Art At some point I know I will have to complete my North West art collection visits and to that end I've spent much of the afternoon on logistics. Here's what I've discovered.

The cheapest approach seems to be to buy a Freedom of the North West 4 in 8 Day Rover ticket and attempt four of those visits on four of those days. The previous idea was to stay in Windermere but looking at the costs of things, I really can't afford the mix of train fare and hotel room for three nights.

This rover costs £70.

My assumption is that I'll do the collections in Carlisle, Knutsford, Coniston and Grasmere with the last two, in rail terms equaling Windermere twice.  Here's the alternative price.

Return to Carlisle: £47.90 (roughly £30 with advanced singles)
Return to Knutsford:  £16.80 (which is cheaper than advanced singles)
Return to Windermere: £21.30 (about the same with advanced tickets)
Return to Windermere: £21.30 (about the same with advanced tickets)

Which adds up to £107.00.

Rover ticket it is then.  With advanced bookings and whatnot I can get roughly the same price as the rover, but why would I other than the whole, killing myself to get places for a week thing.  But if its four in eight, I'll get the odd day off.

Now, the travel.

Carlisle and Knutsford are "easy".  It's train there and back and both are within walking distance of the station.

Grasmere is pretty easy too.  Bus from Windermere Station and dropped off outside The Wordsworth Museum.

Coniston on the other hand is laughable, because it's not Coniston.  No one should try and do this in a day.  When I told the lady at the Coniston tourist information that I was attempting, there was a lengthy pause and then the tell tale "Right... so..." and a tone in her voice which indicated she was just on the edge of trying to talk me out of it.

Because I'm not travelling to Coniston only.  I'm visiting Brantwood, Ruskin's former home.

Getting to Coniston is relatively easy:

09:28 train from Liverpool Lime Street gets us (or rather to be fair me) into Windermere for 11:39.

I can then get a 505 bus to Coniston at 12:10 arriving at 1:00pm.

Here's where it gets tricky.

The last bus back to Windermere is at 17:05.

Which gives me four hours to get to Brantwood, look around Brantwood.  Get back to Coniston.  Then find The Ruskin Museum and pay my respects.

Brantwood is a half hour picturesque walk from Coniston.  Forty-five minutes by boat.  There's a lake involved and the river cruise only visits Brantwood at the end of the rover cruise.  Which leaves at the quarter hour.  Nope.

Yes, indeed.  My best option is a taxi I guess.  Which I'll have to book ahead, of course, and hope for the best.

If everything falls right, I'll get to Coniston for 1pm, get to Brantwood for 1:20 ish.  Spend an hour there, taxi back, walk to the Ruskin Museum for 3:30pm, spend an hour there then get the last bus back to Windermere.

Shrugs.  When has anything ever gone to plan ever?

The other option is to do Carlisle and Windermere for three days, with Coniston on two of them, Brantwood one afternoon, The Ruskin Museum on another, then do Tatton Park on another day completely.  Yes, thinking on, I could essentially commute to Windermere for three days.  Plus Carlisle.

Oh God.  What have I done?

Africa Oye from above.

Music Here is the Africa Oye Festival in Sefton Park over the past few years. Not sure why I missed 2010. They missed 2012.





The Films I've Watched This Year #22

Film  After spending the last hermitage week reading books, this week I surrendered myself to new media and spent most of it in front of my iPad mini visiting art galleries in far flung cities via the medium of free audio guides. Search the otherwise awful to navigate iTunes app stores for terms like "exhibition" and "museum" and of course "audio guide" or for various institutions by name and you can find a wealth of these tours primarily designed to enhance a visit to a building or show but which, in the best cases, feel like an entertaining and educational experience in and of themselves.  Here's the list:

The Guggenheim (New York)
Maitland Regional Art Gallery (Australia
Tate Britain
Paris 1900 (at the Petite Palace in Paris)
Made in the USA: American Masters From The Phillips Collection (Washington)
MOMA Abstract Expressionism (New York)
Degenerate Art (Neue Gallery in New York)

With a few more that I didn't finish because it became apparent pretty quickly that you really did need to be in the space for the tour to make sense either because there weren't any pictures built in, required you to actually be in the space for the content to appear thanks to location mapping or simply not enough content to make the process worthwhile.  They're also mostly, for obvious reasons, designed for the iPhone but tend to be mostly iPad compatible even if turning to landscape mode (or turning the iPad on its side) doesn't lead to the picture or video filling the larger screen.  I've seen a lot of content this week which must be tiny and barely legible on a screen the size of a cassette box.

