"characterised by fluid narrative"

Film I've been hesitant to mention the discovery of the lost "Alfred Hitchcock" film because the coverage has been generally misleading and I've been waiting for someone to do the leg work and write something coherent about the actual director Graham Cutts who, contrary to reports which have played down his contribution, was something of a film pioneer. Enter The Bioscope to redress the balance:
"Graham Cutts (1885-1958) was arguably the leading British film director of the 1920s. Working with Herbert Wilcox and then Michael Balcon, two of Britain’s top producers of the period, Cutts made stylish romantic dramas characterised by fluid narrative, sumptuous production (on slim budgets) and subtly emotional performances. It could be argued that he was the first British film director to think cinematically."
The discovery of a film, or even a section of a film from this era is still remarkable. Statistics are fluid but for various reasons only a smallish percentage of work survives leading to a relatively distorted view of the development of film technique. The White Shadow adds to our knowledge, no matter who directed it.

"She tapped it lightly."

Journalism A college journalism class set themselves the task of creating their newspaper using twenty-year old methods. That meant embracing typewriters, glue and darkrooms.
"Managing editor Mariam Aldhahi was stymied after typing her first line. “What do I do now?” she asked. “There’s no RETURN key.”

I pointed to the lever that would propel the carriage back to the left, while the gears inside would simultaneously ratchet the paper to the next line.

She tapped it lightly.

“No, this is a manual typewriter,” I told her. “You actually have to expend some calories.”

I slammed the lever to the right, and the carriage flew back to the left margin, stopping with a thud. A look of understanding, laced with horror, crossed her face.

“It’s going to be like this the entire time, isn’t it?”

“Not at all,” I said. “It gets worse.”
The key phrase throughout the exercise is: “That’s totally fucked up!” [via]

"Beavis and Butt-Head were taking the place of VJs"

TV Mike Judge on the Return of 'Beavis and Butt-Head'. Most interesting element is that they're branching out from just sniggering through pop videos:
Yeah, that actually came up when they first pitched it – at least the way my manager told me about it. Part of the reason the show can't sell in syndication is because back in the day those videos were only cleared for MTV. No one was thinking that far in advance because they just thought that Beavis and Butt-Head were taking the place of VJs. But my manager was saying that the music business is so rough now that we could probably clear a lot of these videos. But after we started getting up and running, MTV said that we should really consider having them watch Jersey Shore and stuff like that."
Not sure what this says about the state of Mtv's programming that they're willingly opening it up to ridicule. Although from a certain point of view, My Super Sweet Sixteen could been seen as important social commentary.

mainly because it became Douglas Adams’s problem instead

TV It’s quite apt that Big Brother’s back in a couple of weeks, since Gwen’s making another video diary. No mention of the Doctor this time and how embarrassed he is about the world going to shit (though to be fair once again he’s got his own mortality problems) but it’s still the kind of teary doom laden apology that was also the trailer for C of E Day Five with talk of secrets revealed and flashlights flickering through darkened rooms. That the Cardiff ex-pats have resorted to this narrative technique again, however dramatic, just adds to the general impression of recycling that pervades the series, of trying to recapture the magic of C of E and Doctor Who itself offering the same notes in a slightly different order.

Not that Jim Gray & John Shiban's Escape to LA isn’t entertaining. Going in with the kind of grim determination that got me through the latter stages of the first series, I was delighted to find a few genuinely funny moments, Gwen’s attempt at an American accent for one, Jilly’s lack of a moral compass for another. Ellis Hartley Monroe is a pitch-perfect viciously one-dimensional portrayal of a Tea Party spokesperson, Mare Winningham observantly capturing the glassy-eyed, single minded, single push button issue approach to the political debate and it’s amazing that we’ve not had more feed back from the show’s original US home about her ultimate fate of being able to uncomfortably watch the work of a car-crusher from the inside.

The family scenes are also emotionally strong and although my head says that Esther’s jeopardy laden visit to her sister stretches credibility, in the real world, the fallibility of humans indicates that even someone who works for the CIA wouldn’t be able to help themselves, perhaps even knowing the risks. It’s also surprising to find a parental relationship in a Davies series as estranged as that between Rex and his father. In fact, grown up children don’t come out at all well from Escape to LA, not least the woman dumping her elderly father off at the boring doctor's hospital because she doesn’t see why she should spend the rest of her life looking after him. It’s in these moments that Miracle Day bothers to impress, the interpersonal horror of society breaking down.

