The Films I've Watched This Year #8

Film The banner headline news this week is that the items in Amazon's Lovefilm's by-post list are back in alphabetical order, though none of the rest of the functionality seems to be back, not that anyone who had to deal with it when it was broken is probably brave enough to check. Oh and the items in the reserved list are in alphabetical order by priority rather than next release date. I haven't decided if that's helpful or not yet.

This week's meagre list can be explained by a night watching Game of Thrones (#redwedding #harsh) and spending yesterday evening in the company of Margot Fontaine and this extended version of the recently discovered 1959 tv recording of The Sleeping Beauty featuring her colleagues in the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House's symphony orchestra which is just extraordinary and worth seeing just as a piece of television regardless of anything else.

Watching on a relatively big screen, and with almost every camera angle presenting the sets in a kind of proscenium arch, the effect was of being on the front row of the auditorium, and working against the current tendency for close-ups, short shots and rapid cutting even when presenting live recordings, each section of the show appeared in a sing, long, master allowing the viewer to see the athleticism and precision of the dancers, especially Fontaine, who really is remarkable.

Having generally been a bit "someone's else's artform" about it, I've been utterly transfixed by the BBC's ballet season so far, not least because I've become a little a bit in love with main presenter Darcey Bussell with her voice which is almost but not exactly like Audrey Hepburn and giddy presenting style that also manages to explain the technical challenges in conveying character and story through dance.

My favourite piece of trivia is from Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 Made British Ballet in which David Bintley, director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet describes the histories of the Royal Ballet Company and his own outfit.  He explains that back when they were The Sadler's Wells Ballet, they toured Holland in Spring 1940 as way of helping the British to shore up relations with what was a neutral country.  Margot Fontaine was amongst the dancers on the trip.

After successful residencies across the country they were enjoying a well earned break in The Hague but one night realised that something untoward was happening and after spilling out onto the roof of their hotel realised Germany was invading.  They quickly ran down to the basement where they stayed until the Dutch cultural minister could negotiate their passage on the next to last ship out of the country and they made it to safety after fifteen uncomfortable hours in the hold.

Imagine that.  If the Germans has got wind of their presence, Fontaine and her colleagues would certainly have lived out the rest of that war in prison and as they suggest in the documentary it would have been end of the ballet company.  As it is they lost forever some of choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton best work in the rush to go.  The last boat to leave carried the Dutch royal family which rather demonstrates how dicey it was.  Amazing.

White House Down
Wish Upon a Star
Safe Haven
The Grey
The Conjuring

White House Down is rubbish but it's a welcome return to the Roland Emmerich who's more interested in pure entertainment rather than po-faced, idiotic misinformation about William Shakespeare.  About the only element which really works against it, probably, is how fake some of the green screen work looks in comparison to some other modern action films.  FilmmakerIQ has a typically superb history of chromakey which demonstrates that it's entirely possible in post production to make the shifts between OB, sets and CGI invisible, but in places here the transitions between are almost as jarring as the cuts between video and film in old BBC television as lampooned by the Pythons here especially between the front of the White House lawn and the rest of it, none of which is quite what you expect in a Hollywood film with this budget.  Perhaps it's an artifact of the shift to using digital cameras for everything.  2012 had similar issues, although there it really was in the shift between material shot on 35mm and digital, the latter being used for all the process and special effects shot.

But other than it's really, really great fun, with Channing Tatum's agent and Jamie Foxx's President making for a useful unlikely buddy combo and the likes of Lance Reddick, Rachelle Lefevre, Richard Jenkins and James, James Woods playing the kinds of characters Lance Reddick, Rachelle Lefevre, Richard Jenkins and James, James Woods usually play.  Oh and Jimmi Simpson turns up as a weaponised version of Gavin from House of Cards a year or two early but sans guinea pig.  Perhaps it's the overall sense of familiarity which led to the sniffy critical reaction and though there is an argument that if you want to see the bit in Die Hard when Holly McClane is discovered as related to the thorn in Hans Gruber's side due to idiotically intrusive television coverage you might as well watch Die Hard rather than the shameless knock-off presented here, as we've discussed in previous weeks, there's sometimes something very satisfying in seeing the same notes being played in a slightly different order, especially since in this version Twinkie loving Sgt Powell ("It's gonna need a paint job and a shit load of screen doors.") is replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Psychos sees Steven Soderbergh merging together Alfred Hitchcock's original masterpiece with Gus Van Sant's underrated remake into a spectacular new film. You can watch it yourself here. Most commenters seem to have written it off as a folly or an upscale YouTube supercut. But far from simply dropped scenes together to see how they match or as The New Yorker suggests "making every character appear onscreen as a “split personality" ", Soderbergh has made very specific choices about how the footage is deployed, repurposing each to show how the various characters think of themselves, with the Gus Van Sant material representing Marion, Norman and the rest in private moments, Hitchcock representing them in public, a transition which sometimes occurs with a dissolve within a scene. A prime example is the moment when Marion Crane is pulled over on the highway and Soderbergh cuts between Janet Leigh and Anne Heche depending on where she is in relation to the cop's point of view. It's worth noticing that Sam Loomis is mostly played by Viggo Mortenson; I think this is supposed to mean that both the Crane sisters feel like they can be themselves with him.

