The Titlebar Archive: Alison Balsom

Music Alison Balsom's new album Seraph is another example of her championing new composers and so widening the range of music available to trumpeters and transforming the image of an instrument often left in the hands of male soloists. James MacMillan's title track crosses string accompaniment surely influenced by Bernard Hermann (there's a lot of that about lately) with an often painful melody that captures (I think) the melancholy fractures of a personality oscillating between self-delusional happiness and utter despair with hints of nostalgia.  In the second movement it's even as though her trumpet and a violin are sharing a very private grief.

Not a happy album by any means and certainly not as accessible as her earlier presentments of Hummel or Bach or re-orchestrations of Italian Violin Concertos, the music which I've loved across the years.  Perhaps the most piercing, because of its familiarity, is the cover of Nobody Knows which plays out against a simple set of chords and tiny piano intrusions, a painful, funerary polar opposite to the usual gospel interpretations.  Nevertheless if you're in the right mood, Seraph is well worth seeking out (it's on Spotify too).  The title bar is from the inlay of her earlier, happier album Caprice.  The sitting on steps shot on the front of Seraph is too vertical for both her and her instrument to sit comfortably in the 980x200 pixel space.

For an instant hit, here she is Hummeling at the Classical Brits:

The Oxford Paragraphs:
Kenneth Grahame
The Wind in the Willows

Books As the introduction (written back in the 80s by Grahame biographer Peter Green) rightly identifies, although Mr. Toad made The Wind in the Willows famous, his action packed adventures are the least evocative and I’d go further to say he’s the least interesting of the characters. The best chapter, Dulce Domum, in which Mole desperately seeks to return to his own home despite its humbleness is an intoxicatingly emotional description of the inescapable connection most of us have to our own familiar four walls however else we might imagine they seem to others (and nearly had me in tears by the time the carol singers arrived). The loyalty between Ratty and Mole is also especially touching, not unlike that between Sherlock and Watson, the former often riding roughshod of the latter’s feelings until he realises he’s gone too far, guilt sets in and he shambles about making amends.

"the psychology of his protagonist's adventures"

Books  Now that time paradoxes have become a staple part of Doctor Who, trust James Goss, one of the more experimental of the spin-off writers to turn one into a big dumb – if beautiful – object and more than that a museum piece  at the heart of one his creepiest stories yet.  But as ever Goss's artifice doesn’t end there, as his new story The Art of Death is narrated by Penelope, the invigilator charged with the care of its viewing gallery and almost the entire story takes place within that chamber or else in the surrounding corridors and rooms.  The Doctor and his friends, lost in time, variously drop into her life when she’s most in peril slowly uncovering the mystery of the paradox and the crystalline monster which plagues Penelope’s existence.

Some of which might sound relatively familiar.  As well as much talk of cracks in time, the structure is also superficially similar to The Girl in the Fireplace and my favourite bit of Who of last year, Jonathan Morris’s Touched by an Angel.  With less room to extemporise, Goss focuses more closely on the psychology of his protagonist's adventures, keeping the focus on Penelope rather than the regulars, and how our lives can be superficially controlled without us realising the consequences of our actions before it’s too late.  At times she’s excruciatingly human and in one sequence Goss draws out a very specific type of ritual humiliation in a way which is even scarier than when the monster’s in full attack mode.

The always amazing Raquel Cassidy acts Penelope’s story with realistic detachment and as is often the case with Goss’s scripts part of the entertainment is guessing why she’s chosen to offer us her story.  Within that we’re not entirely sure if her interpretations of Matt, Karen and Arthur are Cassidy's or the character's but she achieves a decent interpretation of them all (perhaps thanks to having acting with them in the last series), her Amy understandably the most recognisable.  Goss also deserves credit for finding Rory’s voice too, that kind of bewildered strength mixed with staccato speech which other writers often default as “generic bloke”.  This is an excellent edition to Goss’s back catalogue.  Surely it’s about time he worked for television?

