Sunday, December 30, 2007

Good Dog-Days

Back in London the late-December virus ran its course and abated just in time for the arrival of the Delightful LA Actress. Over here as a birthday treat for her daughter, who had brought a pal, their welcome presence certainly brightened the year’s end.

We met up at the Victoria and Albert Museum just after they had been around The Golden Age of Couture exhibition. Shamefully, I haven’t been to the V&A since my days at The Esteemed School of Art, and had forgotten just how beautiful the building was, let alone the exhibits.

After a leisurely lunch, the girls dragged us into Harrods to tear through the sale, oblivious of the murderous exchange rate. While the DLAA shook her head in weary acceptance, experienced at the negotiations that would soon take place, I couldn’t help grinning at watching a pair of Californian teenagers in their element.

Back at their hotel, I had to break the news to the birthday girl that there probably wasn’t going to be any way she could get into a pub or club for New Year’s Eve unless she had brought fake ID. To soften the blow I got her a Lemon Drop in the bar – which I don’t think her mom was really that thrilled about – and then took them out to YO! Sushi.

Apart from seeing a friendly face at last, the day out made me look at the city through a tourist’s eye, whether it was the sheer beauty of Sir Reginald Blomfield’s County Fire Office, illuminated as darkness fell or the novelty of food passing back and forth along the counter on a conveyor belt.

Suddenly the city wasn’t the concrete leviathan that simply pounds everyone into submission on a daily basis. And the darling DLAA decided that I should write more.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

As Ideas Go...

Sparking up straight after leaving work on the Friday before the festivities, I decided it was as good a time as any to quit this nasty habit. It also seemed to be a good idea to knock the gaspers on the head as well.

Which meant that I left myself open to whatever sneaky little end-of-year viruses were going around. So this is what taking the healthy option gets you: hot and cold running flushes, the kind of sneezes that give you whiplash, plus all the associated achy aches and pains.

Still, it livened things up. I know I’d been pretty distracted of late. But looking back, I wondered if, during the past couple of weeks, I took a wallop to the noggin as well that rattled my brain around something rotten.

Something must have happened. Because it’s the only reason that I would have not only written something as daft as I finally want to spend time with family but actually headed down to the Westcountry for Christmas. I mean, what the fuck was I thinking?

It may be that after going our separate ways over a quarter of a century ago, we never quite managed to reconnect. At least, I didn’t. My sister seems to have integrated herself back into the familial unit.

As the turkey was being carved and bowls of vegetables were passed around, it didn’t seem the best time to ask if it was them or me who is to blame for the situation being the way it is. I think I try to make an effort, but it still leaves me feeling like a stranger amongst them, which is a shame.

I suppose it became pretty obvious that this year wasn’t going to be better than before when, holding the ladder for the old man so he could trim one of the trees in the garden, without warning a fucking great branch he had sawn through clocked me hard on the elbow on the way down.

Still, while I was down there it meant I could visit my aunt. Since I’d last been down, enough time had passed for the plot to settle so the marble headstone and surround my uncle had selected to finally be erected over her grave. It’s a shame that the one person who I want to answer back to me never does.

Anyway, having gone back for this Christmas, next year I get a pass. And I will be over the hills and far away.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Christmas!

There were a couple more posts I wanted to get in before the break. Maybe they’ll find there way here before the New Year, otherwise they’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime I’m off out of the city to get some fresh air, take some walks in the countryside and along the coast, and hopefully recharge my batteries. Then it’s back here for what may very well be the last roll of the dice. We’ll see.

So have a great Christmas. Sit back and relax. Or just go fucking wild if that’s what you want to do.

Once you’ve cleaned yourself up, see you back here sometime soon.

Until then... God bless us, every one! And that.

Just Five Words

There’s always the danger that, come the New Year, once the plug has been pulled on the bright and shiny of Christmas we’re left with the empty days of a cold and bleak January.

In need of a cheer-up, watch the teaser for The Wire Season 5. The drug trades may still read the corners and the next election may consume every politician, but it’s the next line that makes it:

And McNulty is drinking again.

The final season of the best drama on television is almost here! Bless you, little baby Jesus!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Came Early

The company Christmas party was this evening, which means that at least I won’t get people lingering at my desk, casually wondering why I wasn’t going to be there. The idiot assistant to the fire-breathing Head of Department was the last person to ask the question, late in the afternoon as I was downing the last of a neglected mug of coffee that had been stewing for the best part of two hours. I told her that I would rather eat my own feet that go.

