Politics At this rate, if the Lib Dems aren't careful, the outcome of a power sharing agreement is going to look like this ...

... hold your nerve, Nick.
Elsewhere, I've posted a rather mental review of the new Doctor Who.

I'm very tired.

Life I'm very tired. Yesterday, as ever, I worked the election as a poll clerk. There weren't any queues at our station, though the turnout seemed unusually high so we phoned for extra ballot papers (even though ultimately we didn't need them). As ever it was a singularly frustrating experience as I watched democracy happening but without any sense of the outcome. People did comment on being first time voters or the disaffected returning to do their duty which gave me a bit of hope that something different was happening. This time.

And it was. And here we are. The best moment of the day was explaining Bigotgate and electoral arithmetic to a couple of police women who couldn't believe that there could be such a disparity between share of the vote and number of seats won. And so it proved. The worst moment was sitting at 4am, twenty three hours after I'd woken up realising that the situation I'd pessimistically predicted to some people earlier in the week had come true. A hung parliament and Nick Clegg in the horrible position of having to make a deal with the Lib Dems's mortal enemy.

It's horrible. People who didn't listen to what he'd been saying about supporting whoever had the mandate and/or believing the media version of it feel betrayed, not noticing how difficult it must have been to make that speech on the steps of party headquarters. The problem is, if he can't make a deal with the Tories and he does turn to Labour another group of voters will feel just as betrayed because we hate them too -- it's why we vote Liberal Democrat. Nick doesn't have a choice. He's been pushed into this by the British people. For the sake of the country he can't simply walk away, however entertaining that may be to watch.

The upside is that he'll also be in a position to push through some Lib Dem policies that might not otherwise ever be on the table. His four pledges which he repeated ad infinitum right up until Wednesday evening of which I think the most likely will be the pupil premium, the 10k tax break and proportional representation. If we're lucky we may also get cabinet posts. In other words, the Lib Dems will in theory be in an even more powerful position now than they would have been otherwise. So although he's not in power, and will severely piss off some of his supporters, by voting Clegg, we still got Clegg. In some form. Or other.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Scoop (2006)

Then Scoop went unreleased theatrically in the UK as almost every subsequent review of Cassandra’s Dream and Vicky Christina Barcelona seemed to mention. There didn’t seem to be a particular reason for it other than a lack of imagination from distributors. They weren’t sure how to package a comedy thriller with supernatural overtones perhaps, despite the fact it stars Scarlett Johansson and the bloke who plays Wolverine and has a range of recognisable British actors in cameo roles, beautifully shot in our own country and it’s worth adding part financed by us through BBC Films.

The only reason I can think of is a certain nervousness still about putting out a film starring Woody himself, but even that doesn’t make sense since Anything Else at least graced the art houses. It certainly reviewed well throughout the rest of the world. The film belatedly turned up on BBC Two in 2009 at about the time Vicky Christina Barcelona was on release and a quick Twitter-check afterward suggested that people enjoyed it and a few even expressed a surprise that the film hadn’t graced the cinemas, wondering why they hadn’t heard of it before.

The upshot of all that was that after keeping an eye on the online shopping websites I managed to procure a Region Two copy through CD-WOW in 2007. On that occasion I said:
”Having obviously lived with the city for a while, Allen spends far less time here presenting a tourist view of London at least in terms of exteriors with only The Royal Albert Hall returning to create a thematic connection with the earlier film. It’s certainly an example of old fashioned film making with scenes and shots which run for far longer than contemporary audiences are used to in a comedy, with perfectly planned tracking shots and push ins -- I don’t think he uses a steady cam or hand held at all.”
That’s me. Always looking at the technical achievements.

Now One of the problems with writing again about these films for which I’ve already posted a review, is that all of the mental notes I’ve taken whilst watching again have already been addressed. My previous post on the subject has already articulated everything I might have wanted to say, other than noticing a visual callback to Manhattan Murder Mystery in Woody’s card shtick during the poker scene and how many of his character’s catchphrases are repeated from Broadway Danny Rose.

It’s a more assured piece of work than Match Point. He’s back in the familiar territory of two New Yorkers against the world. He’s not having to work with a different vernacular for much of the duration with cultural references that are within his comfort zone (“I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism”). The film is looser, more relaxed, more watchable. It lacks depth of some of his nineties work, but as a piece of feel good comedy it works admirably. Certainly cheered me up.

The big surprise this time was to notice Romola Garai as Scarlett’s best friend. Since 2006, she’s taken a few high profile roles, most recently as Emma in a BBC tv adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and in Stephen Poliakoff’s underrated Glorious 39 and I think has the potential to be the next Kate Winslet or at least the British Johansson. She doesn’t have much to do here other than be Scarlett’s facilitator and sounding board (“I can get you into a club to meet Peter” / “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”) but even then she’s luminous.

Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Match Point (2005)

Then Of all Woody’s films Match Point is the one with which I have the most complex relationship. Essentially I can’t decide if it’s a work of genius or utter rubbish and genuinely oscillate between the two with each viewing. I’ll let you know what I think this time in a moment. On first viewing, I said:

“Admittedly as the film begins and for about the first ten or fifteen minutes things do seem a bit queer. The clipped accents; characters talking in full sentences; the sometimes odd pronunciations. But somewhere in there I realised that actually what was happening is that Allen was imprinting a pre-sixties filmmaking style into the contemporary setting. Compare the work which is going on here with David Lean's pictures (particular Brief Encounter) or Gaslight productions and it all makes perfect sense. It could be argued that this is because those of the British films the director has been exposed, so of course that's what he'll be doing. But I think he's just decided to go in that direction. I think he could have produced something more akin to the Working Title or much more contemporary, but because of the type of story he's trying to tell he's gone for something akin to the earlier days of British filmmaking. Watched under those conditions, it's an excellent and probably refreshing piece of work.”

That cinema trip was horrendous. As I noted in this review of a Q&A about film exhibition, because Allen's had been sold as a mainstream thriller (the above trailer is hilariously inappropriate), within about ten minutes of the white on black writing, the frozen tennis ball and the portentious/pretentious opening dialogue the audience began chatting and despite shushing a few people there wasn’t much I could do. It’s another example of the exhibitor not having the balls to sell a film as it is and leaving those people who know what they’re getting to suffer the disquiet of those who don’t.

Within days of posting a review, my old friend Louise took the film to task for its realism, to which I countered that Woody is in the fantasy market to which she replied that at the very least “(you) need to get the logical, basic facts of a story right in order to show you respect the common sense and knowledge of your audience before you can take them beyond the relams of reality and what would happen in "real life", whatever that.” We agreed to disagree. I still think that even if a film isn’t in the sci-fi genre can still create its own internal reality from human interaction to environment even if they don’t match the norm and take some poetic license.

Now Formally my original review says everything I’d want to say. This time around I laughed at some unintentionally funny moments (like the cooing over Andrew Lloyd-Webber) but understood what Woody was trying to achieve in trying to wrap a morality tale around a thriller. Emma Brockes in this interview with Woody says “Match Point is his return to form”. But I don’t think it’s a better or worse film than Melinda and Melinda, but the change in venue gave many people the chance to look at his work with a fresh perspective.

I’ve subsequently discovered that Woody originally wrote the script to be shot in New York but rearranged it for London because of the BBC related financing which cropped up. Listening to the dialogue you can hear and see once again a repetition of the figures which have populated many of his films; Scartlett in the Judy Davis role, Emily Mortimer as Mia. Even with the Anglophile revisions it’s not impossible to imagine those actresses speaking this dialogue quite naturally.

The film is of course the first of Scarlett’s trilogy (so far) with Woody. Despite what you might be thinking, she an interesting sort of actress; on the one hand she can play the film star roles but just as often her work is more clearly in the realm of character. Her two films for 2005 were this and Michael Bay’s underrated The Island and then in 2006 we find Scoop, The Black Dahlia and The Prestige and they’re all very different performances, different again to both The Girl With A Pearl Earing and the film which most increased her profile, Lost In Translation.

In Match Point she’s called upon to be immediately sexy but with a certain bo-ho lustre, a counterpoint to Emily Mortimer’s representation of the established English rose. To an extent Nola is a fairly one dimensional figure; like Anglica Houston she has to give the impression of being unhinged but of having been led into that emotion. But one of my favourite Johansson scene is her slightly unhinged drunk moment in the pub where she unfolds herself and you’re not entirely sure she hasn’t embraced the method and had a couple before turning up in front of the cameras.

But I do have problems. The film drags horribly in the middle which is always a problem when Woody nudges over ninety minutes and he’s telling much the same story as Crimes and Misdemeanors which managed to cover the material in a third of the time. Character beats are often stated and restated for no good reason; Woody seems to be trying to make us understand why Myers would take the actions he does by showing us the generosity of his father in law and the position he’s found himself in, yet the opening hour of the film should still be half as long.

But Woody’s disregard of the traditional thriller structure does at least offer us the pleasure of that beautifully weird scene in which James Nesbitt (in the Woody Allen role) shooting up right in his bed from a dream because he thinks he’s worked out the process only to have his theory blown away by subsequent, circumstantial events. It’s a pity Woody wasn’t in the mood to spin-off Nesbitt and Ewen Bremner into Scoop or any of the later films like a kind of investigative Caldicott and Charters or Jay and Silent Bob. It would certainly have livened up Cassandra’s Dream.

Why you must vote.

Politics I originally posted this five years ago and even with the crazy manic election campaign we've just experienced, it's just as true now as it was then, if not more so:
Dear Disaffected Voter,

There was a survey today with said that only one in three young people will be making the effort to vote on Thursday. The turnout is generally going to be about 60%. My own consistency, Riverside, had the lowest turnout in the whole country. There are many millions of people in the land who just don't see the point in voting.

There'll be some of you who won't be voting because for some reason you simply can't. You recently moved house and didn't have enough to time to get your vote moved to your new house. You'll be on holiday and the whole postal voting thing couldn't be scheduled properly with while you're away. Those and a whole raft of perfectly good reasons. I'm not talking to you.

I'm talking to the rest. You'll be split into two camps. Those who can't be bothered and those who don't see the point. Yes, you. You idiot.

If you're insulted by that, you should be.

The biggest idiots are the ones who can't be bothered. The ones who have the facility to vote, aren't impeded, but simply can't be arsed walking all the way to the polling station, even though there are enough of them that the local will be in the next street. Do you realise you're screwing things up for the rest of us? Here is a list of the knock on effects of you not showing up.

(1) It makes us all look bad. There are certain parts of the world were people don't have the choice of more than one party, for that matter the ability to vote at all. Not naming any names. In some of the these places people have been killed whilst they've fought to get the chance to choose who they want as a leader. By noting voting yourself, you're pissing on their fight because you're devaluing what they're fighting for. You're like Cameron's dad in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Lovely car parked up in the garage being wasted. Take it out for a spin once in a while.

(2) It's not a fair contest. I was watching the Olympics last year, and in one of the races a rank outsider won a gold medal. But he was seriously pissed off -- because the great runners in the sport hadn't been there to contest their title so it was sort of a default win. By not showing your support for a party, whoever wins won't necessarily have won because the country wants them to be there. It'll be because the majority of 60% of the country wants them there. Which isn't the same thing.

(3) It makes you look bad. If you can't be bothered spending twenty minutes of the day going into a room in a school somewhere to put a cross on a slip of paper, a process which has been made as easy as possible now (now that they even print the name of the party on the ballot paper) what frankly are you good for?

Now there are the rest of you who are making a point of not voting. My Father believes that everyone should be forced to vote by law, even if they show up and spoil their ballot paper. Within the current system it's your choice and right not to vote. So there will be a percentage of people who don't vote because they believe it's sending a message that you're unhappy with the political process in this country. There are a couple of flaws to this plan:

(1) Politicians won't give a shit about you. Because you didn't turn up at a polling station, come the day they don't even know you exist. If you don't like the political process the only way to develop it is to engage with politicians and ask for that change. Some of the parties have ideas for reform using systems such a proportional representation which means that every vote is counted.

(2) Your plan only works if no one votes. Like that's going to happen. No matter what you do, someone will be Prime Minister on Friday.

There are some, such as the 66% of students I mentioned earlier, who aren't voting because they say that the manifestos and party policies aren't offering anything to them. What doesn't occur to you is that manifestos are written to interest the various demographics of voters. So if you don't turn up, you're not a voter so why should they try and attract you with tailored policies? So effectively if enough of you people turned up and voted, it'd frighten the shit out of the politicians and they'd have to start listening and developing useful policies so that they can keep you on their side. There were no policies effecting women in manifestos until women got the vote. It's pretty much the same thing. You turn up, so will they.

I know this has been a bit freewheeling. If I'd wanted to I could have found a bunch of statistics and anecdotal evidence to back up some of these things. But I thought I'd go for the simple, direct approach because don't think I've said anything which you don't already know.

I'm just trying to give you a nudge.

