Prince is dead. Possibly.

Music Best FARK comment ever. Prince died during the Purple Rain tour in 1985 and was replaced by a lookalike called Christopher. Apparently:
"The first album featuring the new Prince was "Around the World in a Day", on the track "The Ladder". His voice is noticeably lower in pitch on this song. He also insisted on re-editing the song "Temptation" to be less "sex oriented" and turned it to a religiously-oriented song of judgment, instead of the testament to sexual indulgence it was originally.

"Hello" is a Prince song reworked into a Christopher song, and renamed to "introduce" Christopher to the world, and describe his introduction to being famous. "I tried to tell them that I didn't want to sing..." It was also a response to Christopher's hesitation to join "Live Aid" because he wasn't quite ready for an event so close to Prince's former friends and colleagues in the music industry."
Related: Kevin Smith's meets Prince. Maybe.

Doctor Who's The Bells of Saint John. A Prequel.

TV Here we are, the week before the big day and a prequel, well, prologue, but no one says prologue any more. For it to be a prequel it would have be released after the episode went out, like the iTunes ones last year, but that seems to have been a cock-up anyway having originally been planned to go out beforehand. But look below, new Who, and unlike the iTunes ones, completely free and legally embeddabble:

Bless. The final revelation isn't that surprising given the Doctor's recent form so it's most likely to be a nod to fish fingers and custard rather than writer Steven Moffat running out of ideas. Possibly. It's beautifully played nonetheless, Matt seemingly entirely natural as he always does when talking to children. This is a tolerant Doctor who enjoys their company and their impertinent questions.  That was always one of the oddities of Tom Bakers era; off screen kids flocked to him, but on screen, because of the nature of the show, his Doctor barely spoke to them.

It's still slightly odd that when he says he's lost a friend, he's not referring to Amy but this is all part of the perpetual motion engine at the heart of the franchise, that the Doctor moves on. Eventually.  But he does look so much older.  Like all of the other Doctor actors he's aged into the role, but unlike Bill or Tom his wariness is part of the performance it's not because of ill health or disagreements with the management.  Nevertheless, it'll be interesting to see how much of that will be worked into the show ongoing, how much of it will be about his young body wearing a bit thin.

Notice Moffat does offer one clue as to how Clara fits into the universe: unless there's some extra timey-whimey, Clarke's law magic nonsense in the style of Dawn Summers, all of these Claras are born. They have mothers. Or at least this one has. Unless she was adopted. Oh, hold on, even as I'm writing this, I can see that it doesn't really help at all. Ooh.  At this point, however many potential spoilers we're seeing in the press, and all of them seem plausible, but it could plausibly be something else.  Now I'm off to watch the Doctor Who episode of Celebrity Pointless.  One week to go.

Paul Magrs on The Scarlett Empress.

Books It's now (just over) fifteen years since the publication of Paul Magrs classic Doctor Who novel The Scarlett Empress.  On his blog, Paul reminisces about the writing and publication of something which demonstrates that it was always possible to find fertile ground in the "Wilderness" years:
"Much of this book was written in cafe bars in Edinburgh in the summer of 1997. Jeremy had had a big operation and I'd go to visiting hours twice a day at the Victorian hospital and, in the two hour gap between opening hours I'd sit in a cafe scribbling in my Daler and Rowney sketchbooks. I ordered tall, foamy pitchers of iced coffee and sit under a metal table under sprays of exotic flowers. Here I could write to my heart's content and remain undisturbed. I sat very still in order to write a book that was in perpetual motion. It was a restless, gigantic, muddled-up odyssey."
Here's me being very excited about it way back when.  The Propp scene remains in my top ten Who moments of all time.


Nature ABC News recently reported on a Serbian village which is apparently terrified that one of the local vampires from folk law has been wrestled back into existence after the collapse of his home, an old water mill:
"People are very worried. Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people," Miodrag Vujetic, local municipal assembly member, told ABC News. "We are all frightened."

Vujetic said villagers "are all taking precautions by having holy crosses and icons placed above the entrance to the house, rubbing our hands with garlic, and having a hawthorn stake or thorn."
That was published last November but has resurfaced again in recent days though with little new information. Perhaps we'll discover, after the June 7 deadline for activity has past, if their fear was justified.

Lena Dunham on Dogs.

