The Time War 4.

Audio
 Is this the final end for The Time War?  When these were originally announced, nominally as a prequel to The War Doctor series, it was with an indication that it would be four and out.  But this ends on what feels like a cliffhanger so the chances are we'll all be back here in September 2021 which is fine.  The regular releases continue in the background and unlike those, The Time Wars have been pretty self contained.  But still I dream of a return to the monthly four episode releases with the Doctor and a plus one becoming involved in self contained stories without massive implications for the Whoniverse.

Palindrome

Much like the previous box, this feels like a way of telling the story of a recurring character without trying to sell something within their own series but on this occasion it feels as though that's what Big Finish should have done.  For two whole episodes of this boxed set, Davros is the protagonist and although the story is sound and Terry Malloy's performance incredibly compelling, I paid my twenty-odd pounds for the Eighth Doctor to be front and centre rather than an incidental figure.  There are half a dozen other boxed sets which offer that.  Not to mention that there's an inevitability to the conclusion when a lighter, more forgiving touch might have been in order.

Dreadshade

The Eighth Doctor has amnesia.  Again.  Fortunately on this occasion he's not the only one so we get to enjoy an amnesia episode as the Time Lords forget who they've been fighting and make huge assumptions about who that might be.  Perhaps of most interest is Bliss, a creation of the war with a shaky fix on her individual reality who now remembers her alternative version's participation in the Companion Piece episode of Ravenous 3.  Due to the release schedule, it's been difficult to warm to Bliss, but she's fresh, resourceful and incredibly funny in place and stands as a contrast to the rather sullen and "realistic" Liv and Helen.  

Restoration of the Daleks

Of course.  As you know I'm less enamored of the jargon soup adventures in which various Daleks and Time Lord factions have incomprehensible battles, with  various "gods" shouting at each other, Nick Briggs destroying his lower vocal range through his ring modulator.  But in the midst of the multi-dimensional Dalek nonsense, there's some incredibly squeesome moments of foreshadowing setting up the revival period not to mention looking backwards towards the golden era of "The Eighth Doctor Adventures" ("The Seventh Dimension!" Dingy-dingy-dong).  If there is another chunk of these Time War stories, can we have some more reportage from the fringes of the war, about how it effects other peoples in the galaxy?

Lockdown Links 2.3



One Touch Of Love: 20 Years Of Sugababes' Debut Album:
"Perhaps the most definitive opening statement of any British girl group..."

Sugababes' Keisha Buchanan Shares Amazing Throwback Photo As Band Celebrates Big Anniversary:
""Literal babes," Keisha tweeted, alongside an incredible photo of herself and her bandmates."

DuckTales Has Blown My Dang Mind:
"Disney’s shockingly excellent reboot of DuckTales has given us countless joys: The introduction of Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s mother Della; David Tennant voicing Scrooge McDuck; and the origin of Chip and Dale and the Rescue Rangers, just to name a few. But the series has also given me a scene that changed everything I thought I knew about Disney cartoons, if not my very existence."

Georgia On My Mind:
"The suburbs of Atlanta, where I grew up in an era still scarred by segregation, have transformed in ways that helped deliver Joe Biden the presidency. But some things never change."

Dozy dormouse gets stuck in garden bird feeder on the Isle of Wight:
"A dozy dormouse could not believe its luck when it managed to squeeze inside a bird feeder for a feast - only to fall asleep and get stuck."

10 of the best Christmas songs (that aren’t by Mariah Carey):
"The classics are back in the charts even earlier than usual – alongside the perennial row about the Pogues. So why not discover these lesser-known festive bangers?"

A Canadian Town Is a Festive Anywhere, U.S.A., Onscreen:
"With its mix of 19th-century historic buildings and a ’50s diner, Almonte in Ontario has been the go-to location for holiday movies set in Vermont, Alaska and even Milwaukee."

Liverpool Biennial
2020 2021:
Press Launch.

Art What with one thing or another, this year's Liverpool Biennial has been postponed until next year. The opening date of next March still feels relatively optimistic, contingent on good distribution of a vaccine and relying on volunteers enforcing COVID safe rules.  Nevertheless, it's full steam ahead and the press launch was this morning.

I forgot. 

After falling asleep in the chair post-porridge as usual (its an anxiety exhaustion thing) then going for my morning walk to get the paper and listen to last night's The Rachel Maddow Show and all the outrage about Michael Flynn's pardon it slipped what's left of my mind. 

Fortunately, since piling up to a hundred people into an education room at Tate Liverpool or the Playhouse theatre isn't really possible or ideal right now, the programme has been made available via a recorded stream (uncomfortably positioned above because Vimeo hates embeds) and a list of artists and a press release about one of the venues.

So no photographs of half eaten croissant or confusion over embargoes.  About an hour ago I clicked the watch link on the video and that's all the "on the scene" blogging colour you're going to get because that's all there is.  Dammit 2020.

After the underwhelming mishmash of 2018 (which I didn't even review on here because of the Thumper rule), the Biennial now has a whole new creative team led by director Fatos Üstek, with this year's show guest curated by Manuela Moscoso of the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City and a veteran of numerous other Biennials.

This year's title is "The Stomach and the Port" and a theme of "the body" and "notions of the body and ways of connecting with the world" which is a return to the non-specific open tent approach of some of the best of the Biennials in which it is up to the spectator to speculate on how the works are connected to one another.

As ever, I'm trying to keep myself relatively spoiler free although Jenna Sutela's work sounds as though it's going to be very impressive, with its reference to a specific type of mold.  If it's anything like her PLANTSEX installation as featured in this Serpentine video, I only hope there's some decent chairs and an adequate toilet, because I'll be in front of it for hours.

The introductory page has a list of venues, all the old favourites including some which essentially opted out of 2018 or have previously only been inhabited by the Independents strand:
The Biennial programme is presented in locations across Liverpool, including public spaces, historic sites and the city’s leading art venues: Bluecoat, Liverpool Central Library, Cotton Exchange Building, Exchange Flags, FACT, National Museums Liverpool, Open Eye Gallery, St George's Hall, Tate Liverpool and Victoria Gallery & Museum. New for 2021, Liverpool Biennial’s reach will also expand to the city’s historic Lewis’s Building.
Yes! In a return to previous Biennial adventures in semi-derelict edifices, part of this year's show will be on two floors of the Lewis's building with an impressive sixteen artist's work which suggests this will be a massive space.  

Other than that, there isn't much else about how this will be structured, where Bloomberg New Contemporaries will reside, that sort of thing.  Looks like City States is now gone for good but its last hoorah at Copperas Hill was a worthy conclusion and I should probably move on.

I'm incredibly optimistic about this new installment.  It feels more accessible somehow and a return to some old principles.  We'll see.  I just hope that in these blighted times this new body is able to show itself in all of its glory.

Stranded 1.

Audio   "Oh hello Earth Arc II!" was my first reaction on hearing that the next big mid-era Eighth Doctor series would see him stuck on Earth with a broken TARDIS.  The details differ, of course.  We're presumably not going to see him experience a deep expanse of time, he doesn't have amnesia yet and he's trying to keep a relative low profile (although appearing on a game show should catch the attention of a few old friends).  Not to mention that this is very much the London 2020 of the revival series, drawing together elements from all the eras Big Finish currently have rights to and the proles not being especially surprised by the appearance of aliens.

