Paper Busts.

Art Chinese paper sculptures stretch imaginations:
"The line of pure white busts sitting in Li Hongbo’s Beijing studio could be found in any art classroom around the world. But when the Chinese artist places his hands on one, what had seemed like solid plaster transforms into a live, amorphous mass. They are neither plaster nor clay, but thousands of fine pieces of paper."

One Nation, Five Million Voices.

One Nation, Five Million Voices from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

People For Burns Night, a film created by Spiral Productions for National Museums Scotland in which what seems like half the population of the country try to describe their culture. If you've ever wondered what happened to Carole Smilie, she's in here, floating around in one of the boxes.  Spiral has another excerpt here.

Short Hair.

Feminism Laurie Penny answers a really, really incorrect column about why women who have short hair are somehow "damaged". Frankly, I don't see it's anyone business how another person looks or wants to (unless there's some kind of work related rule but even then...). The stuff about how she grew her hair long to please her boyfriend makes me embarrassed about my gender:
"I’ve experimented with growing the crop out twice, encouraged both times by men I was dating. It seemed like the thing to do to make myself more pleasing to potential boyfriends, potential bosses, and other people with potential power over my personal happiness. Both times, it looked awful. It took a lot of effort and a surprising amount of money to maintain, and it still looked awful, and I didn’t feel like myself. Growing it past my chin took determination, because every day I’d look in the mirror and want to take the razor to it right then and there."

Romola on Morocco.

Travel Or rather Romola Garai in Morocco writing a travel piece for The Guardian. As ever, she's never boring as she navigates a luxury hotel with a "no outside world" policy in Marrakech with her diarrhoea inhibited family in tow:
"I finished off the day with one of the best facials I've ever had, and was floating back to my room, smelling like a rose garden hosed down with baby oil, when I was horrified to see a group of very stressed (though very cool) looking people all hunched miserably over their BlackBerrys like an Apple production line. El Fenn has no phones or televisions in its rooms, and although it does have Wi-Fi, it requests, very gently, that you don't spend your whole time on it. This "escape from the outside world" policy is especially welcome when you haven't worked in months, and the sight of people furiously emailing made me feel rather depressed. However, after a great deal of dedicated eavesdropping by violently shushing anyone who tried to speak to me, I discovered that the trendy/unhappy people were due to be on a fashion shoot with Mos Def that day, but he had hurt his hand and failed to catch his flight. These poor people's bad luck was my comedy gold, as I spent a very merry evening repeating the phrase, "So, what you're saying is… Mos def-initely won't be coming?"

The Films I've Watched This Year #2

Film Bit of a wibbly-wobbly week:

The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
The Juror
The Restless Breed
Repo Man
Time Crimes
In Time
The Broken Circle Breakdown
Silent Running

The #disneywatch finally continues thanks to someone gifting me the dvd of The Little Mermaid for Christmas and it's about as good as I remember, which is to say I remember there being some nice songs and set pieces but nothing especially involving. Frankly I'm probably too old for some of these late Disneys, especially those very much targeted towards a particular demographic. All of which contradicts my reaction to The Rescuers Down Under which I was entirely bewitched by and is represented by a gorgeous HD print on Netflix that makes the most of the expansive vistas as the various birds traverse the outback. The story's pretty much a rerun of the original movie but suffers slightly from not having enough of the actual Rescuers, preferring instead to concentrate on some business with the local inhabitants of the animal kingdom. But it's still a lovely, lovely surprise. Watched in tandem with Mermaid there's a real sense of the studio in transition again, shifting from films in which animals are the protagonists back to fairy tales and princesses and something akin to the animated stage musical (though a decade later they'd oscillate back again) (and again).