Nature Lena Dunham writes for the New Yorker about her history with canines:
"WWhen I was a child, my greatest dream was to find a box full of puppies. And every shoebox, every discarded Manhattan Mini Storage vessel had the potential to change my life. I knew just what I’d do with the puppies I found: take them home, place them in a corner of my loft bed, give them names like Anastasia and Kristy, and feed them the parts of my dinner I didn’t want. I’d throw them in with my stuffed animals, so you couldn’t tell the plush from the living. I’d keep them in my backpack at school and in my skirts at home. By the time they were fully grown, they would follow me down the streets of SoHo, off-leash. They’d bark at shady characters, and even at my parents when they asked me to do something I didn’t like."
I've sometimes thought about getting a dog, then usually notice that I can barely take care of myself.

WHO 50: 1980:
State of Decay.

TV One of the more random pieces of old school merchandise in my collection is the Pickwick Talking Books audio release of a Terrance Dicks novelisation of State of Decay.

Here’s something which will date some readers. It was bought for me at the closing down sale at Blacklers, the department store in Great Charlotte Street where the Wetherspoons is now, along with a First Byte Joystick Interface for my Acorn Electron.

The TARDIS Datacore explains that my copy is the re-release which split the hour long reading across two cassettes. It also explains why some copies I’ve seen are only on one tape.

What it doesn’t tell me is how it happened. Given the history of Doctor Who, choosing the Vampire gothic State of Decay, the central story in the wider E-Space trilogy for this release is surprising.  It's usually Genesis of the Daleks.

Also surprising is that it isn’t some abridgement of the TARGET novelisation. It’s a completely different script from Dicks (who wouldn’t write the book version for another six months), which simplifies the story, reducing the participation of Adric (which is always to the good).

And who wrote the theme tune? A theme tune which isn’t the familiar Ron Grainer/Delia Derbyshire combo, but some kind of bouncy synth music which I can still dah-dee-dah through having listened to this audio book to death as a child.

When was it recorded? Tom left the role on screen in March 1981 so it must have been before then, but at least during the period when it's pretty much accepted he was psychologically done with the role having realised he and JNT would never see eye to eye.

Yet here he is putting in a professional and elegant vocal performance, even when handed Adric’s dialogue, in a format which would become the model for later audio books, its influence clear in the entire BBC range that was to come.

This was originally released in June 1981, which also looks like a bizarre piece of scheduling from today’s perspective when Eccleston merchandise was being pulled from the shelves almost as soon as he'd regenerated into Tennant.

Essentially, why? Do you know?

Nicholas Briggs's War Against the Laan.

Audio Potentially the least interesting element to notice about Nicholas Briggs's War Against the Laan, which is presumably why I thought it was worth mentioning first, is that it closes out a five-part Tom Baker story. After the first chunk of the narrative, The Sands of Life caught me off guard with its three slightly shorter episodes, I was all tucked up in bed awaiting another three more bursts of adventure, until some way into episode two/five, awaiting the inevitable build up to a cliffhanger I realised it wasn’t happening as the, spoiler alert, situation with dealt with, and the story itself giving way to about twenty minutes worth of interviews.

Is this the first five-part Tom Baker story? In theory Paul Magrs’s AudioGo series are five parters, though they’re more like five linked single episode stories. His television era was all four and six parters. Not that TSOL/WATL conforms to the usual five episode structure established in the Troughton era which amounted to a four parter with some extra running about and being captured in the middle. The first three and second two conform more clearly the split structure of The Seeds of Doom or the average nuWho two parter, each chunk dealing with the same story in a new locale, TSOL in the desert, WATL mostly in Cuthbert’s Conglomerate headquarters.

From the epic to the enclosed, Briggs steers us into the territory of Robert Sheerman’s Jubilee and so Dalek, as the Laan mother captured in the first chunk is subjected to horrific experiments in an attempt by Cuthbert to discover how he can “save” the Earth from them, even though those very experiments are simply angering the Laan and in no way dissuading them from inadvertently destroying the planet through their birthing ritual. Meanwhile Romana and Earth’s new President Sheridan Moorkurk are still in telepathic communication with the Laan and experiencing all of this creature’s pain with the Doctor in the middle trying to work out why these sentient alien paupuses have turned up here in the first place.

