the sale of the first page of Gibbons and Moore's Watchmen

Comics This post about the sale of the first page of Gibbons and Moore's Watchmen economically explains why their work was and still is a cut above:
"This tight choreography between seemingly unrelated visual and verbal elements is one the the primary sources of the book’s tremendous impact. It adds a crucial layer to the storytelling, one uniquely rooted in the format of comic books – the ability to directly interweave elements from one part of the story into another and thereby elicit new interpretations, resonances, and meanings. Watchmen established Moore as a virtuoso of this technique."
Some comic books try to replicate the cinematic experience. The best comic books take advantage of the fact that they are comic books.

no major chain book store in some markets

Commerce Something which hasn't been mentioned in the UK media as far as I can see. Borders USA has now gone into receivership too.  Our version went to the wall last year for reasons ably described in Paul Carr's article.  The paragraph which gave me pause is this:
Now, with (US) Borders out of the way, leaving absolutely no major chain book store in some markets (including San Francisco, which had three Borders but no Barnes and Noble), the independents have a real opportunity to push back.
Assuming there are independents left in the market place.  It occurs to me if Waterstones goes to the wall, apart from a couple of used book shops and charity shops, there aren't any independent book shops in Liverpool.  Unless I've been entirely oblivious News From Nowhere will be the only independent book shop in the city centre.

what makes someone “good” or “bad”

Film Noel Murray from the AV Club considers whether Natalie Portman can act. The short answer is, of course, that yes she can, but it's useful to see someone weighing up the facts:
"Well, at the risk of sounding wishy-washy, the real quandary here concerns “acting” itself, and what makes someone “good” or “bad” at it. It’s a question complicated every year by awards season, where the showiest performances often win, even though in some ways it’s easier for actors to play a role that requires a lot of scenery-chewing, physical transformations, and outrageous accents than it is for them to make an ordinary human being into someone audiences care about. Plus, actors rarely control what ends up on the screen. They can only deliver the lines the writers give them, while taking the guidance provided by the director and having their performance affected by the chemistry with their co-stars. Even then, the editor can still choose to leave their best takes on the cutting-room floor. Given all that, what are we actually weighing when we consider an actor’s skills?"
Exactly. That's why the argument against Andy Serkis not being considered for awards nominations for his work in Lord of the Rings because he was artificially enhanced in post-production to appear as Gollum was such a misnomer. All actors are artificially enhanced (or otherwise as Murray notes) in post-production.

The Brigadier lives on

Obituary I'm not sure there's much I can add to the many tributes which are being paid to the actor Nicholas Courtney, who was best known for playing The Brigadier on Doctor Who, whose death was announced last night.  Except to say that in the Doctor Who universe The Brigadier lives on, at least for a little while, thanks to writer Paul Cornell.

In his novel Happy Endings, The aging Lethbridge-Stewart discovers he has a terminal illness, but after a series of adventures, alien technology restores his youth back to him.  He returns to active duty looking much as he did in the 70s.  If you assume everything is canon, which I do, it's comforting to know Nicholas's alter ego is still out there somewhere defending the Earth.

the Nam June Paik retrospective at Tate Liverpool

Art Like the art forms they contain, some exhibitions offer an instant hit, a legible blast of culture but others require some thought, for you to spend time with them, work with them even, in that way that sometimes happens when you you’re placed in a awkward social situation with a stranger and have to seek some common ground. That’s how I felt this morning strolling about the first half of the Nam June Paik retrospective at Tate Liverpool. I’d originally been invited to the press showing but couldn’t make it after life intervened, but the press office were good enough to provide me with a ticket.

If strangers can be categorised, Paik is something of a friend of a friend. His influences and collaborators are very well known: John Cage, Joseph Beuys and Karl Stockhausen and later Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson and Merce Cunningham. But though he was right at the centre of the New York scene in the 60s this is an example of the Tate using its prominant place within the art world, between obvious blockbusters (Magritte is next) to educate us on those figures who demand to be known too. Stretched across two spaces at Tate and completing at FACT on Bold Street, this collects together over ninety works, many appearing in the UK for the first time.

