"It was purple."

TV Two weeks to go. Meanwhile Wesley Crusher's teaching the "Doctor" how to drive the Enterprise. Three things:

(a) You never forget these things. I could still probably operate bespoke applications for jobs I vacated fifteen years ago on ancient systems which don't exist any more.

(b) Jenna's face, notably her eyes while Wil Wheaton's describing the process. Is she thinking, "Am I going to be answering this question about the TARDIS myself in twenty-odd years"?

(c) Wil Wheaton's beard.

Nevertheless it's a more entertaining Doctor Who/TNG crossover than the whole of the IDW comic.

The Problem with First World Problems.

Philosophy A couple of weeks ago, PBS Idea Channel considered the issue of when leisure becomes work. Here's the original video here after which someone inevitably posted the comment "First World Problems".  The presenter Mike Rugnetta, always diplomatic, had this to say on subject of just this type of comment in the following comment response video:
"There is a feeling that I get when I see comments like this that I have a very hard time articulating. So I'm going to try to say it and hopefully I will work it out as I say it.  And that is that I think when you describe something as being a first world problem, you implicitly or accidentally deny the humanity of people who live in the third world or not in the first.  Because what you're saying is that those people, the people who don't live in the First World, only have these massive infrastructural, economic, or societal problems and they don't have small, irritating personal gripes or troubles. And I think that everybody-- I think that it is part of the human condition that you have these things in your life that are just kind of irritating or that they are problems that you try to solve but maybe there's no solution and you just kind of live with them and mull them over. And I think that when you describe something as a first world problem, you imply that it is not part of the human condition, that it is part of a more privileged condition. And I have no specific idea or stake -- like, I don't know for sure that people in the Third World have anxiety about keeping up with any semblance of popular culture, whether or not it's the things that we were talking specifically or not. But I think to unilaterally and outrightly deny them that problem by calling this a First World problem is unfair. So I hope that makes sense. If it does make sense, that's how I feel. And if it doesn't make sense, I feel a different way."
Won't be using that phrase again then.


Art Yesterday, I finally managed to see the Whitworth gallery in Manchester for the first time since it reopened following a refurbishment and building of an new extension, all of which has been awarded Building of the Year by RIBA. Having rather loved the old place I was concerned that all its 60s wood panel and stone and modernist intentions and nooks and crannies had been swept away but I'm pleased to see that the architects at MUMA have simply built upon, what the introductory booklet rightly describes as "Scandinavian-style spaces" by Bickerdale, Allen and Partners.  The new large atrium cafe sits within and overlooks on ancient trees and opens out into Whitworth Park in a way which feels both urban and pastoral.  As I sat eating a cheese bap, I felt that any time I wasn't looking out of the window was being wasted, especially on a day with such changeable weather.

Unfortunately, the display of the Whitworth's other key draw, its permanent collection, which is arguably of national, if not international importance is nothing short of catastrophic.  The notion, as tends to be the vogue for smaller galleries, is to present the works in a series of shorter exhibitions around themes, rather than simply have everything on show, all of the time.  This is not something I necessarily disagree with, since it allows for a wider selection of the work to find wall space and also has the added benefit of generating repeat visits from an audience who might otherwise stay away having assumed that they'd already seen what was there.  At the moment the themes are acquisitions from the 1960s, Watercolours, Green textiles, New Acquisitions and Portraits.

Except the way they're displayed is dismal and abysmal.  In all cases, the policy seems to be to get as much out there as possible and so the works have often been splattered across the walls without any apparent notion of how they'll be viewed by the public, floor to ceiling with centimetres between the frames not unlike a commercial gallery and with what seems like an eye to how they work aesthetically in an interior design sense rather than how they relate to one another.  Whilst this isn't unusual in galleries, it tends to be with larger canvases - see the main atrium at Birmingham Art Gallery or many rooms at the Walker.  But with smaller works, these are watercolours, prints and even oils, it's impossible to focus on one image over another, the eye darting from one to the next, constantly intensely distracting from each other (not helped, however understandable it is as a conservation requirement, everything being glazed leading to obscuring bulb flair).

To make the job of enjoying the work even more impossible, because of the proximity of the frames to one another, there isn't any room for labels and so the gallery has instead provided booklets containing wall maps and silhouetted boxes as a key through to titles and their artists which works rather like an Argos catalogue which means the visitor spends half their time in the space with their head down trying to match the painting they're looking at with the details and I did hear visitors in pairs and groups not discussing what they thought of a painting but if it was the one that was in the booklet.  Oh and outside of the New Acquisitions barely anything has supporting material so in some cases its impossible to really appreciate a work and how its important within its own context.

I tried.  I tried.  In the Watercolour section there's a section filled with Turners, but they're piled into two columns next to each other reaching floor to ceiling and none of them at typical eye height.  The Portraits exhibition is the epitome of how damaging these choices are as Hogarth prints are thrown in with pre-Raphaelites paintings and tapestries, Freud paintings, photographs and video art but they're just sort of there, assuming your eyes can actually see them, assuming you're not having to crouch or which you had a step ladder to see things properly.  To be fair, all of this is also true of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which also has higgledy-piggledy staging and booklets, but it's also true that's a light airy space whereas the Whitworth has necessarily darkly painted walls and subdued lighting.  Eventually I walked, unable to cope with the confusion of images.

