“Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed and eats you when you're sleeping ...”

TV Nursery rhymes have always had a queer effect on the Doctor. Usually it's when he’s up against it with The Celestial Toymaker but in the Big Finish fortieth anniversary audio, Zagreus, it led three and a half hours of Disney crossed with Hammer crossed with Asimov leading to Eighth absorbing more anti-time than his constitution should have really and marooning himself in something called the Divergent universe for a few years until the revival of the television series prompted his return or something like that anyway. The point is that if you want to see Doctor Who when it’s at its most experimental, there’ll usually be a sinister nursery rhyme in there somewhere.

I’ve never had the under the bed dream. I did once think I saw a ghost at the end of the bed, that looked like my Dad, in pain, which isn’t really the kind of hallucination you want to have when you’re six years old. Under the bed to me is the place where I keep all my cds, Doctor Who fan videos and episode 3 of The Underwater Menace on VHS. It’s where I look as the place of last resort when I’ve searched everywhere for a television remote control, keys or my right shoe and where I invariably find all of these items along with various other burton coggles, plimlico, ballycumber and recently replaced nottage. I’m a bit of a worksop, truth be told.

But I can understand fear of the unknown. I spent a whole year at university worrying about utility bills which failed to arrive at our shared student accommodation. After a while we’d assumed we’d in fact moved into one of those places where the landlord picked up the tab, but were still in the situation in which we didn’t want to ask him in case he actually wasn’t or indeed contact the utility companies to find out if that was the situation either lest they backdated the whole lot. So I spent most of that year white with fear that something terrible might happen in relation to money. I attribute my current, unceasing tiredness to those sleepless nights. But I digress…

Since I’ve been neglecting it in previous weeks, I should probably say up front that I’m a Yes voter on the quality of the episode. Every now and then, Doctor Who becomes magical, surprises you and throws you so completely for the loop to the point that even if you’ve seen or heard every television story and read those old articles about structure in last decade’s Doctor Who Magazine and think you know how one of its stories will go, you have absolutely no idea where it’s going to go. For all the, well yes, obvious structural similarities to some of writer Steven Moffat’s previous escapades, I had absolutely no idea what he was going to do with them next.

Which of course as you’ve probably already calculated creates a complication for me because I haven’t the first clue how to write about the thing. Back in the Behind The Sofa days for me and when Steven Moffat just wrote episodes for someone else I always had the perennial problem of them being of such high quality I didn’t know how to review them which led to such masterpieces as this and this. Since he became showrunner I’ve largely managed to put all that to one side, mostly because he’s been stuck writing the arc stories. Now here he is back in stand-alone mode and here I am with no idea how to proceed. Apologies for the following nonsense.

Let’s get the apparent “problem” out of the way first then. Complaining about recycling in Doctor Who, even from the same writer, is a bit like losing your temper over the council turning up to collect the blue or green plastic box outside your house every fortnight. Pretty much every script Terry Nation wrote for the programme and even the ones he didn’t, tell roughly the same Dalek story to the point that it’s always a disappointment now when at least one character in every episode isn’t called Tarrant. Doctor Who in total only has about three genres and they’re all about alien invasions and time travel. It’s what it does.

So yes, Listen has a similar structure as The Time of the Doctor with Clara’s adventures with the Time Lord happening in and out of a significant life event, in this case her first date rather than Christmas lunch. Yes, it’s also about her visiting significant people across their timeline, in this case various shades of Pinky and the Brain and making an important contribution to their lives. Yes, at one point it seems to be offering us a variation on not blinking and turning our back by advising the opposite. Yes, there’s the element of a companion not telling the Doctor something important which will presumably become important later.

Except I think Moffat knows this. He’s a good enough writer to know when he’s recycling and mores to the point that we’ll know he’s recycling too. He knows we watched The Time of the Doctor, not least because he referenced what seemed originally like an insignificant detail in Deep Breath. He also knows we’ve seen The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor which are also referenced. As well as the titles, what those three episodes all share is that they’re significant moments for Clara and specifically Clara helping the Doctor to overcome his fears. He’s servicing the franchise as an entity by crystallising one of its and his earlier thought processes.

If the episode is about how fear drives the Doctor, when Clara drives the TARDIS she’s taking him to a pair of what would otherwise be considered “short trips”, mini-adventures which would otherwise be just the thing to appear in a Virgin Decalog. Or Dualogue if you like. In other words, he’s gleefully reversing the rules of Blink here for the benefit of a passing alien who has no less importance in the grand scheme of things than the Sinister Sponge. When he finds the chrononaut in the far future that’s all it really is. It’s to illustrate that it’s the Doctor’s fear that connects them together, just as it’s the Doctor’s fear that helps him to fight.

True both adventures are also tied together by the other significant character whose now nudging towards the same plot point status which some people think marred Clara’s first year, but that might explain why he had all of that narrative agency in episode two of the kind which they hoped would carry over from Souffle Girl and Christmas Clara but didn’t due to them being completely different characters. Now that they’ve realised their mistake, possibly also after having watched the first five episodes of Dollhouse, they’re trying to do it differently this time. Notice how much agency Pink even has here with all his Ross-like table interaction.

