Christmas Links #5

Scary Claus: Exploring Krampus and the Christmas Season's Serious Horror Creed:
"This year's holiday season officially kicks off with the release of the super-fun horror-comedy KRAMPUS, which may seem like a weird Yuletide viewing choice—that is, to those who aren't hip to Christmas' longstanding connections to all things macabre."

Access Denied: The media, after access:
"Earlier this year a young employee at a celebrity magazine explained to me a problem. The magazine was doing reasonably well, as was its website. But both were publishing photos taken from Instagram with increasing frequency. This was fine: the photos were good and people liked them. The problem, this person said, was that it was unclear when, or how, the further publication of Instagram photos would stop."

A Price Of Games Journalism:
"For the past two years, Kotaku has been blacklisted by Bethesda, the publisher of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series. For the past year, we have also been, to a lesser degree, ostracized by Ubisoft, publisher of Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and more."

Fake War on Christmas Comes to Rome:
"How one school in Italy tried in vain to choose integration over segregation, sparking a national debate and exposing profound problems for the future."

Film of the Week: Film Firsts (1959-60):
"Produced for television audiences (ABC) but also screened for school groups and other non-theatrical audiences, the two-part, hour-long documentary does not exactly amount to a thorough and unbiased history but it is very representative of this reflexive sub-genre that dealt with the evolution of the motion picture. Often such films catered to the audience’s nostalgia in an era where memories of the nickelodeon and the picture palace were very much alive. They also provided a venue for studios to repurpose their library of films for the era of television. Finally, in a more implicit manner, they partook in an evolutionary rhetoric that cast the turn-of-the-century flickers as a primitive manifestation of an art and industry that by the 1950s and 60s had blossomed into a global entertainment empire."

Getting Personal With The Stars and Creator of 'Marvel's Jessica Jones' (And What They Know About Season 2):
"To celebrate the show's critically lauded premiere, this week showrunner Melissa Rosenberg ("Dexter") hosted a reception at her house (which was really, really nice, in case you were wondering), attended by cast and crew, including stars Krysten Ritter and Carrie-Anne Moss, as well as contributing writer Jane Espenson (whose nerd cred includes writing for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Battlestar Galactica")."

Review 2015:
Film Experiences:
Tim Worthington on
A Clockwork Orange.

Film This is the story of how I didn't see a film.

A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's controversial (not least with the author himself) 1971 big-screen version of Anthony Burgess' acclaimed novel, had caused a vivid furore on its release, and by the end of the decade had been withdrawn from UK distribution at the director's request. There have been wild stories of threats and protests outside the Kubrick family home from 'anti-violence' protesters, though it's also worth remembering that the film was used as a political football by moralising blowhards like pretty much no other before or since; including, to Burgess' great frustration, one James Wilson Vincent Savile. What an excellent arbiter of socially responsible behaviour he turned out to be. Anyway, whatever the reason, withdraw it Kubrick certainly did, and with home entertainment still really only in its infancy, this mean that - for UK audiences at least - A Clockwork Orange pretty much disappeared off the face of the planet.

As you can imagine, this made A Clockwork Orange a very intriguing prospect indeed to any self-respecting young student of the weird and lurid corners of cinema history. Surreally stylised and futuristic photos in books about 'Sci-Fi Films' were a nagging reminder of its tantalising unavailability. It stood almost alone as a movie that had been a huge hit one minute then basically erased from history the next, while older cousins and more verbose rock journalists hinted at a secret knowledge of it that you weren't allowed to share. Even the row about its content and suitability seemed more exciting than it maybe should have warranted. The fact that even if it had been available, I would have been too young to actually see A Clockwork Orange was neither here nor there - I was as obsessed with it as others were with A Nightmare On Elm Street or Predator. I read the book, the listened to the fantastic soundtrack album, I even cut out and kept a Guardian article about the RSC's stage adaptation starring Phil Daniels as Alex. There was just one small but significant flaw with this fanaticism - I hadn't actually seen the film itself.

There were rumours, of course, that it was widely available on 'pirate', but it always seemed to command the sort of sums of money that you didn't particularly want to be handing over to shifty teenagers on street corners, especially when you'd already seen the woeful quality of some of their more easily affordable wares. And so it was that, long after I'd seen Twisted Nerve, Peeping Tom, The Magic Christian, Supervixens, Cannibal Apocalyse, Vampyros Lesbos, The Trip, Monte Carlo Or Bust, Psychomania, 200 Motels, Two-Lane Blacktop, Every Home Should Have One, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer and many other tantalisingly elusive doodles in the margin of cinema history, A Clockwork Orange remained my one big Halliwell-troubling box to tick. Yet despite the occasional frowning in a newspaper article accompanied by a badly-cropped version of that photo of Alex at the wheel of a car, it was still nowhere nearer becoming available.

