The Lodger at The Cornerhouse/Barbican #thelodger

Well, that was the very definition of a mixed bag.

I’ve just been to see part of the world premiere of the BFI’s new restoration of The Lodger. I say ‘part of’ because this was also the first night of a new co-operative venture between various arts centres around the country, including the Barbican, the Cornerhouse, and similar places elsewhere, where they were live broadcasting the film to cinemas round the country with a live score by the LSO. And on that level, it was a bit of a disaster.

We’d been told, when pre-booking the tickets, to arrive about 6:30 as the film would start at 7:15 prompt, and it had nearly sold out and so we’d need to get there early to get decent seats. In fact, the doors didn’t even open until 7:10 and it was less than a quarter full.

At 7:20 we were then ‘treated’ to, in order, a long trailer of famous scenes from Hitchcock films, a video introduction from someone who’s making a film about Hitchcock, some chat with the CEO of the new venture mentioned above, the same video introduction played again, and two separate introductions talking about the restoration process and the importance of the film in Hitchcock’s career, before the film finally started at around 8.

That in itself wouldn’t be a problem — that sort of thing can add a lot to a film if you know it’s going to happen — but between that and having been told erroneously to get there so early, this had my sister worried that her parking pass would expire before the film ended.

And then, thirty-five minutes into the film, they lost the live feed from London (apparently a fault at the London end). After seven minutes’ waiting around, we went and got refunds for our tickets and left, since they wouldn’t be able to restart the film where it left off.

But other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln?

The film itself remains extraordinary like stairlifts. I’m always astounded by how much visual information was conveyed in many of the silent films, and I do think there’s a case for saying that the introduction of sound was in a very real sense the death of the art of cinema. You simply couldn’t make a film as fast-paced and information-dense as this once sound was introduced, just due to the technical limitations that early sound films were working with. There are editing techniques here that wouldn’t become widespread again until at least the eighties, and it makes pretty much every film made in the next few decades look stodgy and slow-moving. My sister, who had never seen a silent film before, was amazed at how modern the storytelling was and how easy it was to follow.

(Of course, it is a film by Hitchcock, and not all directors are Hitchcock, and there’s also the fact that the films which survive from the silent era are by definition those someone thought worth preserving, but even so the difference between something like this and even a very good talkie from the first few decades of sound is staggering).

The score by Nitin Sawhney is more of a mixed bag. Some of it is *very* effective, but at times when he aims for period pastiche, or for pastiche-Hermann, he’s just far enough off that a sophisticated listener will go “Oh, I see what you tried to do there”. In general, the score drew slightly too much attention to itself, and there’s one utterly unforgivable bit where he inserts an actual pop song, with lyrics, into the score. Putting that kind of verbal information up against film that wasn’t designed to accommodate it detracts from, rather than adding to, the effect of the film. But it worked more often than it didn’t, and when it did work it was very good.

The restoration, though, was just spectacular. Easily the best restoration of a silent film I’ve ever seen, it was cleaned up so much that it looked like it had been shot yesterday. Seriously, there was barely a speck in the entire thing, and for a film shot at 20fps it was amazingly smooth (I suspect some VidFIRE-esque frame interpolation has gone on).

If you get a chance to see this restoration on the big screen, jump at it. Just not if it’s on a live feed from London.

Linkblogging For 07/03/12

I’ve not had much energy for writing these last few days, and also have been distracted by various other projects (for example finishing up a book proposal that I’ve sent off to a publisher), hence me being behind on my various series of posts. New material will be posted soon. In the meantime, have some links.

Andrew Rilstone asks Does DC Comics’ appalling opportunistic corporate piece-of-shit money-grabbing Watchmen rip-off really matter? and talks about what counts as folk music.

If you like ‘banter’, you are an idiot.

Neil Gaiman on writers’ block. To his ‘laziness, perfectionism and getting stuck’, I’d add exhaustion – those of us who have day jobs often can’t finish a piece of writing simply because we’re too tired out by life – but the general rule is true.

Alex Wilcock has two more things to remember about Labour.

The new City Of The Saved short story collection is available for pre-order

Millennium Elephant argues the case for the mansion tax

And Big Finish are releasing a Bernice Summerfield special, with the money going to M.E. research

Linkblogging for 02/01/10 (OK, so I was completely wrong about the whole palindrome thing…)

The closest I’ve come to a New Year’s Resolution this year (other than getting PEP! out not *too* late and trying to stay employed all year) is that I’m going to try to post *something* every single day. I’ve also decided to blog every single book I read (not reread or I’d post about nothing else, just books I’ve not read before) so I’ll be writing about Faction Paradox: City Of The Saved probably tonight (got it this morning).