Why hasn’t Clara been up front about the identities of the watchful Rupert, (Mork calling) Orson and Danny Pink? Now that is something which will become significant later, when the Doctor does finally meet the ex-soldier leading to much “just another stupid ape” conversation, assuming like Amy’s Schrodingers he hasn’t already figured it out. As ex-soldiers will they instead find kinship or is there something else underlying his recently more emphatic dislike of the army? Real world interviews are providing breadcrumbs, though as we’ve discovered over the years, lying isn’t just the Doctor’s rule. Quite right too.

The problem is, there is no second, I don’t know what else you want me to say. Listen is not actually like any other Doctor Who story we’ve ever seen. Ever. Bits of it are or as we’ve already discussed, maybe, but seriously, given all of that, is there another Doctor Who story which is anything like this? No, no there isn’t. Isn’t that good? Isn’t it good that even if you think the opposite to me, that you didn’t think that it worked, that at least it didn’t work brilliantly? That it wasn’t at least like anything else you’ve seen lately even on television? This year? In the sci-fi genre? In a world where hairy old, stolidly disappointing Extant exists?

Douglas McKinnon’s direction is superb. Noticing the new style of scenes filled with dialogue he fought against the natural tendency towards loads of unnecessary camera and character movement and instead was happy to simply film the performances in that way which judging by the first three episodes is the new post-nuWho style. Once again, just as in Deep Breath we have the Doctor and Clara simply talking, the camera resting to take in the scene (albeit sometimes with a slight camera shake to create some kineticism). There’s an intimacy too, close-ups that capture the emotion of a point and not just when scares are the objective.

The performances are superb. Peter is now fully relaxed into the role, seems to know how to play it which is as we’d hoped essentially nerdy Malcolm Tucker with a moral compass but without the swears. He might say in interviews that he isn’t and in the first couple he’s clearly fighting against it, but just as Tennant eventually realised his best strategy was Casanova in the TARDIS, so here he is being entirely unapproachable until he realises he has to be and when he’s not doing that he’s remembering his own childhood and giving us some good Tom (especially when the script calls upon him to do exactly that).

Once again Jenna’s a revelation. Her scene with Rupert, just as I think it’s meant to, is resonant of Matt and his various encounters with kids, especially in A Christmas Carol and Night Terrors. Clara’s been a nanny of course in various lives, so she’s supposed to be able to talk to children (see also The Rings of Arkadian) but she brought an extra level of poetic reassurance which is very much like Eleventh. During the week I had a slightly bonkers five minutes when I wondered if the twist would be that she is somehow the Doctor in waiting ala the Watcher and would play the Time Lord next year until I realised it was slightly bonkers.

To slightly bust open one of the episode’s jaw dropping moments, how did the TARDIS land in Gallifrey’s past? Isn’t the Time War locked, including the Time Lord home planet’s history as per Engines of War? Will the TARDIS’s sudden newfound ability to visit the planet’s past become important again later? Is Gallifrey the Promised Land? Or is this, like The Doctor’s Wife simply a stand-alone event, in this case Moffat trying to prove to himself that he can still write stand alones, that not everything has to be about story arcs? Clearly not in relation to Danny Pink, but still it would be nice if this was never explained.

All of which rambling is essentially me filling in words and paragraphs so this actually looks like I made an effort. A couple of thousand words should be enough I think for tonight. At various points during the last three series of Sherlock, I’ve asked myself and others, why Doctor Who isn’t that interesting sometimes, willing to take risk with itself and its characters. Now here we are with an episode which did just that and slap bang in the middle of Saturday night between Tumble and The National Lottery. I wonder if those of us born a decade too late finally understand now what it must have been like to see An Unearthly Child in 1963?

The Films I've Watched This Year #34

TV Here's a paragraph about Matthew Collings's The Rules of Abstraction on BBC4. In The Rules of Abstraction, Matthew Collings, who is himself an abstract painter talks about the history of abstract painting over the past hundred years in ninety-minutes.  As Matthew Collings himself points out, to talk about abstract painting as a single thing is a ludicrous idea, but he attempts it anyway.  He is very good at introducing artists just outside of the mainstream and explaining the use of colour and how it creates harmony and chaos across the canvas.  But there is the problem of not really being able to explain abstract art in its purest sense, other than to suggest that the more work that's put into a painting the more profound it probably is.

A Year In Burgundy
Gangster Squad
The Purge
A New Kind of Love
I Really Hate My Job

Darling Lili
And Now ... Ladies and Gentlemen...

I Really Hate My Job is a London entry into the service worker genre (see also Clerks, Late Night Shopping and Empire Records) which has Anna Maxwell Martin managing a rat infested Soho bistro with waitresses and kitchen staff played by the eclectic cast of Neve Campbell, Shirley Henderson, Alexandra Maria Lara and Dana Pellea, battling against their shared neuroses across a single evening. Shot almost entirely on one set, it mostly feels like filmed theatre but with a sharp script, funny performances and sub-Withnail sense of human wreckage dealing with failed potential, it’s never boring. Cleverly director Oliver Parker always keeps the customers out of focus or out of shot putting the viewer right within the point of view of his cast.

