my subconscious is nothing if not satirical

TV  The other night as I slept, and as is so often the case during a run of Doctor Whos, my subconscious provided a special exclusive preview of the upcoming episode based on the scraps of information I’d seen up until that point, which wasn’t much given my finely tuned spoiler avoiding abilities. In the version of The Power of Three that broke through the Amsterdam red light district which usually constitutes my dream state, the boxes were revealed to be the work of a Time War avoiding Rani, Kate O’Mara reprising her role for some mournful scenes in which she commented on how young her nemesis has become leading to a suicide induced regeneration into I know not because I woke up, but let’s presume Gina Bellman or Laura Pulver. Given the writer of tonight’s episode’s famous televisual run in with the Rani’s creators, my subconscious is nothing if not satirical. How I chuckled to myself as my daily routine began, listening the 7am news headlines on the Today programme, thinking that they’d never do something like that.

A few days later and they have.  Meet Kate (Lethbridge) Stewart.  Truth be told I was so wrapped up in Chris Chibnall’s best script for the franchise (and that Chibnall was capable of writing a script this good) to notice the reference other than to wonder out loud when Alistair even had time for children.  But come the close of the episode I was reminded by the TARDIS Index File that in the 60s “the Brigadier met and married Fiona. Fiona and he had one child, conceived after the "London Event", whom they named Kate.” In other words, just after The Web of Fear when The Brigadier was still a colonel. It’s all here in the relationship section. Go look. Such information was established in Downtime, Realtime Pictures VHS Whogasm of the 1990s in which the Brig, Sarah Jane and Victoria do battle with Great Intelligence along with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, who would later reappear in Daemos Rising. When I read all of that, reader I screamed.

I’ve seen Downtime, of course I have. Daemos Rising too, but I didn’t make the connection. Partly it’s because of the change in casting, Beverley Cressman replaced by Gemma Redgrave in the first historic appearance from the Redgrave/Richardson dynasty and yet it’s her. Even the back story, what there is of it checks out. This is huge. NuWho’s replete with knowing references to the wilderness years, the ongoing storm and kronk burgers mostly, but this is a character from back then walking around, talking, being funny, on a Saturday night. It’s the present show experimentally plunging its hand in time and grabbing what was once fanon and replacing the f with a c, nuWho equivalent of putting Nyota Uhura on the credits to nuTrek. Did Gemma know? I like to picture her doing some research watching Downtime and wondering whether Kate’s son Gordon’ll be putting in an appearance.

Of course to the not we and probably some of the we, and certainly this we during the episode it was just a lovely reference, so remarkably well chosen, it's own power of three as this Kate embodies the Brigadier in her charge of the military, the Doctor as the scientific advisor and Liz Shaw with her intelligence, dry wit and chemistry with the Time Lord. Originally played by an actress called Beverley Cressman in the original stories, Gemma Redgrave also looks physically similar, I think, chronologically the correct age too, which somehow makes this bit of continuity all the more spectacular. Let’s hope this is the start of a new legacy and a new returning character, it certainly feels that way, and all the better because she doesn’t seem to have an agenda, she’s just a friend for the Doctor, someone to help him back on Earth going forward, a more permanent link to UNIT.

But this is an episode which is confident about the show’s mythology, entirely blasé about dropping squee encouraging references to Gallifrey and Zygons, also coming to terms with its own recent history by offering what amounts to a love letter to the Russell T Davies era with its celebrity cameos, family members on contemporary earth, UNIT HQ under the Tower of London and international newscasters announcing impending doom, though with Sophie Raworth stepping in for Trinity Wells (and there’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever type). It’s also an element of Doctor Who that it can lurch from one week looking a little bit lost, not quite sure what it’s supposed to be for to entirely at the top of its powers the next, entertaining us just as it always has. I think we can all imagine Russell chortling his way through this, oh so tempted to email Ben and Steven with some script pages he’s thrown together at 3am.

It’s also one of those moments when the franchise takes a breath and reaffirms its core tropes, alien invasions, companions, the implications of time travel and the Doctor and in subtle ways underscores that no matter how many elements change some do stay the same, “trad” when it wants to be, “experimental” when it needs to. However often we vote the likes of Androzani and Blink to the top of appreciation lists, secretly we’re more likely to stick Terror of the Autons or Resurrection of the Daleks on for comfort Who and why such stories tend be chosen to introduce a new incarnation (Spearhead from Space, Robot, Rose) or reboot them (Attack of the Cybermen, Remembrance of the Daleks). Arguably Dinosaurs on a Spaceship attempted something similar for the base under siege story, but there was too much unruly narrative interference for that to truly work as is often the case in bases under seige.

