The Films I've Watched This Year #3

Film This is the 10,000th post on the blog, though that statement should be taken with a giant pinch of ish because there are bound to be unfinished draft posts and the odd duplicate thanks to absorbing other defunct blogs into its body here and there. But yes, as far as Blogger's concerned, 10,000. Anyway, on with the show.  Apologies if there are any spoilers for films that were released over ten years ago:

Death Race 2000
A Boy and His Dog
Big Ass Spider
Ikarie XB-1
Pitch Black
AI: Artificial Intelligence
The World's End
The Numbers Station
Oz: The Great and Powerful
Enchanted April (1935)

This was the last week of #futurewatch ending rather fittingly I thought with AI, which I've not seen after crying solidly for twenty minutes in the cinema and then part of the way home from Manchester on the week of cinema release and during which I once again cried like a baby, though not me as a baby because my thing was simply going quiet for long periods and creeping out of my parents.  Spielberg apparently says that despite him being accused of being an arch sentimentalist by creating an emotionally manipulative ending all of that was actually the part of the film's DNA which is all Stanley Kubrick. Presumably the answer's in his boxes somewhere.  Had Kubrick himself been alive to see the project through, it would have been an even more persuasive companion piece to 2001, the fates of the protagonists surprisingly similar from a certain point of view.

Ikarie XB-1 is a prime piece of Czechoslovak science fiction which thanks to a hacked, over-dubbed US b-release influenced Star Trek and oddly enough 2001.  Adapted from a novel by Stanislaw "Solaris" Lem The set-up's now achingly familiar, a group of humans falling in and out of love and losing their temper with each other in a spacecraft breaking the light barrier to reach Alpha Centauri in a great spirit of adventure, but with a Communist ideology following through their hearts and minds rather than the Capitalist motivations of the corrupt West.  All good fun and with some exciting set pieces, it's also a disappointing reminder of how some genres have subsequently been ceded to a Hollywood.  With the affordability of digital technology hopefully that will change.  I'd love to see a French film set on a giant space craft heading in to the stars.  Directed by Michael Haneke or Cedric Klapisch with Jamel as the Captain.

A Boy and His Dog and The World's End both suffer from similar issues.  The former is a mid-70s dusty adaptation of a Harlan Ellison novel in which Don Johnson plays a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic wasteland aided and abetted by a laconic telepathic dog called Blood.  The latter is (obviously) the final installment in the Pegg-Frost-Wright Cornetto trilogy about a fateful pub crawl.  The problem with both is that one perfectly enjoyable film is suddenly swamped when another, arguably less interesting storyline invades and in neither case does it look the like the filmmakers either noticed what they had or were willing to throw what they were doing in the bin and simply decide to go where that first half of the script was taking them.

In the former, the central relationship between Johnson and his dog is funny and fresh give or take some astonishingly dated gender politics and we enjoy their company, but they're broken up halfway through when Johnson decides to investigate the world underneath the wilderness and is plunged into a sub-Gilliamesque Norman Rockwell parody featuring Jason Robards dressed as a clown.  In the latter, the backstory of the characters, the conflicts and the chemistry between the five friends is strong enough to produce what could have been a very enjoyable, structurally sound ninety minute reunion piece, but apparent genre requirements lead to the whole thing going off in another rambling direction which is also brilliant in its own way but nothing we haven't seen before.  Put simply, Paul's better.  Eep.

The most surprising watch of the week was The Number's Station which based on the Netflix synopsis, poster and selected stills and the fact that it's post-2012 latter day aging Cusack looks like it's going to be a low-rent sub-24 Die Hard knock-off.  Actually, it's rather dark piece about a US government hitman trying to regain his focus having had a touch of the morals who finds himself defending the very broadcast unit which sends out the orders to his colleagues.  The central hour is a two-hander between him and the civilian cryptographer played by Malin Ã…kerman (Silk Spectre II in the Watchmen) who encodes the orders trapped in the station attempting to work out how they got into this mess, with Cusack knowing his duty is to shoot her but unable to pull the trigger.  Engrossing stuff, with Liam Cunningham as his boss.

The thing I drew most from Mitt, thanks to the director Greg Whiteley's choice of footage is that Romney's an ass tight political strategist who understands the process, understood his own place in the process but who in putting that understanding into practice stumbled due to his own inadequacies as a candidate.  In both election campaigns he predicted the outcome on a state-by-state level, realised when he'd given an excellent or poor performance in debates and that his campaign was effectively over after the 47% video and just seemed like someone who was in the wrong job but felt compelled to carry on regardless due to his family's history.  The interviews with his sons about the strain of a political campaign are perhaps most telling, especially in relation to the difference between the public face and the private pain.

After the sheer lunacy of last year's #whowatchorbust and #awardswatch, I fell a bit behind with contemporary movies and the general discourse so #futurewatch has essentially been replaced with #2013watch beginning with Oz: The Great and Powerful which against that discourse I utterly adored even if initially James Franco seems to be doing for Johnny Depp what Depp himself did for Keith Richards in the Pirates films.  Watching in 2D, the sections which are clearly supposed to wow us in 3D are all to plain, but what wowed me was Michelle Williams's perfectly observed recreation of original Glinda Billie Burke's body language especially the wand work and Mila Kunis's full on Margaret Hamilton impersonation.  Neither will ultimately ever be out of work as character actresses, will they?