How to talk about Safe Haven without spoiling the whole thing?  Is even mentioning that it has the potential to be spoiled a spoiler in and of itself?  Can adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels be spoiled?  Either way if you haven't seen it and are even remotely thinking about it skip the rest of this paragraph, and the next, and go to the section about The Grey.  You're still here?  As you may have seen if you have Netflix where it currently resides, Safe Haven has a twist ending.  I saw this twisting ending coming about half an hour into the film.  Of course she's a ghost/angel/whatever.  What I don't know is whether I realised this because I've been to film school and seen a few films or if it's just simply really, obvious.  The fact that we never see a photograph of Josh Duhamel's wife, or that everything about Cobie's character's past is entirely obscured and inferred and despite her and Julianne Hough's character becoming great friends we never see Smulders's house.  There are other instances of the film trying to sneakily obscure narrative information, but it's the sheer oddness of her presence within scenes which marks her closest to being of the supernatural despite the conventional Sleeping With The Enemy like noodling going on elsewhere.

Of course, this Blyth Spirit either doesn't make any sense or is a really interesting approach to the idea depending on your reaction to the fact that when Hough's husband enters town Cobie has narrative agency in that scene as we see her spotting him from the crowd and although they're pretty good at not having this ghost be too corporeal apart from when she's sitting on things, she does spend time in town and it's only afterwards we have to deal with potential rules about who can see her or not.  But it's also a rare example of a film in which the genre only becomes obvious in the closing moments amyway and even then it doesn't really understand the implications.  Having received the letter which gives away Cobie's previous presence as a supernatural entity, Hough's character doesn't freak out at all, doesn't run to her boyfriend and tell him she's spent the best part of the past few months conversing with his dead wife.  She just decides to go on the boat trip.  Apparently in the book, Cobie's character is still knocking around even while they're leaving waving them off.  This is a Cinema Sins video waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, Liam Neeson's punching wolves in the icy wilderness.  Whilst watching The Grey, I was very proud of myself for noticing that it's a fair example of the Liam Neeson action film, but as it might have been directed by Terrance Malick, with long lingering shots of man within nature, poetic existential voiceovers, dream sequences set between the sheets and a general sense of this being another artwood film like Gravity or Inception.  Then I saw the Cinema Sins episode "Everything Wrong With The Grey In 6 Minutes Or Less" which says as Neeson's character is pulled out of bed and into the reality of the plane horror, "We interrupt this Terrance Malick wolf-killing movie to bring you Inception" ("Ping!").  In terms of director Joe Carnahan's career it's of a piece with his (rather troubled in production) Pride and Glory or Narc rather then presumably (because I haven't seen it) The A Team, but it's impossible to really pin down who the auteur is here though it's fair to say it is one of the best of Neeson's recent performances, not least because he was apparently, poignantly, channelling his grief over the death of Natasha Richardson into his character's similar tragedy.

The week ended with a thud and The Conjuring which I literally only watched so I could enjoy the Cinema Sins video.  On release Mark Kermode wondered if the reason he didn't find it scary is because he's seen too many horror films and so many of these genre tropes before.  Well, I haven't seen nearly as many horror films as him and I didn't find it scary either.  There seem to be two main reasons for this.  Firstly, there's no particular viewpoint character.  Period British horror The Awakening is effective because Rebecca Hall's compellingly forthright character is at the centre of the action and so we're caught by her peril.  Here our sympathy is distracted between the various members of the family living in the house and the supernatural investigators and there's barely enough time to latch on to anyone.  In aping The Exorcist and Poltergeist, it fails to notice that the threat is more potent if you choose the investigator or the family as the viewpoint characters.  You can't really do both.  To an extent, it looks like the writers have tried to switch the protagonist in the middle ala Psycho, but this isn't the kind of material which can support that kind of experiment.