Then, one day, a rumour began to circulate amongst members of a local Cinema Club that they were going to stage a secret - and not even remotely Kubrick-approved - screening of an under-the-counter print of the film to mark their tenth anniversary. Whether they ever actually intended to or not nobody really knows, as some ingrate prat promptly leaked the story to an illiterate muck-raking grief-porn-peddling chip-on-regional-shoulder local newspaper, who went predictably condemnatory crazy with the story - no prizes for guessing which photo they used to accompany it - prompting the cinema to issue a strenuous denial that they'd ever even considered it. Was this all a clever double-bluff, though? Was it worth running the risk of missing out on an actual chance to see it, and subsequently having to administer a self-kicking worthy of Alex and his Droogs? There was only one way to find out - to turn up on the supposed date and time and see if they were actually showing it away from prying smudgy-newsprint eyes.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only one who'd had that idea. A sizeable crowd had gathered outside the suspiciously darkened venue, made up primarily of studenty types holding cineaste-friendly impromptu discussions, nervy-looking lone gentlemen with an apparent disdain for washing their raincoats, and a small army of people in boiler suits and bowler hats. Oh, and a reporter, who was pleasingly blanked by everyone she attempted to speak to. As the night set in, the weather got colder, and it became increasingly obvious to anyone with a shred of sense that there was nobody actually inside the building, the Droogs seized their moment. A flurry of brolly-rapping on the determinedly shut doors and shouts to the effect of "but the slovo did viddy that the film would be on all horrorshow" did nothing to change the situation, so they started to indulge in in-character jostling of fellow would-be patrons instead. Once they began to loudly decry the arrival of 'the millicents', it really was time to give up and go home.

So, that's how effective banning films really is in terms of preventing copycat violence. Of course, there was also the time someone threw a full carton of Kia Ora at my head, but that's another story. And I actually saw the film that time too.

Christmas Links #4

Mona Shore Singing Christmas Tree:
"The person at the top of the Tree is known as “The Tree Angel” and is always a high school senior, selected by the director. This student is always one who accurately represents the hard working choir students, and exemplifies the spirit of the Mona Shores Choir."

Michigan students ascend 5-story Singing Christmas Tree:
"The Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree combines the usual elements into an unusual show that will draw thousands of spectators this weekend. The 67-foot-tall tree features 25,000 lights, 5,000 linear feet of greenery, and 15 tiers on which about 220 choir members stand. About 50 other students sing from positions near the base of the tree."

New Doctor Who clothing line coming to Hot Topic:
"Hot Topic is partering with the BBC to debut a limited-edition fashion collection inspired by Doctor Who. The new line includes dresses inspired by the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, a knit cardigan featuring Weeping Angels (if you dare), a sweater inspired by the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, and, of course, plenty of TARDIS apparel. Check out the video above to start planning which Sonic Screwdriver you’ll match with each outfit, then get an up-close look at a few of the offerings below."

A Very Murray Christmas Director Sofia Coppola: I Wanted To Do Something ‘Joyful’:
"A Very Murray Christmas is not your average holiday film. Starring Bill Murray, it’s directed by Sofia Coppola and co-written and produced with Mitch Glazer — reuniting the trifecta for the first time since Lost in Translation. Taking inspiration from 1970s TV variety specials, the film boasts classic musical numbers and an all-star cast, including George Clooney, Miley Cyrus and the New York Dolls’ David Johansen. Filmed at New York City’s historic Café Carlyle, the romantic atmosphere radiates with holiday spirit. TIME caught up with Coppola to discuss the film’s cast, working with Bill Murray,and how Paul McCartney almost ended up in the film."

Getting Home Safely This Christmas Season Is One Big Mission We Can't Get Right:
"As Christmas nears, we begin to cut loose and celebrate. Replacing the dullness of months’ worth of grey skies with booze and merriment is such a deeply ingrained tradition; it’s existed long before Christ even turned up. Parties, overeating, awkward itchy jumpers, and thick red wine laced with spices have festered over thousands of years to become that old reliable departure from the constant ‘feeling really cold’ and ‘getting a bit mopey’ of winter."

The Simpsons: 25 years ago today: 20b. The Simpsons Sing the Blues:
"Two weeks after Do the Bartman, its long-playing parent appeared. Everything about The Simpsons Sing the Blues smacked of a rushed job flung together in lunch breaks and late nights. The front cover looked like it had been knocked up in less time than it took to play the entire album. Fully half of the 10 tracks were cover versions with little or nothing added. Another comprised a reworking of a scrap of a song from an episode in season one. This left just four genuine originals – only two of which merited repeated listens."

'Nothing Else Tops This': Oldest Full-Time Park Ranger, Betty Reid Soskin, to Light National Christmas Tree, Meet President Obama:
"When Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest National Park Service Ranger in the United States, lights the national Christmas tree and introduces President Obama on Thursday, the 94-year-old California woman will be carrying a special photo in her pocket."

Kansas City Symphony hosts annual Tuba Christmas concert:
"The sounds of the holidays will vibrate through the Kauffman Center Friday and Monday. The Kansas City Symphony is hosting a Tuba Christmas. More than 700 tubas, euphoniums and baritones performers will play holiday music."

The Big Chop, and the power of a haircut:
"“Don’t freak out,” says hair stylist Subrina Kidd as she takes her scissors to my afro. I’m in the chair at the Aveda Institute, Holborn, and no amount of calming liquorice root and peppermint tea can distract me from the fact that there are suddenly huge chunks of my hair on the floor. The appointment has been in my diary for over a month, so why is it so shocking seeing big fat clumps of my curls on the floor?"