Our Beautiful Game.

"Our Beautiful Game" National Football Museum from Centre Screen Productions on Vimeo.

Film "Our Beautiful Game" was created to feature on a massive 180 degree screen at the National Football Museum in Manchester which is now housed in the old Urbis building. As the producer Lucy Faye Dawson explains on her website, it was "shot at 4K resolution on the RedCam, the film is projected at a huge scale in the museum's dedicated cinema and together with Bent Ear's full 7.1 surround audio mix, it works to completely immerse the audience in the world of football."

Like Cinemarama which was equally designed to be projected in a circular space, watching this on a flat screen on offers a partial indication of what the experience must be like though unlike Cinerama it has less of the bendy line syndrome due to the original photography compensating for the curvature of the screen, though the slight crooked nature of some of the goal posts shows it hasn't been eliminated completely.

The ratio works well for the subject matter.  Those goal posts fit just within the centre of the shot while allowing for the sides of the image to still show foreground play and background landscape, of allowing action scenes to include both a goal and the crowds reaction unhampered in the same shot. The shots of the two kids in what looks like Everton Park are gorgeous.  Perhaps all Cinerama needed was time and better technology.

Mostly it's poignant and nostalgic and even manages to resonate with someone like me whose interest in football ended with Everton's loss to Manchester United in the 1985 FA Cup final with its subsequent hours of tears and heartache and tweenage vows of never again.  Football was mostly killed for me that day.  I was eleven.  This rather makes me wonder what I've been missing.  Too late now, though.

"And here we are once again at the sixteenth annual New Year Rockin Eve coming to you live from the..."

That Day As January shifts into February and we all begin to get the measure of 2014, here's a short documentary about one of the icons of the turning of the year, One Times Square in New York and because I'm me, there was indeed a moment while watching this when I did say, out loud, "Oh so that's why it's called Times Square ..."

Ken and Alex.

Theatre Ah, the BBC. Still producing for radio the projects which we wish were on television:
"Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston to star in new BBC Radio 3 drama of Antony And Cleopatra for Shakespeare’s Birthday: Sunday 20 April

"Actors Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston will be cast as Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in a special production directed by BBC Radio drama’s Alison Hindell for BBC Radio 3 to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

"Commenting on the announcement, Kenneth Branagh said: "I'm so happy to be teamed again with Alison Hindell, whose brilliant production of Life And Fate was one of the great pleasures of my work in radio. I'm also excited to be reunited with Alex Kingston after our hugely rewarding partnership in Macbeth on stage. To play another pair of Shakespeare's great couples, and for a personally beloved medium, is a privilege."
In the process of finding the original press release for this (I originally saw it at The Stage), I found the original release announcing Sally Wainwright's Last Tango in Halifax which I now discover was originally also called Antony and Cleopatra. I bet there was a meeting at some point when someone said "Won't people think it's the Shakespeare?" and so it was changed.

JFK's Final Days.

JFKs Final Days from Amon Carter Museum on Vimeo.

History Produced by The Sixth Floor Museum at the Dealey Plaza, this documentary shorts cuts together film and video footage from a range of sources to create a visual collage of the Kennedy's final few days, detailing the various events attended and speeches in chronological order.  The effect mimics the editing style of Oliver Stone's mid-career films, the cross cutting between colour and black and white and film stocks, but this, despite the rather forbidding voiceover, is more involving because this is about what would otherwise have been incidental moments in a President's life given greater import by subsequent events.

It was created to coincide with an exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, which brought together a collection of paintings which had been gathered and hung in the Kennedy's hotel room during their stay in Dallas which included a Russell, a Picasso and a Van Gogh. Presumably because this was the most secure hotel room in the city at the time it was felt they'd be quite safe. The exhibition's landing page includes clearer images of the paintings in situ as well as the paintings themselves along with audio testimony from witnesses.

Genre Games:
Romantic Tragedies.

Film Let's begin. Watching The Broken Circle Breakdown the other night, I noticed fairly quickly that its editing structure mirrored 500 Days of Summer, another film about sour relationships and I also realised that over the past few years I've watched plenty of films about relationship that end badly and in thinking about writing about genre, I wondered if it was possible to group these films together. As with all of these genre games, the extent to which there’s such a thing as a “romantic tragedy” is up in the air but I’m going to attempt some definitions and hope your reaction won't be "Yes, and?"

 It’s certainly not used as a marketing tool in the same way as “romantic comedy” and on the Wikipedia page for romance films, the kinds of work which I’m about to discuss are separated between “romantic drama” or “chick flick” neither of which really captures what they’re about. Though I’m sticking with “romantic tragedy” as a description as the antonym for “romantic comedy” and tradition, other descriptions might be “the weepy” or “heartbreak films” (as per this Time Out list) but again both of those are too loose and suggest too much when really the content is quite specific.

