Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Rosebery Street.

" Every conversation with you just goes... mental. And there's no one else I can talk to. I've seen all that stuff up there, the size of it, and I can't say a word. Aliens and spaceships and things and... I'm the only person on planet Earth who knows they exist. Oh, that's just not fair."
-- Rose Tyler, "Aliens of London."
Art When is the best time to view public or street art? When it's sunny or when it's raining?  Walking up Princes Avenue this morning towards Rosebery Street, the heavens were very much open for business, pitching water everywhere, making the world grey and dark green with highlights of muddy brown.  Hud up, head down, I was entirely confident I was in the wrong place at the wrong time to see Alisa Baremboym’s Locus of Control, another of the Monuments from the Future.

Even after viewing the piece, which sits on a patch of grassed waste ground, near some derelict house, I don't know if I saw it at it's best.  Certainly a sunny day would have led to the metal shining brightly, perhaps even other worldly.  But the wet weather meant the ground was slightly less accessible so there was a genuine effort involved in getting close and peering through the holes at the plastic construct within (which is also viewable on the artist's website).

From the outside the object resembles an environmental pod of some kind on an alien world, or a cage being used to encompass some beast.  The edges of the sculpture have begun to rust which speaks towards the idea of an object which is becoming part of the environment, as though abandoned by whatever it is which has made it.  Like the other monuments in this episode, if we embrace the fiction, it sits apart from the location inviting us to speculate on its origin.

Next Destination:
Toxteth Reservoir.

Extracting the Genome:
Shakespeare at the BBC:
Play of the Month.

TV Usually when considering Shakespeare on the BBC in the 70s, we look towards the BBC Television Shakespeare series. Certainly it's this which has been merchandised most over the years through the dvd boxed set and at the BBC Store.  But as I've discovered recently, in the late 60s and early 70s, the Play of the Month strand, which ran in prime time BBC One for many years carried numerous productions of his plays in amongst other pieces of the theatre canon.

Produced by Cedric Messina, who would go on to be the "showrunner" on the later Shakespeare series and very much in the style that he'd utilise there until passing the baton to Jonathan Miller (and all the gossip of that change readable in Susan Willis's book), these were cut down versions of the texts running through a two hours passage, presenting them in a speedy, accessible manner with prominent actors from stage and screen and mostly exceedingly entertaining.

Having watched a few recently through the BBC's brilliant Shakespeare Archive Resource (available to academic institutions), I wondered just how much of the canon, Messina and his team managed to adapt to television and so thanks to the BBC Genome, here's a list of Play of the Month's Shakespeare productions with links back to the Genome entry, TX dates and a few notes on what to expect should you ever have the chance to see them.

As you can see, the schedule was just about one per year, with the gap towards the end explained by the appearance of The Duchess of Malfi in 1973  The Changeling in 1974 indicating that there was an "Early Modern Drama" quota each year which those plays filled instead of a Hamlet or one of the histories (both of which are notable by their absence).  They ended in 1975 when Messina was scouting for an As You Like It at Glamis Castle and began to wonder whether the whole canon would be possible (full story at the Wikipedia).

The BBC Play of the Month Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet
Thora Hurd as the Nurse. Gielgud provides the opening voiceover. Directed by Alan Cooke who later went to Hollywood and worked on everything from Matlock to Murder She Wrote and Beauty and the Beast.  TX: 3 December 1967, 19.50

The Tempest
Ronald Pickup as Ariel.  TX: 12 May 1968, 21.15

Julius Caesar
Edward Woodward as Cassius.  Director Alan Bridges went on to direct The Shooting Party.  TX: 13 April 1969.

Janet Suzman as a brilliantly vampish Lady Macbeth.  Eric Porter entirely miscast in the title role sadly.  John Alderton as a really touching Malcolm.  John Thaw as Banquo, Jeffrey Palmer as Menteith (yes, exactly).  Directed by John "The Keys of Marinus" Gorrie.  TX: 20 September 1970, 20.15

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Dream cast. Eileen Atkins as Titania, Lynn Redgrave as Helena, Eleanor Bron as Hypolita, Edward Fox as Lysander, Michael Gambon as Theseus, Paul "Benny from Crossroads" Henry as Flute and only Ronnie Barker as Bottom.  The Radio Times synopsis notes that this "extremely traditional" production was broadcast concurrently with Peter Brook's legendary white cube circus production for the RSC.  Shot "entirely on location in and around Scotney Castle, a folly set in the Kent countryside outside Tunbridge Wells."  TX: 26 September 1971, 20.10.