Unlike standard bespoke audio guides, the ones with calculator digits and buttons, most of these, as well as offering the option to put in a number, also provide a list or index of the talks on offer which are usually in the order which the curators expect people to walk around the exhibition which means its possible to follow the narrative, with introductions to sections and the key examples included.  Essentially without the exhibition itself it's a glorified slide lecture and voices vary in degrees of naturality from curators obviously reading from a preprepared text to actors and professional voiceover artists repeating their words.  I think I heard Suzi Klein on the Paris 1900.

There are two here which are pretty outstanding.  The Guggenheim app is designed to update with new content as each new exhibition opens, but the tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed New York building is well worth spending an hour with as it explains the architect's philosophy, the controversial history of the building which wasn't initially well received by artists and the issues surrounding its many restorations.  As well as photos of the various areas, it includes reproductions of blueprints and related documents as well as short videos panning across the interior and poking into the areas referred to in the narration and interviewing artists about the challenges of creating installation art there.

The app on this list which seems to genuinely embrace the potential of these audio guides is the one which accompanies MOMA's Abstract Expressionists.  Seemingly including all of the objects in the exhibitions, its possible to arrange them in hard chronological order so that you can experience the history of the movement from its birth onwards and see the moments when each of its exponents found their voices.  But the key element is again the videos which don't just explain what the paintings are about but also how they're painted, from the choices of medium to the sheer effort involved, with demonstrations of how the artist would have applied their work to the canvas.  Sublime.

Apart from the Soderbergh's the only other filmic experience I really had this week was with the National Film Board of Canada's interactive docudrama app Circa 1948 (available here) which takes the format of the first person shooter, mixes it with the old point and click adventure and turns the user into a ghostly presence in post-war Vancouver exploring a bankrupt hotel and the skid row area, listening to a series of snatched conversations between characters straight from noir films but transposed to a Canada deep within the post-war depression.  For all the Hollywood trappings, the sense of place is annunciated by the multi-accented cast and paintings of George VI on the domestic walls.

There are forty-four conversations to find, snatches of theatre in which we're offered hints of wider narratives but few resolutions to the stories of corrupt cops, marriages on the slide and primarily the fate of war veterans who the state is unable to support and who will be made homeless once the hotel closes.  The characters appear as ghostly wisps within a fantastically detailed environment, conversations triggered after clicking highlighted objects.  But it is resource intensive, the app crashing on numerous occasions on what I've come to realise is one of the earlier iPads and now and then a glitch causes the user to fall off the set, which drifts into the sky like a scene from Inception or The Matrix.

Che: Part II
The Girlfriend Experience: Director's Cut.

As expected, Che II did explain some of the structural issues I had with the first film or the first half of the film called Che though it's also still fair to say I was pretty bored in that way that you sometimes are with films in which you understand what the director is trying to do,  in this case staying away from the conventions of biography and anything related to Guevara's interior life or iconography (confirmed by the accompanying interviews), can see the effort which has gone into directing the piece what with all the time spent in the jungle and the artistry of the getting a Red One camera to do that but unable to really engage with anything beyond that.

All of my chronological watching challenges have had these kinds of moment though I don't think it's the equivalent of Hitchcock's Topaz or Allen's Hollywood Ending.  It's not a complete disaster, there are sill moments like the Matt Damon cameo, Che's asthma and anything with Franka Potente which are pure Soderbergh.  There are just too many moments when stuff happens, then more stuff happens and some more stuff happens and nothing quite connects together even though unlike some films, you know that it's supposed to.  But like I said last week, I will be watching both films again back to back, just to see.