The cubes are classic Davies territory too actually, like the Atmos and Adipose slimming plan taking an object that might otherwise seem perfectly innocuous and turning it deadly by extemporising its core thematic element. What are these Shakri cubes but Apple products taking to their horrific conclusion, their sleek black surfaces revealing a range of apps that aren’t useful in and of themselves but testing us, testing our reactions. True, there’s a slight Arthur C Clarke element to them, but whereas the monoliths were engaged in controlling our development Silence-style, these are all about removing our infestation of the planet a third at a time, a nod to the blood connection in The Christmas Invasion. Imagine if you happened coincidentally in your life happen to be in the A+ blood group and standing next to a cube at the literally heart stopping moments. Sucks to live in the Whoniverse.

Also for the third week running we’re faced with a maniacal villain, this time in the shape of Steven Berkoff doing an impression of a dying Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi when he was still played by Sebastian Shaw. Berkoff’s strangely muted as Professor Shanks though he still retains his thousand mile stare, the deep reservoir of mock hatred which you just know he also drags out when a waiter misunderstands his drink order at Stringfellows (or wherever these actors drink now) (I’m really out of touch). The Shakri are a surprise. Unlike Kate they feel like some ancient piece of Who lore but the TARDIS Index File has nothing (or at least it didn’t when I began writing all this which was so long ago now the editors have slipped in put up the inevitable entry), this is brand new Gallifreyan mythology, ready to be whispered to the time tots living just on the edges of The Deadly Assassin.

The most unique element of the episode, at least in television terms is the temporal duration of events. With the exception of Turn Left, I can’t think of another Doctor Who story in which the POV of the characters stretches quite this long, well over a year and even longer if you include the Doctor’s TARDIS jaunts. Building on Pond Life, Chibnall underscores just how different the relationship between the Eleventh Doctor and these companions is, though it was established in the Eighth Doctor novels that he left his companion Sam at a Greenpeace Festival for three years before coming back for her with many adventures and other friends in between. Unlike most other companions for whom home becomes just another way station, Amy and Rory are there to be picked up for adventures and japes before being dropped off again in their “normal” lives.

It’s rare that the effects that has on their aging process has been much considered. Neither seems to be much older, yet we’re told that they’ve been travelling with the Doctor for ten years, or at least for them it's ten years since Leadworth. Does that mean they’re now physically ten years older themselves or has the TARDIS kept them young? Did I miss a line about how their friends are noticing them getting older? It’s mildly confusing but in a good way and depending what happens next week, show some companions naturally leaving the Doctor, growing up, there’s a metaphor for childhood here, I’m sure, not least with the Looking Glass reference. But the return of voiceover Amy, last heard in The Beast Below, her second episode must be significant too. As we also know from the Davies era, when a companion’s talking to us, grimness is sure to follow, with words not said and crying on beaches and not in the Bette Midler sense.

As is so often the case, Amy carries the emotional weight in this episode and Rory stumbles into trouble. But the clear winner is Mark Williams as Brian Williams another in a line of family members left behind, loyal, dependable, and like Wilfred Mott, heartbreaking (“You’ve been in here for four days?” “Someone needs to water the plants?” etc). We might ask where Augustus and Tabatha Pond stand on all this, especially since they’re not at the wedding anniversary. Having returned them to the universe it seems cruel and unusual that they should be forgotten. But Brian wasn’t apparently at the wedding so perhaps they’re not on speaking terms. Families can be like that especially when there’s a potential class or geographical divide. For some reason I imagine them falling out one Christmas evening during the engagement over a game of Trivial Pursuit and Professor X not having been created by Perry Station (a legendary error in the first edition).

No wonder the Doctor wants to hang out, that he can’t quit them. After all the lurches into darkness in recent weeks (THE DOCTOR DOES NOT USE GUNS) (yes, alright unless he does), he’s in surprisingly buoyant mood and although you could argue that him time tripping in the middle is like a surgeon sodding off for a game of Angry Birds in the middle of a particularly baffling operation, it’s the first time in weeks we’ve met the Eleventh Doctor from earlier seasons, funny, extemporaneous and without a shred of moral ambiguity short of some selfishness in wanting to keep in touch with his friends even though it may be bad for them. This shows in Matt’s performance. He knows how to play this Doctor, the friend to children, singular in purpose, frustrated when the answer doesn’t immediately present itself. Fish fingers and custard. Fish fingers and custard.

But this is no retread of The Lodger.  This is a Doctor more engaged with the human world, even to the point of playing Wii games and staining fences. Partly the writer's helped structurally, those earlier episodes were character pieces, whereas this is much more plot based, but it’s also because his character's more comfortable in the Pond's company. They know him and to an extent he doesn’t need to show off, even if he can’t help himself sometimes. That’s when you know you have really good friends. You can just be yourself and you know you’re not being judged or they know you well enough that when you aren’t being yourself there’s a reason for that too. Though we await the moment when Amy bothers to ask him why the main credits are visibly getting murkier or the in-verse reasons for it.

