miniblog archive

  • Green screened. Sadly, this spoils one of Heroes's genuinely great moments.

  • "Anne Diamond v the Guardian: a memory-jog" in which Marina Hyde readjusts Anne's memory on something the paper printed.

  • Why Piracy Works Edition [For What It's Worth]

  • Errant lives are human, yet the internet never forgets. Libby Brooks offers all the reasons why I don't talk about work on this blog.

  • "...and the cauldron of penguins" (from a suggestion by Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo)

  • I love you, Mom. I Hate you, Fake-heart. Kevin Smith writes a bit more about his plane outrage, forensically explaining the contradictions in what the airline has said.

  • Steal this British Beauty's DOCTOR WHO style. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the most significant statement on the future of the series in that promo image are Amy's cowgirl boots.

  • The Art Of Germany coming to BBC Four in autumn 2010. I'm hoping that this is become a life mission for Andrew Graham Dixon, like my local art gallery visits and there'll be a series about every country in the world. I'm hoping we'll see The Art of Denmark at least. Or The Art of Trinidad and Tobago.

  • Werner Herzog Reads Curious George. Recently @filmfour asked who we'd like to narrate our lives. Surely it has to be Werner Herzog. Only he could capture the sheer futility of it all. If female, Imogen Stubbs.

  • Ship Your Bags to Save on Airline Fees and Enjoy Better Consumer Protection [Air Travel Tip]

  • Librarian who admits to not reading any sci-fi recommends some sci-fi. Anonymous commenters hold a convention underneath.

  • In movies begin responsibilities. Jim Emmerson is essentially saying that with our limited lifespans, why do we spend so long watching rubbish films, almost actively seeking them out.

  • "I like doing stuff but I end up doing the same stuff again and again." (I think Craig might have something here.)

  • Liverpool Banksy rat pub building sold for £114,000 at auction. This is for Annette.

  • 30 More Great Chat Roulette Screenshots. I tried Chat Roulette properly the other night. Did end up talking to anyone but did see the kinds of things I haven't seen since I stopped going swimming.

  • Student suspended for slamming teacher on Facebook can sue

  • "The elephants in the room at TED." Or how the other people have tech conferences.

  • "Google Buzz: Not fit for purpose" I turned it off as soon as Google let me.

  • The Daily Mail Naturally ignores Stephen Gately Inquiry Outcome

  • Moir 'illogical' and 'distasteful' but not in breach of Code, rules PCC

  • Florence + The Machine - Lungs MP3 album £3 @ Amazon (the perfect accompaniment to writing about Woody Allen)

  • It seems that people would feel much better about businesses if they simply released statements like this straight away (The Paperchase outrage concludes)

  • Italian TV chef axed after recommending cat stew

  • BBC Films sprints ahead with Ovett and Coe. If this was an episode of Lost, Colin Welland would be John Locke.

  • The London Perambulator. You may have already read the interview with Roger Ebert, so I thought I'd link to an example of the brilliant writing he's producing lately. Who needs Google Street View?

  • A Sane Response . . . David Thorne deals with a problem at his child's school.

  • Floating bus tests are grounded after 60 minutes

  • A new global visual language for the BBC's digital services. Beautiful. Simple.

  • Why do women want to be Wags? Why indeed. Sorry if this beginning to look like "The Best of The Guardian"

  • Olivia Williams talks random roles with the AV Club. Sadly ignores her brilliant cameo as Chaucer's wife in A Knight's Tale.

  • In its time. Useful recommendations for the Radio 4 "In Our Time" archive from the Illuminations blog.

  • Liberal Democrats propose guaranteed BBC production quota for radio indies

  • TV Repairs. Yes, this is exactly how it was. It's surprising that with the increased price of decent flat-screen televisions, rental shops haven't flourished again.

  • Production Management Assistantt, Sarah Jane Adventures at BBC Wales. We already knew that show had been commissioned, but it's rare that we see this kind of tangible proof.

  • The "political agenda" of Doctor Who. Fabulously entertaining slot on Newsnight this. Not since Michael Howard have I seen someone drink the whole of the supplied glass of water as quickly as Andrew Cartmell.

