Videos

The Straight Story: The David Lynch Version

(Note: today’s video is at the bottom. It just made more sense that way.)

I’ve loved The Straight Story for years.

I love its warmth and simplicity. I love the message of family that overcomes the odds and the bitter swallowing of pride in the face of disaster. I love the ambiguities in the narrative: unresolved conversations and a backstory that’s never quite explained properly. I love the performance of Richard Farnsworth, who pours understated emotion into every line of dialogue. I love the way it’s shot – the rolling flatness of the Iowa cornfields giving way to the lush, hilly greenery of Mount Zion as Alvin Straight concludes his journey. I love the occasional flashes of ridiculous humour – the deer in the field, Dorothy asking “What’s the number for 911?” as she and Bud try and lift Alvin off the floor. Most of all I love the quietness of the whole thing – the slow crawl around the side of the house after the opening credits, the silence broken by a solitary thump, and the wordless final tableau as the two brothers sit in tearful contemplation on Lyle’s porch, and we’re treated to one final shot of that brilliant star-swept sky.

But…well, it’s not very Lynch, is it?

Look, there are no dwarves. There are no mysterious figures dressed in black. There are no scenes where the protagonist encounters a confused amnesiac at the side of the road, covered in someone else’s blood. There’s not even any jazz, for crying out loud. Instead you get two hours of soft focus shots of rural America. I’m actually OK with that. Our church house group watched it for a film study recently (my suggestion) and we had an animated discussion the following week about forgiveness, family and the nature of redemption. That scene where Alvin pulls up into the conveniently placed (and perfectly sized) barn at the side of the road just in time to avoid getting soaked? That’s one of the strongest examples I’ve seen of the work of God in the world as witnessed in a supposedly secular film.

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Actually, The Straight Story is layered. There are theories that Alvin is dead, for example, by the time the film concludes: that the entire trip is a hallucinatory manifestation of a dying man’s penance, the priest he meets near the film’s conclusion granting him the last rites before his heart stops (symbolised by the John Deere’s motor failure a hundred yards from Lyle’s house). The tractor driver he encounters is the ferryman of the underworld, ushering him into a tranquil afterlife where he is reunited with his brother (who, of course, is also dead).

I’m not sure whether that’s really what Lynch meant to do, but he’s called The Straight Story “my most experimental movie”, so who knows? On the other hand everything Lynch does plays with the formula – allegory, unreliable narrators, questionable performances from David Bowie – and just about the only thing you can predict about him is that he’ll never do anything predictable. So maybe the experimental aspect is that it isn’t experimental at all. Theories about the fate of Rose’s children aside (“someone” was looking after them the night of the fire…could that someone have been Alvin himself?) perhaps this really is just a film about an old man who drives 240 miles on his lawnmower and meets some lovely people along the way.

Still. If you’ve seen Wild At Heart, it’s a bit jarring. There’s no death, no violence, nothing to upset anyone but the most stringent fundamentalists (The CAP Movie Ministry, the internet’s self-serving source of ‘Christian’ film reviews, docks it points for “terror of runaway lawn mower down a hill with the rider”). Even Twin Peaks, accessible by design, had its moments of darkness. The worst we have to contend with here is Alvin losing his hat, in just about the closest the movie gets to an action sequence.

There are exceptions. The Olsen twins feel like watered down versions of Lynch standards, the sort of scam artists you’d expect to see in a hick version of Lost Highway. The woman who can’t avoid the deer is downright anomalous – a scene that simply doesn’t fit the narrative, although there is a glimmer of recognition in Alvin’s wistful stare as she drives into the distance – almost as if he recognises a part of himself in that angry commuter. It’s the most Lynch-like scene in a film that is distinctly non-Lynch. There is nothing like this.

(I really wouldn’t worry. Nobody gets this scene. Nobody.)

Anyway: I’d been thinking for a while that The Straight Story really would benefit from a bit of a revamp. Because what better choice for a psychological thriller than a film that doesn’t contain a single sinister undertone? So I downloaded a few stings from horror trailers and mixed them in with a re-pitched Johnny Cash song and the Silent Hill soundtrack (that’s the original PlayStation version, not that godawful film they did a few years back). Nothing says ‘uncomfortable dissonance’ like a bit of Akira Yamaoka, particularly when it’s accompanied by images of Richard Farnsworth apparently losing his mind.

And I confess I’m quite pleased with the end result. There are no dwarves, but you can’t have everything.

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Fish Custard: Reversed

I walked into the study on Monday morning to find the boys watching a Lazy Town video. Backwards.

It beats the hell out of some of the stuff I find in the internet history. I mean, I love YouTube. It’s a wealth of fantastic, entertaining material. It has recipes, educational videos, how-to guides and interviews. It’s enabled me to see programmes I haven’t seen in years and ones I’d forgotten about completely. It’s connected me with musical artists in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible, shown me ideas and concepts I could never have imagined and, for all the idiocy and bigotry, generally broadened my horizons.

And what were my kids watching the other week? Fucking Crazy Frog. Backwards.

It’s hardly Twin Peaks, is it? It’s quite amusing to watch Sportacus climb back into his cage while Robbie and his clones skip backwards over the wall, but you wonder what the point was. And then you look at the other stuff on the channel and you notice a pattern in the titles –

weare

HOW THE HELL HAS THIS GUY GOT SO MANY HITS? Do people like Lazy Town that much? Or is this another artificial inflation scam like the VEVO incident? I mean, here’s me, scrabbling for social media coverage, begging and borrowing and promoting like crazy just to creep into the hundreds, and this guy’s presumably living off his monetization. It’s enough to make you weep for the future of humanity; it really is.

