miniblog archive

Don't Drink The Water has finally arrived, so expect review soon, or in other words when I've had a chance to watch it. In the meantime ...

  • UK cinema chains may boycott Burton's Alice in Wonderland. The operative word being "may". The cinemas will back down. They'll have to. The artificial four month gap is only really tenable for films which have a decent distribution and aren't yanked off the screen within a couple of weeks.

  • Confused Facebook users think ReadWriteWeb is the new Facebook login page, and what's positively worry is the illiteracy with which they signal their dismay...

  • Immigration whistleblowers: spot the difference. Tabloid newspapers have an agenda.

  • Avatar, the French New Wave and the morality of deep-focus (in 3-D), in which Jim Emmerson notices how James Cameron hobbles the film visually by pointlessly recreating the limitations of celluloid even in the digital sequences.

  • Hello Kitty's Star Wars Is a Nightmarish Orgy of Horror and Insanity

  • a Concept for Reinventing MySpace

  • Did karaoke versions of Sinatra's My Way provoke killings in the Philippines?

  • If you have a spare £2.99 I can highly recommend 20/30/40, a beautiful generational hyperlink comedy drama from Taiwan.

  • Videogame Soundtracks on Spotify

  • Interview: Peter Brook, in Paris and London

  • The Doctor and Douglas, a new Radio 4 documentary coming soon.

  • Didn't Love Actually show that you can't mix the classic genres with hyperlink narratives? Short Cuts isn't about that.

  • David Dimbleby’s Seven Ages of Britain

  • There's no place like Dome -- visiting the undeveloped parts of the site.

  • Want to own your very own Dr Who Cyberman?

  • Henry And The Giant Harp

  • Henry & The Giant Harp, part two

  • Wild Horses: We'll Ride Them Someday

  • Tribute to Ianto Jones. Memorial shrine at the real entrance to Torchwood:

  • Publicy

  • Not watching The Wire can cause trouble

  • 10 Companions Younger Than Karen Gillan (not to mention John and Gillian):

  • This Guardian front page piece about BBC expenses reads like a deliberate parody of an anti-BBC Daily Mail article. At no point does it notice that the reason they're hiring the limousine is to make a good impression in front of people for whom such things are standard. Like buying a good suit for an interview.

  • Eve Myles Interview Exclusive!

  • #spotify Sade's new album's about what you'd expect, but track 2 conjures up images of Will Smith & a big robot spider:

  • The V&A is Wrong about closing its instruments section

  • Innuendo [and out the other]
  • Pink Floyd and Carly Firorina Because Yes Please!

  • How the Letterman-Oprah-Leno Super Bowl Ad Came Together:

  • Republicans Sure Do Have Opinions

  • The challenges of filming the Virtual Revolution

  • More from the TV Cream Songbook

  • Daily Star watch the Kick-Ass trailer, pretend it’s newsworthy

  • They're playing our show

  • B7 Media's Blakes 7 audio dramas are now available on Spotify: (via @afront)

  • Bulk

  • Sarah Palin Logic: Teleprompters Are Bad, But Writing Notes On Your Hand Is A-OK [Notable/quotable]

  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus dvd details. Commentary!

  • Alastair Campbell – signs of (di)stress?

  • Life is but a holographic projection

  • 10 Unbelievable Inheritance Stories

  • Is it too late to save the Cultural Olympiad?

  • Editorial: President Proposes Bold New Approach to Exploring the Final Frontier

  • Giraffe Needed

  • White Outs and Brown Outs

  • Emily Mortimer: "Sometimes I think this is so undignified"

  • Sight and Sound Magazine's flickr stream has new and classic covers:
  • Ian Carmichael obituary

  • DVD Goes To The Theatre. Useful experiment in which a theatre company produces their own live dvd production for release after the live show has ended

  • Is Supernatural really this good? Better than Dr Who & T-wood.? I think I may have miscalculated in not watching it ... (of course it's just that the Who fan vote was split between two different series which wasn't a problem with the first two series of Touchwoudn't)

  • Learn Japanese From A to Zen. Naoko Mori on her written language legacy

  • Julia Somerville, Fiona Armstrong at BBC

  • Playing the 'I Don't Deserve This' Card. The Wrap on how actors try and deflect the attention from themselves at award ceremonies

  • Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney on Google Street Map

  • Jon Stewart out thinking Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor.

  • Torchwood Range Rover up for auction along with what looks like the contents of the various exhibitions from across the country
  • Lovefilm obsession.