  • Unlink Your Feeds. I have asked and apparently people like these links turning up in my twitter feed. So they're staying. For now.

  • Quickie divorce for only £40, + court costs( if applicable) @ Quickie

  • This Is What Happens When British Nerds Don't Have Doctor Who to Watch (although I'd intrigued to know if the Venn diagram of fandom is this inclusive)

  • 6Music saved for a delighted nation. But what about BBC4?

  • Geeks Beyond Firewalls: A day in a life of a Syrian techie

  • Treasure-trove of art films released online in groundbreaking partnership between BBC and Henry Moore Foundation

  • This Mind Blowing Garden Office Will Have You Rethinking Where You Work

  • 'The Beat is On' looks at relationship between music and visual art

  • You've got spram! The search for radio contributors isn't as smooth as you'd think.

  • eHow: As easy as one, two, three

  • 10,000 Galaxies in 3D

  • Prosthetics expert struck off after giving patient two left feet

  • Valentine's Day - Worst. Movie. Ever.

  • doctorwho: BBC Release for Matt Smith's Series 1. Space Whale! Space Whale!

  • Nerds Win: Barbie Is a Computer Engineer

  • Am I confusing people by linking in line text?

  • Hitchcock Cameos (and Complete Films)

  • Guns don’t kill people, puppies do. Ben Goldacre on the news that pets are contributing to global warming.

  • An Art Deco Cinema in the 9th (en Paris)

  • Drinker abandoned tank outside pub

  • Design set to make the pint glass safer
  • Doctor Who and the Vortex of the Travelling Pants.

    TV The second tangible bit of nu-nu-Who was presented to us tonight in the form of this specially shot trailer narrated at the end by what sounds like Simon Pegg and though parts of Gallifrey Base are screaming fail (space) whale! I’m very optimistic. It’s rather busier than the Eccleston/Piper “Wanna come with me?” promos from 2005 and like those an expressively epic way of telling us that a new series is imminent.

    And it must be fairly imminent if we're seeing this now. The trailer says Easter. The imdb has the 13th March (plus a bunch of potential plot spoilers so beware).

    Matt’s performance seems entirely different to anything we’ve heard before – the intonation is rather more, um, naturalistic? Is that the word? (I'll get back to you.) Karen has a beautifully boggle-eyed lack of cynicism (even if we’re a bit distracted in the vortex shots). The dialogue is really a set of bullet points, but poetic bullet points nonetheless and it’s good that Steven’s got the obvious out the way early.

    Clearly it will look rather amazing in 3D (should you want to risk going to a Cineworld to see Alice In Wonderland in front of which it will apparently be showing) with the baubles on an intercept course with our retinas as we try to work out what’s changed about the Dalek (a bit simpler?). Even in a rough bitrate on a tiny monitor it’s a perfectly designed statement that this will be a show that’s once again the same but also very, very different.

    Role on March/Easter/sometime in the Spring.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)

    Then Another visit to the vast selection of off air VHS at Leeds Met University, I watched this in 1996 as a treat during a break from writing my final year dissertation (a potted history of art censorship). Never someone to worry about being embarrassed about anything (at least not in public) I watched Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) in one of the number of the library's public video players and monitors. I wonder now if anyone stopped to look at the various images that were flashing across the screen and how I managed to get through without being thrown out for laughing too hard.

    Now Woody’s third film is continuance of his scattershot approach to comedy, that in fact its far more focused than either of the first two as throughout he meticulously parodies a range of film styles from a Zefrelli Shakespeare to a Bertolluci Italian melodrama through to a Cormen horror before topping it off with Kubrick ejaculating (or whatever). The director was inspired to make the film when snuggling up to Diane Keaton in bed watching late night television and saw Dr. David Reuben’s seminal work being discussed on a talk show. Though Elliott Gould had already bought the rights he wasn’t doing much with them and an arrangement was made.