All of this is shot with a suitably cinematic eye by Douglas Mackinnon, a directing callback to the Davies era, his previous work for the series having been Sontaran story from series four. From the opening moments the camera drifts up the brickwork of the Pond’s house, makes corridors seems far longer than they should be and shoots the world from the boxes point of view, imbuing them with a presence for the viewer mirroring their creeping into human society and arguably in a more seamless way than the ghosts that turned out to be Cybermen back in the mid-noughties (and now you feel old). Amid the lavish sets and trips abroad of the episodes around it, The Power of Three could have been the poorer, cheaper cousin but not a bit of it. Indeed with its shifts through time, teasing stories elsewhere, in its own way it’s even more visually complex.

Arguably the weakest element of the episode is the conclusion of the A-plot, like some episodes from the Davies era never quite living up to the preceding half hour and too easily repaired by the Doctor’s magic wand and the bizarre notion of starting a few billion hearts well after their owners have keeled over. At least in The Christmas Invasion when the Doctor pressed the big red button, there's sword fighting and a satsuma to come. Here we have an explosion, which oddly looks like its killed the humans captured by the Shakri, unless we’re expected to assume they’re already dead. Unless The Power of Three’s an even cleverer script and the A-plot is really the companion’s choice, everything else part of the methodology, with their dive back into the vortex and many spin-off adventures still to be written and like The Eleventh Hour, the show’s commenting on its own anticlimactic nature.

No matter. From unlikeliest of sources, The Power of Three more than makes up for the missteps of recent weeks and increases my excitement for next week’s New York story. As I said earlier, one of the reasons I love this franchise is that you can have a couple of episodes you haven’t enjoyed and yet know that somewhere along the line it’ll snap back into focus and be the show you hope it always can be. But as to how the Ponds will leave, we simply don’t know, and the trailer offers few clues. Perhaps Rory’ll be zapped by an Angel. Perhaps Amy, who’ll become the girl who waited again. Perhaps it’ll be the Doctor and we’ll have a couple of him taking the slow way through the 20th along with Captain Jack. Did anyone else wonder what Torchwood made of the little boxes? Or Sarah Jane and gang? If tonight’s episode was a reminder of anything, it’s that it’s all connected.

Casting Twelve Prime Ministers.

Film  You will have all seen by now that Helen Mirren's returning to her role as Elizabeth II in a new play by Peter Morgan (writer of The Queen, Frost/Nixon and all of the Tony Blair dramss) which will investigate the weekly meetings successive prime ministers have had with the monarch.

This isn't a film yet, but if probably will be, so it's important to start thinking about casting now, from Churchill to Cameron and the best approach would seem to be recall some actors who've previously had successes in these very roles, and a few others.

Sir Winston Churchill - Ian McNeice.
Sir Anthony Eden - Robert Bathurst
Harold Macmillan - Patrick Stewart
Alec Douglas-Home - Michael Kitchen
Harold Wilson - John Sessions
Edward Heath - Michael Cochrane
James Callaghan - Michael Gambon
Margaret Thatcher - Meryl Streep
John Major - Martin Freeman
Tony Blair - Michael Sheen
Gordon Brown - David Morrissey
David Cameron - Rupert Graves

Streep vs Mirren as Thatch vs her Madge.  Someone needs to start collecting their pennies together now.

Adventures with the Wife in Space. The Book.

TV  Neil Perryman, erstwhile editor of my old haunt Behind The Sofa and current transcriber (and so much more besides) of Adventures with the Wife in Space, an epic project in which he's showing the entirety of broadcast classic Who to his spouse Sue announced today that he's scored a publishing deal with Faber and Faber to turn their experiences into a book.

At the bottom of their latest adventure, The Visitation, Neil explains that this won't be a simple republication of the blog, but a whole new chunk of text, "the book will be, in a nutshell, the story of me, Sue and Doctor Who. Part memoir, part confessional, part therapy, the book will – I hope! – complement the journey we are still taking."

Well, this is excellent news especially since it's with a publishing name which gives it some extra kudos.  The book's already available to buy here though its not published until August 2013 in time for the anniversary.  If only I could also set my PVR for their inevitable appearance on BBC Breakfast too.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
the Bluecoat (2)

Art  This year perennial Biennial venue the Blue Coat (Chambers) has been doubly utilised to include the main information centre for the Biennial, a big red reception counter installed in the entrance hall opposite the building’s own. It’s a clever choice since like the Rapid Hardware spot in 2010 it puts the Biennial at the heart of the city and also in one of our most popular existing galleries. Plus it already has excellent amenities and while there was something remarkable about the garden shed and tables last time, it’s nonetheless useful to have a locker to leave your shopping in and somewhere decent to go to the toilet. As ever for the Biennial, the Blue Coat shifts its focus from a group shows with loads of participating artists to just a few with generally large scale installations.

