The Juror's Story (Short Trips: Repercussions)

Prose A clever, funny story even if I'm not completely on-board with the conclusion (spoiler alert). A riff on 12 Good Men starring all of the Doctor's incarnations up until then banding together to save one of their own.  It's told from the point of view of one of the jurors who's slowly manipulated by these various Doctors dropping in across time until he reaches the same conclusion they do, or have to, about the accused and his actions. In which case you might then wonder why he has to be pulled out of time as happens at the close of the story. If it's because he now believes there to werewolves in the world, then considering what else is common knowledge that seems a bit unfortunate. If it's because the Doctors have weakened the web of time and he's at the epicenter of the distortion, that makes the Doctor no better than the Weeping Angels. Doctor Who in the early zeros was a weird, weird place.
Placement: Early. In the Greenpeace gap for old times sake.

The Time Lord's Story (Short Trips: Repercussions)

Prose What a pleasure. Set directly after the Big Finish version of Shada, this has the Doctor and K9 investigating genetic skulduggery on Gallifrey in which (spoiler alert) we discover a renegade time lord is attempting to give his race infinite regenerations using vampire blood. Back in 2004 this must have seemed like an utterly bizarre notion, the usual mad scientist fare for the Doctor to step in on. Now we can enjoy the irony of a character who unknowingly already has that ability stopping someone from triggering it in everyone else.  Genuinely this could be one of my favourite Eighth Doctor stories.  Iain McLaughlin & Claire Bartlett catch his voice and action perfectly, President Romana is at peak haughtiness and one off companion and proto-Osgood fan girl Tianna leaps off the page.  But it's also a classic romp, with running and screwball ratatat and feels much longer than its twenty-odd pages, in a good way.
Placement: After Shada (Shaaadaaaa!).

Repercussions... (Short Trips: Repercussions).

Prose Gary Russell's Repercussions sits very badly with me, for some reason. The Doctor is a time/space event with a personality and even in his Eighth incarnation he's made some wildly questionable decisions.  But the idea that he has an airship in a time loop for hiding people who's existence could mess up history often because a mistake he's initially made is awful however many of them "understand" why he did it. Never cruel or cowardly?  This is both.  I know that this is largely a Chaucerian framing device for this Short Trip, it also doesn't make much sense that this early in their travels Charley would discover all of this and then still be OK with being with the Doctor and spend half of her visit in this pocketverse justifying his actions.  It's also that he's apparently been doing this through various incarnations and she might still be at it for all we know.  Is this where Aramu disappeared off to when he was attacked on the beach in Praxeus?  Gary also implies that Grant Markham and Sam Jones have also been stashed here (this was in the period when Big Finish was distancing itself from the continuity in the novels).  Hopefully this is one of the things which was wiped out during the Time War because, jeez.
Placement: Just after Swords of Orion.

Lockdown Links #14



New On Streaming Services:

Little Joe which was released theatrically just before the lockdown, is now available on the BFI Player, both stand alone and Amazon Prime flavours. It's fine, unless you know a tiny area around Hope Street, Myrtle Street and Catherine Street in Liverpool as you spend the whole film shaking your head at the wonky geography. The Foresight Centre is not a school. Is it supposed to be set in Liverpool? No one has an accent despite the shots of the Everyman, down Duke Street towards the Liver Buildings and the interior of the Philharmonic Pub. It's really quite unsettling.

In some ways the how Little Joe is filmed and the substance reminds me of a Liverpool Biennial commission. Without the dramatic elements, if it was just the shots of people tending the flowers, you could imagine it projected on a wall at FACT. That's a complement. Other than that it's a creepy attempt to redo Star Trek's This Side of Paradise in a cold, metropolitan setting.

Netflix's Homemade is a series of short films made in lockdown by major directors and stars. Features Ladj Ly, Paolo Sorrentino, Rachel Morrison, Pablo Larrain, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kristen Stewart and Gurinder Chadha:

Staged, the new sitcom starring the Tenth Doctor and and the man RTD and Moffat joked about taking over the role in the Forest of the Dead podcast commentary is on the iPlayer in full and utterly beguiling.  In my head canon it's set in the same satirical universe as The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

The Color of Time, a 2012 art piece about Pulitzer Prize winner C.K. Williams directed by twelve film students at New York University featuring Jessica Chastain and Mila Kunis has turned up on Amazon Prime under the UK title Forever Love and advertising which makes it look like a romcom.  It is not.

Britbox now has a selection of archive episodes from World In Action. The selection seems to be based tangentially with current affairs. There's a piece from '89 about three journalists racing across London using different types of transport and from '92 about twenty people applying for jobs at Manchester City Council.

Links:

What If Moviegoing Is No Longer Fun? The Frightening Realities of COVID-19 Exhibition:
Indiewire on the practicalities of cinema going pre-vaccine. "Movie theaters are made for escape, but that’s a tough proposition if they look like a death trap."

A Decade of Sun:
NASA timelapse of Sol revolving over a ten year period.

Was Penny Lane really named after the slave merchant James Penny?
Incredibly detailed exploration on how Penny Lane was named and where the myth of its connection to the slave owner spread from.

The Observer view on the inept and dangerous handling of the easing of lockdown:
The Observer's Editorial about the mishandled easing of the lockdown. Key sentence: "Social distancing now designated at “one metre plus” had predictably collapsed to one metre minus." People are trusting a government which persistently lies.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK:
If you want to keep an eye on UK Coronavirus disease 2019 cases/deaths, they're available on this page at gov.uk.

Jesus Christ, Just Wear a Face Mask!
Metafilter user 109 has had enough of your anti-mask bullshit. I agree. Any time I leave the flat I wear a mask and gloves, even just to visit the front door of the block to pick up a Deliveroo order.  It's a tiny inconvenience and if we were all doing it, could save many lives.

Rethinking the Film Canon:
Important essay on how the so-called film canon was originally shaped by white voices.  The canon became frozen some time in the past century even though there are dozens of films which are worthy of consideration in the same breath as Kane or (god forbid) Nation.  It'll be genuinely interesting to see how much the Sight and Sound list changes in 2022 with the prevalence of streaming services and hopefully a greater diversity of voices involved.

The Time Ball (The Many Lives of Doctor Who).

Comics Published as "issue 0" of a new run of stories about The Thirteenth Doctor by Titan Comics, this pulls together tales about each of the Doctor's incarnations including War around the theme of the number thirteen, all written by Richard Dinnick, Who spin-off veteran and illustrated by a variety of artists.  Some stories are more substantial than others, the writer often selecting less obvious TARDIS teams, so Ben, Polly and Jamie with Second, Sarah Jane with Third and the crews in Titan's own Eighth, Tenth and Eleventh series.

Which means we have another short adventure for Eighth and Josephine Day, on this occasion trying to send an alien who's been captured by the British Zoological Society in 1833 back to her ship.  As with most of the stories in the book, we're witnessing the final moments of the action, with the pace of a Doctor Who Adventures installment, but it's just enough to remind me how interesting this team is and how much a further run of stories would be appreciated.  The Eighth Doctor just seems so happy here, which has been a rarity in his portrayal lately.

Placement:  Before The Lost Dimension apparently.

We Can't Stop What's Coming (The Target Storybook).

Prose Whenever these multi-Doctor anthologies are announced, it's always with the curiosity of how they'll deal with Eighth. For most of the time, it's a generic Doctor in what has to be an early adventure or most recently it's the Time War. But every now and then, there's a unicorn. Colour me amazed on opening The Target Storybook to find a missing adventure for Eighth, Fitz and Trix.  You can imagine my awe at having read said adventure and realised that it could be set after The Gallifrey Chronicles and prefigure the arms race that has become a key factor in the Time War. I mean really.  Thank goodness there are shortages due to the lock down or I might have ended up in hospital due to the amount squee seeping out of my various orifices.