Also out this month is a Vintage Beeb re-release of the classic Doctor Who Sound Effects vinyl, an artefact I’ve been searching for since borrowing a copy from Liverpool Central Library years ago.  It’s a collection of noises from 70s episodes, originally produced by sound engineers Dick Mills and Brian Hodgson, some (sonic screwdriver) more iconic than others (Cloning and Miniaturisation Process).  Many were repurposed for other BBC programmes with the Gallifreyan Staser Gun brandished by the cops on Magrathea in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Interestingly the original sleeve notes featured working titles for stories with The Enemy Within once again losing out to something else. (The Invisible Enemy).

Doctor Who: The Art of Death by James Goss is out now on CD and to download.  Doctor Who Sound Effects (Vintage Beeb) is released on the 2nd February 2012.  Review copies supplied.

"before we figured out what the algorithm was"

Film The few of you who've been reading this for a while may remember the old Scene Unseen series from back in 2004 and this short piece about the entertainingly confrontational audio commentary on Steven Soderbergh's film The Limey. Now on the eve of his retirement, Soderbergh explains to The AV Club the film's editing process which turned a film that didn't work into something which I think we can all agree is something of a classic:
"It was shot and cut chronologically. It was written that way, and it was done that way, and it didn’t work. I’m not saying that’s the script’s fault. I’m just saying it didn’t work. It had to be rethought from frame one. And before we figured out what the algorithm was, I thought we were in trouble. I remember the day—God, this would be January 1999 — Out of Sight had just won the National Society Of Film Critics awards for picture, director, and screenplay, and I got a call from Stacey Sher, one of the producers, going, “I’ve got great news, it was just announced that blah blah blah.” And I remember thinking, “I really don’t care. I would trade that for one edit that would work.”
Later in the interview he talks about poor reception for The Good German, which, with its mimicing of ancient film artifice is probably an interesting film to revisit in the wake of The Artist.

"buy a jumper in C&A"

Commerce Tom de Castella at the BBC talks eloquently about brand nostalgia:
"You pop out of the house, cash a cheque at Midland Bank, hire a television at Radio Rentals, buy a jumper in C&A, pick up some screws at Texas DIY, do the weekly shop at Gateway, before repairing to Lyons Corner House for a cup of tea and an individual fruit pie."
Liverpool certainly feels that, some of us wistfully looking at the Wetherspoons on Great Charlotte Street and remember its previous tenant Blackers, a department store which closed so long ago now I remember buying peripherals for my Acorn Electron (a First Byte Joystick Interface!) in the closing down sale.

Not mentioned is how Boots (the chemist) has retained its old fashioned logo despite everyone else in the high street shifting to some derivation of boring old Helvetica, which means the company retains a sense of continuity stretching back to our childhood.  It's a sense of comfort which simply doesn't exist with Superdrug.

"except for a couple of domestic problems"

Film Back in the late 70s, writer Stephen Gallagher was attempting to put together a musical based on the life of actor Douglas Fairbanks. As part of his research he entered into a correspondence with Fairbanks's son who wasn't entirely sure his father's life was dramatic enough to sustain the drama:
"I do want to warn you that the idea had already occurred to two or three other people over the past fifteen or twenty years, and even though they have been well-known playwrights and theatre people the projects have come to nothing because, except for a couple of domestic problems, my father's life per se was not sufficently dramatic to justify a play. His career was indeed spectacular and he was unquestionably a great creative artist and producer but beyond that the material is not rich enough to sustain a complete play. Any detailing of domestic sidelights would be likely to lead to complications as some of the people are still living - such as my step-mother.
His step-mother being Mary Pickford. Thrilling stuff.

"40 or 50 times"

Web Luv & Hat tackle Tumblr:
"Well done, Tumblr. Well done for liking the same slightly geeky, slightly culty, slightly alternative things as EVERYONE ELSE ON FUCKING TUMBLR. You’re such an individual. That photo of a cupcake that’s only been reblogged 995 times? Hardly anyone has seen that more than, say, 40 or 50 times. You’re right to reblog it. You’re doing the world a favour. You have such good taste. Admittedly you didn’t have any part in its creation, and you’re just dumbly human centipeding it down the internet because it’s easier than making something yourself, but pat yourself on the back anyway."
Incidentally this blog has its own Tumblr, which as you can see I never have found a use for.

