a sea of superb performances

Film Under The Mud is a rather good low budget comedy drama filmed in and around the Garston and Speke areas of Liverpool. It’s a little girl’s holy communion day but the rest of her family have their own preoccupations. Her mum and dad are having marital problems, her big sister Paula’s boyfriend is heading off to Spain without telling her and her older brother lacks a sense of direction. Plus there’s Magic, our narrator, who’s nearly been adopted by this “family from hell” (as the publicity would have it) after the death of his mother and is besotted with Paula but just can’t seem to work out how to get her to notice him.

Shot on digital video and written over a three year period in conjunction with young writers, the film should have the whiff of a community project, but nothing could be further from the truth. Directed with flare by Sol Papadopoulos (who was also a producer on Terrance Davies’s transcendental Of Time and the City), the film wins through a combination of razor sharp comic timing from the cast and a willingness to give the same kind of magical realism Steve Martin layered on his home town in LA Story. There are scenes around Liverpool airport that are simultaneously hilarious and visually quite, quite beautiful stretching the film out from the initially fairly televisual and Hollyoaks-like, into the truly cinematic.

The emotional core of the film is provided by local theatre and tv veteran Andrew Schofield playing the father figure whose so wrapped up in guilt over the jailing of the gangsterish best friend (whose released as the film opens) that his relationship with the children’s mother is failing. But this is a collection of superb performances, even from the very young kids who are able to carry whole scenes by themselves, a very rare quality. My favourite storyline is Magic’s fight to get noticed by Paula and her dawning recognition that there’s more to men than their ability to play records. Oh and she spends most of the film talking to her imaginary friend (who everyone else also pretends is real just to humour her).

That kind of quirky humour is just one of the things that warms me to Under The Mud. Another is that there’s something quite extraordinary about seeing the place you were raised so vividly brought to screen, absolutely catching the atmosphere of the place and its people but without resorting to layering in artificial grittiness or stereotyping. I imagine my experience of watching this was much the same as the population of Austin Texas seeing Richard Linklater’s Slacker or New Jersey watching Kevin Smith’s Clerks, the amazement that anyone would want to make a film here and that it would turn out so good. I don’t imagine I’ll see a car chase around the retail park or emotional devastation playing out inside The Krazy House again any time soon.

Prisoner of the Judoon.

TV One of my many, many projects, missions, j-words, is to visit all of the museums and art galleries in the North West or at least all of the museums and art galleries in the North West that are listed in a particular guide book. Much of the time this consists of pitching up in somewhere like Lancaster City Museum and spending an hour scrutinising whatever section of the permanent collection has been put on display in the stairwell of the gallery, dodging school groups and pensioners. Usually there’s at least one or two gems which make the trip worthwhile, but quite a lot of the paintings on display just sort of exist. Painted perfectly well, these items just simply aren’t inspirational, though you know that to an extent it’s because you’re not the right audience.

That’s how I felt watching ...

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Prisoner of the Judoon (pts 1 AND 2)

… which was a formulaic runaround that like the average functional landscape painting probably got the job done, especially in terms of composition and technique (or production design and direction), but wasn’t overly exciting. To an extent, at least from an adult fan’s perspective, it’s because it’s emerging on the back of Torchwood’s Children of Earth one of the best five hours of television this year and if I’m in the right mood, this decade. An unfair comparison, of course, except that in part they share the same production team which makes it all the more disappointing that this new story reruns many of the same familiar tropes we’ve endured in previous franchise stories – humans possessed by aliens, crashlanded alien threatening to destroy the planet whilst simultaneously repairing their spaceship and a sinister science lab. It’s almost as though Hollywood’s Russell T Davies’s replacement avatar in the tone room is a teletubby who’s been schooled on child psychology: “Again! Again!”

Apologies if this review has many of the same issues.