Published a whole fourteen years after this TARDIS crew's last adventure which ended on a cliffhanger, goodness knows what children and young adults made of this if they'd picked it up due to Jodie Whittaker's face on the cover (along with all of the Doctor's other incarnations - and Adric for some reason) (yes, I know, Matthew Waterhouse has written the Fifth Doctor bit).  The writer, Steve Cole (old EDA show runner and editor of this anthology) makes few concessions to the reader in explaining who Fitz and Trix are, even their appearance, with the former narrating half the story in the first person.  Perhaps some kids are wondering which television series featured this crew.  Or there are others seeking out their other adventures online and god knows what they'll make of Sometime Never ...

This being the literary equivalent of meeting some old friends on a train platform just long enough to say "Hello" and "Whatcha doin?" before you go your separate ways, it's a pretty simply story about time paradoxes, although Steve doesn't go completely down the rabbit hole and start throwing words like "faction" around.  That would be silly.  It's an immensely brutal story, which fits neatly with the novels of that period just before Cardiff steered the franchise back to its family roots with Trix's sadism in particular accurately portrayed.  Then after a couple of dozen pages, they're gone again, back into literary history.
Placement: There's isn't anything to really indicate where this happens in the latter stages of the EDAs but I'm adding it after The Gallifrey Chronicles anyway.

Notre Dame du Temps (Short Trips: Companions)

Prose Anji! The Seventh Doctor on his way to San Francisco! Amnesiac Eighth Doctor! City of Death! Published in April 2003, around the time of both the release of an official Ninth Doctor story and the announcement of an even more official one, it's tempting to see Notre Dame du Temp as a reminder of the rich mythology developed during the wilderness years in a moment went it was possible that these new series would reboot it all.  Except, the BBC Books series still had a couple of years to go.  This is from the same month Reckless Engineering was published and features elements which were continuity right then.  How was that possible?  I'm also intrigued to know who the writer is.  This is Nick Clarke's single Doctor Who contribution and yet this as accurate a depiction of that period and characters as you'll find.  It has to be a pen name surely?
Placement: Since the focus of the timeline is the Eighth Doctor himself, based on his cameo I've placed it just before Camera Obscura, when he gets his other heart back.

Femme Fatale (BBC More Short Trips)

Prose Paul Magrs' nostalgic throwback to the 60s has itself, twenty years on, become a bit of a nostalgic throwback.  Published three years on from the TV Movie, two years before the Big Finish audios, right in the thickets of the wilderness years with the franchise continuing to entertain its smallest audience ever in print and comic form.  For some reason, I entirely neglected to either read or review Femme Fatale at the start of this project fifteen years ago and so here we are, in the old review format, filling in a gap.

It's a culture shock to be back in the "With Sam" years, somewhere between The Scarlet Empress and Interference when the storytelling mode was often experimental and writers had license to produce stories with shattered timelines and unreliable narrators.  Magrs' story is the finale to an anthology which includes stories told in the format of a police statement, a second Doctor story set during season 6B and a prologue to The Romans from the Hartnell era about the budding romance between Barbara and Ian and how they came by the house.

Femme Fatale's Bayesian narrative presents a series of events around the attempted murder of Andy Warhol and expects the reader to cobble together what actually happened.  There are multiple versions of the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones some of which are in Iris Wildthyme's own "biography", in the Doctor's rewrite of that text, a reimagining of Doctor Who reminiscent of Steed and Mrs Peel which could be either of the former and straight storytelling.  It's the kind of writing which is rarely sanctioned by Bristol now.

God, it's good.  Iris is in her full Barbarella bloom (making this prequel to The Blue Angel) and the writing evokes the freewheeling structure of Mary Harron's film I Shot Andy Warhol making it impossible not to see Lili Taylor in the Valerie Solanas.  Plus, let's be honest, it's a Doctor Who story about the shooting of Andy Warhol which is something you don't read every day.  I mean you could read it every day but I think even Paul would agree there are plenty of other stories in the world.

Placement: Most timelines put it between Beltempest and The Face Eater.

Forgotten (Short Trips: The Centenarian)

Prose Here we have the other side of the events in the prologue to this anthology. Having completely misunderstood what was happening in Dear John, I find this is actually another attempt to explain how the Master got back out into the world from within the innards of the TARDIS. Given this is a time travel show, there's nothing to say that what we see here is any more or less valid that the explanations given by subsequent audios. Time can be rewritten. This is otherwise a very poignant send-off for Edward Grainger in which we discover the extent to which he and the Doctor's lives became intertwined and are reminded once again how the Time Lord continues to make attachment only to have then stolen away by time.
Placement: With the Prologue.

Dear John (Short Trips: The Centenarian)

Prose One of a tiny group of stories from the "With Gemma and Samson" which the Eight Doctor promptly forgot about, which is something he's often prone to do. This brief glimpse of what a functioning story for this TARDIS team looks like suggests something akin to This Life featuring a grown up John and Gillian. It's also potentially a direct sequel to the prologue of this anthology, explaining what an entity which left Teddy Grainger's small body was and why, if I'd read the stories in between, there was something a bit off about him, the subsequent stories developing the aftermath.  This is a rich read with allusions to AA Milne and Poltergeist and neatly deals with the three in the TARDIS problem by having one of them getting absolutely blathered.
Placement:  The TARDIS Datacore suggests this might be post "With Mary".  Why not?

Prologue (Short Trips: The Centenarian).

Prose The aim of The Centenarian is to present the life of someone who constantly meets and aids the Doctor from his chronological or biographical perspective. This could be seen as a meditation on the nature of spin-off media, stories inserted between the gaps in the television continuity.  Here's a figure of huge importance in the Doctor's life that was previously hidden. The Prologue covers the birth of the protagonist, Edward Grainger, and is told from the point of view of a maid working in the Eaton Place-like setting, describing events and foreshadowing what's to come, a perspective at one remove from the position we're usually in during an adventure.  Since I'm focusing on the Eighth Doctor, I'll be diving straight into his main adventure within the anthology, but I'm intrigued enough to want to read the whole thing at some point.
Placement: The Doctor seems to be travelling alone so I'll arbitrarily put it between The Girl Who Never Was and Blood of the Daleks.

You Had me at Verify Username and Password (Short Trips: Snapshots)

Prose The central question I have about this simple whimsy is whether the Doctor himself is running the Nigerian 419 scam or someone who was somehow previously aware of his and Charley's existence and their connect to the the protagonist, Calabria, Fifth Moof of Trebidden. Despite what the TARDIS Datacore suggests, it simply doesn't feel in character for the Doctor to be taking advantage of the lovelorn in order to have a lot of money sent to him to get Charley out of jail when he has a sonic screwdriver and been in enough prisons himself to know the ins and outs. Plus the Earth is in jeopardy if he doesn't keep up repayments.  So no, I don't think this is about the Doctor, or at least not the real one.  Someone's hacked his MySpace.
Placement: Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the Eighth Doctor ...

The Sorrows of Vienna (Short Trips: Snapshots).