Now that’s over and done with, all it leaves is Christmas itself. I remember Christmas being special. I remember, as a young kid sprawled out on the living room carpet playing with freshly unwrapped toys, lost in the moment. And the past few of weeks I’d been wondering where it all went. I suppose the magic went away with age.

Some years the house would be filled with aunts, uncles and cousins we hadn’t seen for ages. The fault line appeared when my parents left home. I’ve been trying to remember where I actually spent Christmas Day the years they were abroad, before they were allowed back into the country. For the life of me, I can’t think of where I was.

One Christmas I spent with The One That Got Away and her parents who took more of a shine to me than she ultimately did. Christmas in Burbank was great because it was different. Even though the traditional roast dinner didn’t seem the right thing to have in such hot weather, we had an entertaining time as the apartment filled up with ex-pat animators from Dreamworks and WBFA. The next day we went to Disneyland.

Back home there was a Christmas with relatives where I immediately came down with whatever was going around at the time, spending pretty much the whole holiday laid up in bed, sweating it out the system and reading my way through Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. Then, once my folks were back in the country, one year I went down with a young blonde lawyer I was seeing. Even though the house was big, the blonde was so vocal that we had to nip down to the beach in the late evenings for our trysts. Shame it was pebbles and not sand.

For a number of years since I’ve tried to find excuses to spend the time up in London, on my own. The last two Christmases, with everyone spending the day with my sister, her husband and their lad, were not exactly happy experiences. Mainly that was to do with what was going on in my life at the time.

The last couple of times I’ve travelled in to Central London on the weekend there were young kiddies getting on the bus, wowed by the who lead-up experience. One little girl was just happy to be on the top deck of a double-decker bus. Maybe I figured to try and see it all through their eyes.

Yesterday I sat down with the Head of Department to sort out my days off between now and the end of the year. The bitch hates me. It’s not just me, I should add. I try my best to be pleasant even though, really, there’s no point. With five holiday days to take, I gave her a list of dates about three weeks ago. Between then and yesterday she went around the rest of the staff finding out when they wanted off, leaving me with what was left.

When we sat down all I had in her book was tomorrow off so I could mean up with the usual crowd mid-afternoon for our Christmas drink. That was all I had. There was a long Sergio Leone moment where we just stared each other down. Finally she relented and gave me Christmas Eve off. Then, after a long silence she decided that if I worked New Year’s Eve, I could have the rest of the first week of January off for my troubles. The deal done, I later found out that when the head of Department is so angry with someone that she becomes incapable of speech and just stares at them. Obviously there are some things it’s better not to know going in.

Initially I had wanted this Friday off so I could head down to Devon for a pre-Christmas long weekend, then spend the day up here in London, cooking up a chili, playing Perfect Dark and maybe catching a few episodes of The Wire to avoid the vomit-inducing Doctor Who special. Pretty much like last year, in fact.

As the days went by I realised I actually wanted to go home for Christmas. This will be the first time in three years, I think. For a start, I really want a roast dinner. Overall, I finally want to spend time with family.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Looking Back

Down to the National Film Institute yesterday afternoon for the annual Missing Believed Wiped event, courtesy of Dick Fiddy, our very good friend at the BFI. Along with Steve Bryant, he has been charged with the unenviable task of co-ordinating the retrieval of the material deleted from the national television archives throughout the 1950s, 60s and even 70s.

Since its inception they have been carefully piecing programmes and series back together. Some elements are returned through private collectors or foreign channels that luckily held on to copies in their own archives, long after the original transmission dates. A portion of the material shown in Missing Believed Wiped’s first programme belonged to either actors or members of the production crew who had worked on the particular shows. A number were welcomed at the event to personally introduce their work to the audience.

Dance interludes from Spike Milligan’s 1969 series The World of Beachcomber were prefaced by a brief explanation by the then-Royal Ballet star Josephine Gordon who played the ballerina “Tumbleover” and had been presented with the material by the crew once filming was complete. Devoid of sound, they were screened with live piano accompaniment from Neil Brand. Mary Turner, a once puppeteer on the likes of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons before becoming a director, happily surrendered complete colour episodes of The Adventures of Rupert Bear which had been stored in her greenhouse over the years until she heard about the campaign.