Of course none of that probably matters because the most anyone will really remember are the scenes of the Judoon in a police car and Sarah Jane acting like a mad woman. I’ve always rather liked the Judoon; unlike the classic series’s Cybermen, who failed because their premise (human/cyborg conflagrations) was more interesting than their execution, the Judoon succeed simply because they don’t have any pretensions to anything else. They’re intergalactic policemen, they’re shaped like Rhinos and their adherence to the rules would be awarded with a That’s Life jobs worth award if Doc Cox could get close enough without them shooting the bow tie off of his neck. And that’s it.

Cue comedy and indeed the best moment in the story was the Rhino sat behind the wheel pulling the handbrake off. The mask might ultimately have all the mobility of the Garm, but just as that furry beast was able to give us a victorious smile in his final scene, there was nothing more enjoyable than seeing the baleful look Mr. J threw at these kids whose company he was being forced to endure. Watching the three of them in that corridor trying to keep him out of sight was equally comic and made me wish that the production team had decided to make him a permanent fixture for a remake of Bigfoot and the Hendersons with less fur.

I’ve heard someone say, and it might even have been someone here, that they aptly (given the title) had their first sexual experience watching Liz Sladen strolling the countryside hands outstretched mumbling “Eldrad must live” during the Hand of Fear. If so, they were well served here too, as Sladen reprised her alien possession act, lightly seasoned with a touch of the Linda Blairs. The transformation was pretty terrifying, her shoulders hunched over her head, her feminine stride reduced to a masculine waddle. Liz was clearly enjoying herself, though again it’s deeply disappointing to see this kind of threat being used as a budget saving device.

There hasn’t been any secret about the budget cut this series and as all of pre-broadcast press notices pointed out you can see it in the deserted streets around Bannerman Road and everywhere else. Plenty of traffic on the roads mind, but only in Logopolis does everyone stay in on a Sunday (unless I suppose there's a good match on the internet). One welcome addition early in the first episode was the introduction of an awareness of where SJS and her brood fit within the global terror pecking order; if it’s not a localised problem, UNIT will take care of it, the professionals. That neatly sidesteps the question of what the group did about the 456. Bugger all.

Except that doesn’t really work and I still think that it’s a missed opportunity that we’re not going to see those five days from a kid friendly perspective. Surely Haresh should be affected just a little bit by the sight of a portion Park Vale High’s student body chanting in unison? Did the attic kids just sit around on their hands when all of the kids in the neighbourhood were being picked up on mass by the government? Such are the ongoing issues of setting these three series in the same universe and expecting them not to impact on one another. True, kids won’t be aware of what went on in Torchwood, but for us adults it's an extra barrier to suspending out disbelief. That small child and her mother in the opening episode have had a rubbish year all told.

The other barrier is Rani’s parents who by now have broken through the satire barrier and are coming out the other side. Like characters who’ve wandered in from a 70s sitcom, probably on this occasion The Good Life, they’re entirely at odds with the action elements of the rest of the episode, generally undercutting the threat by being implausible jeopardy magnets and if kids find it amusing to see someone’s parents acting like fools, each of their appearances on screen was greeted by an audible sigh from my corner of the room. When Gita said "It's a plant eat plant world" I think I died a little bit inside. Is this really acceptable in kids tv these days? In his opening story, Haresh had the potential to be an interesting character, but between his weird mind-controlled athleticism last series and his mind-boggling ineptitude here it’s enough to hope that they’re somehow transported away with Alan and Chrissie moving back into Bannerman Road, adopting Rani in the process.