Not having much of an idea of its origin, throughout I had a general sense of unease throughout of this being a period piece. For one thing, everyone's smoking inside.  It’s a measure of just how ingrained the illegality of that is now that I flinched the first time Shirley Henderson’s character lit up. Kate Nash’s first album’s on the soundtrack, plus everyone looks younger. Glancing at the supplied inlay (I received this as a preview) I realised it was shot way back in 2007, but it’s just  now creeping out direct to dvd, having only previous been seen in this parish (according to the imdb) at the Inverness Film Festival. It even reached the US sooner with a shiny-disc release in 2008 and originally saw light of day at the Transilvania International Film Festival in 2007.

There are plenty of stories about British films which fall through the cracks.  This seems to be one of them. Although it’s far from a commercial film, given the cast and the director it certainly would have had a decent release at least fifteen years ago (see the three films bracketed above) but we now seem to be in a situation, so unlike France actually, in which even this kind of material can’t get a decent release or at least couldn’t back in 2007/8 when if the Wikipedia lists are anything to go by there were already about five or six tent pole UK releases and a bunch of also rans (Lady Godiva: Back in the Saddle?). Let’s hope it’s some reason other than politics, this being a film written by a women, featuring a cast made up entirely of actresses. It can’t be this which has led to it being forgotten can it?

Most of my #francewatch "choices" were or are utterly bonkers.  Claude Lelouch's  And Now ... Ladies and Gentleman ... has Jeremy Irons as an amnesiac, disguise wearing jewel thief blacks out whilst on a round the world boat trip and ends up in Morocco where he meets Jazz singer Patricia Kaas who spends most the duration singing songs from her Piano Bar album, including Piano Bar.  Blake Edwards's Darling Lili has Julie Andrews as a German spy during World War I romancing Rock Hudson's fighter pilot and feeding his intel back to the Keiser (oh and it's a musical because of course it is).  Melville Shavelson's A New Kind of Love features Joanne Woodward as a fashion designer who after Paul Newman's sports columnist mistakes her for a man decides to gussy herself up and pretend to be a prostitute for some reason to win him over.  It's rubbish.

Actually on reflection, make that all, because you have to imagine that only in France would Populaire, a 50s retro romantic comedy about the international typewriting championship would be greenlit and have Romain Durais and Déborah François (who was the pupil in The Page Turner).  It's actually pretty magical in a similar way to Peyton Reed's underrated Doris Day film pastiche Down By Love even if now and then it slips over into unnecessary Todd Hayne's Far From Heaven in terms of deliberate tonal changes.  A Year In Burgundy is a ninety-minute documentary about wine production that's what you'd expect though none of the wineries features were prepared to give up their secrets about how the stuff is actually turned from grapes into the plonk.  Each of them have their own secret method and theft and piracy  is rife in the industry.

Neither of the US films I watched this week is any good.  The Purge takes a potentially decent dystopian idea, that that to keep crime down once a year for twelve hours there's a killing spree then uses it as a pretence for a relatively standard home invasion story that ultimately amounts to Home Alone with guns.  Excellent performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey keep the morally ambiguous parents largely sympathetic, the general sense of low budget make-do is disappointing.  Gangster Squad is The Untouchables for teenagers crippled by insufficient Emma Stone who's stuck in the role of the traditional moll.  It's disappointing that four years on from Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer (and her!) have turned out such generic tosh.  It's not unenjoyable and it's good to see Josh Brolin in a lead, but throughout you just keep wondering why the characters don't go after the accounts.  They should always go after the accounts.

You can take your "bookbook" and ...

Technology That's all very well and good Ikea (which I seem to have been mispronouncing all these years) but it's a pain in the rectum for tech support:

What I have done for me lately.

Life  Just for a change...

(1)  I've just totted up the number of films I've watched so far this year and it's currently standing at two hundred and fifty-two (252).  I don't know if this is average although I know it's above average for someone for whom it isn't their job.  It averages out at one film per day and would be higher if it wasn't for the weeks when I was reading instead or travelling out to the Lake District to look at some paintings for five minutes.

(2)  This afternoon I travelled out to the Lady Lever Art Gallery to look at some drawings for about half an hour as I finally reached their Rossetti's Obsession : Images of Jane Morris exhibition.  Rossetti's never, whispering, really been my favourite of the pre-Raphaelites, his figures always having a slightly vacant look and that's certainly true of some of these drawings of Morris.  The real benefit of the exhibition is being able to compare his draftspersonship with photographs of his model and the way it simply and sympathetically charts their relationship across the years, saying as much as it needs to across the three rooms about their connection and William Morris.   If anything it feels too small.  A much larger exhibition in a greater space would have room for his paintings (assuming they could be loaned) and a greater sense of chronology with the works put in the order of the date of their creation rather than, as here, how they work best aesthetically.  Nevertheless I was very pleased to have visited before it closed (I really have to stop leaving these things too late) and it has added an extra complexion of understanding for me about his work and his muse.

