The Films I've Watched This Year #20

Film Having been out in the world a bit this week, there's not been much time for the watching of films. Before writing up the visit to Norton Priory on Monday, I watched the BBC Four piece about the Hay Festival which in truth felt much like one of the pieces often produced for The Culture Show before Sky bought the rights so that as usual they could insure that as small an audience as possible could have access to anything to do with the thing. This is an inherent problem with a lot of this BBC Arts stuff, a lack of distinctiveness, though in fairness, the fact of its very existence anyway is just about enough for now.

As period recreations of old-syle episodes of The Culture Shows go, The Town That Loves Books was fine though would probably in general be of greater interest to someone who reads books. The section about celeb biographies was perhaps the most accessible and worth it at least for the Carrie Fisher interview in which talks about facing down internet abuse. The whole fact of her agreeing to appear in the new Star Wars is endlessly fascinating to me. She doesn't need to. Presumably the money's especially good. Which it must be. Perhaps its just a cameo? These are questions that weren't addressed.  Sorry, straying off the point a bit.

But the problem with these kinds of shows is that they're essentially posh version of This Morning, the contents effectively advertising whatever literary masterpieces are being hawked around the festival and because they're not part of some greater ecosystem of television programmes about books, you do wonder why we should be interested in hearing about Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård's printed LiveJournals, an interview which lasted ages over the three seconds dedicated to the Shakespeare piece. But I'm biased, obviously. It's still the first time I've seen a "Corrections and Clarifications" section on a BBC Programme page. More please!

Yesterday was of course dedicating to watching the very moving coverage of the D-Day commemorations, including the stonking piece of interpretative dance in the middle with its "sporting opening ceremony" big reveal at the end.  People who  ignorantly don't "understand why we're in Europe" would presumably have been unmoved by the thing I'm not going to spoil in case you haven't seem it yet, but I was in pieces.  I'll defend Europe and our place in it until I'm old enough not to remember or care and to drag this back to film, I hope that's after we've had a reason to use Preisner's Song for the Unification of Europe for real world reasons.

Red Corner
Dallas Buyers Club
Blazing Saddles
Enter The Dragon
Evil Dead II

It's always a "dangerous" when a magazine like Empire publishes a big long list of films collected together due to some popular poll, because the first instinct of the average film buff is to (a) check where there favourite film is (151? Really?) and (b) count how many they haven't seen.  Of the 301 included in what's supposed to be their biggest ever (even though there were 500 last time) I was missing about fifteen.  Welcome to my film memory 260 and 112 and on both counts I sort of which I hadn't.  Perhaps there's a point where a film has become so much a part of film consciousness that it's impossible too watch it like anything else, you're watching its added decades of referential context.

Perhaps that's what I only laughed once during Blazing Saddles at something Gene Wilder said, especially since I had two of its other main gags spoiled during a lecture when I was at film studies.  Perhaps it is just that I've never been a big fan of Mel Brooks in general anyway, not even Spaceballs.  Perhaps if I'd come to Evil Dead II on release I would enjoyed its surprises, which was difficult to now that its been parodied and homaged in everything from Doom to Spaced to Cabin in the Woods.  Especially Cabin in the Woods.  None of which has stopped me from putting Evil Dead III on my Amazon Rental list and look forward to seeing the remake of the original.

Red Corner isn't on the list, but part of my own personal fringe event to watching my way through tiff & BFI's A Century of Chinese Cinema, I'm watching the odd western film set in the country.  A fairly typical Richard Gere blinkathon with a somewhat one dimensional approach to the political situation, it does at least give Bai Ling's character a good forty-odd percent of the narrative agency which is more than most similar characters get in these kinds of films (much as I admire A Few Good Men, Demi Moore is in support mode) (see also Rachel Weisz in The Runaway Jury).  Also has Bradley Whitford, still pre-Josh in full on yuppie mode, which has its own pleasures I suppose.

Speaking of back catalogue, having finally seen Dallas Buyers Club, which technically isn't yet, I'm rather interested in watching Ghost of Girlfriends Past, the last film to star McConaughey and Garner.  I know it's from his leaning phase and garnered (sorry) utterly terrible reviews, but I feel like I've missed some pre-history.  How do actors quantify these jobs?  It's only five years since then and both have pretty much re-engineered themselves as serious actors.  Does on-screen chemistry transition in the same way?  I'll report back, god help me.  Having entirely missed most of McConaughey's leaning phase, I have feeling I'm now going to be making some very bad viewing decisions.

