And we still don't know anything.

Film One of my favourite writers has died. I think most of us would be able to sort the books we've enjoyed onto three metaphoric boxes. Those which we'll read once then move on, those we like enough to keep on the shelf and return to now and then and those books which have a profound effect on who they are. William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade is in the third category for me.  My love of movies can probably be traced backwards to reading that book.  My interest in film studies was founded in those pages which led to doing the MA a decade ago.  But most importantly my understanding that creativity and problem solving go hand in hand, that writing is most often about setting yourself a task and finding the most imaginative way of achieving it and also that you can take that approach with life in general.

It's a book more spoken about than read I suspect.  One of its key themes, "Nobody knows anything" is parroted a lot by people who rarely know the context. The full quotes is "Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one."  In other words, nothing is a sure thing but you can certainly have a hunch.  More often than not, especially in the realm of blockbusters, those releasing pictures know that they either have a resilient classic on their hands which will stand the test of time or some piece of shit which they can make a fast buck on.  The makers of Black Panther had a hunch that it would do ok, if not necessarily the stellar numbers which ensued judging by the marketing campaign.  The makers of Fan4stic knew they has some prime horseshit and let it die.

Honestly you should read this book next.  The anecdotes are worth it and there are plenty in there which haven't still done the rounds as well as those which have, about the making of All The President's Men (the clashes with Redford, Berstein and Ephron) and Marathon Man ("My dear boy, why don't you just try acting?").  But there's also clear instructional material on writing screenplays, how to construct a narrative and how to deal with source material in adaptation, that whatever it is should be dealt with as raw material rather than some holy scripture.  That film is a different media to print and attempting to do a direct adaptation does a disservice to both.  The chapter on A Bridge Too Far alone is an incredible resource as Goldman explains how he chose the various stories and then set about working out how they'd be crosscut across the film, making the most of what was sure to be an incredibly starry cast.

His other books are all just as entertaining in varying degrees but I have a soft spot for his collected writing for the likes of Premiere Magazine about specific Oscar years in which he dissects the contenders, such as noticing that framing structure in Saving Private Ryan is utter nonsense because it's from Ryan's point of view which means the film ends with some of the key emotional threads unresolved.  I remember reading these on their original publication and thrilling at window they offered on how the needs of production impacts on the writing process and his sheer honesty.  His most recent film credits have been as a script doctor on a diverse range of projects and you can usually tell that there was a moment when everything fell into place and then the director began to ignore Goldman's advice.

Of all his films, All The President's Men is still my favourite.  As Screentrade explains, not everything which appears on screen is his but the overall structure and much of the dialogue survives.  His approach was to show the audience what they don't know.  For example, that there were two break-ins at the Watergate, the first successfully planted the listening devices and it's the bundling of the second visit, shown in the film, which led to them being caught.  He also decided that the public were all too aware of the back half of the Woodstein story and Nixon's resignation so he concentrated on writing about the parts people didn't know as well, essentially ending his film half way through the book at a moment of failure.  In that way he could show that you can't succeed unless you make a few mistakes along the way.  RIP.

"right wing onanism"

Politics Just a quick note before midnight. As you will have noticed, we're finally here, the Brexit proposal draft has been published and as predicted by anyone with half an eye on human nature and the other one on having watched politics their whole lives, it's a complete and utter shitshow. Pretty much everyone I spoke to on the 24th June 2016 knew that whatever was agreed would neither please the brexitiers who want to be out completely, the foolish remainers who want to "respect the result" but still want in on the customs union and free movement and essentially staying as a member of the EU in all but actuality and the rest of us who simply just want to remain.

As was outlined last year in this brilliant New York Review of Books piece (Biden's Briefing has an audio version for those of us outside the paywall) the Irish border question is difficult, difficult, lemon, difficult.  The new document's approach is to have the UK in the customs union to varying degrees in order to keep the Irish border check free.  Except it means the Northern Irish would have much more favourable terms than the rest of the UK which the Scottish aren't too pleased about, and presumably the Welsh although no one ever bothers to go and ask them.  There isn't a way to get around this which doesn't involve putting a dagger into the Good Friday agreement. 