(3)  Yesterday I wrote about visiting Tatton Park

(4)  On Tuesday I visited Tatton Park

(5)  Monday I wrote about visiting Tullie House.

(6) The Tour of Britain began on Sunday with eight laps passing in front of my house:

After having watched the start of the race and first lap on television I rushed down and stood on the side of the road for the next pass. As I expected this amounted to the roar of police motorcycles, then the first lot of support cars, then the four leading cyclists, then a gap, then the peloton then what seemed like a hundred more support cars with television cameras in between, then nothing.  I clapped all the way through and wore a bright green Kelly Services t-shirt which hasn't fit me for twenty-years (originally given to me when I worked at Headingley cricket ground clearing rubbish from the terraces in the mid-90s) so I could spot myself on the television playback as all of this whooshed past.  But in general it was about as I'd thought, which is that watching a road race from the side of the road is a rubbish way to watch a road race.

(7)  On Saturday afternoon, Matthew Sweet quoted me in his Sound of Cinema programme about Memory on Radio 3 from the tweets I sent him about John Brion's score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  You can listen again here or download the podcast.  He mentions me about about five minutes before the end.

(8)  Saturday night was Doctor Who night and we're all caught up.

Tatton Park.

Art Turning out of Knutsford railway station onto the main road yesterday, the last thing I needed to see was one of those brown tourist signs pointing in the opposite direction with the information, “Tatton Park, 4 miles”. Having been here almost this time last year for Tabley House and knowing how long that walk had taken it, hadn’t occurred to me, largely because I’d not bothered to look at the maps (spoilers) that I’d also have to walk some to get to the mansion in the park but there it was. Four miles. Which might not seem very far to the seasoned rambler, but as I discovered the other week in the Lakes, I’m very far from being a seasoned rambler. Not one bit.

Actually, I’m being slightly over dramatic. Amid the scenery, the blue skies and well cared for road, the walk through Tatton Park wasn’t that awful. Cyclists and pedestrians travelling in the opposite direction all greeted me and I greeted them when they didn’t. I even think that I saw Laura Trott passing by on wheels though it could have been my mind filling in the blanks when I caught half of a face in the corner of my eye. Unlike the Lakes, the mammals aren’t fenced but roam freely so I was amid the sheep and deer rather than with them just too far away. I wonder how often they’re actually bothered by tourists or if they’re hopefully just left to be.

Tatton Hall has had a messy history in architectural terms. The estate was acquired by the Egerton family in 1598 and although they lived in the Old Hall which is still on site for the next hundred years, by 1716 they’d moved into the new building which as the official catalogue describes was originally a “three-storied rectangular block of seven bays”, but later augmented into a neo-classical building with sections designed by Samuel Wyatt in 1780 and Lewis William Wyatt in 1813. The Egerton family stayed there, right through to the final owner Maurice Egerton who left it to the National Trust.

In his book, Public Art Collections in North West England, Edward Morris devotes his four text pages to describing who amongst the Egertons were the art collectors. In 1729, Samuel Egerton was an apprentice clerk for the picture collector Joseph Hill and it’s through this connection he acquired the two Canalettos. But the most important collector was apparently Wilbraham Egerton, Samuel’s great nephew whose interest in Dutch painting led to the purchasing of the Van Dyck, Stoning of St Stephen but it’s clear that everyone in the family across the years had a hand in.

All of which said, as art collections go, it’s a bit disappointing. You’d think after all this time, finding two Canalettos and a Van Dyck in the north west under these circumstances would be exciting for me, but they’re disappointing Canalettos, early schematic views of Venice which are interesting from a historical perspective in capturing the city but otherwise flat and uninvolving. The Van Dyck is difficult to appreciate in this setting due to the way the light from the windows hits it so its impossible to see the whole work without some reflections on the canvas.

But throughout I had to keep in mind that this is the National Trust (and Cheshire City Council who provide their funding) presenting the house and grounds as a glimpse into the past and the history of the Egertons, not an art gallery. These walls filled with portraits are the ancient equivalent of an iCloud so shouldn’t really be judged on their artistic merits, even though now and then there also happen to be some fabulous paintings. Similarly, the many “schools of” and “manner of” paintings are the Egertons bringing into the old Masters the only way they could.

Currently in the process of restoration, a process being carried out in public, is The Cheshire Hunt with Wilbraham Egerton of Tatton (1781–1856), and His Son William Tatton Egerton (1806–1883), 1st Baron Egerton of Tatton by Henry Calvert (its space on the wall in the entrance hall currently filled with a pretty convincing from a distance digital reproduction). I’m mentioning it because it seems important to mention it, but it’s really off the edge of my subset of interests, my brain not quite able to divorce its capability as a painting with what it depicts.

Much more in that subset is the oddball anonymous portrait of Elizabeth I, which is frankly easier to link to than describe. My first reaction was quite a dirty laugh, which echoed throughout the hall in which its hung. How did that happen and judging by the dating, during the Queen’s reign? My experience has been that contemporary portraits tended to offer something akin to fantasy in relation to Gloriana especially in her later years, yet here she is unflatteringly in full HD, the skin hanging from her skull. Did the artist survive this? Was this unusual?