Prose Oh, so that's what that is. If nothing else, Steven Savile's story has filled in a blank about the Doctor's attire. The scarf Eighth wears is more properly called an "ascot" which probably won't be a revelation to you, but as someone who's only just about social climbing from George at Asda to M&S, call me fascinated (and yes, I do know what a fascinator is). A celebrity historical in which the Doctor becomes embroiled in the lovers grief of Goethe and inspiring the writing of Faust, this shows the influence of The Unquiet Dead (broadcast a couple of years before). Savile writes with a richly detailed, literary style which enjoys picking out the details of the Viennese landscape and society. But he doesn't quite have the ear for the Eighth Doctor's voice, notably when he keeps referring to Goethe as "poet" when he would more than likely simply use his first name. 
Placement: A powerful statement about the Doctor's guilt on how he left things with Cr'zz and Charlotte, let's assume it's set in the otherwise unexplored gap between The Girl Who Never Was and Blood of the Daleks.

The Kemps: All True.



Music However much of a classic it's supposed to be, This is Spinal Tap felt unaccountably a bit flat. Perhaps I've seen too many real life documentaries since, the likes of Anvil: The Story of Anvil or Bros: After the Screaming Stops, which cover similar ground to Tap but feature real people. Enter The Kemps: All True, the new project from Rhys Williams, in which the real members of Spandau Ballet, both capable comic actors, bend themselves and their history into comic territory. The clips and cast look incredible although as you can see from the above embed, Williams hasn't really needed to push them in that direction too much ... [via].

NYCHistory:
New York on Film
in Chronological Order.



Introduction.

After ninety days in lockdown, my imagination is naturally trying to focus on other people and places, constantly reminding myself that there is a world outside of this tiny flat, somewhere I used to be and will be again.  One of, if not the key support in this has been film, with its capacity for time travel, to provide a window onto what we might describe as the before, when we didn't live in fear of others and the physical disaster they might accidentally inflict on us.

One of the places I keep returning to is New York.  Ever since my film diet evolved in my mid-teens, it's been impossible not to idolize it all out of proportion, fascinated by its size, its landmarks, its atmosphere.  Of course this is all through the filter of film and it's easy to romanticize a place when you've never actually been there, but at university, in halls, I'd sit in the doorway of my room and pretend it was the window ledge of a brownstone watching the world go by.

Why then create a chronology?  The idea's been swirling around me for a few months, as I wondered if it was possible to track the building and development of this metropolis through cinema, to see what the earliest narrative about the city is and compare period and historical films with the movies produced in the era they're depicting.  Would there be clustering around the larger events in the city's history?

Find the results below.  The spine of this list is a page at the Wikipedia which I've trusted to give me accurate information about when films are set, so there are bound to be errors and do let me know if you spot anything.  The plan is for this to be an organic chronology with films being added in and out if it's obvious that something should or shouldn't been in here.  It will continue to evolve, there are plenty of documentaries to add.

Some rules I've worked by.  The chronology only includes films intended for theatrical release.  There have been hundreds of television series and movies over the years about New York but the ultimate intention for the list is that someone might actually sit down and watch the films in a particular year or even the whole thing (if they do nothing else for the rest of their lives) and adding lots of television most of it probably unavailable would just complicate matters.

Other than that the list is inclusive for the most part.  If a film has any scenes set in New York, they're included, even if they weren't actually shot in the city itself.  It's about how the city has been depicted over the years  But it has to have scenes set in New York or be are about the city and its people.  Films which show and talk about the reality of 9/11 are in here, the many interchangeable conspiracy documentaries are not.

As to the date when a film is included, it's been a judgement call.  If a film covers a long time span, I've tried to place it in the moment when the city has the most impact on the story.  If it isn't a historical film, I've just assumed its set in the year of release based on the information available from the synopsis, watching the trailer and my own memory of seeing the film.  Again, there will be errors.  Do let me know etc etc.

Finally, the documentaries are marked in italics in case anyone decides to stick with reality, or at least reality through a documentarian's eye.  I haven't separated out the newer films set in an older period because it made the chronology even more difficult to read.  Plus its an incentive to click the link on an interesting sounding title and discover when the film was made in contrast with those around it.

If I've learnt anything from this exercise, it's that there are many films by well known directors with incredible casts which have become all but forgotten, especially from the 1960s and 1970s.  Remarkably a lot of them are available for rental on streaming services, so it's worth checking JustWatch if something takes your fancy.

Susan's War:
The Shoreditch Intervention.

Audio  As Eddie Robson explains in the behind the scene section of his contribution to Susan's War, when he wrote his Short Trip All Hands on Deck, it was with the expectation that it was to be her final adventure before the Time War with presumably the veiled references to her demise in the revival providing the melancholy conclusion to her story.

But understandably, with, as we saw with the Valeyard in the last Eighth Doctor box, Big Finish experimenting to see what happened to all kinds of supporting characters during this Whoniverse spanning moment, why not see how Susan Who would actually work for her people against the Daleks given that she's been away from her home planet for so long.

The solution is to turn her into a spy, of sorts, a kind of minister without portfolio probably being sent on the kinds of missions the Doctor would be if he'd agreed to work with them full time.  Initially diplomacy, then undercover, then as weapons inspector and finally as a CIA agent, each story demonstrates that her loyalties and ideologies have diverged from her grandfather.

The result is utterly superb.  From the first story which reintroduces her to the elderly Ian Chesterton (the timeline apparently having diverged since Death of the Doctor's concluding companion check-in) through the following invasion and base under siege, they're never less than exciting and nostalgic, sprinkling just enough kisses to the past without going to second Panopticon.

At the centre of proceedings is Carole Ann Ford.  With the exception of soap opera, are there any actors who've played a character so consistently across so many years?  Ford says that she had to keep reminding herself that she was playing the older Susan here, but that certainly doesn't show as we can still hear that she's the same person but with a new set of priorities.

The Shoreditch Intervention

When you see Alan Barnes's name on a story featuring the Eighth Doctor, you know it's going to be special.  As arguably Eighth's originator on audio, he always catches his voice so it's strange that this is the first time he's written the Time War version.  Typically, Barnes captures the Doctor's slight weariness at trying to keep to his own set of values intact while the universe crashes around him.

He also set himself the immense task of telling a story set between An Unearthly Child and Remembrance of the Daleks without sabotaging either of them and although it's sometimes challenging to have scenes from stories with twenty-five years between them in your memory, the fusion of classic, revival and wilderness mythology ultimately leads to something else.

Which isn't to say the story isn't a bit messy in place.  There are a couple of "What? What?!?" moments especially when causality goes out of the window which isn't something you expect to hear in an Eighth Doctor story.  Ahem.  But the reunion of Eighth and Susan helps to keep things grounded, their unlikely chemistry carried over from (jeez) nearly a decade ago.

There's also a good balance between keeping Susan prominent and giving Eighth his due.  One of the threads is in relation to her name.  Initially I thought this might be deep cut reference back to Sometime Never... but her TARDIS Datacore page suggests other shenanigans.  It's even suggested she might not be a Time Lord at all (which makes you wonder what she knows about the Doctor's origins).

Placement:  Perhaps around the time of his appearances with River Song and the War Master?

The Time War 3.

Audio Another winner. As I said last year, these Time War boxes are of incredibly high quality, as good a series of Doctor Who as we've seen across the decades. Unlike the boxes set earlier in his timeline, because they're threaded by an overall status quo rather than a plot shaped clothes line on which everything ultimately needs to be pegged, we're able to enjoy stand alone storylines that so far haven't become too bogged down in pointless chases for mcguffins or complex plots which are difficult to sustain across the nearly half decade release cycles they have now.  With the final box out towards the end of this year, I wonder what we'll hear next.

The box designs have changed ever so slightly on the website.  The first two boxes were called The Time War, but definitive article been removed for the cover now and then retrospectively edited for the first two and in a different font.  You can see why this has happened.  The first box had the Pertwee logo from the TV Movie emblazoned on it, the second the Whittaker logo from the Chibnall era and they wanted them to match the rest of the range too.  Plus Doctor Who merchandise wouldn't be Doctor Who merchandise if the spines matched.  It just wouldn't be right.  But I'm still keep the The in these post titles.  So nyer.