In the 90s, Empire Magazine used to cover mount VHS tapes filled with trailers for upcoming features which is when I first got wind of The Juror which looked like it was attempting to coast on the vogue for John Grisham adaptations even though this wasn't one of those (cf, this dvd boxed set). For no particular reason, I've never managed to watch the thing but noticed it in a charity shop for 75p the other day and decided to finally discover if it is as scrappy as it looked from the trailer. It is. It's rubbish, but gloriously so, in that way that only the likes of Bee Season and August Rush also are, where you can't quite believe what you're seeing, wonder how it all managed to go so wrong, but wondering how it turns out.  Demi Moore is the eponymous juror and with a hilariously young, pre-Third Rock Joseph Gordon-Levitt as her son, is menacingly leaned on by coldly lunatic Alec Baldwin to convince her fellow jury members that some mob boss should be found not guilty of his obvious crimes.  Which sounds fine and pretty standard fair, until the film takes a geographic turn for the bizarre in which Moore's character has to become implausibly competent in a number of ways in order to beat Baldwin.

A few round to it entries.  Repo Man hasn't aged well, but that opinion, I think, is mostly based on not finding it when I was much younger and now being able to respect it through some nostalgia filter.  I expect if I saw The Breakfast Club or St Elmos Fire for the first time in 2014 they wouldn't mean quite the same either.  Which isn't to say it doesn't have its moments, but the sci-fi elements intrude on what's otherwise a quite funny satire on that industry.  Silent Running on the other hand hasn't dated much at all, even though it's entirely of its period, perhaps because its green concerns still have disappointing currency.  If it wasn't for the invocation of William Blake and John Constable, you get the feeling that UK politicians and businesses would be quite happy to industrialise the whole country and let the wildlife fly off in space ships, not that it hasn't stopped the whole HS2 business which sure to carve up loads of important nature and picturesque pieces of landscape.  You could almost imagine Silent Running happening in same universe as Blade Runner.  Perhaps given Douglas Trumbull's participation in both that's the idea.  The film's influence on later works like Dark Star, Wall-E and Red Dwarf are also entirely obvious to me now.

Speaking of influences, giant ant b-movie Them! is essentially old school Doctor Who isn't it?  Strange monsters investigated by an eccentric but intelligent scientist with a female assistant.  Indeed it's practically The Green Death featuring the Troughton Doctor aided by Liz Shaw.  There's even a Brigadier and other UNIT analogues in there too.  Like Who, the effects are pretty rudimentary but don't get in the way of the well-paced story with some excellent performances (all things considered) which sell the danger.  But this runs both ways; it's near impossible to watch Time Crimes which was released in 2007 without comparing it to most of Steven Moffat's work on Doctor Who though to go much further would spoil what is a pretty tense thriller with a couple of excellent twists.  In Time feels like a very post-nuWho sci-fi piece too, though given that it reminded me of a couple of Eighth Doctor novels that's a bit of a blind alley.  Misunderstood on release (RT, 36%) where it was unfairly criticised for lacking the depth of director Andrew Niccol's early films as though that's what he always has to do.  It's actually a caper movie akin to Robin Hood or Bonnie & Clyde with a sci-fi twist and really fun.

Not in any way fun but the best film of the week was The Broken Circle Breakdown, a romantic tragedy about blue grass singers in Belgium which is the very expression of the kind of story, I think Phoebe in Friends describes as, "Life sucks and just when you think it can't suck any more, it does."  The poster doesn't prepare you for what's about to happen.  But apart from that I'm not going to tell you much more about it because part of its power is its ability to punch you in the gut at various intervals while allowing you to listen to some of the most beautiful soundtrack music ever recorded (I think).  The performances from Veerle Baetens (who's next job was Margaret of Anjou in the BBC's The White Queen) and Johan Heldenbergh feel utterly real but we're always aware that they are movie constructs, especially when the former is lolling across the hood of the car in a stars and stripes bikini top.  There's also a dream-like quality even when the events were witnessing are sobering and heartbreaking.  My point is that you'll come out at the end depressed and elated which is an uncomfortable combination.  Oh and you'll be reaching for the soundtrack, which luckily is on Spotify, along with its misleading cover.

"Hamlet is, of course, the Genesis of the Daleks of Shakespeare."