The most notable difference with his other exile in the 70s (or was it the 80s?) is that Stranded is intensely interested in his living arrangements.  This is Doctor Who does domestic, forcing him once again to interact with real human beings in close proximity having ended up being a landlord after his bolt hole on Baker Street has been turned into shared accommodation.  In keeping with the Eighth Doctor he's not very good at it, but unlike some of his later incarnations he's not cruel just neglectful with Liv and Helen acting as an interface.  But it works and the cast sound like they're having a wail of a time dealing with material which doesn't involve Time Lords or Daleks or both.

Lost Property

The set is right out of the gate with introducing the Doctor, just not the one we were expecting.  You might expect them to hold Tom Baker's participation back for some reveal halfway through, but he's almost in the opening scene.  If The Day of the Doctor was purposefully ambiguous about the identity of The Curator, Matt Fitton's script is entirely explicit.  He is the Doctor, a future incarnation with the older Baker's face, in retirement protecting the Under Gallery and its treasures.  After the events of The Timeless Children, we know the Doctor has an infinite number of potential incarnations - how far in the future is he from?  His memory is still sharp, he recognises Liv and Helen, and has a view as what he thinks of the Eighth Doctor.  Frankly this is all worth it just to hear Tom namedrop River Song.

Wild Animals

Considering Stranded was recorded last December, this insight into the Doctor's psyche feels incredibly timely.  He feels trapped, walled off from the universe, a similar business to the Third Doctor, but his enunciation of his fears cuts to the core.  He talks about the animals at the Zoo and how they have illusion of freedom because they're in large cages but its still captivity and how they fall into patterns of behaviour, routines.  We all know that feeling, especially now.  John Dorney also wrote the award winning Absent Friends and this shares its low-key emotional through line and investigation of needless tragedy.  This is a rare occasion when for all of his god-like genius, the Doctor is essentially useless and knows it and but has to work hard for acceptance.

Must-See TV

If you'd told me when watching Torchwood's Everything Changes at the Filmwork in Manchester in 2006 that fifteen years later PC Andy would be the special guest star in an Eighth Doctor audio which also references that bloomin' organisation, I would have also asked you whether my liberal arts degree had been of any use and which companies to buy shares in.  But there he is, Tom Price, all present and correct, interacting with the gang and trying to hide his knowledge of spooky-doos.  Not having kept up with the Torchwood audios, I don't know whether he's still in the police or a full member or both, but it's rather brilliant how consistent his character is with what we've heard before.  The rest of the episode is mainly set up for future entertainments - who is the mysterious Mr Bird and will he turn out to be the Master?  Again?

Divine Intervention

One of my mistakes over the years has been to treat these boxed sets as complete entities and being quite cross when they bleed into one another or aren't simply a series of self contained stories.  But on reflection, they're actually sixteen episode seasons structured like any modern bingeable series, with story arcs running throughout reaching a conclusion or explanation in the finale.  So although this offers a few tantalising story elements for the future, this is really just episode four and shouldn't be given any more weight than that.  A few mysteries have been established, the premise of the season has been set up and on this occasion without the need to dash off to another timeframe, characters are receiving far deeper development than usual.  Thrilling stuff.

Placement: The usual.

Lockdown Links 2.2



Covid-19: Liverpool mass-testing finds 700 cases with no symptoms:
"Public Health England director Dr Susan Hopkins said nearly 100,000 people had been tested over the last 10 days. She stressed that these positive cases would have not been detected otherwise."

Ga. secretary of state says fellow Republicans are pressuring him to find ways to exclude legal ballots:
"Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), to question the validity of legally cast absentee ballots in an effort to reverse President Trump’s narrow loss in the state."

A holiday diamond in the rough: An oral history of The Family Stone:
"The star-studded cast revisits the making of their 2005 angsty Christmas classic."

Not My Job: We Quiz Comic Chelsea Peretti On The Chelsea Football Club:
"We've invited comic, writer and actor Chelsea Peretti — you may know her as self-involved administrator Gina Linetti from Brooklyn 99 — to answer three questions about The Chelsea Football Club, the English soccer team. Peretti's latest film is called Friendsgiving."

Keen to make new friends? Here are simple three techniques to try:
"I would love to have a friend who is like-minded and can give me their opinion when needed. Plus, my eldest child is going to start school next year, and it would be lovely if I had someone to share school tips with me."

Julia Stiles is “extremely embarrassed” by her stint on Ghostwriter
"A working actor since she was 11, Julia Stiles has spent literally all of her adult life in the public eye."

Been getting a lot of questions about the recent sale of my old masters. I hope this clears things up: 
"I just wanted to check in and update you guys. As you know, for the pastr year I've been actively trying to regain ownership of my master recordings. With that goal in mind, my team attempted to enter into negotiations with Scooter Braun."

Universal Strikes Deal With Cinemark Allowing Movies to Premiere On-Demand Early:
"Under their terms, any movie that earns more than $50 million in opening weekend ticket sales has to stay in theaters for at least 31 days, or five weekends. All other titles can be made available to rent on digital platforms after just 17 days."

Three Studios, Three Strategies: How COVID-19 Turned Film Releases Into a Free-for-All:
"Studios were always competitors, but after the pandemic are they all in the same business?"

Academy Museum Gives Debbie Reynolds Her Due as a Costume Conservator:
"When the “Singin’ in the Rain” actress was alive, the film academy turned up its nose at her fabled costume collection. Now it has gone to her son with hat in hand."

She's back and it's about COVID-19.



TV News comes that Doctor Who is back in production but thanks to the all important COVID filming protocols we're now down to just eight episodes next season.
"Talking about the new series, showrunner Chris Chibnall says: “In this strangest of years, the Doctor Who production team have worked wonders to get the show back into production. We’re thrilled to be back making the show. Given the complexity of making Doctor Who, and with new and rigorous Covid working protocols, it’s going to take us a little longer to film each episode, meaning we expect to end up with eight episodes, rather than the usual eleven. But rest assured, the ambition, humour, fun and scares you expect from Doctor Who will all still be firmly in place. For everyone around the world, this is a challenging period - but the Doctor never shirks from a challenge!”"
The press release is ambiguous about the duration of those eight or if they include a seasonal special or indeed when they'll be broadcast but at least we know a few television adventures are going to be banked. For obvious reasons there's also no news at all about whether it will just be Yaz travelling with the Doctor but given the shorter season that would make sense. Either way, the tv end of the franchise back up and running.

Lockdown Links 2.1

 

How long will our DVDs and Blu-rays last? 
"We’re big fans of physical media here for our movies at home – but as Brendon reports, it’s not without a few problems."

"Walt Disney approached ‘Fantasia’ much the way Peter Jackson did his ‘Hobbit’ movies or Ang Lee ‘Gemini Man.’"
[Film Stories] 

Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas wanted Doctor Zhivago movie rights: "Director wrote to Boris Pasternak in late 1950s, previously unpublished material reveals." [The Guardian] 

"A "rare" Shakespeare book being sold by Rugby School is estimated to fetch up to £50,000 at auction." [BBC News] 

"Netflix started streaming all six seasons of the WB's "Dawson's Creek" for the first time. It was like the '90s all over again! But with one big difference: The old theme song, Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait," had been replaced by Jann Arden's "Run Like Mad." [Huffington Post] 

"A Storyville documentary. Pepe the Frog started life in 2005 as a cute cartoon character in an online comic. Today, he is known as an international hate symbol after being hijacked by the alt-right." [BBC iPlayer]

Biden, Biden, Biden, Biden, Biden.