WARNING: In writing about the "romantic tragedy" it became fairly apparent pretty quickly that by definition it's a bit of a SPOILER. Romantic comedy has a built in expectation which the audience is entirely "in" on. With "romantic tragedies" the outcome isn't always set and although I'm going to go against the film studies grain and talk about film in very general terms as much as possible, there may be the odd thing which, even by labelling it a "romantic tragedy" could be a SPOILER. It's also true that even those films with advertising which suggests that it's going to be a bit grim, the outcome still isn't as obvious as in a romantic comedy so certain things could also be inferred. In other words, BEWARE and BE CAREFUL when reading the following.  The problem with reading film criticism if you're a film fan (as though anyone else would read this stuff) is that in order to successfully analyse a film you have analyse the ending.


Arguably, this is where the “romantic tragedy” is at its most obvious. In a romantic comedy a boy meets girl and after a series of obstacles, jobs, class, finance, rival suitors or their own personality differences, the screwball elements, they fall madly passionately in love and the film tends to end in a kissing scene. A “romantic tragedy” features many similar elements but those obstacles usually become utterly life changing and insurmountable across the course of the film, with even sudden deaths at the ends of these films sign posted and foreshadowed throughout.

Note that “romantic tragedies” don’t always end in death. If there are sub-genres its between the ways in which the central relationship ends negatively, between death, divorce or simple break-up. The key element is that that the film ends with the two protagonists not together, that there is no final run to an airport or apartment or New Year’s Eve ball, no grand gesture featuring dancing and singing or simply turning up.  Most of the time, one or other of the people in the relationship will simply disappear from the story and the audience is purposefully left without the joy of the reunion.

But I have noticed that it's rare for a "romantic tragedy" to begin in the style of a straight out romantic comedy, at least not one that I've seen, there are always discordant notes, and its these notes which create the variance with the other genre because the filmmakers, from the writer to the director to the studio usually want to signpost to the audience the kind of film they're watching from the off.  Unless its some kind indie experiment, they're very careful to make sure that while we're watching Friends With Benefits, Justin Timberlake isn't going to accidentally fall of his building or contract rabies.

It's the methodology of how the filmmakers paint up this sign post which is ultimately, I think, what brings all of these films together in the genre and how it would be possible, like other genre films, to know what kind of film we're watching early.  Which makes me wonder if, even if they don't use the label "romantic tragedy" and audiences don't necessarily call them that or could directly describe as they could with a romantic comedy, they find themselves subliminally following its tropes so that in a circular logic the audience understands what kind of film they're watching.  Welcome to genre theory.

Here's what I think sets a "romantic tragedy" apart from a straight romantic or relationship drama.  I think that it's because the filmmakers tell their story in a non-linear or flashback way which bounces around the happy and sad moments of the relationship.  That methodology is one of distraction or rather of to some extent giving the audience many of the elements of a romantic comedy whilst simultaneous removing its satisfactions and the way this is achieved is strongly connected to how the film is edited.

Off the top of my head, The Notebook, Blue Valentine, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Iris, 500 Days of Summer, The Vow, The English Patient, arguably Forrest Gump, possibly Titanic all have a love story with romantic comedy elements which are told in a non-linear fashion, albeit sometimes with one character who's effectively already had the unhappy ending reflecting back on the golden years.  Sometimes the films foreground this structure in story terms, notably The Time Traveller’s Wife, Looper and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

On the surface, this resorting to messing about with the temporal order would seem to be for the purposes of creating some kind of levity, of including some trailer friendly moments of romance. But within the body of the film, the effect is to put the knife in as we enjoy the elements of a romantic comedy, the meet-cute, the screwball, knowing full well that it’s all going to end badly. That’s why The Notebook is such a killer surely to make grown men weep. Which isn’t to say they don’t seek to surprise and add an extra level of tragedy, the “life sucks and just when you think it can’t suck any more, it does" element.

Closer analysis would reveal how the transitions between the stories are achieved, but from memory there always seems to be a scene where the couple is shown in a position of total bliss which is then replaced with, sometimes in the same locale,  a moment when everything's gone to shit.  That's certainly true of The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Vow and 500 Days of Summer, the male protagonist looking on towards what they've lost.  We'll talk about the gender politics later, but the other element drawn from most romantic comedies is the favouring of the male protagonist.

Employing a flashback structure necessarily creates tension for the viewer because most often they're not made aware of how the relationship ended from the off, the filmmakers withhold expositional information, the hierarchy of knowledge in a "romantic tragedy" is mixed and fluctuating with the audience in a objective position relentlessly attempting to piece together the details of the relationship.  Our thought processes in this kind of "romantic tragedy" are forever on alert which unlike a romantic comedy can have a distancing effect.

The withholding of narrative information is an important part of romances in general, but in romantic comedies, especially high concept ones, it tends to be subjective, as one half of a relationship discovers the other half is potentially unobtainable somehow and that can also be a feature here and a source of tragedy.  But in these kinds of films, because of the flashback element, the audience is in an objective decision and their thought processes are probably more akin to someone watching detective fiction, piecing together the available evidence, reacting in-kind when information is revealed to them.

Of course the problem is that not all films about romances with unhappy or melancholy endings utilise a non-linear or flashback structure especially not the antecedents which we'll talk about below, with Love Story as the prime example.  This is true.  But in genre theory, it's not unknown for there to be exceptions either because the filmmaker is attempting to subvert genre rules on purpose or because as would be the case here, the genre rules haven't been set down by anyone yet.  Plus it's also possible that I'm simply wrong about this cycle or there's some deeper rule set which would only become obvious through closer analysis.