Philip Sandifer is writing about the history of Doctor Who within a historical and somewhat literary criticism context which sometimes includes material which is influenced or tangentially connected to the television science fiction franchise. This week he's covered David Tennant in Hamlet at the RSC in 2008:
"Hamlet is, of course, the Genesis of the Daleks of Shakespeare - the one that is so canonically the best as to render further discussion oddly superfluous. Like Genesis of the Daleks, it has more than enough oomph to live up to its billing, and yet its status seems oddly out of proportion. Sure, it’s very good, but it’s tough to argue that it’s head and shoulders above King Lear or Othello. But Hamlet is nevertheless the prestige piece - the big one, if you will. Tennant, for his part, is very good at the role. The same skill that makes him a good Doctor - his ability to insert an unusually high volume of decisions into his reading of a given scene - helps him just as well in Shakespeare. He can deliver Shakespearean dialogue at speed in a way that makes the content of the lines clear. This is no mean feat - Shakespeare is brilliant, but the fact that the language is not normal conversational English makes it difficult to pick up on things at conversational speed. Being able to add, in effect, a second channel of communication through gesture and tone of voice helps in a big way. And it’s not particularly distinct from how Tennant is capable of having dialogue about, say, Z-neutrino energy and using it to deliver actual information instead of the patent nonsense that it actually is."
As I said in my original review, what's interesting about Tennant plays the role is that when he's feigning madness he seems to very consciously go full Time Lord, all of the Tenth Doctor's various ticks in full effect which makes the contrast with the darker, more internalised prince all the starker.

Where are the Women artists?

Art For the Tate, Jemima Kirke who plays Jessa Johansson in HBO's Girls, presents this short history of women artists and their marginalisation in the history of art. I'm not sure what the answer is to redressing the balance, but certainly the BBC could make a start with a documentary series laying out the whole history of women artists in context, not unlike the section on Judith Leyster here.


Travel The Gothamist had a post over weekend, "calling out" (I suppose the vernacular would be) some woman on the subway who took her shoes off and laid them on the seat next to her on what looks like a packed train. Which is icky but it's not the worst thing I've seen on underground trains. Plus it wouldn't happen on Merseyrail anyway because they have a no feet or shoes on seats policy, cameras everywhere and a zero tolerance approach.  Seriously.

The whole flavour of the Gothamist piece is that this person has taken up a whole seat with her shoes stopping someone else from sitting down which prompts me to ask the question:

Wouldn't you just ask her to move the shoes so you can sit down?

Bizarrely, the answer isn't always yes.

Similar scenarios play out on my buses of travel all the time.  Someone will sit with their bag or something else on the adjoining seat and everyone who gets on will do everything other than ask them to move it so they can sit down.  I've been on buses where the central isle fills with people standing, none of them in the mood to ask someone to clear a seat.  That's assuming they stand in the isle rather than the area in front of the doors, making it impossible to get on and off, but that's also a different rant.

I'll always ask if I can sit down if I need to.  Similarly I'll always move my bag if a bus is filling up, though usually I simply have it on my lap to begin with.  Come, join me on the moral high ground.  The view is lovely.

Similar scenarios play out in coffee shops and busy libraries, people standing around, waiting, unable to deal with asking someone if they can be a bit more considerate without actually asking them to be more considerate.

But honestly, people's ability to interact with each other is at an all time low, if people won't ask others to simply move their stuff so they can take advantage of rightful facilities.  It's fear presumably, the fear that the person you're going to ask will punch them in the face or what have you.  Sigh.

Whatever Happened To Thora Birch?

Film Very briefly, until I saw Lost in Translation, Thora Birch was my favourite actress. She was remarkable in The Hole and Ghost World and looked like she was going to have a long and fruitful career. Then she didn't. It was odd. Actresses she played against in smaller roles like Scarlett Johansson and Kiera Knightley went on to be stars and she just sort of disappeared.