Life   Here we are then.  He's gone.  Or will be in three months.

Having been watching CNN solidly for three days, of course the moment happened when I wasn't in the house for various reasons.  As is so often the case these days the news came via a tweet, or rather a stream of tweets as various news organisations called the race, once Joe's lead in Pennsylvania reached over thirty thousand.

My expectation was that it would be an anti-climax after all of the waiting and the surety of the moment.

It was not.  It was one of the happiest moments of my young life and I'm 46 now.

The past four years have been exhausting.  Waking up each morning and glancing through twitter and discovering what this attention sponge has said or done overnight, his every move sucking the joy out of everything.

Listening to his voice.  Seeing that face.

He won't be gone.  Not yet.  The prospect of the next three months are terrifying as he does all he can to burn the house down.  He won't go quietly and given the number of votes he won either way, he won't be completely gone from culture.  

His supporters will still be out in force, angry about the libtards stealing the presidency from him.  Or at least they will until the next shiny moon of toxicity drifts into view.

But more importantly, mainstream news organisations just won't have a reason to cover everything he says.  For the most part, once he's not POTUS he'll be shouting into a metaphorical void and then hopefully, eventually, solitary confinement with its literal emptiness.

Plus once he's not a head of state, Twitter will be in a position to ban him.  Finally.

But, despite everything else happening in this shitty world, 2020 has given us something back.  

Perhaps Brexit can be reversed too and we can finally put 2016 behind us.

The Twenty-First Book I've Read This Year.

Books   None of you will remember my startled tweets of a few years ago on seeing A Star Is Born and how sections look like Loose Cannon reconstructions of missing Doctor Who stories.   A quick glance online revealed this was an attempt to restore scenes from the film which had been cut during the initial release, this new version having become the de facto version on shiny disc releases.  Ronald Haver's brilliant book is the story of the tumultuous making of the picture and his later attempt at producing that complete restoration, his search for missing footage and how this version of the film is as good as its going to get.

Although Haver does cover the gossip about Judy Garland's behaviour on and off set, much of the main section of the text describes the technical nitty-gritty of film making, the lighting, costume and photography.  There are staggeringly detailed and completely fascinating discussions about the development of various screen ratios and how the film began in production on a cheaper Cinemascope knock off, Warnerscope, before that footage was scrapped and reshot in the more superior format.  Similarly, Technicolour was not the original choice but the results were just too good to pass up which is why the film now has such a ravishing image.

On completion, A Star Is Born was just over three hours long and even at that length beloved by audiences and critics on initial release.  But the bottom line men at the studio complained that it limited the number of showings per day and outside the supervision of the director George Cukor and any sense of film editing, went in an gutted the release prints to remove key blocks of scenes (including whole songs) reducing the running time by half an hour.  Instructions were sent out to cinemas to replicate these changes and the cut footage was sent back to the studio for destruction.

A young Haver saw the shorter version and then spent the rest of his life on a quest to see the longer version, assuming it must be out there somewhere.  With some friends and the eventual backing of the studio, he searched dozens of film vaults and connected with private collectors and although the key sequences were lost, he did find a complete audio track for the full version which became the basis for the reconstruction, a miraculous achievement in 1983, long before digital restoration.  This is a first rate book for anyone interested in filmmaking history and the fight to preserve that history.

Oh Koquillion.


TV Oh Koquillion.

You might look like some kind of all purpose wheel replacement device sold at Halfords, but you're also the best monster in Doctor Who history.

Which is why it's a shame that you're not included in the new BBC Books publication The Monster Vault and indeed your lack of presence is a massive spoiler for your source story to anyone who hasn't seen it.  

How I wish you'd been given the full page painting and voluminous text treatment anyway to give old school fans a wry smile and to double the surprise for newbies taking the pilgrimage for the first time.

But I understand why.  Such projects already have a limited enough pagination and to go all that trouble for an inaccurate wheeze doesn't really make sense.

So by way of a replacement, here's an explanation as to why you're my favourite monster, lightly edited for its third appearance on this blog.

Across its two episodes, the otherwise unassuming 1964 adventure The Rescue was responsible for a number of firsts for Doctor Who.

The first introduction to a replacement companion, the Doctor’s grand daughter Susan having been left behind in the wake of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth the week before.

The first episode to appear in the top ten most-watched programmes of the week, which really is quite something when you consider this was at the height of Dalekmania.

The first planet visited by the Doctor that he’s claimed to have visited before. Apart from Earth.

The first occasion the Doctor explains how the TARDIS moves. We’re told for the first time that it doesn’t just land, it “materialises”.

Which isn’t bad considering its overall fan appreciation status. In Doctor Who Magazine’s 2009 survey, The Rescue came 127th.

Which is odd considering it contains one of the show’s best monsters and an amazing twist, which I’m about to give away so I’d urge you to look away now if you haven’t seen it yet. Yes, this is a spoiler alert for a 60s story.

He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not (Time Lord Victorious).

Audio  Judging by the added content, the fact this even exists is a miracle.  Recorded during lockdown with all of the actors in isolation, it's to their credit and Scott Handcock the director that it didn't once occur to me that this wasn't all created during a typical Big Finish recording day on either side of a massive lunch.  The logistics of this are mind-boggling, especially when characters who're supposed to be in love are emitting such chemistry.  

With Brian the Assassin Ood from The Knight, The Fool and the Dead also in this new Big Finish series we're clearly on the road to explaining why the Eighth Doctor cropped up at the end of that novel, with the current Ninth Doctor strip in the parish circular setting up his side of that reveal.  Having originally been a bit skeptical of this whole endeavor as a mild case of franchise hubris, the ingenuity of exec producer James Goss and his umbrella story has sucked me in.

Carrie Thompson's script is also incredibly strong.  The Doctor, perhaps still hiding from the Time War, can't seem to be able to land in any of this old haunts and when he finally ends up in what he thinks is going to be a beautiful tourist attraction, it turns out to be a dust bowl, populated by the tropes of a spaghetti western.  Cast as the man with no name he stumbles into town to try and save a couple of the run from their home and Brian's murderous orders to kill one and kidnap the other.

Comparisons with A Town Called Mercy are inevitable, although the Doctor is on a much clearer moral foundation and even specifically says he doesn't like guns which delights the younger version of me.  The parallel story adds depth.  Has the Tenth Doctor somehow changed history and Eighth is experiencing the ramifications?  How does that effect the Time War?  See what I mean?  I'm fully on board now.  I might even end up buying the Titan comics.

Placement: Before The Knight, The Fool and the Dead.

The Knight, The Fool and the Dead (Time Lord Victorious).

Books As many of you will know, Time Lord Victorious is a cross-platform Doctor Who festival spread across various ranges and licencees. In essence it's the Eighth Doctor era but with a more cohesive structure and narrative thronds weaving in and out various audios, books and comics. Individually they're supposed to make sense but the user gains a richer experience from listening and reading it all.

Steve Cole's novels seems to be at the epicentre.  In the aftermath of The Waters of Mars, the Tenth Doctor runs from his mistakes into the Dark Times and discovers a race of beings, the Kotturoh are travelling the galaxy rewriting the DNA of other races to some master plan, potentially being the source of the very concept of death as its expressed in the Doctor's own time.  He decides to stop them.