The other problem is that so much of it is shot on steadicam in lengthy oners or faux-oners, and although that choice must have been made so that we see the house and action from the character's POV and unsettle the audience without going full on "found footage" it means that they lose all of the potency horror can gained from cutting between a variety of shots, from close-ups to masters in quick succession (FilmmakerIQ's short history of horror explains what can be achieved).  Plus it works against the early 70s setting and although there are odd scenes which seem to have been designed to reference the style of horror films of the period, especially Friedkin, Donner and Roeg, for whatever reason director James Wan falls into more conventional shot choices for much of the film so that what feels like it's trying to be a homage to a period, just somehow, isn't.  The IMDb reveals that a sequel is in process from the same writers but Wan hasn't been confirmed.  He's taking over from Justin Lin on the Fast & Furious films which as you might gather fills me with dread.  With Lin moving on, it seems odd that they'd tap a horror director, especially this horror director as his successor.  Oh well.

"the set-up, the placement of the crisis, the climax, and the denouement"

Film Kristin Thompson's book Storytelling in the New Hollywood was one of the key texts when I was writing my film studies dissertation because it's incisive explanation of how a screenplay is structured when considering the multiple stoylines in an ensemble movie. One of the films she considered was Groundhog Day and during the publication process, Harold Ramis was contacted to offer a blurb for the cover. He sent back a letter which Kristin has posted on her blog as a tribute. It's really interesting:
"I am not a student of screenwriting so I’m afraid I can’t comment intelligently on Ms. Thompson’s theoretical model. Certainly, the fact that most movies are about two hours long will determine to a large extent the length of the set-up, the placement of the crisis, the climax, and the denouement, but rather than look at films in terms of “acts,” I prefer to think in terms of “actions,” as if the narrative line were a string of pearls, dramatically linked, each taking the audience forward to the next point. If any particular action doesn’t advance the plot or contain some new information, it doesn’t belong in the narrative. As a writer I generally proceed more intuitively than structurally. As Ms. Thompson suggests, I suspect that most of us have simply absorbed the classical film structure during our formative years as members of the audience."
Kristin mentions as much in her book, which also includes a section which looks at less successful films to see if it's because of the structure and quite often it is and the eventual conclusion is that it's an alchemical mixture of the two elements - filmmaker's unconscious intent and the "rules" and how they'r extrapolated. It's worth noting though, that once you have this four-part structure in your head, you'll always intuitively know when each turning point is going to be in a film and in the very best, it's always almost exactly at 25%, 50% and 75% of the running time and the contents of each .... see above ...

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe Live!

Doctor Who Christmas Special with live BBC Orchestra from Ryan Owen Eddleston on Vimeo.

TV Sometimes Vimeo presents some real finds. Uploaded to the portfolio account of Ryan Owen Eddleston, director of photography, is a recording of this live event in which conductor Ben Foster and the BBC Symphony Orchestra provide a live score for Doctor Who's The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.  Happy Christmas!

Elizabeth Wurtzel's recaps of The Bachelor.

TV  As I've mentioned before, Elizabeth Wurtzel's been providing episode recaps for the latest US series of The Bachelor for and in a way which is both entertaining, funny, clever and most importantly short.  But Nerve's website doesn't seem to have author profiles so keeping up with them has been a bit difficult, right up to this week's finale.  So as a public service here are the columns I can find linked in broadcast order.

January 6, 2014
Countdown to Juan Pablo

January 14, 2014
Fake Pregnancies, Fake Snow, Real Tears

January 21, 2014
The Prettiest Girls In The Room, All in a Room Together

January 28, 2014
A Victory for Feminism

February 4, 2014
All the Promises Will Be Broken

February 11, 2014
Armchair Anthropologists

February 25, 2014
Emotional Blather Galore

February 26, 2014
The Fantasy Suite and The Opposite of Love

March 6, 2014
The Women Tell All

March 11, 2014
The Final Rose

The official website has a more standard episode guide.

Life of Anna.

Film Anna Kendrick's Oscar diary is as snarky as you'd hope but also in places has a familiar ring to it. Example:
"I get to present the award for Best Supporting Male Actor, which goes to Jared Leto. When he gets up on stage, the list in his hand is so long I wonder why I let myself be talked into the more painful shoes. However, his speech quickly transitions from a list of agents and lawyers to Pink Floyd, Wayne Gretzky, and all the women he’s ever slept with. His speech is funny and his hair smells like a damn meadow. What a dream."
From Brian Krakow:
"Her hair smelled incredible. Her hair smelled like the orange grove we passed when I was eight on the way to see my grandmother. But I guess that’s just her shampoo. Or something."
Yes, I know he was talking about Angela, not Jordan (and that would have been a whole other programme).  Yet ...

