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.]


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.

The Sixteenth Book I've Read This Year.

Books Mark Kermode recommended this after an interview on the film review show when all Richard Dreyfus wanted to talk about was what a shit Michael Cimino had been rather than publicise his new release.  It's stunning a stunning memoir covering the production of all the films on the cover plus Convoy, The Wicker Man and The Man Who Fell To Earth.  Not just a string of showbiz annecdotes (all of which are incredibly funny and illuminating), it demonstrates in detail the role of the producer in putting together packages to sell to studios and working on set day-to-day to keep the production moving on budget and schedule.  Essential.

Ebi Obegbuna's Wind Verses Polygamy.

TV Earl Cameron and a lost play. John Wyver writes extensively about the lost recording of writer Ebi Obegbuna's play Wind Verses Polygamy.  I wonder at what point our cultural attitude to television changed from it being thought of as being just as ephemeral as theatre because it was rarely repeated and being disgusted that such items are no longer available in the archive.  When the BBC began its retention policy?  When the first domestic VHS recorders were produced?  The first commercial video tapes making some of this material available and therefore leading us to wonder what could be made available?

Thandie Newton on everything.

Film In Conversation: Thandie Newton.  Astonishingly frank interview in which she describes what was tantamount to abuse on the set of Crash, being fucked around by the racist producer of Rogue and bow she nearly had the Lucy Liu role in Charlie's Angels but the producers wanted her to be more stereo-typically "African-American".

Rethinking the Film Canon.

Film 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.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.

Language Watching the above episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man I discovered just how offensive to some the term "African American" can be. It's used as a blanket description for those who also may have their heritage elsewhere, such as the Caribbean and those who don't identify with being African because that heritage was stripped from them because of slavery. But I also see that it's a way of "othering" because White people in the US are rarely referred to as Euro-American, for example.  In news and police reports, suspects are often called White or African American, which is ridiculous.  So the least offensive term is Black, which seems to be what we use in the UK now for the most part.

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.


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

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.

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].

New York on Film
in Chronological Order.


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?


(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.