Technology problems mean that this is being written on a phone rather than a laptop... But it's all wonderful, despite my not being able to get into a panel this evening on the fantasy of white history - I've come across a black West Indian Anglican clergyman in Bath and Wells diocese in the 1690s and would have liked to have thrown him into the mix. Instead, I attended a Star Trek novels panel, which was informative and fun though I'm not familiar with very many of the characters post-TNG so didn't get all the Garak jokes. Earlier, the Doctor Who panels were huge successes, particularly that on transhumanism where I think every seat was filled, and also the earlier session on Peter Capaldi's Doctor, or Lord Peter as two of the panellists chose to call him... The historical movies panel was good, too, with much to reflect on about what a historical film is and how 'period' drama can be read, but presented in a way which could in no way be considered dry... Oh, and I took photographs for some witches.

Tomorrow, much more including a panel which I've been specifically asked go attend...
Butley was given to me by my sister after we went to see a revival of a Simon Gray play in London several years ago. This film version was produced as part of the American Film Theatre seasons, where producer Ely Landau drew on his television experience to make two packages of cinema adaptations of stage plays and sell them in advance to networks of cinemas in the US. The scene is set by a caption reading 'LONDON' at the start of the film, as Alan Bates's Ben Butley cuts himself shaving on a morning, and then by a sequence shot on the northbound platform at Kilburn Park station, moving onto a train (complete with Bakerloo line diagrams showing both branches) where Burley's rudeness, selfishness and uneasy eye towards men are pointed out by Bates's gesture and the sullen curious camera. Most of the two-hour running time is spent in the office Butley shares at Queen Anne College, University of London (with rebellious indifference but solipsistic indulgence too, Butley is always seen entering its precincts through the 'OUT' gateway) with his former pupil, protégé and lover Joey Keystone (Richard O'Callaghan). Joey is disentangling himself from Ben, finding a new partner in publisher Reg (Michael Byrne). Ben snipes continually at Joey's willingness to work within the university career structure, his sexual identity and presentation, while reeling him in to jibes at their older colleague Edna (Jessica Tandy), her teaching (probably diligent) and publishing record. Ben seems to hanker after reconciliation with his estranged wife Anne (Susan Engel), and peppers his conversation with arguments with himself over the location and nature of their last sexual encounter. Georgina Hale, Darien Angadi, Colin Haigh and Simon Rouse play disgusted, belittled, exasperated and furious students.

The self-absorbed alcoholic protagonist who dares the audience to be driven to sympathise with him and so become complicit in his destructive narcissism feels like a 1970s device especially, Butley being a representative of the old professional class overtaken by men who have climbed the new ladders provided by the Welfare State, and women whom he feels really just shouldn't be there. The ground over which the story is told is familiar to an audience in the 2010s, though: society's understanding of gender and sexuality, disintegration and relayering of class structures, academic reform and the need to produce outputs (though we don't hear that term) juxtaposed with teaching demands and assumptions of a new student generation which are incomprehensible to or rejected by their jaded or self-interested elders. It's no spoiler that Ben is eventually left alone in his office with a bottle of Haig's whisky, seemingly content with his own inadequacy. There are aspects of the character close to Alan Bates's own life and large sectors of British society seemed to negotiate the 1970s in a spirit-soaked haze, but though a period piece now Butley is a reminder that social and psychological problem-solving can take a very long time indeed.
I finally watched Solaris this afternoon, two decades after being put off it by the loudness of a red-bearded science fiction fan who discovered me in my college's graduate common room watching Doctor Who - specifically Terror of the Zygons - on UK Gold at midnight. As realised, it's a finely-engineered story of the limits of human knowledge of worlds within and without individual consciousness and conscience - there is some curious interchangeability of those words between the dubbed English soundtrack and the English subtitles which is consistent with the theme - the barriers of communication between genders and between practitioners of different disciplines, of the painful inevitability of interconnection (not for nothing is one of the scientists on Solaris station a cyberneticist) and of repeated patterns in life and whether or not humanity can act on new knowledge. There is some oddly discontinuous editing independent of Tarkovsky's disconcerting trickery with the camera to change narrative view, but he's not the only director of the period to demand that viewers exert themselvs to keep up.
The colour film found at this site of London in 1927 is quite evocative for those who at all know the place.
Tom Hooper and company's version of Boublil, Schoenberg and Kretzmer's Les Miserables is rather good. I wouldn't say it is an outstanding film; there's something rather close and claustrophobic about it, which I didn't find was the case when I saw the stage version a long time ago, and which doesn't always work to its advantage. A tremendous performance from Anne Hathaway, though, and also from Hugh Jackman and from Russell Crowe. I was sorry to hear several of the songs abbreviated, and the new song sung by Valjean to Cosette as they flee the Thenardiers and seek to evade Javert isn't really as good a replacement as it could be. There are one or two well-known British television actors in blink-and-you'll-miss-them roles, and the unit production manager, maintaining his reputation for finding and managing locations, is Patrick Schweitzer, briefly producer for part of the 2010 series of Doctor Who.
A report on Doctor Who set designer Michael Pickwoad's talk to the Friends of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on location filming in historic buildings. Doctor Who was mentioned briefly - but the man should write a book, or have a camera following him, as he has a lot to say.
You might think that the holders of commercial rights in The Hobbit would be more flexible with long-established businesses whose cultural, social and economic context is not that of the film and whose presence attests to the influence of Tolkien's work on the people of this and other countries; but no...