Except we know that Davies can economically demonstrate this horror, we’ve seen as much in Turn Left and C of E, and that’s rather the problem with this whole endeavour so far.  Even with all the usual bonaroo bibi with an omi-palone, the Daily Mail will be criticising Miracle Day for its recycling (or should that be composting?).  There are bits of old episodes jammed in everywhere.  Only a week after the dongle incident, the Torchwood team are breaking into another Phicorp facility to capture another bunch of files, the only difference being on this occasion they’re attacked by C Thomas Howell’s laconic male equivalent of Johnson, again from C of E, after employing a Werner Brandes with a twisted Jonny Lee Miller on the security system.

Not that Terry Nation had too much of a problem presenting the same incidents time and again (mainly because it became Douglas Adams’s problem instead) but it is disappointing to have Jack fishing about in his memory for another old acquaintance he’s pissed off, a villain monologuing only to be shot/destroyed just as he’s about to reveal his secret, or talk of camps being set up to deal with an overspill of humanity. About the only time this familiarity pays off is in Danes’s speech to the huddled masses, the kind of hopeful rhetoric we’ve heard from the Doctor before with the same triumphant soundtrack, but rendered twisted and wrong from the mouth of a convicted child molester holding a baby.

Nevertheless, as indeed always seems to be a case with anything Who-related, there is a certain frisson to the mystery of who owns Phicorp and the creepy rotating triangles though in terms of scale it’s more in the order of who’s on Floor 500 rather than who Mr Saxon was. With all the talks of families rising, it might well be the Slitheen. But in the past week, I have considered if one the general prejudices I have with Miracle Day (other than the overall squandering of a great premise) is that it doesn’t seem worthy as a continuation of the contemporary Whoniverse begun in Rose (or The End of the World if you're being really pedantic) but currently ignored by the main series. Throughout I keep wondering how it’s effecting Sarah Jane and the gang, Amy’s parents, Martha, Gramps, Donna, Ian, Barbara, Jo Jones and well everyone.

As both Marvel and DC will tell you, one of the problems with shared universes is that when you conduct a massive world manipulating event of a magnitude that effects everybody, there’s always be the nagging thought in the mind of the fan as to the implications for that world. In Journey’s End, we were allowed to see, huge crossover event. Turn Left’s approach to the spin-offs was to ignore the ripples created when the relevant heroes themselves died completing the missions the Time Lord couldn’t.  Now we have Miracle Day which because it's a co-production, can only flirt with this universe but must be a continuation of it, yet is essentially Turn Left in the "prime" Whoniverse, so "has" to end with all the toys put back in the box.

Suspension of disbelief and all that but is anyone else a bit tired of all these reset switches?

"Well, here I am ..."

Film Have look at this synopsis for a new film by Cary Fukunaga and thinking about what it reminds you of ...
"It concerns an assassin who wakes to find himself floating through space in a suit that is running out of air, fitted with a computer designed to keep him company until he expires. The last thing he remembers is breaking into a space station to carry out a hit, but is he really about to die? Could he be trapped in an artificial reality or simply experiencing the effects of madness?"
Looks to me as though someone has seen Firefly's Out of Gas and wonders what happened to Jubal Early at the end.  "Well, here I am ..."

“Baby fish mouth?”

Meme Let's return to some fundamental principles. [via, via]

1. Movie you love with a passion.
When Harry Met Sally. “Baby fish mouth?”

2. Movie you vow to never watch.
Little Man. (That was easy.)

3. Movie that literally left you speechless.
Afterlife. Seriously Lars?

4. Movie you always recommend.
Pot Luck / The Spanish Apartment / L'Auberge Espagnol (or whatever it’s called in your territory). Sample:

5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie.
Clooney / Carey Mulligan.

6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for.

7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet.
I don’t. Well alright, Jimmy Stewart.

8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen (with picture).