Which all sounds a bit messy but is fairly straightforward in the listening thanks to a parallel character arc for the President, a young women thrust into power thanks to a protest vote against the Conglomerate still attempting to square her relative inexperience as a person with her authority as a politician, the story turning on her decision-making abilities and independent thought. While the Doctor is still at the centre of the action, it’s Sheridan’s struggle which gives the story its philosophical teeth, aided extraordinarily by Hayley Atwell’s capacity (yes, Hayley Atwell) to communicate all of these contradictions.

Otherwise my casting comments about the previous episode still stand though there’s some added mystery as to who Cuthbert is, if he is as he seems. The usual suspects have skimmed through the book and volume of my brain (It’s Davros! It’s the Master!) but since this is all supposed to be “in period” its more likely to be something which isn’t so much about personality as status. Interestingly in his post-match interview, David Warner (who really is stonking in the role) says that he only discovered it was recurring at the recording of this one which makes it all the more fascinating. Oh Mr Briggs what are you up to?

When writing about the first half I suggested is was fatally difficult to review because it was only the first half. The second half doesn’t have that problem. It’s charming. It’s still as I said then “pretty generic Doctor Who which fills an hour with some excellent performances, atmospheric sound design and some intrigue” but as anyone who’s watched the television series sometimes will know, that can be devilishly difficult to achieve however many episodes there are. Plus there’s a really ballsy moment when one of his characters recalls the line everyone is thinking at an important moment of the story in a staggering piece of self-awareness.  Only franchises with this history are capable of that.

Doctor Who: War Against the Laan by Nicholas Briggs is out now from Big Finish.  Review copy supplied.

Mona Lisa.

Film For all its critical savaging (35% at Rotten Tomatoes even now) (ouch), I've a real soft spot for Mona Lisa Smile, the 2003 entry iteration of the inspiring teacher genre, substituting dead poets with (mainly) dead painters. The cast list might make it look like the film version an early noughties Vanity Fair young Hollywood fold out cover (most of them are on 2004 which makes it something of a prognostication).

The college featured, Wellesley, found itself at the centre of some controversy during the filming process, as their students and alumni realised how little the story reflected their own experience; the screenwriters had chosen their college the base their entirely fictional story and there was a concern that their general quite liberal history was going to be overridden with an assumption that at a certain point in their history they were a wife factory.

This led to the president of the college releasing this rather remarkable statement, remarkable because instead of simply backing down and doing the usual, the President explains their decision rationally, calmly and though there's a hint of blaming the Hollywood machine for backing them into a corner, listing all of the positive elements which have come out of the experience:
"Opinion has been ranging widely -- at the College and beyond -- about how effectively the movie conveys its message, how accurately it captures the geist of the Fifties, and how resonant its message is today. Many professional critics have faulted the film for a lack of subtlety; many of us have identified liberties taken with the Wellesley College we know. Yet the film does attempt to raise genuine questions about women's life choices: whether one must choose between career and family and how to find one's own path when it may conflict with society's expectations or those of parents, professors, friends."
In other words, it might not have been necessarily our experience, but it was an experience and worth investigating. Towards the end, the President notes that applications for the college have actually increased since the release of the film. I wonder if, now that the film is on dvd and presumably being watched by later generations of impressionable girls, those applications continue to be in great volume even in 2013.

Some addenda to all of that.  A search on the Wellesley website reveals the following.

A "Rocky Horror-style" showing of the film is a key part of pizza and beer social occasions.

Nora Ephron received  an Alumnae Achievement Award in 2006 and described her dislike of the film.

That it continued to be on the student's minds in 2010 especially as they're falling over in the snow.

What a Wookiee.

Film Kitbashed offers a history of Star Wars's Chewbacca and finds a Game of Thrones connection, via an illustration from the cover of Analogue Magazine:
"The drawing, as the cover below, was for a Hugo-nominated novelette by George R.R. Martin which: "[…] deals with the “realities of a very rigid society conflicting with what looks like a pushover primitive tribal society; and we find out where the strength really lies. It’s called ‘And Seven Times Never Kill Man’ (red. drawing its title from a Jungle Book poem by Rudyard Kipling).”  I haven’t found a copy of the story yet, but from the sound of it, the story itself is pretty familiar to the Star Wars universe."
See also modern Beast from the X-Men films.  Ish.

Après-ski Montmartre.

Doctor Who broadcast confirmed.