Surrounding all of this too, I could see was empty wall space, or large dramatic walls with just one or three measly paintings or prints on the bottom so this isn't also just about maximising the potential.  I've been to many regional art galleries with a similar (if not necessarily as important) collections stuck on a landing or in a stairwell but that is usually because they don't have the budget or the room.  The Whitworth seems to have plenty of both.  Try and replace the display format if you want, but just as the page upon turnable page antics of the printed book have survived for hundreds of years because it works, the model of artwork at shoulder height with an information label does too because it allows the viewer to think, the ponder and to concentrate on a single image at a time.  Much is gained from sacrificing quantity for lucidity.

Elsewhere in the gallery at the moment, there's a really excellent exhibition of Chinese art from the 1970s which follows the classical display model with labels next to the paintings and free booklets containing pages of contextual information.  At the centre of the space is a really poignant Ai Weiwei installation, Still Life, in which the artist presents hundreds of Stone Age axe heads and various other ancient carved paraphernalia with the context deliberately removed, the reinvention as an art installation "an iconoclastic gesture designed to offset the value and importance of these ancient objects".  As I reflect on this, this is pretty close (albeit with more facile implications) to what the Whitworth's done to its permanent collection in these initial presentations.  Luckily it is just the initial presentations which will change and hopefully with a less chaotic, more thoughtful approach.

I hope that they also won't bury the headline as much either.  Within what I think is another part of the extension is a study area and it's here that some of the real jewels of the collection are displayed, largely unheralded and well away from the main spaces, so easily overlooked.  A Rembrandt drawing.  Two Lowrys.  One of those Constable cloud sketches.  Another Turner.  I think I saw a Pisarro.  I definitely saw an Ian Hughes and a Stanley Spencer.  Why would you bury this stuff in what feels like the basement (albeit with a ground level entrance)?  Oh and again mostly without accompanying information?  Yes, at least I've seen them and it was nice to enjoy the experience in something akin to corporate office space rather than a "white cube", but it's listed as "Collections display" on the map which really does obscure what's here.  I could have missed it.

Well that was a rant but I think it's rare that I've been this disappointed with this kind of experience.  I'm usually pretty satisfied if there are some nice paintings to look at and an adequate toilet.  There are several toilets and they're more than adequate but like I said the building deserves the awards it's received.  Along with the Chinese art exhibitions, there's also a spectacular Cornelia Parker showing of a new artwork which consists of a massive embroidered reproduction of the Wikipedia entry about the Magna Carta stitched together by two hundred people often with a life connection to the words.  So the temporary displays are varied and rather special.  But I just feel, and I appreciate this is really a disagreement about a curatorial decision or policy, that the permanent collection should be as well served.  Rant over.

Extracting the BBC Genome:
Lost and Found.

Film Back in 1994 and 1998, BBC Two offered a strand called "Lost and Found", seasons of films described as being "rarely (or never before) seen on television, or presented in restored versions" something I was entirely unaware of until the VHS Video Vault YouTube channel, part of the VHistory blog, uploaded an introduction to Michael Mann's The Keep (see below).

The BBC Genome predictably has a list of all the films in this strand. Just as a test, I'm also going to see how available these ancient scheduling choice are now.  At a time when the notion is that everything is supposed to be just there, sometimes its good to see if that's actually true, especially with a list of film developed before the introduction of dvd.

1994 Season

Becky Sharp

(Rouben Mamoulian, 1935)

No official UK release but multiple other editions available from abroad.  But buyer beware.  The reviews are the same on all the editions listed on Amazon.  This page says the cheapest has atrocious sound.  There's an pleasantly poor print at the Internet Archive which says the film's in the public domain - which might account for what it's all over Google's video service as well.

A Star Is Born 
(George Cukor, 1954)

I actually have a copy of the Warner Home Video BD which is utterly gorgeous and seems to be the version suggested in the listings, with scenes restored from surviving footage (mainly the characters in long shot travelling and getting in and out of cars) and set photographs with an audio track underneath which looks for all the world like a Doctor Who recon.

The Ghost Ship
(Mark Robson, 1943)

Region one double pack with Leopard Man or region two double pack with The Seventh Victim.

The Keep
(Michael Mann, 1983)

Still no dvd release.  Only available on a deleted VHS.  Given that, it's quite extraordinarily on Netflix UK at the moment.  Best watch it then.

Caged Heat
(Jonathan Demme, 1974)

Multiple editions, with varying degrees of exploitation covers.

Before the Revolution
(Bernardo Bertolucci, 1964)

UK BFI release.

(Raoul Walsh, 1947)

Region free dvd release.

Tokyo Drifter
(Seijun Suzuki, 1966)

UK dvd release from Yume Pictures at a budget price.

Confidential Report
(Orson Welles, 1955)

UK release as Mr Arkadin.  There's also a Criterion release which has three different versions.

I Only Want You to Love Me
(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1976)

UK release of a restored print from Park Circus.