But what's notable is that most of the examples I can think of still use a methodology of distraction in various ways.  Melinda and Melinda and Sliding Doors compare and contrast the comic and tragic, cutting between the two just like the above examples but in a linear fashion, before ultimately deciding if one genre or the other is best.  One Day and Brokeback Mountain utilises a year step structure which allows it to withhold narrative information (though it's true that much of time it's in a subjective way) (there's also probably some analysis which could be done on how their approach differs to When Harry Met Sally).

Plus we might ask if its possible for a film to be a "romantic tragedy" if the couple still stay together at the end.  Emma Thompson's story in Love Actually (grr),  Take This Waltz and Revolutionary Road are examples of this as are many Douglas Sirk films.  My attitude is that they're probably not, that they should quite happily remain amongst the "women's films" suggested by Molly Haskell with some further consideration about whether in all of this I'm simply noticing a sub-genre of the "melodrama" and gathering together films which just happen to have a similar narrative structure.

Plus there are awkward films like The Vow in which, again spoiler warning, they have many of the elements of a "romantic tragedy" in terms of structure but the characters get back together at the end.  But one of the points that film makes (over and over and over again) is that Rachel McAdams's character's amnesia leads her to become a different person so that the person Channing Tatum falls for is gone.  There's an argument to be made, perhaps, that the first half follows the rules of the "romantic tragedy", the second half the "romantic comedy" in the way it deals with genre ala From Dusk Till Dawn, but let's not get too sucked into this.  Ahem.

Obviously all of this is suspect anyway because I'm approach it with just a few films.  If I was writing this as a dissertation I'd have to watch a whole lot more of them, looking for commonalities, doing much more to disprove the theory, especially when considering films in other genres like Ghost, Edward Scissorhands, The Fly, Bonnie and Clyde, Iris, Bright Star and Last Year at Marienbad.  I’m aware too that my world cinema choices have been thin but that’s because this is a genre which has an anti-matter element and it’s rare for international romantic comedies not to have some negative motif anyway.


Like romantic comedies which is also essentially structural genre it isn’t always obvious simply by looking at one of these films that the content will be tragic.  I've seen whodunnits which beginning looking like one of these films before someone dies early and the detective protagonist wanders in.  The best evidence you might gather is in locales. Modern romantic tragedies often feature at least one scene set in a hospital or doctor’s office because one of the characters is suffering from a life threatening illness or sudden accident though that tends only to be in the sub-genres that end in death and indeed there are romantic comedies which also have hospitals because one of the characters is in the medical profession or there’s some kind of comedy injury. If there’s some divorce element there might be a lawyers office.


Like romantic comedies, there aren’t many hard and fast rules on the kinds of characters which appear in these films, though there is an component of the upwardly mobile independently wealthy, of taking romantic comedy characters and destroying their lives. What is noticeable is how often, just like romantic comedies, the male protagonist has the most narrative agency, with the female character only really existing or indeed dying to show the effect it has on them, with the girlfriend or wife the most likely to drop from the narrative and it's about how the male character copes with moving on.


Romeo and Juliet, obviously, though notice just how linear Shakespeare’s play is in comparison to filmic examples but also note how tonally when the play has been adapted into film, there tends to be a sense of needing to foreground the ending, even though the play itself, for all the exposition in the opening chorus, only really changes its tone from comedy when Romeo kills Tybalt. Before that the rivalry between the family is comic and light-hearted and there’s a sense that the story could go either way. Anthony and Cleopatra perhaps too though like Amour, it’s about the tragic end of the relationship rather than the start and so isn’t quite fit the “romantic tragedy” model which covers everything from the meeting onwards.

Generally in film studies when defining a genre it’s customary to look for earlier films which seem like but don’t quite fit what’s under discussion. The Great Train Robbery looks like a western, for example. With the “romantic tragedy” we’re in the realm of Brief Encounter, An Affair To Remember, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Love Story and City Lights and it’s interesting to note how “linear” those films are too in general though Brief Encounter has the clearest influence on the list above in terms of developing towards a somewhat flashback structure. But we’re (or rather I'm) stuck with the inherent problem of trying to define a genre based on too small numbers of examples.  See above.  When I originally began writing I tried to work in Love Story too by suggesting it was simply a different type of "romantic tragedy" which was linear but simply cut out all the jokes.  Shrugs.  Moves on.


Interestingly, like westerns, these films do attract certain actors. Rachel McAdams in particular has cornered the market between The Notebook, The Time Traveller’s Wife and The Vow, which almost make up a kind of thematic trilogy of sorts. Ryan Gosling too, with The Notebook defining things and Blue Valentine, and you could make a weirdish argument for including Lars and the Real Girl.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Michelle Williams, Ann Hathaway and the Gyllenhaals are all proponents.  But it’s also true they’ve made just as many romantic comedies but they’re rarely open for award nominations whereas these films, because they’re dramas, are more likely to attract such nominations perhaps because they’re considered to be more profound in some way though there are anomalies.