Even if you turn up and vote for a man dressed as a banana you'll at least have the satisfaction of knowing when the announcements are made, someone who just wanted to have a bit of fun hasn't lost their deposit.

Just don't waste you vote. Pick a party and go.

And if the one you pick doesn't win, there's always next time....

Elsewhere I've reviewed a production of The School for Scandal on The Hamlet Weblog (the church is getting broader).

Just for the record ... 

Who's in it from Doctor Who?

Conrad Westmaas as Rowley

Was C'rizz in the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audios.

The School for Scandal (Stage on Screen production)

Given the approach to televised classical theatre of late, it would seem that anything of note was produced in and around 1599 with nothing else of interest happening until the last twenty years. As I’ve noted before that wasn’t always the attitude and their were some impressive broadcasts of classic productions throughout the history of television. As if to redress this contemporary imbalance, Stage on Screen are recording a series of special theatre productions at the Greenwich Theatre in London and releasing them on dvd, selecting plays from across theatre history.

They seek to replicate the experience of seeing the play, which in the case of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (which they've been nice enough to send me to have a look at) means including everything from the moments when the audience files in and out during the intermission to all of the bows at the end as well as the complete text of the play (or one of its versions – apparently there are several). The effect is rather like BBC Four’s experiments with the same format, the cinema projected live broadcasts of NT shows and many of the Hamlet productions I’ve reviewed for this blog, with a mix of close-ups and master shots taking in the whole stage.

The School for Scandal is a good choice for this format since it is essentially a proto-sitcom, the kind of farce that has to have been an influence on John Cleese in writing Fawlty Towers and Steven Moffat for Joking Apart. Two brothers find their morality exposed after a series of misunderstandings develop in an atmosphere of gossip and misanthopy in which reputations are broken and developed through the imaginations of an aristocratic society with little to do but mythologise. Like Sheridan’s earlier play The Rivals, hidden identities ironically lead to the revealing of emotions otherwise obscured by manners and propriety.

Stage on Screen’s approach isn’t to present a definitive version of the play; the costumes give the impression of late Eighteenth century attire but probably borrow more from the 80s new romantic reinterpretation, especially in a drinking scene which is very reminiscent of the promo for Adam Ant’s Prince Charming, which is also reflected in the mix of string and electronica on the soundtrack. The setting is a study; each scene backed by shots of old books perhaps to demonstrate how proper academic knowledge and literary fiction has given way to presumption and gossip in the atmosphere of this court.

The cast throw themselves into the text with ramshackle abandon. These are not the most complex of characters and yet in the main, even those actors wearing face paint allow the mask to drop and provide some inner depth. Jonathan Battersby and Beatrice Curnew turn the warring Sir Peter and Lady Teazle into a superb warring couple straight from a screwball comedy, him filled with a ragbag mix of disappointment and passion, her oblivious to his attentions despite their marriage license both of whom are sympathetically drawn.

Samuel Collings and Adam Redmore are such convincing brothers that at first I assumed one actor was playing both parts. Lady Sneerwell is a villain in the old sense, a kind of Iago-lite attempting to ruin lives for her own ends and Amy Rockson relishes the duplicitousness and makes such an impression in the opening scene that like a thought in the back of the mind, her presence is felt despite her absence for much of the production.

Not being otherwise too familiar with the play (in other words this is my first time), I can’t speak to how this compares to previous productions. Director Elizabeth Freestone’s approach is to offer the text at full speed challenging the audience to keep up, perhaps to give the impression, especially in the opening scenes, when character names and anecdotes are flashing about, of being at a party where you don’t know anyone and you’re expected to be entertained anyway. Slowly the pacing does recede as the story develops. The text is lucidly presented and like any period drama, more legible once you become accustomed to it.

The School of Scandal is available on dvd from Stage on Screen.
Elsewhere Rather a bijou Doctor Who review which probably understates things.
Politics Here it is again. With musical accompaniment.

Life Last night I attended/followed/nearly fell over during the Scyfi Love Liverpool pub crawl. Neil has the full story of the route. As usual I drank a single Corona (with lime) and contracted verbal diarrhoea. Luckily the accompanying video has a musical soundtrack ...

Flesh and Stone.