It Happened Here
(Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1963)

UK release.

(Lewis Allen, 1954)

UK multiple releases which suggests its out of copyright.

Le Samourai
(Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)

Criterion release (R1).  French BD.

1998 Season

(Michael Anderson, 1950)

UK BD release from Network.  Well done chaps.

The Man from Morocco
(Max Greene, 1944)

UK DVD release from Network.

Car of Dreams
(Graham Cutts & Austin Melford, 1935)

UK DVD release as part of a John Mills boxed set by ITV Studios.

Owd Bob
(Robert Stevenson, 1938)

UK DVD release from Odeon Entertainment.

Street Song
(Bernard Vorhaus, 1935)

No dvd release.  Not at the Internet Archive or on YouTube.  The list has finally defeated us.

Nevertheless for whatever reason most of these films are available in some form or other and loads in the UK thanks in large part to Network.  Congratulations to the modern world.

The Underwater Menace DVD. Now available to pre-order? Again?

TV George Bush famously said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Well, here we are again, another page indicating a pre-order of Doctor Who's The Underwater Menace on Amazon.

This has one more thing in it's favour than last time. A tweet from the club journal:

We don't know how they're getting around episodes one and four not having moving images available. Probably recons though expect the omnirumour crowd to be out in force.

The BBFC hasn't classified anything new yet.

But yes, on this occasion I want to believe.  In the recons version at least.

Incidentally, I've decided to try something and put my "associates" thingy in the above Amazon URL to see what happens.  After about ten years of being registered, I'm just £15 away from my first gift voucher.

My Favourite Film of 1983.

Film The first copy of the The Big Chill I owned was a first wave VHS rental release bought at a car boot sale. The inlay was appalling.  Badly trimmed out image of the ensemble slapped onto a cyan background, it featured a synopsis which looked like it had been dictated down an especially bad telephone line to someone who wasn't a film professional and thought an actor called "Jess Coldblulm" existed.  But the tape itself was perfectly fine and ended up being watched about once a month for a few years, sometimes in a double bill with 1992's Grand Canyon (also an ex-rental) for no reason other than that they were both directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Kline.

You can probably imagine what happened when the younger version of me discovered that he could buy films for a pound each at car boot sales.  Every Sunday morning dragged to either the multi-story car park in St Helens, or the cricket club on Aigburth Road or a massive wasteland in Bootle, handed some pocket money and sent off to forage, returning on most occasions with ten or fifteen tapes.  In the years before Netflix and Lovefilm, this was my Netflix and Lovefilm, across genres and periods, selections made based on how quickly I could scoop the films up before someone else grabbed them and whether I recognised an actor on the cover or (later) the name of a director.

Disney films would be at least £5 for reason I've later realised were to do with some tapes only being available for short periods of time in shops (towards the end of watching my way through the lot, they recently re-released everything on dvd on mass and now they're available in Tescos).  Same Star Wars before they were released on dvd.  It was always obvious which seller was simply having a clear out and who knew exactly the worth of what they had.  Also there were pitious numbers who when you asked how much their tapes were would say the gut wrenching words, "Oh um, they're all different prices ..."  But I don't have time for this!

Eventually I migrated from car boots to "legitimate" media sales chains and charity shops (and I replaced my VHS of The Big Chill with a DVD bought at the old Virgin Megastores XS (which has since been replaced with Zavvi, a Music Zone, then nothing) (the WH Smith has gone too)).  You are more likely to find the interesting oddities in these places but the selection is increasingly homogenized.  In Chester the other week I saw a copy of All About Steve in at least five outlets.  No I didn't buy it.  Instead I found the Gere starring remake of Breathless, Gigantic (with Zooey) and the German comedy Kokowääh.  No, me either but as with The Big Chill all those years ago, I was intrigued.

Now, after about fifteen years, I recently returned to boots and tables and was pleased to discover that nothing much has changed.  It's still entirely possible to spend the same amount of money and walk away with as many films, especially now that dvd is at about the point VHS was then, with sellers replacing or simply getting rid of their collections.  Plus there's somewhat less pressure it seems with some boxes and bags on floors left untouched for ages so there's plenty of time to look which is useful because of the secondary problem of trying to remember if a given title is available to stream at home.

Except, with so many other viewing options now it feels more redundant with the exception of material from boutique publishers and television series.  The thrill of the chase has all but dissipated, knowing full well that I'm unlikely to stumble on someone selling their BFI back catalogue or Criterions and I'm not sure I have the patience now to persist in returning on the off chance.  Plus children like me then are notable by their absence now which makes me wonder if the contemporary version of this trainee cineaste would have received their first introduction to You Can't Always Get What You Want via a cover version played on a church organ at a funeral.


Music A couple of days ago, the Huff Post's supercut group posted a video of Donald Trump saying China a lot:

Which is pretty mesmerising and also dislodged an earwig as I remembered a snatch of lyric from an ancient song in which a male singer said something which sounded like "China, China, China, Chinaaaa...." After stumbling around Spotify for a while to little success I decided to ask Metafilter. Here are embeds of all the songs Metafilter thought it might be: