"It seems there are no manners at the BBC."

TV Just tweeted this (as you can see). To be fair to the person whose name I've obliterated this is almost how the BBC was run back in the decades I'm being sarcastic about. Here's a paragraph from the Wikipedia which boils down the first chapter of David Attenborough's Life On Air memoir to the essentials:
"After leaving the Navy, Attenborough took a position editing children's science textbooks for a publishing company. He soon became disillusioned with the work and in 1950 applied for a job as a radio talk producer with the BBC. Although he was rejected for this job, his CV later attracted the interest of Mary Adams, head of the Talks (factual broadcasting) department of the BBC's fledgling television service. Attenborough, like most Britons at that time, did not own a television, and he had seen only one programme in his life.  However, he accepted Adams' offer of a three-month training course, and in 1952 he joined the BBC full-time. Initially discouraged from appearing on camera because Adams thought his teeth were too big, he became a producer for the Talks department, which handled all non-fiction broadcasts. His early projects included the quiz show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? and Song Hunter, a series about folk music presented by Alan Lomax."
Of course this is lovely in its way and if only we lived in a world were this would be possible, that someone could write on behalf of their grandson who could then be given a chance.  But then, I expect, we'd all be writing.

Maxine Peake on Hamlet.

Peake is due to play Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange.  Here she talks to Creative Tourist about the why question:
“Male actors I know who’ve played Hamlet keep saying what a huge responsibility it is to play that part. But, even though I’m petrified, I’m not a man so I don’t feel that sort of responsibility”, she argues. “I just feel excited and, if we fail, we fail. But it’s about having a go, about saying we can do it.” Peak is adamant that this part has got absolutely nothing to do with gender-swapping for shock’s sake. “When there are all-male companies doing Shakespeare, no one minds and no one should bat an eye if a woman plays Hamlet or Henry V,” she asserts. “We’re actors doing a part and, on stage now in 2014, it’s about time there was a freedom to do that. When else are female actors going to get an opportunity to do those great speeches? So far, men have had all the fun!”

The Films I've Watched This Year #16

Film Evening.  Another short list, mostly because of Eurovision (which is even blander than usual this year with only about three songs with any kind of artistic merit) (The Netherlands entry's my favourite largely because of its spiritual similarity to The Broken Circle Breakdown) and wanting to finish off the eighth season of 24 which is still utterly stupid.  Now that I'm so near the end I feel like I have to see it through, especially since it's at the point where writer Manny Cotto has his Enterprise season four head on and is obviously doing stuff for the fun of it, trotting out some of the old favourite storylines from previous years and even some of the same characters in the way that fans who've taken over a franchise often do when they're nursing it through its death throws, just as a tribute.  If this was the kind of show which did ghosts and dream sequences, I'd almost expect a fever dream ala The Tudors in which Jack's visited by the many people who've died or he's killed in the process of protecting his country ("Dammit!) not least Nina Myers (though she's clearly there in spirit for various reasons anyway).  Nine episodes to go.

The other main piece of television this week was the utterly cinematic BBC Wales adaptation of Under Milk Wood starring a galaxy of local talent (available on the iplayer here for a couple more days).  Approaching the task of replicating a piece originated for radio on television and presumably with having to grab odd hours here and there with the busy participants, it cleverly makes such choices part of the artifice and asks the audience's imaginations to gather together the pieces, placing participants shot in obviously different locales in the same settings interacting with one another with wipes and fades and superimposing of shots creating dream-like quality that are utterly beguiling.  But despite the artifice, it's Dylan Thomas's words which are to the fore, the piece challenging the viewer in a way which few arts-based commissions have in recent times, just the sort of project we looking longingly into television history at, but on our television screens right now.  Only broadcast on BBC One Wales on Bank Holiday Monday in the early evening, it demands to be networked in the same slot, but I urge you to click the link above or find it on an app and wash yourself away with the words.