At least the kids are all still on form, with the chemistry between them firmly established and able to cope with the reams of bullshit exposition randomly put into their mouths at various points. When the sound mix (or setting on my tv or whatever the excuse is this series) wasn’t drowning them out, there were some good one liners dropped in from everyone though it’s worth considering how many of the middle-schoolers will know who Jack Baeur is (probably a good thing consider his torture proclivities with household objects). About the only strangeness is Clyde’s weird glower to the camera at close of the inescapably long bumper which looks like it’ll be appearing on every episode. Is he thinking “Why didn’t I get a character introduction? I am narrating the bloody thing…”

Next week’s episode looks more interesting (if a bit of rerun of season one’s Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?) but this whole series is largely overshadowed by the appearance of the Doctor in two weeks. Well that and the curiously titled Mona Lisa's Revenge. A late sequel to City of Death? Will they run it under an x-ray and find “This is a fake” printed on it in marker pen? Will be see a return of the rubbish acrylic facsimile that appeared in the 70s or has the budget stretched to properly licensing the copyright to thing from The Louvre? Will we spend most of the episode not able to see the smile because tourists are lining up to have their picture taken next to?

Next Week: Time and the Rani


Elsewhere I've reviewed this week's The Sarah Jane Adventures at Behind The Sofa. Entertaining enough but not inspirational. Rather like this review. Better, I hope, is my summation of Olivier's Hamlet. Busy day.


Music What I've always loved about Shakira (other than her music -- aaawooo etc) is that just when you think you've read the same interview over and over again (which generally boils down to the journalist describing how clever she is even though her lyrics are funny), there's always some new bit of information or quote that you have to read twice to make sure to read it correctly the first time. Witness this interview with The Guardian's Alexis Petridis Luxuriate in the warmth of:
"after touring the Oral Fixation album, she declined to start work on a follow-up, preferring instead to don a disguise and study history at UCLA. "It was such a long tour, I needed a break from me. The universe is so broad, I cannot be at the centre of it. So I decided to go to the university and study history for a summer course, just to kind of switch gears, taste the student life. I used to wear a cap and a big backpack, I looked like a boy. I didn't get recognised. Some people looked at me very suspiciously, a few people asked me, but I told them my name was Isabelle. I would go to university over and over again if I could."
If someone submitted that story as a film proposal they'd be laughed out of the office because it sounds so unlikely. I'd love to see the faces of said students when they realise who they were trying to make friends with: "I knew there was something fishy about that chick..." they might say depending on how students in America talk these days.

Competition Results: Amazon Vouchers

Quiz! The competition ended at midnight.

I can now reveal that my favourite Doctor is (as a surprising number of you already know):

Paul McGann

And just to prove that I haven't just plucked that out of the air, or that I'm just saying that even though it's secretly Tom Baker or something, here is an old explanatory blog post. As late as March 2005 I was hoping he'd take over from Christopher Eccleston through some weird bit of narrative doo-hickory. He will come back, oh yes, he will come back.

I'm sorry, what? Oh yes, the winners:

Matt Thomas and Erin Le Clerc.

Congratulations to them. I've been in touch.

I think I know what they'll be spending it on.

21 Laurence Olivier

Hamlet played by Laurence Olivier.
Directed by Laurence Olivier.

Olivier’s Hamlet is one of those films which is impossible to approach without a certain level of trepidation, which accounts for why it has taken until now for me to do such an approach (it took this week’s competition to give me the relevant nudge). Like Kean, Kemble, Irving and Gielgud before him and Jacobi, Branagh and (it looks like) Tennant since, his performance is spoken of in hushed tones, synonymous with the role to the point that for a good while, the image people had fixed in their mind of what Hamlet is like, what he is about, was of Olivier. In almost all of the documentaries I’ve seen about Shakespeare and this play in particular, there has been a shot either of the actor looking over a cliff or grasping Yorrik’s skull. The film won Best Picture at the 1948 Academy Awards, with Olivier picking up best actor and nomination as best director (four wins in all with three other nominations).