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The Song Dynasty in China stretched chronologically between 960 and 1279 and is generally regarded as one humanity's development spurts towards what we regard as modern civilisation. It was the first government to issue paper money, the first to establish a permanent navy, the first to use gunpower and first to find true north via a compass. The Wikipedia entry is massive, a cornucopia of “That too? What and that too?” as it becomes apparent thatwe’ve also them to thank for key developments in forensic science and the smelting of iron utilising coal instead of the less potent charcoal. In artistic terms, the Song Dynasty also further developed the art of landscape painting and it’s the elaborate woodcut on papyrus work of artists like Guo Xi and Cui Bai which influence the work of Biennial exhibitor Sun Xun or at least it seems so judging from the photographs.

Xun’s installation, Ancient Film inhabits much of the main corridor of the Bluecoat’s exhibition space, with banners from floor to ceiling. On the window wall, these are covered in dozens and dozens of large, round beautifully intricate paintings of nightingales in various positions. The banners opposite offer over a hundred watery landscapes in the style of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai’s woodcut from the 1930s. In front of these are the giant Song period landscapes, their yellowy parchment contrasting with the pastel blues of the waters clashing. The effect is rather like standing on the set of a Zhang Yimou film, House of Flying Daggers or Hero, assassins hiding behind corners ready to jump out and utilise the banners in some acrobatic fight scene.

It surprisingly took me many minutes to realise, in conjunction with the work’s title what Xun’s achieved here. He’s using ancient Chinese art techniques to produce film strips, each of the pictures, of birds or waves, a frame in a much longer movie. Those aren’t dozens and dozens of nightingales, but the same nightingale in dozens and dozens of positions, their disparate motion indicating the speed of flight, the drops in frames between wing changes. Stand before the sea and run your eyes from ceiling to floor and see those waves crashing into one another. It’s animation and a return to the very early days of the moving image as acrobats tumbled through the slats of a zoetrope or Mybridge experimented with capturing the movements of animals, strips of images which were subsequently filmised too. Hence, Ancient Film.

Glancing at Xun’s biography indicates that much of his work is usually found in short film. He’s attended most of the major festivals and some of the minor ones so this is a relatively rare shift into static imagery, at least it seems that way until we visit gallery four upstairs where we find the animations our minds have previously imagined. Projected on a wall amid similar line drawings on the white box surfaces are the waves we’ve just witnessed downstairs. Except before long we realise there are interlopers, sea monsters, giant turtles and dragons emerging from the water, attacking one another then returning to the two dimensional depths of the ocean. There’s no story to speak of; like those zoetropes of old, these animals entertain us on a loop, a titanic struggles without end.

How does all of this fit within the themes of Biennial? The accompanying notes suggest Xun is using “traditional and new media forms of expression to negotiate the complex position of ‘host’ in contemporary China” though truth be told I can’t quite see the connection. Simplistically it might be indicating that in the homes we frequently welcome visitors, static images have given way to televisual entertainment  but otherwise I’m genuinely baffled. Perhaps it’s extemporised further in the Biennial catalogue. I just have my pamphlet to hand. But it’s still the piece at the Bluecoat which I’m most impressed with because it marries together ancient artistic techniques with the original tentative steps in creating filmic entertainments and on that basis it works brilliantly, bridging paradigm shifts that are hundreds of years apart.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
The Cunard Building (1)

Art  One of the Three Graces on Liverpool’s waterfront, The Cunard Building was built just under a hundred years ago as the headquarters of the eponymous steamship company providing transatlantic crossings.  The ground floor, currently occupied by the Biennial, provided space for passengers departing and returning from abroad.  Just as aboard ship, these areas were divided into the three classes of passenger (first, second and third), as well as offering a currency exchange, storage and booking desks.  All of the partitions and counters are still evident despite the building having since been owned and occupied by the Prudential and subsequent public and private sector organisations.  It’s currently being overseen by British Heritage who’re in the process of preserving the building.  The Wikipedia has plenty of information about the architectural aspects which they'll be grappling with.