The Merchant of Venice
Maggie Smith as Portia, Frank Finley as Shylock, both unusually with their own title card at the top of the broadcast underscoring the prestigiousness of their casting.  Nerissa is played by Nerys Hughes, which is perfect casting from Cedric Messina who directed this himself.  "The Venice of Titian and the Belmont of Botticelli are the visual inspiration behind tonight's lavish production," the Radio Times synopsis explains.  TX: 16 April 1972, 20.15.

King Lear
Michael Horden as Lear, directed by Jonathan Miller, roles which both of them would return to seven years later when creating a new version for the BBC Television Shakespeare (after Shaun Sutton had taken over as producer) for which this feels mostly like a dry-run (and many of the same cast would return although some in different roles).  TX: 23 March 1975, 21.20.

Love's Labour Lost
Another superb cast  Jeremy Brett , Martin Shaw, Sinead Cusack, Lorna Heilbron, Maurice Denham and Jonathan Cecil.  The only one of these productions commercially available, from the BBC Store and well worth the £3.99 managing to cover all the bases in a couple of hours offering useful screen alternative to the Branagh musical. TX: 14 December 1975, 22.15.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff."
-- The Doctor, "Blink"
Art As you will have noticed from the customary culinary communication, last Monday I visited the British Library.  The reasons for this and the inevitable emotional trauma can wait for another day, but imagine my surprise on visiting the Bloomberg New Contemporaries show at The Bluecoat this morning only to find myself watching a webcam video of two people sat in what looks like the same area where I drank the soup, albeit at least year a before me.  I did indeed say out loud to no one in particular, "Is that the British Library?" and "Oh jeez, it is" (I've been saying "Oh jeez" a lot lately having picked it up from Rory Gilmore during my recent binge watch of the Gilmore Girls).  At some point not everything that happens in my life will be connected through some kind of bizarre, synchronous recreation of the opening sequence from Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia, but not yet.  This was not just one of those things.

As ever, Bloomberg is Bloomberg in that you'll not like everything and the chances are you probably actively dislike most of what's on display and that's certainly the case again.  This is the thirtieth anniversary of its first appearance at the Bluecoat and its travelled the world and other parts of Liverpool in the meantime, turning up in the Copperas Hill post office building in 2012 and the Horseshoe Gallery at the World Museum in 2014.  Both those settings were vast which left the work feeling dislocated and unconnected, more like the exhibition part of a conference which has otherwise  been cancelled.  The Bluecoat has intimacy in its favour and a greater ability for the objects to interact with one another, the curators noticing the obvious visual similarity between Janine Lang's startling video piece Shooting Clouds, which rotates a camera around a cumulonimbus at parallel height as it disintegrates with Cumulative Loss, Kate Fahey's digital collage of billowing smoke.

There's also, as is usually the case, a single piece which makes the whole visit worthwhile, or with the works from Karolina Magnusson Murray and Leon Platt, three pieces, although they're all interconnected.  The Application, The Name and The Work run for around half an hour each on a flat screen in the largest room.  One of the inherent problems with Bloomberg is this tendency to display works with long durations and not provide chairs, but after an initial glimpse of this, I simply went into the corridor outside and borrowed one which didn't seem to be in use (having asked permission first).  Which isn't to say I was aware of the duration first.  I'd assumed about half an hour.  But so absorbed was I in these three moving image pieces that an hour and half passed without me noticing.  I even asked one of the invigilators if the stated duration was incorrect, that I couldn't be sat for that long.  "Well, it's half eleven now" he noted.  Yes, yes it was.

The three "films" seem to deconstruct the process of creating and submitting a work to the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition.  All three are recordings made using a webcam and based on how the camera is often repositioned this must a separate unit attached to the top of a laptop screen rather than a lense fitted onboard.  In each, the artists sit facing us, looking into the screen or in the space addressed by the camera and it's a single shot which lasts for the entire duration of that video.  The view will be familiar to anyone who uses Skype or Chatroulette or seen the film Unfriended, turning us into a kind of ghost in their machine, looking out voyeuristically eavesdropping on their behaviour.  On that level it's already fascinating but it's the content and the magnetic charisma of the participants which led me to spend the same duration as Unfriended watching them.