From the beginning we can tell that something has broken inside the Doctor, that without anyone to stop him, his usual benevolence has become infected by malignancy.  He's sharper, more cantankerous, less patient and more than ever willing to trying to bend reality to his will if he believes its for the good of the cosmos and damn free will.  In his head, the ends justify the means.

He's become the kind of figure that David Collings inhabited in the Big Finish Unbound story Full Fathom Five.  Still the Doctor, but something is off and we can only imagine how Tennant would have played it, this whole portion of his life having almost been skipped over on screen ten years ago.  So it's quite a bold step to make it the premise of a story which is ostensibly for children.

The Eighth Doctor's participation is limited to a flashback interlude perhaps set during the Big Finish strand of stories (I presume, I'm saving them) then a huge, barnstorming appearance at the end.  Judging by his costuming on the cover of this book's sequel (coming soon!), it's his Time War iteration so he's traveled from one universe wide wave of destruction to participate in another.  Busy life.

Steve Cole was series editor during Eighth's formative prose years and it's a pleasure to see him write the character again, coming across as a more meditative soul than his counterpart from four incarnations hence.  He's more clearly defined here and closer to his Big Finish counterpart than in some of the short stories of recent years, which just demonstrates the co-ordination at play across this whole project.

Placement: Just before the first Big Finish Time War series?

Molly Haskell on Women.

Film  After seeing a recommendation on the brilliant Be Kind Rewind YouTube channel my latest read is From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by the film theorist and critic Molly Haskell.  Haskell's best known for defining the "women's film" genre and this book is laser focused on not just how female characters developed but also how Hollywood abused the actresses playing them.

It's early days, we're still getting to know each other, but the first twenty pages are devastatingly good.  There's a passage in which she talks about how male critics tend to give films a pass if they fancy the actress and pages pretty much burn as you read them.  After lengthy quotes from Otis Ferguson's lubidinous prose about Margaret Sullivan, she takes aim at some of her other colleagues:
"For James Agee, it was after croaky-voiced actress, June Allyson, who could turn routine movies into musicals and musicals into masterpieces -- momentarily.  To Ferhuson's and Agee's crushes (which he shares), Andrew Sarris adds a passion for Vivien Leigh which led him to see That Hamilton Woman eighty-five times.  Vincent Canby has been known to make considerable allowances for the performances of Candice Bergen ..."
And so it goes on.  Andrew Sarris (who helped develop auteur theory) incidentally was her then husband, they'd been married for five years and this is just the sort of insight you might expect from someone who's seen a particular film just too many times.

But the best paragraph so far is on the second page and defines the work which Haskell is committing to.  It's quite long but worth repeating especially in the light of the current and past presidential elections and the treatment of female candidates by the media and opposition party.  
"The prejudice against women is no less pernicious because it is based on a fallacy.  Indeed, to have sanction by law and custom a judgement that goes against our instincts is the cornerstone of bad faith on which monuments of misunderstanding have erected.  We can see that women live longer than men, give birth and endure pain bravely; yet they are the "weaker sex."  They can read and write as well as men -- are actually more verbal according to aptitude tests.  And they are encouraged to pursue advanced education as long as they don't forget their paramount destiny to marry and become mothers, an injunction that effectively dilutes intellectual concentration and discourages ambition.  Women are not "real women" unless they marry and bear children, and even those without the inclination are often pressured into motherhood and just as often make a mess of it.  The inequity is perpetuated as women transmit their sense of incompleteness to their daughters.  But men, too, are victimized by the lie.  Secretly they must wonder how they came to be entitled to their sense of superiority if it to these "inferior" creature to home they owe the debt of their existence.  And defensively, they may feel "emasculated" by any show of strength or word of criticism from their nominal dependents."
That was written in 1973 and some of the language has dated.  But glass ceilings still exist.  Some women's careers still take a hit if they decide to have a family, perhaps even giving up their employment, their spouses still inoculated against such things.  Pay parity is still being fought for.  Fifty years on, the white male voice still feels loudest.  Especially in cinema.

Taylor Swift endorses Joe Biden. Properly this time.

Politics   Back on election day 2016, Taylor Swift posted a photograph of herself voting but despite the implications of the sweater she was wearing it wasn't until after election day that it was confirmed that she had voted for Hilary Clinton.  

In the documentary Miss Americana, we see the back and forth with her management over how political she should be with Taylor clearly very angry that she'd essentially been muzzled by nervous men not wanting have her image tarnished with right wing fans (even though her silence had led a whole lot of racists to believe she was on their side).

It's been a long four years on this occasion time, Taylor isn't being subtle about it:

The article in the magazine or at least what must be a preview of it is on their website and she says pretty much what we're all thinking.  We need this to stop.

How are we all?

Life One of the key blogging rules from back in the day was never to apologise for not posting for extended periods, just to blog. Which is correct, of course, so instead, I'll simply offer an explanation.  What with one thing and another, I haven't felt the ability or need to write anything here, which has been a problem for a good couple of years but has been exacerbated more recently by the slow apocalypse and my own slightly fragile demeanor.  One of the key elements of anxiety is fear and folks, I've been very, very frightened.  Petrified in fact.

This came to a head on Monday in the local Spar shop on a garage forecourt.  Regular Twitter readers will know I've been conducting something of a survey of the supermarkets in the area, trying to find somewhere close and safe so I can buy Mum her Liverpool Echo.  Up until last week, we were getting it delivered and because we live in a tower block that meant the flat's intercom ringing at any time between three and five in the morning.  After six months, not getting a full night's sleep was beginning to have adverse emotional effects.

Crazily this Spar seemed like the best option.  Although its small and the staff don't wear masks, there are plastic screens at the counter and the geography of the isles mean its possible to ditch along them if someone comes into the place not wearing a mask either, which happens frequently because for the most part its drivers paying for their petrol who can't be bothered keeping everyone else safe for the brief time they're in the shop.  Plus it has a large selection of groceries which is incredibly handy in such close proximity to home.

But all along I've never really felt properly safe in there, but put it down to not actually feeling safe anywhere outside my own home.  Each shopping trip has felt like being a strategy game, having to navigate social distancing from people who don't really care about such things.  Having to be constantly vigilant is tiring as is the feeling of being the only person taking all of this seriously even as the number of cases in Liverpool increases, feeling sometimes as though I'm being unnecessarily paranoid even though all evidence is to the contrary.

Anyway, back to Monday.  Having waited long enough for the maskless to dissipate from the queuing area, I stood in line on the spot designated on the floor by a large circle with the Spar logo on it.  Within moments a young man, earlier twenties. stands just a foot or two behind me.  Already a bit wound up by the sheer bigness of things, I turn to him and ask him to step back and make some distance.  He refuses, saying that he is distanced.  Which.  He.  Isn't.  

"Plus" I say, "You're not wearing a mask." 

He isn't but I don't know why I added this, because he knew full well.  At this point it's a choice not to.  Asking someone to wear a mask has apparently become a huge deal - people don't like being told what to do by total strangers even if it's in their mutual best interest, even though by not wearing a mask they could be giving me a deadly, airborne disease.

"You don't have to...!" He screams back.

I'm seething.  I'm next in the queue so I walk forward and plonk the newspaper and lolly ices I'm buying on the counter.  Meanwhile I can hear the man talking to someone else, "That nob head telling me to wear a mask."  The person he's talking to is wearing a face covering by the way.  They're inches away from each other.

