Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Spiral Productions's animation of Robbie Burns's Tam o'Shanter.

That Day In January we celebrated Burns Night as usual with haggis, tats, neeps and whiskey but not a reading from Robbie's work, which for some reason always remains on the shelf. I'm not sure why. Perhaps sharing a surname is enough for us. I was only reminded of this at the other end of the year when attending the Museum Association conference and visiting the stand of Spiral Productions who produce digital media for exhibitions and museums, including this superb animation of Tam o'Shanter for the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Scotland. Narrated in full voice by the actor Brian Cox (though I would of course like to hear a Professor Brian Cox version), it reminds me of Ralph Bakshi's animated version of Lord of the Rings, which also mixed silhouettes and animation with live action and didn't stint on the more gruesome aspects of a tale.  The images are broad and striking which is presumably what's required in a museum space were to extent they're their own advertisement, enticing the visitor to step over and watch the whole poem all of the way through.  The Spiral website has a portfolio of other work produced for the museum including this kids game inspired by the Burns poem.

Tam o'Shanter from Spiral Productions on Vimeo.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Awards Watch.

Film A few years ago, I began watching all of the films nominated for awards at various ceremonies (Oscars, Globes, Cannes) and in the end of year lists of some magazines (Empire, Sight & Sound). Unable to decide much of the time what was worth seeing, I'd decided to let the consensus decide for me and for the most part this was a good thing mixing the spectacular with the worthy and filtering out the utter rubbish that I might have subjected myself to if I'd simply decided to stick with box office top tens and that sort of thing. With that in mind I then began to cast my eye backwards to earlier years and wondered what I might have missed and so then decided that once I'd finished off the latest films I'd begin work on those films I'd missed beforehand, working backwards. Which again worked well, initially. Spreadsheets were created, films were added to Lovefilm lists and after a couple of weeks of administration delving through the IMDb and Wikipedia I was set. Then I began work, or let's face it "work", watching everything nominated in a given year before moving on to the next, then the next and the next.  Which was fine and for the most part I was having a good time and much of the time found myself, as I'd hoped, in front of the kinds of films I wouldn't necessarily have otherwise chosen to watch.  But then of course the problem was I also found myself in front of the kinds of films I wouldn't necessarily have otherwise chosen to watch.  A quest is a quest, I felt like I needed to see everything and so for every enthralling documentary about climate change, I'd end up seeing some crass, racist or misogynistic supposed comedy or for every exciting docu-drama set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany ended up clockwatching half way through some three hour Ukrainian drall about a man who loses his wife but gains a tractor (or some such).  At a certain point, though whole thing became a, well, drag.  Granted that was at about the time of my hernia, but that had nothing to do with reaching the very edge of forgetting why I like cinema.  I wondered briefly if this was how some film critics felt and why so many of them become cynical and twisted and seemingly unable to appreciate the simple pleasures that cinema has at its core.  So I stopped.  If the subsequent medical operation taught me anything it's that life's too short to spend three hours of it watching an Ukrainian drall about a man who loses his wife but gains a tractor if I'm not enjoying it (enjoying in the loose sense of being at least intellectually stimulated) and that actually it's ok just to go with my own instinct and just watch what looks good even if that is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (which isn't nearly as bad as you've heard).  That it's ok to be entertained, that not everything in life has to be about educating myself.  Those same magazines helped, as did online efforts like Cinema Sins in reminding what I've always liked about film, the intertextuality and the shared experience.  I archived the spreadsheets, deleted the Lovefilm lists, and began adding the kinds of films I'd like to watch and also making a pact with myself that if I did decided to see all of something, it would be finite or only include a few examples.  I recently worked through about ten films set in 1963, finally seeing Dirty Dancing, Mermaids and Driving Miss Daisy in the process. Plus rewatching Tarkovsky's genre entries like Solaris and Stalker.  Above all I'm enjoying myself and enjoying cinema again.

The New York Times's Hamlet in 15 seconds competition.

In the past few months, The New York Times has been tasking high school students with creating short performances of fragments of Hamlet through Instagram's video service.

Now they've posted some of the results having received over five hundred entries.
With only 15 seconds and the small field of vision offered on Instagram, capturing an elaborately staged scene from “Hamlet” is a technical challenge. But some students found ways to make the most of the format.