9. Dream cast.
Ken Branagh’s Hamlet. Too easy?

10. Favourite actor pairing.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

12. Favourite decade for movies?


13. Chick flick or action movie?
Either. Neither. Depends.

14. Hero, villain or anti-hero?
Hero. Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables.

15. Black and white or colour?
Colour, though only when the director takes full advantage of the narrative, character and thematic possibilities choosing that option allows. Amelie is more complex that it’s given credit for in this regard.

"Arrest and Trial"

TV I'm currently reading The Great Television Series by Jeff Rovin, a eighties book charting the history of heroes on US television up until that point. Not an easy monograph to like, the structure unfocused and all over the place, it's nonetheless filled with charming nuggets about the nature of television production in that era.

- Each episode of the original series of Dragnet was shot in three days and budgeted at $30,000, Producer Jack Webb “worked the schedule so that the show was before the camera for two weeks straight, after which the crew edited and scored several programmes at once”. Stand alone cop drama produced on a soap opera schedule.

- Here's a twenty-four year old William Russell, later Ian in Doctor Who talking about his appearance as Sir Lancelot in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, firstly about his rubber armour:
"The blasted things weighed ninety pounds [...] and when they squeezed me into one, I could hardly list the bloody axe. Then they had to hoist me into the saddle with a derrick. And whenever anyone hit me in the jousts, I went down in a limp and stayed down. Finally, they had to undress me with wrenches."

"All our writers have done is clean up the plots just a bit. Lancelot's loves are now strictly platonic. He is still clean-cut and never takes advantage of an opponent, although when aroused the fellow can take on all comers."

"We had a genuine hero, of a sort. During the filming of one of the episodes, a horse stepped on David Morrell's foot. Morrell, who plays, Sir Kay, couldn't dislodge the beast and was forced to stand there smiling blandly with eight hundred points of horse on his toes, for ten minutes of shooting."
Around such anecdotes whole conventions have been planned.

- Rovin also unwittingly demonstrates that even what appear to be really original formats, or re-engineerings of formats, have been done before. Witness "Arrest and Trial" (that's Arrest and Trial) which ran for just a season but a version of which would later straddle the world:
(It ran for) ninety minutes a week, a length not easily plugged with substitute fare - and the appeal of its actors. Leads Ben Gazarra and Chuck Connors were able to pull a steady crowd despite the dubious merits of their showcase. Cazarra appeared as Los Angeles detective Nick Anderson, who in the first forty-five minutes of each episode tracked down a suspect and put him behind bars. In the "Trial" segment, attorney John Egan (Connors) tried to prove the defendant innocent. Needless to say, there was no love lost between Anderson and Egan, which made for the series' most interesting moments. But the overall effect of "Arrest and Trial" was that of breathlessness. The show was always racing to touch all of its bases - from crime to enter Anderson to exit Anderson and enter Egan, to verdict to exit Egan - week after week after. Will all this plot going on, there was never any room for characterisation. And ninety minutes is a long time to sit and watch cardboard cutouts hurry about their business. Still, it was a clever idea that, with a bit more elbow room, might have been a unique saga of the modern judicial process."
All Dick Wolf needed to do was made the trial bit about prosecutors, give it less "elbow room" by cutting the show down to an commercial hour and Law & Order has run for decades.

Updated:  This is delicious.  From the section about the early 70s:
"James Garner's "Nichols" was another major letdown, a series intended to be the former TV superstar's dramatic return to the medium after a successful movie career.  Garner portrayed Nichols, an eighteen-year army veteran who retired at the outbreak of World War I to avoid any violent undertakings.  However, Nichols also did not want to work for a living, so he took a job as sheriff of a small Arizona town.  There, he tried to avoid doing his duty at all costs.  However, the televiewing public didn't cotton on to "Maverick" revisited, so a change was made to the series, a move which could best be described as tacky. Around midseason, Nichols was killed in the line of duty, and his tough, serious minded brother (also Garner) came to town to pick up where his predecessor had left off. The show was cancelled in a matter of weeks."
It might seem tacky, but it's also not unknown for recent series to pull the same trick. The many characters of Ali Larter in Heroes, Locke in Lost. Of course, they're telefantasy.  Perhaps it's only acceptable if there's already weirdness in abeyance.   I think it's a genius way of re-engineering your series, though given the quality of characterisation in that period, one wonders if the writers took full advantage of the narrative possibilities, not least amongst a townspeople having to deal with a different sheriff with the same face.

reverse psychology

Elsewhere Just as a counterweight to yesterday's "triumph", the night before I lucked into being the first person leaving a comment on Charlie Brooker's column at The Guardian which this week about the idiot ideas of Steve Hilton and the utter barbarity of him being at the centre of government.