'Tower of Pisa' Christmas tree removed from town centre over safety fears:
"A 35ft Christmas tree in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, was removed by authorities because it leaned “more than the tower in Pisa” and was raising safety concerns. Severe winds had caused the tree to tilt and news of its removal caused almost immediate concern there wouldn’t be another one in time for Christmas."

KitKat's Christmas Commercial Is 30 Seconds of Blankness, the Ultimate Ad Break:
"It takes a lot to stand out among the glut of Christmas ads in Britain, where brands jockey like nowhere else to have a hit commercial. KitKat and J. Walter Thompson's strategy this season is to cut through the clutter by uncluttering completely."

The town of women:
"A place where wives don't see their husbands for years."

Kermode Uncut: Harry, Sally and Nora:
"The BFI Love season is reviving all sorts of brilliant films including a real classic - When Harry Met Sally - featuring a script by the late great Nora Ephron."

11 best Christmas cake alternatives:
"Marzipan and icing covered fruitcake is a staple of the festive season – but it’s not for everyone. The good news is that it doesn’t have to mean missing out on a yuletide cake, thanks to the impressive array of alternatives on offer this Christmas. Ranging from an intricately designed Christmas Madeira cake to wreath-shaped chocolate biscuit cake, we’ve brought you the best of them."

Christmas Links #3

Bringing to life a Brussels sprout: Creating BBC One's Christmas veggie:
"We always saw him as a wide-eyed innocent, so excited that Christmas has finally arrived. He sees festive joy in everything, even if he’s not exactly welcomed with open arms. But despite his rejection, his spirit shines through and he never gives up hope. Finally, his persistence is rewarded."

Postpone Christmas: Why we should celebrate Jesus’ birth in early February, not the end of December:
"This may sound crazy, but delaying Christmas makes sense for a lot of practical and emotional reasons. As it stands, Christmas occurs far too soon after Thanksgiving. Four weeks, give or take, is not nearly enough time to recover from the culinary excess and psychological stress of Thanksgiving before having another almost identical meal with your crazy, lovable family. I appreciate stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie as much as the next person, but I could stand to have a little more downtime between the Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner."

Kylie Minogue – ‘Every Day’s Like Christmas’ (Stock Aitken Waterman mix)
"This is SAW’s first single release in a quarter of a century and Pete Waterman has described working again with Mike and Matt as “a hoot”. The result? Well, in the very best way possible, it sounds exactly like you’d expect, and in these turbulent times sometimes that’s just what you need."

Net migration:
"Before I recycle this October 26 edition of the New Yorker by passing it on to my friend Lucy, I want to direct you to what is a typically very looooooong article detailing the journey of a young Syrian law student called Ghaith from his home town of Jdeidet Artouz, southwest of Damascus, to Sweden, where he now lives. (It’s available to read for free, in full, here.) I was struck, as I always am, by the sheer guts, determination and self-belief that takes a citizen from one side of the world to another, by land and sea. But then I have never fled from war, as I have never been in one. I have never fled from anywhere, except a dodgy early-80s houseparty in Northampton when the front door was being kicked in (a few of us actually escaped via the rooftops and ended up in an old lady’s back garden – she let us go through her house to the street outside and didn’t call the police). I won’t detail Ghaith’s entire, titanic journey – although X-Factor contestants should check their use of the term “journey” after reading about this actual one – as that’s not the point of what I’m writing about."

New Yorkers discover giant switch that turns on thousands of Christmas lights:
"Improv Everywhere is perhaps best known for their annual no pants subway ride, but they’ve been stepping up their holiday prank game for some time. Last year they staged a feat of epic caroling, and this year’s prank is simple but stunning. Charlie Todd, the leader of the “prank collective,” worked with his team to erect a 7-foot-tall light switch in New York City’s Father Demo Square. Passersby were then invited to flick the switch, and the results were dazzling: 50,000 Christmas lights came on at once."

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases:
"Whether you're trying to sound sophisticated or simply repeating what you've heard, word fails are all too common and can make smart people sound dumb. In his latest book, "The Sense of Style," Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker explores the most common words and phrases that people stumble over."

Have You Seen This? Orem pizza delivery turns into surprise concert:
"When you order pizza for a quiet night in, you probably don't expect it to arrive with a horse-drawn carriage and fireworks. More than 80 musicians helped surprise three families in Orem with an epic Christmas concert on their doorstep on a Tuesday evening. The families all ordered Triple Treat Box deliveries from Pizza Hut, which posted videos of the event on its YouTube channel and Facebook page Wednesday."

Food-Themed Christmas Ornaments Have Zero Calories and Oodles of Yuletide Spirit:
"Replacing the angel atop your Christmas tree with an actual Parma ham is probably not a good idea, but how about a hand-blown glass Parma ham ornament?"

22 Times We Reached Peak Guardian In 2015:
“Help! Is my quinoa destroying the planet?” [via]

Private Jets Descend on Nantucket for Christmas Stroll:
"​The airport manager said he's been surprised by some of the items unloaded off the jets: "There are a lot of things that come off those planes that make you go, really? You're traveling with that why? Like toilet paper. The Nantucket economy could use you to buy that here, but I guess butlers and maids are packing that for them to bring."