State of Bliss

By design, Bliss hasn't quite managed to gel in the same way as some of Eighth's previous travelling companions, mostly acting as a placeholder with some of the same mystery of Clara Oswald in her first eight episodes. Like Clara, State of Bliss makes her origins part of the antagonist's plot to trap the Doctor. The result is an ingeniously low key affair which mixes alternate realities and future probabilities in way which provides an expression for how the Time War is otherwise being fought.  One of those occasions when a relatively stand alone episode that's also connected to the overall theme of the series actually works.

The Famished Lands

Horrible.  Absolutely horrible.  Though I mean that in a good way.  For the most part this is pretty conventional "Doctor Who topples the morally ambiguous status quo" stuff but instead of burning down the house, he appreciates the difficult choices of the rulers and finds another way.  Who stories tend to include antagonists who're taking advantage of a situation for their own nefarious ways, to increase their political capital and power.  So it's an interesting change to find someone who is utterly awful yet you understand their point of view.  But the distinction is made with those who take such decisions for ideological reasons.

Fugitive In Time

Sometimes the ends don't justify the means.  The Doctor's in something of a bind.  He knows the Time Lords have become the despicable thugs that autocrats become in a war setting, but also that the Daleks are worse.  He can reason with his own people to some extent, whereas the pepper pots are just cunning exterminators.  Nevertheless there is a moment in here when you're not sure that he really trusts one of his fellow people or knows full well what she's about to do and lets her do it despite having spent half of the episode trying to stop them.  His open attempts to remain the benevolent alien are being stretched to the limit.

The War Valeyard

Superb.  One of the best aspects of the Time War stories is that it forces writers to ask what so and so would be doing during the conflict.  Some results have been more ingenious than others, but this is just about perfect.  On the one hand it's not really an Eighth Doctor story - he spends much it listening to exposition and only has a tangential part in the solution.  But it finally offers some idea of how the Valeyard both can and cannot exist and also how for all of his nefarious ways, the core being that is the Doctor remains the same no matter what outer shell and personality have been inflicted upon it.

The Fifteenth Book I've Read This Year.



Books Does this count as a single book given that it's about the length of a New Yorker article and it has "an essay" written on the cover? Well, since Amazon are selling it as a single entity, yes. Since Sedaris's work is often best heard than read, I bought the audiobook, in which the author narrates the piece in less than half an hour.

The tone is rather like one of his older This American Life contributions. He talks about his signing tours and how various themes often develop which leads to a very funny passage in which he finds himself having to search a town in order to hand a random stranger $50 (honestly this makes sense within context).
The results are hilarious. Would recommend.

The Spotify Playlist:
Revolution in the Headcover.



Music During the process of reading Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head, it became apparent to me that much of The Beatles' career was built on cover versions, which the author makes plain by placing the writer credits after the title for each track. Soon I was listening to the originals and comparing them to The Beatles versions which then led me to thinking about compiling a playlist which ultimately became a Spotify playlist covering the whole of their career, mixing the songs they recreated with their work being reinterpreted by others.

Unsurprisingly, almost every single song by the one of the most successful groups of the planet has been covered by someone even if it's an enterprise creating near identical versions to fill a gap before the back catalogue went to streaming.  On the three occasions when I couldn't find a viable replacement, I've chosen a different version to the one that's known.  The only occasion when I've selected a track credited to The Beatles over a cover version is A Long and Winding Road from the Let It Be ... Naked project, without Phil Spector's strings slathered all over them.

Otherwise, I've also tried to take a fairly scholarly approach.  If it's a song which Lennon/McCartney wrote for another band (eg, The Rolling Stones) which they also recorded, then the intended version is included.  If a track wasn't completed during The Beatles era but resurrected for a solo album, I've included that.  On a couple of occasions when a cover version simply isn't available, such as an instrumental, I've added something which influenced or was influenced by it instead.  Albertross.  Albertross.

Mostly this is just supposed to be a celebration of The Beatles place in musical history and their cross genre appeal.  Most of the great Beatles musicals are represented, although I couldn't in all conscience use the title cover for Across The Universe when the Fiona Apple version exists.  There are probably better variations of Yesterday, but I couldn't not include the Himesh Patel.  I am Sam is included thanks to Sarah Mclachlan putting her contribution, Blackbird, on a rarities compilation.  Enjoy. 

The Fourteenth Book I've Read This Year.



Music At the beginning of the year, I had such plans, one of which was to read at least a book a week. Then the lockdown happened and in order to keep my sanity, I've moved onto a project based mentality which is currently to watch my way through Kurasawa's career in the afternoons and a Eurovision Song Contest each evening. We'll see how long that lasts. At the start of the lockdown, I was going to watch lots of Shakespeare and read Plato's Republic but I feel like my brain's shrunk so you make do with what you have.

On the upside, it also means I'm now able to say I've listened to all of The Beatles back catalogue in chronological order thanks to the late Ian MacDonald's superb book and this Spotify playlist which sequences the tracks in the same order as his scholarship.  After stuttering through the incredibly dense introduction which puts the group in the context of the 60s, their cultural impact and vice-versa, I'd read the entry for a given a track the give it a listen through the author's critically constructive filter.

MacDonald doesn't pull punches in the way a disappointed fan often doesn't.  He approaches anything past Sgt Peppers with the caution many Doctor Who fans view the John Nathan Turner era, still sublime in many ways but never quite reaching the heights of past glories.  As is so often the case, once any of the fundamentals of what made an artistic endeavor good begin to dissipate, usually the harmony between creators, it can't be recreated.  Boringly for The Beatles, it was the usual rock and roll standbys of too many drugs and too much money.

But by god, when The Beatles were good, they were sublime.  Sat in my armchair with Spotify pumping the tracks through my TV speakers, I was frequently in awe at what was achieved back then and how much of popular music, yes, even now, was defined by them either through appropriation or as a reaction to it.  The era which the author dismisses out of hand due the group's drug filled miasma still managed to produce All You Need Is Love, I Am The Walrus and Hello, Goodbye (arguably due in part to the group's drug filled miasma). 

Economical too.  It's extraordinary how many of their most memorable songs are under two minutes long and only about a fifth of the tracks break the three minute barrier.  Just sixteen last longer than four minutes.  The longest, the magisterially avant-garde Revolution 9 clocks in at eight minutes twenty-two (the shortest is Her Majesty from Abbey Road at twenty-two seconds).  MacDonald isn't interested in such metrics though.  At the top of each entry is a list of credits, recording dates and other info, but not track duration.

At the end of this magical mystery tour, what I've I learned?  Chiefly and cruelly that Ringo couldn't sing, his only decent song Octopus's Garden, the Love album released many years after the group split up containing the best arrangement.  That it isn't George Harrison's guitar which gently weeps but Eric Clapton.  That the reason that half of the production on Let It Be album sounds out of place is because John had Phil Spektor complete the album without consulting the rest of the group, finally hammering the stake into the coffin of his friendship with Paul.

On a technical level that the songs were not recorded in any semblance of the order they appear on the album or as single units created one after the other.  Their earliest songs still required more than one recording day to get right through George Martin's steady hand.  Also that up until Sgt Peppers the US distributors often butchered the running order of those albums to create more releases which meant American audiences experienced the music in a vastly different container to the UK.  Now, bring on Eurovision.

Emergency Questions Twenty-One to Thirty.

Life Where next, Richard?

(21) How sensitive are your nipples?