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

The Titlebar Archive: Mark Kermode's Signiature

Books Having missed his personal appearances, I was quite pleased to find this half-priced signed copy of Mark Kermode’s The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex in Waterstones on Bold Street just after Christmas. It’s a surprising squiggle, not least because he merges his initials together then runs his pen on hoping the reach a D and seemed like a perfectly reasonable alternative to having his face looking out at you for a week. Plus since my primary typing finger’s been out of action thanks to a papercut, such a tiny injury, so strangely debilitating, it was a nice way to note what had become again my primary way of storing information that wasn’t my brain.

Taking a break from the Oxfords, I spent last week reading through this and his earlier semi-autobiography It’s Only A Movie.  They run perfectly into one another. The first offers a ramshackle account of his life and career from sneaking into horror films to working at City Life Magazine in Manchester, Time Out London, the Radio and thence famously being shot at in LA while interviewing Werner Herzog. The second offers a ramshackle account of his frustrations with modern cinema, the multiplex experience, 3D, the British coming even though they’re already here andthe  film criticism discipline in general.

For someone’s who’s an avid listener of these radio slots and video blog there aren’t many surprises since his reviewing style already demands a fair amount of biography submerged with opinion and even as he apparently extemporises into film criticism whole sections feel like transcripts of his greatest hits, especially the section on Sex and the City 2 or Transformers. This is the Kermodian version of comedy books released before dvd, where Jasper Carrot or Woody Allen’s sets would be repeated in prose, albeit with a far more discursive style that meanders from the point like a Ronnie Corbett monologue and just as funny.

Nevertheless, the tone of the second book is almost entirely pessimistic. Kermode fears that the advent of digital projectors, the way films are delivered, is irrecoverably spoiling those elements which brought him to the medium in the first place, the sense of history inherent within a piece of celluloid, that it has a transportative capacity irretrievably obscured as the screens its presented on become ever smaller. As he’s said in the past, it used to be that films as they were run through the projector were effectively performed to the audience or viewer and there was a collective excitement akin to theatre or music which can’t be replicated on television.

Having spent the best part of a couple of years watching films on television, usually alone, my worship of the medium has shifted from being an experience akin to a church service to something more like private prayer. The screen is smaller, true, but there are other benefits. The seats are comfier. You can pause the film if you need the loo, follow your own schedule and there are fewer random distractions. Also even with a Lovefilm account it’s far, far, cheaper and selection of films huge. But I know that just as I’ve killed the high street through internet shopping, if I’m not careful I’ll kill the cinema too.  Perhaps I need to expand my displays of devotion again.

Harry Potter's consolation prize.

Film The Bafta short list is out so it's time for the first of my annual look at a list of films I haven't seen at a ceremony I don't usually watch.

Best Film

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Artist. For all the inevitable backlash it is exciting for an essentially silent film to keep winning these awards, especially if it helps to promote interest in the birth of cinema and help educate viewers on a different kind of performance. I'm amazed BBC Four haven't rescheduled some of the material from their old season of silent films.

Film Not in the English Language

A Separation
The Skin I Live In

It's a change that we're seeing a short list of film which have already been released in the UK and, judging by the box office figures published in Sight & Sound, been seen by a welcoming audience.

Outstanding British Film

My Week with Marilyn
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
We Need to Talk About Kevin

That's who I think will win it and well done. My first choice was Marilyn but TTSS had something of a breakthrough and Gary Oldman's well loved by the academy.


The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius
Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn
Hugo - Martin Scorsese
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Tomas Alfredson
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsay

It may do the double though the disparity between the best director/film categories is interesting, especially the lack of Hugo (the one film I have seen) above, demonstrating how miscellaneous the whole process of choosing one film over another is.

Original Screenplay

The Artist
The Guard
The Iron Lady
Midnight in Paris

The biggest selling Woody Allen film of all time, though if The Artist is sweeping, it has no chance.  I've seen Bridemaids too incidentally, though its appearance above Chalet Girl is astonishing, frankly.

Adapted Screenplay

The Descendants
The Help
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Even if it's The Artist that sweeps, this'll be Tink's consolation prize.


The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Even if Tink sweeps, this'll be The Artist's consolation prize.


The Artist
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

Logically with two car films and two works about film history the vote will be split.  But again these are the battleground categories between spies and artists.  Perhaps this'll be a year when there's a neat carve-up between the films but it feels unlikely.