Compare McConaughey to Steve Coogan who can be a remarkable actor when he wants to be, usually when he has an accent (see Happy Endings) and is very good indeed in Philomena, especially when Martin Sixmith's full of righteous anger but oddly it's still more akin to his character roles.  It's replete with accidental Partridges and it's impossible to see him as anything other than Steve Coogan rather than the man who recorded this brilliant BBC Russian history series.  From the brief moment I've seen of his appearance at the Hay festival with director Stephen Frears, it was a problem he was well aware of.  Now I'm off to watch the rest it.  Cue the TS Elliot quote.

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:

Written by Hal
[from: 'Extremis', Virgin, 1997]

Music This is from a time when Gillian Anderson was actually pleased to be working on the most popular sci-fi show in the world and wanted to milk things as much as possible. So as well as introducing ‘Future Fantastic’ (a up-to-date ‘Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘World of Strange Powers’), she was involved in this opus. The lyrics:

Atom by atom, 
Molecular beings, 
Transport me away 
To the place of my dreams. 

A point in space, 
Where time is still, 
Colliding worlds, 
In limbo until 


A melting of minds, 
A cerebral mesh, 
A union of liquid, 
And virtual... flesh. 

Automaton love,
Your caress is pneumatic,
I'm a slave to your touch,
My response automatic.

The circuits burn out, 
And the paradigm shift, 
Its elision, 
My emotions drift. 

Clarity fades, 
And my faculties haze, 
Deep down in formals, 
Hound me for days. 


Your reasons are noble, 
A quintessence of lust, 
In the arms of angels, 
My dreams turn to dust. 


I don't want to hear about the future. 
I want to see it, 
I want to feel it, 
I want to taste it. 

There is a tendency to forget that the darkness automatically brings about fear in the world.
But I have already got a piece of the darkness. Trouble begins in the light, if you come around here. 


Glorious really. It should be noted that she’s using her ‘Scully’ accent, not the one we heard on Parkinson the other week. Sadly I was unable to fit on Richard E. Grant narrating a dance version of the ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy from ‘Hamlet’ – Grant hasn’t been making many Hollywood films lately has he? [Originally written twelve years ago.]

[Commentary: Snark, snark.  There's nothing in this I wouldn't post now I suppose.  Again, I actually bought this on cassette single and CD, just to make sure.  This is the first time I've seen this video, which can be filed safely under, "You wouldn't have gotten away with this if Twitter existed."]

Nasreen Mohamedi
at Tate Liverpool.

TV Accompanying Piet Mondrian on his journey through the Summer months at Tate Liverpool is Nasreen Mohamedi, the Indian artist who as we discovered in the press view tour but not through direct verbal comparison, shares certain biographical connections with the Dutch painter. As with the Constellations displays on other floors, this is an example of Tate Liverpool’s almost algorithmic approach to art, familiar to online shoppers. “If you like Piet Mondrian, who may also like … Nasreen Mohamedi …” And it works. Because I do.

Born in Karachi in 1937, raised in Mumbai, taught in London and Paris, Mohamedi created the majority of the work on display at Tate (the biggest collection of her work in the UK ever) when she returned to India, eventually settling in Baroda in the 1970s where she became a teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University. She lived and worked there until her death in 1990 and its during this period that she shifted from nature into abstraction and her interest in trees, whose leaves and branches led to an intense study of triangles which became the dominant shape in her art.

The exhibitions shows her artistic transitions, beginning with almost Turner-like explorations of nature, gradations in colour indicating elements of the landscape to exploring grids to overt architectural shapes filled with perspectives and diagonals to floating forms, in which anything remotely figurative gives way to geometric shapes in the centre of stark, empty backgrounds to elliptical forms whose simplicity can be explained by a desperation to continue working despite a rare condition which affected her muscle control.

Throughout she was influenced by photography and the exhibition includes a selection of her own pictures as well as images of unclear provenance but which the artist has drawn lines and frames on to indicate abstract shapes hidden within. You can see the artist’s eye noticing that at a basic level the natural world and humanity’s degradation of it through buildings and vehicles can be incredibly similar. The curve of a river and a road at their most basic level contain the same internal geometry filled with triangles.

Mohamedi appears after Mondrian within the narrative body of the gallery space so it’s impossible not to view her work through the prism of the other artist. As the press notes say, “Mondrian, much like Mohamedi, moved away from a figurative style and developed his own unique approach to abstraction.” Both began with trees, but Mondrian ended up with squares, Mohamedi with triangles. Perhaps this is why Mondrian’s earlier work has been omitted. To include it would be repetitious or at least to prosaically spell out such connections.