Alice Anne Graham-Montgomery (1847–1931), Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos and Countess Egerton of Tatton by Frank Dicksee is currently difficult to see because it’s in the middle of a wall in a dining room which is cordoned off at the very end to create atmosphere, but even from there her golden gown shimmers and the sheer ostentatiousness of the setting with its fir lined chair which I’m sure for years people assumed was how these people lived in these big houses but on reflection must have been an affectation of the artist’s studio.

Across the project Frank Dicksee is a name I’ve seen in a number of the collections and as I remarked to the attendant, because I do that sort of thing, that painting would have had pride of place in one of the regional museums, noting how the women’s portraits by known painters mostly seemed to be in less prominent, inaccessible positions whereas the more unremarkable portraits of men by relatively unknown artists are in full view. She replied that status overshadows artistic merit in these circumstances (which is a reflection I suppose, of our historically patriarchal society).

Which is presumably why one of the collection’s other great portraits Lady Gertrude Lucia Egerton (1861–1943), Countess of Albemarle by the Italian painter Michele Gordigiani is in the middle of a stairwell just before the visitor enters the cellar. There’s a bright, airiness to the image and a sense of freedom, of someone having been caught in a private moment by a photographer who isn’t a total stranger. Gordigiani’s is the image of Elizabeth Barrett Browning which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for her work in the future.

But opposite there is my favourite picture in the collection, Hilda Montalba’s Onion Seller, partly because it’s like nothing else in the painting collection. After walls of dull portraits and mediocre Dutch copies, this awoke me from my mid-afternoon torpor with all kinds of questions about why it was acquired, about the artist, about why it was on show, like the Gordigiani, so close to the exit and in a place where it would be easy to overlook as the visitor is leaving. Which of the Egerton’s bought it and where did it originally hang?

Neither the guide book or Edward have any answers. The usual source says that the artist was one of four daughters of the Swedish-born artist Anthony Rubens Montalba and Emeline (née Davies) and that she and her siblings were regular contributors to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition during the 1870s. Perhaps the painting was exhibited there and impressed one of the Egertons enough for a purchase. What impresses me is how it seems to merge the discipline of the still life in the onions with the more formal elements of the portrait with certain aspects of reportage.

The attendants on the whole were pleasingly honest.  The person in the dining room noted that you could see which paintings had been out on loan and by inference are the most important) because they'd been cleaned and restored and it's worth noting that most of the paintings I've mentioned certainly have signs of that.  They are often also asked why some of them are in such murky order (loads of the paintings are dirty with very yellow varnish) and it's usually because the cost of restoration would cost more than the painting is worth.

If all of this has sounded disappointingly cynical it may be because I’ve reached that point of mission creep so many of these projects have had. I look back at my visit to Dunham Massey and it’s certainly true that in comparison on this occasion I wasn’t able to quite simultaneously concentrate on the art and the house, so really didn’t get a sense of the building’s history as I walked through the rooms my eyes darting around looking at the paintings. My reaction on seeing a room without tended to be to move on.

Plus in concentrating on the kinds of works within the field of interest of Edward’s book, I certainly didn’t spend enough time looking at the large collection of lithographs in the servants work spaces or the display dedicated to final house owner Maurice Egerton’s ethnographic collection. An old school adventurer, as well as being a pioneer aviator, automobilist and radio enthusiast, he fought in both wars and travelled the world. There’s a page here featuring commentary from people who work at house and studied his life about his reputation.

As I began the long walk back I decided to try and thumb a lift, something I haven't done in years and as I sheepishly put out limb as a car passed it stopped and was given a pleasant ride back to gate by someone I gathered was a staff member.  He'd noticed how long I'd been there, though I didn't ask if that was unusual, though given the speed with which I'd seen other visitors walking around I suspect that it might.  So it wasn't as much of a long walk as it could be and I was back in Knutsford quicker than I expected but not quick enough to properly look around what looks like a very nice place.

Perhaps I’ll visit again. Perhaps I will. But with a historians eye, to look at the house and grounds as a glimpse into the past and the history of the Egertons, not an art gallery, not itching to pull out my moleskin book every five minutes and make notes in preparation for this ensuing blog post, review thing. Just two venues left, Manchester and the Walker, both art galleries and I’ve no idea how I’m going to react to those with all of their paintings. It took me three hours to get around Tatton Hall and I know that I didn’t see everything.

Shakespeare at the BBC: The Secret Life of Books: Shakespeare's First Folio.

As the BBC website describes, in The Secret Life of Books, "Six classic British books are considered with a fresh eye. Returning to the authors' original manuscripts and letters, expert writers and performers bring their personal insights to these great works."  Given the eclectic mix of books chosen, it wasn't exactly certain that Shakespeare's Folio would appear especially since it's been so well served on television previously not least during The Big Read whose campaigning series this 6x30mins superficially resembles.

There's a short potted history of Shakespeare's publishing history, the usually glee at the sheer apparent wrongness of "To Be Or Not To Be..." in the original quarto which Beale attempts to read out loud from the British Library copy, the words crumbling in his mouth.  Perhaps some day we'll have a series of programmes about literature's oddities which'll look at more closely.  The programme doesn't come to any real conclusions about its origin and even uses the words "bad quarto" almost in a pejorative sense as though it's a term we used in the past but we're much more enlightened now.