This has cheesed off the DUP who're reportedly, according to this Torygraph person, threatening to pull out of the confidence and supply agreement which is keeping this Government in power unless Theresa May stops being leader of the Tories and so Prime Minister.  Except whoever takes over the job. and god knows who that'll be, won't be able to magically offer something different, some dynamic innovation.  Whatever else is agreed, the Irish border question will still remain and how to allow the Northern Irish to retain duel citizenship if they want to.  There'll be plenty of back and forth and eventually we'll be back to exactly what happened today.

The only option in the end will be to either crash out without a deal and so there'll be a hard border in Ireland and a successive risk to the Good Friday Agreement along with the rest of us just having whatever Premier Foods are stockpiling to eat or we'll remain with some excuse related to it being for the good of the country, probably with a second referendum in order to provide some legitimacy.  Two or three years of right wing onanism, tens of millions of pounds spent not to mention all of the journalism hours expended and we'll be back to where we were three years ago, UKIP on the rise due to ignorant racists wanting to stem the tide of multiculturalism and the rest of us rolling are eyes and enjoying all of the benefits being a member of the EU offers.

"Sitting here stressing at 2:30am, about how fast the year can go."

TV Doctor Who Magazine has confirmed what we all knew anyway. This year's Doctor Who Christmas Special isn't. It'll be shown on New Years Day instead as per The End of Time Part Two.  Petitions have apparently started and there's been some backlash from fans who've become accustomed to having an episode to watch each December 25th, I'm quite happy about it.  There are few reasons why I wouldn't watch Doctor Who live which meant that I'd end up structuring my day around whenever the BBC had decided to broadcast the programme and this year it won't matter.  Plus its one less festive offering the next time we binge rewatch the series.  About 10% of the episodes since the revival have been broadcast on Christmas Day.

The apparent reason is that Chibbers couldn't think of Christmas related idea which hasn't been done yet since the show returned, although that's patently untrue.  There hasn't been a riff on the nativity for one.  This needn't involve the TARDIS pitching up in Bethlehem - it could be about the Doctor and friends protecting a primary school which is holding their annual nativity.  Plus as the Feast of Steven shows, it doesn't have to be about Christmas, it could be just something different to the usual run of the series, which is pretty much what The Husbands of River Song is, for better or worse, barring the teaser.  My guess, assuming the series is broadcast next year, that it'll come roaring back on Christmas Day with much connected ballyhoo.

Anyway, since I don't have any more to say on this topic, here are the proper Sugababes singing New Year in Christmas hats, recorded in 2013.  Those vocals, those vocals.
Mutya Keisha Siobhan (Sugababes- New Year LOVE Advent 2013) from Mutya Keisha Siobhan on Vimeo.

Christian Marclay's The Clock.

Film Yesterday I fulfilled a decade long dream and finally saw a section of Christian Marclay's The Clock, which is currently on display at Tate Modern.  The supercut of supercuts, it's a twenty-four hour video piece in which the artist stitches together thousands of shots from movies featuring clocks which runs parallel to the actual time.  So if you're watching at about twenty past two in the afternoon, you can see Peter Parker being fired from his job in Sam Raimi's Spider-man 2 which gives way to shots of Fox Mulder in The X-Files under clock which tells a similar time.  It was first introduced to me on The Culture Show in 2010 when it was first released on the occasion of its premiere at the White Cube Gallery.

Judging by that piece, the presentation room is just as much a part of the installation as the film itself.  Just as back then, Tate Modern have created a luxurious screening space with pitch black walls and over a hundred IKEA Klippan sofa in white fabric (which I recognised almost immediately because we have one in our living room), just bright enough in the space so that you're able to find a seat without falling over, aided by an invigilator with a torch.  On entering I asked if there were any spaces at the front and on spotting half a sofa free up there I made my way over there and sat down, sharing the furniture with a slightly older man of which I can tell you very little else due to the darkness.