Also included in the typically eclectic mix were surviving sketches from At Last the 1948 Show, a series that is still being painstakingly pieced back together, featuring a pre-The Goodies Tim Brooke Taylor, and pre-Monty Python John Cleese and Graham Chapman, followed by pre-Monty Python Michael Palin and Terry Jones in an intact Richard the Lionheart sketch from Complete and Utter History of Britain.

Along with an early-1960s routine from Morecambe and Wise, they provided more laughs than current television comedies can conjure up. Although nothing could match the frankly perplexing performance from Lonnie Donegan in an episode of It’s Lulu, singing an unusually enthusiastic of version of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides, Now while dancing around like he had a ferret dusted with itching powder stuffed down the back of his trousers.

Part one ended with a riotous performance from The Who on Top of the Pops. Transmitted in 1973, it naturally finished off with Pete Townsend trashing his guitar against the amp and then booting his way through Keith Moon’s drum kit. Strangely the drums were still playing on the soundtrack even after all the devastation.

After a short break, the second programme kicked off with Robert Beatty as Bulldog Drummond, giving some undesirables the damn sound drubbing they so richly deserved while his assistant merrily tossed smoke bombs about the place, in The Ludlow Affair, an episode from the late 1950s series Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. Presents. After that came something quite remarkable.

When it was first transmitted on 7 September, 1964, The Other Man was billed as a major television and – utterly unheard of today with all the intrusive media snooping – its subject matter remained a closely guarded secret until it was broadcast.

England losing the Second World War to Germany would be examined a year later in Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s It Happened Here. The Other Man concentrated on telling the story from the point of view of an army battalion rather than the populace, and the reactions of fighting men trained to follow a foreign powers orders after Churchill is killed in a bombing raid and the country capitulates to the enemy.

At first they seem faintly bemused, even faintly embarrassed when, after toasting the king, the officers find themselves having to toast Adolf Hitler. Soon the Jewish soldiers throughout the ranks are reassigned – later discovered as slave labour digging the Channel Tunnel. Other officers who resist the regime change are later court-martialled and summarily executed.

Originally running two-and-a-half hours, stripped into the whole evening schedule, with a brief interlude for the news, only the first two parts survived for a long time. Recently the fifth and final part was recently recovered. Although it meant that there was a jump in the narrative, we got to see the stunning dénouement.

Broadcast the same year as Zulu’s cinema release, The Other Man stars Michael Caine as George Grant, the British officer who accepts the new authority and follows orders. Acting alongside him was John Thaw, only a few years into his film and television career, Siân Phillips, Nigel Green and Kenneth Colley – who pretty much looks exactly now as he did then. Also in the cast was a pre-Monty Python Carol Cleveland and even early roles for children’s television favourites Brian Cant and John Noakes.

It’s a sad thing to say, but The Other Man, now over forty years old, was probably the most exciting and inventive piece of British television drama I’ve seen this year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

At Wits' End

A week or so back I finally caught up with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. At the time I felt it really wasn’t worth talking about.

The first film had been a real romp, like The Adventures of Robin Hood with a completely-off-his-face Errol Flynn, except on water... which would make it more like The Sea Hawk with a rolling drunk Flynn. And undead pirates. It was fun. It was a hoot. It was certainly far better than any film based on a theme park amusement ride should have been.

While the second movie had its moments – shooting the undead monkey and all that business with the cannibals – suddenly it stopped being fun. This time around I don’t think I even cracked a smile. It probably didn’t help that I had rolled in from work with a splitting headache and probably should have been lying down with a damp cloth on my forehead.

Not seeing it at the cinema meant I obviously missed out on the big screen experience and a pounding soundtrack so loud I’d probably have ended up with a splitting headache... But if I had slipped out during the summer to sit amongst the popcorn munchers I’d probably have sat there wondering what the holy living fuck was going on. At least watching on disc I could shuffle back to try and get a bead on who was double-crossing whom at each particular moment, although after a while I pretty much gave up on trying to make any sense of it.

I guess they figure people don’t want a rerun of the same. Dead Man’s Chest already made the ongoing story more complex. Here it just became burdened down with over-complications, which was a shame. Compared to the Jason Bourne trilogy, which stayed lean and fast as it followed through Treadstone, Neski, and Blackbriar, with a pen, rolled up magazine, and hardback book, to reach a satisfying conclusion, Pirates of the Caribbean slumped into a stodgy mess.