    Like Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, Sex (for want of a shorter version of the title) is a gonzo adaptation of this non-fiction title, Allen presenting a series of sketches investigating questions about human procreation. The various elements are listed at the wikipedia so it seems pointless to reproduce them here (otherwise Tim Berners-Lee wasted his time) but suffice to say that only some of the main topics are covered and they’re all from the male perspective. Germaine Greer would not approve. That said the men that do appear in the film are all perverts so perhaps some kind of balance in maintained.

    Some of the humour has dissipated because what was shocking in the early seventies, such as a respectable Doctor shacking up with a sheep, seems tame in comparison to what we’ve since been exposed to. Not least five minutes on Chatroullette. What’s My Perversion? might at some point have been biting satire, but now it looks like the forerunner to a post-pub gameshow on one of the commercial tv stations. Other sections have simply dated due to the epic sweep of society’s changing attitudes. Now that Eddie Izzard has brought transvestism into the mainstream, can we still laugh at the hidden peccadillos of a white middle class man meeting the parents of his daughter’s husband found rifling through the matriarch’s closet?

    It’s the sections that do reference other films that have dated less, especially those which rely on vivid, surprising images, like Woody being chased through a field by a giant mammary, trying to break into Lynn Redgave’s chastity belt (Lynn Redgrave’s chastity belt!) with a spear, or dressed as a sperm going into battle with a fallopian tube (not to mention, admittedly Gene Wilder in bed with a sheep). They’re all adaptations of the thread which runs through all of these early films of bringing the kind of silent clown figure into a more contemporary setting, the fixed character, in this case a New York Jew appearing in a range of settings, the comedy of juxtaposition. Allen’s trick is that he knew went to stop and try something new.

    That New Doctor Who Promo Image.

    TV Some notes on the new promo image for the next series of Doctor Who:

    (1) There was an interview with Steven Moffat in the last issue of Doctor Who Magazine in which he described the process that led to Matt Smith's "costume". Apparently the original design was a pirate affair, something akin to Jack Sparrow in Pirate of the Caribbean. This is not a joke. But Smith was never quite happy with it, always looked uncomfortable and wondered if he could suggest something else. He's recently been watching some old Pat Troughton stories and thought he might look good in the trousers and braces, perhaps some tweed. They agree. He asked about a bow tie. They said no -- but why not try it? The result is what we see here. Absolutely right, absolutely beautiful.

    (2) Karen Gillan's boots. Karen Gillan's pants. Karen Gillan's everything. We don't know the story of her concept yet, but how was something this charming developed in parallel to the pirate idea?

    (3) The Smiler. Bottom right. In this audio interview with Matt and Karen, journalist Ben Cook let slip that he thought the look of the new series was very "Pans Labrynth", very Tim Burton. Moffat has also said elsewhere that he's keen to bring the show towards something akin to a fairy tale. The Smiler is certainly an indication of that, closer in style to the character designs from A Nightmare Before Christmas or the Gentlemen from the Buffy episode Hush than anything we've seen before in the new series (with the possible exceptions of the Scarecrows or the Weeping Angels the latter of which is set to return).3

    (4) Blue. The RTD years were very Summer and Autumnal from the logo down to the costumer designs to the sets. SM's (does he have a middle name?) seem to be keyed towards wintry blues and purples. The formerly purple time vortex now looks like an ice cave.

    The first episode, The Eleventh Hour, may continue directly on from The End of Time, but judging simply by the evidence in this promo image, the show has changed again and the TARDIS is heading into strange and rather wonderful territory. At this rate they'll be doing something really tasteful and resurrect the classic Delia Derbyshire version of the theme tune.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Play It Again, Sam (1972)

    Then One of the small cluster of films that I saw in the mid-nineties when I was an undergraduate, Play It Again, Sam made me realise that there was a distinct possibility that some of my life’s great romances would last for about two hours, consist of me sitting in the dark watching someone else in action followed by some music and a list of people leading far more exciting existences than mine. Leeds Metropolitan University library had a massive range of sell-thru and off-air recordings of films on VHS and it’s there, when I wasn’t going out because I couldn’t afford to, and didn’t drink, that I began to understand that vast range of film history which stretched on before I was born.