Review 2015:
Film Experiences:
Marc Jones on Casablanca.

Film When I saw Stu’s request for submissions, I didn’t think I had anything to offer in response. The last film I went to see at the pictures was either The Cloud Atlas or Alpha Papa, both of which have been out for at least two years. In honesty, I’m not a desperately keen cinema-goer.

However, the memorable film viewing experience I would like to relate took place on 31st August this year, when Ruth (my wife) and I went to see a screening of Casablanca.

The reason I exempt this screening from my chronology of films I have seen at the cinema is that we didn’t, strictly speaking, see it at the cinema. The venue for our evening’s viewing was St Luke’s church (colloquially known as ‘the bombed-out church’) in Liverpool city centre. Having been struck during the Blitz, the church has for the past ten years been under the stewardship of Urban Strawberry Lunch and, latterly, that organisation’s Ambrose Reynolds.

One element of the programme of cultural events Ambrose and his colleagues have put on at St Luke’s is outdoor cinema. Given that for a couple of years I lived just up the hill from the church, it shames me to say that until this August I’d seen films there on just two occasions; once a blissful December evening four years ago when Ruth and I watched a crackly recording of Carols From King’s 1954, and once when I’d wandered in drunk after a trip to the pub and joined a crowd laughing at the ‘Drink? Pipe?’ scene from Bride of Frankenstein.

Luckily, my interactions with St Luke’s weren’t confined to these visits. Over the following years Ruth and I played some memorable shows there with our folk duo Moss & Jones (and an array of enchanting guest acts), and spent many a sunny afternoon there in the middle of a trip into town. Best of all, St Luke’s is where Ruth and I were married on 14th September 2014. The venue’s versatility allowed us to have the ceremony and reception in the same space and it was an unforgettable day.

So when we walked through the doors on the evening of Saturday 30th August, St Luke’s felt like a familiar, homely space; one with which I have a definite relationship.

I’d not seen Casablanca before. Strictly speaking that’s not entirely true; someone had forced me to watch it at a student party in that insufferable way people do at student parties, but I was so affronted at this unasked-for annexing of ninety minutes of my evening that I paid as little attention as possible and retained nothing about the film when it had finished. So I was coming to it pretty much fresh.

The main feature was preceded by some Tom & Jerry cartoons – I’m not old enough to remember when this was a feature of cinema-going but, being a Tom & Jerry fan, enjoyed them nonetheless. (All the moreso, given that they were the proper Fred Quimby ones.)

Casablanca is one of those cultural artefacts which, due to the number of times it has been referenced and parodied, I feel like I’ve already seen (as stated above, I HAD kind of already seen it, but not really); like Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and Gilligan’s Island. My thoughts as I watched were a jumble of:

1.  So THAT’S who the weird-looking bloke is in those Bugs Bunny cartoons!
2.  I didn’t know it had jokes in.
3.  This is really good.

Basically, I was surprised. I’d expected to be bored by the film itself but entertained by spotting bits that had been referenced elsewhere. What I hadn’t expected was to just ENJOY watching it.

After the film had finished the audience milled about under the late summer night’s sky and Ruth and I felt sad. You see, the reason for the evening’s events had been that the council (which owns St Luke’s) was starting a programme of renovation works at the church the following day, with Ambrose and co. handing over the keys with no guarantee they’d get them back once the work is finished.

A tendering process is currently underway to determine into whose hands St Luke’s will be passed in the new year and there’s a very real possibility that the new custodians might not allow it to be open in the same way, if at all.

And so we stood in the venue where we got married, aware that we could be there for the last time. If so, it’s fitting that the end of our relationship with the building should come in conjunction with the screening of a film about endings, whose ending is in turn so well known.

Louis, I think this is the beginning
of a beautiful friendship.

The two walk off together into the night.



Marc is one half of the folk-inspired musical duo Moss & Jones.

Christmas Links #2

Nottingham baffled over Hollywood horror film cameo:
"Nottingham is at the centre of a festive mystery after the city made a bizarre cameo appearance in the trailer for a Hollywood film. Krampus, in which a boy accidentally summons a Christmas demon, appears to have no connection with the East Midlands. The fleeting shot prompted bafflement on Facebook, with one person even demanding producers "pay royalties"."

Christmas biscuits tested by teenagers:
"Euphoria breaks out as the panel tuck in to a stack of the more chocolatey numbers in this box (“This is bare nice, you know”). No mean feat given that their pre-tasting summary was “Dunno about German biscuits, but I know some German footballers. So I’m not expecting this to taste nice.” Unfortunately, that all ends when one of them notices an inscription of “Ich Mag Dich” whose final letter looks quite like a “k”. “URGH! It’s a dick biscuit!” they squeal. “Get it away from me!”"

Forecaster: our experimental object-based weather forecast:
"By recognising the device used to request the experience, a number of decisions can be made to tailor the media served back to the client. For example, a TV that is incapable of executing code or low-powered mobile device that can only play a basic video stream is recognised as such, and is served a simple, traditional liner stream. At the same time, a device that is requesting the experience through a modern web browser can be served the full-fat reactive experience with all the enhanced client-side features."