Ocean's Eleven
Full Frontal
Married Life
The Girl Chewing Gum

Arguably the best new film I saw this week was The Girl Chewing Gum, a twelve minute art film from 1976 currently on display as part of Tate Liverpool's Constellation's exhibition. Inspired by the scene in Trauffaut's Night and Day in which the director shouts directions from behind a camera to a scene to the scene's we watching, this sees artist James Smith apparently directing traffic as he orders cars and ordinary passers-by into frame ("Now could the trailer move ... now I want the children up to no good to cross the road..."), though we know from the artifice that such instructions have been dubbed on afterwards (and recorded in a field we see later). It's hilariously Pythonesque and also prefigures somewhat Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, in which Will Ferrell finds his life narrated by Emma Thompson.  But the real draw for people with a certain interest set is the moment when the camera pans right to reveal a queue of families outside the Dalston Odeon, waiting, judging by the times on the billboard, to see The Land That Time Forgot on its original release (Oliver is also showing on the other screen).  Lucky kids.

Married Life is a surprising courageous piece of filmmaking but such virtues are hidden.  A melange of film noir, Sirkian domestics, Hitchcock and oddly a smattering of Rattigan and Coward, it sees Rachel McAdams as the object of affection between Piers Brosnan and Chris Cooper, the latter spending most its duration working up the courage to murder his wife (Patricia Clarkson) in order to be with her.  It's a useful, old school chamber piece, with McAdams underplaying in a role which generally requires her to smile winsomely.  But it's the special features section on the dvd that holds the real surprise as we discover three alternative endings of varying length as we see that director Ira Sachs in attempting to find a shape for the piece ended up hacking off and removing a whole ten minutes off the end in which the characters lives are seen ten years after the point at which the film currently ends with car crashes and court room scenes that look like they took at least three weeks and millions of dollars to shoot.  But the director realised that he didn't need them and that the point he was trying to make is all in Brosnan's voice over and the current final shot of the film.  Amazing.

The bank holiday and so lack of post presented the opportunity to work through some more of Steven Soderbergh's films in order.  Ocean's Eleven is just about perfect.  The more I watch it, the more I realise it's probably as important to me as The Godfather appears to be to others.  It's funny, sad, clever and the pinnacle of what modern Hollywood magic is capable of.  On the commentary, Soderbergh says that it was a very difficult shoot for him.  While he could tell the cast were really enjoying themselves, he was unsure whether the material he was getting would add up to anything.  But when he sat in the editing room it turned out to be the easiest of footage to watch and rewatch in the editing process.  That's the chemistry between the performers presumably, and the democracy especially since they're all pretty much equal partners even though in career terms they weren't in that place at all.  But it's also visually the perfect marriage of photography, the lustrous images of Las Vegas and David Holmes's score which despite hitting come of the cliches (Elvis) and creating a few new ones, never quite manages to totally glamorise the place.  It's not Leaving Las Vegas, but the seediness remains.

Then it's straight into Full Frontal, which, in the entire context of the directors career with Schizopolis, Ocean's Twelve, The Girlfriend Experience, Bubble and The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg makes perfect sense.  Indeed it's practically Son of Schizopolis.  But at the time, critics hated it.  The old Rotten Tomatoes survey, "An confusing movie made worse by the poor camera work" isn't just grammatically suspect, it entirely misunderstands filmmaking.  Isn't it possible Soderbergh's shot it that way for a reason?  That he's contrasting the scuzziness of real life with the artifice of cinema?  They'd expected, I think, a Neil Simon-type sex comedy (which is how it was generally thought of in pre-production), but its actually something akin to Mike Figgis's Timecode with bits of a faux-indie relationship drama edited in.  Not knowing quite what to make of it back in the day, I ended up reviewing Rendezvous , the film within a film, though I entirely failed to mention the Terence Stamp cameo which in the wake of actually watching The Limey and having shared universes on the brain at the moment, is frankly brain splitting.

In the same year, Solaris was released.  On first viewing Solaris, my understanding of the ending, which I'm about to spoil so stop reading now if you haven't seen either this or the Tarkovsky version, was that a Solaris created copy of Chris had been transported back to Earth and he had then begat another version of Rheya.  Watching again at university in the wake of the Tarkovsky version, I was then corrected, I thought in that we're instead seeing Chris in Solaris ala 2001 being reunited with the copy of Rheya, not least because the action is a repeat of the opening of the film when he cuts his finger.  Now I'm convinced I was right the first time.  For a start, Gordon warns about the Solaris copies turning up on Earth and the effect multiplying.  But when Chris is in the kitchen and we cut to the action of him returning the ship as it falls into Solaris, the editing and sound are very similar to the moment earlier in the film when the Rheya "ghost" remembers the moment of the original's suicide.  This Solaris Chris, now on Earth, is becoming aware of his own facsimile status begating another Solaris Rheya as company in the process.  Their friends will be surprised ...

Chinese Puzzle solved?

Film French Film First's Facebook feed has announced the UK theatrical distribution of Chinese Puzzle, the third film in Cedric Klapisch's Xavier trilogy (for want of a better description).

If you didn't want to know what happened after Russian Dolls before you saw this, it has a honking great spoiler in the trailer from the off, or at least it's a spoiler in the same way as founding out what Celine and Jesse had been up to before seeing Before Midnight. You might disagree.

Anyway, it has StudioCanal as its distributor which suggests a widish release and a decent home release afterwards not to mention streaming. So it'll be out there, which is the point.

Meanwhile the imdb page still suggests Kevin Bishop doesn't even have a cameo.  Poor Kevin.

Agent Carter continues.

TV Well this is excellent news and demonstrates just how complex and multi-platform MARVEL really want to go with the the cinematic universe. As well as renewing Agents of SHIELD, which is a thing in and of itself given the uptick in quality since it's found something to do with itself, ABC have ordered a series of Agent Carter starring Doctor Who's Hayley Atwell which will apparently be run in the SHIELD slot in the US somehow so that there won't be as many repeats or some such with the two series feeding off one another storywise.

Quite how Channel 4 will deal with this, assuming they bother to purchase the rights, is anyone's guess, unless the two are sold as a package to be transmitted in a block.  Plus you might wonder as someone at Whedonesque does, if in fact we'll get thirteen SHIELDs and thirteen CARTERs, sorry Carters which would seem like a good move.  One of the problems with SHIELD has been that it feels like a thirteen episode type series stretched out to twice its length, perhaps because of the need to play time and weave between the three cinema films.

Since we're on this, I did consider the other day how journalists have tended to think of the various MARVEL phases in terms of The Avengers films and how they'll be sustained once the first wave of heroes reach the end of their trilogies.  What they've not considered is the possibility that The Avengers itself will only have three films and beyond that MARVEL will move on to some other way of sustaining the momentum like a clearer crossover-type event that allows for any number of characters without a particular affiliation to appear.

Imagine perhaps three tentpole Secret Wars, Civil War or Secret Invasion films that feed into and out of films about other newly introduced characters or the "old guard" that haven't yet been given a name in the title like Black Widow, Falcon or Hawkeye.  Or some of The Avengers appear in some capacity, or characters which might not be able sustain a whole film given cameos.  Or from tv, Daredevil or the SHIELD agents.  Instead of a superteam, we're branching out into a hyperlink drama, ensemble film or disaster movies set in the MARVEL universe.

Jane Morris at the Lady Lever.

Art You won't remember because I barely do, but last year I wrote about the lack of local major non-contemporary art exhibitions. The announcement of Whistler at the Liverpool Biennial is welcome, but the situation hasn't changed much so I think it's important to publicise pre-1900 efforts as much as possible whenever they're around.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery, whose Burne-Jones exhibition sparked that blog post have another pre-Raphaelite related show from 20 June to 21 September 2014 (originated at Bradford Museums and Galleries) of paintings, drawings and photographs of the Pre-Raphaelite muse Jane Morris. Here are the important pieces of the press release:

Rossetti’s Obsession: Images of Jane Morris

Paintings, drawings and photographs of the Pre-Raphaelite star

On the centenary of her death a new exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery explores the role of Jane Morris as Dante Gabriel Rossetti's chief muse and the embodiment of Pre-Raphaelite beauty.

Rossetti's Obsession: Images of Jane Morris opens from 20 June to 21 September 2014. Bringing together rarely displayed works, the exhibition focuses on Rossetti's fixation with Morris and his depiction of her as the ultimate femme-fatale.

More than 30 paintings, drawings and photographs of Morris, including a number which were used as studies for some of Rossetti's most famous works, feature in the exhibition.
Sandra Penketh, Director of Art Galleries said: “More than 150 years since the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this radical, vibrant movement still excites audiences today. Jane Morris as a model, muse, wife, lover and artist in her own right was at the heart of this explosive group which challenged the art establishment of the time. Her striking features, tumbling long hair and haunting stare appear in so many of Rossetti's finest works that they have become indelibly associated with the movement.