For those who care about such things, BTW, my blog got 78,564 visits last year (not sure how many are unique, probably not all that many). The most popular post was my first Beatles Mono Review which has been viewed 3.349 times, astonishingly enough. The least popular was an eighteen-way tie between posts which have had one view each, mostly titled things like ‘quick question’ or ‘just to say’ and published in 2008.

Anyway, on to things other people have been writing. A lot of people have been writing about the end of the Welsh Series. James Graham gives a balanced view (even though we were arguing on Twitter yesterday, and I got the impression I annoyed him with some of my comments on Tennant/RTD, I could agree with a good chunk of this. I still think Logopolis is fantastic though). Jennie didn’t like it at all, while Andrew Ducker sums up the RTD years perfectly. Barry Sarll wasn’t hugely impressed, but Lytton Ewing was.
ETA and of course Millennium almost makes me wish I’d watched it, with a wonderful review…

(I didn’t watch it myself, and it doesn’t sound like I’d have enjoyed it much if I had, but I’m not going to say anything against the Welsh Series here – a lot of people did like it, and many of them are disappointed it’s ended. Let’s hope both they and I can enjoy the Moffat Show, though frankly I doubt it…)

For those who want more Doctor Who, I just discovered that a load of old episodes are on Youtube, legitimately. Of the ones there, my personal favourite is Edge Of Destruction, while Caves Of Androzani is widely considered the best Who ever. (The Twin Dilemma, also on there, is best avoided even though Colin Baker’s a favourite of mine…). This might not work in all countries, but I’m sure you all know about proxies and so forth…

Some people out there are talking about things other than Doctor Who, though, including the fact that a woman’s insurance has been revoked because while suffering from depression she put some photos on Facebook showing herself smiling…

LessWrong talks about the difference between what we want and what we feel compelled to do, and the neurochemistry behind this.

The Rejectionist uses Terminator:Salvation as a case study for improving novels.

And Gavin R may have found the source of a mistake in a Ladybird book he reviewed a while ago…

Pop-Drama 1 : The Jungle VIP

tarzanI’m starting my look at how to ‘rejuvenate’ various pop-culture/genre characters with Tarzan, because his is the most obvious, and I’d be very astonished if someone hadn’t done this already.

The thing about Tarzan is, if you just look at the character, it’s almost impossible for anyone today to write him as a hero. Here you’ve got a member of the white aristocracy, living in Africa, having chosen to ‘return to nature’ and ‘strip off the thin veneer of civilisation’. There’s a very patronising imperialist… not even subtext, as much as surtext here.

So I propose we go with it all the way.

John Clayton III, Viscount Greystoke, returned to Britain in the 1970s after being discovered by the Porter family – his own father, a minor colonial administrator in a small African colony, had died during the armed insurgency that had brought about the colony’s independence, and everybody had assumed the boy had died along with them. His claims that his father had been killed by a giant ape were dismissed as a combination of the racism common to his class and his imperfect understanding of English – he was clearly confusing the words ‘gorilla’ and ‘guerilla’.

Along with his wife, the young Clayton became something of a mascot for the Clermont Set – the group of billionaire right-wing aristocrats that included James Goldsmith (whose son is now environmental advisor to the Conservative party) and his brother Teddy (co-founder of the Green Party), murderer Lord Lucan, asset-stripper Jim Slater, and John Aspinall (the owner of a zoo where the keepers are encouraged to socialise with the animals, resulting in a ludicrous number of keeper deaths a year, who called for the death of the majority of the human race in order to save the planet, and who tried to engineer a fascist coup in Britain around this time).

While most of the Clermont Set were absurd, repulsive figures who pontificated about the environment from a position of grotesque privilege, Clayton was different. He had known real hardship, having had to fend for himself from an incredibly early age. He was lean and muscular, unlike his corpulent mentors, and also very charming, and he was simultaneously principled and trusting of his new friends.

And he shared one important characteristic with them – because of his upbringing, when he’d not known a single other human being from the ages of one to sixteen, he had absolutely no regard for human life. So he became a fervent supporter of their ‘law of the jungle’ philosophy – a very dangerous mix of right-wing libertarianism, environmental fundamentalism and fascism. So he moved back to the jungle to become an eco-warrior. In a very literal sense.

Tarzan has committed to protecting the animals from the ‘savages’ who are running the country he grew up in, and he has absolutely no compunction about killing people to do this. He will protect those who still live tribally, in a rather patronising manner, but even those are fair game if they hunt protected species. He is charming, handsome, and *utterly* self-controlled, knowing exactly what every muscle in his body is doing at any moment, and exactly what’s going on around him – skills he had to pick up to survive in a wild environment – so looking permanently relaxed except when he leaps into action.