The definitive use of reversed footage, of course, is in Red Dwarf, in an episode that isn’t really as funny as we’d like to think (gimmicky episodes seldom are, as ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ proves in abundance). There are amusing moments in ‘Backwards’ but the best of the humour stems from Lister’s reactions (“Santa Claus – what a bastard!”), as well as that single shot of Cat, springing up from the bushes. But a better episode that series is ‘Marooned’, which is almost a two-hander, but which has some of the best gags in the history of the show. ‘Backwards’ has Lister falling off a bicycle. ‘Marooned’ has Rimmer doing the funniest Richard III you’ll ever see. Case closed.

catbackwards

Anyway, I started to think about whether I could take anything from Doctor Who and run it backwards. I’ve occasionally reversed small clips in isolation – the Beckett video springs to mind – but was there any merit in anything longer? The problem was picking an appropriate scene, and seeing that inspiration was lacking I decided to ask Facebook. Someone suggested Clara’s death scene. “Anything with the Weeping Angels”, said someone else. “It’s just them backing away from people.”

There’s a lot of mileage in a scene like that but one obvious example – inspired, in part, by the scene in Red Dwarf where Rimmer and Kryten observe a woman regurgitating a cream cake – was the Fish Fingers and Custard sequence. Because it’s a wonderful moment that’s been done to death and had all the life sucked out of it with subsequent references (Why, in the name of sanity, does the TARDIS interface say ‘Fish fingers and custard’ to the Doctor when he’s lying on the floor halfway through ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’?). There is absolutely nothing new I can bring to that scene apart from reverse it and witness the Doctor’s telekinetic summoning of a reassembling plate across the garden, before sucking baked beans back into his mouth.

But what’s most striking about it is how similar it sounds to Nordic noir. As I was watching it – and particularly after I’d dropped in the background ambience, which comes courtesy of the lovely people at Cryo Chamber – it felt like I was watching a scene from The Bridge, or Modus, or Wallander (I assume; that’s one I’ve not seen yet). The analogy’s far from perfect, of course. Amelia’s house isn’t nearly Nordic enough. There’s not a single glass wall. She doesn’t even have decking. Nonetheless, the vibe is there. It’s the dialogue: it all sounds like Swedish.

And that’s given me another idea, but you’re going to have to let me finish it first…

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Hello

Important: today’s video had particular viewing restrictions, most of them mobile / tablet related. If you’re unable to see the embed above, I’ve uploaded it to Vimeo.

Let’s get this out of the way: the Eleventh Doctor is a big fat stalker, and we all know it.

I can quite understand wanting to know more about Clara. She’s an anomaly wrapped up in a miniskirt. Her appearances in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ and ‘The Snowman’ make no sense, unless you’re prepared to attribute it to an eerily precise preservation of lineage and a genetic love of souffle. Rule one, Doctor: when someone is following you around the space-time continuum leaving cryptic messages, it’s usually a trap. This particular arc dealt with the consequences of that trap, of course, rather than the trap itself, but it still counts.

The problem is that the Doctor’s never watched his own show and is thus blissfully ignorant of all this. Everyone the other side of the fourth wall knows that this is one of Steven Moffat’s Big Ideas and that it’ll be sorted out by the time the Doctor regenerates, but there’s no telling him that. For someone who boasts a PhD in self-awareness he really is mind-numbingly obtuse. What we’re left with is a series of creepy stakeouts where the Doctor actively spies on a single family as their daughter grows up, even going so far as to watch her while she’s grieving for her dead mother. The funny thing about all this is just how quickly we’re prepared to forgive the Doctor, although our forgiveness is tied up with Clara, who’s also strikingly willing to let it go (and you didn’t read that, you sang it). Perhaps it’s because it’s so drastically out of character. I suspect that had Peter Capaldi been the one hiding behind the gravestones we’d be willing to describe it as ‘typical Twelfth Doctor’, just as Clara’s sense of hurt and betrayal would have lingered for far longer than the twenty seconds it takes to dissipate on screen.

Doc-Sherlock

I wonder if casual stalking was on the minds of the creative team behind the ‘Hello’ video. You remember ‘Hello’, don’t you? And no, I don’t mean that song by Adele, although from what I can gather, mashups of the two are endemic. No, ‘Hello’ was a 1984 number one for Lionel Richie – a sweet, piano-driven tale of seemingly unrequited love. It’s thoughtfully composed, decently structured and nicely produced. It was a surefire number one. Then Bob Giraldi (the chap set fire to Michael Jackson’s hair) got his sticky hands on it and turned it into the dark and frankly sinister tale of a college professor seeking an inappropriate relationship with one of his pupils.

It’s funny that of all the possible objections you could have to this setup, it’s the pupil / teacher thing that seems to rankle people the most. Maybe I’m just getting old, but back when I was at university (which really wasn’t so long ago) the scenario of students jumping into bed with their lecturers really wasn’t so uncommon, nor was it particularly frowned upon. It depends on the lecturer and the student – I can think of a couple of hookups that made my flesh crawl a little – but on the other hand both are consenting adults, and it seems churlish to criticise it in one breath and then, with the next, laugh at the narrative arc in Friends that explored the very same concept.