The BBC Three Thing.

TV You will have heard about the changes to BBC Three and TV producer Ash Atalla's diatribe on Newsnight last night and this seems like something you're supposed to have an opinion about. Here is my opinion about it.

Fine, whatever.

Now it's important to say that I'm not pleased with that opinion.  It was my first response on hearing that BBC Three as a television station was due to close, and it really shouldn't be.  BBC Three has a long history stretching back through into the BBC Choice era when the BBC was still experimenting with multi-channel television.

But I was also expecting it and have been for some time.  I think we all have.

It also isn't a very nuanced argument, so here is some nuance.

This entire problem goes back to the licence fee settlement in 2010 which froze the budget the BBC had to work with for six years. So after opening up BBC's Three and Four and host of other digital services when they could afford to and as part of an agreement with the previous government to produce some extra stations to help persuade viewers to switch over to digital early, the new government put them in a position where they really couldn't.

The freeze of the license fee wasn't for any particular reason. The government treated it, and publicised it as part of the cuts, but as a separate "tax" to government spending, there's no particular reason why it needed to be frozen for quite so long other than so that commercial operators, like, I don't know, Sky, with all of their cash, could move into areas the BBC used to do because they could afford it, and pretend to be some cultural white knight (cf, Sky Arts) and give them some new element of respectability.

But in what was the financial equivalent of Game of Thrones' red wedding, the BBC was also forced to take on the burden of financing the World Service in house leading to even less money for services.

Which means they were pretty much shafted and like some great metaphoric expression of how many household have been treated by the present government are being forced to give up some luxuries of which, unfortunately BBC Three is an example.

When it was first suggested and as it was announced, many people on Twitter and in the media began to talk about all the successes BBC Three has had across the years and there have been plenty from Being Human to Lip Service to most recently In The Flesh and the broadcast of Orphan Black.

What hasn't been noticed is that a lot of the successes from Gavin & Stacy to Torchwood were produced under the earlier remit to attract 18-34 year olds.  In more recent years, due to pressures from the BBC Trust and the government's culture department that demographic has lost a decade at the top end which has arguably limited the types of series entering production.  Everyone loved Pulling.  Pulling was one of the shows cancelled because of this remit change.  I believe it's also one of the reasons Gavin & Stacy was shifted to the "main" channels.

The other problem is most of those shows have gone mostly because as with the rest of the BBC, the channel's budget has already dwindled.  Zai Bennett the channel controller has had less money to play about with.  Shows like Being Human went not because they weren't popular but simply because, we're told, they couldn't afford to make them.

Doctor Who Confidential, went too for much the same reason apparently.

Which means that over time, the amount of new commissions on the channel overall has dwindled too.  A glance through the recent schedules and especially next week, shows that there's only about seven and a half hours of brand new programming, mostly in the 9-10:30pm slot on weekdays, the rest filled with another chance to see some of those shows, reruns of Doctor Who and Eastenders, nightly episodes of Family Guy and American Dad and the film Blades of Steel twice in prime time.

Within what is new is what looks like an interesting documentary following the lives of young EDL members, some sitcoms and a competition series about trainee hairdressers, admittedly just the sort of shows BBC Three is and has been good at.  No drama notice, but see above.

The problem is there's not enough of it because there can't be because the channel can't afford it.

When Ash Atalla says things like "A BBC3 audience who have been cut adrift today has nowhere else to go on BBC television. They have been marginalised." and "BBC3 is the main plank with which the BBC connects on television with young audiences and they have cut their link to the future" he's talking about it as though this isn't something which has already happened.

Frankly, the way the channel's had to deal with commissioning and budgetary body blows during its slender history, this begins to look like a mercy killing.

Of course, the Doctor Who parallels are obvious.  That too saw its budgets and amounts of new content dwindle despite producing wonderful material until it was put out of its misery.  That too had a small passionate audience but an overall lack of interest from the viewing public.  Loads of people then thought "fine, whatever" because the BBC had lost faith in it, in just the same way they've lost faith in BBC Three.

Which is partly why I'm so disappointed that my reaction was "Fine, whatever".  I fell into the trap.

But there's still a solid basis for shifting BBC Three online and some of the quotes from Ash Atalla are quite useful because they give something to argue against. Here are some counter arguments:

He says: "It feels like a 60-year-old man in a golf jumper has walked into a really good nightclub and turned the music off so he can hear more Mozart next door."

Which is a swipe at Radio 3. Simon Hayes Budgen goes over the figures on that. He works it out as oranges and lemons, but it's still an unfair comparison because for its 54.3m budget, Radio 3 broadcasts mainly new content for twenty-four hours a day. BBC Three's current budget of £121.7m currently leads to those seven and a half hours a week.