Signed, sealed and delivered: posties test Christmas cake:
"This cake’s Christmassy good looks were worth writing home about, festooned as it was with nuts, cherries and marzipan stars, but it dropped a mark for being “a tad too dry”. “Might have gone better with a bit of custard or single cream,” suggested Sanjeev Ramdehal. Because what you need at Christmas is more calories."

The Marshall Islands Are Disappearing:
"The debate over loss and damage has been intense because the final language of the Paris accord could require developed countries, first and foremost the United States, to give billions of dollars to vulnerable countries like the Marshall Islands. Senior Republicans in Congress are already preparing for a fight, they say on behalf of the American taxpayer."

Enchanting snow art creates Christmas scenes in Berkshire windows:
"Delicate scenes of Christmas in snow and ice have been appearing in shop windows across the area. The man behind the Snow Windows is Tom Baker, 36, from Sandhurst."

Real Or Fake: Which Christmas Tree Is More Eco-Friendly?
"If opting for a fresh Christmas tree over a fake one is a no-brainer in your mind, you're at odds with a majority of the public: Approximately 60 percent of Americans set up fake trees for the holidays, according to polls by ABC News and The Washington Post. But—popularity aside—which is the healthier, more eco-friendly choice?"

My Favourite film of 1970.

Film  After the rules on selecting films for this list (only one film per director allowed) led to something of a default position for 1971, there are plenty of examples in 1970 and plenty I could write about.

Whenever I'm in Starbucks ordering a short coffee, I'm reminded of the breakfast ordering scene in Five Easy Pieces when Jack Nichlson makes an unsuccessful attempt.

There's Love Story which I came to when working through all the films produced by Robert Evans after seeing The Kids Stays in the Picture.

There's MASH and the near riot at a pub quiz I attended where the quiz master asked who played Hawkeye without specifying if he meant the television version or the film and then preceded to deny all knowledge of the latter's existence,

But The Conformist contains one of my favourite shots in cinema, a tracking shot within the grounds of a house as the wind blows orange, autumnal leaves into the air creating an atmosphere of the passage of time.

It's a shot and a film which I wouldn't have ever encountered had it not been for another film documentary, Visions of Light, which was broadcast on Channel 4 in the early nineties and began a series of films featured within and which, along with a Philosophy of Film course at Liverpool Universe really sparked my interest in the nuts and bolts of the process and which would lead to me to eventually taking my MA Screen Studies course.

Visions of Light is about the art of cinematography, and features interviews with a couple of dozen legendary photographers, from Gordon Willis to Vilmos Zsigmond to Conrad L. Hall, collectively narrating the history of their craft from the early days of silent film through to somewhere in the late Eighties when this film was produced.

It's a story of loss, about how the cinematographer was simply more expressive in the black and white days, how darkness, light and shadow could be used much more as a storytelling tool and to evoke character. But there were gains too, as the square frame opens to cinemascope allowing much more information to be present within the shot.

You hear about James Wong Howe putting together his helicopter shot in Picnic and how Néstor Almendros coped with Terance Malick's decree that all of Days of Heaven should be filmed during the magic hour, the forty minute window between day and night. Often there's a definite sense of the cinematographer's abilities elevating some pretty average material.

The only real omission is in the area of international cinema which gets just a few comments and a clip of Jules Et Jim to shine. The American cinematographers weren't working in a vacuum and although the connection is acknowledged, more could certainly have been made. It's a shame too that it seems to end a few years before the production date of the documentary so that what were new innovations then, such as steadicam aren't really covered, other than in a closing montage.

But even if the technical details don't interest you, there are the clips from a whole vast range of films, always illustrating the matter at hand. It's amazing to see the continuity between projects in someone like Gordon Willis as he shifts from Godfather to Annie Hall, and how certain men and women are hired because they're comfortable working within a certain locale such as New York.

Climaxing in 1992 the film has dated somewhat, but it's a poignant that they stop in that year T2 was released, with Jurassic Park the next and although both were obviously shot on film, it's often thought of as the moment when cinema really went digital in terms of how viewers and the industry thought about the possibilities of what could be accomplished using a visually computerised approach.

The story is therefore somewhat picked up by 2012's Side-by-Side piece by Keanu Reeves which investigates the history of digital cinema, speaking to come of the same cinematographers about the transition and the implications that has on the image and the process of editing.

Would The Conformist have been as beautiful if it had been shot on digital?  Who can say?

My approach or opinion is that each new advancement provides new tools and often it's not about the tools but how they're utilised and that damning digital because it's poorly used sometimes is like criticising the first attempts at 'scope when the shot was often either too busy or too empty of the first sound films with their often static, theatrical staging because of the limited placements of microphones.

It's not about the camera.  It's about how you use it.

Christmas Links #1

Doctor Who, Idris Elba and Benedict Cumberbatch Get Animated for a BBC Christmas Ad:
"If Brussels sprouts had emotions, they'd likely spend a lifetime in expensive therapy, so shunned are they by so many. But in a new holiday spot from the BBC, at least one little sprout a happy ending. One that involves animated versions of Doctor Who's Peter Capaldi, Luther's Idris Elba and Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch, among others."