Few films come with this baggage, let alone a film of Hamlet. Yet, once the credits had rolled and Olivier’s lens swept towards Elsinore’s battlements all of that fell away, and as is usual I found myself thrown back into the walls of the castle and the unfolding text. Unlike Henry V, which underscores its artifice at every stage, Olivier immediately plunges the viewer into a world pitched somewhere between horror and film noir as smoke and shadows fill the frame and old Hamlet descends, totally lacking in humanity, his entrance signalled by the bending of the image as though the apparition only exists because it has found a way to pierce the mind of Horatio and the guards. It’s shocking, scary and totally unlike the impression I'd previous had of the film, of a rather stately, reverential run through of the play. Olivier means to scare the Dickens out of you. And he does. Considering this was the first sound version of the play in the English language, the actor/director does not simply deliver filmed theatre, but a totally cinematic experience.

Eight years out from Citizen Kane and Welles’s influence can already be seen as cinematographer Desmond Dickens treats Elsinore like Xanadu, his use of deep focus transforming the castle into a cavernous, confusing edifice with geography that fractures and bends seemingly depending on Hamlet’s mental state. The camera is forever moving, throughout room, down hallways, up stairwells often in the middle of scenes in an effort to disorientate the viewer, coupled with an editing style that seems totally modern only rarely resting. Late in the film, as Jean Simmons’s post-breakdown Ophelia prowls about the castle, the camera tracks her from behind and we hear the scene in which Claudius spins Polonius’s death to Laertes echo about even before she’s entered the chamber, then continuing as she leaves again towards her death. About the only time Olivier comes unstuck is when he cuts away from performance to show the action which is being reported. So we see Hamlet’s uncharacteristic visit Ophelia as she describes the moment, when his absence from our eyes should be underscoring the mystery of his mental state.

On a textual level one of the big headlines (if you have headlines regarding a sixty year old film) is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't just dead, they're cut altogether, the fishmonger and remembrances scenes shifted next to each other to demonstrate the testing of Hamlet’s madness. All of the politics is removed in fact, save a mention of Fortinbras in the gravedigger scene. This is a domestic Hamlet through and through, a battle of wills between the young prince and his father’s usurper, which does of course mean Polonius really is a “prattling naïve” (and all the more sympathetic for it) but also allows Olivier to glimpse deeply into the marriage of the new king and his queen. From the mousetrap onwards, Eileen Herlie’s Gertrude knows full well what her second husband did and what he’s capable of, the love drained from her eyes, her own sanity drifting until finally, during the duel, she drinks the pearled poisoned wine, knowing the effect it’ll have on her but wanting out of the marriage through any means available. All of that is reflected in Herlie’s sublime performance as in close up we watch her eyes fixed on the goblet and her realisation of the oblivion it will provide.

There’s no doubt that Olivier’s Hamlet is a great performance, with the actor completely aware of when he needs to show the emotion and when he should simply let the other actors and the rest of the film carry on about him. His first appearance, in which he’s clearly been in the scene all along but we simply haven’t noticed him demonstrates the shadowy figure he’s become since his father’s death. He’s also unafraid to take advantage of the comedy in the play, especially as he and Horatio must deal with first the gravedigger then the Osric. My impression is that in this interpretation, Hamlet begins by feigning madness, which tips him over the edge (almost literally in the case of “To Be or Not To Be”) and then he realises what has happened and his sanity returns by the climax. As he says in voice over at the start: "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind” and ironically when he finally does decide on a plan and carries it through it’s too late to save his own life. Some have said he was far too old for the role by then (and indeed the actress playing Hamlet’s mother is a full decade younger than her son), but for me on this occasion it’s the quality of the interpretation which is most important.

Of the rest of the cast, Jean Simmons’s poppet like Ophelia isn’t entirely convincing and the opening does drag terribly during her scene with Terrance Morgan’s stodgy Laertes, their clipped RP accents and mannered performance suggesting at no point that they are siblings. If I was a child watching Hamlet for the first time, my heart would sink if faced by this. Still, Basil Syndey’s Claudius is a brooding villain and looks especially creepy next to Herlie’s youthful Gertrude. The other interest is amongst the supporting cast, which is chock full of character actors who would go on to be stars in their own right: Peter Cushing’s effeminate Osric, Stanley Holloway’s Grave Digger, Patrick Troughton’s Player King, Anthony Quayle’s Marcellus and uncredited extras include Christopher Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Patrick Macnee. In the 1990s, a fantasy convention would kill for this line-up, yet there they all are carrying spears in court or cutlasses during the pirate scene were Olivier allows himself a brief moment of swashbuckling in the flashback.