It's interesting to note the extent that scholarship has mode on that this kind of programme is now comfortable enough to stress Shakespeare as a collaborator in a way which I've not quite seen with such force in this kind of veneration.  That make's the oddity that the BL's manuscript copy of Sir Thomas More with its page and a half of potential Shakespeare handwriting isn't mentioned while Beale talks about how we don't have the ability to see the playwright's original papers quite strange.

Nevertheless this an enjoyable half hour and even more so thanks to Beale's own performance of speeches from Lear (which appeared in at the National during the production of the film), Timon of Athens and Hamlet which is represented by his heart-stopping rendition of "To Be Or Not To Be..." stood on the banks of the Thames, words spoken with a force of understanding which I've rarely seen, especially in extract.  You can really tell that this an actor whose lived with the play and Shakespeare's words his entire life.

The Secret Life of Books: Shakespeare's First Folio is on the iPlayer here and available to watch for the next month in the relevant territories.   

Clips from the programme can be sampled here.

"I have been fielding a lot of questions like this lately"

Film The Art of the Title has a useful interview with Erin Sarofsky, who created the post-credits sequence for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Amongst the artistry she's asked:
"There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Marvel’s lack of representation of female heroes. If you could design a title sequence for a film about a female Marvel superhero, who would that be?

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have been fielding a lot of questions like this lately.

For now, I am hoping that Black Widow gets her own movie. I think it would be an interesting film, because she’s such a complex character. Exploring that angle in a main title would be really fascinating.
Well, exactly.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.

Art Hello Carlisle. Finally. Of all the destinations in Edward Morris’s book Public Art Galleries in North West England, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery has always felt like the most remote even though oddly it’s only a couple of hours journey from Liverpool by train. That swiftness was explained when changing from my usual train at Preston onto a tilting Virgin Pendolino on its way to Glasgow, Carlisle being the penultimate stop. Apart from completely misunderstanding how the reservation system works (to the dismay of the passenger who’d booked my original seat) the journey was uneventful. I spent most of it looking out the window at more incandescently beautiful countryside pierced by what I’m sure was the Ribblehead Viaduct (glances ominously at his copy of Bradshaw’s).

Edward really likes Tullie House, devoting four and a half text pages to its collection and I can see why because it’s utterly marvellous. Having spent the best part of a few years within this project visiting houses and tiny museums with very focused collections, there’s something quite disorientating to pitch up at a municipal in which almost every object on display demands the attention, where there’s very little, for want of a better description, “filler”. Much of this has to do with its size. Although the main museum is in a huge, recently refurbished space, the art collection is presented in its original venue at the back, in actuality Tullie House is relatively tiny, smaller even than Sudley. It’s the kind of place so tight for space it has to display its Stanley Spencers in the stairwell.

The road to the museum is a familiar story. After a number of local art exhibitions across the 19th century, the local council eventually bought Tullie House, originally built in 1689 and in 1890 opened it as the local museum and art gallery, with an extension added through public subscriptions for the local library and a school. Both of those have since moved out and the museum filled that space and a further extension completed in 1990. But the collection didn’t really begin to flourish until the 1930s when Mrs Maud Scott-Nicholson, the daughter of Sir Benjamin Scott, whose fortune through his company Hudson Scott & Sons Ltd, was made as a box and packaging manufacturing, proposed the introduction of a proper purchasing scheme (always a philanthropist).

In turn Sir William Rothenstein, the principal of the Royal College of Art was appointed, with a budget of £100-£200 a year, to amass a collection at his discretion from as Edward describes “work by young and little known artists” which he did until 1942. The scheme continued through various successors until 1975 when it was abolished presumably in favour of a more traditional municipal purchasing policy. The collection was also boosted when Rothenstein’s friend, poet and dramatist Gordon Bottomley bequeathed his collection to Carlisle in 1948 and it’s fair to say, judging by Edward’s description that a large proportion of the display are from these additions. But there are also still plenty of recent purchases and gifts, creations from right up until the present day.

A quick user guide. If you do visit the museum and you’re alone, bring music and headphones. From what I can gather the venue also houses some of the office space for the staff of the museum and has a downstairs meeting room and at the time I visited people were walking through all of the time which was just about ok when I was in the gallery space but made the experience of looking at the art in the stairwells abysmal. My usual choice of Preisner’s music helped to drown out much of the noise of people clomping about but all of the business of moving refreshments in and out of that meeting room and people marching around the building was, I’m afraid, horrendously distracting and particularly problematic given that the gallery has an admission charge (albeit one covering the year).

Of course the counter argument is that there were visitors too, and in London galleries you can barely see anything for the crowds. But there’s a big difference between visitors shuffling about looking at art and staff members who already know the space marching through and us having to get out of the way for them (which happened on a couple of occasions). Note this isn’t about the on hand attendants who were really helpful and offered some useful points about how to navigate the space and where to look in the main museum for other sections of their permanent art collection. Plus it’s not really the staff’s fault. They’re just going out to lunch. It’s the original policy of putting their offices in the top and meeting room at the bottom of this building, small enough to swing a small mammal.

