The Films I've Watched This Year #11

Film Missing from the bottom of this week's list is the BBC's adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes which went out on Boxing Day in 2007 and sits in sort of a grey area because it was theatrically released in the US and even has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100%. Due to their increased production values thanks to digital cameras which produce images indistinguishable from "film" and increasingly starry casts, single dramas on television are becoming an increasingly grey area when it comes to defining their status as "films" or "tv movies", especially since the old "Screen" and "Film Four" strands dissolved.

So even though I can't put Ballet Shoes below, it has all the elements. The cast is starry, Emma Watson gets an "and" with, well, just look at the imdb page.  People like me will of course straight away notice that we're in Journey's End territory as Marc Warren, Yasmin Paige and Lucy Cohu appear bringing together all three corners of that period in the Doctor Who franchise.   Much of the action occurs in an old house on Earls Court and theatres and the photography, for all its mid-noughties BBC drama aesthetic, really captures the musty period atmosphere.  Well worth tracking down, though I think my off-air copy with all the Christmassy trailers and bumpers (for Torchwood Season Two) is probably the best.

The Shooting Party
Primal Fear
Me and You
The Missing Picture
House at the End of the Street
1 - Life On The Limit
Battle of the Sexes
In a World...

Bit of a raggle taggle week all told but there is something of a thematic through line about the class struggle if you really want to look for it, though its tenuous enough for me to not really bother with here other than to wonder if, as an old film studies lecturer used to joke every film is about Vietnam, every film is about the class struggle too, but I've argued continually that every film is about politics so that just encompasses everything so we don't end up learning anything.  Actually now that I come to think of it, all of these films are about politics even Grabbers if you want to take the line that everything which happens on the island is as a consequence of running law enforcement on a shoestring in rural areas.

The name which presumably sticks out is Diana.  I've seen the Diana film now so that some of you don't have to and honestly, it's not that bad.  Oh no I mean it's bad, but if you try to ignore that it's a true story about real people it's actually a pretty decent romantic tragedy version of Notting Hill covering many of the same themes about an ordinary man attempting to date the most famous woman on the planet, and the most famous woman on the planet trying to have some glimmer of an ordinary life.  Essentially it's at its least interesting when it's trying to recreate the iconic Diana moments or sledgehammering in portentous moments of pretentiousness.

Looking about as much like Diana as, to be fair, Helen Mirren looks like the Queen, Naomi Watts nevertheless manages to convince us, if not as Diana, as royalty at least with a real sense of presence and glamour, aided by direction and photography which continually keeps her at the focus of attention in scenes.  Naveen Andrews also manages to balance the poisoned chalice without spilling it too much and I suspect if like Citizen Kane, this had been about fictionised figures in a different story the reception wouldn't necessarily have been as hostile.  But nevertheless this is about Diana and it's a pity that its many virtues have been obscured by the politics of its existence.

This week's J-Law film was House at the End of the Street, the third wheel in 2012, the year which also brought Silver Linings Playbook and The Hunger Games.  It's the kind of film an actress like her makes between massive franchise projects either as a favour to someone or to remind themselves what it's like to act against real rooms rather than green screens and dayglo sets.  It's an old fashioned genre picture with a few surprises, not least that, friends, Elizabeth Shue is playing parts like Jennifer Lawrence's concerned mother now.  Of course, I also want to see J-Law in a remake of Adventures in Babysitting.  She'd rock.  But she'd rock in anything.

Speaking of which, Ellen Page turns up in the determinedly weird Peacock, as a waitress who does tricks in order to pay for the shitty trailer she shares with her son.  But the focus is Cillian Murphy as a bank clerk who after the death of his mother  has experienced a split personality syndrome in which he begins to share his body with a woman that everyone assumes must be his wife.  The director calls it a psychological horror and it really is as the two personalities fight for supremacy in a story which seems designed for the films studies circuit and a dozen college papers about gender identity comparing and contrasting a very conventional mis-en-scene with the entirely unconventional content.