As in previous years when the Biennial pours itself into the shell of a building, part of the fun of a visit is seeing contemporary art in such an incongruous setting.  The original plan was for the visitor to enter via the door opposite the Mersey but it was discovered that it creates a wind tunnel through the building so the usual entrance on Water Street has been utilised instead.  Walking up towards the reception where the building's usual security staff sit, past an automatic shoe-shine machine, the visitor themselves, or at least this visitor, almost feels like the eponymous unexpected guest, which makes little sense since it’s the Biennial which has invited us in.  The exhibition occupies both of the giant rooms on the ground floor, the work placed both in the larger carpeted edifaces and smaller more intimate rooms at the circumference which are ideal for the display of video art.
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On Mother’s Day, 8th May 1977, artist Suzanne Lacy began a three week project in Los Angeles focusing on the too frequent sexual assaults on the city's women.  The happening included performance work and installations an also events outside creative arts, speeches, interviews, self-defense classes and “speak-outs” in which participants shared their traumatic experiences.  As part of the event, a map of LA was installed on the mall outside City Hall, across which Lacy stencilled the word “RAPE” in the locations of attacks reported to the police for the three week duration of the overall event (ninety).  The map can be viewed here and vividly makes public what’s too often considered a private matter.  It’s shocking in the way this kind of art should be and as a commenter beneath notes, these were “just” the rapes that had been reported.

In 2012, Lacy unfortunately had to repeat the exercise as Three Weeks in January which included a similar map and much the same mix of speeches and discussions.  One of the events, Storying Rape, gathered LA’s Deputy Mayor, a police chief, the founder of a rape treatment centre, writers, teachers and journalists at Los Angeles City Hall to discuss how the narrative of rape is treated in each of their disciplines, in civic and media circles.  As part of the Biennial, Lacy is co-ordinating similar discussions with young people, politicians and community leaders through local organisation, but it’s a recording of the original conversation which offers her most tangible contribution to the Biennial and is the most vivid, perhaps even the most important piece in Cunard Buildings.  It’s subtler perhaps than Lacy’s maps, but no less shocking as it crystallises just how prevalent rape is in society.

Clearly edited from a much longer discussion due to some obvious continuity "errors", Storying Rape is still fifty minutes long.  It’s projected in high definition on a rather large screen in a room just off the main exhibition space.  I sat at the back on the carpet and took my shoes off.  I knew it was important to be comfortable though the marble walls with their pointy architectural features meant I wasn’t too comfortable which was probably for the best.  For the duration there were few visitors.  A couple of pensioners visited briefly but left quickly because there are no chairs.  Some students wandered in and stood directing in front of the screen but some wiggling around and neck-craning meant I didn’t miss much.  They took some photos but looked decided uncomfortable with the subject matter.  A couple of other gallery visits walked straight through headed out of the exit.  No one else stayed.

On screen, in a large equally darkened room, the participants are gathered around a spotlighted square table, cables strewn everywhere with stand microphones close enough to pick up their voices.  Some are dressed in clothes, which represent their respective organisations.  Police Chief Charles Beck is in his uniform.  Jodie Evans is wearing the official t-shirt of her organisation CODEPINK along with pink-earings in the shape of the CND sign (it’s a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations).  Around them, technicians work to record the event and what must be organisers and the artist herself tap away on laptops, some tweeting, and beyond them a small audience.  It’s shot simply, gathering participants angularly in frame like an Ozu film only now and then cutting away to provide a lateral pan of the whole room or a master of everyone at the table.

The result is rather like watching a kind of wired (as in cables rather than Oliver Reed) version of the old After Dark discussion programme which Channel 4 was brave enough to broadcast in the 80s.  A host, award winning NBC investigative reporter Ana Garcia, leads the discussion from introductory statements through in the implications of various topics through to closing remarks.  There’s a meta element however in that the participants indicate in their comments that they’re aware that they’re being filmed for an art piece and that some rules have been dictated as to the content.  Some of the participants seem themselves to have been victims of rape but are not allowed to describe their own experience, sticking only to the wider cultural context informed by their profession instead (with one stopping another at one point as she almost breaks the rule).

What have I learned?  It’s important to say before answering that at least in terms of how men control the narrative, my MA film course was the eye-opener as I discovered then just how much of the contemporary discourse on women in society is dictated by men and how stories are primarily told from the male perspective and predictably that must include rape and sexual violence.  But what is illuminating is the extent to which that then extends to women who have decision-making authority.  Writer/director Julie Hebert says she's been sitting on script for a rape drama for years and although it’s resulted in her receiving other work and producers reflecting privately to her their own experiences, none of them feel that they’re brave enough to put the script into production.  Similarly, Garcia is well aware that the television news narrative only features rape if it’s in conjunction with some other violent crime.

Because of rape near non-representation in news, fiction is the primary source and although during the 80s the fact of someone’s rape would be treated with seriousness and sensitivity, albeit in a teen drama, most recently with a couple of exception (Private Practice is mentioned and The Sopranos), it’s become a plot point and most often with the apparent victim being revealed to be offering false testimony distorting the actual number of false accusations.  Such distortions are a result of commercial television's act structure forever asking "what's the twist"?  Similarly it becomes part of a “romantic” sub-plot as the benevolent male protagonist scoops in to save his lady from the evil rapist (which rather makes, to choose a facile example, the climactic scene in Back To The Future all the more uncomfortable not to mention events in the sequels).  It’s also noted how too often a rape is from the male perspective, POV shots outside windows and the like.