TV The opening publication, release, broadcast or whatever they're calling things turning up on television now of Doctor Who's season 7, part b, The Bells Of Saint John (which is either episodes six, seven or one depending on who you talk to) (when did it get this complicated) (is this return to 60s confusion part of the anniversary celebrations) will be Saturday 30 March at 6.15-7.00pm attempting to produce a bumper lead in for the launch of the second series of The Voice in much the same way as it was stuck being the warm up act for Over The Rainbow in 2010.

I'm bothering to post this information because people I know in real life who read this blog have asked me when it'll be back.  Now you know.    The BBC's Media Centre has this synopsis:
"The Doctor’s search for Clara Oswald brings him to modern day London, where wifi is everywhere.

"Humanity lives in a wi-fi soup. But something dangerous is lurking in the signals, picking off minds and imprisoning them. As Clara becomes the target of this insidious menace, the Doctor races to save her and the world from an ancient enemy."
Ironically, given the spoilers for the episode already in the air, the first result on Google for the phrase "wi-fi soup", are the good people at Urban Spoon, as though the minutes of the show's tone meeting have gained sentience and are now threatening our reality.

Mona Lisa.

Commerce To India, where an alteration to Mona Lisa apparently has the art world apoplectic:
"The original painting of Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci has remained "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world". At the ongoing Jaipur Art Festival which is underway at the Diggi palace, digitally altered image of Mona Lisa has left the art fraternity fuming. In order to publicize its dairy products, RCDF which is also one of the sponsors of the 5-day event has placed photo shopped posters of Mona Lisa at the venue. To attract artists and art lovers, it has also been re-christened as 'Sarasolisa' from Mona Lisa. Without any prior permission, the dairy officials did this to mingle art with the brand."
Best not direct the quoted artist who's clearly very distressed to this Google Image search with its many hundreds of other examples. Excellent headline nonetheless.

More on the new Hamlet at the RSC.

The RSC has uploaded some videos related to their new production. Firstly, here's Jonathan Slinger talking about the role:

And some audience reaction:

"Absolutely stunning. Absolutely amazing."

Hamlet's Dreams: The Robben Island Shakespeare.

One of the most curious and so most notable objects in last year's British Museum exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world was The Robben Island Bible, the hidden copy of the Alexander edition of the Complete Works which was passed around and inspired the inmates of the prison where Nelson Mandela and his ANC colleagues were held captive.  Throughout, the prisoners left their mark or signature on significant quotes or sections of the plays and in this exploration of the implications the book had for the prisoners, David Schalkwyk suggests that although their connection to the text can sometimes be overstated, its implications as an overall symbol of disobedience cannot.  The main thrust of the book compares the prisoner's experience to Hamlet, comparing quotations and memoir of inmates, Denmark being an emotional prison, with the young prince's speeches, a character's individual experience expressing a collective reality.

Hamlet's Dreams by David Schalkwyk is published by Bloomsbury and is out now.  RRP: £14.99.  ISBN: 978-1441129284.  Review copy supplied.

Mona Lisa.

Torchwood Minisode.

TV Poor Gwen. Rhys has clearly decided to give up his dangerous existence in Torchwood and settled down to a family life of soft furnishings and rugby, leaving her to look after little Anwen alone (unless she and Captain Jack have eloped).

Either that or there's an android copy walking around.  That weird stony-faced wink just before he stands up is sinister.

How does Luke Skywalker not already know that Vader's his father at the end of Empire Strikes Back?

Film  Never mind the prequels (although they certainly help) but this video which turns the destruction of the Death Star into a parody of 9/11 conspiracy videos has inadvertently ruined the Star Wars trilogy just a little bit more for me because at a certain point I asked this question which has never occurred into me in the many decades since their release.

How does Luke Skywalker not already know that Vader's his father at the end of Empire Strikes Back?

As we know this was a big surprise for audiences on the release of the film, barely spoiled thanks to the internet not having been invented, schtum journalists who agreed that giving away the ending of the film was morally wrong (unlike now) and fans who wanted to save the delight for their fellow humans.

Anakin's name wasn't revealed until Jedi.  But as this video suggests by spelling the whole thing out, George Lucas's slight of hand leads us to ignore the following logic:

That none of the imperials have questioned who Darth Vader is.  Where he comes from.  He's a disciple of the Emperor  fine, but how did he gain his position in the imperial fleet and how did he manage this without someone asking for more about his identity in the whole vastness of the fleet.  At some point, something has to be leaky enough that someone, somewhere will know that he was originally Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight.