Shot in 2008 but not theatrically released until 2010 and only now turning up on dvd, my guess is that audiences have had problems suspending their sense of disbelief that despite his extraordinary performance when Murphy is in the female role of Emma, none of the other characters, not one, realise that he's also her husband.  As a big fan of Shakespeare I was less bothered, happy to along with it even when Page meets both of them at opposite ends of the same scene, but it is an occasion when an actor, writers and director take a big risk on something like this and don't quite succeed (see also Lars and the Real Girl).  Starry cast here too; Susan Sarandon play's Murphy's boss's wife.

[spoilers]  Both House at the End of the Street and Peacock are slight companion pieces in that they riff on Psycho and particular Norman's relationship with his mother, with gender identity issues as the fallout after the death of a parent.  The former is especially on the nose with its final shot of the antagonist looking directly into the camera after the big reveal, but Peacock is arguably Psycho with a happy ending as the false female identity simply wants to offer benevolence in general, apart from the approach she takes in dealing with her other self.  Yes, that's pretty hideous.  Actually, let me retract that.  The doctor's speech from Psycho resonates throughout.  Nope, not happy at all. [/spoilers]

Me and You is Bernardo Bertolucci latest, his first since The Dreamers and he's still in thrall to the French New Wave, though it's Truffaut this time rather than Godard.  Effectively resurrecting Antoine Doinel's character from The 400 Blows, making him affluent and trapping him a basement with Penny Lane from Almost Famous (an unfair description probably given that it's based on existing material) it oscillates manically between lyrical and boring and a general gloomy sense of the director having a go at making a film about young people for young people without really knowing much about them.  Which is odd when you consider Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers which are entirely the opposite.

The Missing Picture was an unfortunate way to start the day on Wednesday, but only because of the subject matter, not the film itself which is a passionate, enthralling approach to explaining exactly what it was like living under Pol Pot in Cambodia in a way that hasn't hit me quite as strongly since Simon Groom visited the graves on Blue Peter.  As Shoah demonstrates, the imagination can be a powerful tool when trying to capture the visceral feeling of what real life horror can be like and The Missing Picture is at its most powerful when director Rithy Panh replaces the contemporary footage, however important a discovery that is, with his small carved representational figures and dioramas.

Not that I mean to diminish that archival footage, some of which is extraordinary considering the source and the fact of its existence.  There's a similar sense in the two sport films, both of which have archive footage throughout but used in contrasting ways.  In 1 - Life on the Limit (a title which demands a colon but blokely doesn't have one) its part of a barrage of rapid cutting sometimes showing explosions and fatalities from different angles and not always television coverage.  In Battle of the Sexes, long periods of the match are shown via on court 16mm footage allowing us to enjoy the flow of play, cutting between two different camera angles as the ball passes across the net and into the rackets of the opponents.

 1 - Life on the Limit is fine, as it goes, even if it can't quite decide what it's about.  On the one hand it wants to be a wizzy history of F1 with dozens of interviews with all the major players, but tries to have a central thread about the development of safety in the sport cataloguing the many deaths which have occurred on the track and can never quite resolve itself between the two.  The topics are pointedly interconnected, of course, but unlike Senna or Rush it assumes the viewer is already a fan and its dizzying watching all of the names and faces flash past with barely enough time to notice that Damon Hill's gone grey or appreciate the chronology of events and the structure of the various seasons.

By contrast, Battle of the Sexes, in concentrating on one thing and explaining it's importance as a thing in history is just about perfect.  As well as a sport documentary, it's also a strong documentary about the feminist movement in general with archive footage of Germaine and a long soundbites from Gloria Steinman.  It's impossible not to see contemporary counterparts to the chauvinist Bobby Riggs, though I imagine now he'd probably spend his time sniping on Twitter rather than making a show of himself on television.  What the film doesn't cover is how he came back at the age of 67 and challenged Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver to a doubles match.  They beat him too.

But my film of the week, if I have those, is inevitably In a World..., Lake Bell's romantic comedy about voiceover artists which questions why so few of them do movie trailers.  Featuring plenty of members of the industry most of whom fortunately act too, the real surprise is how Bell utilises that industry as a back drop for a story which is really about sisters and fathers and family.  As with the best films, there's a moment about ten minutes before then end when you realise you don't want it to end because you're enjoying the ideas and characters so much not least Bell who if there's any justice will have a long career making these sorts of things.

Part of me wonders if Bell wouldn't have been just as well to make the idea into a series for HBO or Showtime or Netflix - there would certainly have been enough material of at least six half hours.  It's episodic enough to hint that it might even have begun life as just that.  Which sort of puts us back at the beginning because sometimes the "film" and "tv" boxes aren't clear and material which works well in one could be treated equally well if not better in the other.  When Eva Longoria wanders through playing herself entirely happy to have the piss taken out of her for her rubbish attempt at a cockney accent, you kind of wish you could see other "stars" being given the same treatment on a weekly basis...

Nobody Does It Bextor.

BBC's Drama of the Week is Hamlet.

Just a quick note to say that Radio 4's Drama of the Week podcast is episode one of Hamlet.

You can download it here.

Hopefully the other four episodes will go up too, but they've been known to only include a single installment of series.

Vinyl Video.

Art Vinyl Video was an installation at FACT Liverpool in 2003. Vinyl Video was created by artists Gebhard Sengmuller, Penny Hoberman and Julia Scher and within the space resembled a boutique record shop. The premise was that in a parallel dimension, the home viewing format of choice was black and shiny and through a technological miracle, analogue moving images could be played from an LP. Miraculously it worked and in this moment between dvd and streaming had a real buzzy element as you took the disc from the shelf, cued it up on the turntable and watched the blurry faces of what resembled a pirated tenth generation copy of The Web of Fear: Episode One or at least something from the dawn of television. Ironically, a few years later, the creators uploaded this advert for their wares to YouTube and it offers a real flavour of what they accomplished.

Dazzle Ship.

Art Upcoming between July and October at Tate Liverpool, in association with Liverpool Biennial and the Maratime Museum is Dazzle Ship:
"14-18NOW, Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool present a joint commission by Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. Cruz-Diez will paint a contemporary version of a ‘dazzle ship’ with ‘dazzle’ camouflage in partnership with Merseyside Maritime Museum. The “Edmund Gardner”, a historic pilot ship situated in dry dock adjacent to Liverpool’s Albert Dock will become a new public monument for the city."

"‘Dazzle’ painting played a vital role in the protection of British navel and trade vessels during The First World War when it was introduced in early 1917 as a system for camouflaging ships. This ‘dazzle’ camouflage was employed to optically distort the appearance of British ships in order to confuse the German submarines who were threatening to cut off Britain’s trade and supplies. The optical illusion imposed by the ‘dazzling’ made identifying the direction the ship was travelling in difficult for the enemy submarines, meaning that calculating an accurate angle of attack was near impossible."
The Independent has further coverage.

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
Jesus on a Greyhound.

Written by Shelby Lynne & Glen Ballard
[from: 'Love Shelby', Universal, 2001]

I'd just started university and I was traveling home for the first time by train. I wasn't happy. Even a month in, I was feeling homesick and university was nothing like I had expected it to be - also I was so inexperienced at life that I didn't feel like I'd made any of the right decisions - everyone else was making friends and I wasn't meeting anyone. Or so I thought. Anyway, I was sitting there and I must have looked like a wreck. This girl sat down beside me, and asked me something about when the train would reach Liverpool. I told her I didn't know - that it might arrive in two hours and made some joke about lateness. She laughed. We started talking. And it was easy. And she was listening to me. She was asking about my philosophy on life, what was important to me. It was the first time in weeks I'd talked about anything deeper that which A-levels I'd done and which University I went to. She made me feel like what I was telling was interesting, meant something. At the end of the journey we finally talked about the course stuff. It turned out she was a trainee psychologist. Apart from being a nice person, she knew all the right things to say. Damaris gave me her address and I never saw her again.

I'm not a religious man. On the rare occasion anyone asks what I am, I tell them I'm a Non-denominational spiritualist, which is a nice catch-all term which gets a laugh and covers all the bases. What it actually mean, I think, is that believe there is an order to the universe, that everything happens for a reason, and that everyone has the right to look at it their own way as long as it doesn't impinge on their own freedom (which leaves the extremists out in the cold I'm afraid). The reason I believe this is because on a few occasions I have felt really awful, my self-esteem as low as possible, on each of these occasions I seem to have met someone like Damaris who has listened and made me feel that life isn't so bad, that in fact it is worth living. I've done it for other people. These aren't random things. That's what I like to think this song is about.

[Commentary: Surprisingly, this isn't the only song called Jesus on a Greyhound.  If this had happened now, perhaps we would have swapped Twitter names or simply friended each other on Facebook.  Back then, and this would have all happened in 1993, the internet in the UK was still something people didn't easily have domestically.  But I like that there's this person who looms quite large in my past who I only met once, whose name I've always remembered, presumably because it's so unusual.  Damaris Bonner.  Perhaps she'll google it some day and find this entry and I can see thank you properly.]

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
An Introduction.

Roger Sanchez - Another Chance on MUZU.TV.

Music Back, back in the day, over a decade ago when, before this blog matured (or became a bit rubbish) it was brave enough to do things like have its own soundtrack which would be sent out to people in the form of mix cds as prizes and that sort of thing. Some of you might still have yours. It was essentially a collection of what were then, and this is over a decade ago, favourite songs and other autobiographical choices which seemed like they evoked what the blog was supposed to be about as if the blog has supposed to be about anything.

Because it was a blog soundtrack, along with the track selections, I wrote a series of entries evoked by the music or else I simply borrowed something which had already been written either for the blog or earlier. As part of the ongoing project to collect together this ephemera back here, I thought it would be fun to repost each of the entries here, with the music too perhaps with some commentary [in square brackets].  I can't imagine there are many surprises and most if it is fairly mainstream.  But consider this a flashback to more innocent times.

The Krazyhouse in Washington.

Art In 2009, Dutch photographer and videographer Rineke Dijkstra visited The Krazyhouse in Liverpool on Wood Street for an art piece. Now that art piece is to be displayed in Washington for a few months at the Corcoron Gallery of Art:
"The Krazyhouse (Megan, Simon, Nikky, Philip, Dee), Liverpool, UK is a four channel video installation by Rineke Dijkstra, created in 2009 at a popular dance club in Liverpool. It presents in sequence a group of five young people in their teens and early twenties dancing and sometimes singing along to tunes they selected themselves. Dijkstra met her subjects at the club and invited them to perform their choice of music for her video camera in a special studio that she had built in a back room on one of the dance floors. They dance while a DJ plays live mixes of their selections and their friends watch. One of the most important portraitists working today, Dijkstra’s style produces an uncomfortable, almost confrontational realism rather than a snapshot aesthetic. She draws nuanced feelings from her subjects that are quite poignant. In The Krazyhouse, the selection of music, type of dance and mimicry, and the choice of dress all come together to evoke a social spectrum that speaks to the time and spirit of its location. While the kids’ selections of music and dance are diverse, each one seems both self-conscious and lost in the moment looking for some way to transcend their daily lives and make an impression for others."
As you might expect this isn't its first appearance having previous turned up in retrospective exhibitions at The Guggenheim and The MMK Museum of Modern Art. Here are videos from each which include interviews with the artist and glimpses of the video:

There are some screenshots on Pinterest too.

Benedict Cumberbatch to play Hamlet.

I'll add a link to The Guardian's article when it's republished. It was up earlier thanks to an embargo jump.

Updated  26/03/2014  Here's a link to The Guardian's article now that it's been republished.

Genuine LOL and my other reactions to the BBC Arts announcement.

TV While I was in Manchester, this happened, which can't go without comment. A few choice paragraphs. Firstly from that blog post by the head of BBC Arts, Jonty Claypole, who lets face it at least has the right name. Someone called Jonty Claypole should be the heard of BBC Arts:

"Our second commitment is to do more to cover the many extraordinary cultural events across the country with a new cross-platform strand BBC ARTS at… It will launch on television in May with a Museums at Night special, theatre from The Globe and expanded coverage of the Hay Festival."

Bloody hell. Does that mean broadcasts of things which have already been recorded or live events? Will this include both theatres? Again I say, bloody hell.

"Which brings me to the maddening way I keep referring to BBC ARTS in that rather monolithic upper-case. It’s because we’re treating it as a new brand within the BBC in the way we treat NEWS or SPORT. As of today, regardless of where a piece out of output originates, if it is about the arts, it is part of something else too. BBC ARTS is a way of working together. It is, first and foremost, a recognition that we need to join up, to get acknowledgement for what we do, to think strategically about how we support and enrich culture, and keep our place at the vanguard of that globally acknowledged phenomenon: British Arts."

It's actually an interesting choice. BBC Culture or BBC Knowledge seemed like they would be the way to go with this, but BBC Arts is more direct and also creates very specific expectations as to the kinds of things it might do. BBC Culture is a breath away from Humanities which would have been a bit woolly under these circumstances and BBC Knowledge lets in science, which is wrong too.

Now for The Guardian version.

"The new season of arts will include adaptations of Shakespeare's Richard III and Henry VI, a sequel to Kenneth Clark's landmark TV series Civilisation, and live broadcasts of plays and events across the country in collaboration with the Hay festival, Glyndebourne and the Royal Academy."

The Hollow Crown season two is commissioned then.

"A new strand, "BBC Arts At ..." promises viewers a "front row seat" at arts and music events across the country, including the Duchess of Malfi, starring Gemma Arterton, the first production from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe."

BLOODY HELL. See above. Now, please, please, please let it be a recording within the theatre and not some quasi-studio based recreation.

"Other new shows include a portrait of Dylan Thomas starring Tom Hollander, a profile of David Hockney and an adaptation of the Three Little Pigs for CBeebies in collaboration with the Northern Ballet."

Genuine LOL.  Which goes for the whole thing.  There aren't enough hours in the day.  There'll be the usual comments about elitism especially with the virtual shelving of BBC Three, but two things on that (1) I don't care and (2) elitism only exists if people assume that something isn't for them.  Up until about three weeks ago I didn't think ballet was for me.  How wrong I was.

The BBC's own press release covers the main points of the day which also includes classical music coverage on BBC Three.  Yes, indeed.

"ostrich feathers dyed pink to evoke flamingo feathers"

Life Rainy Manchester today, because sometimes I need to be in a different city that I also love even if only for a few hours. One of the reasons was to see the newly refurbished central library, which was packed full of people but I didn't really enjoy.  The interior is, well, messy and and apart from study rooms on the upper floors no longer seems like a place where someone could study in private. As is the case now and see also the reversioning of Liverpool and Birmingham libraries, the trend is for wide open floors filled with distractions. My taste is for claustrophobic spaces away from the world where you're not being gawped at every second by people wandering through wondering what you're doing.

With its interactive displays, hundreds of computers and a general sense of the books being pushed to the margins (generally the basement) it has all the elements of an architectural discussion document about what constitutes a library in the electronic age with its findings section ripped out and skipped.  There's also the disappointment that some of the more impressive spaces have been grabbed by the local authority to turn into a council contact centre and although that's presumably very convenient for local residents means it's essentially a big version of the branch libraries in Liverpool which have been merged with one stop shops.  Thank goodness there's a BFI Mediatheque.  Oh to have one of those in Liverpool.

Not that that this was a wasted journey, or twelve pounds for the train ticket.  Currently at Manchester Art Gallery, the Portugese artist Joana Vasoncelos, is presenting her wonders throughout the building and in particular her large scale vehicle works as part of a paid exhibition just one item of which alone is worth the £6 entrance fee.  There's a photograph here if you're not in the area or don't mind being spoilt but if you are visiting, it's best without any prior knowledge.  For the rest of you, what we have here in "Lilicopter", is a helicopter, covered in gold leaf and Swarovski crystals, ostrich feathers dyed pink to evoke flamingo feathers with an interior with a steampunk interior, with metal trimmings minutely painted to mimic wood, covered in tapestries.