My first impressions were overwhelmingly negative, the brain splitting video wall of his Internet Dream (1994) with its confusion of clips from old Hollywood films, news items and general technicolour blah bearing down on me, a screen showing Korean adverts for western products and a massive projection of a Joseph Beuys concert skip edited so that eye isn’t given a moment to rest. I sighed. I felt like I was being screamed at and I’d not reached the fourth floor yet. Listening to the mp3 guide helped, with its short introduction to the artist, and eventually as I strolled about upstairs, I think we came to an understanding.

What eventually became my access point was that Paik really was, as this video shows, a technological innovator and experimenter. At a time when people were still coming to terms with television sets as an ordinary domestic items, he was already pulling them apart to see what else he could make them do other than show television broadcasts. In Magnet TV (1965), he was placing the giant hunk of polarised metal on top of a set to see what patterns the cathode ray tube might make. He co-created the Video Synthesizer (1969) which attempted to produced a visual equivalent of the sound instrument, which later gave rise to cellos built from sets whose images change with the stroke of the bow.

In other words he was pushing the available technology to do things which it really wasn’t designed to do yet. Like the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, who produced what sounded like electronic music using audio tape, Paik was looking ahead of his time and creating what he was using what was available to him. He said that in the future everyone would have their own television station and we children of the internet finally do on YouTube. But Paik even demonstrated what he meant. On the day he bought one of the earliest video camera, a Sony Portapak, with all of the world to shoot, he chose to record the most mundane thing he could think of - himself buttoning and unbuttoning his jacket.

So the exhibition is worth visiting for a trip back in time before flat screens when televisions were more present, when a call to the television repair man included the magic of a kingdom of glass and wires behind the screen, rather than, as happened to me yesterday when the man visited to look at my LG LCD, the disappointment of a couple of printed circuit boards. Most of Paik’s work isn’t just the film itself but the technology displaying them, or in the case of the Buddhas creating them, the original video cameras trained on their marble and bronze torsos, the results displayed in the space. Live.

When you do visit, I really would recommend you listen to the accompanying free mp3 guide. Intelligently written in the style of a Radio 4 programme, it features contributions from curator Sook-Kyung Lee and members of the artist’s family. Much of the work on display is an echo. It's documentation for a previous happening or once interactive works (like the Magnet TV) which are now too fragile to be touched. It’s in these sections that the mp3 guide so ably fills in the gaps, especially in relation to Paik’s collaboration with the cellist Charlotte Moorman with whom he created Opera Sextronique, a performance piece which led to her being arrested in New York.

I genuinely think we parted on good terms, Paik and me. The exhibition closes on a stroll through a TV Garden (1974), some Video Fish (1979) and with the chance for us meet members of Paik’s Robot Family (1986-93) and by then Paik definitely wasn’t the stranger he’d been at the start. I’d realised that Internet Dream was his attempt to come to terms with the inevitable information overload which the web would bring and had brought and that if we’re uncomfortable when confronted with that he achieved his aim. He was a visionary.

Nam June Paik is at Tate Liverpool and FACT Liverpool until 13 March 2011. Admission details available here.

Sir Derek Jacobi on npr

Jacobi talks about directing Ken Branagh and what makes for a good Hamlet:
"Hamlet, to me, is the big personality part in the canon. He can be played any which way - tall, short, fat, thin, male, female - there have been very successful actresses who've played at Hamlet. It all depends on the personality, the sound, the charisma, the look of whoever's being Hamlet. The great thing about Hamlet is that you don't play his character, you play the situations in which he finds himself. You put yourself into those situations with those words, with those lines in the situations and that becomes your Hamlet."
Audio and transcript available.

Vanishing Point.

Books After Nick Wallace’s brilliant evocation of an era in Fear Itself, we’re now back in the actual era he was trying to recreate. It’s to his credit that the transition is seamless. There’s nothing in Stephen Cole’s novel to indicate that the Doctor and his friends haven’t just been in and around Jupiter, and indeed the suggestion is that this doesn’t follow on directly from Earthworld, like Peri in Caves of Androzani, Anji’s well embedded into the TARDIS life and has the connection and trust with the Doctor which most companions develop, of the kind which can only be a consequence of the three of them having been in each other’s company for a bit.