I turn my head slightly.

"Because it's mandatory to wear masks in shops!" I yell.

"No one asked for your opinion." He hollers back.

It's not an opinion, I want to tell him, it's a fact, but think better of it.  My heart is pumping in my chest and I just want to get out of there.  After months of keeping my mouth shut, the damn has burst and I've become the person I didn't want to be.  For all I knew, there could be reasons why he personally couldn't wear a mask and Ive added to his nightmare.  Perhaps I should be posting this to Reddit.

After paying, I turn to look around and notice again the small size of the premises, how few people are wearing masks or social distancing and I realise I've been deluding myself, making excuses against reality.  This place really isn't a safe place to shop.  Nowhere is, unless everyone is following the rules.  There's always a chance of something going wrong, of spending just a little bit too much time breathing the same air as an undiagnosed super-spreader not wearing a mask.

When I was being signed off from the telephone CBT I received at the start of the lockdown, the psychologist said that she didn't really have anything to teach me because I already had most of the elements of knowing how to deal with the anxiety locked in, especially how to "solve" those problems which were causing me to tip over, but also how to do that in such a way that it doesn't stop being from gladding about.

This virus has rather changed that.  In this case, one of the ways to stop myself to becoming overwhelmed is to shop online and top visiting supermarkets, even small ones.  We did right the way through proper lockdown, but the ability to visit somewhere and choose things off the shelves offered a sense of normality when there's no such thing as normality right now.  The attitudes of others make that impossible.

Now I've found a couple of newsagents were the staff do wear masks and there's perspex shielding all around the till area, limit customers and who take card payments. It's still a risk, but a small one and we've agreed that's better than not having a full night's sleep ever.  Not to mention that it forces me to go out at least once a day and breath some fresh air, as best I can through the mask.

The other reason I haven't updated much is Blogger's horrible new interface which somehow makes the process of updating the blog a more laborious process.  For a few weeks the "legacy" interface was still available through a hidden URL but that loophole has been blocked and it now redirects to this supposedly tablet friendly nightmare which hates HTML.  Let's see if I can get this to post.  Stay safe.

The Secret History of Writing.

History The Secret History of Writing is currently on the iPlayer (although the first episode drops off in a fortnight). Across three episodes it describes the development of written language from symbolic to alpha numeric characters, the development of how those letters are captured on paper and in printing and finally how roman characters are slowly conquering the world. 

Typical of the show's casual revelations is why we call the edge of the book its spine.  This dates back to the original utility of vellum.  In the series we see the scraping and stretching process on the cow hide but despite the craftsman's work, anatomical features of the animal's carcass can still be seen on the surface including the spine of the animal.  It's at this point the pages are folded and hence the name we still use.

The Nineteenth Book I've Read This Year.

Books The author of numerous much thicker books about Agincourt offers a quick but dense survey of Henry V's life, referring only briefly to Shakespeare when necessary to debunk some of the outrageous myths. The general sense is that as with most of his "history" plays, Shakespeare concertinaed events for dramatic purposes, with the wedding to Catherine happening some time after the key battle rather than as though she was simply a prize for his victory.  But overall in following the distillations of the same chronicles which are still the bedrock of historical research into Henry V, Shakespeare's play is more accurate than some of his other works.

Virtual Exhibition of restored elements of Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece.

Art  Free 360 version of the show at The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent with versions in English for Adults and Children (which is presented in the first person from an actor playing the painter).  The exhibition starts here.A couple of comments.
  • When you magnify an item, it appears in the aspect ration of the item not matter the shape which means when you zoom in, it's within that window, which can be tricky to look at.  
  • Also the tour includes the audio guide which suggests you press an A button for more detail.  Except that would be on the physical guide machine and isn't available virtually.
Other than that it's an excellent way of seeing an exhibition which most of us wouldn't otherwise have access to.  

There's also this curator's tour available:

What could happen during the Interregnum?

 Politics   This long read from The Atlantic outline the scary scenarios of what might happen after the US election now that we know that the current POTUS isn't interested in a peaceful transition of power:
"There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path."
Between COVID-19, the no-deal Brexit and this, the three month between the end of November and January are going to put Western civilisation at a precipice politically and economically and I don't know if any of us are properly prepared for it.

Polls. Polls. Polls.



Politics You will have seen perhaps that the Radio Times has published the results of a poll amongst Doctor Who fans as to who their favourite incarnations are. I'm on the fence as to whether this a good use of polling or bad use of polling since it didn't include everyone ignoring Jo and John because they aren't “actors who canonically held the role as the incumbent Doctor at one time or another”. But to be fair, there have to be limits. Where do you end? The Morbius incarnations would add at least another six and what can we say about them? 

Anyway, let's look at the topline numbers: 

 1. David Tennant 10518 / 21% 
2. Jodie Whittaker 10423 / 21% 
3. Peter Capaldi 8897 / 18% 
4. Matt Smith 7637 / 16% 
5. Tom Baker 3977 / 8% 
6. William Hartnell 1983 / 4% 
7. Paul McGann 1427 / 3% 
8. Christopher Eccleston 1144 / 2% 
9. Jon Pertwee 1038 / 2% 
10. Patrick Troughton 915 / 2% 
11. Sylvester McCoy 462 / 1% 
12. Colin Baker 359 / 1% 
13. Peter Davison 351 / 1% 

 Some comments: 

 (a) The most obvious change from similar polls in recent times is the emergence of Paul McGann in the mid-table because as The Guardian notes he has "also played the Doctor in an audio drama" which rather undersells how just how many boxed sets I've had to buy in the past few years in order to keep up with everything.  Yes, I know I'm behind with reviews, but with one thing and another, my mind has been elsewhere.  Night of the Doctor also has to be relevant -  it still has its semi-permanent berth on the iPlayer and probably turns up whenever viewers search for the rest of the show on there.

(b)  Davison at the bottom, which should please Colin, who is notoriously unhappy when he comes last in polls.  Just a few votes in it though.  All of the 80s incarnations are down there, which isn't easy to explain considering how much Big Finish material is pumped out for them.  Perhaps they would have done better with an alternative vote system.

(c)  William Hartnell's pleasingly high although I wonder how much of that is David Bradley transfer votes.

(d)  OK, yes, David above Jodie.  As Mark notes, Tennant has replaced Tom as the default Doctor which underscores just how popular the show was back then, by which I mean a decade ago.  The new Big Finish stuff will have helped, as well as the pre-publicity for upcoming Whovian arts festival Time Lord Victorious which puts David front and centre.  Plus he's the busiest actor on the list and rarely off the television in a variety of shows, so there's a constant reminder of just how good he is.

Do these polls mean anything?  Not really although the gap between Tennant and Davison is sure to come up at the next convention.  Find at the top Peter explaining what it was like to become David's father-in-law.

The Eighteeth Book I've Read This Year.

Books James Shapiro looks at key moments in the culture war still raging in the US and investigates how they were influenced by the canon. Much of it is hair raising. We discover that the abolitionist John Quincy Adams was incredibly queezy about Othello, a point which he expounded upon to Fanny Kemble, sister of Richard, at a dinner party, day (to paraphrase) that Desdemona got what she deserved for marrying an "n-word". That Ulysses S Grant almost went on stage as Desdemona in his younger days. How anti-English sentiment caused riots during a production of Macbeth in New York. That John Wilkes Booth believed himself to be a modern Brutus when he assassinated Lincoln who himself used to spend hours quoting a discussing Shakespeare with anyone who'd listen. There are also fascinating chapters about the making of Kiss Me Kate and Shakespeare in Love, rounding out with an essay about what happened when the assassination of Caesar in the Trump inflected Shakespeare in the Park production went viral (Shapiro worked as an advisor).  Marvellous stuff.