Not at all, at least when I'm caressing them myself. Tough as bullets.

(22) Would you rather date a man who has a six foot tall penis or a man who instead of having a penis has a tiny man there?

Richard goes into some detail as to the nature of this tiny man, that he's wearing a suit and has his own personality which seems like an unnecessary distraction when you're trying to feel the love tonight. So I'd have to say the large penis. At the very least it would be a conversation piece.

(23) Have you ever come up with an idea for conceptual or performance art that you think is better than any of the guff that gets nominated for the Turner Prize?

This seems to exist as a feed line for some of Herring's material. There is a lot of tosh at the Turner Prize, but also every year something extraordinary, which was the case when it turned up in Liverpool twelve years ago. Although that Nathan Coley installation piece, in which he put wooden blocks on the floor across the doorways in his section which meant that people in wheelchairs had to phone ahead so the gallery staff could put in ramps was awful. But in general I'm too much of a fan of the arts to engage in such frivolity. Suckers.

(24) Are you ever mistaken for a celebrity? Which one?

Not specifically. Back before the great weight loss of 2013, a work colleague did suggest I look like a fat David Tennant. Which when I lost the weight you think would mean ... but no.

(25) Do you have any good ideas for terrorist atrocities?

My Marvel Cinematic Universe BDs are displayed in chronological rather than release order, with Captain Marvel between Agent Carter and Iron Man.

(26) What's the best advice you've ever received and ignored?

Eating fish is good for you. Can't stand the smell or taste (unless batter is involved).

(27) Have you ever had the opportunity to assassinate a public figure?

I actively try not to be in the same room as them in case something happens.

(28) Does sex with a robot count as cheating on your partner?

Yes. Absolutely.

(29) Why can't everyone be babies?

Considering the behaviour of some people during the lockdown, there's strong evidence that a large cross section of the population still are.

(30) Kettle crisps are not as nice as they once were. Have I changed, or have they? DON'T LET THEM ANSWER THAT! IT's RHETORICAL. If you could travel back in time and compare any food of today with an equivalent of the past: What time would you choose? Which food?

The 1990s and Fruitopia, a drink from the Coca-Cola Company so ahead of its time, it had Kate Bush compose the music for the adverts.



Snapple was no match for it. I've read that the name has continued use on other concoctions but it's the original and best which I ache for.

Watching Hitchcock's Downhill.



Film Just over ten years ago I set myself the task of watching all of Alfred Hitchcock's films in order and writing about them on the blog. A couple evaded me for reasons to do with no longer existing (The Mountain Eagle) or not being able to find a copy, which was the case with Downhill, his 1927 film riches to rags tale starring Ivor Novello.  Lately, I've been trying to catch up with films I hadn't gotten around to by selecting a random year (via Alexa) each night and finding something at home or on a streaming service and wouldn't you know 1927 popped up and I was reminded that Downhill is available on the BFI Player.  Time to fill in the gap.

As with most of his films from the silent era, Downhill doesn't really have much in common with his later work in narrative terms.  The BFI's synopsis suggests its "an early variation on his fabled ‘wrong man’ plot" but in all of the later examples, it's the spark for a propulsive suspense narrative whereas this is more of a morality or cautionary tale - it's Novello's choice not to reveal the truth.  But it is an excellent example of episodic storytelling in which a character finds themselves in a series of increasingly difficult situations, in this case through pride and fear, betraying its stage origins.  It was originally a west end play written by Novello himself and the actress Constance Collier.

Nevertheless Hitchcock's visual storytelling agility shines through.  One famous scene begins with Novello in a tux but as the camera pulls backwards he's revealed to be a waiter in a cafe, no, no, he's a thief, no no, he's actually standing on a stage set and he's part of the chorus.  The director has taken the audience's expectations of what they're seeing and turns it on his head, breaking our suspension of disbelief before putting is back together again.  He also repeats the symbolic motif of having Novello's character descend, down steps in school, an underground escalator (see above) and a lift after each emotional setback, literally going "down hill" only going up when he emerges into the light from the cargo hold of a ship.

Emergency Questions One to Twenty.

Life After much thought, I'm taking a break of Twitter for a week which means my hands are idle and though there are jigsaws to do and episodes of television to watch, it does offer some motivation to update this here blog.

 Looking for a lockdown project, I've decided to try and answer all of the questions in Richard Herring's book, Emergency Questions: 1001 Conversation Savers For Every Occasion.

If I cover twenty questions at a time, that should offer at least a fifty blog posts of premium personal content.

Important hat tip to Tim Worthington who's been doing these at random on his @outonbluesix Twitter account for a while which is why I ended up buying the book in the first place.

(1)  Would you prefer to have a hand made out of ham or an armpit that dispensed sun cream?

Sun cream.  Apart from the practicalities of being able to type with a ham hand (as Rich says in the book it'll also leave a greasy residue everywhere), at least the sun cream will have the bonus of a fragrance other than BO.  Plus my armpits can get pretty dry sometimes so at least one of them would be moist.

(2)  If you had to have sex with an animal - if you had to - what animal would you have sex with and why?

Does a mermaid count?

(3)  Have you ever seen a ghost?

Yes.  No.  Maybe.  When I was very young, under ten, there was a night when I screamed after seeing something at the end of my bed, but it looked like my Dad in pain so it was probably a nightmare rather than a spectre.

(4)  Have you ever seen a Bigfoot?

One of my university friends was nearly seven feet tall and must have had at least size twelve feet in order to support all of that.  His nickname was Bambi.  I think you can imagine why.

(5)  If an Emergency Question is asked in a forest, but the person who asks it is immediately crushed to death by a falling tree, do you still have to answer?  What if you didn't quite hear it over the sound of the falling tree?

Yes, you would have to answer even if you didn't hear it completely.  After you'd called for the emergency services.  You could probably weave it into the statement you give to the police.  "Well, they'd just asked me ...."

(6)  Isn't silver actually better than gold?

Ask Michael Johnson and Roger Black.  In the run up to the Commonwealth Games in 2002, which was in Manchester and at which I volunteered, there was a mass gathering in the arena at Victoria Station and Roger Black was asked to give a motivational speech.  He said, that he was always content with silver because he knew he could never beat Johnson so he always raced the medal he knew he could win.  Part of me believes this.  But there must have been occasions when he saw his competitor on a flyer when he wondered why he wasn't strong enough.

(7)  What is your favourite cheese?

Cheddar.  It's just so versatile.

(8)  Has your sibling ever seen a ghost?

I don't have one.

(9)  Who is you favourite historical character?

Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral began construction in 1904 and was finished, finally, in 1978, which as you can see included the periods of both world wars.  Although these national efforts impinged on the construction of the building, it didn't stop, even in world war two, even after it was damaged in a bombing raid, it's said during the cathedral tour that there was always at least one man working on the building, perhaps even only putting one stone in place per day.  He's my favourite historical character, someone who continues under those odds when it seems like the work you're doing is impossible and may not even be completed in their lifetime.

(10)  What do you think happens when we die?

I can't tell you what I know, only what I fear.  That when we die, our mind continues functioning right up until we decompose, trapped in, either in a dream like state (which would account for the near death experiences) or worse just locked into a non-functioning body and we feel ourselves ebb away.  That it's not the spark of life which keeps us alive, we're just the chemicals.

(11)  If you could choose on thing for you armpit to dispense, what would that thing be?

Advice.

(12)  Would you rather be a cow or a badger?

You're fucked either way.  As Rich says you're either being milked or gassed by farmers.  Probably a badger and hope to god Brian May gets to me in time.

(13)  What age were you breastfed until?

I was bottle-fed.