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No, what’s creepy about this is Lionel’s looks of predatory longing as he watches Laura sunning herself in the cafe, improvise drama in the lecture theatre and fall into the arms of a dance partner in a workshop. It’s the way he follows her down the corridor. The heavy breathing down the phone when he rings her up in the middle of the night (and why, Lionel, are you holding the receiver to your crotch while you’re singing to Laura?). And, of course, the infamous monkey head scene, in which Laura sculpts a bust of Lionel that looks absolutely nothing like him, prompting the befuddled lecturer to draw in his breath and exclaim “Oh, it’s…wonderful…”

It would be comparatively easy to take footage from Doctor Who and mix it up with Lionel’s ballad. Actually, it’s already been done. But can you – and this was the question I found myself asking – can you find enough footage to actually tell some sort of story? Can you recreate the beginning and the end? Can you, in effect, create some sort of love triangle? And can you effectively turn the Doctor into a sap?

It turns out you can. And if you wanted a compare-and-contrast, here’s the Lionel version.

Personally, I think I got it pretty close…

 

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I Believe in Father Christmas

It’s funny how, in putting this together, I had to go back and explore some of my least favourite stories.

Doctor Who at Christmas is an opportunity. Statistically, it’s the episode of the show that’s most likely to be watched by people who don’t normally watch it, existing as it does as a notch on the TV schedule at a time when most people are actually watching TV, accompanied by cheese and crackers and what’s left of the Christmas Eve gammon, and sandwiched somewhere between the BBC’s seasonal animation and a Two Ronnies compilation. Visiting family members perch awkwardly on the sofa, not quite sure what to make of this strange spectacle – a show that they might have watched in their childhood but haven’t seen since Tom Baker fell off the radio tower, or perhaps have never watched at all – as the resident enthusiast explains the basics. Or perhaps that’s just our house. Is it just our house? Please tell me it isn’t.

It’s therefore a crushing disappointment when they get it wrong. I suppose the sporting analogy would be taking your partner along to his or her inaugural game and have your team play an absolute damp squib instead of a blinder. They’ll wonder what on earth you see in this sort of recreational activity and you’ll find yourself prone to similar sudden introspection. The DW Christmas episode is, above all else, all about potential conversion and creating a story that’s accessible for the new or casual viewer (and it’s not just me, Peter Capaldi agrees). It’s not a time for endless continuity references and the resolution of complicated, series-long plot points: that sort of thing isn’t easy to stomach after a hard day’s feasting, unwrapping and shouting at the kids. I’d rather have something I can just watch and enjoy. (Judging the show’s seasonal installments in this manner, ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ is a roaring success, while ‘The Time of the Doctor’ is a dismal failure.)

Time of the Doctor (9)

My feelings on Christmas episodes are, at least within the context of this blog, well-documented (I’ll get a ‘Christmas’ tag done at some point, but if you’re really curious, check out some of the reviews or hover around the December point for each year of the archives). Externally, I wrote a little something for Metro a couple of years back that had earned the wrath of a few people who thought I’d got it totally wrong. Such is the cost of ranked lists, occurring as they do not within an objective vacuum but tainted by the personal views of whoever’s writing it, even if said personal views actually belong to a committee. In my case, I approached a recent Red Dwarf task by canvassing the opinions of various other people on Facebook, and coming up with a definitive order that reflected their views as much as my own. “Dude clearly wasn’t a red dwarf fan who made this post,” wrote one reader. “How can you not include quarantine. Rimmer in a gingham dress and MR flibbles!” To which my (unposted) answer is obviously “Because it’s my list, and not yours. Now bugger off.”

All the same. There’s something magical about even the worst of New Who when you view it out of context. The sleigh ride in ‘Last Christmas’. The lethal tree in ‘The Christmas Invasion’. Even those ridiculous snowmen. Taken as parts of lackluster episodes they’re tedious, but sandwiching them together seems to work. And there are many golden moments. Last year’s River Song episode was occasionally patchy, but the chemistry between Kingston and Capaldi far outweighed anything she’d achieved with his predecessor, and the moment when they’re standing on the balcony overlooking the Singing Towers is one of my favourite scenes in the Twelfth Doctor’s run.

I’d been toying with the idea of a Christmas montage for some weeks; it was just a question of picking the right song (copyright, as much as any artistic consideration, is a potential barrier). I’d just about chosen a track that I felt was appropriate (I’m not telling you what it is; I may use it in a year or two). Then Greg Lake – one third of the much-overrated prog rock tour de force that was Emerson, Lake and Palmer – died, and while his death was distressingly premature (2016, the year that just keeps on taking) it did at least make the song selection easier. Actually I think the end result is better than the video I would have made otherwise, which is about the only good thing I’m able to snatch from his death.

This probably won’t be my last post before the 25th – you’ll have to wait a few days for that – but it’s arguably the most Christmassy, and if we don’t speak again until the reindeer have eaten the mince pies, I hope your holiday season is peaceful and joyous, however you choose to spend it. And with that I’m off to watch ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Daniel, who’s been pleading for it since Saturday morning. If we’d waited until tomorrow it would have been the shortest day of the year, but real life, it seems, is never quite so neat and tidy. Still, that’s what makes it interesting.

a-christmas-carol-doctor-who

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Hello Docklands

Out Run.