  Hadley Freeman's interviewed the actress for The Guardian. The purpose seems to be to publicise her last film, Petunia, but otherwise it's just random curiosity. What happened? How did this happen?
"How this happened is not straightforward and it is not really clear if Birch understands it herself, or how she feels about it. Contradictions pepper her conversation. Initially, she talks about how she "decided to take a break and live my life, branch out a little, educate myself". But when I make the mistake of suggesting she "stepped back", she snaps: "It makes me angry when you use that phrase because I didn't step back. I was always working, it's just that no one was paying attention." At times, she has the dazed but anxious air of someone who has just emerged from a long sleep and is astonished at how much time has passed."
Of course its easy to suggest Johansson and Knightley simply decided to do the kinds of roles expected of them at the right time, pay there dues, but both of them have careers which are pretty fraught in terms of choices, it's simply that they've been theoretically luckier. Scarlett had Lost in Translation and The Girl With The Pear Earing out in 2003 (when Birch had the TV movie Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story) but the next, 2004, brought The Perfect Score, A Love Song For Bobby Long, In Good Company and A Good Woman none of which were necessarily box office. But the next year had Match Point and The Island which arguably set her screen identity and although in every year there's been the odd dud there's also been gold. 2008 brought The Spirit which is the kind of thing which could end a career and Vicky Cristina Barcelona which is the kind of thing which makes them.

Accidentally Winifred Street.

Liverpool Life For the love of Winifred Street. Jen Allison on the history and memory of one of Liverpool's most obscure geographic locations, the result of a regeneration project:
"During all of that destruction, one tiny, touching act of creation happened. At the mouth to Winifred Street a hand-painted sign appeared, white on black, declaring the road’s name in thick, rounded letters. A small white heart preceded the name. It declared that here, amidst the destruction, stands somewhere loved. Welcome to Winifred Street.

"That tiny white hand-painted heart touched me every time I passed. It never failed to make me smile and gladden my heart. I wondered who painted the sign? Who had loved that little street enough to make their public declaration? And who had had to leave that street for the last time knowing that their home was to be destroyed?"
Then she has her answer...

Jennifer Lawrence's Homeland spoiler.

"Oh my god, oh my god."

[Seriously, don't watch this if you haven't seen the third series of Homeland yet. You don't want to have Jennifer's reaction.] [via]

"We spent New Year’s Eve at a hotel bar in Ho Chi Minh"

Geography Ellie Taylor spent New Year in Vietnam:
"We spent New Year’s Eve at a hotel bar in Ho Chi Minh observing local New Year’s customs by watching a ten piece latin band from Brazil do things with bongos whilst wearing Easyjet orange satin waistcoats. While us Brits welcome in the New Year with Auld Lang Zyne, it turns out the Vietnamese prefer a group sing a long to Shakira’s greatest recording accomplishment ‘Waka Waka’. Nothing makes you feel more immersed in South-East Asian culture than loudly yelling ‘This time for Africa!’ with a room full of Russian ex-pats as the clock strikes midnight."
Shakira's latest epic featuring Rhianna is coincidentally doing the rounds. Like Waka Waka, it's one of her mainstream efforts though unlike Waka Waka, it's near impossible to sing along to in the traditional sense.

Sad YouTube.

People Linking to Buzzfeed is horrendously lazy, but sometimes it can be rather wonderful and notable and so why not? Mark Slutsky is the author of a blog Sad YouTube in which he visits the comments under YouTube videos looking for meaningful stories. As he says:
"The YouTube comment section may be the world’s biggest information trash heap, but where do archeologists go when they’re trying to understand the lives and ways of ancient civilizations? They look in their garbage. Sad YouTube is just one lone garbage picker strolling through mountains of detritus. It takes time to pick through it, but the rewards are glorious. And what’s so fascinating is that YouTube has accumulated all this wealth seemingly without ever realizing that it’s there. For a company so focused on the uses of Big Data, Google seems totally unaware of the human and narrative gold mine they possess in YouTube’s comments section, and I fear they’ll just get rid of it altogether one day like they did Google Reader, Google Wave, or a million other projects whose uses weren’t obvious."
It's a lengthy post but well worth spending time with as he finds a kind of mass memory for pop culture hidden between the snark and flaming.

In Motion.

In Motion from Aaron Grimes on Vimeo.

Geography Aaron Grimes offers a technical explanation for how this was achieved at his Vimeo page but the upshot is, and I can't tell if this was his intention, that he mimics how humans visually interact with the world. We rarely look at everything, altogether.  Our attention is usually focused on a single thing or person and for just a second or two and it's these stolen moments which Grimes has slowed down in his film.  In large cities, it's about the only way, other than reading, that we can make sense of the confusion.  To some extent, it's a visual representation of the kinds of incidents Mike Birbiglia talked about on This American Life last week, of trying to work out how long its possible to inadvertently (or purposefully) look at someone before it becomes creepy.  The other option, as per other shots, is to stand back and let the entire vista wash over us as we try not to become overwhelmed by the sheer everything of everything.