Does it Spark Joy?



Film If the lock down has taught me anything (a hundred and sixty eight days folks) (the furthest I've been since March is the top of Hardman Street), it's that I'll never see every film ever made.  Having accepted that, what to do about selecting things when when you're quite happy to sit through anything and then have to choose what that anything might be?

How do I fight against, as the video above calls it, choice paralysis?

There have been strategies, oh have there been strategies.

Not watching anything with less than 70% on Rotten Tomatoes was a first attempt.  Except the corpus is so overwhelming old, white and male, there are plenty of films which they simply don't "get" which have fallen below the freshness threshold.  Noah Hawley's Lucy in the Sky currently enjoys a 21% from 123 reviews on there and it's really quite weird and extraordinary and has a brilliant understated central performance from Natalie Portman.  So that was ditched pretty swiftly.

Then there was working through various lists, but inevitably meant that I missed out on newer releases.

Eventually, I've ended up with a rather systematic approach which allows some flexibility but also stops me from flailing around trying to decided what to watch next. 

The following does look very involved and it is to the extent that you might wonder why I don't just use that time actually watching films.  But again, this is infinitely better than choice paralysis and doesn't involve "lowering your expectations" as the video upside offers as a solution, which just seems like admitting defeat.

Let's use some bullet headings.

(1)  Only films reviewed in Sight and Sound or Empire Magazine in their main review sections.  That means that in the main they'll be theatrical releases, although it leaves some flexibility for prominent streaming releases.

(1a)  Apart from anything I've bought and haven't gotten around to watching yet.

(2)  A year at a time.  At the moment, I'm working through 2020 and when that's completed it'll be 2019, things missed and rewatching anything which I'd like to see again.

(3)  Only in high definition unless there's no other choice.  This seems pretty arbitrary, but I'd rather wait to see a film in its best possible picture and sound quality, even if that's streaming than through the standard definition haze of a DVD copy gifted to it on home release, which even with upscaling-on-the-fly (and sometimes because of it) looks less than optimal on my large flatscreen television.  That's unless there's absolutely no other way, of course.  I still have some films on VHS which haven't appeared on any format since.

(4)  Does it spark joy?   This is the newest step but I'm finally taking a Marie Kondo approach to films.  For the most part this takes the form of these yes and not lists.

Yes list:
Sci-fi / Fantasy / Horror
Period piece
Set in a major metropolitan area
Features an actor I like
Made by a director I like
Female led

Not list:
About someone dying from a disease
Has death of a parent as a motivating factor
About poverty and degradation
Mental illness and disability
Mafia / gangsters

There's a lot of soul searching and honesty in there, especially the not list which as you can see is mostly about trying not to see films which are likely to swing my mood downwards.  

On the one hand this makes me seem and even feel weak and prejudicial, but on the other, in order so that I can be there for my loved one, I need to take care of myself.  Perhaps this could have simply been listed as "depressing topics" but pinning it down like this means I have to face up to the reality of choosing not to watch these kinds of film.

The last point is simply because I'm tired of watching antagonists with non-redemptive story arcs.  

Of course there are exceptions both ways.  These are just guidelines.  They're open to change.

The upshot is that more than ever, I'm having to think about the films I'm watching to the point that I've made special justification field on the database I'm using as a universal watchlist.  You knew there'd be a database.  There's always a database.  Here are the films I currently have access to which I'm intending to see before I head off back into 2019 with the reasons why:



As you can imagine, that list used to be much longer, but if I couldn't type anything in that "spark joy" box, even after it had been filtered through the yes/not lists then it went.  "Hollywood" as a keyword seems like it could be used a broad excuse for watching crap and you'd be right.

Having read that back through it does also seem a bit "extra".  But I assume that these are the kinds of mental processes most people go through when choosing a film and that all I've done is put them down on paper.  Or at least that's what I'll keep telling myself.

Almost Hamlet:
Ophelia (2018).



Film When this adaptation of Lisa Klein's novel was announced in 2016, it seemed initially like something of an outlier given that the cycle of Shakespeare related movies ended not long into the new century. But given the strengthening of the lead character's arc, it of course fits more properly the cycle of YA adaptations, a period take on the likes of Twilight, The Hunger Games and the Hermione Granger franchises.  This is Ophelia as self-actualised woman and a reframing of the play's revenge plot as an allegory on the destructiveness of toxic masculinity.

The film opens with a ten-year-old Ophelia joining Hamlet Snr’s court and becoming a maid in Gertrude’s household, moving up the ranks as a lady in waiting. From a young age she’s desperate to read Ovid and though she’s informed that she won’t get anywhere with men if they think she’s more intelligent than they are, it’s precisely her wit which leads to her gaining Hamlet’s attraction, the one thing which sets her apart from her bitchy court rival Cristina. Slowly events edge towards the action of Shakespeare’s play but it's quickly apparent that not everything will be as it seems.

Director Claire McCarthy and screenwriter Semi Chellis keep very close to the book (which I reviewed here).  As there, the events of the play are for the most part kept off screen, although like the book, Ophelia often hides behind tapestries and around corners so that she can witness plot points which will pertain to her own story arc, keeping everything from her point of view.  But unlike a Tom Stoppard play, they're not simply filling in the gaps or presenting parallel action, the events of the play are significantly rewritten with new characters introduced and motivations disambiguated.

As Ophelia says in her opening narration, ".. it is high time I should tell you my story, myself" which implies in this version of Elsinore, when Horatio was called upon to tell Hamlet's story, he filled in the blanks with wild stories of ghosts, portraying his friend as the hero and sidelining the female participants, who in Ophelia's case is the one to tell Hamlet, soto voce in the "nunnery" scene about his uncle's murderous betrayal.  Tonally, it's also very post-Game of Thrones retelling with Gertrude given a touch of the Cersei Lannisters which Naomi Watts clearly relishes. 

Although the novel was more generally influenced by fashions and furnishings of the late-Victorian or early Edwardian painters, the author featuring an image from W.G. Simmonds's The Drowning of Ophelia on her website, the film is instead set in world straight out of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, the opening with a recreation of Millais' Ophelia, Daisy Ridley floating serenely on the surface of the water after violently poising herself.  Ridley sports bright red Rossetti hair, and some frames seem designed to replicate a Burne Jones, Holman Hunt or most often Waterhouse's  paintings.

As with the novel, the film is perhaps less comfortable when it has to directly recreate scenes from the play as the text has to be rewritten to accommodate the cod medieval idiom of the rest of the dialogue.  Dropping Shakespeare directly into these moments would have been clunkier, but listening to a rewrite of the most famous phrases in the English language is impossible without thinking about the originals.  Polonius's proverbs in particular suffer largely because the Shakespearean has itself has so richly shaped our language.