"BBC3 is the main plank with which the BBC connects on television with young audiences and they have cut their link to the future," Atalla told BBC2's Newsnight on Wednesday.

Actually, you could argue that Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra (as well as 6Music) are the main plank with which the BBC connects with young audiences and create the link for the future. It also assumes these same young people don't watch the Saturday night offerings, or anything on the main channels in the early evening or for that matter on BBC Four which they undoubtedly do. Based on his argument, once the kids are too old for CBBC there's a gaping chasm which will lead them to stop watching the BBC. I disagree.

"It is inexplicable that they have chosen to axe BBC3 as opposed to BBC4. They need to serve everyone the BBC. I understand they need to make cuts.

Except BBC4 is not only a ratings winner, but the programmes on it can be sold worldwide to a massive audience in a way that most BBC Three shows can't necessarily, at least directly.  Formats perhaps.  Plus, again, you're assuming that BBC4 has an audience which is different to BBC3. There's always crossover both ways.  One of the knock on effects, one of the things which gave me pause was where the next series of Orphan Black would go.  Fortunately for me, this whole thing, if it does happen, won't happen until 2015.

"However a BBC4 audience can migrate to BBC2. The BBC1 audience serves the whole family. A BBC3 audience who have been cut adrift today has nowhere else to go on BBC television. They have been marginalised."

But, now, a BBC4 audience can't migrate to BBC2. BBC2 in its present state would never have broadcast the recent histories of architecture including the Jonathan Meades piece, or the Anthony Graham Dixon shows about art. Or the Scandinavian dramas.  In much the same way that most people assume what the BBC3 audience looks like, including him and me, he's making assumptions about the BBC Four audience that they're the same as the BBC Two audience or that the programmes the to two channels produce are the same. While BBC Four repeats some BBC Two material, the audiences don't quite match and the native programmes certainly don't. BBC Four tends to assume the viewer has some background knowledge of a topic. BBC Two assumes you don't and starts at the beginning. Plus he contradicts himself. He says BBC1 serves the whole family then says the BBC3 audience which presumably includes people in that family "have been cut adrift today and has nowhere else to go on BBC television" except for BBC1. With the rest of the family. I understand what he means. What he means is that there won't be programming with a public service remit which talks to young people or deals with their issues. I'd argue that some parts of BBC3's programming doesn't do that right now.  See above.

"Today the BBC has got whiter, older and more middle class because it's the BBC3 audience that is the most diverse of all channels."

If you say so. It's not perfect, but BBC television as a whole has become more diverse than ever. There are problems (Eastenders), but in terms of faces on screen, it's never been better. Indeed amongst the chatter on PM's package last night I think, I heard someone say that "the Pythons would be on BBC Three today". No they wouldn't. The BBC at this moment would never commission a sketch comedy from six blokes from Oxbridge, not in that format.

Atalla said it was a myth that younger viewers – the channel is aimed at 16 to 34-year-olds – spent most of their time watching TV online.

[facetious] Have you been online? [/facetious]

"It sends out a really bad message that the youth market should just be shoved online," he said. "We are all online now. The statistics don't even bear it out – a BBC3 audience watches linear TV, it's a slightly middle aged older man perception that kids are simply online. Actually they like to watch TV in the way we all do."

Which is increasingly online. The +7 numbers across the board for the iPlayer are increasing year on year to the extent the overnight ratings have become a pointless exercise in trying to gauge the popularity of some programmes in certain demographics. Doctor Who is a massive ratings success on the iPlayer. So is Sherlock. Plus the reason something like Netflix can exist is because enough households have the web.

He added: "What a strange thing to give up on young people, to marginalise young people. Of all the channels, of all the services, what a weird message to give to licence fee payers of tomorrow that there is no television channel aimed at you."

Yet there is, still, and it's online instead and "tomorrow", I imagine within about ten years, most television will be delivered via the internet in the same way as BBC Three will be in 2015. Far from being ghettoised on there, it's actually at the forefront of broadcasting changes and this whole thing will be looked back on as an interesting milestone in a much longer "journey".

He doesn't mention comedy, but that's also worth addressing. There's a lot of talk, mainly from the people who make it, about how without BBC Three, there won't be any risky comedy on television. My argument is that the risky comedy will continue, because it'll have to and it'll have an even wider audience on BBC's One and Two. To an extent, something like Pramface or Bluestone 42 could and should be on BBC Two. But they ended up on BBC Three simply because BBC Two probably looked at them and thought, "They're a bit BBC Three". Without BBC Three, I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd done the commission because they have an audience to serve.