    Film I'm well aware by now that I have something of an obsessive personality and if you've been reading this blog any length of time, you will have noticed it too. There are small issues I've spent weeks, months, even years thinking about but nothing which could be considered useful to anyone else and mostly to do with streamlining something in my own life. I am, I suppose, inspirationally selfish.

    Here is an example.

    Between Bronowski and Allen my Lovefilm subscription meanders onwards reminding me what I’ve missed at the cinema, especially in the noughties. I’ve finally seen American Psycho (which it turns out is the film Christian Bale is still trying to live up to). I’ve always been slightly exercised by the amount of choice dvd by post offers. So many great and average films, so little time to watch them or waste my time watching them.

    And before my anonymous commenter once again suggests that I go out for a walk instead -- it's February and cold.

    When I began subscribing with ScreenSelect in February 2004 (which was folded into Lovefilm along with all of the other small firms later), my methodology was to simply watch the hundred films considered to be the best of all time. Then plenty of French New Wave. Then all the films that featured in the sublime cinematography documentary Visions of Light. All of which stood me in good stead when I went back to university, having prewatched some of the texts on our viewing lists.

    Up until recently I’ve not really had much focus, in other words, there have been over a thousand films on the list, which is where I've become unstuck. When I've said in the past that I’m wracked by indecision, I meant it, to the point of even losing track of the films which were on that list. I knew that there was no way I’d be able to watch all of it. Ever. The list would just keep growing. And it did, with each new film release missed or dvd re-issue.

    Although there was something quite entertaining about having what seemed like whole of film history being sent to me at random, all too often a film would flop through the letterbox which I really wasn’t in the mood to watch or more specifically which I felt it a duty to watch because it was an “important work” from an “important director” which had won “many awards” but did not feature a helicopter exploding on an evening when I all I really wanted to see was a helicopter exploding.

    DVD-by-post it seems does not work when there’s too much choice. Though you can’t specify exactly which film you would like to see next, it’s best to limit the choices so that you at least have some idea what to expect. But Lovefilm recommend that you have lots of choice so that the next disc will be send out quickly. Like I said, I’ve become quite obsessed with this, far more than I really should, which probably demonstrates that I’m something of a film obsessive and in completely the wrong job. I digress. Sorry.

    Problem: I like to keep my viewing eclectic. Like George Clooney and his project choices, I like to oscillate between schlock and something more worthy. Sometimes helicopters, sometimes rain splattering against a window expressing the inner turmoil of a man lost in the theatre of cruelty that is real life. I need a guiding hand. I need Lovefilm to pretend to be a repertory cinema.

    Solution: I was flicking through the new issue of Sight and Sound magazine the other evening and thinking wistfully of the BFI on the Southbank, both the cinema with its comfy seats and zero tolerance for talkers (though not the prices) and their programme and how it offers a useful alternative to the multiplexes presenting mini festivals of a particular director or actor’s work or a general theme and how I wished there was a repertory cinema like that in Liverpool. Then I realised there could be. In my own flat.

    And so from now onwards, because I’ve grown so tired of worrying about this, having deleted the thousand films, I’m just going to let the BFI programme my choices. As well as a list of contemporary films or more clearly multiplex fare, I now have “repertory” and each month I’m going to add whatever films the BFI have programmed (assuming they’re available on dvd) which will then be refreshed when the next calender begins.

    February is Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Johnny Depp and Yasujir┼Ź Ozu and tonight I began with Late Autumn, one of the Japanese director’s final films about a misunderstanding related to marriage (aren’t they all?). Next month it’s Russian director Sergei Paradjanov, films about blonde women and Alice in Wonderland. I can’t wait.

    Thank goodness that’s settled. Now, what next?

    The Ascent of Man.

    TV Over the past few weeks, first thing in the morning, after I’ve woken up, listened to the news headlines from the Today programme on Radio 4, been to the toilet and made a cup of tea, I’ve been settling down to watch an episode of Jacob Bronowski’s landmark 1973 series The Ascent of Man. It’s been a revelation and a perfectly profound way to begin each day (see this earlier post for one of my braingasms).

    Although I know that some of the facts and discussion in the series have become out of date in the forty-odd years since it was first broadcast (and according to the booklet that accompanies the dvd during the making of the series leading to some rushed reshoots) having been streamed through the arts since school I’ve been desperate for a primer on the history of science and why not take advantage of what some consider to be the televisual primary source?