There are some differences. With the exception of his London house, Mondrian’s life is heavily documented, even to the point of being able to tell which of his paintings were begun before the war then completed later. Mohamedi’s chronology is a blank. Most of these works are untitled and the only dates available are based on the recollections of friends and colleagues. In producing the exhibition, the curators have effectively had to guess that chronology with only a rough idea of when the artist shifted between her artistic periods.

Another approach might have been to mix the periods of the artists together ala Turner Monet Twombly, though Mohamedi and Mondrian are different enough that the resulting display would presumably have jarred rather than suggested clearer connections. In keeping the two artists separate and selling them as different shows within the same admission price, Tate suggest they stand alone, even if, Mohamedi can’t quite do that because the exhibition can’t be visited separately. Her entrance is at the end of Mondrian’s show and you have to exit through his gift shop.

Yet there’s no denying this is vintage Tate, in the spirit of Klimt and Chagall in which some of the best examples from a world renowned artist are brought together in the Liverpool and offered up to the visitor in a coherent, retrospective not to mention ballsy manner surrounded by plenty of wall and gallery space allowing them to breath, stand out, and challenging us to decide whether we do like it. This is Mondrian. This is what Mohamedi does. Iconic names. Iconic works. Come and see.

Nasreen Mohamedi is at Tate Liverpool from 6 June – 5 October 2014.

Adult £11 (without donation £10)
Concession £8.25 (without donation £7.50)
[Tickets for Mondrian and his Studios: Abstraction into the World include admission into Nasreen Mohamedi.]

Mondrian and his Studios at Tate Liverpool.

Art Anyone with even a passing understanding of contemporary broadcasting in the UK in 2014 will find the sentence after this one entirely unbelievable. I have Channel 5 to thank for helping me to understand Piet Mondrian. Back in 1997 when The Jack Docherty Show was still at the cornerstone of the schedule and the branding was fittingly hewn in primary colours, morning television included a very basically presented half hour slice of public service broadcasting in which an expert, I expect it was Tim Marlow, interviewed another expert on a particular subject, very Late Night Line-Up, very History Today without the jokes.

One morning I happened to be watching and that morning they were covering the life of Piet Mondrian. I don’t much remember the specifics of what was said, but I do remember the paintings and how across the half hour beginning with his trees and landscapes and buildings, the expert explained how across his life, Mondrian just kept paring back and paring back the elements of his work right to the essentials. Suddenly these paintings which were prominent enough for me to recognise but not enough to understand, and which I’d seen numerously in exhibitions, made almost perfect sense.

All of which probably sounds terribly remedial to you, but for me, sitting with on my sofa with my cornflakes trying to decide how late I could leave it before getting the bus to work it was a revelation, because it also meant I understood that artists have chronology. They don’t simply produce random pieces of art across their lives as the mood took them, but there was a clear sense of trying to develop, of shifting from one idea to the next to the next and it quickly became apparent to my half-formed brain that this was true of all the best cultural creators, in film, in music, in books and in theatre.

Tate Liverpool’s Mondrian and his Studios begins at the transitional point, that moment during the First World War when he’s stuck in the Netherlands producing work that glances towards the figurative, creating pieces like Scaffold Studies in which its still possible to see architectural shapes and The Tree A in which, thanks to the title giving us some idea, we can see the darkened cracks of bark around the trunk of some timber even if the colours are pastel greys and blues rather than dark greens and browns. But without the titles, if they were Untitled, I expect we’d assume them to be “abstract”.

Then in the next room, we’re straight into his neo-plasticity phase, blocks, lines and colours and I wonder how I might have reacted had it not been for Channel 5. It’s interesting that exhibition doesn’t set itself out to create the same “oho” moment or an “Oh, I get it!” One of his day-glo tree efforts from a couple of years earlier would certainly have gone some way towards this. Instead, there’s an expectation that the visitor is supposed to have some kind of working knowledge of the painter, even though unlike other recent artists gifted iconic Summer shows here, he’s pretty challenging.

The exhibition does allow Mondrian to speak for himself. In the accompanying booklet, there’s a quote from 1941 which does much to clarify: “More and more I excluded from my painting all curved lines, until finally my compositions consisted only of vertical and horizontal lines, which formed crosses, each one separate and detached from the other. Observing sea, sky and stars, I sought to indicate their plastic function through a multiplicity of crossing verticals and horizontals.”

That quote is missing an opening section, “In painting a tree I progressively abstracted the curves; you can understand that very little ‘tree’ remained.” Is it an exhibition’s job to be education in the same way as that discussion programme? I don’t know and I definitely can’t say because I’m not seeing Mondrian’s work as a new thing, just as when someone says that can’t understand Shakespeare I can’t see it from their perspective because he’s been with me for so many years.  Which isn’t a criticism, incidentally, but worth asking.