That’s how it started. The ZX Spectrum port of Out Run. When you grow up with an eight-bit home computer you learn to make concessions, particularly where racing games are concerned. In the arcades, Out Run was a slick, fast-paced (and, it must be said, somewhat repetitive) racing experience, all sun-kissed beaches, billowing palm trees and beautiful girls. It was the American coast bursting onto a CRT in all its glory, and for a young boy living in suburban Reading this was as glamorous and exotic as it gets.

The Spectrum port, on the other hand, is like driving through treacle.

(And that’s the 128 version. Some of us didn’t even have in-game music.)

As if to concede the crushing sense of disappointment that would-be racers must have felt upon getting to that wretched bridge sequence and then having to pause the tape again so the multi-load could find the right block, the distributors saw fit to include a cassette of the soundtrack for your listening pleasure: extracts from ‘Passing Breeze’, ‘Splash Wave’ and ‘Magical Sound Shower’. Original versions and mods and remixes are all over YouTube and I will not link to them here: if you’ve played them, you will right now be humming your favourites. Those of us with a particularly glossy setup could cue a separate tape player next to our TV and arrange to have the music playing in the background, determinedly fast-forwarding to your particular favourites when you get to stage three. I couldn’t work out how they got the sounds, whether that guitar was real (it wasn’t) and why the constant ocean samples didn’t annoy me, but thus it was that my love affair with digital music was born.

Fast forward two years: it’s 1989 and I’m watching Black Box perform ‘Ride on Time’ on Top of the Pops. ‘Perform’ may be stretching it a bit. A more accurate description is that Davoli, Limoni and Semplici are gyrating awkwardly round their keyboards, bashing out something that almost syncs to the backing track, even if they’re jumping up and down octaves like Fry and Laurie performing ‘Hey Jude’, while Katrin Quinol is waving her arms and trying to make it look like her vocal track was actually recorded rather than heavily stitched. The cut-and-paste job is one I will grow to admire, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that my eleven-year-old self is thoroughly oblivious to it. My eyes are on the Roland that’s being used to bash out that famous piano riff. “Do you wish you could play the keyboard like that, James?” my mother asks. One day I will, although I will never play Black Box.

Fast forward. It’s December 1989. I’m listening to a cassette that Sinclair User gave away with their November issue. It contains music from Silkworm, Gemini Wing, Continental Circus, Double Dragon II, Shinobi and Ninja Warriors. I am thrilled beyond belief as I go to press tonight to find this on YouTube. I remember listening to the cassette that evening and having a furious argument with my mother halfway through the Double Dragon theme about why I’m not listening to it on my Walkman, which leads to accusations that the Walkman is missing. It is not, but she refuses to believe me. These days, shortly after my eldest has lost his mobile and will not admit it, I understand why she was so angry. Next time (and every time) I listen to the tape, I skip Double Dragon.

Fast forward. It’s 1990. I wander into the music department one lunchtime – my not-quite friend Ewan is playing ‘Magical Sound Shower’ on a Casio and HE DOESN’T HAVE MUSIC. He’s playing it brilliantly and he has a samba rhythm going and HE DOESN’T HAVE MUSIC. I make a vow that I will learn to play it in the same way. I annoy him by doing this remarkably quickly. It turns out that picking things up by ear is one of the few things I can do really well. Ewan is cross with me and then we get along. It’s the start of a friendship that spans over twenty years.

Fast forward. It’s 1991. Ewan has got me listening to a synthesizer outfit called Project D. My favourite songs on there are the Jarre ones, and also one called ‘Autobahn’. Years later I will listen to the original and wonder at how stripped down it is in comparison, but eventually learn to appreciate it. I hear songs for the first time that I will eventually discover in their inceptive forms, which is what happens to everyone when they are growing up, and I do not judge them for it.

Fast forward. It’s 1991 and as far as we are concerned. KLF is the biggest thing on the planet. Ewan has me listening to American hip hop and Californian rock and to Jean-Michel Jarre. I am taken aback by the orchestrations in ‘Rendezvous II’ and bored stiff by ‘Waiting For Cousteau’: I am an impatient thirteen-year-old yet to discover Brian Eno. Revolutions is my favourite album, with its industrial clanking and bleeping and general eclecticism.

Fast forward. It’s later in 1991 and War of the Worlds is my latest discovery. Ewan has the idea of writing a sequel. We team up with a few others and vow to keep it a secret until it’s done. I spill the beans to some of my friends. Ewan does not speak to me for days.

Fast forward. It’s 1995. Blur are huge. Oasis are even bigger. I start listening to stuff with guitars. Ewan is in Chichester but we still talk. I fall in love, out, in, out again. I discover jazz; Ewan is by and large disgusted. I discover Eels; he concedes they’re quite good.

Fast forward again. It’s 2002 and I’m re-listening to The Concerts in China. I am taken aback by the difference in tone between the muted applause of Beijing and the cheering in Shanghai. I ask Ewan about it. He says “They hadn’t had any western musician playing there in decades. That concert was all ageing politicians and rich businessmen. They didn’t know what to make of him. What the fuck did you expect?”

Fast forward. It’s 2011. For some reason or another, I stop speaking to Ewan.

Fast forward. It’s 2012. On a cold winter’s evening I listen to Autobahn. It leads to a surge of interest in Kraftwerk. I do a little downloading. In January 2013 I have the idea of mixing up ‘Showroom Dummies’ with ‘Rose’. It just about works.

Fast forward. It’s 2013. I extend a couple of half-hearted olive branches to Ewan. I get nowhere and concede that’s probably it.