[Don't forget, the competition to win this on blu-ray along with Henry V courtesy of ITV DVD is still open. You can enter here.]

theory as to why

Science Magnificent theory as to why the Large Hadron Collider at CERN breaks down. It's sabotage. From the future:
"A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveller who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."
Two points worth noting about the ensuing thread as Metafilter. Firstly this comment which doesn't deny the theory out of hand and uses the old Doctor Who stand bye of the paranormal just being science so advanced we don't understand it yet ...

... and the fact that I don't recognise any of the usernames. Who are these people? I expect somebody, somewhere could write a paper about how online communities have exactly the same kind of generational development as the real world, except perhaps at an accelerated rated.

"It's a stop!"

Journalism I was on Twitter for #trafigura on Monday morning and once again I was reminded that the service is at its best when everyone is talking about the same thing (other examples being elections and Eurovision) and that it's far more than just a micro-blogging service. Here, Alan Rusbridger sums up events:
"It took one tweet on Monday evening as I left the office to light the virtual touchpaper. At five past nine I tapped: "Now Guardian prevented from reporting parliament for unreportable reasons. Did John Wilkes live in vain?" Twitter's detractors are used to sneering that nothing of value can be said in 140 characters. My 104 characters did just fine."
Or to paraphrase Bill Nighy's editor character in TV's State of Play, "It's a stop!"

he was forced to work in unfamiliar territories

Film On the dvd for Hitchcock’s penultimate film, Topaz, Leonard Malton offers a spirited defence of the director’s most maligned work. He talks about how by now Hitch had been shawn of the crew which had been his family for so many years, how he was forced to work in unfamiliar territories with foreign crews on an adaptation of rather pulpy novel that he didn’t know what to do with, but that it still features some wonderful sequences such as when a lady is murdered and as she drops to the floor her dress spreads about symbolically replacing a blood splatter.

What he fails to mention is how gruelling it is otherwise. Everything he says is true, and yet, between the confusing story about a defector and an assassin and the comedy Cuban stereotypes (every one a Castro) and the horrifyingly slow pacing and the aesthetic that reminded me of the 70s mini-series that used to clog up the schedules of ITV last time they had no money for programmes (and didn’t care about where they got them from) and the tasteless music and the on the nose performances which are essentially the dramatic chipmunk (see below) over and over and over again …

… it’s basically unwatchable. I know because I watched the first half one evening, got bored, my attention wandered, turned it off and then watched the whole thing again the following morning, knowing that I wouldn’t truly feel as though I’d completed this j-word unless I’d seen every frame Hitchcock directed, at least for the cinema, even the bad ones. As we reach the end of this marathon (one week to go), it seems as though I've criticised and praised the master's work in equal measure, which is a surprise. But it's a salient reminder that no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just fall short. But at least he was always interesting.

and something with Russell Brand

Film Universal Pictures have released a snippet of their slate for next year. There's some tremendously exciting future blu-rays in prospect here and something with Russell Brand. And someone's decided to make another one of these:
"Throughout history, tales of chivalry have burnished the legends of brave, handsome knights who rescue fair damsels, slay dragons and conquer evil. But behind many a hero is a good-for-nothing younger brother trying just to stay out of the way of those dragons, evil and trouble in general. Danny McBride and James Franco team up for an epic comedy adventure set in a fantastical world-Your Highness. As two princes on a daring mission to save their land, they must rescue the heir apparent’s fiancée before their kingdom is destroyed."
Which sounds ... OK ... Then I notice a bit of the casting ...
"... Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel ..."
In the same film? This is the manic pixie dream girl equivalent of Michael Mann's Heat. If Kirsten Dunst makes a cameo, a singularity is likely to open up and swallow the world. I can't wait.