Adverting posters

The key thing with "romantic tragedy" posters is that they often feature an embrace or more importantly, with few exceptions, the characters aren't looking at us. The Notebook, Blue Valentine, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Iris, 500 Days of Summer, The Vow or The English Patient.  Unlike some (disaster films which tend to have lots of star faces and source of the disaster emblazoned on them) you couldn't define a genre this way, but it's a decent marker.  In contrast, notice how romantic comedy posters are all about looking us in the eye, teasing us into the cinema often against a white background, tragedies preferring real landscapes.  Which puts us right back into the area of the former's tendency for objective storytelling and the latter's subjectivity.


Pianos are the order of the day or percussive instruments. Often strings, lots of strings. Sometimes a voice over, especially if there’s some kind of high concept element. The structure always tends to be same with roughly the first minute dedicated to the meet cute, with actual first meeting in the opening moments and the second minute suggesting to the viewer that the course of true love isn’t going to run smooth which oddly flattens out the narrative of the films, which do have a flashback element.

As a side note, this approach seems to be the exact opposite of trailers for romantic comedies, where the down note comes up front, usually some kind of relationship inadequacy and the meet cute and comic elements appear later on, the Sleepless in Seattle model, though of course that’s an imperfect case because the meet cute between the actors, Joe Versus The Volcano accepted, structurally doesn’t happen until You’ve Got Mail and the trailer for that compensates. Thinking on, Joe Vs The Volcano looks like a cross genre experiment within all of this.

The exceptions to this rule tend to be the high concept pieces where an explanation for what the audience might expect is for-grounded, in Sliding Doors, in The Time Traveler Wife, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or in the rare instances where the narrative is solidly linear for various reasons like Love and Other Drugs, Remember Me or Nicholas Sparks adaptations and the meet cute often doesn’t appear into some time later into the piece, though its worth noting how often the male protagonist is still in charge of the story in these things.

Again, there are exceptions.  Blue Valentine's trailer's very sweet and the only indications you might infer about something being up are Michelle Williams's tears and the all too tight cuddling throughout.


I think it does, I think there is a “romantic tragedy” genre with its own rules and commonalities. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think it’s ever going to be used as a selling tool, the word “tragedy” has too many other connotations outside of film having become the more emotive, human terms often substituted for disaster in news headlines, but in terms of the classical model and on the technical level of offering an opposite of romantic comedy it certainly works.

Little boxes, little boxes.

Art Catching up on the pre-Christmas This American Life, I heard yet again of people doing would might be my perfect job. Andy Warhol's Time Capsules was a collecting project in which the artist, from 1974 onwards, stored personal items in anonymous cardboard boxes, six hundred and twelve of them.

Generally kept secret during his lifetime, they were discovered when he died and since there's been an ongoing project to open and discover exactly what's in them.

Starlee Kine meets the staff at the Warhol Museum undertaking the task.

See also Stanley Kubrick's boxes, I expect. And since we're on the subject:

Rebel Time Lord.

TV Just when words like hiatus were being muttered and it was all feeling a bit 2009 in Doctor Who terms as the post-50th hangover begins to set in, this happened:

Seems designed to evoke the first three Doctors simultaneously (with just a smidge of Cumberbatch's Sherlock and Hammer which'll please future showrunner Mark Gatiss). To an extent it's practically what Matt Smith was wearing at the end with a different jacket. The no-tie approach but still buttoned up is an interesting choice, I suppose. Where's 1993's Lowri Turner when you need her?

Meanwhile everyone's talking in soundbites.
Capaldi says: "He's woven the future from the cloth of the past. Simple, stark, and back to basics. No frills, no scarf, no messing, just 100 per cent Rebel Time Lord."

Moffat says: "New Doctor, new era, and of course new clothes. Monsters of the universe, the vacation is over - Capaldi is suited and booted and coming to get you!"

Charlotte Moore, Controller of BBC One, says: "Peter Capaldi's Doctor is officially recorded in history today with the unveiling of his new costume. It's sharp, smart and stylish - The Twelfth Time Lord means business."
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the photo is that for all the talk about his age, Capaldi looks like he's still going to be a very physical Doctor all thrusting limbs and so forth, though I'm not sure about the running in those shoes. Whenever I have nice shoes like that they have a crease in them within minutes because I've had to run for the bus.

Liver Birds.

Liverpool Life Discover the city’s hidden flock of Liver Birds in the Liverpool Echo:
"Liverpool's hidden Liver Birds Scattered around the city are lampposts covered with Liver Birds - like this one outside the Liverpool Museum on William Brown Street.

"As emblematic guardians of their city, the two huge birds standing on top of the Liver Building can punch their weight – all four tons apiece – with any landmark around the globe."
That would be quite some crowd sourcing project for people to collect liver birds from throughout the city, not the flickr doesn't have a decent selection already.

Beyond The Visible: The Story of the Very Large Array.

Beyond The Visible: The Story of the Very Large Array from NRAO Outreach on Vimeo.