It's impossible to be po-faced about any of this.  Shakespeare didn't originate Hamlet, his was an iteration of a much older legend and although this is closer to his play, like The Prince of Jutland (the one where Christian Bale eats a tree), everything is up for grabs, these are just story points available to be shuffled around.  Anyone complaining that Shakespeare's text is tossed out of the window won't also have come to terms with the fact that Ophelia is a severely under female role, especially in comparison to other areas of the canon.

Not unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there is a slight element of sadness that there isn't also a straight production of Hamlet with this cast also in the world.  George MacKay catches the impulsive youthfulness of Hamlet which is often missing elsewhere, and Devon Terrell brings a real sense of warmth and friendship to Horatio.  But Ridley particular seems like she would really stand out even in a full production of the play, capturing Ophelia's passion, impulsiveness and intellect, traits so often missed by directors and casts who focus on the title character's struggle.

Heinz 57.



Food Genuinely the first occasion when I heard the phrase "Heinz 57" was in relation to a mongrel dog which a friend of a friend of the family owned when I was much, much younger. It's not until later, in a supermarket filled with products covered with the wording that I realised the connection and where the phrase originated.

 In an idle moment, I thought I'd check what those 57 varieties are.

Snopes suggests that there never were 57 varieties but that Henry Heinz saw an advert on the side of a train for a company offering 21 different types of shoe:
"... struck by the concept, and recognizing that catchiness and Heinz resonance were far more important qualities for a company slogan than literal accuracy, Heinz cast about for the perfect number to use for his own company’s version of the phrase. Settling on fifty-seven, Heinz soon put the number to work, and within a week the sign of the green Heinz pickle bearing the words “57 Varieties” was everywhere Heinz “could find a place to stick it.” He soon ordered the construction of a six-story, twelve-hundred-light display featuring a forty-foot pickle; installed at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 23rd Street in New York City, this electric marvel dazzled New York residents and tourists until 1906."
But this Wikipedia page randomly includes, without explanation, a section called 1934 cookbook products which lists what the 57 varieties might have been:
"Heinz Oven-Baked Beans – Pork and Tomato Sauce
Heinz Oven-Baked Beans – Pork no Tomato Sauce
Heinz Oven-Baked Beans – Tomato Sauce no Pork
Heinz Oven-Baked Red Kidney Beans
Heinz Cream of Asparagus Soup
Et cetera. Drilling down into the reference section reveals they're taken from the The Heinz Book of Meat Cookery, a photo of which can be seen on this ebay entry, presumably to add some authenticity to the claim.  Sadly most of those products are no longer in production.  Although as Snopes says, Heinz now produce over a thousand products, so you can pick and choose which once you'd like to include.

Which answers my question.  There never were just 57 Heinz varieties.  Except there were.  Sort of.

The Seventeenth Book I've Read This Year.

Books One of those books which is so readable there's a loss when it inevitably ends, especially since, having been published in 1982, it unavoidably misses out on covering another forty-years of history. More than simply the theatrical history of what appeared on stage, Sally Beauman's RSC: A History in Ten Decades instead investigates the origins of the RSC, from its original scrappy week long annual event to commemorate Shakespeare (which for years didn't even mount a production), through the building of its various venues, its many directors, the financial wrangling between the board of directors and then the arts council, the rivalry with the National Theatre and how its on stage fortunes have been dictated by critical and academic tastes.

Despite her own association with the company (at time of writing she'd been married to one of its key actors Alan Howard for ten years), Beauman is unafraid to editorialise on the shortcomings of its key players, the text is incredibly gossipy, and the architecture of the auditoriums.  At its peak, the RSC was running six or seven different performance spaces between Stratford and London with numerous seasons of plays and transfers and if nothing else, the book has helped me to understand the provenance of the various programmes I've been collecting lately.  The moment when the book stops, just on the eve of The Barbican opening feels like an extremely exciting time as the company's reputation had reached one of its many zeniths.

You can smell the spaces and rehearsal rooms.  When Trevor Nunn succeeded Peter Hall, he wanted to create a more professional almost monastic atmosphere and to that end replaced the stage cloth, the large sheet in the rehearsal room which represented the acting space.  Over the years it had become incredibly dirty and so it was ripped out and replaced with a brand new, bright white fabric and the rule was that it had to remain that way, whatever the cost, smoking, food, drink and shoes banned from the space and it remained that way through all of his rehearsals.  Then John Barton took over to rehearse his Twelfth Night and when Nunn returned afterward the sheet was as dirty and filled with cigarette burns as its predecessor.  He realised that some things couldn't be changed.

What Is A Weblog? A Proposal.

Life Just over, my god, fifteen years ago, a friend introduced me to a book publishers who were looking for someone to write an introduction to weblogs.  The remit from them wasn't very well defined so although on reflection they might have been looking for more of a "how to" book, I offered a general overview of the, urk, blogosphere of that moment with interviews and anecdotes.

For years I've thought that just the short proposal had survived, which was already posted here back in 2016, but in the process of sorting through my hard drives, I've found the complete document, with overview, chapter breakdown and complete first chapter.  I haven't looked at this in years obviously, but still below in all of its unvarnished glory.

Obviously, it's a full on Proustion nostalgia serum injected directly into the veins. For all of us who try to intermittently keep things going, this whole world has gone now. Almost all of the blogs listed have gone, many years past either because the writers got on with their lives or simply moved to another media, probably YouTube or Twitter. Seems fitting that I should put it up here, just a year off this blog's twentieth birthday.

A chronological list of available Royal Shakespeare Company productions and where to watch them.



Theatre is ephemeral.  Records often exist. There will be programmes. Costumes kept in archives along with photographs, annotated scripts, director's notes.  But outside of the publication of the text, it's mostly fleeting, an experience between actors and audiences which mostly lives on in the memories of participants, for better or worse.

Some productions survive.  Quite often they'll be recorded by the company or theatre either on audio or video, usually with a camera filming the whole stage from a fixed point, available for future academics and practitioners to view at the theatre or connected building.  The National Video Archive of Performance contains plenty of those.

Increasingly, though, national theatres including the National Theatre are filming their productions for a commercial audience, either through cinema projection or DVD release or both.  During the lockdown many of these recordings have been made available for free or a small donation and there are now streaming subscription services containing dozens of past shows.

Britbox have recently made twenty-five of the recent RSC Live presentations available alongside their television archive for £5.99 a month and I thought it would be useful or interesting to watch them in their original seasons and recreate the thematic connections, the experience of turning up in Stratford-Upon-Avon and looking at the poster outside.  Which necessitated making a list.

Then I wondered what other Shakespeare productions across the years are available in some form or other, outside of their archived audio or video, whole shows and also excerpts either in compilation releases or television documentaries.  How much of the RSC's bard history is available to the general public either filmed in theatre or reproduced in a studio setting?

Plenty and not much.  As you'll see, from this chronology I've created over the past week, people with academic credentials have access to a number of mid-twentieth century productions recorded for BBC television through Box of Broadcasts (and the BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource).  Outside of that there are a few other similar studio bound reproductions, usually starring Sir Ian McKellen.

There are also excerpts, snatches of productions or whole acts and the sources for these are included below (records or documentaries), although I've excluded the particular Act or Scene numbers to keep the list relatively simple to read, but that's usually a click away.  The link in each title will take you to a production profile which may contain photographs.

Where possible I've also linked to somewhere you can actually watch or see these plays, either right then or through subscriptions and purchases.  There is further archive material on the RSC website, the Birthplace Trust archive (which was invaluable in compiling this list), the RSC's YouTube channel begun in 2010 and the exhibition pages at Google Arts & Culture.