I still don't really care about this.

Film Here we go again. Considering, as we've established years ago, I don't really care about the Star Wars Expanded Universe, apart from the Clone Wars animated series or how it reflects on canonicity debates in general this will be my fourth blog post on the topic. But as you will have heard, now that Disney are full steam ahead with their ownership of Star Wars, as this rather good Ars Technica op-ed explains, they're taking a chainsaw to the EU with Leyland Chee and the "Lucasfilm Story Group" setting themselves up as arbiters of exactly what is and isn't canonical, scrapping the various layers of canonicity and presumably sending the editors of the Wookiepedia into a nose dive (or so you would think).  They're presumably not calling it the Lucasfilm Story Committee because they were not elected to watch their people suffer and die while they discuss this invasion in a committee.  Or some such.

It's all a bit ambiguous but as Ars Technica infers, it seems as though there would be the old canonicity hierarchy of old, from the films down to Splinter of the Mind's Eye and other apocrypha, but simply that this or that novel, comic strip, audio book, computer game or animation is or isn't canon and that this story group are essentially going to spend their time looking at these things and deciding whether this or that Dark Horse epic fits in the new timeline or not like some pop culture equivalent of the Wildenstein Institute (cf, the BBC's Fake or Fortune for their activities).  I like to think there'll be an intern at the end of a boardroom table at the ranch with a pile of novels holding each up in turn followed by a show of hands from the group. "Dark Nest I: The Joiner King? .... right that's three for, two against.  Dark Nest II: The Unseen Queen?  Dark Nest III: The Swarm War?"

The whole thing's hilariously bonkers but there are some serious, albeit first world, problems about all of this.  As I indicated years ago, when fans have been led to believe that the novel series they're reading has some value in a quasi-shared universe is suddenly told that actually it has no importance whatsoever, they have every right to feel a bit cheated.  This is going to be that on an epic scale.  There will be fans with masses of merchandise and favourite stories who are about to discover that in the shared narrative of the Warsiverse (or whatever it's called) it means bugger all.  Similarly there will be creatives, writers, artists and the like who also thought their work was contributing to this endeavour who're also going to discover that to an extent they were wasting their time, which will be especially annoying for those who had to mess their narratives about because of some past Lucasfilm continuity directive.

To be fair, the way the Expanded Universe continued to expand there had to be some contraction and I suggested as much a couple of years ago.  These new owners were always unlikely to want to keep this whole thing going with new films coming out simply because of people like me who look at this list of novels and wonder why they should even bother trying to jump in.  Notice how, in comparison, the MARVEL Film Universe has been pretty circumspect in its narrative expansion keeping everything live action, only inferring that elements of the cartoons may be in the same universe and not going anywhere near releasing novels or comics connected to the films beyond the odd prequel.  They've presumably looked at the Wars problem and realised that they need to keep things as accessible as possible knowing there will be fans of the film series who never pick up a comic book.

The problem is, Lucasfilm are trying to have it both ways.  For everything I said in paragraph three, the ideal option, the option they should probably logically be pursuing is dumping the whole lot and starting again, with just the films, the Clone Wars cartoons, this new Rebels thing and sundry other bits and bobs (probably the Ewok movies because what does it matter?) canonical and everything else sent to apocrypha, in other words the quasi-Star Trek approach (where only filmed things are canonical), which would give JJ Abrams the creative freedom to do what he likes with the next three films and whatever spin-off pieces are in development like Boba Fett and let all the fans know where they stand.  Then anything produced after a certain date is considered new canon but it's much more heavily controlled, assuming its officially canonical anyway.