Given that, how is it then possible that none of the rebels would have this information either?    If intelligence is amazing enough that some Botham's can steal the death star plans, admittedly at the risk of their own lives, surely the rebels would have some kind of intelligence base, part of who's mission is deep background on who they're fighting.

Apart from anything else, there's a galaxy full of oppressed people who lived under the Old Republic and through the clone wars and know who Anakin was.  You could have an discussion about whether it was simply assumed he died along with the other Jedi (and I'm aware I'm straying into prequel information but nevertheless, the Jedi are a lost force in the sacred trilogy) but neverthless it's entirely improbable that the rebels wouldn't know that Darth Vader was originally Anakin Skywalker.

If you do invoke the prequels, there's a range of people who might put two and two together, the whole administrative staff on Coruscant for a start.

Which brings us back to Luke.  Luke's walking around with his surname.  Given everything above, how unlikely is it that someone wouldn't walk up to him at some point and say, you know that Darth Vader.  You know his original surname was Skywalker?  Did he come from the same planet as you?

Unless Skywalker is the intergalactic equivalent of Smith, that coincidence would seem remarkable, even if it wasn't generally know that Anakin had children.

Because the other option is:

Darth Vader just sort of exists.  He's there when the imperial senate takes control of the galaxy installed by the Emperor.  No one knows who he is or where he comes from and frankly they're not likely to mess with them because he'll kill them.

The rebels, some of whom are old enough to have fought in the Clone Wars, haven't the foggiest either.  He's just some guy, a Sith lord.

Luke Skywalker spends his life on a farm being lied to by his doomed Auntie and Uncle and Old Ben Kenobi and he's entirely oblivious of his real origins taking everything which is told to him at face value until Darth Vader reveals his identity to him and us.  He's as surprised as we are.

How does Luke Skywalker not already know that Vader's his father at the end of Empire Strikes Back?

It really is all just a fairy tale isn't it?

My Google Reader solution.

About  Like everyone else you uses Google Reader, I took to one of its proxy assassins to moan about it being closed down.  While my tweets were surprisingly temperate, having spent the best part of ten years looking at an rss reader of some form or other, seeing the web through those formats much of the time, I spent a good few hours glaring at the screen wondering what I was going to do.

My first thought was this:

Which was quickly followed by ...
So I began to look at other RSS readers:

Feedly the Chrome app, is awful.  Well it's awful on my set up where it's sluggish and has a nasty habit of accessing the web in the background even when it's not in use, which at first looked like my PC had picked up a virus until I realised it was Feedly updating itself.  Uninstall.  Uninstall.

Thunderbird is too old school.  Mozilla's email software has a built in RSS reader but like all email packages it has to interact with the web in order to update too, which means its download feed items when I'm not yet ready for them.  Uninstall.

NetVibes is too messy.  Like Feedly it has a mass of colours and images and even in "reader" mode is just too loud, detracting from the point of rss feeds which is mostly the text.  Plus it fairly limited without having to pay a charge.  I can't afford to pay for these things just now.

The Old Reader is as advertised a clone of Reader before the previous changes but it also seems terribly precarious with, like Feedly, an exodus of users shifting over.  It's going to have to monetarise soon, including advertising or some such.

At which point I really began to swear and wonder what the fuck I was going to do, as well as wondering how people who don't know what RSS is get by online, for so many things.

Then, as is so often the case, I returned to my original thought.  What about using rss to email services to send feed items to Gmail?  What about that?

Recently I've been experimenting with a service called Blogtrottr to send emails from rarely updated and so not always easy to remember to read feeds to my inbox.

It works really very well.  The contents of the feeds, the posts, appear in my in-box in a format not unlike Google Reader and there are options to have them sent as they're posted or in digests at various intervals which really do look like post window in Google Reader.

Well then.

Tentatively I began copy some of my feeds into Blogtrottr which then dutifully began to send my emails with the contents of the feeds in when they were updated.  At which point I noticed they were all coming from the same email address and contained the name of the feed in the subject line.