Cover Story - Moving Images:
"The New Yorker is arguably the primary venue for complex contemporary fiction around, so I often wonder why the cover shouldn’t, at least every once in a while, also give it the old college try? In the past, the editors have generously let me test the patience of the magazine’s readership with experiments in narrative elongation: multiple simultaneous covers, foldouts, and connected comic strips within the issue. This week’s cover, “Mirror,” a collaboration between The New Yorker and the radio program “This American Life,” tries something similar."

Lismore Christmas tree covered in bicycles ‘which look like condoms’
"WHAT is the true meaning of Christmas? If you said “a tree made of recycled bicycles that sort of reminds you of condoms”, you must be a resident of Lismore, NSW. The town which gave Australia rock band Grinspoon and chatty soccer commentator Craig Foster was panned widely last year when its pivotal Christmas decoration was a wonky Cooks pine tree at a central roundabout. Rarely did 64m of tinsel and 20 decorations look so forlorn."

Warning that Christmas fairy lights can slow your Wi-Fi:
"Fairy lights on Christmas trees could cause slower Wi-Fi speeds, the UK regulator Ofcom has warned, as it launched a new app to test coverage in homes. The watchdog estimated up to six million homes and offices could improve their broadband connection, saying wireless networks were often not set up correctly or suffered “interference” from electronics including baby monitors, microwave ovens and Christmas lights."

Americana on the BBC:
"To mark the period of Thanksgiving (hey, we do Black Friday now, so why not…), here are some reminiscences of the most notable US programming that has been shown on the BBC. When the BBC television service started officially in November 1936, while most of the programmes were live, it was realised it would be helpful to allow resetting of studios if film material could be arranged to supplement the schedule. Apart from cinema newsreels which were bought in to provide topical material, there was a shortage of alternative film content. Distributors of feature films were reluctant to co-operate with television, so very few features were seen on television in the early days."

Houston Zoo Lights all aglow:
"The Houston Zoo is all decked out for Christmas with its annual Zoo Lights. The twinkling exhibit features more than two million holiday lights, life-size animal sculptures and other holiday attractions. You can see Zoo Lights through Jan. 9 but the zoo will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas."

Review 2015:
Film Experiences:
Diane Shipley on
Sex and the City.

Film I know. Part of me is embarrassed that a stereotypically girlie cliché was the prompt for one of my most meaningful cinema-going experiences. But it’s the same part of me that’s internalised society’s misogynistic messages about the unimportance of female-centric stories, so let’s keep going.

Before we get to the movie, though, a quick sidebar about the show. I get why some people hate it: not just the weird fashion, terrible puns, and Carrie Bradshaw’s faux profundities (“I couldn't help but wonder: can you get to the future if your past is present?”), but the really inexcusable stuff. The uncritical portrayal of at least one emotionally abusive relationship, the lack of women of colour as anything other than servers or stereotypes, and the contempt for bisexuality, for starters. Plus there’s a scene where Carrie says that journalism pays well WHICH IS A LIE. But Sex and the City was more than just the female Entourage. It was revolutionary.

It was the first time we’d seen women on the small screen speak so frankly about sex. And while sometimes it might’ve been TMI, I think we all learned a few things. For a show that’s supposedly so superficial, it also debated class, the wage gap, the ethics of sex work and the “pinkwashing” of breast cancer products, among other topics feminists still talk about. Most of all, though, it portrayed female friendship as what it is: one of life’s most essential coping mechanisms.

At the end of season six, Miranda and Steve were happy, Charlotte was getting a baby, Samantha had survived cancer, Carrie and Big were together, and everything was all wrapped up. So when I heard there was going to be a movie spin-off, I decided to pretend it didn’t exist. Then in 2008, I was floundering in my attempts to build a career as a freelance writer (unlike Carrie, no one wanted to pay me a month’s rent for one column a week) and my dad generously offered to pay for me to visit him in Australia. Excited at the prospects of sunshine and not paying board, I went to stay with him and his (then) wife for ten weeks, which is too long to stay with anyone, it turns out. There was tension between all three of us for all sorts of reasons, leading to sniping and shouting and hurt feelings.

One Friday, I took the train into Perth city centre and there, outside a small cinema, I saw an ad for the Sex and the City movie. Instead of being depressed that it existed, now it felt like a gift: four friendly faces who could make me feel at home. The opening day was in a couple of weeks, so I decided to come back then. From what I could see, the cinema was a dump, with a dark street level entrance leading to a badly-lit staircase and a set of swinging doors beyond. But I’d take what I could get.

Two weeks later, I treated myself to a burger and milkshake before heading to the cinema. Going up the dank staircase, I braced myself for grottiness, but when I pushed through the doors, it was more like faded glamour, with art deco details and the kind of small concessions stand you’d see in an old movie. There was even a side table where you could help yourself to tea or coffee –just make a 20c donation, we trust you. The screening room was beautiful: it was obviously once a theatre, with an ornate roof and different levels, and it had kept its velvet padded chairs. I sat down and studied the mouldings, finding it hard to believe I’d stumbled onto this weird little gem.

It was about half full, which is a good amount: large enough to feel like a crowd, small enough that your handbag can have its own seat. There were maybe three men in the audience, and an excited buzz went through the crowd as the lights went down. The grey-haired woman three seats down and I grinned at each other.