(14)  If you had marry a Muppet - if you had to - which Muppet would you marry?

Janice from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.  Who thinking back was probably one of my first crushes, you know from just before "the changes" when you're too young to really know what it's all about.

(15)  Have you ever had a near death experience?

If this means, oh fuck I'm going to die, that would be when a fairground was parked up in Sefton Park about ten years ago.  There was one of those spinning rocket things which did a 360 degree circle and the safety bar wasn't attached properly.  As we spun upside down, I could feel it loosening and I had to hold it in place.  I'm still convinced that if I'd let go I would have plunged to the floor, bashing my head on the structure as I dropped down.

(16)  Would you rather have a tit that dispenses talcum powder or a finger than can travel through time?  What would you do with such a power?

A theme to these questions is developing.  Talc.  I need my finger.  See question one.

(17)  What's the worst experience you've ever had in a hotel?

Having to endure this all night at the Premiere Inn on Lime Street having gone there to get some peace and quiet:



(18) Which celebrity would you like to stroke your hair as you die?

Kristen Bell. She's very kind to sloths.

(19)  Do you have a favourite towel?  What is your best story about it?

At the moment, a beach towel in the shape of a lolly-ice which was given to me as a freebie.  It reminds me of the holidays I've never had and now won't be able to.

(20)  What is you most mundane encounter with a celebrity?

Held the toilet door open for Mark Kermode at the BFI Southbank.

The 231163 Diaries:
Official Singles Chart Top Ten.



Music One of the unsung features of the Official Singles Chart website is the ability look backwards through the archive to see what was in the charts at a particular point in time. On the evening Doctor Who was first broadcast, the day after the Kennedy Assassination, this is what the top ten looked like:



The poignancy of the song in the top spot is just the start of the breadth and quality of songs that were available that week.  It's an illustration of how musical eras are rarely just one thing.  The top three bands may be Merseybeat in origin, but the rest of the list features Motown, country, jazz and rock & roll.

Here's a Spotify playlist:

The Road To Nowhere.



Life The lock-down continues. How has it been for you? For various reasons we're pretty much permanently self-isolating, so I barely been out of the flat for twenty-four days. Twenty-five days by the time you read this probably.  Remember when I began the (now paused) Lockdown Links, how buoyant I seemed and right up for it, for want of a better phrase?  Yes, well, that didn't last long and neither did the spirit of thinking about all of the amazing things I'd be able to do with all of this time stretching ahead of me.  I'll finally be able to read Plato's Republic, I thought, as though that's something I wouldn't already have done.

Turns out captivity wares you down.  Apart from half your brain having to deal with the logistics of knowing when you'll next be able to find a delivery slot and order groceries, it's the constant feeling of threat, of wondering if you're doing enough to stop COVID-19 from stealthily entering the flat through other means.  There's also the feelings of intense paranoia on the occasions when I've had to take a bin bag down to the large bins or collect an Amazon parcel which has been left in the reception area, that the face mask and gloves won't be enough protection, that despite my best efforts it'll worm its way in.

A few sources have mentioned that survivor guilt hasn't set in yet which is why lots of people are finding it so difficult to comprehend the need to follow the lock-down rules.  For my part the guilt is rather more esoteric, that it's taken a pandemic for organisations to open their vaults and for shows which otherwise have been only available to Londoners or who could afford to go to live screenings to have access to some real crown jewels.  Under no other circumstances could I have conceived of seeing the stage version of Fleabag and yet there it is available to stream on Amazon.  People are dying and I'm happy about that.

I have a therapist now.  We were supposed to meet in person somewhere in the city centre, but we're speaking over the phone.  She's working from home.  All of this is must be a strain on her too as she has to deal with our anxieties about the slow apocalypse which has gripped the planet.  After our three weeks together she seems happy with my progress.  I'm a problem solver so when I do have anxiety about something, I find a way to fix it because most of the time there is a solution.  I'm very good at cognitive behavioral therapy in that way apparently.  So why do I still have these physical reactions?  We're going to talk about that next week.

I'm putting on weight which I'm bound to now that my lifestyle has become sedentary but not for wanting to try to get some exercise and attempting to keep away from the cheese sandwiches.  Using the stairwell outside the flat worked for a couple of weeks and was quite the workout, but I've strained the muscles around where I had my hernia operation last year.  Now I'm pacing across the flat, the ten steps between the front door and the back of the kitchen, too and fro for as long as I can before I get too dizzy or my groin starts throbbing.  It's best at night in the dark when my eyes haven't anything to repeatedly fixate on.

And so life in the Shire goes on, very much as it has this past age. Full of its own comings and goings with change coming slowly, if it comes at all.  When will this end or rather when will this end for me?  As it stands even with social distancing until we have a test which solidly confirms we're immune or some such then I don't know if I want to risk leaving the flat and bringing it back.  A vaccine is apparently a year to a year and half away so at this point, I'm feeling a bit like Mark Watney in The Martian, but trying to keep myself busy until someone else sciences the shit out of this.  Take care and stay safe.

Is Everything Really Available?

Film Wanting to revisit cinema's back catalogue but not knowing where to start, I decided to pluck a month out from the past and try to watch everything released. Entirely unrandomly I chose September 1993, at the start of my undergraduate degree, which I remember vividly for seeing The Fugitive and Sleepless in Seattle on successive weeks at the start of the year.

The simplest way to unearth what will have been released around that time is to pull out that month's Sight and Sound Magazine (dated for October).  Sure enough, there are Sleepless and The Fugitive, plus The Firm which I remember watching with some school friends as the last get together before going away.  I know, I had friends at school.  Can you imagine?

Apart from those the only other film I saw at the time was Like Water For Chocolate, a moment which I mentioned during the prehistory of this blog in the geocities days (but not until the following February if this letter home is any guide).  Along with Farewell My Concubine, Chocolate is the film I credit with leading my towards exploring cinema outside the mainstream.

All of which preamble leads us to the reason for being here, which is as a follow up to the Disney+ post the other day.  It's all very well for Disney to make huge sections of its archive available to watch at the touch of a button, but what about other film studios and distributors.  How much of their old content is easily accessible?

Here then are all the films listed in the review section of that old Sight and Sound and if they're available as part of a subscription, rental streaming or a physical copy from Amazon.  Like Sight and Sound, I'm working on the basis that if it's available on Amazon, even if its from abroad it counts.

Anchoress (1993)
Rental: BFI Player, Apple
Physical: DVD

Blood In Blood Out (1992)
Physical: DVD

Blue (1993)
Physical: DVD

Careful (1992)
Physical: DVD (R1)

Like Water For Chocolate (1991)
Rental: Amazon, Apple, Rokuten
Physical: BD, DVD, VHS

The Crush (1993)
Rental: Amazon, Microsoft, Chili
Physical: BD, DVD (Both R1)

Dirty Weekend (1992)
Physical: VHS

The Firm (1993)
Subscription: NowTV, Amazon Starz
Rental: Amazon, Google, Apple, Chili, Youtube, Microsoft
Physical: BD, DVD

The Fugitive (1993)
Subscription: Netflix
Rental: Amazon, Google, Rokuten, Microsoft
Physical: BD, DVD

Hard Boiled (1992)
Physical: BD, DVD

Laws of Gravity (1992)
Physical: DVD

The Night We Never Met (1993)
Rental: Amazon
Physical: DVD

The Punk (1993)
N/A

Raining Stones (1993)
Rental: BFI, Google, Apple, Youtube
Physical: BD, DVD

Rising Sun (1993)
Subscription: Now
Rental: Google, Apple, Youtube, Microsoft
Physical: BD, DVD

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Subscription: Now, Sky Go
Physical: BD, DVD

Stepping Razor - Red X (1992)
N/A

This Boy's Life (1993)
Subscription: Amazon Prime
Rental: Apple, TalkTalk
Physical: BD, DVD *

What's Love Got To Do With It (1993)
Rental: Google, Apple, Youtube, Microsoft
Physical: DVD

The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Rental: Google, Youtube, Microsoft
Physical: DVD

The Young Americans (1993)
Physical: BD, DVD

The picture is slightly rosier than I was expecting, although it probably helps that this was a really good month for film and relatively recent.