Space This can't be described much better than the text from the Vimeo page:
"Created in 2013 as the new interpretive film for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) public Visitor Center, this 24-minute production explores the synergies of technology and human curiosity that power the world's most productive radio telescope. Narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster (star of the film "Contact," which was based on the novel by Carl Sagan and filmed at the VLA), the program depicts many of the people whose diverse efforts enable the VLA to be a cutting-edge resource for astronomers and humanity worldwide."
Worth watching for the section about how the telescopes are transported around the site, miles and miles of railway track, and how their positioning changes the kinds of imagery and the parts of the universe the dishes are able to survey.

"I mean, I think about it... all the time, but..."

TV  The AV Club has a rather good essay about My So-Called Life today which doesn't necessarily say anything particularly new but writer Todd VanDerWerff covers the bases in a way which reminds us just how innovative and influential it was:
"Rewatching the pilot—one of the best ever made—it’s amazing how thoroughly Holzman, Winant, and the cast combine the adolescent world with the thirtysomething sensibility to make something that feels all the more vibrant for bringing them together. Pilots are meant to set up the necessary conflicts of the show’s world, often through over-expository dialogue or a new character being thrust into a setting. My So-Called Life sets up most of its necessary conflicts and character points within the first 10 minutes of its running time. It’s a supremely confident piece of work, taking us through Angela’s changed social standing (she starts hanging out with a less straitlaced crowd than she did before); the tensions between her and her parents, especially her mother; and the slowly budding sense she has of her own love life, particularly as it comes to her crush on the always-leaning Jordan Catalano (Leto). Much of this was conveyed via voiceover, delivered by Danes in a disaffected style that made you feel just how much Angela was struggling to be cool."

Spotify in Sweden.

Music This has been under reported elsewhere presumably because people are clutching their cds and mp3s and paranoia about the future of music for dear life and I don't really have a comment other than posting the two links from a Swedish news in English service:

Spotify rakes in half of Swedish music sales:
"Digital sales surpassed physical sales two years ago. In the first half of 2012, digital downloads and streaming accounted for 64 percent of the total market.

"Last year was the best year for music sales in Sweden since 2005, according to data from the Swedish Recording Industry Association (GLF).

"This is a clear sign that more consumers are paying for their music consumption than for some time," the chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Sweden, Ludvig Werner, said in a statement."
Swedish music sales up as Spotify tightens grip:
"Music streaming service Spotify generates almost 70 percent of the Swedish music industry's revenues, which climbed for the third consecutive year in 2013.

"It's super positive, the third consecutive year of growth," said Ludwig Werner of the record company trade body IFPI.

"Sales of physical discs continue to fall sharply and streaming music has come to dominate the industry, whose revenues grew by 5 percent in 2013 to almost 1 billion kronor ($155 million), although still a fair way to the industry's peak levels in the early 2000s. "
No, actually I do have a comment. Compare the attitude of the man from the IFPI with the commentary from some members of the UK and US music industries. In Sweden, now that Spotify and other streaming services have reached critical mass, more money is pouring into the music industry than it has in years and working somewhat against the decline.

It isn't interesting to note that while some rock acts are either pulling their back catalogue from the service or only making limited amounts available, I'm receiving marketing emails from classical music companies with embedded Spotify players or links to their albums on the service, even Deutsche Grammophon who took ages to allow themselves to be signed on and uploaded.  Some people understand.

Genre Games: An Explanation.

Film As you'll remember in the mid-noughties I undertook a film studies degree. I'm still waiting to put it into professional practice, but the knowledge is still up here and although it was fairly soon after the degree I was finally able to sit down and watch a movie without my brain kicking into analysis mode, the capability to do that analysis is still there, especially in relation to genre. My dissertation, as I've mentioned before was about defining genre and narrative and in the intervening years, my preoccupation with noticing genre "tropes" and gathering films together hasn't gone and I thought it was about time I did something about that.

The idea with these occasional "Genre Games" posts is to, like my dissertation, see if I can find or at least define what constitutes some kind of potential film genre or cycle. It's an intellectual challenge for me, but hopefully interesting to. In the main I'm going to try to stick to "things I've noticed" though it's entirely possible I'll simply be re-iterating "things other people have noticed". I'm a bit out of touch with the contemporary critical film thought so might just be re-iterating something which is already leading to much head nodding and handing out of photocopied essays in university tutorials.

Which doesn't really matter. This is mostly for my benefit, plus it's not an exact science. As Stanley J. Solomon said in Beyond Formula : American Film Genres (1976), ‘what appears to be a genre to one writer becomes a sub-genre to another, and what is merely a technique or style becomes to another an identifiable manner of grouping films. In practice, the term genre has an almost unlimited number of valid connotations." Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903) is now thought of as an early western but at the time it was part of a cycle of films depicting real life violent crime. It only really became a "western" when its near contemporary setting receded into the past.

As is so often the case when writing something relatively esoteric on a blog, I don't know if it's necessary to offer some definitions of what constitutes a film genre, how much critical theory is really needed for the ensuing posts to be useful. I had hoped to simply link the Wikipedia page but it's mostly pretty thin, lacking examples, despite having a "further reading" list which covers all of the bases. The point above about The Great Train Robbery is based on a passage from Film Reader II. Google "film genre definition" and there are dozens of pages which give the general sense some of which are pretty good.  But I do think I need to bother, if only so I can fix what I think is important in my head and have something to refer back to.