Amid these discussions about curatorial intent, as with all exhibitions it can’t help, as part of its function, being educational. Seeing these paintings up close, it’s possible to see that Mondrian wasn’t working with uniform colours. What seems from a distance or postcard reproduction like a block of TARDIS blue has gradations, elements of royal blue, Tory blue and other blues without descriptive connotations. Age has also produced crazing, extra jagged elements of black which in one of his neo-placticism works, Composition A, resembled the bark of The Tree A.

The show does also demonstrate that even after Mondrian had abandoned what he’d initially decided was “abstract real”, he continued to develop. Faced with his initial blocks of colour, critics apparently decided that he’d created a full stop on painting, that there wasn’t much more to say. But It was only 1920.  A semi-colon.  He had decades of work still left to do. As he moved from Paris, then to London and finally to New York, although at a glance the work, which now had the familiar white background, black bars and blocks or blue, red and yellow seem the same, his ideas were forever changing.

By the late twenties he’s creating the most familiar of his works, in which a single block of colour, most often white, fills the space with everything else pushed to the side. By the 1930s he’d begun to use the phase “dynamic equilibrium” and said that his work expressed “the perpetual movement of changing opposites”. He’d spend months even years on some paintings, making choices on how the lines would intersect, where to put the colours, whether he could be radical and have a horizontal line stretching from left to right stop at a vertical or box.

By the 1940s, his love of jazz meant that he wanted to create an ever greater sense of movement in the paintings so there are more lines and they were more likely to intersect, and the colours sometimes stand alone. Many of these works took years to create, begun at one end of the Second World War but completed towards the end. His work rate was surprisingly slow. Across his life he only produced about three hundred paintings, which in comparison to some “abstract” artists is amazingly small. But unlike some, the effort in terms of thought was  exceptionally intense.

So there is some narrative here, and underpinning the sense of biography, each artistic period is accompanied by recreations of his studios, the “and his Studios” part of the title (unlike some exhibitions where “and his studios” means the paintings touched up by the artist’s students). His home in London, which due to the war remains entirely undocumented is represented by a slideshow of computer reconstructions. His final studio in New York is evoked through a contemporary filmed recording, photographs and reconstructions of the wall decorations, small squares of coloured card.

But it’s the recreation of his Paris studio at 26, Rue du Depart, an installation originally created in 1995 by this Foundation for the Construction of Mondrian’s Studio which is getting the most coverage. It’s extraordinary. Mondrian realised that the best way to publicise his work and its possibilities was through this space, or the original version of this space and so it was designed to reflect the work, from the vertical lines to the positioning of his work spaces to the decorations which included recreations of his already sold work amongst the originals still in production.

But as you can see from the photos it was also a living space and the details of Mondrian's humanity have also been painstakingly included. The alarm clock hung on wall, his wire rimmed spectacles sat on a table as though he’s just left them there, stacks of paintbrushes (some of them with paint staining), binoculars, pipes sitting within small wooden rests, even a hole punch, all bathed in natural light from windows in the real ceiling of the gallery, though in this context, with a little bit of suspension of disbelief, Liverpool’s sky could just as well be Paris.

Except Liverpool is ever present through all of the windows in the gallery and that’s what reminds us that at its source, Mondrian’s abstractions have real world origins. Stand in front of many of these paintings then look left and right and we see similar, if more uniform grids in the Tate’s window frames. Look beyond that to the rest of the Albert Dock and we see arches and verticals similar to his transitional architectural drawings. Look even further across the road to Liverpool One and we find trees. Mondrian’s artistic development isn’t just in the gallery.  It’s all around us too.

Mondrian and his Studios is at Tate Liverpool from 6 June – 5 October 2014.

Adult £11 (without donation £10)
Concession £8.25 (without donation £7.50)
[Price includes admission to Nasreen Mohamedi]

That time the Second Doctor nearly met the Eleventh Doctor. But didn't.

TV One of the more entertaining spin-offs from last year's 50th anniversary Doctor Who merchandising palooza was the Destiny of the Doctor, AudioGo and Big Finish's effort to feature all of the Doctors (or rather all the Doctor who'd been heard of up until then) in a big long connected story. The element which drew them together was an appearance from Eleventh in each of them in various ways and a particular point of entertainment was hearing the various readers, mostly old companions, attempting their impression.