There are some anomalies.  A few of the physical copies above are for international releases of titles which are out of print here or were never released at all, especially on BD (A Boy's Life, Sleepless) which also means they're quite expensive to purchase.  It's also frankly weird that Hard Boiled isn't available for streaming rental or on one of the subscription services (at least the ones listed by JustWatch).

It's also true that only five of the titles are available on subscription services, those which would have been the wide multiplex releases that month which have arguably retained their currency due to having a star who will notionally still open films or are simply just evergreens.  But unlike a music streaming service they're also not all in one place.  Now, Netflix and Amazon Prime all have separate deals with different studios.

Just for fun, I ran this list through Cinema Paradiso which has retained everything its ever purchased including out of print titles.  Here are the films which are available on there:

Anchoress (1993)
Blood In Blood Out (1992)
Blue (1993)
Like Water For Chocolate (1991)
Dirty Weekend (1992)
The Firm (1993)
The Fugitive (1993)
Hard Boiled (1992)
The Night We Never Met (1993)
Raining Stones (1993)
Rising Sun (1993)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
This Boy's Life (1993)
What's Love Got To Do With It (1993)
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
The Young Americans (1993)

If that isn't an advert for DVDs by post ... (here's the inevitable link to the invite page).

Unlocking The Disney Vault.



Film Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are still continuing with their Radio 5 show despite the lock-down. During Friday's programme, Simon read out a listener email from someone who was watching their way through all of Disney's theatrical releases in order. Mark indicated what a challenge this was and then was surprised to discover that this was relatively easy outside of the duration because the whole lot is available on Disney+.

He's surprised? I'm flabbergasted. Back when in 2012-2014 when I attempted the same project, the process was much, much harder for the reasons outlined in the video above. For decades, Disney maximized their profits by running something called the vault system in which they would only release films theatrically, on VHS, DVD or BD for a very limited time, sometimes just a few months, until they'd be taken off the shelves and disappear for another five to ten years.

The upshot of which meant I had to gather the titles from a number of sources and in some cases not at all because of the asking price on eBay or Amazon. The DVD of Beauty and the Beast was so rare, I had it at the top of my Lovefilm watchlist for over six months and it still wasn't sent. Eventually it was rereleased on BD, for a limited time thanks to the 3D version turning up, costing a small fortune. Oliver and Company simply wasn't available on DVD so I ended up spending over a tenner on a shonky VHS copy.

Now there they all are in pristine HD prints on Disney+. Almost. Make Mine Music is missing although that has been censored for various reasons over the years, notably gunplay in the opening segment, so it could have been left out for content reasons.   But everything else is there, the so-called "package" films right through to the years and years of quest narratives, right up to Ralph Breaks The Internet with Frozen II appearing the UK in the next couple of months (it's already on the US version).  Wow.

Something which the above video also highlights is now Disney pioneered the double-dip.  Having released a bunch of titles as vanillas, they quite quickly brought them out again in various packages with special features and often with different extras with each new release.  Remarkably Disney+ has an extras section which includes many of these features including extended documentaries, deleted scenes and songs and a singalong versions.

That's also true across the database.  The Star Wars films have deleted scenes which as far as I can remember have never been available on shiny-disc and not been seen in public in full since the Behind The Magic CD-Rom.  The MCU titles have the One Shots in these extras sections along with director's commentaries as their own streams (notably Endgame).  Avatar has a child friendly dub.   It's quite addictive just bringing up titles to see what's hidden in there and to puzzle as to the choices.

So this is one of the few occasions when it's possible to say that yes, everything is available.  How this business model will sustain itself going forward is anyone's guess.  The shift from scarcity to the exact opposite and for a much smaller price to the consumer, an annual subscription costing the same as three new blu-ray releases seems like an incredible risk.  But with the home sale market dwindling, perhaps eventually this will the only way for some people to see these old films.

Lockdown Links #12



'Bird of Prey' Filmmaker Cathy Yan Reflects on Box Office and Scene She Fought For:
"In a wide-ranging interview, the director delves into the Ewan McGregor moment she felt was crucial ("it was risky"), and the aftermath of the opening weekend on the female-led film: "What I was most disappointed in was this idea that perhaps it proved that we weren’t ready for this yet.""

Here’s to You, Mrs. Littlefield:
"After nearly four decades, what is there new to say about the pilot of Cheers – widely regarded as one of the best television pilots ever made?"

Film Treasures, Streaming Courtesy of the Library of Congress:
"The astonishment of riches includes up-close looks at our history in hundreds of films. And they’re all free."

7 things to do in isolation:
"Make some matchstick sculptures"

Quibi — the new short-form streaming service for your phone — explained:
"The trouble with Quibi is that everything Quibi does, other streaming services are already doing better."

'Like a permanent bank holiday': museums at greater risk of break-ins during lockdown:
"Reduced security staff and distracted police forces could lead to a rise in art thefts—but there are measures that can be taken to protect collections."

Again, what are museum objects for? And who cares anyway?

"Many of us are at home, practising social distancing or self-isolation as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Friends and family have been sending me messages about how they are spending their time, and sharing their feelings and thoughts, in a period where both communication and loneliness have intensified."

Shakespeare’s secret co-writer finally takes a bow … 430 years late:
"Thomas Watson recognised by literary scholars as the Bard’s forgotten 16th-century collaborator."

41: Michelle Terry.



Theatre  During his interview for Playing The Dane, the BBC documentary which sparked this project, Richard Briers when asked what was perhaps most memorable about his performance says, he "was a very fast Hamlet". That's equally applicable to Michelle Terry and indeed much of this 2018 production from Shakespeare's Globe which she also directed. At two and a half hours plus interval, pretty much the whole of the text is covered which on the one hand allows for the inclusion Reynaldo and almost full strength Fortinbras but also less time for moments to breath.

Which looks like this is going to a negative survey of the production, that couldn't be further from the truth.  I loved this production for all of its faults, not least because it seems so unlikely that I've seen it at all.  With operation lockdown having caused so many playhouses to go dark, many of them have taken their work online, streaming old productions for a fee, free or a donation and Shakespeare's Globe is no exception, streaming some old recordings onto YouTube every fortnight for the forseable starting with this Hamlet.  Here it is to watch online for the next twelve days.

The production received mixed reviews at the time which looks to be a function of what Terry was trying to achieve with her first few productions as artistic director.  After a few rocky years under Emma Rice who some loved for her experimental artiface and disruption of the Globe's founding principles, notably spotlights, artificial sound and elaborate staging which others hated for much the same reason, Terry must have felt the pressure to present the work in a diametrically opposite style with a return to the fundamentals of shared light and natural speech projection across a bare stage.

For some that would have been a retrograde step, for others, in other words, me, it is an expression of why the Globe originally existed, to somewhat presents them in a way which would be familiar to audiences four hundred years ago.  The somewhat in that sentence is important.  This is a Hamlet of inclusiveness and gender fluidity, which is still experimental on its own terms and makes simplicity a strength, foregrounding performance and chemistry over concentrating where the actors are standing ready for cues, or at least offering the appearance of such.  