If only the people complaining about the cancellation now had been manning the barricades in the past few years during the process of zombification of the channel which has led to where it is now.

This whole process is also another artifact of the same attitude the present government has engaged in of divide and conquer.  We really shouldn't be having discussions and deciding between BBC3 or BBC4 or Radio 3 because they're all offering different things for different audiences and it is true that the audience with the quietest voice will always lose.

Danny Cohen is now saying he can't guarantee the safety of BBC4 either, by the way.  Imagine the shit that'll hit the fan if that ever really does become a thing.  Not that it probably will because of Tony Hall's plans to increase arts coverage across the board and create connections with real world organisations.  BBC4 is bound to be one of the anchors for that.

There's already talk of the 6Music effect.  Might happen.  More people might start watching BBC Three's programmes and underscoring its importance.  Like 6Music it might reinvigorate the channel.  Might even get a budget increase.  But 6Music had a definite community which it could specifically point to and who were passionate supporters.

BBC Three's community is less easy to see, and to pin down, and to speak, partly because as a channel, because it's almost entirely prerecorded there's no one on there banging on about its importance, selling the thing to the audience.  They could have the announcers reading out emails and tweets between programmes I suppose, but even the announcers are on tape, I think.

Plus it's not going, it's being absorbed by the iPlayer and as Cohen says, long-form programmes will be shown on terrestrial television somewhere.  He says: "We do not want our content for young audiences to be available only to those with a broadband connection – and we don’t want anyone to miss out on the great new programmes we will be producing."  Might sell some more PVRs then.  Orphan Black will still be around if it survives until then.  This also clarifies and deals with some of Ash Atalla's issues.

Not to mention that this situation isn't entirely dissimilar to the one which existed before switch over when BBC Three and Four programmes were repeated late night on BBCs One and Two.  BBC Two's repeats even had a DOG which read "BBC Four on BBC Two".  We might see the return of that.

Oh and a lot of people will still be watching these BBC Three programmes on television because of connected televisions.  That's how I watched most of the last series of Orphan Black.  Via the iPlayer.

Another interesting artifact seems to be that Barb have agreed to include iPlayer viewers in the timeshift for the first time which has interesting implications across the board if it includes everything.  Doctor Who's viewing figures will be properly expressed for the first time in ages for example.

Finally, here's the thing and it's something Atalla didn't address with all of his understandable passion and not really mentioned by anyone else. Before BBC Three existed, back in 2003, what did this audience watch? What did they watch when they still had analogue television before the switchover? This is when I was that audience. We just watched something else. Is that so bad?

New Hamlet for Radio 4.

The press release for BBC's new Radio 4 awareness drive, the clunkily titled "Character Invasion" does include this interesting nugget:
"Beginning with a new production of Hamlet - often thought of as the definitive character portrayal - starring History Boy Jamie Parker and broadcast over five afternoons in the week leading up to Character Invasion Day"
After seeing Parker in the Globe Henry V, I hoped he'd appear in Hamlet at some point and here he is, albeit on the radio, though it's not clear which slot. Ideally it'll be afternoon drama since it probably needs all of those minutes, but I suspect it'll be a fifteen minute daily broadcast instead. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unlikely, Fortinbras absent?  In other news, Radio 4 broadcasts Shakespeare.  That's the real surprise.

"major subject areas"

Photography In surprising move, Getty Images have made 35 million of their images embeddable on blogs, websites and the like for non-commercial purposes. As a way of testing this new service, here's a selection covering some of this blog's major subject areas.  The top one is in Sefton Park.

Keisha seems happy about it all at least.

"How could carry on with out her?"

Music During one of our regular clearouts, I found some old Guardian G2 supplements acting as packing for an old clock. Glancing through to see which period of history they were from, I inevitably found this:

It's from 26 April 2002, the week Freak Like Me was released.  A week later it was at number one.  They're still so young! Would they ever have imagined twelve years later that two of them would be waiting for another album to come out and the other one would be touring in Happy Days: The Musical and none of them still in the Sugababes.  Technically.  Apparently.

The article itself is actually an old Guardian column in which celebrities chatted about the art which was meaningful to them and their profession, so the Sugababes 2.0 talk about music with Keisha and Mutya listing their favourite R&B and Garage bands and Heidi joking about how such things haven't reached Liverpool yet as though Liverpool in 2002 was entirely cut off from the rest of the planet and Mary J Blige, Aaliya and Brandy weren't in the HMV on Church Street.  Or the Virgin Megastore in Clayton Square.  Sigh.