    Proposed by then BBC Two director David Attenborough as the scientific follow up the earlier, highly successful art series, Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation, the series at a basic level does indeed provide a history of science covering all of the big topics in a slow sweep across the development of civilisation in the past ten thousand years: archaeology, anthropology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, physics, engineering, evolution, particle physics, more physics, genetics and psychology.

    These stories are played out across thirteen fifty-minute films shot in twenty-seven countries with Bronowski constantly on screen, animated expressing each subject through densely packed lectures which were apparently improvised on the spot. The Dr. knew roughly what he was going to say and would impart it to the production team and they would then film him, either from the front of shifting about the location. The impression is of a Royal Society Christmas lecture in which the expert steps and sits about a constantly shifting landscape.

    Bronowski is positively hypnotic, often grinning in the middle of sentences as the shear joy of being given the opportunity to impart this knowledge overwhelms him and we hang on ever word. As Attenborough notes in the interview that accompanies the episodes on dvd, "Bruno" was the master of the dramatic pause and he does often stop in the middle of a sentence as though he's trying to find exactly the right word to express his ideas.

    Unafraid to jump off into the detailed abyss of a subject and expecting the viewer to join him, there were occasions, especially during the episode on particle physics when I couldn't quite follow the narrative but that’s more likely to be a failure of my understanding than his clarity and that’s as it should be. Television is always slightly disappointing when it simplifies a subject to make it intelligible to everyone. It should challenge us. And at least on dvd, I could rewind and try again.

    Each film is beautifully rendered and often spectacular but often it’s the simplest imagery which has the most impact. The destruction of Hiroshima is minimised to a large bang, a melting clock, and shots of Japanese people in streets who because of this juxtaposition seem entirely bewildered by the oncoming fate. Contrast that with the modern recourse to offer a giant computer generate mushroom cloud and we see the dignity with which Bronowski is desperate to present his story.

    Time and again Bronowski surprises us by not taking the obvious route to explaining a topic. His story of evolution is though the diaries of Alfred Russel Wallace the other scientist who discovered natural selection in parallel with Darwin. The trial of Gallileo proceeds through a transcript read in voiceover by Joss Ackland against empty chairs in a room similar to the location for the original meeting leaving the audience to imagine the white heat of injustice within the room.

    But the series is subtitled “A Personal View” and rather than presenting a dispassionate history, Bronowski is keen to explain how scientific thought and development are constantly under threat from the kind of dogma and cynicism, usually religious, that is unable to assimilate new discoveries and theories when a different set of absolute truths has already been established. Time and again we see work, from Gallileo through Darwin to Mendel, either deliberate suppressed or put in a drawer for fear of insulting the establishment.

    In the final programme he predicts that scientists will increasingly be unable to do their best work, their life’s work, because political and business interests will take up so much of their time, presumably because theoretical science will not pay the wages. When the Large Hadron Collider was turned on the first time, questions were asked about why some would spend all of that money without there being some kind of practical use.

    Well, because science isn’t always and shouldn't always be about that. As someone comments on this exchange from Newsnight between the LHC's Dr Brian Cox and Sir David King (the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science), "personally, i think any amount of money is worth paying if it gives us even the slightest chance of finding out the most fundamental unanswered questions of our existence." Quite, right, and I'm sure Bruno would approve.

    I wonder how he’d feel about this slightly older version of the world were science is rarely undertaken unless there will be some kind of monetary outcome even within universities whose researchers and often departments are being funded by big business. He's adamant that The Ascent of Man stagnates when children aren’t taught the history of science isn't taught properly in school and society doesn’t take a keen interest as a whole of the subject. A pessimist like myself wonders if is prediction has come true with me as the prime example. Sorry Bruno.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971)

    Then See below (again!).

    Now Truth be told I've already slipped slightly out of order. The next film to feature a Woody Allen credit was Don't Drink The Water (1969) an adaptation of the stage play he wrote whilst twiddling his thumbs between takes on the set of Casino Royale. But I'm still waiting for a copy to be sent by Amazon (dispatched ages ago, due to be delivered between the 4th and 17th February).

    In the meantime. Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971) is a mockumentary satire of the Nixon administration produced for PBS television which features Woody playing Wallinger, a thinly disguised parody of Henry Kissinger. It was his first film with Diane Keaton and also has Louise Lasser and the then current Richard Nixon-lookalike Richard M. Dixon. Like Zelig, these fictional figures were mixed in with actual newsreel footage of Hubert Humphrey, Spiro Agnew, and Nixon in embarrassing public moments.