TV Unlike you might expect, as far as I remember, Doctor Who has never really scared me. I know this is a shocking admission to make in this august company, and especially considering the title of the blog, but never did I hide behind the sofa. I’ve been agitated certainly and not just by Graham Crowden’s performance in The Horns of Nimon. But generally I’m too busy enjoying the visual feast (depending on the era), my mind racing to take in all of the narrative twists and turns and in recent years trying to work out how I’m going to fill out six or so paragraphs afterwards to really jump with terror. I even blinked quite happily during Blink. Until Flesh and Stone which more than continued the quality of the first part if not surpassed it.

Amy During the scene in which the Doctor was staging the minimalist Knightmare homage with Amy in the Nightmare of Eden-like forest of the draft, so involved was I that as she tripped on the inevitable tree root I found myself clutching my chest. Staggeringly I did it again on second viewing even knowing that she’d soon be swept away by the teleporter; I giggled afterwards on both occasions, firstly because I couldn’t believe and secondly because I couldn’t believe I’d done it that second time. Five proper seasons in and nu-Who finally manages to create a physical reaction in me that wasn’t laughing (Partners in Crime), crying (Journey's End), swearing (Torchwood Season One) or puking (Huw Edwards).

Part of it must have been to do with my studded Amy Pond obsession; thanks to Karen's performance (a raw mix of the understated and unhinged) she’s firmly become the British ne plus ultra of the manic pixie dream girls (previous contenders include Diane from Trainspotting and Cassie from Skins), psychologically fractured in a way that entirely explains her episode closing nymphomania and also the Doctor’s, um, reticence but utterly adorable to the point that if you dress her like little red riding hood and put her in danger I’m at least going to jump. As Midnight demonstrated, Doctor Who worries best when it is about the simplest of gestures, when a main character is hemmed in, outside their comfort zone and terrified. Amy was rendered speechless here, her jibes lost and without the timelord to physically hold her hand only verbally offering some persuasion.

Another element has to be the first of Moffat’s proper (almost) on-screen deaths, in Father Octavian. Yes it is. Go and check. No one human has properly, hopelessly, bought it since everybody lived in The Empty Child. Moffat’s joked about it on commentaries. Typically it wasn’t as simple as a neck snap; instead Iain Glenn was called upon to offer both plot information and nobility and as with the rest of the story managed both with an understated dignity. As was rightly drawn out in Confidential, Matt’s performance was extraordinary here as his face suggested hope just as his eyes reflected despair. If Octavian could die, well, what could happen to Amy? All of these elements have to be what led up to me finally feeling Doctor Who in a way I haven’t before.

But it also probably helped that this new version of Doctor Who is so bloody unpredictable. That after a first episode which neatly set up an unusual base under siege type story, this second part, as is Moffat’s want, dumped the Aliens allusions and was suddenly invaded by the crack and an onslaught of continuity references stretching as far back as The Next Doctor. As some of us might have seen (or rather read) in Paul Magrs’s novel The Scarlett Empress with its Proppian references, the timelord is well aware that his adventures can have a certain pattern or structure to them but in Flesh and Stone even he seemed surprised and disorientated to find himself coping with parallel storytelling, on the one hand (with its forefinger swirling about) wrapping up the present adventure and on the other throwing forward to what we have to assume will be the series finale.

Where is this leading? We’re still no wiser about River Song; she’s apparently not who he thinks she is, but has killed someone who we’re to assume is the Doctor but like their proposed future marriage that may be misdirection. In trying to explain the apparent continuity error of the Doctor suddenly having his jacket back whilst questioning Amy about her memory, Wikia suggests this is some future version jumping back into his own time-stream on a detective hunt which sounds like a very Moffaty thing to do (with the possibility that some of the other inconsistencies groused about here there and everywhere aren’t errors but features). We know that Steven sent an episode of the series to Russell for a once over – is it because the timelord travels even further back?

Amid this random speculation, we do at least finally have some proper chronology for Amy thanks to date of her wedding -- 26/06/2010. Which means that The Eleventh Hour (two years earlier) happened in the roughly the same month as Last of the Timelords and assuming she’s twenty-one years old, little Amelia’s appearance in 1996 the year of The Chase’s gothic horror Festival of Ghana, the Eighth Doctor’s first comic strip adventure in Stockbridge, “End Game” and the contemporary scenes of Lawrence Miles’s megalithic novel Interference, The relevance of all this is probably non-existent in present context but with Moffat, at this point, anything is possible (especially with a copy of Miles's work sitting on his bookself). At this rate, I’m half expecting the Doctor to sit Amy down and say: “I had this friend once, Charley Pollard. She was a bit of an chronological anomaly too …”

Next week: Being Timelord