Oddly enough I nearly met these three at that Virgin Megastore a couple of months later when they were in there signing the second album, Angels With Dirty Faces.  But I was entirely disenfranchised from the whole thing after Siobhan left, very "How could carry on with out her?" and "This isn't as good as New Year, what have you people done to yourselves?" so simply glimpsed them from afar.  Speaking of regrets...

On the same day in April, this blog was all about a trip to the cinema, where the only other people in the auditorium were couples at the back being recreational, while I watched 24 Hour Party People then Bend It Like Beckham before visiting Wagamama for the first time.  Those were the days when I had about three readers none of whom I'd actually met in real life ...

Commons Filming.

Film Suffragette is set to making film history:
"Permission has been granted for a major film to be shot inside the Houses of Parliament for the first time.

"Parts of Suffragette, which is expected to star Meryl Streep as the women's votes campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst, are to be filmed in the building.

"The Administration Select Committee has granted permission.

"Its chairman Sir Alan Haselhurst said he had been persuaded by the film's subject matter and the need to raise money for the upkeep of Parliament."
Other Houses of Parliament are available.

Stunt's new Molly.

Music Because like me you probably didn't notice due to it being announced on the red button service last night with Scott Mills, here's the UK entry to Eurovision Song Contest. Another product of internal decision making processes (or as the wikipedia puts it "she was internally appointed by the BBC" which makes her sound like the new interim line producer on Doctors) it feels like a real attempt to (a) try something new (b) at least give the impression that someone cares even though Europe still hates us and we don't have a chance of hell in winning and (c) do all of this and producing a half decent song.

Unlike previous year's they'd doing a Matt Smith rather than a Capaldi and casting someone relatively unknown in Molly Smitten-Downes, or "Molly", someone who turned up to BBC Introducing and is the writer as well as the singer. She's so unknown/unsigned, at least in this incarnation, her only Spotify appearance is on this whatever genre this is single where she provides to low ebb Kylie cooing in Confide In Me mode or mid-career Sophie Ellis-Bextor depending on your generational vintage:

"Can you give it up." Well, yes, usually. Though I have to admit that despite all my protestations of "staying away from dairy" I'm still sneaking the odd bit of cheese as though that's any different.

Except, as the Eurovision blog post / press release explains (in the next to last paragraph), she originally began recording using the stage name Stunt and did have some mild chart success with DJ Sash (at which point my musical knowledge grind to a hault).

How did she get from Stunt to Molly?  YouTube has some answers.  Here's a discography to help fill in the gaps:


DJ Sash featuring Stunt - Raindrops (which sounds pretty Eurovision too)
Raindrops (acoustic)


Sings a session at Britain's Next Top Model during fashion show.
Just Like Her
Stunt i.e. Molly Smitten Downes singing "Raindrops" at Escapade in Barnsley 04/04/10 (warning, barely watchable)
Fuck You (Cee-Lo Green cover) (obviously)
At Last (Etta James cover)


Basshunter ft. Molly Smitten-Downes - I Will Learn To Love Again
Flowers By The Road (from her other YouTube channel of which she seems to have two)


Safe (what sounds like her first appearance on BBC Introducing)
Some camera phone footage of a live show from the O2 Academy.


Strange Alien (audio only recording of its appearance on BBC Introducing two months ago)
Wicked Games (Chris Isaak cover version. Acoustic. With a band)
Never Forget
It's You (with impressively full blown music video)
Si Tew - Miles feat. Molly (Vocal radio edit)
DREAM BEATS + MOLLY "Beneath The Lights"

"a nervous breakdown after a Sugababes gig"

Music This local news column has one of the best lines I've ever heared about anything. Ish.
"It’s all based on the time I nearly had a nervous breakdown after a Sugababes gig."
The following sentence:
"I was stuck in that car park for two hours. Two hours. The Sugababes’ line-up had changed five times by the time I finally left."
Congratulations Elizabeth Joyce, especially for the rest of the column too.  There isn't anything in there I can disagree with.

Traffic cone.

Film Jennifer Lawrence fell over a traffic cone, something that students throughout the ages (or at least since traffic cones were invented) can relate to. Other than that, as usual I've enjoyed the ceremony through snatched videos and animated gifs and live blogs and I quite like that I have reconstruct the thing in my head.

Best Picture:
Should win: ''Gravity"
Will win: ''12 Years a Slave"
Did win: "12 Years a Slave"

[The wait continues for a science fiction film (sorry Alfonso but it is) to win best picture.  My wait continues for the home release for Slave, assuming Lovefilm Amazon by-post prime whatever thingy is still available then.  ]

Should win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"
Did win: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

[In my defence when I was making these choices I hadn't seen Dallas Buyers Club and still haven't.  So there's that.]