Except there was nearly another way. In this interview for Doc Oho's Reviews, Simon Gurrier, who wrote the Second Doctor installment reveals the original plan was for Matt Smith himself to turn up in all of them playing the Eleventh Doctor and interacting with each of the readers playing the other incarnations and so forth, which is significant especially in this case because Fraser Hyne's Troughton impression is uncanny:
"As for the Eleventh Doctor, I don't think I'm breaking too many confidences when I say that the original plan was to have Matt Smith cameo in each story. As I remember, that didn't happen for boring logistical reasons – we needed to deliver the first two stories quite early to get them out in shops by January and February 2013 and the schedules didn't work. So my favourite bit of the script I wrote – the meeting of Frazer Hines' Second Doctor and Matt Smith's Eleventh – had to be massively reworked. These things happen, but when I hear the story now, I do miss that daft scene."
The scene is included in the interview and it's really, really good, especially the bit about the obvious, because you'd have to mention that.  Sigh.  Missed opportunities agogo.

Poos. Eeen. Beeeooots.

Music Turns out that I've been a bit oblivious again. Turns out that as well as The Little Willies and her various other duets, Norah Jones has been playing live in another all girl line-up, Puss N Boots, something I only discovered when her mailing list sent me a link to this website, and this soundcloud clip:

It is available for pre-order on at what looks like the import price.  I've added it to my wishlist (because people tell me I should keep it up to date), though frankly I should probably just set up a standing order into her bank account.

Public Art Collections in North West England: Project Update.

Museums Now that I've polished off Norton Priory, it's time for a project update. Here's the contents page from Edward's book augmented with the relevant links:

Accrington - Haworth Art Gallery
Altrincham - Dunham Massey
Birkenhead - Williamson Art Gallery and Museum
Blackburn - Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery
Blackpool - Grundy Art Gallery
Bolton - Bolton Museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium
Burnley - Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museums
Bury - Bury Art Gallery and Museum
Carlisle - Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
Chester - Grosvenor Museum
Coniston - Brantwood and Ruskin Museum
Grasmere - Wordsworth and Grasmere Museum
Kendal - Abbot Hall Art Gallery
Knutsford - Tabley House and Tatton Park
Lancaster - Lancaster City Museum and Ruskin Library, Lancaster University
Liverpool - Walker Art Gallery, Sudley House, Tate Liverpool, University of Liverpool Art Gallery and The Oratory
Macclesfield - West Park Museum
Manchester - Manchester City Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery
Oldham - Oldham Art Gallery and Museum
Port Sunlight - Lady Lever Art Gallery
Preston - Harris Museum and Art Gallery
Rawtenstall - Rossendale Museum
Rochdale - Rochdale Art Gallery
Runcorn - Norton Priory Museum
Salford - Salford Museum and Art Gallery and The Lowry
Southport - Atkinson Art Gallery
Stalybridge - Astley Cheetham Art Gallery
Stockport - Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery
Warrington - Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
Wigan - The History Shop

Here, then, is what's left to do:

Carlisle - Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
Coniston - Brantwood and Ruskin Museum
Grasmere - Wordsworth and Grasmere Museum
Knutsford - Tatton Park
Manchester - Manchester City Art Gallery
Liverpool - Walker Art Gallery



Film Pathe International's website has been updated with an official publicity shot for Suffragette ...

And a new synopsis:
"SUFFRAGETTE is a thrilling drama that tracks the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. These women were not primarily from the genteel educated classes, they were working women who had seen peaceful protest achieve nothing. Radicalized and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality - their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. MAUD was one such foot soldier. The story of her fight for dignity is as gripping and visceral as any thriller, it is also heart-breaking and inspirational."
There's a reason why I stopped reading the synopses for films. Genuinely not sure "radicalized" is the right word to use in this context.  But the photo makes me all the more excited to see the film itself.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
Norton Priory.

Archaeology Runcorn, then. One of reasons I’ve been saving Norton Priory across the years of this project is because even though it’s only in Halton, by public transport it seemed so terribly remote. Most maps give the impression of it being in the middle of nowhere or at least away from civilisation with much walking required. The only other times I've visited were  in the 80s with school and on a family trip and on both occasions we’d driven there and it was before a proper visitors centre had been built, the excavation still ongoing. My memory then was of a field and a pretty inaccessible one. Frankly, Coniston looked like a better bet and I still haven’t a clue yet how I’ll manage there by public transport, knowing full well it’ll tale more than the usual day trip.