    Sadly, the film is unavailable. It wasn't even broadcast. PBS pulled it from the schedule at a very late stage concerned that their funding might by pulled by the Nixon administration if they were to present such a critical film so close to the election [source of course]. This old New York Times article speculates about a possible broadcast in 1997 but nothing seems to have happened. There are a couple of reviews on-line but these must be from the original broadcast, unless they know something different.

    Which is great shame because it sounds like an important milestone in Allen's development as a filmmaker, gathering elements of Take The Money and Run and prefiguring Bananas. One known copy resides at The Paley Centre for Media's film library and their online record includes a detailed synopsis. It doesn't sound any more controversial than an old episode of Spitting Image or a modern political satire.

    I emailed the Paley to ask them to ask about distribution and was told: "We do indeed have a copy but per Woody Allen's instructions we are not allowed to screen/stream it. Please let me know if you will ever be in NY though." Which I will of course. Perhaps Woody will reverse his decision at some point in the future if only so that people can study the piece more widely within the context of his career.

    So no illustrative trailer this time either. Instead, here's a not unconnected film by Adam Curtis from last night's Newswipe about how all of us have become Richard Nixon now.

    Leddra Chapman.

    Music Leddra Chapman's album Telling Tales may sound like a retro reconstruction of the Dawson's Creek soundtrack via a thirtysomething W. Snuffy Walden, but sometimes that's just what you need. The piano section in Picking Oranges was like being bashed around the head by my teenage years. Available on Spotify. Here's the single, Story. It's untypical of the rest of the album:

    Fashion I was watching The September Edition yesterday, the documentary about the titanic struggle to run the fashion industry between two huge personalities, Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, and decided to have a look at Vogue Magazine's US website to see if I can tell who's won this month's battle. I duly typed into Firefox and was offered this page. There's at the top and the new issue with Alexa Chung on the cover.

    Except that's British Vogue which is a different publication to its US parent. The url had resolved to I tried typing once more, and again I was presented with the British version. Vogue are geotarding (a word I hate because of its connotations but tolerating for the purposes of this post) the US equivalent of their website from the rest of the world (or the UK at the very least) and are sending us to our local equivalent. Interestingly they aren't redirecting traffic to other local sites; I can happily look at If you're in those countries and you look for do you receive your own version too?

    On one level this makes some sense. In the UK the main news stand edition of Vogue is the British version, the one available to the vast majority of people, the US edition will only be available in some select stores with a giant locality identifying label plastered across it (I'm guessing -- it's not something I've checked though that seems to be the arrangement with Wired Magazine).

    Fashion trends tend to be localised (I think) and so they may feel it's important that someone looking for should be presented with content that's relevant to their geographic area and more closely associated with the UK version of the magazine; the less net savvy might not realise that is their local site and they're trying to minimise the confusion. Even the link on Vogue's wikipedia page that says US site sends me to the UK version.

    If this is policy rather than an error, flies in the face of what the internet is about, global communication and a levelling of this kind of geographical difference. There's something quite liberating about sitting in a flat in Liverpool and being able to reading The Washington Post, Pravda or The New Zealand Herald and receive a local perspective on a story without the ex-positional hand-holding. Similarly there must be some fashionistas who are keen to see what's being worn at New York parties this season, perhaps be ahead of the curve. Surely it's outside Vogue's business interests to send them towards rival websites that may be open.

    Additionally, although there is a pull down box at the tail of the page labelled "Vogue International" it's a mess of broken and poorly updated links. I've checked. Selecting "US" takes you back to (comma) "France" resolves to this old domain with DNS made easy ironically plastered across it. "Italy" sends us to, publisher Conde Naste's main portal for the region and not Vogue's own section. Most of them call themselves when the inclusion of the international sub-domains would help underscore their localised origins.

    There is a work around. Google "Vogue" and under the curiously high link for British Vogue, which is also presumably the result of my location, there is the link the US Click that and you're back at the UK version. But click this Google cache version and low and behold we can finally see the glorious majesty of Vogue USA with Jessica Biel on the cover. Click on one of the menu options and you're sent to that page at and you can continue to read the site's content to your heart's content.

    And in case you're wondering, I'm still none the wiser about this season's trends, though I suspect it's probably related to textures and a simpler more classical look in whatever colour is the new grey. I have no fashion sense, spending most of my days in t-shirt and jeans. But I do think that the fashion industry is more important than it's given credit for since on a design level at least along with architecture and advertising it's one of the visual art forms that exists in our general environment and the only one that (nearly) everyone has to buy into and be knowledgeable about.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970)

    Then See below.