Fast forward. It’s early 2016 and I find this.

Fast forward. It’s June. I am playing through Grand Theft Auto V. I am enjoying the soundtrack – unintrusive ambient electronic music with a distinctive eighties vibe, as befits the listening tastes of one of the game’s protagonists. I make a note to research Tangerine Dream. I discover their back catalogue consists of over a hundred albums. I decide not to swim in this particular pool at the moment.

Fast forward. It’s August this year. I’m at a festival in Northamptonshire. We are hanging around in the kids’ area; Lego spills out of the nearby tents, the nursery gazebo resembles a Little Tikes showroom, and junk modelling festoons the lawn. We’re early for the family talent show and they’re prepping the venue. The chap on the desk is doing his sound check: it’s the Revolutions album. I have not heard it in almost a decade. But today I hear Hank Marvin playing the guitar solo on ‘London Kid’ and I nearly burst into tears.

Fast forward. I come home. I rationalise that a marriage between ‘Revolution, Revolutions’ and Doctor Who will probably work quite well. I listen to it again and remember the fun I used to have with my friend, translating the lyrics into French: “SEX….PAS DE – PAS DE – PAS DE SEX!”. I go through twelve years of Who. And, eventually, I make the video you see at the top.

It’s for Ewan. And he’ll probably never know.

 

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A trip to the moon

“No cheese, Gromit. Not a bit in the house!”

That? That was Edward. Specifically Edward back in May or June. He’s walking in and out of the lounge with a Jacob’s cream cracker in one hand and a cuddly tiger in the other. I am standing at the side of the room, grinding my teeth.

Let me explain. Edward’s obsessions tend to go in phases. For a while it was Hey Duggee!. Then it was Bing. The earliest memory I have, in fact, of his engagement with the TV is of him sitting on the floor rocking back and forth to the Twirlywoos theme. We are just now coming out of the Kazoops era, for which I am profoundly grateful: if I have to hear that wretched song about the Big Red Button one more time I’m going to kill a pig and dump the blood all over Jeanie’s head at the senior prom.

kazoops_bacon

Sandwiched somewhere in between all the CBeebies stuff was Wallace & Gromit. He watched them daily. Sometimes more often than that. I got thoroughly sick of brass band music. He took to quoting them liberally at every turn, and we’d join in. I have yet to road-test the flawed masterpiece that is The Curse of the Were Rabbit – a little too long and a little too scary is my current rationale for holding it in reserve – but the others he devoured. He sings along with the theme without the slightest provocation. He refers to Gromit as ‘Gromit lad’. We haven’t the heart to correct him.

Gromit, of course, is one of the world’s greatest silent film stars – the most soulful of creatures who manages to express a myriad different moods simply through eyes and body language. He’s broken out of prison, is a whizz with electronics and bakes a decent loaf of bread to boot. He’s intelligent, sensible and steadfastly loyal. We enjoy all of their adventures, although I think there are probably few moments as great as the scene when, towards the end of The Wrong Trousers, Gromit picks up the spare model railway pieces and starts building the track on the fly.

spare-track

Still, A Grand Day Out was Edward’s favourite. And I think it may have been Joshua who suggested “Ooh, you know what? You could do something with that John Lewis advert.”

You remember. It was last Christmas and everyone was crying buckets at the sight of a little girl sending a telescope up to the moon so the old man who lived up there wouldn’t be so lonely. It required a suspension of disbelief that rivals the prerequisite for Armageddon, but it made a serious point about loneliness and ageing, and for that I am willing to forgive all manner of structural flaws. After the idiocy that was Monty the Penguin I thought I’d become too cynical to be moved by these things, but that finale had me crying in my office chair.

John Lewis responded to the near-unanimous praise for this heartfelt story by following it with a ridiculous, selfishly materialistic piece of rubbish about a dog on a trampoline. It is bollocks. I am not getting into it here, but you can read my not-entirely-serious rebuttal in Metro, if you like. It was basically a bit of fun but I do seem to have earned the wrath of the Facebook community. There have been calls for my head. “The person who wrote this,” said one person, “probably voted out and supports Trump”. That’s gone on the testimonials page. I’m keeping that one.

Anyway: if you look at the man on the moon video it lends itself to some sort of tribute, and I found it in A Grand Day Out. It’s a strange tale that takes in Méliès and adds a walking oven. The apparent presence of oxygen is never explained, but then again John Lewis didn’t explain it either. The character designs are a bit rough and ready but Peter Sallis is clearly having fun, and the story – though inconsequential – is engaging.

Putting this together was relatively simple; it was just a question of restructuring the episode and making it look as if the two of them had gone there specifically to drop off a present for a lonely robot, rather than having said robot try and kill Wallace with a truncheon. The song you can hear is Aurora’s cover of ‘Half The World Away’ – I used the sound from the TV ad, as this had a pleasant instrumental section that isn’t in her recording. Unfortunately this meant having to find something to accompany the sound of playing children, but the chattering mice in the basement provided that. And it ends, much like A Grand Day Out, with the oven skiing across the surface of the moon. It’s not quite telescopes and smiling pensioners. But it works. Merry Christmas. Goodwill to all men, women and dogs.

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Remastered: Whistle and I’ll Come To You, Explained

In the darkness, something stirs. There’s a scratching at the door. John Hurt lies on an old bed, fingering a ring he found on the beach with almost Hobbit-like intimacy. There are noises. We never find out what’s causing the disturbance. There is an ending, but as with the best horror stories, it makes comparatively little sense.