Two things changed my mind. Firstly, Tabley House required much walking too, forty-five minutes worth each way from the railway station and if I could manage that, even in ill health, I could certainly manage this. Secondly, I checked Merseytravel’s iPad app with its Journey Planner and discovered that there were such things as buses and stops close to the destination. In the event, after so many years, all I needed to do was catch a 60 around to Aigburth Road, take an X1 to Windmill Hill, at the end of the line, just past Runcorn Shopping City, then follow the signs, a walk of about three quarters of a mile and ten minutes. The whole trip took less than an hour. As I stepped into the car park to the Priory, it was impossible not to feel slightly foolish about the whole thing.

Given the mix of museums, art galleries and stately homes on the content’s page of Edward Morris’s Public Art Collections in North-West England, it’s fair to say Norton Priory is a bit of an outlier. The archaeological investigation of a twelfth century Augustine priory uncovered after the demolition of an abandoned house which had been built on top of its remains after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, it was always a curiosity, not that I read ahead, such are the rules of this project, to discover exactly why. Once I was over the shock of just how easily I’d managed to find the place, that sense of curiosity immediate returned as I trudged up to the visitor centre (pictured) and after paying a rare entrance fee on this project began the investigation, or rather finally got around to reading Edward’s entry.

St Christopher Carrying the Infant Christ is a massive sandstone statue which has its own display room at the entrance of the visitors centre. Apparently created in the fourteenth century, it was carved in Chester, possibly, to celebrate the building’s elevation to abby status as secured by then prior Richard Wyche and transported across probably with some effort. The statue depicts St Christopher carrying the some might say miraculous ghost of the infant Christ across a river and his size is in keeping with the man described in the accounts who was capable of carry the world on his shoulders. Edward says statues of St Christopher tended to have this kind of presence and were “placed outside buildings or at gates” and “could be seen many miles away”.

The statue is important because so few good examples survived the dissolution, and subsequent destruction of religious art by the Protestant iconoclasts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The current head of Christ is a late replacement, the original having been destroyed at some point. But the rest is pretty sublime, drawn together from three pieces of sandstone, a mix of freestanding statuary and bas-relief, the saint’s powerful, draped figure augmented at the bottom by carvings of fishes and water, reminding the viewer of the narrative in a way which is almost painterly. Anyone who’s familiar with the lives of the saints will immediately know who this is without much guess work, something which isn’t always this case with this sort of historical and religious statuary.

This representation of St Christopher is notable enough to not only have its own Wikipedia page, but for Andrew Graham-Dixon to have written about it in his old column for The Telegraph. He’d seen the statue while it was on loan to Tate Britain. The statue became a museum object in 1965 when it was donated to what’s now National Museums Liverpool when the Brooke family, who’d bought the land in the 1500s finally left the place having made it a feature in their garden. It was on display in Liverpool Museum for many years but after a special extension to the Norton Priory Museum was built in 1999 to house the statue, St Christopher was returned and Edward says it’s been on what amounts to long-term loan from NML ever since, which is presumably why he thought it notable enough to be included in his book.

Housed within ita own space filled with various educational items and a laminated copy of the Telegraph article, rather than otherwise being left to just sit there, Norton Priory Museum have positioned the statue within a presentation of its own history, utilising video projectors to demonstrate how it would have looked across its history, from its original brightly coloured painted appearance through to the time it was hidden in the garden covered in vines and nature right up to the period it spent in NML’s conservation being laser cleaned. St Christopher himself describes this biography, the voice of Brian Blessed no less emerging from the video animated lips of his otherwise still face and the purist within me should have been entirely vexed by the whole process, but because it’s all presented with such dignity and because Blessed, bless him, is giving it his all, I was delighted.

This, then, is the occasion when I visited a venue for its single item, but I made the most of it by enjoying the rest of the excavation, the largest in the country. Again, the Wikipedia page for the site is astonishingly volumous so I’ll direct you there for a fuller explanation. I spent a good two and a half hours wandering about, largely thanks to the superb iPhone app which visitors are given on entry which includes detailed explanations of various aspects of the site, interviews with experts and images of the priory excavation and some history of the subsequent house.  All of this strikes a careful balance between treating the place as a historical curiosity and noting the features later added by the Brooke family and the effect they had on the site including the rather lovely Summer House which has been somewhat restored (new roof).

Some other points of order. There is a sculpture trail which I didn’t have time for this afternoon, but have previously visited as part of that research project for the Public Monuments and Sculpture research project in the late 90s. One of the pieces is in the grounds of the excavation, a statue of a Kneeling Monk by Thompson William Dagnall unveiled in 1987, which seems somewhat influenced by St Christopher in its design, especially around the drapes (you can see it here). Curiously, Edward doesn’t mention that or the rest of the sculpture trail in his book, which was published in 2001 but I suspect its because he was restricting himself to items in the permanent collections of museums and art galleries and also knew that the PMSA would also cover them well enough. Which it did, in 2012.