“Let her finish!”

Life As you’ve probably noticed, Antony Gormley’s 4th plinth project for Trafalgar Square in London, One and Other, completed today. I watched as much of the final hour as I could within the limits of my broadband plan. Poignantly it was given by a supporter of the Hillsborough Justice campaign and she read out short obituaries for each of the ninety-six supporters who died. As the hour drew to a close, it became apparent that she might not finish, but she ploughed on anyway and with no one waiting to replace her, the organisers decided to let her complete the list and let go each of the balloons which were tethered to represent each of the people who died. It probably helped that people were chanting “Let her finish!” from the ground.

It was undoubtedly very strange to see an event that I was part of ending so far away, though I clapped along with the people in the square anyway. As I said at the time, despite my initial jitters I’m very pleased I took part. As far as I’m concerned this was art, undoubtedly conceptual, but art nonetheless. It’s also the kind of event that the people who participated in it, either because they were a plinther or simply went to watch, can look back on with nostalgia. In ten years, when I’m good god nearly forty-five and there are shows on BBC Four commemorating the noughties, and there’s a clip of someone dressed as Napoleon or holding a plackard, for once I’ll be able to say: “I was there. I did that. This is what it was like.” I haven’t had that often in life. Not many times I can say that. Now I can. Now I will.

Scene Unseen

Elsewhere To go with the competition, I've resurrected Scene Unseen for one night only to talk about the opening scenes of Olivier's Henry V.

Scene Unseen

The Artifice of The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (1944)

My first introduction to Shakespeare, at school, was a bit of a jumble. Each week our class would crowd into a tiny television room huddled about a 26” set whilst the teacher showed us sections of Zefrelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Polanski’s Macbeth, various BBC productions and what most captured my imagination, Olivier’s Henry V. Not the whole film, just the opening section in which the director, underscoring the artifice of the prologue, shows us Elizabethan London and a recreation of The Globe with the opening scenes of the play being performed before the braying crowds by actors (we even see the man about to play Henry just before he steps on stage). Despite being of an age that was distracted by Transformers and girls, I was thrilled and captivated, and understood somewhat, for the first time the world in which Shakespeare was working.

Watching years later with more critical eye, I can see that those opening scenes are more obviously models, the transition from miniatures to sets more apparent. Yet their power hasn’t diminished and Olivier’s motive, to bring the audience into the story through varying layers of authenticity even clearer. The Globe falls away to reveal interior sets modelled on medieval paintings, then exterior sets and then in a thrilling burst of reality the Battle of Agincourt with its sweeping tracking shots lenses at the verdant expanses of County Wicklow in Ireland. If years later, Ken Branagh’s version would take that reality a step further by introducing gallons of mud and blood and shouting, Olivier’s interpretation of the battle is the one I’d like to believe in, with its shiny armour and clearer manners.

Created as a morale booster during WWII, Olivier knew that he had to present the text lucidly, accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Part of his artifice also included cutting many of Henry’s darker moments, no hanging of traitors here, no threat to pillage Harfleur, and the dark foreshadowing of the events in Henry VI are cut. But in these circumstance they’re not missed (though I expect that some Shakespeare scholars would disagree) and it’s refreshing to see a version of the King who can act as a symbol for goodness and must have done in those darker times. Too often these days we’re desperate for our heroes to have grey areas in an attempt to make them more “interesting” when sometimes it can be “interesting” that they lack a moral ambiguity. The director won a special Oscar for this achievement. Quite right too.