It terrified me. It terrified both of us, as I remember: the heightened emotions of Yule and the thrill of a ghostly tale told beneath a darkened, wintry sky; the sight of a suddenly lucid Gemma Jones sitting on the bed, staring directly at the camera. The moment it finished I turned on all the lights. Neither of us slept well.

“There were just lots of noises,” Emily said, when I asked her why it had affected her so much. “And nasty things happening. And I couldn’t understand it!”. This, I suppose, is the whole point: we fear what we do not understand, and the nature of the haunting that the ageing professor was experiencing was never fully explained. In the meantime I managed to spook my wife by scratching on the side of the bed, and crawling across it towards her, bellowing “I’M STILL HERE!”

I accept – without reservation – that the original is better, despite never having seen it; one set of wandering blankets is enough, thank you very much. And I wouldn’t say that the video that followed – which I completed a few weeks later, at the dawn of 2011 – was therapy. But perhaps in a way it was. Perhaps the best way to defuse the tension is to kill it with a joke. This was my favourite episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and it was such an obvious fit. It pairs Frank Spencer with the War Doctor. The end result jars, which is partly the type of film used and partly the aspect ratio. But the story works.

If you’ve been following this blog more or less since its inception – or if you’ve had the dedication to go back and read through all the archives, for which I thank you profusely – you’ll remember that this video is the first one I did, and the first one I wrote about here. Deciding to revisit it again this autumn (purely for the purposes of uploading it to Facebook) meant a host of mostly cosmetic changes. I fixed a couple of rough edits and took care of a couple of sound issues that I was never quite happy with. The actual structure is more or less unaltered, because it works as is. I got my fair share of negative feedback, given that it doesn’t really give the concrete answer that people might have expected from the title. It’s an explanation, but a comedic one. I honestly think people expect to be spoon-fed.

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But I do recall another night not long after we’d seen Whistle, lying in bed, cuddled, the electric moon candles I gave her for Christmas the only light in the room.

“I looked it up, and there seem to be a couple of theories,” I was telling her. “One is that the whole thing was psychosomatic. The other is that she was haunting him because he believed she was nothing more than an Alzheimer’s-ridden shell. But I don’t know.
“Something strange, though. You remember the ugly bust they had in the bedroom? Apparently Neil Cross, the writer, was staying in a hotel in Devon, probably for research or something. And that same bust was in his room and he remembered it looking inappropriately creepy for hotel decor and that probably fuelled the creative process. Later on, when they were assembling the set in the Surrey mansion they were using, he realised it would look good in John Hurt’s room so he contacted the hotel, and asked if they could borrow it. And apparently…it never existed. He showed them photos, and they said yes, it’s our hotel and it’s our room, but this bust was never here.”

Emily said nothing.

“So they had a replica made, because he could remember what it looked like, but the original just wasn’t there. Creepy stuff, isn’t it? Anyway, goodnight.”
“Shithead.”

Happy Halloween.

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Conversion. It’s a Bing thing

Today, boys and girls, we’re going to ruin ‘Earthshock’.

A while ago I did a video that combined Wolf Hall with Bing Bunny. Mark Rylance starred in both and it seemed like a natural crossover, partly because it seemed to go against the grain of everything that Bing stood for. Because if you’ve seen it – more to the point if you’re a mother or father who’s seen it – you’ll know that there is nothing to stir feelings of parental inadequacy than that wretched bunny, or more specifically the diminutive guardian who looks after him. Bing’s an emotionally precocious child with the uncanny ability to grasp important concepts more or less at the first time of asking, but his full time carer is saintly to the point of other worldliness. Flop, you feel, is the one who has it down pat – attentive, nurturing, and impeccably responsible. Bing breaks his mobile, chucks it in the bin and then hides under a blanket. Flop doesn’t bat an eyelid. As role models go there is none finer, but there is only room for one up on that pedestal. In an age of right-on hipster parenting, he’s Jesus.

But as a dad who defends his right to shout at the kids while trying to wash up, tidy the lounge and deal with the mother of all headaches, I confess I’m a little sick of all the Facebook memes that encourage me to ‘find my inner Flop’. When I can’t get into Joshua’s room because of the mountain of yoghurt cartons and greasy spoons, when Edward’s broken my laptop again and someone’s pissed all over the toilet seat for the third time that afternoon, the inner Flop is about as far away from my thoughts as Donald Trump is from publishing his tax return. I don’t want to clear up shards of broken glass from the kitchen floor and tell them that it’s no big thing. It damn well is a big thing because we can’t eat the trifle. It will cease to be a big thing only after copious amounts of wine. I’m not a fan of the ‘look at me, I’m a shit parent’ alcohol-quaffing pyjama-wearing chicken nugget-baking slummy mummy brigade (I defend your right to raise your children that way, just stop preaching about it on Facebook) but I’m human, and it’s sometimes a little tedious to be a captive audience for parenting lessons given by a creature that is categorically not.

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So it was fun exploring that darker side of Flop, combining the sinister machinations of Thomas Cromwell with the cute adventures of Bing and his friends. Unfortunately Aardman weren’t very amused, and had it pulled – it was partly copyright, partly the combination of child-friendly material with adult themes. They had a point. It would be nice to think that young people’s YouTube activity is monitored by their parents / guardians / anthropomorphic sack toys, but you and I both know that isn’t the case, and all the advisory warnings in the world count for nothing because people don’t read these things.