Those aesthetic choices then.  Bare stage.  Costumes which for the most part look like they've been pulled out of the Globe's stores offering a kind of history of the place, with the odd ensemble entirely familiar for those of us who've followed their work over the years, clashing styles and eras in the same scene and across characters.  In the same scene we find an actor in t-shirt and jeans interacting with another wearing what looks like Falstaff's armour from the Dromgoole production of Henry IV with another in a dress from the candlelit Duchess of Malfi.

Which should jar, except perhaps because we're now steeped in post-modernity we somehow accept it just as we do for the most part the casting choices in which the key male parts and Ophelia are all gender flipped.  As with the costuming that looks back into theatre history contrasting today's blindcasting approach with the stringent Elizabethan patriarchy, especially since initially Shubham Saraf wears period corsetry which on occasion seems to work against his performance especially since he's not playing it in an overtly feminine manner.

Female Hamlets usually have to decide whether to attempt to deny their gender or embrace it and although the text retains the original pronouns, Terry brings her entire self to the table in one of the most complex performence I've seen her give so far.  She's a force of nature wringing the full comedy from the text on the one hand and embracing the tragedy of the mission which has been placed on her shoulders by one of the most naturalistic Hamlet Snr's I've seen, a rare occasion when we're able to see how close father and son were.

Which isn't to say Terry isn't above choosing overt ways in which to express the Prince's well being.  For much of the play she's dressed as clown, visually demonstrating how the character is using madness as a mask for hide his true intentions, the face paint smearing, the costume raggedy as it becomes less and less apparent whether this has become a pose or embodiment until in the last movements of the play.  When the "readiness is all" they disappear completely, replaced by a more familiar black coat, embodying the traditional Hamlet silloette.

Such nuance also extends to attitude.  Deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah plays Guildenstern and signs her role with Rosencrantz and in their earlier scenes together Hamlet providing a necessary translation for some parts of the audience.  Hamlet signs his replies, with  "I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth" becoming a magnificent gestural dance as he makes sure his friend heres every word contrasting with the attitudes of Polonius and Claudius with their haphazard and ignorant approaches.

As the veil of suspicion decends on Hamlet's relationship with his friends, so does his tollerance for Guildenstern's disability.  Although they're able to communicate still when Rosencrantz is still in the room, in their short scene together just before the closet scene, when Hamlet is railing at what he sees as a traiterous entity, Guildenstern is persistently signing perhaps unable to understand what the Dane is saying to him.  A small piece of stage business becomes a key moment in our understanding of how Hamlet's psychology is changing.

As ever with filmed Globe productions, the crowd are often as distractingly visible as the actors, a mix of rapture and boredom.  Terry chooses to address "To Be" at a groundling which, as any interaction with the audience often does, leads to some laughter which undercuts the mood and feels like one of the weaker performance choices not least because whilst holding the punters hands, Terry still looks up and address the rest of the crowd robbing it of the intimacy which must surely have been initially intended.

This Hamlet does not wallow in the text's ornamentation.  The pentameter feels all over the place, with a free attitude to punctuation and line reading.  But a more traditional approach often puts too much emphasis on lines which Shakespeare clearly meant to be thrown away as an after thought although a solution isn't found for Polonius's asides during the fishmonger.  At least the actor is able to logically address them to the audience rather than himself or the sky as often happens in shows which pretend that the spectators don't exist.

A multi-faceted production which would no doubt repay repeated viewings, hopefully it'll be made available commercially soon.  If this production is anything to go by, Terry really has brought the Globe back to being the institution I recognise from the Dromgoole days and even (grudgingly he says) before.  For that reason amongst many, I was happy to drop them a donation, a fiver, the groundlings rate, to help them through these challenging times.  I know there are more existential causes right now but this Hamlet was well worth the money.

How I'm dealing with the lockdown.

Life After a fairly grim anxiety-fueled couple of days last week, on Saturday night, oddly after watching the Panorama about Harvey Weinstein because sometimes correlation does not mean causality, I came to a number of rationalities which have helped me get some perspective. That night I posted them on Twitter as one of those thread things, but I thought I'd immortalise them here too.  They're not meant to be seen as a list of hints and tips.  Everyone will have their own way of getting through this.  But I'd like them somewhere I can bookmark easily.

(1) I've been in captivity for two weeks - my parents are in their seventies and so very much at risk and was feeling antsy about not going outside, even to the local post box. But my parents because they're so very much at risk will have to stay in themselves for at least twelve weeks. If they have to do it, then so can I. It's my new project, can I stay at home for twelve weeks? How much longer?

(2) More than any person in human history I'm in a privileged position. I have access to all of known human knowledge, including all of the films, tv, music and books I could ever want to read. I have Prospero's library at my disposal and then some.

(3) Screens. Being sat in front of screens. Except they're also windows and wormholes through which I can view the universe.  How can I complain about that? I can wake up every day and have a new experience by metaphorically stepping through one of those portals.

(4) There's no use worrying about the future when I don't have any control over it other than the necessary paranoia which is keeping me at home. As a wise wizard once said, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." Having this time with my parents is precious.

(5) It's April 04, 2020 at 10:00PM and Love Actually is still rubbish: http://ift.tt/1Gs7DTh

(6) Stop listening to the daily briefing. Try and limit my exposure to virus coverage on Twitter especially links to human interest stories, for my mental health to stop wallowing in other people's misery and hope to god I won't go there myself (and yes on reflection I know that paraphrases one of the worst lines in one of least thought through lyrics of all time (depending on how you read it or how it's sung) but all I can do is offer a guilty shrug). Essentially stick to the science and focus on a single source like The Guardian's daily live blog.

(7)  That it's ok to avoid certain films right now, especially domestic dramas either contemporary or in the recent past particularly if they feature a death as the motivating incident unless it's in a drama context like noir or action.  I used to have a rule to not watch films which include the words "harrowing portrayal" in the synopsis. I'm now adding "if people look sad on the poster". They'll still be there when this slow apocalypse is over.

Lockdown Links #11.



New on the streaming services.

Hustlers, one of the best films from last year, has been added Amazon Prime.

Season Four of Veronica Mars is now on Starz Play (which I'm incredibly nervous to watch).

Daily Dose of Doctor Who.

Making Doctor Who
"The Lively Arts goes behind the scenes of the UK's biggest sci-fi show." (and extended clip from Whose Doctor Who.)

Links.

A message to our readers (from Sight and Sound): we’re here to stay:
"How we’re planning for the Covid-19 quarantine – from special issues to a new email Weekly Film Bulletin."

Amazon Teams With SXSW to Launch a Virtual Fest:
"The films will stream for free on the platform over 10 days, likely in late April."

‘Star Trek: Picard’ Finale Sparks Philosophical Fan Debate — Is Picard Still Picard?
"Article contains SPOILERS for the Star Trek: Picard season one finale."

Lola Álvarez Bravo’s 117th Birthday:
"Today’s Doodle celebrates one of Mexico’s first professional female photographers, Lola Álvarez Bravo, on her 117th birthday. Known for her portraits of public figures, as well as street photography chronicling decades of Mexican life, she is considered one of the country’s pioneers of modernist photography." (Google Images search)

What are the earliest produced films based on comics?
"Searching the Library of Congress for early examples of comic strip adaptations on film!"

The Worm is Back!
"The original NASA insignia is one of the most powerful symbols in the world. A bold, patriotic red chevron wing piercing a blue sphere, representing a planet, with white stars, and an orbiting spacecraft. Today, we know it as “the meatball.” However, with 1970’s technology, it was a difficult icon to reproduce, print, and many people considered it a complicated metaphor in what was considered, then, a modern aerospace era."