"The Lady Lever Art Gallery has one of the best Pre-Raphaelite collections in the world so we're delighted to tell the story of the relationship between two of the movement's chief protagonists."

Born Jane Burden, Morris came to the attention of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites in 1857. In 1859 she married William Morris, but shortly after began a long affair with Rossetti.

Sharing a deep emotional attachment, Morris and Rossetti's relationship was the source of many of Rossetti's mid-to-late paintings, regarded by many as being among the best of his career. The exhibition includes the studies Pandora (1878), La Donna della Finestra (1870) and La Donna della Fiamma (1870) from this period but it is the painting Proserpine (1882) which had the deepest resonance with the couple.

In classical mythology Proserpine (also known as Persephone) was condemned to spend six months of the year in the Underworld. While away the world turned cold and dark and crops did not prosper until her return, when the weather improved and the land was fertile again. This was a painful parallel for Rossetti who had just spent an idyllic summer with Morris but was to be parted from her again for the winter.

Rossetti's obsessive depictions of Morris often cast her in mythological roles. Tender drawings, include a number of her as Astarte, an Ancient Greek goddess and to Rossetti the ultimate symbol of feminine power. This series of pen and ink, pastel, charcoal and graphite drawings expose a seemingly exhaustive effort to capture Morris’ beguiling beauty and her hold on him.

The exhibition also gives a small insight into Morris's life away from Rossetti's gaze. A stunning tapestry (267 x 150cm), designed by her husband William Morris and produced by Morris and her daughter Jenny, reveal a skilled embroiderer and an important member of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is also a rare example of the collaboration between three members of the Morris family.

In later photographs and a drawing of Morris by Evelyn de Morgan, the striking features which so mesmerised Rossetti 20 years earlier are still visible, but by this time her famous thick hair is white and the alabaster skin, lined. These final images of the exhibition no longer evoke the idealised images of youth, myth and femininity, but instead a real woman with depth and passions of her own.

A programme of free talks, tours and family events accompanies the exhibition.

A touring exhibition from Bradford Museums and Galleries

The exhibition opens at the Lady Lever Art Gallery as the gallery embarks upon exciting plans for the future.

Following initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), National Museums Liverpool is hoping to make £2.8m improvements, which will see 500 square metres of gallery space transformed and returned to its original architectural splendour.

The scheme, which promises a revamp of more than a quarter of the venue, would also see more than 1,700 items of fine and decorative art redisplayed and new educational resources developed for local schools and groups.

Sandra Penketh said: “The redevelopment will restore the South End galleries to their former glory and breathe new life into the world-class exhibits.
“As we work on fundraising for the project and developing our plans we are keeping Lord Lever’s original aims for the gallery at the forefront, ensuring the gallery continues to inspire future generations for another 100 years.”

For more information on the project and how you can support it visit our website:


Lady Lever Art Gallery
Port Sunlight Village
Wirral L62 5EQ

Admission FREE
Open 10am-5pm every day

Information 0151 478 4136

Website www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk
Twitter www.twitter.com/leverartgallery
Facebook www.facebook.com/ladyleverartgallery

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
Baby One More Time.

Written by Martin
[from: Galstonbury 1999]

Music I’ve a confession to make. I’ve a feeling I’ll be buying Britney Spears version of ‘I Love Rock and Roll’. It’s not a great song, and she does it very badly. But it’s to go in a collection, you see. Of weird cover versions. It’s never been clear why some artists go so far out on a limb sometimes to show that they do have a wide musical interest – or why others would try and pretend they’re still cool by keeping up with the youngens. But as someone who’s sat through all ten verses of Bob Dylan’s version of ‘One Man Went To Mo’ I can tell you this. They’re bloody good entertainment, and this track demonstrates, the really good songs can stand any treatment. The crowd you can here in the background of this track probably wouldn’t be seen dead in HMV buying Spears first album, yet here they are, singing word perfect to their indie heroes. The reason is – it’s a bloody good song. That’s why she picked it. That’s why they’re singing it. End of part one. [Originally written over twelve years ago]

[Commentary: I have a confession to make. I never did buy Britney Spears's version of 'I Love Rock and Roll'. In a break from tradition let's talk about the video:

(1) BBC Choice logo. BBC Choice. Sigh.

(2) At a certain point Hit Me Baby One More Time was a "new song" from America.

(3) The lame South Park reference.