But Lucasfilm have instead decided on this strange halfway house which leaves fans in a kind of narrative limbo hoping that at some point they'll publish a list that indicates Shadows of the Empire is canonical or what have you so that the really dedicated ones can go through and fillet their collection, boxing up and garaging anything which doesn't "matter".  They're also having endless discussions online right now about what they hope will still "matter" and how they'll burn their 501 battalion membership cards if Mara Jade disappears.  Plus there could be writers and artists working on material right now not knowing if when it's published it'll be the Doctor Who's Scream of the Shalka of the SW EU and dead on arrival.  It could be that they don't care so long as they get paid, but they're passionate about the work they're doing, they'd have to be a bit concerned about these things.

They're essentially petarded by the cross platform approach they've taken to the damn thing.  The Clone Wars animation will now be completed in a four-part Dark Horse comic based on the scripts they didn't get around to turning into moving pictures.  Which means they can't make the kinds of unilateral decisions they really should and would if they were caught up in the amount of creative investment which has gone into building this whole narrative edifice in the years since the first Star Wars film was released.  Never mind the Wookiepedia, try reading an official Star Wars Reference Guide; they're filled with biographical material for minor characters developed across these various platforms and integrated together.  If only they're taken the Trek or Who approach of only including material from moving pictures.  It's bewildering.

What's the solution?  There probably isn't one, not now that the EU's been established as a thing.  My guess is they'll consider the material in terms of chronology rather than media. So they won't simply dump all the comics or all the novels, but rather keep those material related to events in the Lucasverse like all of the pre-historic and Old Republic stuff , anything related to the prequels and the Clone Wars and odd things like Shadows of the Empire, perhaps with a cut off point somewhere in the vicinity of Jedi so that Chewbacca lives, though it all depends how much they're going to micro-manage all of this, keeping stories but saying this or that element.  The Zahn novels "matter" but not the sections dealing with the Clone Wars.  Not that I've read any of this despite once owning them.  Unlike Who, which most of the time you can simply dive into, but like comics universes, wouldn't know where to start.  Not that I'd want to.

Will this Lucas Story Group publish a list either in book form or as a database?  They should if only so that fans don't find themselves arguing over continuity issues, which they probably do already but it would at least mean they have a roadmap.  They should also do it before the new films come out, at least so that said fans don't spend their time wondering where Luke's children are or Han and Leias or what have you.  Unless fans don't actually care about such things, we're reaching the edge of my knowledge.  They should then, having produced said list, make sure that all of it's available to buy somewhere other than second hand where prices are sure to be inflated and also give some indication of an order in which they could be approached, this basically but more complex.  Not that, like I said, I care about any of this stuff.

Oh, Caronia.

History From Museum of the City of New York's collection, this postcard, "Cunard Line. R.M.S. "Caronia," Monday, May 8th, 1905. Landing Stage, Liverpool" published by the Universal Postal Union. There are other boat related items here.

Jennifer Lawrence's Armpits.

"Armpit vagina."

The Tommy Westphall Universe expands.

TV Just when the Tommy Westphall Universe seems like it's reaching its natural end, it expands again....
"The debut season of NBC‘s Chicago PD isn’t just going to see characters crossover with parent series Chicago Fire. It will also feature a Chicago-NY crossover with the network’s crime drama juggernaut Law & Order franchise – and that’s just the beginning, exec producer Dick Wolf teased today at TCA."
This Wikia explains somewhat why L&O:SVU is connected - it's essentially via Homocide which featured a character crossover from St Elsewhere.  Luthor has also joined [via].

"... bringing my Curious George with me because I was ten ..."

Film The worst thing in the world seems to be the possibility of winning an award. Film actors really hate the stage.

Oh, Vienna.

History As part of the BBC's World War One commemorations (is that the right word?), the news magazine is running a series of articles from correspondents throughout Europe about various cities, capturing the mood, that sort of thing. Bethany Bell is in Vienna:
"A few months ago, a Viennese friend frowned as he stirred his coffee. We were sitting in Cafe Griensteidl, in the centre of town.

"I'd just told him that, even after 15 years of living here, I'm still haunted by Vienna as it was just before the outbreak of World War One, before the defeat that led to the collapse of the rotting Austro-Hungarian Empire.

"But don't lots of periods of history feel close in Vienna?" he asked. "You've got Mozart and the Baroque, you've got the 19th Century and the Ringstrasse, you've even got the Flak towers of the World War Two… Why not focus on them?"