The Tempest (Arden Shakespeare). Edited by Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan.

Even if, because I’m yet to see a convincing production, The Tempest isn’t my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, it does contain my favourite line: “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” As well as encapsulating human existence in eighteen lines, it’s always seemed to me to be a moment when Prospero breaks from the suspended disbelief of his fictional world and considers his own existence as a construct and in a way that slots in the space in reality between the actor portraying him and the audience.

Such woolly mysticism is probably nonsense but as Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T Vaughan (henceforth known as the Vaughans) demonstrate in their superb introduction to the newly revised third series Arden Shakespeare edition, of all Shakespeare’s plays The Tempest, because so much of it's world and characterisation have apparently been left deliberately vague, critics and creatives across the centuries have fallen over themselves to pour into the precipice all kinds of what some might describe as analytical construction and others dated prejudices. Imagine the six years the internet spent talking about tv's Lost (itself heavily influenced by the play) stretched across four centuries.

That’s true of much of the canon, but in The Tempest’s case the depth of investigation is particularly rigorous and resolves about twin, linked subjects: the location of the island and the nationality of Caliban. Unable to accept this receptacle of Propero’s Arts as a fantastical construct, writers have sought to position it geographically and metaphorically as anywhere from the North Atlantic coast of Africa to Ireland to encompassing both North and South America, with Caliban revealed to be a cannibalistic expression of any number of their inhabitants.

This makes for uncomfortable reading. By the early twentieth century The Tempest was actively being described as Shakespeare’s American play, with Prospero symbolic of White colonial powers and Caliban as the savage, subjugated native Americans even though as American Scholar Elmer Edgar Still noted “there is not a word in The Tempest about America or Virginia, colonies or colonizing, Indians or tomahawks, maize, mocking-birds, or tobacco. Nothing but the Bermudas, once barely mentioned as a faraway place like Tokio or Mandalay.”

Such diversions consume a high proportion of the Vaughan’s work though much is spoken of sources which are numerous but inconclusive. The Tempest lacks an ur-text, though it’s thematically informed by Ovid and Virgil and tales of exploration by Willam Strachey and Montaigne, both reproduced in the appendix, the product of Shakespeare’s magpie mind which makes for one of the shorter literary antecedent sections seen in an Arden. There’s still some room to consider the Freudian readings of the play though as you’d expect they're rather less baroque than for Hamlet.

All of this is cleanly presented and because the Vaughans are steeped in The Tempest having both produced separate volumes about the play, their attempts to cram in as much detail as possible into the introduction makes for a very dense read. But refreshingly their work lacks an agenda; probably because they’ve worked through their own opinions elsewhere they’re more relaxed about simply presenting the arguments of others and letting the reader decide as to their merits, pleasingly giving due prominence to contemporary thinkers like Bate, Wells and Kermode.

The Tempest (Arden Shakespeare) edited by Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan is published by Methuen Drama. RRP £8.99 paperback. ISBN: 978-1408133477.

"the longest running drama series ever"

TV One of my indulgences during the VHS era was gawping at the massive box sets in HMV, massive boxes filled with video tapes collecting the James Bond films or the career of Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. Of late, slimmer formats and box design technology now mean something like the complete Friends or The West Wing can fit into a space the size of a shoebox.  But imagine my pleasure on seeing ...
"Universal Studios Home Entertainment have announced the Region 1 DVD release of Law & Order: The Complete Series on 8th November 2011. The longest running crime drama in the history of television, tied with “Gunsmoke” as the longest running drama series ever, will be released in its entirety as a 20-season, 104-disc collector’s box-set."
That's some monument especially since it also includes the relevant Homicide: Life on the Streets crossover episodes.  Though of course some of us might quibble with it being described as the "the longest running drama series ever" what with Doctor Who reaching its fiftieth year in 2013.

a mass of new Freedom of Information disclosures

Tea-V The BBC have posted a mass of new Freedom of Information disclosures. Plenty have a whiff of the right wing press about them ("Is it true Asylum Seekers receive free TV licenses?" "No!") others reveal "useful" information about the cars supplied to the corporation's hierarchy (Mark Thompson has a VW Phaeton 3.0TDi V6 4Motion Auto 4 door whatever one of those is).