(4) For a long time, this was the only track of Travis's I ever listen to that wasn't Driftwood. Despite owning a copy of The Invisible Band LP, I don't ever remember listening to it all the way through.

(5) Most of the kids in this audience are now middle aged.]

Women in Film. A Study.

Film One of my current minor addictions is watching full length recordings of film related Q&A type events from film festivals and the like. Some of the best are from tiff, or the Toronto International Film Festival and their YouTube channel has hundreds. The above hour and a half is a series of lectures then Q&A are about women's film festivals and their place in the feminist movement asking the question, somewhat rhetorically it has to be said because the answer is obvious, exactly why women's contribution to film isn't more prominent.

At the risk of offering some spoilers, two interesting points are raised:

(a)  How are we supposed to respect a collective history when we treat it so badly?  Essentially the problem one has if one wants to track the history of women in film and particularly in relation to the contribution of film festivals is that the sheer ephemeral nature of the things means that the granular detail in the form of fliers and administrative material is unavailable.  Plus even when stuff does exist, there simply isn't the funding available to pay for archivists and librarians to work through and catalogue the material and cross reference it in a meaningful way.

(b)  People who should be promoting women in film are as bad as everyone else.  The Criterion Collection, which sets itself up as a kind of museum for film contains less than ten films directed by women and that's a percentage reflected across boutique publishers.  You could argue that it's also a reflection of the percentage of film released by women and that in Criterion's case at least it includes Varda, Denis, Anders and Dunham (but no Coppola or Polley), oh and that women's voices don't stop and start at direction, but it's disappointing how easily the status quo is reinforced.

"Tell me." "I don't know, Jack." "TELL ME!"

TV Five best things about 24:

(1) Tamzin Sylvester

(2) The cougar, which gave me an excellent way of describing filler plots in shows whose seasons should really be half the length they are and are putting up false drama to kill time. "Oh no, it's another cougar."

(3) The look Chloe gives when it becomes apparent she's the cleverest person in the room and no one will listen to her.

(4) Being in the middle of a session and realising that you're inadvertently watching an episode at the right time of day and the digital clock next your television even matches the countdown into a commercial break.

(5) It begat Homeland.

"I’m not competing with myself."

Books Elizabeth Wurtzel's spoken to Buzzfeed on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Prozac Nation. She says she's happier:
"I’ve calmed down. Looking back, I was engaged more in dramas than I was in relationships. I’ve spent a lot of my life being in it for the plot, and I don’t do that anymore. I’m satisfied. I’m not competing with myself. I accomplished things I wanted to do, so everything I do now is because I want to, not because I’m trying to prove something. And I think it’s a fundamental difference between men and women and feminism can’t solve this. Like, there are hardly any female billionaires out there because there’s a limited amount of money you can spend in your lifetime and there aren’t many female CEOs because there’s no pleasure in being a CEO. And women get that and women want to do interesting things. I think it shows women’s good sense that we’re less ambitious because a billion dollars is all ego, there’s nothing you can do with it. And good for women for saying, “Who needs that?” What I wanted is an interesting life and what I’ve had is an interesting life."

"The name is definitely a marketing problem."

Radio The Guardian interviews Ira Glass on the occasion of the broadcast of This American Life in the UK. Here's what he thinks is happening with the choice of episodes:
"The name is definitely a marketing problem. I think you can tell we had no intention of being an international show. And there's no one in Britain who's like, ‘You know what I don't get enough of? American culture.’

"The shows that the BBC chose are really traditional, documentary with a capital D, 'we-are-serious-journalist' stories. The first one includes a story about the Holocaust, because everybody knows that that's a classy story to put on the radio. They are feeling protective of us, [worrying] that their audience will notice that the tone is different and jauntier and more conversational, and not understand the seriousness of intent underneath it. I appreciate that whoever is programming for the BBC is trying to protect us."
He's in The Independent too saying many of the same things:
"This is a beach-head from which to proceed," Glass says of his UK plans, his familiar nasal tones coming through loud and clear down the phone from New York. The BBC has cherry-picked 13 episodes from TAL's 524-strong archives; the first, which is classic TAL, featuring a heart-tugging story about the Holocaust, airs at 11am today. And the stories are not just American."
The UK doesn't have its own page yet (presumably because this is just a taster series) but I'll put a link here just in case.