When you go to the cinema on your own, there are some screenings where you feel alone (and sometimes that’s exactly what you want: I was fine not bonding with the Larry David lookalikes at Whatever Works). At Sex and the City, I was among friends. I don’t know if we really all “woo”-ed when the title came up and clapped when the film ended, but it feels like we did. I know we laughed a lot, and I don’t think I was the only one who cried when Charlotte attacked Big with her bouquet because she loves Carrie so much and was fed up of him hurting her. As a film, it was unnecessary, it was too broad, and the Big and Carrie storyline was disappointing. But it wasn’t terrible. It was fun to spend time with these women again, in the company of other women.

In a few days, I’d get news that would send me into a months-long anxiety spiral and by Christmas I’d have nerve pain so bad I couldn’t sleep. But watching Sex and the City, I didn’t know that yet. And there, in that weird, splendorous cinema, for a couple of hours, for the first time in months, I felt optimistic. I felt part of something. I felt happy.

You can follow Diane on Twitter @dianeshipley. You can visit her Tumblr here.

Soup Safari #58: Curried Parsnip at Federicks.

Lunch. £5.50 (turkey, pork stuffing and cranberry sandwich included). Fredericks, 32 Hope St, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 9BX. Phone: 0151 708 9574. Website.

Heaven Sent.

TV He’s not is he? Is he? Since 1996, many is the spin-off story written to account for the Eighth Doctor’s “joke” about being half-human on his mother’s side and here we are in 2015 on the cusp of a massive episode about the Doctor returning to his home planet and having revealed that it’s not in fact the Daleks with which a Time Lord has been hybridised but some other warrior race and since it is apparently the Doctor who is the hybrid, well there can be only one answer to that conundrum.

Eighth was telling the truth. Possibly. If this is supposed to be some huge, scary secret, quite why the post-regenerative fop felt the need to tell some random at a New Year’s Eve party isn’t clear. Who’s his mother? Ashildr? Clara? Some other passing random? Does that mean Susan was 1/8th human? What about Brax? The whole thing could be a massive tease, probably is a massive tease with Moffat giggling away in the background in a way we can no way imagine him doing, unlike Russell.

Really, he’s not is he? Is he? Would Moffat really go there of all places? I expect he probably would. Thanks to his mind palace he’s nothing if entirely capable and willing to draw out bits of continuity for a laugh. Three Atlantises. The idea of making the Doctor’s mixed heritage canonical is just the sort of thing he’d do. In fact, he'll probably say in his next DWM Q&A that it was canonical anyway, all along, because the Doctor said it himself on screen. But such things are for next week ...

... when it'll probably be revealed that when he says "The hybrid is ... me" what he actually means is "The hybrid is ... Me" and Ashildr's new name was selected as a high order form of trolling of McGann fans.  Let's not forget that rumour had it one stage Paul was going to have another comeback in this episode along with Tennant in some kind of strange degeneration business on the TARDIS which would eventually end in Reece Sheersmith recreating his Patrick Troughton impression.  But I digress ...

Heaven Sent is the best episode of this series and indeed of the Capaldi era, I think we’re quite comfortable in saying that. This is Steven Moffat on top form with a simple question ("What if the Doctor was trapped in a castle which acted like the the shack on the poster for The Cabin In The Woods?"), rich with ideas, of potent imagery, stunningly realised by Rachel Talalay, composer Murray Gold channelling everyone from Beethoven (the Allegreto in 7th) to Paddy Kingsland (Castrovalva) and Peter FUCKING Capaldi. Few series have the sense of jeopardy in relation to shifting quality and after two distinctly average instalments dropped us back at the metaphoric base camp, now we're back at the top of the mountain.

The Eighth Doctor era infuses the episode in a number of ways although I’m sure none of it intentional. Of all the Doctors, he’s the one who inevitably has a fair few solo stories across his various media, but it’s the shorts written for the BBC Short Trips of which this reminded me most, (Stephen Cole writing as) Tara Samms's Totem and Jon Blum's Model Train Set, both about Eighth coming to terms with his earlier incarnation through repetition and creation, almost attempting to absolve himself of past sins.

Of the audios, Eddie Robson’s Prisoner of the Sun has Eighth trapped in the centre of the sun for an eternity repeating the same actions in a controlled environment to stop it from exploding or so he thinks. There’s also Jonathan Dorney’s Companion Chronicle Solitaire, in which Charley Pollard (with the Doctor somewhat indisposed) faces numerous riddles posed by the Celestial Toymaker as the toy shop in which he holds her captive changes its dimensions. Big Finish have noticed the similarities themselves and have that on sale this weekend.

In none of these stories and if we’re to glare at the main series, The Deadly Assassin, is the Doctor truly alone, its main actor spending much time talking to himself, albeit within his own head. Are we to see the moments when the Doctor dips inside his mental TARDIS as justifications for the fourth wall breaking in Listen and Before The Flood? He does glance towards us again here when suggesting that he works best with an audience. Are we all supposed to exist inside the Doctor’s brain like the Whoniverse equivalent of the Tommy Westphall theory?