So when it came to doing this one I was a little more careful. I’d like to hope it’s harder to find and the likelihood of some unsuspecting child stumbling across it is minimised. The irony is that this is arguably far less adult-themed than The Dark Side of Flop, given that it relies on the premise of a Cyber Leader dubbed over with dialogue from Bing until he’s…well, you’ve watched it by now, you see how he is. He’s a nutcase. Trudging through thirty-five episodes of Bing to find appropriate sound clips was no fun at all, but I had a riot actually matching things up and making them work. My favourite scene is still the bit in the TARDIS, which is the only one I think really works, but everything else just about hangs together.

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Why ‘Earthshock’? It’s David Banks, really. Because when I look back through the history of the Doctor’s encounter with the Cybermen, he’s the one I remember. The problem with Cybermen is that by and large they lack personality, and thus the stories have to be truly frightening in order to have any real impact (which is why everything after ‘The Age of Steel’ is generally a dismal failure). The Cyber Leader in ‘Earthshock’ has personality in spades. It’s tempting to say that this is nothing more than an anomaly, but over the years I’ve been cultivating a theory: that the biggest mistake we can make about the Cybermen is to say that they have no emotions. I no longer believe that’s the case. Written within the confines of a single sentence such an idea sounds patently ludicrous, but I explain it all here. Go and have a read, then we’ll talk.

‘Earthshock’ was the first Doctor Who story I remember from my childhood, did I ever tell you that? It is quietly marvellous: the surprises, for the initiated, come thick and fast, and the ending is still gut-wrenchingly moving, loathing of Adric aside. Even if you know what’s coming, it’s still great – but it’s better still if you don’t. (I had a lovely conversation with someone recently who was watching it for the first time, having no idea at all that the Cybermen were about to show up. I didn’t think that sort of spoiler-free access was possible these days.) Put it this way: I think there’s a reason why that shattered badge and the silent credit crawl is my first memory of the show, and I do wonder if I managed to exercise a few demons this week.

In many respects this is a spiritual successor to Dalek Zippy, and is in fact the middle act in a trilogy, the climax of which is still under construction (with Willo The Silent the embarrassing spin-off that no one really talks about). It was a hard graft but worth it. It made my children laugh and it is their approval, above all others, that I seek. And it keeps me out of mischief and stops me wondering what other dreadful things I can be doing with Bing and Flop and the other inhabitants of their bright and colourful world.

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Oh God, you really didn’t see this. Move along.

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I am the remaster, and you will obey me (part two)

Last week we were talking about old videos that I’d been re-doing. If you haven’t read part one, you can do so here.

Today, set a course for deep space, three million years in the future…

2. The Tenth Doctor Meets Holly

This was the only one of my videos to ever feature in The Daily Mirror. I am still grateful to Danny Walker for picking it up; the effect on traffic was pretty substantial. It’s the one that tends to get the lion’s share of the comments coming in, although they’re not all good. I had a delicious argument with a troll a while back who argued that there was no good British sci-fi. Americans, he contested, had Star Wars and Star Trek and Philip K. Dick. “You guys do fantasy great,” he conceded, but that was it.

“You don’t have Star Wars,” I told him. “It was written and produced by an American and some of the leads are American, but a significant chunk of the cast are British (the ones who can act, anyway) and an awful lot of it was filmed here with British crews.” I then gave him a list of seminal English sci-fi writers and casually insulted him: this was the point at which the troll realised he was being trolled back, whereupon he promptly vanished.

Well, honestly. You have to keep an eye on things. I have a self-imposed ‘never apologise, never explain’ rule to my Metro and Doctor Who Companion work, but when it comes to YouTube, I’m there like a rocket when the abuse comes in. Nine times out of ten you’re more intelligent than the person insulting you, and it can be fun running rings around them, as I did with Mr “Fuck you, I hate you more than my slow phone” last month. I know it’s juvenile. And I know you’re not supposed to feed the troll hater. But there’s a time and a place. If you were running a stand at a convention and someone came up and started being rude to you, you wouldn’t ignore them, you’d tell them to sling their hook. This is a bit like that.

But this video…eesh. The negative comments on this bugged me, because they were right. In its original form, it was far too long. In my quest to include more or less every usable clip I shoehorned in a lot of stuff that didn’t need to be there. For example, there’s a bit where the Doctor and Rose and Mickey are discussing the concept of parallel universes, so I included some speculation from Holly about Ringo Starr (from a series 2 episode called, astonishingly, ‘Parallel Universe’). It wasn’t funny. But in it went. There was an exchange with Harriet Jones that didn’t work. In it went. The ending didn’t work. The opening scene with Tennant works at its beginning and then doesn’t.

“Some of these,” said one user, “I felt were misjudged and kind of fell flat but the ones that were good, were really good.” Others were less kind: “A very nice idea,” somone said, “but very poorly executed”. The most scathing criticism came from Red Whovian, who (despite having a silly name) pointed out that “You’ve got to do more than just insert Holly in between Dr Who clips; a good editor can make the dialogue seem like it’s properly interacting.”

You can imagine at the time that this bugged me tremendously. It’s not much fun when someone takes the trouble to unceremoniously dump on this labour of love that took you hours and for which you didn’t get paid, and which cost them nothing to see. “Take their comments,” suggested a friend, “and look at them constructively. Ask yourself whether they might have a point about any of it. If they don’t, you don’t need to worry.”