To a large extent, Vanishing Point is archetypal Doctor Who. The Doctor and his companions become split up and embroiled within the status quo of a human colony, investigate the oppression which is being wrought on the people and lead them to overthrow the dictator. It’s precisely the kind of thing that the more post-modern authors use as shorthand when they’re trying to define precisely who the Doctor is and his mission. In this case, the local colour is that gives it shades of other franchises, as the back cover explains, this is “a world where death has meaning, where God exits and faith is untested”

Or as Anji jokes herein like “some bad Star Trek episode”. Actually as the story unfolds it’s far closer to Lost a few years early though to explain the detail of that would be far too big a spoiler for these brief milestones/reviews. If we were to play the Trek game, we’d see bits of The Masterpiece Society, Miri and one of those DS9 episodes when Odo thinks Garak has done something sneaky. This allows Cole to offer some meditation on religion and blind faith and through the character of Dark, a kind of lapsed monk, to investigate if it’s possible for someone to have a strong belief system even if the come to understand that the religion they once respected is bunk.

Unlike Star Trek, in which such things tended to be hashed out in a primitive villiage or a space station, Cole throws all of this up against a major metropolitan area filled with hundreds of thousands of people.  They have jobs, they're clearly human.  At one point the characters are so wrapped up in their adventure, they shocked when they realise that the quickest way for them to journey into danger would be to call a taxi which duly arrives.  Unlike some stories were it seems the entire population of a planet is involved, most of these colonists go about blissfully unaware that their world could end, or for that matter the level of control which has been placed upon them.  The Matrix was released very close to when this book was written and that can't be a coindidence.

All of the characters are nicely written and for once in a Doctor Who story all ultimately have a part to play in the climax other than simply cannon/jeopardy fodder. Of the day players, Etty is the standout, a farmer with a fair few secrets hiding in her barn is strong willed and clever I imagined the author had cast Samantha Morton in the role in his head. Nathaniel Dark is that other rare thing in Doctor Who – an alpha male who isn’t either stupid or a villain and someone the timelord can talk to on a level basis and debate as the Doctor uses him as a sounding board during the investigation towards discovering the truth of the society.

Amongst the regulars, Anji’s settling in nicely though as in Earthworld, I’m still finding it difficult to picture Amita Dhiri in her role. This website favours Konnie Huq, which is fine (can she act?) but perhaps I should just be relying on my imagination. It’s not helped by her not really being that clearly defined as a character, we don’t really know what she “would” or “wouldn’t” do in the same way that we might Martha (which probably just indicates the variance from how classic characters were still being developed even ten years ago). Fitz is very much back to being the ladies man, though after his revelation in Earthworld that he’s not the original, but a memory of the original, it’s still not clear if he’s motion going.

Speaking of which, once again we can detect that this amnesiac Doctor is rather acting the role of himself, an eternity old but unable to remember any of it. It’s entirely possible I’m just applying that interpretation after the fact because Cole largely writes him as a generic Eighth Doctor, though without the usual historical reference points. He’s funny, smart, a bit dopey and have Paul McGann’s speech patterns all over them. Except when he brandishes a pistol or just plain violent, and we know it’s because he’s not in control of his faculties, he doesn’t realise it’s something the Doctor wouldn’t do (unlike Revolution Man which was just poor characterisation).

It’s these moments too which remind the reader this is an Eighth Doctor novel, that this isn’t a story which could be quickly rewritten for the Fifth Doctor or could be pulled out a drawer for Matt Smith’s face to be stuck on the cover. It’s been quite some time since I finished Fear Itself and after enjoying the slightly more juvenile fairy tale flavour of more recent spin-off fiction, quite a surprise to be reminded just how “for mature readers” the franchise had become in this form which explains why the BBC seems less than keen to promote and reprint its old back catalogue (though I know some of these novels are being reproduced independently) despite interest from new fans keen to look at all of the show’s history.

inchoate threat

Books Another great piece from The Paris Review uncovers some unsettling truths about what might otherwise seem a fairly inocuous fairy tale:
"Sleeping Beauty is laced throughout with inchoate threat, which is why it feels so bottomless. Most obviously, there is an outrageous fact that the story passes over and that most children do not consciously note: Beauty is a century older than the prince who kisses her and ends her sleep. When he enters her dusty room she is one hundred and fifteen years old. As the reader bends with him over her inert form, adoration is tinged with something else entirely—the apprehension of death."
Which surely puts it firmly on the fringes of myths related to vampirism. It's a cultural theory essay waiting to happen.