Nevertheless, I did see some extraordinary art which is presumably all that matters. My notebook contains thirteen pages of notes, titles of works and notes and I scarcely know where to begin. Half of the wall space is dedicated to Bottomley’s pre-Raphaelite collection, mostly watercolours and drawings but some oils. There’s a woman’s head by Rossetti, startling for its similarity to modern comic art and cartooning in a way I don’t remember seeing from him. For the Shakespeare collection is his The Death of Lady Macbeth, a nihilistic scene showing Lady M wringing her hands as exhausted servants stand nearby unable to cope much more. Through a window her husband leads his army into battle with the artist able give as much detail in pencil to them as is usual in his paintings.

Around a partician from there, with a dozen other pieces I could mention in between is Burne-Jones’s Voyage to Vinland the Good, a sketched design for a windows of a private house in Newport, Rhode Island which the internet tells me was built by hardware and tobacco heiress Catherine Lorillard Wolfe on Ochre Point Avenue but sold in 1937 to the Cohen Brothers of Baltimore. As you can see, the curve of the ship is submerged in the cure of the sails almost to the point of abstraction and in the pencil version without the pigmentation, it’s not quite clear in places where the sky, sea and ship begin and end, exactly what it was like to navigate the globe in those old boats. Also remarkable is how the artist manages to communicate the fear of the figures within so little space for expression.

Leading up from this room is a stairwell filled with portraits, self and otherwise from various eras including this curious self portrait by Peggy Fitzgerald which Your Paintings says is the only oil work by her in public ownership. The shaping reminds me lot of Magritte, especially the way she’s holding that branch. Whatever could it mean? On the window ledge halfway up the stairs is a marble sculpture by Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson, of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo (though not Donatello). Mike holds a piece of machinery, Rapha a miniature Venus and Leo and book and the way they’re arranged makes them look like they could be three incarnations of Doctor Who (if you’re Peter Capaldi, the Doctor to the rest of us). It’s hollow, I think, accounting for the marble’s translucent quality, glistening in the sunlight.

Upstairs and into the long room and arguably the business end of the collection. It’s here the pre-Raphaelite oils are kept, including one of their star pieces, The Rift within the Lute by Arthur Hughes, the quintessential example of the form with its beautiful woman wearing a richly-coloured dress and cloak, lute and Tennyson connection, loosely based on Alfred’s The Idylls of the King. Next door is his Madeleine, originally titled The Casket in which his wife provided the model for a young in an intimate moment looking at jewellery. Both of these paintings, for all their late Victorian trappings have that magic and sense of fantastical otherworldliness which I know repels some but I adore. There’s a melancholia in both. a sense of the story hidden behind the story.

Which is also true of my absolutely favourite painting on display, The Farewell by Frederick Cayley Robinson. A young woman in straw hat is shown embraced by a taller figure whilst leaving a simple white house, what me must assume is her luggage being carried away by an adult couple, a man and a woman and we might think this was in biblical times were it not for this being a chest and the clock tower in the background. The information nearby offered little clue to context. We don’t know the story. Who is she? Who are they? Why are they pointing to the sky? Where is this? The same building reappears in his Reminiscence which is at Lemmington Spa Art Gallery. Are they parts of the same story? It’s the not knowing that makes this so alluring. I stood looking for well over ten minutes.

Which is something I did a lot walking around, wanting to take everything in, much too much to really talk about here though I will just quickly mention the two massive paintings by Robert Forrester, commissioned it seems for illustrative purposes for the museum, two massive works Borrowdale in the Ice Age, about 20,000 Years Ago and Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick, about 1500 BC, painted in the mid-sixties when the fashion for landscapes had well moved on but seem to have been upheld in these epic images. This is widescreen, technicolour painting that recalls the pre-Raphaelites but depict historical reality rather than myths and fantasy. Having recently spent some time in the wilderness (somewhat) this is exactly how I’d imagine it would be in winter, though I fear it may not be now.

The whole business took about two and half hours and with a train to catch within a few more not enough to actually see the rest of the museum properly, or Carlisle Castle just across the road. Instead I decided to visit the Cathedral, which judging by its website has esteem issues: “It may not be the best known medieval Cathedral in England, it is certainly not the biggest, but it delights its many visitors.” Which it did having amongst its many fixtures, the Brougham Triptych, a rapturously beautiful carving originating from Antwerp in 1520 and has ended up in Carlisle via St Wilfred’s Chapel, Brougham where it was brought for decoration in the 1840’s by Baron Brougham and Vaux. It’s impossible to put into words and these images barely capture its beauty. Not the first time I’ve said that about something lately.