    Play It Again, Sam was one of those I watched it in the hall common room where the video player was, presumably with the same look of absorption as Allen has with Casablanca over the opening credits. It talks about how films, as well as offering an escape can inform our lives and by the next year I did indeed meet a nice woman who I fell madly in love with but who I eventually had to let go, mostly because I knew she didn’t feel the same way. Then it happened again. And again. And again. Sadly for me, on none of these occasions was I visited by an imaginary figure from Play It Again Sam to give me some advice presumably because Diane Keaton was too busy making Manhattan Murder Mystery, Nancy Myers comedies and The Family Stone.

    Now The first bona-fide classic on my adventure, Play It Again, Sam is also the start of one of great screen romances as Diane Keaton joins. They met playing the same characters during the original stage run of the story, fell in love and lived together until the show ended. So they weren’t a couple during the production of the films though you wouldn’t know it, the chemistry is electric and the clearly still enjoyed each other’s company, which is especially evident in the scenes when Woody seems to have gone off script, for example, during the aftermath of the “fight” scene. Though Sleeper and Love and Death are to come, it’s this film with feels like the pre-history of the Annie Hall relationship as the grand fictional soap opera of Allen’s character begins to coalesce.

    Keaton is adorable, her expressive round face enhanced by labrador eyes that somehow manage to become the focus of most of the scenes she’s in, well, that or the range of floppy hats she’s been given to wear. In this period, in film terms at least, Keaton only worked on Allen’s films and first two Godfathers and the contrast between the two sets must have been quite striking as are the differences between the performances – here she’s called upon to tutor Allan/Allen in the ways of women whereas Kay Corleone, though independent rapidly finds her life being ruled by the family and her husband’s responsibilities and convincing manages both. She’s an actress of some range and I don’t think that’s ever really been exploited.

    Like Don’t Drink The Water it’s also a film which questions Allen’s auteur status. Often assumed to have also been directed by Woody, it is in fact the work of Herbert Ross a rather more invisible administrator who would later offer up the likes of Funny Girl, Footloose and Steel Magnolias, none of which look like they came from the same eyes and hands. Allen wasn’t originally interested in having the play turned into a film, but as he says his agent “sold it to the movies” but it took a few years before he was famous enough to appear along with the whole original cast.

    At this stage, Allen was essentially producing visual cartoons, so it’s quite startling to see him in something which looks more like a “proper film”, of the kind he might have created ten years later; the visual styles are very similar as is the use of music though none of the crew who worked on this film would work with Allen again and like Ross went on to have generally unheralded careers. But in places Owen Roizman’s cinematography is just as beautiful as Gordon Willis’s and indeed the shot of the tramcar shifting into the distance is exactly the kind of shot you'd expect from Willis.

    It’s also worth noting how seamlessly the Bogart character, uncannily portrayed by Dark Season-ite Jerry Lacy is worked into the story. Shot just thirty years before, Bogie's films would still have been very present for the younger audiences this was aimed at, still in rotation on television as well as repertory cinema. Woody would return to this kind of device later, and only now and then do we question the fact that Allan is receiving coaching on picking up women from his imaginary friend without them asking why he’s turning his back on them, talking to himself, falling over. It’s an antecedent to the kinds of games Charlie Kauffman plays, though should be more properly viewed as a first suggestion of Allen’s admiration for Ingmar Bergman whose films also featured similar imaginary figures (Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal).

    The running gag of Tony Roberts phoning work to give them the telephone number of wherever he goes so that they’ll always be able to reach him, which I presume, if it was in the stage play must have been the clever way of setting the location at the top of a scene. It’s very funny in context and still was when I first saw the film in the 1990s, but then, of course, mobile phones were still luxury enough to seem ostentatious if you were a student with one. Now it’s obliterated by mobile communication and I’ve been trying to work out how it could be updated. Perhaps it would be an incessant search for a signal or free Wifi connection or constant tapping away into a blackberry that alienate him from his wife. But then the character stops being present in the action. Damn the electronic revolution.