The order of the three pieces is not unlike Pulp Fiction.  The Application has Murray and Platt sitting in the British Library atrium debating how they should make the application to be part of Bloomberg, considering the kind of work they do and how to describe their collaboration.  The Name has them in a domestic setting, we assume their flat having a steaming argument about the content of the work they're going to submit and the ramifications of deciding whose name appears first in the collaboration.  The Work presents us with the video of which we've already heard snippets during The Name, in which the artists rigorously discuss what the work they're making should be about, in other words what's notionally the discussion about what the work includes is the work itself.  Through the three recordings, we're watching the beginning, end and middle of the process, although I turned up in the middle of The Name, so I saw half the end, the beginning, then the middle and then the other half of the end.

In all three pieces, we see the two artists having some kind of argument.  The Application offers the more polite, passive aggressive jockeying which inevitably happens in public spaces when the theatre of cruelty is rehearsed through micro gestures, unfinished sentences, questions which are really suggestions and the slow widening of the space between the participants on the bench and so screen.  The Name shows all out war, as domestic privacy means that volcanic passions can bubble across the surface scorching everything in their path, old arguments brought into play during the new, running away from the situation either physically or mentally through ignoring the other person or simply pretending an argument isn't happening at all.  The Work merges the two as someone with very clear ideas of what they want to achieve finds themselves dealing with a partner who doesn't know really and is procrastinating.  Would you like a coffee?

Whatever the intentions of the artists in creating the work (see the following paragraph), the film studies student who's still looking for the perfect job in me can't help wondering if they've somehow made a romantic comedy in the style of mid-noughties Abbas Kiarostami, with his lengthy shot durations focused on faces, improvised with the passion of a Cassavetes piece.  People who argue with this intensity tend to be in love, at least in my experience and once you have that idea fixed in your head, everything which happens on screen is either a hilarious riot or deeply disturbing from moment to moment.  Every now and then Platt's eyes boggle momentarily at something Murray's said, he's very much the straight man in this, or his face blanks as he realises he's clearly said the wrong thing and Murray's about to shut him down.  I frequently found myself laughing in the gallery space.  Some scripted comedies are less funny than this is in places for the right and wrong reasons.

Which isn't to say you're not constantly aware that there's presumably a fair amount of artifice involved, that we're not necessarily watching reality.  Are we really seeing three incidents which happened to be filmed, or the visual backfilling of a structure?  Was this the actual moment when they submitted the application or a recreation and did they plan the sticking points ahead?  In choosing to film the discussion of what the work is about and make that the work, was that a decision made beforehand or did it emerge naturally?  Is the argument they have over billing real?  Certainly we're provided with enough doubt as the audio from the The Work somewhat acts as a commentary to the discussion which is also happening in front of us during The Name, even interacting in a way not unlike the dvd scene in Doctor Who's Blink.  Is this even their flat?  Do they even live together as is mentioned during the ebb and flow?

Samples of each of the works appear on the couple's Vimeo page (actually mentioned in the video) along with a lengthy chunk of The Name and skipping through, it's startling just how raw some of the emotions seem to the extent that if it is some kind of improvised character piece, Murray in particular could seamlessly change professions.  I suppose what niggles at me is the extent to which Platt's aware of what's being shot in the space while the argument is in full flow, shifting his camera to include Murray as she steps out of his breathing space taking her mug and blanket upstairs.  Were these the only three videos recorded or are we seeing the videos they chose to fill the gaps?  Looking at their biographies might provide some answers.  Asking the artists directly too (since as is usual with Bloomberg there isn't some accompanying text).  However fascinating that is, I probably don't want to know.  Who needs mundane answers?  The mystery is far more entertaining.

Next Destination:
Rosebery Street

Soup Safari #69: Squash and Rosemary at The Quarter.

Lunch. £3.95. The Quarter, 10 Falkner St, Liverpool L8. Phone: 0151 707 1965. Website.

My Favourite Film of 1931.

Film For its age, Mata Hari feels like a relatively contemporary film especially in its attitude to human relationships and in featuring a strong female protagonist (although even as I write those words we're still awaiting news of a film about another female spy whose arguably even more popular within the modern context). One of the reasons for this is that it was produced before the introduction of the The Motion Picture Production Code or Hays Code introduced in the wake of numerous Hollywood "scandals" in an attempt to sanitise what people saw on screen (even though those "scandals" occurred behind the scenes).

The Code pervaded between 1934 and 1960 and many great films were still released in the meantime as filmmakers went about finding creative ways to communicate those elements which it forbid without actually including them and it's arguable that many were in fact more erotic or violent because they didn't include the elements listed in the code. To an extent, US cinema is still a slave to this sort of censorship although these it's more to do with studios co-opting its principles in an attempt to attract as wide an audience as possible.

Having recently watched Deadpool, I'm going to see how many of these rules were broken by Deadpool.  There may be spoilers.