Hello labels and filters

Gmail has loads of options in filters and one of them is to assign labels.  I realised all I need to do was copy and paste the name of the relevant feed as it appears in the subject line, ask Gmail's filter to find only those emails with that search term in the subject line and then ask it to assign a label.


Here is a post from as it appears in my email inbox having been sent there by Blogtrottr:

In the drop down menu next to the "reply" button is the option to "filter messages like this". Clicking it reveals the first search based option box:

I've entered the feed title in the Subject box.  But it can be any word.  As you might expect I follow lots of feeds about films so if I put the word "film" in this box it will filter them all.

Oh and also notice that because all of the feed emails come from the same place, it means these filters will only effect the emails from Blogtrottr and not just general traffic.

Click "Create filter with this search >>".

Next box.  Select "Skip the inbox" so that again it doesn't (in future) become mixed up with everything else in the inbox.

The next bit is when Gmail begins to work like Reader.  "Labels" are the Gmail equivalent of Reader's "Folders" and "Tags".  As you can see, I've already created a label called "Reader" where I can put all of these Reader style labels and I've created a "zlinks" label just as I used to have in Reader (the z is in front of it so that it'll drop to the bottom of the list below the folders which I want to prioritise like "Jobs") (perhaps I should have chosen a less confusing example).

I've also asked for it to apply to the other matching items so they'll be sent to the folder/label now.

Click Create filter and all of these posts disappear from the inbox and hit the "zlinks" label/folder which is what they'll do forever.

After a while and after copying over the names of my Reader folders and re-organising the others a bit, Gmail began to look like this:

Which looks almost not quite exactly like the same list in Reader.

Realising this was beginning to look like a viable solution, I began to copy my feeds in bulk over to Blogtrottr using the opml files it will quite happily import, the only time sink now being to filter each of the feeds into the relevant folder/label as they hit the Gmail inbox which as I mentioned can be mitigated slightly by utilising wider search terms rather than necessarily just the feed the title.

One of the side effects is that the newsletters I've also subscribed to now have a natural place to go which isn't my inbox, set aside until I have a moment to look at them.

The experience of reading the feeds is different, of course it is.  Instead of a feed item quietly disappearing once it's been read, you have to actively press the remove labels button at the top or as I realised quickly the preferred option of deletion.  It's not quiet gone, it's simply moved to trash so it's possible to retrieve it, but I also remembered how rarely I searched Reader's archive so worried less.  This stuff will tend to still be online somewhere.

Individual feeds are also less easy to read, but by creating a master "reader" label it is possible to search for all the posts in a particular feed by typing in the name and that search can also be bookmarked in a browser.

Similarly searching for "blogtrottr" summons all of the emails from that address which is in effect this slightly less conducive environment's equivalent of Reader's "All items".

You can still star items in Gmail.  You just have to remember to "remove the label" rather than delete it afterwards.  But again, if you forget, it's still out there, somewhere.

Some Labs options also aid usability:

"Auto-advance", which moves to the next email when the current one has been acted upon.  in other words, deleting the item in front of you takes you to the next one.

"Mark as read button", though notice the feed items/emails still linger around in a label/folder even once they've been marked as read until they're deleted.  Which is oddly an improvement on Reader where you'd accident mark at post as read then have to jump through some search hoops to find it again.

"Preview pane" which like an old school feed reader puts a post list somewhere on the screen.  I tend to just have "no split" selected.

None of which is entirely perfect and does require a bit more work on my part in terms of clicking and being more present, but in an odd way feels more satisfying, especially when all of the items under a label have gone.


The Marowitz Hamlet (1969)

John Wyver at the Screen Plays project on how one of the more avant-garde interpretations of Hamlet made its way to television:
"At 10.55pm on 30 December 1969, BBC2 broadcast an edition of its regular magazine strand Late-Night Line-Up which was devoted to The Marowitz Hamlet. According to the BFI’s authoritative ScreenOnline, ‘Late-Night Line-Up discussed Charles Marowitz’s collage reinvention of the play, with filmed examples performed by the Open Space Theatre Company describes the programme.’ But what is preserved in the BBC film archive is a 59-minute fully-edited film of much of the production, including its opening and closing."
As is noted in the comments beneath, this is precisely the sort of experiment which no longer exists on television under current regimes.

Mona Lisa.