There’s also much talk of the language of rape, of "victims" and "survivors", of "suspects" and "perpetrators".  At one point, Garcia is criticised about how some of her colleagues on television news will often stand in front of an emergency ward and describe a rape victim as having “not having been hurt” or “not in pain” which may be physically true but ignores the psychological effects which can go on for weeks or years.  Surveys are mentioned, in which victims of rapes see themselves as somehow being guilty because they "let the rape happen", they didn’t "take the right precautions", too easily followed the “handsome man” (a description used repeatedly) back to his apartment, that their naivety led to the assault, that it was their fault for "letting him take advantage".  Dr Jackson Katz notes that there’s also a general assumption that it’s only women who can be victims of rape, when male rape is also common.

That brief synopsis barely scratches the surfaces of what's discussed and certainly doesn’t capture the personalities around the table, the dynamic of which is interesting in and of itself, some more talkative than others, some more direct in their contribution than others.  There’s a surprising amount of laughter.  It’s a grim topic but there’s an element of relief as the participants can see how their relevant experience is replicated across the various disciplines.  Unlike the average episode of Question Time, there’s also some genuine respect and trust and little interrupting, everyone having a fair amount of time to make their point.  When interesting people have interesting things to say it doesn’t need to be visually arresting and I barely noticed the length, which can be unusual with video art which can have the capacity to dribble onward way past the point of having annunciated the artist's intentions.

It’s certainly changed how I feel about how rape is treated in public.  Even on British television it’s poorly represented, only really reported in news as a statistic when crime figures are released and similar to the US in conjunction with other crime.  Not being a fan of soaps I can’t comment on how its dealt with there but I’m still ashamed that my favourite franchise has dealt with it so recklessly in the past; it was always difficult to quite sympathise with Owen in Torchwood after he effectively administered an alien date rape drug to a girl and her boyfriend in the opening episode during what was ostensibly supposed to be a comedy scene featuring a magic love potion.  Indeed love potions in general become uncomfortable narrative devices especially if they’re being administered by a man to a woman or as was the case then another man too.

But what makes Storying Rape art and why is it good art?  Intent is important, the participants being aware that they’re in an art piece, the discussion having been organised by an artist who wanders at the very end under the credits for her Hitchcockian cameo.  The editing also means that Lacy has included those subject areas that she’s most interested in discarding the rest.  It’s good art because unlike some other pieces in the space its manages the apparently tricky balance of a thematically rich idea well executed, in which Lacy has thought about how the work will be experienced, received and understood and crucially knows that it wouldn’t have the same potency on television.  Like the rest of her work it puts an otherwise “ignored” topic into the public domain were strangers can find themselves being assessed by other strangers based on their reaction to the work.

"Women's sport could be a real opportunity for the BBC"

Sport For once, I'm on the same page as a BBC director general.  Here's what I said back in August:
"Well, forget about it, BBC. You're losing the battle. Instead, why not take the rather liberal step of giving Sky what you can get away with and then, rather like you do with drama and comedy development plough that money into building some of these other Olympic sports from the bottom up, showing live coverage of these Olympic sports with the same quality of presentation you bring to athletics championships, whose qualifying meets you did show us. The BBC should change the game. Or rather games.


From there we move into other sports: shooting, volleyball, cycling, rowing, swimming, sailing even badminton and not just the major annual tournaments but the bits in between show us what happens to Wiggins or rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning do next. I had little clue who these Gold medal winners were before the Olympics began and that feels wrong, especially since their achievements are no less incredible than even the runners and throwers who do get some kind of national televisual recognition and don't require internet research to follow."
Here's what he's said in today's Radio Times:
"Entwistle, who started his job on Monday, said that the BBC could not compete with Sky to buy the rights to some sports – but added that he believed there may be an opportunity tap into the growing interest in women's sport, where the cost of buying up the rights is likely to be lower.

"While I am director general, the BBC will carry on having a serious commitment to sport. But look at the latest BT/Sky Premier League deal, that comes in at about £6.5m per football game. We are simply no longer in that class," he said, in an interview in the latest edition of the Radio Times.

"Look at growing interest in women's sport and what opportunities might there be for us in the future as different sports come to the public's attention. Women's sport could be a real opportunity for the BBC," Entwistle added.
Hi, George, thank you for reading.