It's a position of some responsibility since it'll also be the first comment most of the several thousand readers will look at when they get to the end.  I knew I had seconds to put my point across and short of a Doctor Who reference or Shakespeare quote or some other thing which renders me a cliche, I said ...

I was being sarcastic. I was saying "no in fact you can't just throw ideas like this out there because that way leads to madness", using of the "if" word as a key. Subtle bit of reverse psychology I thought.  Oh well.

The List:
14. Joke printed in The Guardian.

Elsewhere A couple of days ago, The Guardian printed a photograph of a rather uncomfortable looking President Obama and Republican Congress speaker John Boehner in an unguarded moment and asked for captions. I thought of something and sent it in. This morning, flicking through the G2 supplement on the way to work and ...

... there I am ...

... offering not the most original thought.  Almost all the other captions worked in the coffee cup and in far funnier ways.  But still, full name, place of birth.  Good start to the day, thank you.

14.  Joke printed in The Guardian.

"we’ve done six extra episodes last year"

TV SARAH-JANE.tv has the transcript from a Q&A with Anjli Mohindra who plays Rani in The Sarah Jane Adventures from the weekend's Manchester Comic Con. Interestingly she fairly ambiguous as to whether the show will carry on or not:
"What's happening with the future of the series?
We’re not actually sure, we’ve done six extra episodes last year when we filmed series four, so we’d be able to keep them in the bank and then film another six and put them all out this year in a series. Obviously, we’re just gonna stick with those six, I think, and just send them out in autumn. Err, we’ll see, I’m not sure to be honest, but there’ll definitely be another six in autumn."
I wouldn't be to averse to a spin-off of a spin-off with just these characters, a kind of sci-fi Famous Five affair.  With K9 in Timmy's role obviously. Script editor Gary Russell did after all play Dick in the 70s tv series.

"take it"

Blog! Anna Pickard's blog's tenth birthday is this weekend and she's been listing, amongst other things, what she's learnt from her experience. Here's a rule I wish I'd adhered to:
"If an opportunity comes up, take it. If it goes right, then jolly good. If it doesn’t? Then at least it’s good blog material one day. Or at least a funny story for the pub."
Well, at least I did it my way.  Not that the end is near or anything.  Plenty of regrets still to be had, I'm sure.

browsing for vinyl

Film Watching The Man Who Fell To Earth for the first time this evening (an experience I expect we'll return to at some point) who should I spot browsing for vinyl?

It's William H Macy, making his way as a background artist and looking like a young version of his interpretation of Frank in the weird US remake of Shameless.  

It's 1976 and this would have been the year he was setting up the St Nicholas Theatre company with David Mamet and starring in the original production of American Buffalo.

Believe me, it's unmistakable when he moves.

Almost Doctor Who:
Astonish Me

Film I've just watched the new Stephen Poliakoff film. It's called Astonish Me, it's about seven minutes long (including credits) and promotes the work of the World Wildlife Fund ...

... and the all way through I kept thinking, is this Poliakoff doing his version of Captain Vid ... sorry ... Doctor Who? Imagine if this was the Doctor (Nighy) and his companion (Arterton) showing some young boy, perhaps a boy who could grow up to bring massive environmental change, what would be lost?  Which just goes to prove what I was saying to a really rather shocked someone on Twitter the other day.  When you're a fan, you can never switch it off [via].

"We're all complicit."

Journalism You might have missed this because it's in an Observer Magazine interview with Jude Law, but here he is on the phone hacking scandal:
"The thing is," he says, "it involves us all."
What do you mean?
"It involves us all. All of us. That's the closest I can come to talking about it. We're all involved. We're all complicit. On some level, if you think about what has happened and what will come out in the end. I think it's easy to think that things are mending if we think, 'Oh things are over now.' Or: 'It's their fault.' But we're all complicit."
What happened here? I mean what happened here? [previously]