Outside Doctor Who we find Triangle, no, not the North Sea ferry nightmare, the psychological horror in which Melissa George is trapped on a boat repeating the same actions and to say anything else would spoil things (it is well worth seeing). Star Trek’s Cause and Effect is often described as inspired by Groundhog Day, but notice that Picard et al are only peripherally aware of the change each time around, they mostly repeat the actions of their predecessor. Here the variable is the glass wall, the Doctor literally breaking out of the loop by smashing its surface.

But the last director I expected to see inspire an hour of Saturday night television is Terrence Malick. Although the structure of the episode doesn’t allow for the whole piece to be shot in magic hour, the way the camera often rests on unusual compositions with Capaldi’s voice poetically investigating the Doctor’s predicament is pure Malick, especially in The Tree of Life, scenes proceeding more like blocks of action rather than part of a continuous narrative even though as is eventually revealed they very much are.

Otherwise this is a pretty unreviewable episode which is how I know it’s Moffat at his best, unable as I was to write anything coherent about any of his superior work back in the day. My fear is that however much I’d like to think a general audience would like to be challenged by what’s essentially the show in “art house” mode, effectively filtering Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad into the gap between Strictly and Causality, sorry, Casualty, the cheery populism of everything pre-Moffat 2.0 has been extinguished and that is a problem. The reason Blink works so well is because it manages to do both.

Such complexity has been noted by a number of the professional reviewers, one or two even admitting that they didn’t understand the ending first time around. Although it took me a moment to catch on in a way which was clearly supposed to be a feature of the episode, I didn’t not understand his predicament and gasped numerously as the length of his incarceration stretched out waiting for each moment of revelation as it spun around again, the Doctor never aging himself but the essence of him trapped within this pocket universe for all those eons.

But evidently some are scratching their heads enough for the Radio Times to publish an article explaining its various arcania, with a useful transcript of the Doctor’s bird story and a strange utilisation of the Sugababes and an explanation of Trigger’s Broom which I don’t think applies here. He’s still the same man who Me trapped, the two thousand year old version, he doesn’t remember all those ways around, only inferring their existence in the revelation which leads him to start punching the diamond.

Notice that I don't think the original Doctor is dead somehow and we now have a copy walking around or some parallel version taking over ala Harry Kim in Star Trek: Voyager.  The transporter recreated the original on each occasion, the room resetting itself each time in order to achieve this.  Plus this isn't an actual space.  It's a pocket universe of sorts existing within the confessional dial through some high end dimensional technology rather like the duplicate Gallifreys in the bottles in the Eighth Doctor novels.

Nevertheless, the implications of that are pretty horrible. For billions of years, billions of versions of him reach that diamond wall and begin punching knowing full well they’re not the ones who’ll reach home. They’re punching for the version who come after him or after him or after him. But imagine the penultimate Doctor within tasting distance of Gallifrey who is nevertheless killed by the shade, full of hope perhaps that his replacement will be the one to step across the threshold but knowing that it isn’t him as he drags himself  through the castle to the chamber in order for that to occur.

Such notions are not unlike Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS in which its revealed the mutants are earlier failures to achieve success in a similar mission. The only matter which is really carried through into the next revolution are the skulls, though the planet is apparently large enough to contain them all. The T-Mat room mustn’t fill with dust because in returning to the state it was in when he notionally first arrived. I assume. Good god, I’m busking to fill paragraphs now. But what more is there to say?  This is the television event of the year.

Clara’s still dead, at least for this episode, her mental ghost fulfilling roughly the same function as the voice interface in Let’s Kill Hitler of spuring the Doctor on in his heroism. Notice her non-mention in the credits. Is this the first occasion since the show returned that only the Doctor actor’s name has featured in this slot? I’m sorry but I still don’t think she’s dead or at least the real one. I still haven’t dismissed the possibility that it’s been one of the fragments in play since the start of The Witches Familiar. Or something like that.  Unless ...

The next time teaser for next week’s episode is oddly subdued in its own way. It’s utterly bonkers, of course it is, but for the first proper Gallifrey episode since the show returned and given the symbolism the world has had since 2005 or indeed 2013, the fact of the Doctor’s home planet feels oddly matter of fact, which might explain why the BBC were so happy to spoil its return, that it’s besides the point. You have to love the fact they’re simply running with the 70s designs again and the archival casting.  John Barrowman's going to be in it too, isn't he?

The actual teaser which will run on television is much more impressive though there's a couple of revelations in there which I'm not sure I wouldn't have wish to have been kept for next week.  Not that it actually says very much at all about what the episode is really about and how it'll answer any of the questions posed in the previous eleven weeks.  Or indeed explain what's happening in the cover of Doctor Who Magazine.  Or the inside pages.  But now I'm reviewing the publicity so it's probably about time I went to bed.

Here’s are my theory about the regeneration chamber. Three options. It’s Clara. Somehow. Ashildr giving her life to become Clara through the same mechanism which means the Twelfth Doctor has Frobisher’s face or Sixth bares a striking resemblance to Maxil. Or it’s the Doctor shedding his hybrid DNA. Or it’s simply Ashildr being given the gift of becoming a Time Lord as a payment for capturing the Doctor not that at this point does it seem like it’s the Time Lords who’ve drawn him here. It’s not Davros again is it?