Science Back in 2009, New Scientist published research into Mona Lisa's smile and why it seems so, myterio ... enigmatic. Why she seems to happy one minutes, but serious the next. As you might have expected, it's all in the brain:
"Different cells in the retina transmit different categories of information or "channels" to the brain. These channels encode data about an object's size, clarity, brightness and location in the visual field.

"Sometimes one channel wins over the other, and you see the smile, sometimes others take over and you don't see the smile," says Luis Martinez Otero, a neuroscientist at Institute of Neuroscience in Alicante, Spain, who conducted the study along with Diego Alonso Pablos."
When I visited I could barely see her thanks to the picture being shoulder deep in photographic tourists.

The Art of the Pop Video.

Art Like most other forms of advertising, it’s impossible for me to remember when I must have seen my first pop video. I do know when I began to pay attention to them, watching The Chart Show on Channel 4 then ITV each Saturday lunch time, which for those of us without Sky and so Mtv and multi-channel television, this was the only place to see promos for the latest songs in a block interrupted only by other adverts and the strange Commodore Amiga based desktop graphic in which a pointer would open folders to reveal information about the acts during instrumental sections.

Even then, I could detect that the difference between a video which had been knocked together from a live performance because a track had been a surprise hit (Black Box’s Ride on Time) and something created by an auteur with a seemingly infinite budget creating something that looked like a four minute movie (anything featuring Michael Jackson). But it’s fair to say that at that young age it didn’t occur to me that what I was watching could in any way be considered an art form. Mostly it was an opportunity to gaze longingly at Kylie as she grinned at me through the screen whilst dancing around random pieces of polystyrene.

It’s only later, when seeing the claymation videos for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer on an Ardman Animation compilation dvd or those Kylie videos projected onto the wall of an art gallery that it really sank in that pop videos are of those occasions when commerce and artistic expression intersect and that just as many so-called "fine" artists work in that industry as their own.  But that there remains a strange hierarchy of taste which means when Derek Jarman produces At Home With Duggie Fields it is deemed worthy of appearing in an art gallery.  When Derek Jarman works with the Pet Shop Boys it isn't.

FACT’s new exhibition, The Art of the Pop Video, as the title suggests, seeks to redress the balance. Curators by Michael P Aust (a film producer and director of SoundTrack… Cologne) and Daniel Kothenshulte (film academic), both of whom have made this idea their life, collect together examples of pop videos from across the years mixing the expected classics (Bohemian Rhapsody, Video Killed The Radio Star) with  an eclectic range of lesser known titles to investigate genres such as amateur, dance, politics, urbanism and filmic crossovers.

The genius of the exhibition is in the approach. As part of the press pack, I have a list of all the videos which are included and with half an hour to spare, could throw together a playlist in YouTube collecting them all together and it would give a sense of the exhibition and the careful curatorial decisions taken by Aust and Kothenshulte over the past eighteen months. Before the press view, that’s roughly what I was expecting, a giant projector in each of the galleries playing them in a loop for about an hour, just a tiled floor, cheap bar and speaker stack away from being a mid-90s student's union.

Instead, the curators have treated the pop videos with the same respect as other art. Entering the space we’re confronted with walls and walls of television screen each showing one or two of the videos. At first it's startling, bewildering and distracting but we quickly realise that what we’re seeing is a similar arrangement to most other art exhibitions, except the pictures are moving and thanks to the attached headphones we can be absorbed into each of their worlds.  Rather than fighting for our attention within a block of other content, they’re left to stand alone.

Almost, because within another couple of seconds you realise that in treating the videos with the same respect as other art, the curators have also carefully chosen how the videos will be juxtaposed. In the press tour, Kothenshulte spent some time explaining how the videos in the first, “history” room are interrelated despite the decision now to present them in production order.  There’s Fred Astaire in hoofing away in Top Hat, next to Spike Jonze’s Hollywood musical influenced piece for Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet whose technicolor seeps seamlessly into Oskar Fischinger’s block animation, Kompostion in Blau next door.

Those connections continue right around the room, making it possible for us to see that the found footage approach of the promo for Johnny Cash’s Hurt is at least spiritually in the same continent as the dayglo Soviet postmodernism of The Pet Shop Boys’s Go West and that all of them have a solid, artistic underpinning that reaches deep below the surface, even the slapdash montage of the trashy film for Brigette Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg’s Comic Strip and that unlike static, silent painting, each has duration which invites us to concentrate on it utterly.