getting along in the LA business

Media Julie Bush talks about her Letterman and getting along in the LA business:
"suddenly, for whatever reason, this star takes an interest in you. It’s not like you’re amazing looking — you’re just a nice girl from whereever you came from, and that’s what makes you fun. Because you’re unspoiled, because you’re still capable of blossoming under the light of a powerful sun, because he can still make his mark on you. He’s as good as married, or he is married, or it doesn’t matter, because he isn’t having a real give-and-take relationship with you. He’s giving you as little as he possibly can in order to take what he wants—he gives you crumbs of attention, charisma, the illusion that he cares.
It's valuable to remember that whenever Letterman jokes about having sex with people in his staff that they are people.

a hundred to a hundred and fifty calls *per day*

Life Vero has posted something about the quality of non-face to face customer service. What she said isn't wrong but did inspire me to rant incoherently in the comments for a few paragraphs. The problem in these debates is that the human being within the call centre and their situation is often overlooked; that there might be a reason why you're not getting the help you'd expect. Here's what I said there, cleaned up in a way that it really should have been before I posted:

Have worked in three call centres, here’s the problem with #3.

In call centres your average staff member can take up to a hundred to a hundred and fifty calls *per day*. Each will be sent through abruptly into your ear straight after the one before, usually after a ping in their ear or in banks a voice telling them the kind of card the person is calling about. It’s a conveyor belt of calls, all different and if it’s a busy period, each customer testy having had to wait on the line for a good long while.

In that situation, with that many customers coming through and because you’re trying to balance customer service with the business imperative it’s extraordinarily difficult not to sound tired and to be “friendly, approachable and proactive” all day. I was all of those things 90% of the time; I helped to advise other workers on how to improve their own approach.

But sometimes you can feel like a fairground boxer going rounds upon rounds with total strangers trying their hardest to knock you over. If you start taking calls at 9:00 in the am and your first call is bad, one of those calls where nothing you said was right, where there was nothing you could do and you were screamed at (which happened a lot) it was very difficult to pull yourself together in time for the very next call with the next perfectly nice customer.

That first call might play on your mind for the rest of the day impacting on all the service you're offering, your mind forever thinking back and trying to decide if there was something you could have done to make the situation better, even if, much of the time, there wasn’t because the thing had escalated beyond anything you could have done even before you got there.

Which isn't necessarily a weakness. It means you care. You want to do your best for the customer. But working in a call centre can be a frustrating business because you can’t solve every problem even if the answer seems perfectly simply because the business isn’t designed that way. Oh the stories I could tell. Plus you can't often take a moment off the phone because you've only a limited amount of off call time allowance in the day.

In addition if an advisor refuses to escalate a call to a manager it’s often because they truly can’t. In some call centres it's what the team coach does, it’s how they spend their day. In others they will not take escalations under any circumstances. It’s never consistent either. I worked in three call centres and they all had different procedures and none of them were perfect and sometimes there wasn't even a manager on the floor to be able to escalate the call to anyway.

All of which said, I too have had to horrible customer service experiences and there are some truly rotten advisors out there, but I try to assume that sometimes it's not their fault. They’ve either had precious little training before being slung on the phones (which happens a lot if they’ve been brought in from an agency) or they’ve been worn down by a culture in which the caller *expects* that they’ll be rubbish and treat them that way, grinding away the shreds of their humanity.

fantasy land today

Politics Create your own conference speech. Here's mine:

Make sure you at least click on Clegg. Yes, quite right too. [via]

Morning Mist

Morning Mist, originally uploaded by feelinglistless.

The view across Sefton Park this morning.

Ten interesting facts about the release of Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet

Along with the prizes, ITV DVD have sent ten interesting facts about the release of Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet ...
1. Hamlet was the first British film to win both the Academy Award for best picture and the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award for best picture

2. Laurence Olivier became the first person ever to direct themselves to a best actor or actress Oscar

3. Hamlet cost $2 million to make; this was a very expensive production in its day

4. Laurence Olivier was 41 when Hamlet was released. Eileen Herlie who played Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, was 28

5. According to a book written in 1948, many actresses refused the role of Hamlet’s mother because of age concerns

6. Desmond Dickenson had a very maneuverable Camera Dolly specially made for this film.

7. Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Jean Simmons are the only surviving cast members of the film