Should win: Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"
Will win: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
Did win: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"

[I still stand by this, though Sandy's been more than financially compensated for spending an entire shooting standing in a pillar box.  Plus this did mean that Cate went on a decent f-bomb on live television during the press conference so there's that too.]

Supporting Actor:
Should win: Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"
Will win: Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"
Did win: Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

[See above.  We now live in the world were Jordan won an acting Oscar before Angela.  Amazing.]

Supporting Actress:
Should win: Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"
Did win: Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"

[The weirdness of Hollywood acting profession and release schedules means now that the Liam Neeson actioner Non-Stop features an Academy Award winning actress playing a stewardess.]

Should win: Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"
Will win: Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"
Did win: Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"

[I was weak.  These splits are happening more and more often now.  Time was whichever film was considered Best Director went on to win the big prize.]

Foreign Language Film:
Should win: "The Hunt," Denmark
Will win: "The Great Beauty," Italy
Did win: "The Great Beauty," Italy

Adapted Screenplay:
Should win: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"
Will win: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, "Philomena"
Did win: John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"

[Well of course it did.  Seems like this wasn't the consolation prize category I thought it was.]

Original Screenplay:
Should win: Spike Jonze, "Her"
Will win: Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"
Did win: Spike Jonze, "Her"

[Well of course it did.  Seems like this was the consolation prize category I thought it was.]

Animated Feature Film:
Should win: "Ernest & Celestine"
Will win: "Frozen"
Did win: "Frozen"

Production Design:
Should win: "Gravity"
Will win: "American Hustle"
Did win: "The Great Gatsby"

Should win: "American Hustle"
Will win: ''12 Years a Slave"
Did win: "The Great Gatsby"

[That was one of those mini-stories of the night, Gatsby winning in the prods and frocks categories over American Hustle, which didn't win anything despite being nominated in most categories.]

Original Song:
Should win: "Let It Go" from "Frozen," Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
Will win: "Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen.
Should win: "Let It Go" from "Frozen," Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

Documentary Feature:
Should win: "The Act of Killing"
Will win: "The Act of Killing"
Did win: "20 Feet from Stardom"

[Astonishing nobody who knows anything about the academy.  Which I clearly didn't.]

Makeup and Hairstyling:
Should win: "The Lone Ranger"
Will win: "Dallas Buyers Club"
Did win: "Dallas Buyers Club"

[At least it wasn't Jackass.]

Should win: ''Gravity"
Will win: ''Gravity"
Did win: ''Gravity"

Sound Mixing:
Should win: ''Gravity"
Will win: ''Gravity"
Did win: ''Gravity"

Sound Editing:
Should win: ''Gravity"
Will win: ''Gravity"
Did win: ''Gravity"

Original Score:
Should win: "Gravity," Steven Price
Will win: "Saving Mr. Banks," Thomas Newman.
Did win: "Gravity," Steven Price

Film Editing:
Should win: ''Gravity"
Will win: ''Gravity"
Did win: ''Gravity"

Visual Effects:
Should win: ''Gravity"
Will win: ''Gravity"
Did win: ''Gravity"

[Sweep.  Sweeep.  The biggest surprise, perhaps, is score, but well deserved because as has been noted everywhere, with no sound in space it's an occasion when it was up to the composer to fill in the gaps.  Steven Price incidentally was music editor for three years on the BBC's Robin Hood, played guitar on the soundtrack of Who Do You Thing You Are? and is a long term collaborator with Edgar Wright.  His current film is Ant Man.  Amazing.]

I make that ten which is better than usual considering I still haven't seen most of these films but helped somewhat by having left out the short film categories.  Until next year, thank you.

Paddy Randall.

Food Modern Farmer reports on a new scheme under Hell's Gate Bridge in New York to create urban rice paddies at Randall’s Island Urban Farm. After a bit of experimentation it's easier than you might think:
"(Farm manager Nick) Storrs started tinkering with rice three years ago. First, he needed to choose the right variety. The indica strain (of rice) depends on intense heat to reach maturity. Japonica rice, on the other hand, reaches maturity based on seasonal day length. Turns out, New York is on roughly the same latitude as Japan (where much japonica is grown).

"Storrs says New York’s climate is “not not a problem”: The window of temperate growing time won’t naturally bring rice to maturity. So — like other Northeastern farmers who’ve been experimenting with rice — he starts rice seedlings in greenhouses, in March. They fully develop indoors before being moved to the paddies in June."