But most of the time, Tarzan is doing ‘the right thing’, but for what most people would consider utterly wrong reasons. He’s perfectly willing to lay down his life to protect animals, and will go to huge lengths to save the rainforest he grew up in, but there’s not an ounce of compassion or empathy in him. He does it just because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, without even really understanding what ‘right thing to do’ means.

This means that for most purposes, we can still tell normal ‘Tarzan jungle adventures’ as before – bad thing happens, Tarzan swings down on creeper, saves the day, job done. And you start the series with this kind of story – the background is only drip-fed in slowly over the course of the series, as you begin to realise what kind of person Tarzan really is.

The problem with this, of course, is that it damages the character for others. And this is why Jane is an important character.

Jane, when she married Tarzan, was a rather dizzy socialite, well-meaning but utterly uninformed about the world outside a small circle of the super-rich. When they moved to England, she never particularly liked her husband’s new friends, more just because they seemed personally unpleasant than for any other reason, but as they spent most of their time together in an exclusively masculine environment, she didn’t particularly mind it. She agreed to move back to Africa with her husband, partly because you do what your husband does, partly because she’d always liked animals, and partly because it sounded like quite a fun lark to spend a couple of years living like ‘a primitive’.

But after being dropped into a situation she could never have imagined, Jane discovers she actually *cares* about this stuff. She actually cares about animals, nursing them back to health. She actually worries about the morality of interfering with tribal cultures, but also of denying those people the benefits that come with western civilisation. In short, she grows up. And she starts to become horrified at what her husband actually is.

So the second ‘arc’ of stories is simply Jane trying to connect Tarzan’s (usually) correct actions to correct thoughts, trying to turn his real love for her into compassion for other people. Partly, this is done by gathering a group of assistants for him, who he cares about first because they’re essential to ‘the mission’, but as time goes on this becomes a more general real affection. These characters can also function to help generate adventures, and should come from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible (a minor government official who feeds Tarzan information, a doctor who helps treat his injuries, a criminal who’s on the run and hiding out in the area of the jungle where Tarzan lives, and so on).

She succeeds, and over the course of a year or two we essentially see him grow up, and turn into a fully mature human being, who remains in the jungle because he cares, rather than because it’s the right thing to do.

Touchstone characters – at the start, B’Wana Beast, Rorshach, James Bond, Frank Miller Batman. By the end, Tom Strong, Robin Hood, Grant Morrison Batman.

Linkblogging For 13/11/09

Pillock has finally finished his look at Star Wars and his own personal ‘canon’. Essential reading for anyone who liked my Hyperpost series.

Dave Sim has switched to doing his comics POD – apparently Cerebus Archive was dropped by Diamond. Very sad – it’ll only mean even lower sales for these titles.

Jazz Hands, Serious Business has a post on what being a Liberal Democrat means.

Debi has a quite wonderful post on the medical and social models of disability, and how this relates to the discourse surrounding Gordon Brown’s handwriting.

And Millennium continues his reviews of The Prisoner.

The Pop-Drama Manifesto – A Call To Arms

This blog started out as primarily a comics blog, but over the last few months there’ve been fewer and fewer posts about comics. There’s a reason for that.

I’ve been reading as many comics as ever for the last few months, but aside from Grant Morrison’s comics and League: Century, none of them have been about anything. Detective and Wednesday Comics and Strange Tales and so on have all been enjoyable, but there’s not been a new idea in the stories of any of them. (Williams puts new ideas into almost every panel as far as the art goes, but I simply don’t have the critical vocabulary to talk about art sensibly).

We’ve not got any drama in comics at the moment – and precious little in genre fiction as a whole.

I’m using ‘drama’ here as the closest term I could come up with for a concept I’ve never seen defined before. Most genre fiction at the moment is soap opera – the impact is entirely based on one’s feelings about the characters and one’s wish for them to be happy or otherwise. Whether that be wanting Supergirl to bring her father’s murderer to justice, or hoping the Welsh Doctor and Wose will find their true wuv together at long last, or hoping the Order will defeat Xykon, it’s all about one’s attachment to the characters.

Soap opera isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’m currently reading all the Superman/girl titles, and regularly read Order Of The Stick too) but it’s very hard to find anything to say about it. Most Doctor Who, most superhero stories, a good chunk of SF, have all been soap opera.

Drama (my definition) on the other hand, is what happens when you couple concern for the characters (as above) with actual ideas, and make them work together. Watchmen is drama – it’s full of ideas (about power, morality, free will, humanity, the comics form itself) while Blackest Night is soap opera. Doctor Who And The Silurians is drama while the Welsh series is soap opera.