    My favourite scene: The art gallery of course, not least because I suspect I’ve been the museum girl on more occasions that Allan:

    On reflection, I'm not entirely sure what that means ...

    Old Books.

    Books When J.D. Salinger left us, I realised two things:

    (a) I've never read The Catcher In The Rye
    (b) I didn't even own a copy of The Catcher In The Rye.

    I've stopped buying books brand new unless I'm desperate or it's an emergency. I like books to have a life, whether that's loved or abused or abandoned on a shelf for decades, in other words second hand. Example. Straight to Amazon's old marketplace for one of the penny copies and an edition from a seller called thriftbooks. Posted from Alburn, WA on the 29th January, the book arrived this morning.

    It's an old edition, from Little, Brown and Company, published in July 1951. The spine is broken, the smell is musty. It has the potential life story I craved. The cover is as simple and tasteful as Patrick Bateman's business card in American Psycho. The title and author. There isn't even a sales blurb on the back. Simply a barcode and the price in US and Canadian dollars. Enigmatic and tantalising.

    But as I begin to flick through the pages, I notice something else hidden within the pages. It's a photograph. Here is the photograph:


    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Bananas (1971)

    Then It’s been noticeable lately that the price of some blu-ray discs has been falling to budget prices. This could mean that either they’re not selling or as happened in the early to mid-noughties with its predecessor there are enough players within the population that selling this new entertainment experience can be sold at a lower premium and still bring a profit. It’s not long after the dvd price drop that I impulse purchased Bananas and a range of other Woody Allen films during one of the perpetual sales at giant HMV in Manchester. It's that copy I watched first.

    Now If Take The Money and Run has a freewheeling approach to narrative and comedy, in Bananas the focus on each is a touch tighter. The story, a New York shmo joins a revolutionary army within a fictional South American country is more structured and so like like a mechanic wielding the best machinery for the job, Woody makes the comedy slightly more robust by appropriating the comic techniques of silent comedians, some Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, perhaps some Stan Laurel, along with WC Fields, the Marx Brothers, and tosses in some very specific political satire and without any pretence – even at this early stage he wants us to recognise the giants who are influencing him.

    The dvd box suggests that Allen considers this a slapdash approach and to a degree it is, but it doesn't quite work as there are still some longueurs as the needs of the plot out-way the humour and now and then scenes which seem desperately to be about character runs in the other direction with jokes and pratfalls and arguably the balance isn’t quite right yet. But there are still some wonderful sequences, the office exercise machine, the not-me it’s you but I’m not sure why relationship break-up, ordering a sandwich takeaway lunch for a whole army, the inevitable training to become a soldier montage which has been plagarised to the point of cliché since.

    As I expected, watching the films in order does indeed mean that you can see Woody’s style develop, like an embryo the familiar features are slowly taking shape. Take The Money and Run brought Allen’s on-screen persona. Here we have the linking of dixieland jazz music to comedy, classical especially Russian composers to tragedy, romantic music, in this case the film’s theme song Cause I Believe In Loving playing against a scene were romance is very far from the reality of what’s happening and the use of real figures metafictionally within the action in this case real ABC sportscasters commenting on an assassination.

    His co-star, the likeable Louise Lasser was also his wife for three years and the first bit of casting which presumably suggested to some that he was living through his life’s romances on-screen. She was in every film from What's New Pussycat? Through to Sleeper which was released four years after their marriage was over. I’m going to consciously try to watch and write about these films without referring to Woody’s private life too much but it’s impossible to ignore totally.

    Some other things. This was one of Sylvester Stallone’s first films – he’s one of the thugs who rough’s Woody up in a train carriage. He’s not called upon to do much more than look like a human buttress. His other film job that year was as a Discotheque Patron in Klute. Rocky appeared five years later. And the trailer is fairly unusual in that it features Woody being interviewed about Bananas (in a precursor a modern dvd extra) and has a few jokes that are even funnier than the some of the material in film itself:

    Video: After Kenickie, before The Culture Show

    That Day Happy Valentines from Planet Pop's Lauren Laverne ...