The idea of a "Genre Game" comes from theorist Rick Altman's approach to the subject in his book Film/Genre (1999).  He says that every critic attempting to define a genre will follow four basic rules which he describes as a ‘critic’s game’.  Firstly, that one should ‘from industry or critical sources, glean the existence of a genre’.  Secondly that the characteristics of those films ‘most identified with the genre’ should be analysed ‘establishing a description of the genre’, next a corpus of films would be compiled using these conventions based on film lists and research and finally an analysis of the genre.  I'm going to somewhat follow these rules but the game is most obvious in seeking to find commonalities between them.

The first rule is the process of deciding to write one of these posts and that's through having watched a bunch of films and seeing commonalities and becoming slightly freaked out by that.  Some of these genres will be blatantly obvious and I'm simply writing that down, but a couple have sort of amorphously emerged because the film makers are constructing a particular type of story and end up somehow with a similar solution not necessarily conscious that it's the same solution as their colleagues in the industry, which does tend to be how genres emerge initially, that's part of the life cycle.  It's only when genres are established and crystalised that film production consciously begins to follow its rules, perhaps due to the success of previous films which have followed those same rules.

Plus there's a fluidity between defining the rules and then making a list of films which fit those rules.  Some theorists suggest that you consciously choose a finite "corpus" of works to create the rules and then head off looking for films which hang off them, but in my experience, when writing my dissertation, it was the case that the rules became relatively fluid as I watched more films and also that you'd end up defining some of the tropes based on what didn't seem like it was like the others.  Altman's final three rules merged and smoosh together somewhat which to be fair is something he's conscious of himself so he also proposes a "producers game" in which groups of films can be defined by a producer or film studio, where one film's a hit so the studio decides to make another and then another.  See above.

My eventual point is that although I'm structuring this process I'm sticking to the simplest, bare bones elements, syntactic and semantic elements, the kinds of characters the films have, the kinds of stars they might share, antecedents and advertising.  I'll explain some of that in a moment, but they're what I utilised in the first chapter of my dissertation when I wasn't looking at audience reaction by quoting from an Ask Metafilter thread.  As I discovered then, defining genre by audience reaction is a lot of work and only becomes useful if you're considering the business of marketing or looking at a well established genre and wanting, for example, to examine why some old groups like westerns or musicals have fallen out of favour.


The semantic and syntactic approach to film genre was originally proposed by Rick Altman in his essay, "A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre" for Film Journal in 1984, which the University of Texas has helpfully posted online in the form of a pdf and is well worth a read if you're at all interested in this sort of thing.  Mostly, just as I'm about to, he deals with westerns pulling together previous research and in doing so notes how genres aren't static and that what constituted a western in the 1940s is very different to the cynical material produced in the 1970s.  If he was writing this now, I wonder if he'd note how the genre has become a haven for nostalgics, shifting its tone across the whole of the previous century when it isn't simply trying to produce something that's simply meticulously in period which just happens to arguably be a western too.

The semantic approach to gathering films into a genre is how the film looks, the iconography, and if you could tell which genre a film is in even with the sound off.  In other words you can tell it's a western or gangster picture because of all the hats and guns, point of difference being the former being generally set in backwater desert towns, the latter against the concrete of the city.  Cinematography is also important.  Film Noir's a semantic genre as is neo-noir because it apes the earlier genre with subdued lighting within a colour image.  Science fiction and fantasy are often thought of as semantic too though unless its set in the future and everyone's wearing garish clothing, it's less obvious until a genre element like a monster or a machine wanders into view.  I feel like I'm teaching you to suck eggs.  Am I?  Don't answer that.


Syntactic elements are about the structure of the film, generally the narrative.  The dictionary definition of syntax is "the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language".  A syntactic genre is the arrangement of narrative elements to create recognisable and predictable storytelling and most often the visual elements of the film have little to do with defining that genre.  The most obvious example is the romantic comedy in which a boy meets girl and after a series of obstacles, jobs, class, finance, rival suitors or their own personality differences, the screwball elements, they fall madly passionately in love and the film tends to end in a kissing scene.  It Happened One Night pretty much nailed this down and it's been successfully followed ever since.

But like The Great Train Robbery, the producers of It Happened One Night didn't know it was a romantic comedy whilst in production.  At the time it was described critically as a "bus film" though in truth I could never run down any other contemporary examples.  Now it could also be defined as a road movie, I suppose, all of which tend to follow the same structure of the protagonist being given a reason that they need to be on the other side of the country before an obstacle is introduced at the end of the first act, which then leads to some waywardness in the middle act before the final chase to the destination at the end.  As Thomas Sobchack says of film genre "the plot is fixed, the characters defined and the ending satisfyingly predictable’".  In other words, try all the innovations you want but ...

But syntactic elements don't necessarily always have to be about plot, especially in art cinema where its the absence of definitive structure which can be the defining element.  In critical circles the "art film" tended to be dumped into its own genre as though Last Year at Marienbad and The 400 Blows are doing exactly the same thing, but as I don't really have time to extrapolate on, genres in general can be massive and nebulous.  Pre-Netflix which actually sits around defining genre on the fly ("thought provoking 80s thriller") Blockbuster would dump everything into "comedy" or "action" or "world cinema" (which was essentially anything not English even though there were plenty of comedies and action films there too).  Lovefilm still does this.  It's simultaneously extremely useful and annoying because of the way they reduce the artform.