Drama in this sense is not necessarily superior to soap opera, but I think on the whole it’s more worthwhile. Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ Teen Titans sold something like ten times more copies in the 80s than Alan Moore (and Totelben, Bissette, Veitch, Alcala etc)’s Swamp Thing, but the latter had ten times more ideas and is what has lasted. The latter is certainly easier to talk about.

Increasingly in genre fiction we’re given a choice between soap operatics, full of sound & fury, signifying nothing, on one side (most current superhero comics, Star Wars, the Star Trek film, most of the Welsh series) and on the other hand people who think they’re rather cleverer than they actually are, who think ideas are a substitute for good storytelling (many of the New Adventures people, Warren Ellis much of the time he’s on autopilot, Steven Moffatt).

Given a choice, I will choose the second group, because they have ambition, even if it fails (I’ve written about Joe Lidster’s Master in my Big Finish A Week series over many more enjoyable stories because even though it descends into the most unbearable fanwank, it’s still more interesting than the bulk of BF’s output, which is enjoyable but conservative), but I don’t *like* the second group, who often seem to have a near-sociopathic contempt of humanity, which shows in their characterisations.

(I read both groups, and enjoy work from both – I can enjoy the work of, say, Gail Simone, who falls squarely in the ‘soap opera’ group, because she’s *good* at characterisation).

VERY rarely, we see something that contains both ideas and a concern for the characters as human beings – something that couples the characters to theme in a way that qualifies it as true art. But as far as genre fiction goes, I can list *all* of the new work I’ve seen from the last year that does that in a few words – Seaguy, LOEG: Century, Batman & Robin, Anathem, Moon, Up, Unseen Academicals. Throw in Detective for the ideas in the art, and that’s about it. I’m sure there’s about that much again that I’ve not read or seen – but that’s it.

And frankly, that’s not good enough. I’m sick of laziness in SF, fantasy, horror and superhero stuff. It was justifiable when these were niche things for tiny audiences that could only attract hacks to them, but those genres now make billions upon billions of dollars a year, and have literally millions of people wanting to create work in them. We shouldn’t have to put up with incompetent, incoherent dreck like Countdown To Final Crisis or the New Earth episode of the Welsh series, or the new Star Trek film (which had some fine performances and effects, but forgot to pack a script).

At this point, highlights of the genres, like the two Nolan Batman films, or The Prisoner, or Watchmen, should be the minimum standards we look for.

“But could you do better?”

Yes. I think I could.

So for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to post what I would do with various ‘big franchise’ characters – Doctor Who, Superman, James Bond, Tarzan, Star Trek, one or two others. I have no doubt that I’ll probably fall with most of these into the ‘thinks he’s cleverer than he is’ side I mention above, but I’ll be *trying* not to.

And I want you to do the same. Yes, YOU. This is a ‘meme’ for which I’m ‘tagging’ every one of the seven-to-ten-thousand people who read my blog in the average month. These pieces of modern-day mythology aren’t being treated right, so let’s take them back. I’m not talking about ‘fanfic’, which too often is concerned with continuity or wish-fulfillment (though I’d love to be pointed to examples where it isn’t). I’m talking about stripping these things down to their essence, tying them to new ideas, and seeing what they can do. More like the Mindless Ones’ Rogues Reviews.

But we also need new characters to tell new stories.

Once issue 1 of PEP is out, I’ll be starting up a second website along with this, for a thing I call the ‘Newniverse’, which will be a shared universe for storytelling. I’ve talked about this before on here, and got an enthusiastic enough response that now various other projects have either faltered or taken off, I’ll get it done. That site will be opening on January 1st. Ideally, we’ll do a POD book of stories from it every six months or year, depending how many people get involved.

I’m through being BORED with superheroes and spaceships – I’m ANGRY now. And I’m going to do something about it.

Linkblogging for 23/09/09

Posting will probably be light for the next few days, as it’s a busy time at work. To tide you over, here are some links.

Al Ewing is reviewing Beatles: Rock Band one song at a time. The interesting thing here is that Ewing – as he admits himself – knows almost nothing of the band’s music and is using this as a way of getting into them…

In other Beatles posts, Jog has a post on the comic insert in Magical Mystery Tour, along with some thoughts on how this would translate into the digital age in comparison with the film and album.

Todd Alcott continues his look at Kubrick with A Clockwork Orange part 2 .

For those of you who think I’m too hard on the anti-immigrant propaganda coming from people like racist UKIP, this is why.

James Graham has more on the ridiculous events at conference, which appear to involve the leadership briefing against the party…

And Chris Dillow has an interesting post on a fundamental disconnect in the debate between the religious and ‘new atheists’.