    Loose Ends.

    Politics Alistair Campbell appeared on Loose Ends last night, Radio 4's tea time arts programme. If he thought Clive Anderson was going be given a soft interview, he didn't and the result is fascinating. Anderson opens with a softball bit of business about football results at some kind of event and then after saying "I'm trying to keep this light so ... " piled into questions about the ex-spin Doctor crying on The Andrew Marr Show, Tony Blair's admission to Fern Britton and far from being good natured chat between the giggles there's a barely hidden atmosphere of contempt.

    Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Don't Drink The Water (1969)

    Then For some reason, despite the pedigree, I haven’t been desperate to chase down the 1969 version of Don’t Drink The Water. Unavailable in the UK and deleted in the Region One,well, region, it's almost as though film didn't want me to see it, a tin-hatted bit of paranoia backed up when, at some point in earlier in this decade I did purchase what I thought was a VHS copy from ebay but turned out to be Woody’s own 1994 remake which was the first time I discovered that film’s existence. Having finally grasped a poorly transferred dvd copy for the purposes of this project, I finally watched it tonight.

    Now The script seems to be very good. Written during Woody’s own imposed exile during the six month filming schedule of Casino Royale, the original play (1966) is about a family who find themselves branded spies after stepping off a hijacked plane in the fictional Soviet country of Vulgaria and subsequently trapped in the US embassy, the countries army amassed at the gates, the local ambassador attempting to gain their escape through diplomatic channels but repeatedly making their situation worse.

    A broad satire which looks ahead to Bananas, Don’t Drink The Water confronts amongst other things the devaluing of political unrest. At one point, the head of the army gathers some of the local people to fake a protest outside of the embassy as a cover for him flinging a bomb through the window, meticulously he outlines the predictable mundanity of these types of protests, perhaps suggesting this kind of civil action is so futile it might as well be constructed and planned if not executed by the state since that probably means less people will get hurt. It'll make the country look free as free as can be from the outside.

    The problem is, no matter how well crafted Woody’s words are, every other element of this subsequent film’s production, from the directing to editing to performance are at odds with what he's apparently achieving. Stephen Spignesi covers most of the bases in The Woody Allen Companion: “Harold Morris’s direction is very cartoonish in this film.* He uses many exaggerated close-ups, and directs the cast to play very broadly. The film deteriorates into a typical, lame, wacky sixties comedy/chase/costume movie for the last fifteen minutes.” Actually, that wrong, it’s not just the last fifteen minutes. The whole thing is like that.

    Most of Woody’s lines are stepped on, especially by Jackie Gleason who, as the father, can’t seem to tell which of them is supposed to be a punch line and spends most of the film pulling funny faces. Estelle Parsons, his wife (who was so good in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde) isn’t much better, generally resorting to the kind of boggle eyed enforced zaniness which infects the rest of the cast. Joan Delaney is admittedly quite sweet as their daughter but only Michael Constantine as the army commander rises above and gives the material some respect (particularly during the aforementioned protest scene) but even he’s underminded by a sitcom zinger soundtrack that also constantly works against the comic timing.

    In other words, it’s a trial from start to finish and I’m pleased to get it over with, which is quite surprising considering it was produced by Jack Grossberg who was with Woody until Sleeper, and Charles H Joffe and Jack Rollins who would go on to put together the whole of Woody’s subsequent career (and nothing else) for the rest of their lives (Joffe died in 2008 but Rollins is a co-exec on Allen’s latest). When asked about the negative notices the film received on its original release, Woody said “As long as they pay, it doesn’t bother me for a second.” Though I wonder if the subsequent remake demonstrates that he still had an itch to produce his own definitive version.

    In the absence of a clip from the film, here's the trailer for an amateur German stage production. For some reason, what looks like an attempted rape scene doesn't appear in the 1969 movie. I'm not sure this music is tonally in-synch either:

    * An ironic choice of words given that Morris would go on to have a lengthy career as a voice actor in a range of kids tv shows, from Hannah Barbara to Disney.