Liverpool Biennial 2012: Introduction

Art  Where to begin?  The theme.  This year’s theme is hospitality, but unlike previous Liverpool Biennials it has been decided to branch out into three words for the title which is The Unexpected Guest with the various invited artists and venues producing work inspired by that theme like an episode of This American Life fuelled by contemporary art.  Some might considered how newcomers are treated, the extent to which we’re prepared to extend our hospitality and how hospitality is accorded from culture to culture.  Some might simply utilise it as a way of expressing their own ideas however tenuously.

In previous years, I’ve attended press and private views, rushed between all the venues in the first couple of hours or days, a blur of art, and although there’s a certain evolutionary element to this approach, that the memory retains the best art and discards the rest, it also means that sometimes, just sometimes, the more subtle work becomes forgotten anyway.  It’s worth noting too that I almost volunteered this time too, attending the recruitment meetings and half a briefing before deciding that I’d miss too much if I was working in a single venue.  I’m sure I made the right decision in the end, not to volunteer.  I’m sure I did.

Either way my strategy this year will be to visit just one or two venues each visit day and take my time.  This has worked well in the past and some of my favourite visits in 2010 were to single pieces or venues and spending hours wandering, watching, listening.  As I discovered this morning that also means that a whole experience of a piece isn’t necessarily marred by other patrons blistering through taking a dozen photographs with a camera but not actually spending much time looking at the work before moving on, the beep and click of their flash still evident in the distance.  Almost.  If the Biennial teaches us anything, it’s tolerance.

The other choice is to vist them in the order of the address list in the official Biennial pamphlet beginning with The Cunard Building (1) and concluding at Liverpool John Moore’s University Art & Design Academy (27).  My guess is that with the doubling up of a few of the smaller venues this won’t actually take twenty-seven days but it does mean that I’ll not be seeing some of the “main” venues for a few weeks.  This does not mean I’m ignoring the Independents but I’m going to be choosier.  Though it’s worth noting how many of the indies from two years ago now have official status though it’s good that they retain their separation of powers.

There will be blogging, not quite as intensively as in 2010, but I’m going to try and write something about each of the official venues but with the rule that I can only mention a single piece, my favourite piece, unless it’s the only piece in which case I’ll busk.  Placing all the artists who happen to be in a particular venue on a psychological competition footing is probably unfair but it does mean I’ll have an extra element of interaction, which should focus the mind or my mind or what’s left of it.  Full details of all the work is available on the website, where the venues are in alphabetical order, which at this point is disconcerting.

All of which will probably go out of the window if life happens or it becomes apparently that I might as well do five venues in a day, that it’s easier just to visit the all the spaces in a cluster on the map or I have a burning desire to promote more than one work at one of those venues or spaces.  I’m not entirely sure what this introduction’s been about, or why I've decided on these rules to be honest.  I suppose that when we’re invited into someone’s home, most of us have a natural curiosity, are a bit judgemental but nevertheless follow society’s rules about not stealing the television, utilising the lavatory and thanking the host profusely.  Seems right to attend this year’s Biennial in with same spirit.

the Video Recordings Act 1984

Film  Despite all of my plans to save it until after completing various other viewing projects and displacement activities, I finally watched The Avengers (Assemble) this evening and can categorically state it's my favourite film of the year, leapfrogging over The Dark Knight Rises which looks decided po-faced in comparison and Margaret's extended version which held the title in the week since I've seen it, despite its own release slippage.

Conscious that there may still be a few people who haven't seen the thing I'll not talk too much more because it's best experienced with the visceral surprise of not quite believing how good it is, except to say that it's a tragedy Phase Two doesn't have a Black Widow film in its mix (even though it could be made comparatively cheaply an Elektra sized budget) and that all the other studios with Marvel licenses are stupid not to jump on its coat tails.

Of course the more curious element on the BD release is the whole extras situation which I previously muttered about here.  The ensuing box set is indeed a collection of the previously released blu-rays without their supplementary discs (some of which were just 3D or dvd editions anyway) but it is rather gorgeous as a piece of merchandise and seeing all of those films together does still feel like "mission accomplished".

There isn't a commentary.  Sainsburys does indeed have the monopoly on the longer documentary, what amounts to an extended trailer for which is on the Avengers disc along with a really funny new One Shot, an extremely funny gag real and some deleted scenes which for once are entirely superfluous to the main feature and explain for themselves why they were cut, mainly because they're character beats which should be in sequels.

But there is hope, and in an unlikely form.  It turns out that one of the scenes has been cut or at least has an alternative version of a scenes, something which will immediately jump out at those of you who've seen it once, twice or more times than me.  It appears that while the BBFC passed the film without cuts not all European countries did and that's the version which has been released across the continent and to us.

Which means that the version that's in the shops hasn't been seen or passed by the BBFC which means it could be in contravention of the Video Recordings Act 1984, ironically because it's less full on than the cut that appeared in cinemas.  According to this tweet, the BBFC are investigating which indicates that this isn't something they were aware of until they presumably received a barrage of communications today.