Except because of the proximity of the screens it is possible to become fascinatingly distracted so that Fred Astaire is dancing to Bjork or The White Stripes are providing the soundtrack for a Len Lye’s Rainbow Dance. It replicates somewhat the experience of listening to music via headphones in "real" life, our chosen music soundtracking our exploits however mundane, the walk to work becoming a Bittersweet Symphony (though presumably without as many collisions).

The videos have different durations. Some visitors will be content to join a song in the middle but in the more narrative promos there’s nothing fun about missing the beginning. I quickly realised that there was always a gap and blank screen between the end and start of a video and it’s possible to skip across the room and quickly jam the headphones on for the beginning. Then, at the end, returning to the middle of the room and wait for the next in. How this will work when the gallery’s open to the public I’m not sure but it meant I could see everything in a relatively short segment of time.

Or everything in the first room. The reason I've been concentrating on the contents of that first room is because this is a massive exhibition and impossible to see in a few hours let alone even the normal opening hours of the gallery if you want to see and hear everything from start to finish and once you’ve started you will want to see and hear everything. It’s the kind of exhibition which appeals to my collector mentality so I’ll be dropping in for a bit each week for the duration of the show and seeing the next section.

Eventually I’ll reach the upper gallery, where the curators have position pieces which the makers very specifically suggest are art pieces but whose content is barely dissimilar to the work downstairs (at least from the glimpses I had). Such distinctions become important in the preparation of the exhibition. The pop videos are covered by a fairly bog-standard PRS music license, but the art pieces had to go through the usual channels and permissions of other art galleries and the artist’s themselves. It rather seems to depend on the purpose the work was commissioned for.

Is there a bias in the selections? Of course there is, all exhibitions to some extent express the tastes of their originators. Aust and Kothenshulte are most concerned in the intersection between art, pop and film and showing the best of the form so they’ve little interest in dedicating a screen to examples of the mediocre, the generic, the dull. In selecting the work of film directors, it’s the Finchers and Jonze’s who’re prioritised rather than Russell Mulcahy or McG.  Fans of the New Romantics and will be disappointed.

With my interest in film history, archiving and restoration something which did astound me was the difficulties the curators had in sourcing good quality prints of even the most famous pop videos. Aust explained that when this work is created, most often the master tapes reside with the given promotional company and very often if they’re having a clear out or closing, like much of television history before the 1970s it, the tapes would either be re-used or thrown in a skip. Some artists, when they want to release a greatest hits dvd rarely have access to the original masters, many of which have been destroyed.

Needless to day I was flabbergasted and said so. I had always assumed that the pop promos were treated with the same care as the music they’re advertising, stored in record company vaults (record companies often owned by the same media conglomorate as a movie studio) and yet it's true that there are greatest hits dvds in which classic videos are represented by obvious VHS recordings and this also explains why even on official artist YouTube channels, the quality of the image is barely standard definition. Part of the work of the curators is rescuing the tapes when disaster strikes like a two man BFI for pop promos.

However it was dragged together The Art of the Pop Video is an awesome exhibition to open FACT’s new two year project to include more shows with a pop cultural aspect intermingled with their usual programme. It’s early days, I’ve only properly seen one room, and yet to experience it with the rest of the public, but right now I can barely think of a criticism. Even the headphones are well chosen, Sennheisers with comfortable ear cushions and little leakage so that the visitor isn’t aurally distracted by the audio surroundings. Room Two next week then. Godley and Crème, The Prodigy and Nirvana…

Mona Lisa.

People In his book, American Story, NBC journalist Bob Dotson meets people who've done extraordinary things. In an extract on Today's website he interviews Florence Thompson, an image of whom became iconic during the great depression:
"I found a trailer camp on the site of the old migrant camp in Modesto, California. During the Depression it was just one of many stops on that endless road. It was still home to Florence Thompson, the Mona Lisa of the 1930s, the migrant woman whose picture haunted the nation. Florence Thompson — no, you probably wouldn’t recognize the name, but few can forget her face from Dorothea Lange’s iconic 1936 photograph Migrant Mother. Florence Thompson was 27 years old when the Depression began. She had five children, was pregnant with another — and her husband had just died."
This is the photograph and the Wikipedia has some background.  The most poignant part of the interview is when Dotson asks her if she ever lost hope.  She says she never did.