With so many characters shoehorned into the story, elbowing other out the way, hopefully Jonathan Pryce and Jack Davenport both trousered massive cheques for turning up and being jostled out of the picture. Although one thing At World’s End did have going for it was the welcome return of Giles New and Angus Barnett, back as Murtogg and Mullroy, first seen guarding the docks at Port Royal, especially since they ended up as crew on the Black Pearl.

As overcomplicated as the story was, wrestling its way through the tangle of narrative threads, director Gore Verbinski’s increasing overindulgence in the last two films didn’t appear to help any. There were some spiffy shots, like the Chinese junk sailing through the night lit by the stars above or the Black Pearl cresting the dune in Davey Jones’ Locker, but ultimately they just slowed the already dawdling narrative to a crawl.

When it came to the destruction of the British flagship, Endeavour, blasted apart by the Pearl and the Flying Dutchman, it just when on and on and on, culminating in the ridiculously long shot of Tom Hollander’s Lord Cutler Beckett walking across the deck, through the shower of shrapnel and wooden shards. Wouldn’t it have been neater if, right after he had muttered “It’s just good business,” the ship went up in one big bang as the powder ignited rather than a slow-mo action movie jerk off?

Then again, by that point I was pretty much beaten into submission to truly care. I was still astonished it had taken almost a whole hour before they rescued Han Solo from Tatooine... you know what I mean...

Anyway, I brought this up because I watched the film again (or at least a fair portion of it), trying to get myself to like it. Now, having picked up the new 5-disc boxset, in my spare time I’m trying to see if I can, after all these years, like Blade Runner.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kingdom Coming

Maybe I’m feeling my age, but... I can’t whip up any enthusiasm for this.

Even with Ray Winstone involved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lucky Dips And Drama

Before the great gaping maw of insanity that is Christmas swallows us whole, the British Film Institute have set aside a day to showcase the latest finds recovered through their long running Missing, Believed Wiped initiative. Since its inception in 1993, Missing, Believed Wiped has set about doggedly unearthing and restoring numerous television programmes whose masters were wiped by UK television broadcasters back in the 1950s and 60s in their effort to save on the then relatively high cost of videotape.

Once again the event is divided into two categories. Screening 1: Lucky Dip features a typically eclectic mix of newly recovered sketches from At Last, the 1948 Show, along with clips from The Saturday Crowd with Leslie Crowther; Morecambe and Wise performing on Sunday Night at the London Palladium; Cliff Richard in the 1968 crime drama A Matter of Diamonds, first broadcast as part of ITV Playhouse; Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett on Frost on Sunday; ballet sequences from The World of Beachcomber; studio shots from the missing BBC coverage of the moon landing; and those perennial puppet favourites Pinky and Perky. Lucky Dip also features complete screenings of The Adventures of Rupert the Bear from 1969 together with an episode of It’s Lulu from the early 1970s, featuring guest artist Aretha Franklin.

Screening 2: Drama, consists of the half-hour, hard-boiled thriller, Bulldog Drummond and ‘The Ludlow Affair’, starring Robert Beatty and originally broadcast in early 1957 as part of the Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents series of dramas, plus the surviving material from The Other Man, transmitted as part of the ITV Play of the Week in 1964.

Directed by Gordon Flemyng, and starring Michael Caine, Sian Phillips and John Thaw, the drama speculates what the world would have been like if Britain had capitulated to Germany in 1940 and The Third Reich had won the Second World War. Written by Giles Cooper who had served in Burma with the West Yorkshire Regiment, at the time of broadcast the Granada-produced drama was the longest single drama shown on the channel with a running time of 115 minutes.

Both Missing Believed Wiped screenings take place at the National Film Theatre on Saturday 15 December with Lucky Dip kicking off the proceedings at 4:00pm in NFT1 and Drama following afterwards at 6:20pm. Further details can be found here.

We now return to our regular spluttering cauldron of bile....

Friday, December 07, 2007

No Laughing Matter

Oh, this looks good. If the marvellous teaser trailer for The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s sequel to his 2005 Batman Begins, hasn’t already whetted appetites, this certainly should.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Today was the deadline for RSVPing to the company’s Christmas party. I didn’t have to worry about it. As soon the invite was slapped down on my desk last week by the head of department, I glanced at the opening lines, skipped straight to the bottom, wrote my name in the space provided and, on the ‘I will be able/unable to attend...’ line, went for the latter option.