But there's still plenty of fascinating facts to chew over. Like the news that a Dental Clinic used to lease space at Broadcasting House (but left after a refurbishment) and still does at White City but will be moving out shortly and these amazing two paragraphs which demonstrate the specificity with which even the simplest of functions are assessed within an organisation:
"Thank you also for your clarification of 11/04/2011. BBC Policy allows for the provision of tea in meetings where the meeting needs to be for two hours or longer or when entertaining a person or organisation from outside the BBC. Because of the way orders are recorded it is not always possible to say exactly how much of a hospitality request relates to tea, but using available information I estimate that around £179,500 was spent on tea for meetings in the year 2009/10.

In some of our buildings we also have kitchenettes where tea bags are available for staff to make their own cups of tea. The BBC utilises over 300 properties throughout the United Kingdom. Unfortunately we do not hold central records of expenditure for all locations, but using available information I estimate that in 2009/10 the BBC spent £49,800 on tea for kitchenettes.
Douglas Adams would be proud.

in footwear William Emms would be proud of

TV John Caughie author of the excellent BFI Classics volume about The Edge of Darkness has this to say on the subject of The Edge of Darkness: “US/UK co-production, which can so often lead to a bland, mid-Atlantic ‘international style’, a flattening out of cultural differences and representational styles, in this instance produced a layering of performances, deploying rather than defusing a creative tension that mirrors exactly the tension between a public service and a commercial aethetic.” If ever there was a way to describe Torchwood’s Miracle Day, it’s the exact opposite of this sentence.

Admittedly, John Shiban’s The Middle Men is by far the most watchable episode of the series so far, but by now the poor creative decisions which have dogged the series since day one, sorry The New World, have festered in step with Rex’s wound.  In plotting and designing this series, Russell T Davies has attempted to produce what he thinks a US show should be like and in doing so has diluted his own unique style in the process. He’s watched 24 and the like and attempted to bend Torchwood into that image. In which case we must compare it to the like and chiselling away next to it’s nearest cousins, Fringe or Numbers, it’s barely workman-like.

Granted, those shows churn out twenty-odd episodes per year, amortise their budget by setting their stories in familiar standing sets and have the space to develop their characters over a longer period, but having watched just eight episodes of Fringe so far, whose central mystery, The Pattern, is at least echoed in Miracle Day and shares a figure with an unhinged hero with past he conveniently can’t always remember, JJ Abrams’ show has an effortlessness to it, an ease of watching and although it’s true not every set up is entirely original, it has the decency to note, in dialogue, the inherent repetatitiveness in their weekly explorations.

What made Torchwood work, on the rare occasions when it did work, was that it transplanted the approach of those shows, investigators into the unknown, into a very British or more specifically very urban Welsh setting. It’s that incongruity which drove it onward, why the CSI Cardiff joke worked in Everything Changes, that juxtaposition. We saw glimpses of it again tonight in the Cardiff concentration camp, the conversation between Gwen and not a doctor, Eve’s wild disapproving eyes unable to cope with the lack of humanity in the bag of mostly water passing judgement on her Dad’s continued existence.

The scenes within the camps in the US simply didn’t have that power. Partly it’s because of the bizarre performances and casting of Jobel and Tasambeker whose mere existence meant that nothing happening within a few rels of them could be taken seriously, but mostly it’s because it feels like the show creaking to fit what’s expected of it in the US setting, with the rescuing of captured operatives against sunkist settings weary meanderings along a well trodden trail. Whilst there's some initial satisfaction in seeing Esther "cat one" Jobel (in footwear William Emms would be proud of), ennui quickly sets in as we have to endure the same fight over again with the same predictable outcome.

The problem is, the question of what is and isn't Torchwood, and weirdly what constitutes quality television can’t be separated along geographical lines. Jack’s manipulating of Owens’s secretary with the subsequent fake hostage situation saw a return of C of E’s ability to upend our expectations and the ensuing conversation between the Captain and Winston Zeddemore in which PhiCorp was revealed to a part of a much larger system, whilst a kind of narrative bed trick in which one lady of mystery is replaced by another does imply that the overall story is heading somewhere, even if “The Blessing” suggests it's grasping towards a somewhat different C of E.