General Principles

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

Yes, broken.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

Yes, broken.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

Yes, broken.

Particular Applications

I. Crimes Against the Law
These shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law and justice or to inspire others with a desire for imitation.

He's not a hero.

1. Murder

a. The technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation.

We don't know yet.  Hopefully not.

b. Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail.

Plenty of brutal killings.  Lots of detail.

c. Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.

Well is revenge ever?  He has revenge in the end but he's really trying to find a way to get his face fixed.  The revenge comes after.

2. Methods of Crime should not be explicitly presented.

Vanessa is kidnapped so...

a. Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc., should not be detailed in method.


b. Arson must subject to the same safeguards.

Boom again.

c. The use of firearms should be restricted to the essentials.

Actually in the end he does rely on his swords.  That's what you mean, right?

d. Methods of smuggling should not be presented.

Arguably the person in the trunk.

3. Illegal drug traffic must never be presented.

Sort of.

4. The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot or for proper characterization, will not be shown.

Deadpool spends half his life in a bar.

II. Sex

The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.


1. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.

Actually adultery isn't specifically shown, although you could infer Vanessa's job might involve something along those lines.

2. Scenes of Passion

Happy International Women's Day.

a. They should not be introduced when not essential to the plot.

Well ... is the calendar montage important to the plot?

b. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

The calendar montage.

c. In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.

The calendar montage.

3. Seduction or Rape

[The Hays Code and go screw itself at this point.  Seduction and rape are not the same thing.  Just assume I have the former in mind across the following...]

a. They should never be more than suggested, and only when essential for the plot, and even then never shown by explicit method.

Is Wade seduced?  Seems to be more of mutual thing.

b. They are never the proper subject for comedy.

Yes ma'am.

4. Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.

Not in Deadpool.

5. White slavery shall not be treated.

What does this even mean?  If it means that white slavery won't be portrayed then oddly enough it is portrayed and so therefore breaks the code.

6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.

Actually Deadpool doesn't manage to break this rule.  Which doesn't make it right.

7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures.

Do strap-ons count?

8. Scenes of actual child birth, in fact or in silhouette, are never to be presented.

No one gives birth in Deadpool.

9. Children's sex organs are never to be exposed.

Nothing like this either.

III. Vulgarity

The treatment of low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects should always be subject to the dictates of good taste and a regard for the sensibilities of the audience.

"And let me tell you, he's got a nice pair of smooth criminals down under."

IV. Obscenity

Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion (even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience) is forbidden.

"Now, I'm about to do to you what Limp Bizkit did to music in the late 90s."

V. Profanity

Pointed profanity (this includes the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ - unless used reverently - Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd), or every other profane or vulgar expression however used, is forbidden.

"God, if I had a nickel for every time I spanked it to Bernadette Peters."

VI. Costume

1. Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.

The Men's Club scene.

2. Undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot.

I know right?

3. Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.

Does the scene when Ryan takes his top off count?

4. Dancing or costumes intended to permit undue exposure or indecent movements in the dance are forbidden.

The Men's Club scene.

VII. Dances

1. Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.

The Men's Club scene.

2. Dances which emphasize indecent movements are to be regarded as obscene.

Scene contains a lapdance.

VIII. Religion

1. No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.

"Jesus Christ. It's like I made you in a computer."

2. Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used as comic characters or as villains.

Ah, interesting, not sure.

3. Ceremonies of any definite religion should be carefully and respectfully handled.

Again, hmm...

IX. Locations

The treatment of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and delicacy.

Does having the toilet directly in the room next to the bed count?

X. National Feelings

1. The use of the Flag shall be consistently respectful.

I expect it is.

2. The history, institutions, prominent people and citizenry of other nations shall be represented fairly.

"Your right leg is Thanksgiving and your left leg is Christmas. Can I come and visit you between the holidays?"

XI. Titles

Salacious, indecent, or obscene titles shall not be used.


XII. Repellent Subjects

The following subjects must be treated within the careful limits of good taste:

1. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishments for crime.

What if they're used illegally?

2. Third degree methods.

Yes, torture is involved.

3. Brutality and possible gruesomeness.

That too.

4. Branding of people or animals.


5. Apparent cruelty to children or animals.


6. The sale of women, or a woman selling her virtue.


7. Surgical operations.


There then follows a list of justifications which I won't bore you with suffice to say that it's the sort of sanctimonious claptrap which treats humans beings as children and although I appreciate it's difficult to envisage us as complex beings based on recent events, it makes you grateful that the UK now enjoys a ratings body as thoughtful as the BBFC.