It was slung back on her desk before she even got back to it and such an immediate response surprised her so much that she swung back my way, sniffing around to find out why I wouldn’t be there. The simple answer would have been along the lines; “I don’t want to fucking well spend any more time with you mad-clown assholes than I strictly have to!” or “Quite frankly, I’d prefer to swallow a live round or two.”

Since she had her malevolent face on, looking like a petulant child angry at not having any more toys to throw, rather than the alternative – cackling hysterically like a hyena sucking down nitrous oxide, I scrabbled around for some bullshit excuses that seemed to keep her happy. That said, she still offered to get me another invite so I could reconsider my decision. And I considered looking for a big NO! rubber stamp to get the message across.

It didn’t help that the invite pretty much started off with “You will enjoy a Christmas celebration...” Will I? Will I really? Maybe I’m just bloody pigheaded at times, but when people tell me I’m going to have a good time I figure that I’ll be the judge of that.

Wasting an evening by standing around making small between sips of cheap wine and nibbling on tasteless, dried out canapés doesn’t really do it for me. This time of year especially, when the only safe subject people have to talk about in such company is the upcoming Christmas festivities.

Maybe, once fuelled by alcohol, a few may start bitching and moaning about the spectacular incompetence the management show on a daily basis. Or whine about the software we’re using, riddled with innumerable un-fixed bugs since the day it was installed, that it’s barely kept going by an IT department that rolled in, straight off the turnip truck. A few of us do that already when we nip outside for a gasper, so I don’t see the need for a repeat performance.

Anyway, the usual circle of friends - some of whom I haven’t actually seen since May– are getting together for a drink the day after the company party, starting in the afternoon. I wasn’t expecting to go, especially when it came to figuring out what state they’d be in by the time I would pitch up. But finding I have five holiday days to take before the year is out, maybe I’ll blow one to spend the day in the company of people I know.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Frame Up ...And Down

Spent the weekend up at Work Buddy’s where the last of the concert footage from the second Twelfth Night gig was being imported onto the hard drives ready to edit. Watching the material meant alternating between belatedly applauding the remarkable work the lighting guys at the Albany did and screaming at the screens in frustration.

The former was much more fun. The latter came about from a few simple errors made by the main camera crew contracted to film the event. While I scrambled around with the Fig Rig, they oversaw the five fixed-position cameras covering pretty much every angle the event. With that much material it should have been a cakewalk editing it for the proposed first assembly date. Except for...

Well, there was the tiny issue that, even though they had been informed the concert was being shot on 16:9, one camera came in at letterboxed 4:3 and two were straight 4:3. One of those was the camera set up facing the stage to provide the concert’s master shot, which is a bit unfortunate.

Still, things like that can be overcome: Bump it up by 1.34% to fit and then simply re-rack it, lopping off the audience at the bottom, thereby keeping the band in shot. If it was just that, there would be nothing to it.

But then after a few minutes, the operator zooms in on the stage. And then out. And then goes all over the place panning back and forth... on the fucking master!!??

Never mind that a couple of the alternate angles zoom in so close on the lead singer that went he bounces out of shot the flummoxed operator swirls the camera around trying to zero in on him... it doesn’t get more heinous than that. Especially when it creates an outside possibility that we have to compromise on what to cut to now.

Having said that, the crew were great kids and some of the footage was utterly outstanding. The blunders were unfortunate to say the least. If any blame needs to be apportioned it should be at the door of whichever film school they attended.

The Esteemed School of Art had a Fine Art Film course. I never bothered to see any of the material the students on it produced. All I knew was that whenever we needed kit for an AV project they had already signed it out, or booked the rostrum rooms, editing bays or sound mixing booths. Fuck knows what they did in there.

I also got to know one of the students on the course. He probably gave me better advice than any of the tutors. To understand framing and composition, go to the Tate or the National Gallery and look at the old masters. To understand editing, stick a film in the VCR and watch it at fast-forward picture search to see how scenes are cut without getting distracted by the story. Everything after that comes down to intuition.

Fuck knows what kids get taught on all these film and media courses nowadays. Do they think it gives them instant access to eat at the grown-ups’ table?