All of which now means there’s just three venues left to cover in the project and since I’m forty at the end of next month I’ve decided I’m going to try and complete this project by then. Back to Knutsford tomorrow for Tatton Park all being well and then Manchester Art Gallery followed by the Walker in the coming weeks. After that, perhaps some revisits. Blackpool was closed when I visited and Stalybridge didn’t have its permanent collection on display. You may remember I saw Oldham’s collection while it was in storage and I’ve just had Abbot’s Hall recommended to me and its six years since I’ve been to Kendal. But we’ll see. Like I said, Bradshaw’s is glaring at me from the shelf and now that I’ve been to Carlisle Cathedral, there’s handy list of the others on the Wikipedia. It’d be a reason to visit Guilford, finally.

Free T-Shirts. Contributions Welcome.

Fashion Recently, I lost a lot of weight, so much so that most of my clothes, especially my t-shirts are now way too big for me.

The easy answer is to buy more t-shirts which I have.

 But having also spent the past thrumpty years stuck wearing items without logos (because they looked silly), I've decided to start wearing t-shirts with logos.

Again, I could buy some which I have.

But I also thought it might make for a [insert adjective here] blogging or art type project to see how many free promotional t-shirts I can collect from companies or organisations.

If you are a company or organisation reading this and think you might like to send me something, email me at

But usually, I'm going to send a tweet or email with a link to this blog post just see what happens.

 Hello if that's why you're reading this now.

If this is something you're interested in do please let me know how best to contact you.

Since I know nothing is free here's what will happen if you send me a "free" t-shirt.

(1) I'll post a photo of it in a subsequent post about the free t-shirts.
(2) I'll include a link to your website or whatever you request.
(3) I'll wear the t-shirt. The whole point of this is to get some free clothes.
(4) I reserve the right to refuse or ignore if its not something I agree with or interested in.

As you'll notice I'm doing this without any secret agenda and with all the cheek I can muster.

I forgot to mention a size. XL or XXL, whichever's best for you. As I've discovered, some XLs are nothing of the sort.


The Films I've Watched This Year #33

Film Anyone else feel a certain geographical dissonance watching the Paris episode of Dr James Fox's A Tale of Three Cities (or The One Show for adults)? If you'd visited the Mondrian show at Tate Liverpool you certainly would as Dr Fox is one minute on the streets of France's capital and the next walking through gallery four and into the replica of the artist's studio which is currently there until the 6th October.  The visit was unheralded - no onscreen caption or anything - and so some viewers may have suspected that this recreation was in Paris itself.  The Mondrian he stood in front of is in the exhibition too, I think.  The studio sequence is on BBC Four's website and admittedly you can just see the Pier Head through the gallery windows.

Café de Flore
The Chronicles of Riddick
Thérèse Desqueyroux
Bruc. La llegenda
The Lego Movie

Between The Young Victoria and Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée directed Cafe de Flore and there aren't that many filmmakers who're capable of this kind of gear change between heritage cinema, scorching indie and in the middle a Kieslowskian bit of art house in which the stories of 10s Montreal DJ and the mother of a down syndrome child in 60s Paris cross cutting with one another for ambiguous reasons.  It's the latter which are most involving, a near perfect recreation of the city's New Wave era surrounding an unrecognisable Vanessa Paradis in a extraordinarily brave performance as her character fights for her son's acceptance which overshadows the colder present day love triangle though that does at least have Evelyne Brochu, Delphine from Orphan Black as the "other woman".

Having spent the past week watching my way through all of Anita Sarkeesian's perception widening Feminist Frequency YouTube series, I now have the language to explain just what's wrong with the ending of The Chronicles of Riddick.   Essentially arguably the best character in Pitch Black, recast and renamed to more closely resemble Hollywood's narrow expectations (even if it is Gwen from Angel), is Damselled and Refrigerated in a way which would fit right in with the montage of computer game shots in the second Tropes vs Women video.  Which is a pity because the film does have some virtues in regards to Guardians style epic science fiction, hilariously straight-faced Macbeth plagiarism and Judi Dench as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  But none of that is an excuse for the adherence to the Smurfette syndrome.

As well films made in France, my serendipitous Lovefilm list also contains cinema which is about France out in the world and how the world views the country, so here we are at Legend of the Soldier, a Spanish western set within the Napoleon's campaign against the Spanish in which a cell of Boneparte's army rip through the countryside and villages searching for a drummer who near singlehandedly defeated them in the Monserrat mountains.  The film's most notable for its flashback sequences which appear to utilise 3D cameras but shift the shape of the image through a 2D frame to dizzying effect and might explain why some critics missed a major twist which otherwise makes a gear change about an hour in seem entirely ludicrous.  It really isn't.

The Lego Movie is awesome.  Sadly my viewing of it was disjointed, crappy experience as I had my first experience of seeing something through Blinkbox on the Chromecast.  Tesco are closing their Clubcard TV service which hasn't had nearly as much usage as they were expecting it seems, which isn't surprising given that the only way to see it through a television was by plugging a laptop in the HDMI socket, there not being any apps available.  As part of the announcement I was sent a voucher code for their Blinkbox service and having realised quickly it wouldn't cover a new release, I chose The Lego Movie and unlike all the other apps, the stream quality was appalling and kept buffering.  Eventually I watched the last hour on my tiny iPad screen.  Sigh.  I've added the film to my Amazon wishlist nonetheless....