As I see it there are a two options or results:

(1)  The fantasy:  Disney are in contravention of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and have to remove the discs from sale, a potential option being to replace them with the US version which is being released next week, the upside for the consumer being more extras including the commentary which apparently wasn't being included due it "not being recorded in time" with those of us who have the illegal disc being offered replacements of that edition.

Problem:  the extra extras also haven't been passed by the BBFC including said commentary so that would have to wait.  In addition the discs would still have to be manufactured to reflect the BBFC certification rather than the MPAA which will be hugely expensive and wouldn't necessarily be much quicker than producing the same bog standard disc but with a different transfer on it.

(2)  Reality:  Disney submit the new cut to the BBFC for rushed reclassification.  The BBFC decide that the current 12 certificate is still valid so Disney can just keep on selling the same discs.  Problem solved, for them at least.  Unless the BBFC decide to fuck 'em and award it a PG because it's less violent.  I can't imagine Loki's use of colourful metaphor is likely to have much relevance and the swearing is surprisingly low key.

At this point it looks like I'll be hanging around around a bit for the US version (assuming its multi-region) to filter onto ebay at cheaper prices.  Or the inevitable UK double dip edition when it turns up in Amazon's sale in a few year's time ... [many links via]

Again we ask, does Joss know about all of this?

Updated!  Disney's line (as linked from this Whedonesque thread) is that the censored version on the disc is the same as the one in the cinemas which is pretty bizarre given that people who saw the film multiple times in auditoriums will remember full well what they saw so they're trying to convince a couple of hundred thousand people that they didn't see what they thought they saw.  Plus the BBFC includes it as part of their assessment.

It's not uncommon for people to be convinced of having seen gruesome scenes in films.  Someone did a survey once of what people thought was the most gruesome moment in cinema and many listed the ear reduction in Reservoir Dogs during which, crucially, Tarantino pans away so we're left imagining the act.  Psycho's shower scene has a similar effect during which we don't see the knife enter Janet Leigh.

The really odd thing is that the story broke today after presumably the check discs went out to magazine and website reviewers and they don't seem to have clocked anything because if they had we would have heard about it before people went into shops to buy a copy.  More to come on this presumably and a shame because its overshadowing the film as a piece of art in a similar way to the Let The Right One In subtitle debarkle of a few years ago ... I'm off to bed.

Updated 18/09/2012  Just to complicate matters a bit more the BBFC have issued a statement saying the information for the DVD/BD on their website accidentally replicated the ones for the theatrical release and that the DVD/BD version was the one resubmitted, which knocks out out the VRA issue sadly.  But the "censor" details say that it was "passed without cuts" which suggests it was this edited version that was submitted, the edited version which Disney are still saying was the version in the cinemas even through the BBFC website helpfully mentions that exact scene in its theatrical notes related to the original 12A certification and there are thousands of fans who all can't be wrong about the evidence of their eyes.

Updated 19/09/2012  Speargate tumbles on.  Bleeding Cool reports a new statement from Disney which says that "another region’s elements were inadvertently used to create the UK in home release which minimally altered this scene in the film".  So indeed it's not the same film on the BD as appeared in cinemas as was previously stated.  "We thank our fans for their vigilance in recognizing this and apologize for the mix up" before saying nothing about whether the title's going to be withdrawnor whether we'll all be able to get a replacement with the correct version of the film on.  Or the US version with the commentaries and so forth by way of apology [via].

Includes Miranda Sawyer.

Plus! I can't attend because I'm working, but The Double Negative is hosting a Liverpool Biennial 2012 related event this Saturday between 2 and 5 you might be interested in. If you're not working. And local:


The Medium is The Medium
2-5pm Saturday 22nd September 2012
The Blade Factory, Camp and Furnace, 67 Greenland Street, Liverpool L1 0BY


A day of expert debate around why critical writing is important in a mature and thriving arts landscape.
Curated by The Double Negative and Liverpool Biennial as part of the Biennial Public Programme 2012.

At a time of rapid technological and cultural change, we increasingly take to new media for information. With everyone able to write or start a blog, where does this leave traditional art criticism? The Medium is The Medium asks whether open participation points to more democracy and a richer debate. Special guests include Miranda Sawyer (The Culture Show, The Guardian, image attached), Cherie Federico (Editor, Aesthetica Magazine), Rachel Jones (writer, The Double Negative), Edgar Schmitz (lecturer in Critical Studies, Goldsmiths) and Franceso Manacorda (Artistic Director Tate Liverpool, image attached).

Read Creative Tourist's article on the event, 'Liverpool Biennial: art blogs vs the critics':
The list of speakers is below. Includes Miranda Sawyer.