A Thousand Observations on Film Art.

Film The utterly superb, Observations on film art, by film theorists Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell has reached its thousandth post. Authors of Film Art: An Introduction, the book which helped shepherd me through university and especially my dissertation, they began writing digitally in order to provide an adjunct to the limited page limit of the book. But it also allowed them to apply the principles to new releases.  The blog has since gone on to encompass all aspects of film culture, with festival reviews and offer annual reviews of films released a century ago.

Is Taylor Swift gay?



Music As I let the new Swift album roll over me in waves, I've been seeking wild interpretations of the lyrics. Come on board this Vulture deep dive into into the song betty and what Taylor might be saying about herself (sorry about the pure click bate in the title, Twitter clickers). As with the best conspiracy theories / literary criticism, there's plenty in here which seems plausible and even a mike-drop moment in relation to Karlie Kloss.  Is it true?  Perhaps like Shakespeare's "sonnets", we'll never truly know, and that's ok.  It's not really any of our business.
[Related: The Untold Story of Rebekah Harkness, the source for "the last great american dynasty"]

Dan Martin RIP.

TV The NME reports that journalist and screenwriter Dan Martin has died, he was 41. The cause of death has not been made public. That NME article demonstrates how much he was adored in the music community, but it's weekly Doctor Who review in The Guardian for which I knew him best, which he began writing at the start of the Matt Smith era in 2010 and although I didn't agree with everything he wrote, because what would be the point if we all thought the same thing, his was always the review I went to first after completing my own screed to see what I'd missed.  As Anna says of her self, he was an important part of my love for Doctor Who.  He also wrote this survey of the wreckage surrounding Torchwood's Miracle Day, which is all to the good.

"Oh I won't have it. I'm going to fight it until the bitter end."

TV BBC Archive has posted another massive collection of clips, Eccentrics, enthusiasts and other characters, featuring the kinds of people who these days are setting fire to 5G masts and holding rallies against not wearing a mask in a shop. The title quote is from a blanketed deerstalker who's dead against lamp posts, bless him. Or how about from when Panorama was more like The One Show directed by Bela Tarr, as a farther and son craftsmen discuss the various economic merits of the busts they manufacture.

Death of a Fandom.



TV Yes, I know Taylor Beyonced an album last night (or Faux Beyonce since there were only lyric videos and it was announced a few hours before), but I've only just noticed Jenny Nicholson posted one of her rare videos three days ago and been watching that instead (folklore will come later). In The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy, Jenny defenestrations the My Little Pony fandom, from its weird origins, to its psycho-sexual elements and its downfall in a way which makes it palatable and relatable for outsiders.

As a member of another fandom or two, there's plenty in here which feels incredibly similar: about entryism into an existing fandom; the toxicity of gatekeeping; the weirder excesses of fandoms of fandoms and the hierarchies; bad faith outsiders trying to make a profit from the fandom; licensees misunderstanding the origins of the fandom and what makes it tick and how the actual reason the fandom exists, the product itself, becomes buried or besides the point in the face of point scoring or internal grudges.

Due to the origins of Bronyism and the kinds of people it attracted, even posting this video feels like an act of bravery, especially considering some of the revelations within in which she talks about how she's added to the toxicity herself. But the comments underneath, some four thousand so far, are overwhelming positive and questioning and hopeful. If nothing else, some of it indirectly explains why Equestria Girls exists and you'll never look at a body pillow in the same way again.

The tricks to make yourself effortlessly charming.

Life This old BBC article from 2017 bubbled up to the surface of my pocket recommendations and although some of it feels like hogwash, I did find myself nodding along with swathes. The key problem I've seen is when your attempts at charm click over into creepiness. When someone is asking just too many questions and getting just a little bit too close, causing your skin to crawl.  Although that's obviously become less of a problem lately.
[Related: ‘Remember to smile with your eyes’: how to stay safe and look great in a face mask.]

Emojipedia.

Social Media The Empojipedia is a Rosetta stone of digital symbolic communication, showing how various software companies has bent their house style around various emojis. For things like "grinning face" the variations aren't too huge, but the more complex the picture being communication, the greater the variance. This array of unicorns. These athletes. A housing estate.

Drawing speed.



Art Local Liverpool artist Colette Lilley has opened a YouTube channel to showcase her skills through time-lapse photography. Her introductory video is above and you can visit the channel here.  Incredible.

"Who is the most-famous person you have a photo with?"

Life This tweet meme has been knocking around for a few days and I haven't had an answer. As a rule, I've tended to avoid meeting people of note on the basis that I like not knowing if they're a div or not. It's one of the reasons I've also sworn off Doctor Who conventions and watching most celebrity interviews unless they're on-point.

There is a shot from Speke Carnival in the late 70s of the baby version of me and Buzby, British Telecom's big yellow marketing bird, but that probably doesn't count, but the closest I could think of is this, taken by a security guard at the BBC's New Broadcasting House a couple of years ago when you could still just wander into reception off the street:



The t-shirt was entirely coincidental.  Does an inanimate object count if its portrayed as being somewhat sentient in a television programme?  Probably not, but at least it can't disappoint you in real life.

"Why couldn't it be that day?"

Film 'The world is in a state of turmoil': why time-loop movies resonate in 2020. Short piece from The Guardian about how time loop movies resonate in the current situation, which talks the screenwriters and directors of all the greats, like Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day and See You Tomorrow. When I first brought an Alexa, I set it to wake me up with I've Got You Babe. That stopped being funny relatively quickly.

Richard II in New York.

Theatre Because Shakespeare in the Park is cancelled this year, WNYC in New Tork have recorded a radio version and it's available to download here. Cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Merritt Janson and Phylicia Rashad.

Romola on Directing.



Film It would be remiss of me not to notice that while Romola Garai waits to play the fourteenth Doctor (or whatever - who knows how many incarnations there have been at this point), she's been directing a horror film, the really creepy trailer for which is above. Here's a short interview with Romola about directing with a "you don't look like the type who's into horror films" guy:



The film was at Sundance, so there are plenty of interviews and panels around.







Leonard Maltin!

Also a few written interviews:

Sundance 2020 Interview: Romola Garai on the Horrors You Can’t Shake with “Amulet”

‘Amulet’ Filmmakers Reveal the Secrets of Blood Effects: You Blow Into a Tube

‘Amulet’ Helmer Romola Garai Was Inspired By The Move Of “Female Filmmakers Into The Genre Space” – Sundance Studio

Sundance 2020 Women Directors: Meet Romola Garai – “Amulet”

From Dirty Dancing 2 To Director — Romola Garai’s Horror Movie Is Headed To Sundance

Eye roll on the final headline.  Not that I'm watching or reading any of them right now - I'll wait until after I've seen the thing.  But wow, this is really quite something.

Be Kind Rewind.



Video  Few YouTube channels come nicher than Be Kind Rewind which investigates the winners of the best actress categories at the Oscars, using this moment of success to talk about the film making business at that time, why the particular actress may have won that award, gender politics and race and a whole lot more besides.

BKR only posts once a month. These are authored, researched essays.  But I've learnt more about film history from these videos than many other sources.  Plus its great for seeing clips of films which time has forgotten.  Her most recent video is the longest yet, about the "feud" between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, debunking Ryan Murphy's tv series as a sham and lies.