What are the films about?  This is also a syntactic element, but it is important but unlike the video above which is generally very good, I don't know that you can say all detective films are about how "world is corrupt" or at least define detective films in that way.  Most dramas are about how the "world is corrupt" and even some comedies.  That's too broad.  But in truth all of these sections work in tandem.  What's the thematic connection in romcoms?  That there is such a thing as love at first sight?  Not all of them says that, indeed many of the classics definitely don't say that, they're about getting used a person and then falling in love.


Some of these genre definitions are from the time when the studio system was still important or at least when film theory was considering films created under the studio system when actors and actresses found themselves ghettoised into particular roles.  John Wayne's the stick which is usually waved when defining westerns or James Cagney for gangster films.  Such typecasting still goes on.  Adam Sandler only makes comedies.  If Adam Sandler is in the film, it's a comedy.  Arnold's an action hero.  But the rules are less definitive and actors tend to work based on all kinds of factors like the script, wanting to work with a particular director or actors or the size of the pay packet.


Courtroom dramas have lawyers.  Medical dramas have doctors.  Westerns have cowboys and sheriffs and native Americans.  I don't know if its possible to define an entire genre based just on the characters that appear in them, but there is an argument about how those characters are utilised but that strays into syntactic definitions again I suppose.  This became important in my dissertation which I'll talk about when I'm writing the blog post which regurgitates the contents of my dissertation but I'm keeping it in here for the purposes of this intellectual exercise. Characters also come into play in relation to casting because some actors tend to play similar characters if not the same character a lot. Matthew McConaughey likes playing lawyers.


One of the reasons semantics and syntactics are used in relation to genre is because genres are often compared to language development.  So the vocabulary of how the story is told in The Great Train Robbery develops and changes and perhaps develops until it become the verbage for Django Unchained.  Sometimes finding these antecedents helps to define what came later and its influences and like language sometimes the elements and tropes of other genres become part of the common usage.  It's worth noting that due to the inclusivity required from audience in modern cinema, genres are rarely fixed anyway.  Action films often have romantic elements, even the "meet cute" scene of romcoms and genre hybrids abound.


I can't tell yet whether I'll be giving this its own title or simply talking about it elsewhere if it's relevant though having already worked on the first entry, it's interesting how even in genres with a very small number of defining films, sub-genres begin to present themselves, though you do have to be careful that you're not simply suggesting that a few films are within a sub-genre simply because they don't quite follow the rules as they're being defined.


Film posters and movie trailers because they're about letting the audience know what they're getting themselves often enunciate the tropes of their given genres and in doing so create rules of their own or similar cliches as this famous page demonstrates.  A romantic comedy isn't going to do the mood silhouette from the back thing.  Similarly trailers can be thuddingly formulaic.  Watch how many times trailers for courtroom dramas begin with the facts of the case and feature the a shot of protagonist giving his closing argument near the end (and the interesting thing about John Grisham adaptations is how often, contrary to their reputation, they're not pure courtroom dramas in the strictest sense).


Then each post will end with a conclusion where I decide if this is a genre and if it has the potential to become as potent as the big ones.  Thinking on, it's worth noting just how fixed genres have become in general and how new films so often seem to fall in line so as not to shock their audience.  I'd argue it's the very best films, the Gravitys or Inceptions, which pretend to be and are doing one thing, clearly fit into one genre, but somehow manage to subvert those genre elements or bring in influences from outside the whole basis of what constitutes a genre.  Which might be a genre in and of itself.  Ooh, I'll add that to the list.

Ladies' Normal Hill Individual Ski-jumping. At Sochi.

Sport Just in case any of you took up my recommendation to watch the documentary about women's ski-jumping, Ready To Fly, the much fought for Ladies' Normal Hill Individual Ski-jumping championship is on the 11th February beginning at 4:30pm UK time (about 9pm Sochi time).

 If you're somewhere else you can work out what the local start time will be on the Sochi Olympics website though it doesn't include the qualifying round so you'll need to take half an hour away.

In theory it should be available to stream through the BBC's website here.  You may have a local service.

In US terms, Sarah Hendrickson & Lindsey Van who both appear in the documentary have been chosen to compete which means we'll effectively be watching Ready To Fly's real third act.

There's an interview with Van on Today's website.

A question on vocabulary.  Why are some Olympic sports listed as "ladies" events, while others are "women's"?  Ski jumping is for ladies.  Ice Hockey is for women.

Either way, it looks like I can cheer them on with a clear conscience (at least in Olympic competition terms) too because Team GB doesn't seem to be sending any ski-jumpers.

But it's not going to be easy.

It was a collaboration.

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke on Their 'Before' Trilogy from The Credits on Vimeo.

Film The usual chemistry in full effect and has the bonus of playing out the whole of Julie's A Waltz for a Night from Before Sunset at the end.  There's not an awful lot that's new year, but it's very good on the collaboration element in Sunrise which just underscores how incorrect it is that neither Julie or Ethan are credited, something which was corrected in the later films.