8. This is the first of many films that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would do together. Their later roles included The Curse of Frankenstein where Peter Cushing played Dr. Frankenstein and Lee was the Monster and Dracula, Lee played Dracula and Cushing played Van Helsing on three occasions

9. Shakespearean purist Ethel Barrymore criticized Olivier’s version of Hamlet. Complaining that it wasn’t as faithful as the stage version produced on Broadway in 1922, in which her brother John Barrymore played Hamlet. Ethel Barrymore was later to present Laurence Olivier with the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards and was visibly shaken when she read out Olivier’s name as the winner

10. This was the first talkie film of Hamlet in English
Tomorrow? Henry V.

Competition: Win Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V on Blu-Ray

I've always wanted to say something along the lines of the follow:

To celebrate the release of Laurence Olivier's classic interpretations of Hamlet and Henry V on Blu-Ray, The Hamlet Weblog in association with ITV DVD has two sets of both films to give away!

HAMLET (Cert: U, Run Time: 153 mins, £19.99 RRP)

One of Laurence Olivier’s masterpieces and the capturing of a defining moment of his career, hailed as the greatest performance of Hamlet on stage and screen. The film also stars Jean Simmons as Ophelia (Great Expectations, Guys & Dolls), Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) and Peter Cushing (Dracula).

Having gained widespread popularity in film, Olivier tried his hand at directing and created three highly successful films including HAMLET and HENRY V. Olivier’s definitive version of the Bard’s tragedy won 11 awards including 4 Oscars and was the first British film to pick up the coveted Best Picture honour.

Other actors to make the role their own on stage recently include another Doctor Who; David Tenant and Jude Law whose production has just transferred to Broadway.

HENRY V (Cert: U, Run Time: 138 mins, £19.99 RRP)

Based on one of the most popular historical plays by Shakespeare and made to boost moral of British troops during World War II, HENRY V tells the story of this King of England and the epic Battle of Agincourt.

Devised, directed by and starring Laurence Olivier, this film includes some of most impressive technicolour battle sequences in film, making it a must see. 2009 is the 65th Anniversary of this historically important and glorious film that was nominated for five Academy Awards.

The Blu-ray release also includes some fantastic extras such as the Henry V feature commentary, the trailer and three photo galleries which include black and white, original colour and HD comparison images, actor’s portraits and promotional material.

For a chance of winning this fabulous prize, please answer the following question:

What are Hamlet's first words in the play?

Email your answer with the subject line "Hamlet Competition" to feelinglistless@btopenworld.com to reach us (me) by midnight GMT on 19th October 2009.

Some terms and conditions:

(1) I'll pull two names out of the metaphorical hat on the 20th and be in touch for details which I'll then send to ITV DVD so that they can send you the prizes.
(2) Competition is only open to UK residents. Sorry.
(3) You can win only these prize. There is no cash alternative.
(4) The judges’ decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into.

Keep an eye on the blog over the next couple of days for related content, including ten facts about Olivier's Hamlet and reviews of the films.

Hamlet and Henry V are released on Blu-ray on 19 October from ITV DVD

Bye Stephen

Music I very was sorry to hear about the death of Stephen Gately. Boyzone where never on my music radar, or at least I thought they weren't until the inevitable clips appeared in news reports and I knew every word of the songs emanating from their stools. Talia offers some commentary here. Like Take That and The Spice Girls, they always seem/seemed like tremendous sports. Their first television appearance was in front of a bemused audience and Gay Burn on Ireland's The Late Late Show. Earlier this year, as part of their reunion efforts, they reappeared on the show and gamely attempted to recreate their dance routine, fifteen years on:

Rather brilliant, I'm sure you'll agree. Bye Stephen.

[Updated: I've been reminded that this is a Doctor Who related loss as well. Gately was in the Doctor Who audio The Horror of Glam Rock and sang the title song, 'Children of Tomorrow'.]