The Girlfriend Experience: Director's Cut, on the other hand, is straight into my top five Soderbergh films.  I wasn't greatly enamoured with the theatrical cut of TGE, which is cold and strangely uninvolving and loses focus whenever it strays away from Sasha Grey's escort into the somewhat random incidents featuring her boyfriend.  All of that's been rectified in this version prepared specially for the BD, which cuts out the improv session amongst the blokes on the plane, substitutes a few of the conversations with material from different takes and either through happenstance or focused Eisensteinian choices gives Grey's character much more warmth and nuance.

Having not see the original for a few years I was able to watch the redux with somewhat fresher eyes.  It's not until rewatching the other version with the commentary that I noticed that Soderbergh removed all the scenes touring the weekend hotel, so that the first time we see Chelsea is outside while she's receiving the bad news which makes the whole thing even more emotionally draining, especially when she says she's cold.  The director also injects a greater sense of how the treatment of the reviewing monster effects her, making her seem a touch more vulnerable but still emotionally strong.  I'm certain that if Soderbergh had made the same choices on the cinema cut, the film would have been much better received.

The commentary's excellent too.  It's a two hander between Soderbergh and Grey that only rarely matches the pictures but manages to cover the breadth of the production, the research he and Grey did in speaking to escorts about their work and adding that material to the script, Grey acting process and how Soderbergh accommodated her lack of experience despite the tight schedule (at one stage filming an ordinary, but flirty conversation between her and another actor while pretending to prepare to shoot the scene resulting in some of the best scenes in the film), how all of this differs from her usual work in the adult film industry and her ambitions to produce and direct herself.

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
Under The Bridge.

Written by Flea, John Frusciante, Anthony Kiedis & Chad Smith
[from: 'Under The Bridge', 2001]

Music  I’ve a feeling The Red Hot Chilli Peppers never had this in mind. Which is a great thing about bizarre cover versions, they’ll stretch the originals to breaking point. Unlike the All Saints equally sublime version, they make no attempt to replicate the opening guitar solo vocally and everything is subservient to the vocal. It should sound as wrong as Oasis clashing through Bobby Mcferrin’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ but doesn’t. There are of course really bad cover versions. There are the bland karaoke copies (anything by Atomic Kitten, Blue, Westlife and that crowd), and pointless dance versions like Madhouse (somewhere there is a dance version of All About Eve’s ‘Martha’s Harbour’). But midway between there will always be joy like this. And Donald Duck’s version on ‘Yesterday’. [Originally written over twelve years ago.]

[Commentary:  Sadly there isn't an Oasis cover of Don't Worry Be Happy, I think that was my idea of a joke.  The song's probably in the soundtrack for the same reason as Travis's rendition of Britney Spears, incongruity.  My other memory of this song is watching a special cinema presentation of the All Saints version along with Lady Marmalade in front of the original release of Tarantino's Jackie Brown.  Of all things.]

Marina Abramović's Video Diary.

Art Marina Abramović's latest show is a 512 hour long performance piece at the Serpentine Galleries in London, where across the opening hours of seventy-two days, she's inviting a maximum of a hundred and sixty people into an almost completely empty gallery space (the whole gallery space is empty in fact) and asking them to share that space with her and now and then following her whispered orders to stand in various places including facing a wall. The Guardian's reviews of the piece are pretty vivid and speak of near religious experiences.

As well as a tumblr posting visitor's experiences, Abramović is also posting a nightly video diary, the latest of which from yesterday is embedded below, in which she describes the notable events of the day and what artistic discoveries she's made as a way to give an audience who can't make it to the gallery some sense of what it must be like to be in her presence.  The result has all the nerviness of a hostage appeal coupled with the openness of a haul video, but instead of telling us about the latest Rimmel lipstick she's bought at Boots, the artist is offering us her emotional turmoil.

New videos will be posted at the Arts Council's thepace.org which is back up and running in a form which is focused so far in aligning itself with museums and art galleries and at The Serpantine's own website where they're piled up one on top of the other so that you can see even more clearly how the artist changes across the length of the project. The latest is pretty raw actually as she describes something happening for the first time and actually taking the whole thing pretty well.  Some artists would be furious ...