By that time it was about twenty to twelve, so I arrived just in time to see Robert Powell hanging from the hands of the Westminster Clock in The 39 Steps, of which extended clips are employed presumably because this is such an iconic shot of a time piece.  From that moment on I was enthralled.  There are plenty of illicit shots of the piece on YouTube shot with camera phones at weird angles, but none of them quite prepared me for the sheer range of movies and shots and how they intertwine and play off each other, music and sound effects drawing scenes featuring actors and settings originally recorded with decades between, mixing diverse sources, some VHS, mainly DVD, rarely respecting aspect ratio as to make the cuts between less jarring.

With the 2010 release and the artist's background and presumably access to sources, despite the number of films and television programmes included, there is nevertheless a certain limit to the sources.  Much of the material is from English language sources although there is some French material.  No, I did not see anything from Doctor Who, although my hope is that at midnight during the period which few viewers have seen, the TV Movie's millennium celebration is featured.  Plus it's necessarily populist.  There was an audible guffaw from the packed room when The Gold Watch sequence from Pulp Fiction emerged and was played almost entirely (it's still probably Tarantino's greatest work).

Something which had been of interest beforehand was how Marclay would deal with the moments when the history of film or at least the parts he research didn't deliver a particular time.  Often he simply extends the length of the clip.  But more often he takes the opportunity to include a time related moment which doesn't actually feature a clock, a character looks at their watch or there's some dialogue about time itself.  There are also shots from an earlier part of a scene which are intercut with other material which pay off later.  Or at is the case with Nick of Time we're offered a staccato version of the film as we keep returning to the action at key moments to check in on how the character is doing.

Later in the day, I added the film to my Letterboxd diary.  Usually I don't include anything which I haven't seen in its entirety, but since that's near impossible, I made an exception.  In the review section, there's an extended comment from someone who claims to have seen all twenty-four hours which I urge you to read.  As he notices that these short clips are merciless against the only ok actors in comparison to those who're able to communicate a character's whole being in just a few seconds.  He also notes how montage sequences in some films are edited so that they appear in real time, like the aforementioned pizza delivery scene in Spider-man which is reduced to the initial warning that he has to deliver them on time, then the late delivery and then later his firing.

My original plan was to spend the whole day in front of the film, but as the clips continued some interesting things started to happen.  After the first hour, my mind began to almost glaze as the clips began to topple onto one another as similar tricks by the artist were being repeated albeit with different footage from other films to the previous hour.  I've forgotten almost as many films included as I remember.  Plus I can't not admit to dozing slightly here and there, partly because the couch was so comfy.  I kept myself awake by guessing the film sources in my head and marveling at actually just how many of these films I'd seen.  Plus I felt quite happy about getting up now and then to go to the bathroom, even though I'd be missing something.

Which meant that after about three hours, I felt like I'd seen enough and left.  Although I've seen reports online of people watching this continuously for twelve hours, I don't think that's what the artist was expecting.  The piece is clearly constructed to be dipped in and out of for various stretches, the viewer visiting the venue at various points in the day and that's certainly how I would have approached The Clock had Tate Modern been more accessible to me.  With the show on until January 20th there would be plenty of time.  On my way out of the door, I indicated to the invigilator that three hours seemed like long enough (to which he agreed) and wondered if the piece, this copy of which is part owned by Tate might visit Liverpool.  Wouldn't that be ironic.

Demons of the Punjab.

TV For quite some time I've had an idea for how contemporary Doctor Who on television would handle the old stick of the pure historical. The Doctor plus companion(s) would land at some pivotal point in the past and as the tension rises and whatever tragedy they've stumbled into consumes them, there'd be an ongoing discussion about when the monsters would inevitably reveal themselves. Except they don't and it becomes apparent that we're watching nothing less than real history unfolding, untainted by any outside influences apart from what's stumbled out of the TARDIS.  How quickly the Doctor understood this to be an all human shit show was something I hadn't quite decided upon, but I thought it would be a great way of introducing the genre to newer viewers.