Fixing The BBC Arts Website.

Arts Some odd comments on the BBC Arts website now that it's been available for a few weeks.

(1) The logo

For some insane reason (and yes, this is going to quite blunt in tone), the designers have come to the conclusion that the best use of screen real estate is to fill a third of visible page on start up with the ARTS logo. No other BBC website does this (I think) and means the user has to scroll downwards every time they visit to get to the rest of the content. Imagine if the BBC News/Sport website was like this.

(2)  Page length

Why is the page so short?  You've barely scrolled down far and you're already at the bottom which makes the thing look like it's barely got any content.  It's just plain weird.  Compare it to The Guardian's front page.  Why would you do this?  If all this is supposed to also be somewhat of a replacement for The Space, why wasn't the brilliant navigation on that website migrated over?  Say what you like about Buzzfeed or even the BBC's own front page but they're wizzy places with a sense of occasion, of being in the midst of something, I just don't get that from this.

(3) Archive

At present, once some content has been around for a few days it simply drops from the front page and without being able to remember what it was and finding it via Google, it's almost impossible to guess where it's gone. Some things drop to the bottom reduced to a link title, but "Second Breath" tells us nothing about what it might be.

Here's the Museums at Night content collection page.  It's not linked from the front page now even though it was a flagship project and it's only linked from some of the constituents parts which are still up on the main page.  It does not include a link to Second Breath even though that's included in the explanatory text and the page for which has a back link to this content page.

It's one of the reasons the page seems short.  Why isn't something like Second Breath, which was only posted ten days ago still more prominently displayed at least with a photo and some text?  These are comments about how content is displayed but if I hadn't been practically visited the website daily and had an email alert set up for new additions to the clips page, I might have missed it even though it's one of the best things on there.

Perhaps it's about philosophical attitude to the material.  A lot of this stuff is being treated as though it's time sensitive - and in terms of some of the clips it is because some of them are only available for a month - but the permanent content should also be treated as such.  Second Breath will be just as relevant in a year's time.

I offer a few suggestions which cover the different philosophical bases at the same time:

(a) A blog format. Add the content in the blog format with the new stuff at the top clearly marked. It's always worked before. This would allow for posting dates and a sense of history, with, like some news sites, infinite scrolling and older content appearing at the bottom.

(b) Categories. Why are there no categories? Even if a hard blog format is out of the question, the ability to see all the posts about "books" or "theatre" or "visual art" or "music" all in one place and a menu bar leading to such things should have been included at the start. Admittedly this can ghettoise some things, but it even works well on The Guardian's website.

(c) Venues.  Much has been made of the co-operations with various arts organisations.  Another way to proceed would be to have tags for these too.  All the Glyndebourne content in one place.  Or the Royal Academy.  Or The Globe.

(4) Design Consistency

If something is BBC Arts related, it has to be bundled into the main BBC Arts website to be most effective. At present if you click on a Hay item on the front page you're taken to a separate Hay website (which incidentally does have a decently proportioned logo) which has a somewhat different design and feels like a whole other thing. BBC Arts should be like a giant building with rooms, and there should be a sense of moving between things just as we move between rooms.

(5) Content Transparency

Speaking about the Hay material, why are we only seeing tiny sections of some sessions but the whole of others? A flaky connection this afternoon meant I missed the live streams of Coogan and Frears and later Richard Eyre but assumed that they'd be later available on the iPlayer because there wasn't anything on the relevant pages to suggest otherwise. Instead we're being offered tiny clips.

This is very disappointing; there's no reason why we couldn't be told both in the schedules and on the stream pages that such things won't be available later, that this is our only chance to watch. You can't offer some chunks on the iPlayer but not others and then expect the viewer to guess, hope and pray that the thing they miss will be available later. If it's a rights issue, tell us.

This isn't helped by the over selling of some content on the front page.  Someone visiting the right now, as it appears in the screenshot might be led into thinking they're clicking and seeing a whole session.  Can I be the only person who once they've clicked through has the disappointment of realising that they're only being offered a three minute clip?  I expect I'm repeating myself now, but this is very disappointing.

[Updated 03/06/2013  Both sessions have been added to the iPlayer.  Interestingly, the link on the Hay page to the clip for the Coogan now says "full session available soon".  This is the sort of transparency I'm talking about.  You might ask why Ruby Wax isn't available though..]

On a tangential topic, you would also assume that all streaming events would be available later for at least a week as per the rest of the BBC's programming. There doesn't seem to be any particular reason why the whole of the original Museums at Night broadcast wouldn't be made available on the iPlayer etc after the event, yet, again, we were just stuck with odd bits plus the admittedly superior Will Gompertz show.