So really what we’re seeing again in The Middle Men is a situation in which the show loses cohesion the further away from the original Torchwood characters and the direct investigation of Miracle Day it goes. Still neither Mekhi Phifer or Alexa Havins seem to know where to pitch their performances which only increases the disconnect that they’re in the same show as Kai Owen who somehow manages to embrace the pantomime whilst still seeming totally real.  It's impossible not to groan on hearing Gwen will be flying back to the US because it’s clear that Thys's story would be parked off screen again, along with the beating heart of original Torchwood.

"Operations at Oxford Circus"

Film Civil engineering consultancy firm Halcrow (of Channel Tunnel rail link fame) have posted a small online selection of films from their archive. Gems of note:

A three minute clip from the 1979 film, "The Queen in Arabia" in which the monarch inaugurates the Port of Jebel Ali which would become the gateway to expansion in Dabai.  While wearing one of those white hats that never seemed to leave her head in the 70s and 80s. Features disco music playing over endless helicopter shots of concrete.

Building the Victoria line, London, "the first in a series of five films covering the construction of the London underground’s new Victoria line. This film, Report Number 1 Over and Under, Operations at Oxford Circus, describes the route of the new line, the planning and the problems that had to be overcome from 1962-64."

And a Channel Tunnel sight inspection from 1964 which just goes to demonstrate the longevity of some of these projects.

I should warn you though that each of these pages works like YouTube and starts downloading the clip stream as soon as you go to the page [via].

due for a remake

Film Well, I suppose The Road To Wellville was due for a remake. Not that this doesn't look fun and with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role Minnie Driver would have played not too long ago.  Great to see Sheridan moving into films too.

Alice in Wonderland at Tate Liverpool

Art As I await the time to see the Magrite exhibition at Tate Liverpool, they've posted news of the next exhibition, and it's a pleasant surprise:
"Lewis Carroll’s timeless novels, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, have fascinated children and adults alike since their publication over 150 years ago. Alice in Wonderland at Tate Liverpool is the first exhibition of its kind to explore how Lewis Carroll’s stories have influenced the visual arts, inspiring generations of artists. The exhibition will provide insight into the creation of the novels and the inspiration they have provided for artists through the decades."
Rather like the season at the BFI recently which did much the same with film, the show takes Alice and its original manuscript as the starting point to show Lewis Carroll's drawings, photographs and the work of the various artists who were later influenced by his stories.

Sometimes the word "accessible" is rudely thrown about to suggest dumbing down, often with the RSC puts on a musical for children or some such.  But something like this does have the capacity to bring crowds to venues and make them seem rather less forbidding.  Well done Tate.

Seems obligatory at this point to include the BFI's restoration of a 1903 silent by way of illustration. Perhaps the Tate will also have a film programme to accompany the show.

This Sight and Sound article offers an enthralling history of Alice on film.

arts and archive

TV The proposed transformation of BBC Four's remit, as reported at The Guardian isn't unexpected (not least because the paper ran the similar article in June).

Of all the services, it is the most obvious to cut or at least change, especially since its former controller Janice Hallow moved to BBC Two and set about filling the nine o'clock slot with programmes and drama which wouldn't previously have looked out of place on her former channel.

When she joined BBC Four originally she set about turning it into the channel she thought BBC Two should be and not she's moved the real BBC Two and is doing it all over again.  The BBC simply can't sustain two television channels doing roughly the same thing.

That includes the drama and comedy, which would be a better fit and indeed better resourced on BBC Two.  And seen by a larger audience.  The Shadow Line felt like a BBC Four show and there it was on BBC Two.  The Hour too.

The proposed new remit, "arts and archive", isn't new.  It's a return to what the channel was originally like ten years ago.  Indeed, looking further back, it's closer in scope to BBC Knowledge in its twilight months.  I preferred it back then, however more elitist it was.  A place to think.

For some of us, this need not be a bad thing.  Just a glance at the BBC Archive website reveals some of the treasures the corporation have in its vaults and a return to employing BBC Four as a window on this material has to be a good thing, especially since, unlike the various UKtv derivations, they'll be allowed to play unedited and without adverts.

The BBC has decades and decades of quality television which isn't cost effective to release on dvd but deserves to be seen again.  Ways of Seeing's due for another repeat, I'm sure.

The Daily Mail et al will no doubt grumble about "all the repeats" and the continued existence of the sometimes brilliant BBC Three (which is now considered the access drug for teenagers into becoming hooked on the corporation).