Demons of the Punjab, like Rosa before it, is as close as odds as we've had in a long while to being a pure historical and yet it still features "monsters" whom the Doctor and we assume must be up to mischief because of their transmatting and gothic appearance.  Except, it emerges, they're really not demons, at least not any more.  Initially seeming like Tim Shaw knock offs, it's powerfully revealed that due to the destruction of their home world, they've renounced violence and instead travel the universe remembering those who die alone and commemorating them.  As well as communicating the message that appearances can be deceptive, it also shows that people can change, that their fate isn't predetermined.  In times like these, this is just the sort of hope we all need.

Could you have written the story without them?  Sure.  A bit of expositional jiggery pokery perhaps via another character at the house to explain how the Doctor knows everyone's fate.  But I also think that over the short format, having these extra science fiction elements allows for this richer discussion of the themes.  That they often work best when they're not foregrounded as was the case here.  Indeed so focused was I on the raw drama of the Doctor and her friends being unable to intervene in Prem's death (cf, Father's Day) that when Kisar and Almak reappeared at the end, I'd almost forgotten they were abiding nearby.  Yet the closing moment, when Prem's face joined a thousand others was one of the post powerful images in the franchise's history.

This is a version of the show in which the edginess comes from the choice of story rather than the actions of its main characters.  Surprisingly Partitian hasn't been investigated much by Doctor Who.  Mark Morris's novel Ghosts of India had 10th and Donna pitch up in Calcutta during the riots and bumping into Gandhi, who we've also been told Clara Oswald had an argument with (according to Under The Flood).  Perhaps it was always felt to be too complex, too difficult to really enunciate to a family audience.  But as Gurinda Chadha's underrated docudrama Viceroy's House demonstrates, it is possible to cover this period of history within the limits of a 12A and that's also true of tonight's episode.

Vinay Patel's script is able to provide much nuance despite the limited locale and small number of characters.  Perhaps best known for writing BBC Three's Murdered by my Father, Patel puts the politics of the partition directly within the heart of the family, showing also how propaganda can warp a person's views to such a degree that they don't even notice that they've become racist and  even see their own sibling as the enemy.  That provides a grim reversal of the change in the assassin's creed, that an otherwise sweet person can become the opposite when their ideology is twisted.  Perhaps there'll be people watching this episode who see a similar change in those they know.  One could argue this is about Brexit.  Or perhaps it's just that these a universal themes.

Like Rosa, with which this shares many similarities, the story is about attempting to preserve history, but whereas that was about taking action to that ed, Demons of the Punjab is about inaction.  Which isn't to say the Doctor and her friends don't intervene, but we're very much in the realm of having them become part of a history which is already known in the future as per The Fires of Pompei (although it's odd that grandma doesn't remember seeing someone who looks exactly like her granddaughter on her first tragic wedding day).  It doesn't overplay this and we're once again offered a contrast to previous TARDIS teamers in that unlike Rose or Donna, when it comes to it, Yaz et al don't break the Doctor's wishes, that they absolutely understand why Prem must die.  The Aztecs argument is sidelined quickly.  Cue more Bradley tears.

Every element of the episode makes a statement, from Segun Akinola's superb score which avoided the kinds of geographical cliches that dramas set in India rarely do (please can we have the complete version of this title music on the soundtrack please?) to the absolutely gorgeous visuals.  But primarily its that we have this cast, telling this story, in prime time.  Even Viceroy's House offers a colonial perspective on these events.  This is purely from the point of view of those who were affected.  Notice too how in following the precedent of the TARDIS translation circuits rearranging accents, the Indian characters aren't forced to speak in a faux geographical accent, adopting a Yorkshire twang, increasing the immediacy of the drama, at least for those of us in the UK.

Good show all round and judging by the social media very well received.  At the risk of sounding like a scratched time-space visualiser, this really is turning out to be a vintage run of stories anchored by an incredibly strong central performance.  Although Jodie still doesn't look entirely convinced by the technobabble, she makes up for it with her sheer strength of personality, the wedding scene at the apogee of her ability.  Most Doctors ultimately become defined by their speeches and Thirteenth's words about her faith that "love in all its forms is the most powerful weapon that we have".  Too true.