(6)  Schedules

Why is it also so impossible to keep up with what's on and what's happening?  Why isn't there a page on the website which cleanly explains what events are coming up and when.  To be fair, the BBC Arts email newsletter is great in heading up what's coming on the various channels but even that's not always very clear in terms of when and how BBC Arts online things are scheduled.

(7) iPlayer box

The iPlayer box is horrendous.  Three what look like static suggestions for programmes and a link to the arts category on the programme pages.  Why does the iPlayer logo link to the main iPlayer page only?  Why is there no direct link to the Arts category in the iPlayer?  This page here?

While we're on that, why doesn't isn't the Arts category in the iPlayer consistent with the BBC Arts look in the same way that the various channels are.  You might ask that of all those categories actually, the sports section isn't bright yellow either.  All of which is a question of aesthetics rather than usability but so let's move on.

The iPlayer box is horrendous.  How hard would it be to create a dynamic side bar that was constantly being updated with the latest content from the iPlayer on TV and Radio?  If this is supposed to be the hub for the BBC Arts, please don't make it all seem like such an afterthought.

(8)  RSS Feed

Broken.  Why bother putting something in such a prominent position if you're not actually going to update it properly?  Sometimes it has BBC News items stuck in it, sometimes it links to new things on the website, but ideally it would have both.

(9)  BBC News

Speaking of which, and we're back on the topic of hubs, why isn't BBC News's Arts & Culture section promoted here too?  It's difficult now that it's been demoted and stuck at the bottom of the "Entertainment and Arts" page but again, if this is supposed to be a hub for the BBC's Arts it should be there.  Even something along the lines of this Netvibes thing would do.

(10)  Treatment of archive materials

Here's a fascinating clip of Glyndebourne's artistic director Carl Ebert from Monitor in 1959.  The BBC has an inconsistent approach to archive in general.  Essentially it's a stick it in anywhere approach.  As well as this clip from Monitor, there are others on the BBC's golden Archive pages and still more on Monitors programme pages.  There may be others hidden elsewhere.  This might be the librarian in me, but surely at this point the BBC would have consistent approach to these kinds of materials so that if a clip from one of these programmes was thrown up, a programme page would also be created with the correct original broadcast date with the relevant clip capsule which could then be embedded elsewhere in the website?

They do seem to be trying.  This Monitor page for a Henry Moore episode is just right and seems to have been created as part of an exercise in migrating a BBC Archive page over to the programme pages.  But even then it's not consistent.  Because that item looks like it was once on BBC Four it has an iplayer type slot at the top of the page, whereas this old Omnibus is relegated to clips, split into two chunks albeit on a page which does have a proper TX listed.  If all of this sounds like nitpicking, and like I said it might be my information scientist gene, at the users end it makes for a less coherent experience, makes it less easy to find.

Why shouldn't this episode of Monitor be in with the rest of the Monitors?  Plus if you go to Monitor's main page, it only lists that episode about Henry Moore as available on the iPlayer.  You'd have to know that whole other episodes are also available in pieces in the clips section underneath.  I've strayed off the BBC Arts website topic perhaps, but you might also ask why these aren't also linked to from the BBC Arts page itself in an "elsewhere on the BBC website capacity".  Everything is scattered and diffuse when it should feel rich.

(11)  Website Archive again

Another oddity is that some old Arts posts are still available but reconfigured with the new website look.  It's almost like there's been a regime change but the old documents are still hidden in the basement.

(12)  I'll stop now.

Because it's after midnight and I know this is early days - like I said it's only been available for a week or two for goodness sake.  I know this and I hope these comments aren't treated as a kick in the teeth.  I've tried to be constructive, not least because I know nothing of the challenges involved in putting some like this up within the BBC's infrastructure.

All websites develop over time as they realise it's best to return to old principles with a new twist and that there is a group of people working really hard to make these things worth within a set of guidelines and whatnot.  Something like the Programme pages issues are presumably due to different teams doing different things in different ways.

BBC Arts is a glorious, glorious thing and feels like a slight return to the approach the BBC used to have to the arts, making internationally renowned national institutions somewhat accessible to people who don't happen to live in the area.  Seeing The Duchess of Malfi was a privilege.  The BBC Arts website can be just as exciting.

(13)  Embeds.

Sorry, forgot to mention the embeds. Why is this so long? Why is there so much empty space? Why's it so grey? Why does the More BBC Arts link click through to the programme page rather than the main BBC Arts website?