Oh how I giggled as a wandered about this beautiful object, oh how I thought it was one of the most remarkable objects I've ever seen, because it is.  It's the opposite of the tsk art I so hate.  Even once the punchline is reached, once the understanding of what the artist is trying to accomplish, it remains a beautiful object.  The artist says she was trying to create the helicopter Marie Antoinette might have used if such things were possible.  It's not the real Marie, I don't suppose but the one played by Kirsten Dunst in the Sofia Coppola film.  Either that, or it's the kind of thing which would turn up in a live action film version of My Little Pony directed by Wes Anderson.  Does that mean this is excellent production design rather than great art?  On this occasion, I'm not sure it matters, but it's truly a candyshop for the eyes.

From there to the usual shops, to Affleck's Palace and Vinyl Exchange where for old times sake I purchased a copy of the Young Adult soundtrack and a dvd of Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret, the three hour version.  I do worry about Vinyl Exchange.  Used to be that even on an ordinary weekday and especially near lunchtime it would be packed.  There were few of us in today looking through the racks and racks which look to be filled with an aging stock now that review copies are presented as downloads and presumably there are less cds in circulation anyway.  But the basement where the actual vinyl is kept sounded lively, and we're all being told that vinyl is back in fashion so perhaps it'll survive against the digital onslaught.  Unlike some libraries.

Girly pop saved.

Life With one or two "small" projects outstanding, notably clearing through my old university notes and handouts, I've pretty much completed my decadal clear out. After the books, out went the many VHS off air tapes which I hadn't watched in over the decade if not longer, some of them from the 90s, audio cassettes, compilation cds which in the Spotify age are essentially playlists in plastic form and the many freebies I had lying around which had fallen out of newspapers and magazines. Soundtracks saved. Girly pop saved. Classic music, jazz and blues saved. Everything else gone.

Do I feel liberated? Yes and even moreso having also cleared through my wardrobe, plenty of which was miles too big for me since my hernia inspired and requited weight loss. But I also found a range of t-shirts and whatnot which barely fitted me before and which have now become available including The West Wing tee which has sat in my drawer since the show was on air and can now be seen in public, I think. After being man at Asda for many years, I now feel brave enough to vary my wardrobe. A bit. Or at least I will do once the weather's picked up.

 The My So-Called Life shirt will see the light of day again.


Dance With my oh so sudden, Bussell inspired interest in ballet, it dawned on me that for all the talk in those BBC Four documentaries about how the choreography for these productions have been passed down across the centuries in a kind of movement based version of oral history, movement history I suppose, that in the case of historic reconstructions, there would need to be some kind of record of the original moves ripe for interpretation.

Sure enough, this exceeding thorough 2011 article from Ballet News fills in the blanks, explaining that such persons as notators or choreologists work as a kind of dance stenographers during rehearsals, creating a visual record on musical paper using special notation (Benesh notation) that "remembers" the shape of scenes, the shapes of dancers within those scenes and the general sense of how a work should be constructed running along with the music.

Within the interview with one of the choreologists, there's a strand about how in some cases dancers haven't been taught the notation and end up relying on video records of previous performances, but how this is an imperfect approach because it could mean that the given dancer is attempting to recreate an imperfect performance.  If the original practitioner had a stiff back or something else which inhibited their interpretation of the dance, that can then, unfortunately be replicated.

This also explained to me how, as I'd heard elsewhere ballets can be lost just as unfortunately as plays or films.  If there's only a single manuscript of the choreography in existence, as was sometimes the case in dance companies in which there was a single choreography working from their own copy, it's near impossible for the dancers themselves to produce a version from memory.  Unlike a play, they may not necessarily be completely aware of the movements of others.