Production Design

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Scorsese's consolation prize.

Make Up & Hair

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
The Iron Lady
My Week with Marilyn

Just on the basis of the poster.  

Costume Design

The Artist
Jane Eyre
My Week with Marilyn
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Unless it's one of those ceremonies in which case it'll be Jane Eyre.

Special Visual Effects

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
X-Men: First Class

Harry Potter's consolation prize.


George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Project Nim

Its been on television.


The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

If Bafta's in an ironic mood.

Original Music

The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

If Bafta's in an ironic mood.

Animated Film

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Arthur Christmas

Spielberg's consolation prize.

Leading Actor

Brad Pitt (Billy Beane) – Moneyball
Gary Oldman (George Smiley) - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
George Clooney (Matt King) – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin (George Valentin) – The Artist
Michael Fassbender (Brandon) – Shame

It's the cast of Ocean's 14, isn't it? Again, sweeps, sweeps so I'm chickening out and giving Danny the award.

Leading Actress

Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller) – The Artist
Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher) – The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams (Marilyn Monroe) – My Week with Marilyn
Tilda Swinton (Eva) – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Viola Davis (Aibileen Clark) – The Help

Surely?  Even in a sweeps night?   Also, no Kristen Wiig?  Really?

Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer (Hal) – Beginners
Jim Broadbent (Denis Thatcher) – The Iron Lady
Jonah Hill (Peter Brand) – Moneyball
Kenneth Branagh (Sir Laurence Olivier) – My Week with Marilyn
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara) – The Ides of March

I'm sure he's very good but this just proves that even if you're Jonah Hill you can expect to receive an award nomination at some point.  Looking at both these categories, its interesting that unlike the screenplay categories, they're not split between "in the role of a real human" and not.   Plummer may get it thanks to his Globes win.  We tend to do that quite a lot.

Supporting Actress

Carey Mulligan (Irene) – Drive
Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote) – The Help
Judi Dench (Dame Sybil Thorndike) – My Week with Marilyn
Melissa McCarthy (Megan) – Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer (Minny Jackson) – The Help

For obvious reasons.  I know, I say that every year, but it's true. Unless the jury is stacked full of Gilmore Girls fans.  It's going to be Dench again isn't it?


ATTACK THE BLOCK - Joe Cornish (Director/Writer)
BLACK POND - Will Sharpe (Director/Writer), Tom Kingsley (Director), Sarah Brocklehurst (Producer)
CORIOLANUS - Ralph Fiennes (Director)
SUBMARINE - Richard Ayoade (Director/Writer)
TYRANNOSAUR - Paddy Considine (Director), Diarmid Scrimshaw (Producer)




"Thor's my hero."  Felicity Jones was in the long list.  Why is she not here?  Why!?!  WHY!?!

Stephen Fry's presenting the ceremony this year.  I might watch after all.

The Titlebar Archive: Happy Endings

TV Always desperate for something to cheer me up in the post-Christmas neutral zone, the first season of Happy Endings was just perfect, offering  twenty minute bursts of old school relationship comedy.  This screenshot is from teaser to the "Mein Coming Out" episode, from early in the first season when Penny meets the perfect man who happens to have fairly notorious surname and Max is putting off coming out to his parents. In typical style, the teaser features an entirely in-connected element, in this case Jane's all night cookfest creating a surreally abundant breakfast buffet.  Here, Alex momentarily looks longingly at her ex-fiance Dave as he munches on a streak of crispy bacon and we're not entirely sure which she's longing for most.

You probably missed Happy Endings if you were in the UK.  Unlike its spiritual predecessor Friends which spent a decade in prime time on Channel 4, the sitcom was hidden in a weekday slot on E4 then repeated in the wrong order on the main channel at four in the morning.  Catching up with it over a few days, I was amazed at the density of the dialogue, the ingenuity of the storytelling which in some places rivals Steven Moffat's Coupling and the fearlessness of the performances as dignity often goes out the window for a good joke.  The "Dave of the Dead" episode is one of the best reposts to hipster culture I've seen, the title alone suggesting the ultimate destination for a perfectly pitched parody of the clothes, the music, the films and the food.