Emma Anderson, who plans to graduate from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in California in 2016, used an iPhone and text messaging to help deliver Hamlet’s lines about the “special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Lit up only by the light of her iPhone in her bedroom, she said she found making the video less challenging than adapting Shakespeare’s writing to the 15-second format of Instagram video.

“The most difficult part was picking the line,” she said. “I think finding the right line for that span of 15 seconds was a very important thing.”

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: The Silence before the Bongs.

Radio Last year, in 2012, as though you need a reminder, The Guardian's Martin Wainwright wrote a piece decrying Radio 4's commitment to listeners outside London and especially in the North. In the comments I noted (and reposted on this blog) that one of the reasons I listen to Radio 4 is because it has nothing to do with where I live, for the escapism and wistful reminder that there is a life elsewhere. That's something which has become increasingly important this year with everything which has been going on, especially as I said back then, the atmospheric pause at the end of PM (usually with Eddie Mair) just before the bongs of Big Ben heralding the Six O'Clock News.  Listen closely enough, pay attention, and you can hear the noise of the traffic in Parliament Square.  For me, there are few things as transportative and suffused with memories, especially of a happy time spent there a couple of years ago with a good friend eating lunch.  At the time of originally posting I remember receiving a sarcastic comment on Twitter suggesting that if that really was the case, that I should just move there which I ignored because I was being nice and loyal but which I should have answered by noting that I would love to move there if I could afford to and if I knew that the job was secure and satisfying.  But in the meantime, there's nothing wrong, I think, in trying to imagine what that impossible existence would be like, even though I know the version I watch unfolding online on blogs and in Twitter streams is idealised and not real either.   That there's nothing wrong in aspiring to have that impossible existence myself.  Maybe next year.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Chagall's America Windows

Art  After visiting TATE Liverpool’s superb Chagall: Modern Master exhibition in June, I quickly set about listening to as much material as I could about the artist, much of which was now entirely fascinating the context of having seen plenty of his most famous work. The San Diego Museum of Art has this lecture from Bella Meyer, the granddaughter of French artist Marc Chagall, who offers her take on flower bouquets in her grandfather's work. But my favourite new discovery was the America Windows at The Art Institute of Chicago, which were donated by the artist in 1977 and which have since been made famous because of their appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (it’s where Ferris and Sloan kiss during the museum montage). They have recently been restored and reinstalled in the new modern wing of the Institute.  They have a moonlit, dream like quality and contain images symbolising Chicago and its commitment to the arts in the 60s and 70s, fostered under Mayor Richard J. Daley to whom they were dedicated.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: My Fan Fiction.

TV Back in the late 90s when I didn't have this blog as a distraction, I was under the delusion I could write fiction and after reading many, many My So-Called Life continuation scripts decided it was about time I attempted to write my own. Me being me, and not being able to decide on anything, I chose to simply crossover what were all of my favourite tv shows of the time and some more. Looking back through what's here it's about what you'd expect. This isn't the first time I've eluded to this epic on the blog, but it is the first time I'm posting the whole damn thing, with all the fragments and whatnot having been inspired by Dr Brooke Magnanti's defense of the form. Here's an illustrative graphic which should give some indication of what's to come.

star-trek voyager borged

Yes, indeed.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: Travels with Matsui.

Music Back in 2002, when I was commuting to Manchester and back for the job at the RBS call centre, I began a series on this blog called Travels with Matsui in which I'd listen to an album I'd usually borrowed from the city centre library which was near work, listen to it on the train ride home, on a Matsui portable cd player and then write a review with a particular structure. Beginning with Britney's Baby One More Time, it's a series which lasted all of about nine posts, only about six of them fulfilling the initial promise and premise. It's also a project I entirely forgot about last year when the annual review was about projects, so I thought I'd cover it this year instead. The conditions are almost exactly the same, except that I'm sitting at a desk rather than a train, the Matsui cd player is long gone and replaced with Spotify and the choice has been made by listeners of that music service since I'm going to be writing about the track that is, at time of writing (which was a couple of weeks ago) the most listened to on the service in the UK. It's ...