BBC News: Hobbit pub in Southampton threatened with legal action

Southampton Daily Echo: Southampton pub The Hobbit in battle with Hollywood studio
I always notice new details in Kind Hearts and Coronets each time I watch it. This time, it was the question of authenticity - if Louis is our narrator, can anything which he tells us be trusted? There are continuities in the narrative which are more revealing of his priorities than perhaps he intends - a childhood roasting chestnuts round Sibella's nursery fire, a slightly too pious love for his mother, a delusion that he is avenging her by killing his D'Ascoyne relatives rather than reacting to a personal slight. The ridiculing of Lionel Holland and Duke Ethelred, who demonstrate their share of cruelty, but who both demonstrate humanity at the last, at which Louis only shows contempt. The remarkable photography which allows Alec Guinness to appear in the same shot six times in different costumes; and the occasional bleak post-war topicality in this supposedly period piece, such as General Lord Rufus D'Ascoyne hailing the Russian expertise in caviar preparation as he detonates what is in fact a bomb - "not an atom of him was left" records Louis. The USSR had not yet exploded its first atomic bomb when Kind Hearts and Coronets was released, but it's tempting to see the line as playing on western apprehensions.
Instant reaction: not bad at all. The best of this half of the season so far, and with pleasing references to the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Damsel. While the fifty-plus Amy is by no means loathly, she's not the person Rory wanted or expected at first glance. Rory, like Gawain, leaves the choice to Amy; a pity almost that the Doctor has to play deus in machinam and turn the other Amy away, though in the end Amy's agency is restored. The rules of Doctor Who and the legendary roots are like magnetic forces repelling each other.

I also appreciated Amy being on the other side of a glass from the Doctor and Rory, repeating a motif from 'A Good Man Goes to War', but also more obviously reminding me of Cocteau's Orphee films. Amy acquires their accoutrements as if the magnifiying glass concentrates their props on to the Amy in the other time stream. Cocteau wrote an Arthurian play about doubles, too...
sir_guinglain: (ArthurElaineLetter)
( Dec. 11th, 2010 03:05 pm)
I have a flat to clear of recyclables, compostables, and rubbish, a chapter to start writing, and I have ended up watching Ice Cold in Alex on Dave. I've just remembered that I could have recorded the end to watch later... I'm not concentrating on it greatly, but note that Sylvia Syms had a compelling line in forearm-rubbing acting.
Those of you who follow my Doctor Who reviews will remember that detailed comments on The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood were withheld as they were promised to fanzine This Way Up. Issue 28 is now published by editor John Connors and can be downloaded here. Lots of good stuff, including reviews of the second half of the most recent series of Doctor Who plus a thematic and strategic overview of the season, a survey of film adaptations of the fiction of Richard Matheson, a look at recent developments in Heroes and the 2005 live broadcast of The Quatermass Experiment starring Jason Flemyng, Indira Varma, David Tennant and Mark Gatiss. Classic Doctor Who is covered too, with reviews of The Dominators and Silver Nemesis.


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