which depicts a maiden and child dwarfed by a stately home and wealth they’ll never know is placed next a variety of portraits of ladies in corsets of precisely the kind they’re cross the cobbled street to avoid. On one side of the main atrium is a full-sized portrait of Mary Logsdail by her father William, a chaste figure in her late teens, wear silver gown and violet scarf, perfectly designed but strangely artificial perhaps waiting for the viewer to provide their own emotional narrative, question whether her expression suggests that she cross, pensive, stroppy or simply waiting for something (perhaps her Dad to finish painting). Opposite, and produced a century later in the 60s is John Ward’s Linda, whose impressionistic style creates movement and whose dark background draws us towards the girl’s eyes and their certain emotion, sadness.

There are landscapes, true, but these are the most striking images and to an extent I wonder if the Harris could draw even greater attention to what is their main asset in their literature; this is a feminist destination and depending upon the route you take, you end up witnessing the slow development of the depiction of women in painting. I have pages and pages of notes describing this girl, that lady, at work, at play. John Rogers’ Cordelia with her Bette Davis eyes, Romney’s Serena Reading showing the tranquillity of reading by candlelight, Dickee’s Hespania whose beautifully detailed costume picked out in reds and golds distract us from her inert face. Then the rather wonderful In For Repairs by Laura Knight offering an antidote to the testosterone hued war paintings of the 1940s featuring a team of female factory works repairing a barrage balloon, the folds in the fabric of which so similar those in the dress in the Logsdail and closing At The Courtierer showing a beautiful model with deep red lips, as decorative as any of the Victorians, but more relaxed in her own skin.

None of which is to say that an element of social conscience doesn’t run through the collection. In Arthur Hughes’s Bed Time, a family is revealed to us, a mother putting her children to bed. Except from the father’s palpable anguish we can tell that all is not well, they’re a family in trouble. He grasps his leg and has his forehead in his hand which layers poignancy on the other elements of the scene, his wife teaching their daughter to pray and the smallest child laughing, blissfully unaware of whatever catastrophe has befallen them. Sherwood’s The Preston By-Election offers the city in disarray as supporters of the various parties clash, the eventual winner looking down upon the scene from a safe balcony demonstrating that politicians have always, to some extent, been out of touch. Charles Spence asks “Why War?” in his painting of a veteran of the (not so) Great War in his drawing room at the dawn of World War II, surrounded by symbols of conflicts passed, a bust of Wellington, a painting of Trafalgar and a copy of the Daily Sketch whose headline reads “Premier flying to Hitler”.

Then there’s the surprise. If by some remote chance you are planning on visiting the Harris soon, I’d look away now because it’s best discovered on your own. Gone? Right. In the main gallery space, one of the paintings has been replaced and next to the replacement is a small black and white photograph of the missing piece, Pauline in the Yellow Dress, by Sir James Gunn. She’s a regal figure with come hither eyes, like a young Princess Anne eyeing Mark Philips, draped across a chaise lounge cuddling a small dog. We’re told that its been moved to the costume exhibition, showing the breadth of fashion garments in the general collection. And it is. Along with the actual yellow dress that is in the painting! Next to each other. I actually gasped, the kind of audible gasp that tends to only appear in comic books, in a speech bubble with gasp written in the middle. The painting was bequeathed and the artist’s family recently gave the dress as well. It’s a very rare privilege to see just how accurate a painter has been with the costumer, to see how carefully they’ve copied the dots, matched the pigmentation. We can also see now that the dress was meant to be buttoned up but Pauline has unbuttoned herself, completing her seduction and making the visit worthwhile all by, um, itself…