    Now The next film in production featuring a Woody Allen credit was Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (though it wasn't released until the following year). He's given a screenplay link by the imdb but the Stig Bjorkman book ignores its existence as does my other main source, Stephen J Spignesi's The Woody Allen Companion.

    My impression is that it's partly a courtesy because he originated the ideas in What's New Pussycat? of which this is part sequel, part remake in a tradition that carries on to this day with horror films in the straight to dvd market (see Carrie 2, S Darko etc). It certainly wasn't for publicity purposes. His name doesn't appear on the poster.

    This detailed glowing review of Lalo Schifrin's soundtrack includes a plot synopsis and it sounds like a cheaper rerun of the first film with Ian McShane in for Peter O'Toole and a Hollywood setting to keep costs down.

    I can't tell you what it's really like because it hasn't been released on vhs or dvd. I had considered beginning an international search to track down a copy for completion sake, but then I read this review at the imdb ...
    "I sat there with my jaw practically hanging open as I watched this awful movie. [...] It is sleazy, creepy and pointless. Worst of all, just not funny. A true ripoff. For a much better movie with Ian McShane as a hairy-chested Lothario, see "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium". It's also very silly and sexist and dated, but at least you won't feel like you have to take a shower after you see it."
    ... and watched the trailer ...

    Fuck, no.

    Video: The Ascent of Man - Knowledge or Certainty

    TV I'm currently watching The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski's essay on the history of science and civilisation. The themes of dogma verses reason are just as relevant now.

    Another Spotify tip.

    Music Incidentally, just as an aside, if you have a limited monthly data allowance (eg, mobile broadband) and want to stop Spotify's peer-to-peer upload in its tracks, or at the very least limit it to an irrelevance, after you've opened the applications, delete it from the list of exceptions on your Firewall software. To wit in Windows XP (I'm old(ish) school):

    (1) Click Start > Control Panel

    (2) Open Windows Firewall

    (3) Click the exceptions tab

    (4) Highlight Spotify on the list

    (5) Click the delete button

    (6) When the options window pops up, click yes.

    And there we have it, or at least I do. The mechanics of this might be different for each set-up and it may not work for you. Curiously this does only effect uploads. Usefully for a streaming service, downloads are unaffected. This also neatly means that if you're a premium customer using playlist music already downloaded it's almost like listening off-line mode.

    Note: You do have to remember to do this each time you start Spotify - it perniciously re-engages itself on every occasion. If you want to save yourself the rigmarole of following the above steps each time you can drag the Firewall icon from Control Panel to the quick launch bar or start menu and it'll create a short cut.

    In case you're concerned that knocking out some of the peer-to-peer functionality against Spotify's terms of use, perhaps hidden deep within the small print in that box we all click through and don't read, this was suggest to me by Spotify itself via twitter after I registered by frustration at watching my allowance quickly disappearing whenever I used the service.

    That was just before Christmas. Sorry I've not reported back sooner but like chilli chocolate and the narrative structure of the film Adaptation, it required much study before I was convinced that it worked even because I wasn't quite sure why. I still can't get my cranium around probiotic yoghurt.

    I should probably add that if you've got an unlimited account it would be pointless and wrong to do all of this since the network would probably keel over and then none of us would be able to listen to the Polyphonic Spree Babies Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack again. Insert emoticon for sadness here.

    Sarah Palin at the Tea Party Convention.

    Politics While we were sleeping the United States held its breath in case Sarah Palin said something useful or interesting during her keynote speech to the National Tea Party convention. Of the live blogs I've seen Jezebel seems to capture the emotional measure of it:
    ""What's the Palin plan?" A: "The Palin Plan? It's quite simple." She "gets a kick out of it" when "the elitists" say that she's simple minded. She says her plan is to reward those who understand the principles of our country, which is hilarious, because she doesn't seem to understand the principles of our country (see: divine intervention, about 4 minutes ago.) She is bullshitting. She has no plan. She just said "We win, they lose." Her plan is the equivalent of the plan of the Hawks coach from The Mighty Ducks, apparently."
    C-SPAN have uploaded the speech to YouTube. From what I've seen, it's generally content free; she says everything you'd expect her to say and entirely contradicts in places the reality of what's happening in Washington.

    As though such things haven't happened already she speaks of building coalitions when that's exactly what Obama's being trying to do only to be rebuffed and stonewalled. She says he needs to cut spending, when he's done just that to the cost of a new Moon mission -- initiated by Bush. She's contradictory, anti-context and it would be interesting to see her invited to speak before a gathering of Democrats and answer questions. But she wouldn't. Obama did. Funny that.