Behaving rather like a revival media organisation they are, time and again they've wilfully ignored the incongruity that you can't have wall to wall new programming without the money to pay for it and will still be writing spiteful columns despite the fact that the BBC are making the most of the licence fee by employing programming already made instead of producing redundant duplicate material about the very same subjects at great expense featuring inferior presenters.

Besides, what's the point of having eighty-five thousand shelves worth of stuff if we can't see any of it.  Just so long as they keep Only Connect and The Killing on.  And whatever Charlie Brooker's doing.

the prequel to Let's Kill Hitler

TV Find above (and at this link), as it says in the caption, the prequel to Let's Kill Hitler, the opening episode of second half of sixth series of Doctor Who which is apparently starting on the 27th August for six weeks. Or series seven. Or series thirty-three. Or whatever it is. Has identifying such things ever been this complicated. Anyway, go watching its two minutes then meet me in the next paragraph.

Are you back? Isn't that good? It seems unfair to kick a series when it's down, but there really is more majesty and excitement in those hundred and seventeen seconds than in the whole of the first half of Torchwood's Miracle Day. Just the few moments Matt's on-screen, smouldering with anger, fear and I think we can safely say regret against Karen's giddiness are some of the most powerful acting we've seen all year.

Of course the Doctor has an answering machine, of course he does, the message recorded when he was still in his carefree stage, probably not long after his latest regeneration. Just as when someone marries and has to get all of their documents changed, the Doctor as well as finding a new sense of style must also remember to rerecord, reprint and reapply for all kinds of identity related elements.

My answer machine message says "Hi, it's Stuart, you know what to do." I recorded it when I bought my first mobile phone back in the late nineties and I think I was quoting from a film or television show but listening back a few minutes ago so that I could transcribe, what I notice is how youthful I sound. It's the mid-twenties version of me, so full of hope, talking back.

Perhaps that's what happens for the Doctor. Judging by his library card (cf, Vampires in Venice) he doesn't always remember to renew these extraneous elements. Perhaps there was a moment when he listen back to a call and the voice of his Tenth incarnation and his recording instruction appeared. "Yes! I'm an answer machine! Brilliant! Allons-y!" Or some such.

That's bound to cause a potentially weird set of emotions. If, as was established in The End of Time, regenerations are something like death, would listening to his younger self be akin to hearing the voice of deceased relative or friend, perhaps after accidentally dialling the wrong number and the grief which flows from that? Or would he not give it another thought and press "delete" then "record"?

That also suggests a potential ambiguity in this clip.  On first glance we might imagine that we're hearing Amy leave the message and at the end seeing a Doctor who can't bear to tell her the truth of her daughter's fate.  But what if we're actually seeing the Time Lord re-listening to an already recorded message, reminding himself of the onslaught of Amyness because something catastrophic has happened to her?

albeit with an extra "in" for clarity

Film Conan The Barbarian premièred today at the Empire Magazine Big Screen thingy in The 02 Arena and apparently it's as good at you'd expect. Something which is worth noting is the UK advertising campaign and not just because of the goriness of the artwork:

Much of the other pre-publicity I've seen titles the film "Conan The Barbarian 3D".  That's how it's listed on the US poster, on the studio boards for the junket interviews and even the URL of the official website (albeit with an extra "in" for clarity).  Yet the UK ad divorces the dimension from the title and makes plain that the film will be available in 3D and 2D.  If ever there was a clear notice that even the studios are having jitters about 3D it's right there.

A month ago, Reuters reported that "shares of RealD Inc, a licensor of 3D technologies, fell 10 percent on Monday as 3D viewership numbers for the final Harry Potter film fell short of investor expectations over the weekend."  Although it was a massive success, only 43% of the box office was from 3D placements and anecdotal evidence (twitter, emailers to the Mark Kermode show) suggested people actively looked for 2D presentations.

I've also read (though I can't find the link) that films with 3D in the title actually do worse at the box office overall, which might suggest that there's an audience which stays away if they think that a film is only going to be in 3D.  Which might explain the marketeers strategy here.  They want to let people who don't like 3D know that they can watch the beheadings without the tip of the sword in their faces.

But what does that tell us about the future of 3D?  That it really isn't looking good.  If the film companies have realised 3D isn't universally liked and that as well as having to supply their wares in both versions they're telling the potential audience this prominently on the poster, it means they understand that user confidence in their shiny new format isn't particularly high.