Bastille - Of The Night

What? The Wikipedia tells me (and you now) Bastille "are an English rock band formed in London in 2010. Bastille began as a solo project by singer-songwriter Dan Smith, who later decided to form a band. The four-piece consists of members Daniel Smith, Chris Wood, William Farquarson and Kyle Simmons. The name of the band derives from Bastille Day – an event celebrated on Daniel Smith's birthday, 14 July." The only reason I've heard of them is from hearing them mentioned in the NOW advert which features incessantly whenever you watched the VEVO YouTube channel on a television during the Summer for what having done some "research" turns out to be Pompeii. I know nothing about contemporary music. I only know that Lily Allen sings the music on the John Lewis advert because she sent me an email about it. Or her PR did. The one with the animals. I get a lot of emails from PRs about music. Let this be a lesson to them. I quite like Pompeii. Or I think I do. Or it could simply that having heard the same thirty seconds on the NOW advert, I've been subconsciously convinced I do. They also have a song called Laura Palmer which I'm less impressed with because it doesn't seem to have much to do with Twin Peaks.

First impressions? That we now live in the world where Corona's Rhythm of the Night, I song which I didn't really understand when it was released because I was still listening to Debbie Gibson tunes and shit and now recognise as a minor masterpiece of Eurodance, has two relatively popular cover versions. One, by Eurovision's Cascada sounds like it's by Eurovision's Cascada. This other doesn't exactly begin well with its too posh pronunciation of "dancer" ("dorncer"), uncertain baseline and listless vocals. But the methodology is different. The Corona is designed as a dancefloor filler. This sounds more like the kind of thing people in cars might listen to whilst riding around the city after the clubs have shut and the night's over. There's a nihilistic quality which the promo director has latched on to with some visuals that presumably mean it's banned from the daytime music stations, not that such things matter in the digital age.

Touched? Not especially. At most this feels like a b-side and I can't understand exactly why it's quite so popular, but like I said, I don't know anything about music, but having heard it a couple of times for the purposes of writing this, I'm not especially interested in listening to it again.

Lasting impressions? That I wish it was a cover version of DeBarge's Rhythm of the Night. That would have been quite something in this style.

Keep, dump or sell? Sell. Something this popular is bound to have a resale value. Except of course I streamed it so I don't own it anyway.  Oh and no one buys anything like this second hand any more.

Review 2013: Not The Doctor: The A-Z of TV Hell.

TV Back when BBC Two was any good, before, to be fair, BBC Four came along and stole its thunder, every other week it would have a theme night often curated by the Arena strand and one of the best was TV Hell, which included a rerun of Triangle, a documentary about the Eurovision Song Contest, something called Disastermind which was a kind of pre-internet supercut interspersed with talking heads from the victims and the first broadcast of the pilot episode of "Mainly for Men" a late night men's lifestyle magazine programme made in 1969 which looked forward to the lad mag boom of the 1980s, coming across as a kind of televisual GQ. The night opened with The A-Z of TV Hell, most which like everything else from that night has illicitly been uploaded to YouTube. A clip show in a very traditional sense, some of the material has become achingly familiar because of its subsequent appearance on lesser clip shows who sometimes look like they've merely borrowed the VT. It's Bio-Dimbleby sitting at a desk fidgeting with his pen during a live broadcast of Panorama in which all the film and video has gone. There's Desmond Leslie punching Bernard Levin. The Sex Pistols on Windy. But there's also plenty which is still under the radar like Churchill's People, the twenty-six part fictionalisation of British history all videotaped in a studio with no budget, or Open Door which gave alternative voices half an hour of television to do what they wanted with and ended up one week with a man in a gorilla costume holding a placard and Club X, a weekly late-night live slot broadcast on Channel Four from a real night club which included performance art and music so loud none of the microphones would work, along with Minipops which in the light of recent revelations/confirmations is even more uncomfortable to watch.  All televisual horror stories to be sure, but as you continue watching twenty years later something else becomes apparent.  Apart from actually wanting to watch some of this television now, especially Churchill's People which looks glorious, it's the sheer diversity of programming which was on offer at the time, a diversity so broad that it was capable of producing some of this stuff on top of the classics and the devil may care attitude to try new things and to risk failure.  The twelve-year-old version of Mark Lawson who appears as expert witness here might be cynical about Sin on Sunday, but there was always the possibility it might have worked and in hindsight you can't even imagine someone at ITV now not only having the creativity to even think of that, let alone put it out in a slot which is currently occupied by a rerun of The X-Factor from the night before.  Plus, say what you like about Triangle but it's a hundred times more inventive than running Casualty and not-Casualty in weekly slots across the entire year.