Film Arthur Newman, the "lost" Emily Blunt film (lost as in not released in the UK) finally has a release date over here but with a title change. Presumably because we could care less what his surname is, even though the synopsis somewhat suggests he's the protagonist and he's played by Colin Firth, it's now called Arthur and Mike, which instead suggests its about two blokes, even though Mike is Blunt's character. Lord knows why it's taken two years to be released here.  The IMDb says Momentum Pictures had the rights in 2012 but didn't do anything with them.  My only guess is because of the story's similarity to this case (it's also about a man who fakes his own death) and there being legal issues. Or the film not doing particularly well in the States. Either way, finally and well done to Arrow Films for having a go with it instead.

NT 50th app. Thingy.

Elsewhere I've reviewed the National Theatre's 50th Anniversary app thingy for the iPad on The Hamlet Weblog.

National Theatre 50th Anniversary Timeline App.

Having recently availed myself of an ipad I've had a chance to experience the National Theatre's new archive app highlighting fifty productions from across their half century in existence. Probably rightly, it's not all Shakespeare, but some of the most important productions are there, Olivier's Othello from 1964, Dench and Hopkins in Antony and Cleopatra in 1987, the Lear/Richard III tandem productions from 1990 which ultimate led to the film version of the latter with Ian McKellan, Fiona Shaw in Richard III from 1995 and Ian Holm's Lear in 1997.

Hamlet is represented by the 2000 production with Simon Russell Beale in the title role. The app is image rather than textually rich. There's little in the way of anecdote or analysis of the productions beyond a short introduction by the playwright Nicholas Wright (also a board member at the NT). A more elaborate approach would have included audio or video of the productions and more extensive text, perhaps at least relevant contemporary interviews with the cast and crew. But to be fair, this is free and such material is available elsewhere.

None of which is to devalue what is here, which includes black and white photos from the rehearsal process, Russell Beale wearing a baggy sweatshirt from an NT Othello production, fabric samples from his real costume, and annotated excerpts from the script showing the actor's movements and stage management cues (revealing Osric filled the role usually assigned to a second gravedigger and that the length introduction to Yorick featured in all its glory). The colour shots of the actual production suggest the production was lit in a style which evoked the Jacobian indoor theatre, faces against the darkness.

Overall I suspect the app will be of most interest the theatre scholars and audience members with long associations with the National. Those of us outside of London without access will feel inevitably frustrated. At some point, probably elsewhere, someone (!) should compile an accessibility guide to all this. Many of these productions have been filmed to some extent and even Russell Beale reprised his role for ArkAngel (my second review on here) (I wonder how I'd approach it differently).  But for all that, this is still well worth a download, should you be able to.

The download gateway is here.

"For this, you see, is Panini HQ."

Football The Guardian's received a disappointing, if unsurprising given that men tend to be envy factories, criticism for sending Hadley Freeman, someone who's professed to knowing nothing about the World Cup to cover the World Cup. Actually it's been inspired as she writes about the tournament for the rest of us. Today's dispatch is especially good as she visits the factory which prints Panini stickers:
"In an unprepossessing industrial suburb, about a 45-minute drive out of São Paulo, is where football fans will find Willy Wonka’s factory. Like many buildings in the main city, it does not look like much from the outside – in fact, it looks disarmingly small – but this may well be a ruse to put off the less myopically devoted because inside is a veritable mecca for football (and sticker) fans. For this, you see, is Panini HQ.

"Shelves of Panini-published comic books line the reception (including a rather charming series based on the adventures of Neymar, and the Brazilian footballer’s hair does make a lot more sense in comic-book form). But let’s be honest, most people are here for the stickers, and the peeks into boxes going in and out of the warehouse, stuffed with sheathes of team photos, are nigh on torture for the dedicated collector who is still missing those final dozen elusive stickers and the World Cup has already started. And shinies! There’s a whole box of shiny stickers just by that machine and …"
I was always a bit half hearted about collecting football stickers at school. The whole process seemed entirely stacked against people like me with less friends and it was always the bullies who seemed to have the disposable income to amass the number of stickers necessary to create swaps enough to fill the books.