When it came to look at this again, less was more. It was a lesson I’d already learned and put into practice when assembling other similar videos. I fixed the ambient sound and managed to re-crop some of the dialogue so that a couple of lines that were previously missing their very beginning (which is like, I don’t know, an MP4 circumcision) were now fully intact. But the most important thing was what was missing: lines were moved from one scene to another (Holly’s “Explain this” exchange now makes a modicum of sense), and whole exchanges were lost. The ending was re-jigged. Peter Jackson’s approach to ‘definitive cuts’ of Lord of the Rings was to add footage he had to remove from the theatrical version. When Ridley Scott went back to Blade Runner, it was all about what he wanted to remove. You can guess which I prefer.

It’s not perfect – still, it is, I hope, something of an improvement. Unless you’re watching on a slow phone, of course. But I can’t do everything.

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I am the remaster, and you will obey me (part one)

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It’s always funny, when I look at the hit counts, how two of my most popular videos are the ones I don’t like.

Maybe it’s the price of exposure. When no one is watching your stuff, no one is picking out the holes. The higher the hit count the more it gets noticed and the longer the line of people queuing up to point out the weak spots and the plot holes and the rough edges. Either that or they swear at you. Did I ever tell you that my first ever comment was someone calling me a va-jay-jay? That’s the sort of thing that used to keep me awake at night; these days I hardly even notice. I’ve got plenty of people who think I’m an idiot; I don’t need to go to YouTube for that.

But sometimes it’s a relief when people are honest. When you’re told your video editing skills are ‘fantastic’ (as I was just last week), knowing full well yourself that this is really not true, you wonder whether you can actually trust the general public to be arbiters of quality. These are people who thought ‘Death In Heaven’ was a masterpiece, for crying out loud. Sycophancy is second nature. The trick is knowing when people have a point and when they’re just being mean. There are two types of people, for example, who have criticised the Twelfth Doctor Regenerates video I did back in July. They’re either pointing out the inconsistencies and jumps (all perfectly valid, but unless you’re the guy who made Wholock you have to work with limited resources when you’re trying to put two Doctors in the same room) or they’re being rude. “Fuck you,” said a teenager who genuinely seemed to think that he was about to watch something with spoilers that would give him the information he so desperately craved. “I hate you more than my slow phone.” Still giggling, over a month later.

In any event, I found myself at a bit of a loose end these last two weeks – in between frantic bouts of writing for Metro – and have managed to go back and redo a couple of things I’ve been meaning to look at for some time. I have no delusions about them matching the success of the originals – nor, in a way, would I want them to. Both were products of their time (the second one less so) and while they’ve been improved technically I had to resist the temptation to completely rewrite them: to do so would have been somehow less than honest. I was going to stick them both in the same post, but I think we’re going to break this up a bit. I’m sure you have enough to be doing, don’t you?

1. The Ninth, Tenth and Eleveth Doctors hold a video conference

In July 2013 I discovered the joy of unscored audio – in other words, dialogue-only soundtracks for Who episodes, available from Dropbox links. It’s changed the way I work. It allows you to easily rip out dialogue and move it wherever you want, to chop and change scenes and to tighten and re-sequence and juxtapose, all without the jarring effect you get when the music suddenly stops. I road-tested it by creating a version of the Doctor’s Akhaten speech with music from Ulysses 31. It didn’t quite work, because of frame rate issues (although it’s a problem I could probably now fix), but the possibilities were there.

The original version of this video pre-dated that one by a couple of months, and while it’s had its fair share of compliments (as well as a few people shouting “Oh, THIS IS SO FAKE!”, having completely missed the point) it’s also been pointed out to me more than once that the sound does jar a bit. That’s to be expected – The ‘Bad Wolf’ scene from which the Eccleston footage was grabbed is steeped in score, occurring as it does at the climax of the episode, while a quieter, slightly more understated theme (I’d say that Murray Gold was learning, but you and I both know that isn’t true) is present during the Eleventh Doctor’s ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ scenes. Only the ‘Blink’ exchange emerges unscathed, and even then you have to put up with the whine of a projector.

(Incidentally with ‘Blink’. The Doctor’s original recording is present as an Easter Egg on the series 3 box set. Having re-watched the episode this afternoon with Daniel, Em and I were in discussion about it, and surely a better course of action by the Beeb would have been to put it on seventeen completely unrelated DVDs, spread at random, without telling anyone? Something you wouldn’t expect a Who fan to buy? Something that Carey Mulligan might own? And what if they’d done this for DVDs that were all released three or four months in advance of series 3? Yes, it’s obscure and faintly ridiculous, but can you imagine the media exposure when it came out? I’d have pitched the idea to them, but I think that ship has sailed.)

With this it was a simple question of redubbing every Ninth / Eleventh Doctor line (except for the ones on the beach), adding a little ambient sound, and then tightening everything up so the whole thing flowed better. Dialogue sometimes overlaps; at other times I’m content to let the silence speak for itself. I still have no idea what the three of them are arguing about, although it’s apparent that Nine is being extremely stubborn about whatever he’s being asked to do, and I’m still not entirely sure what I mean by having the Tenth Doctor reply ‘Complicated…very complicated’ when he’s asked about Rose (although curiously this seems to be the bit that people like most, so I must have done something right). But you could now almost – almost – believe they’re having a conversation, however bizarre it might be.

It probably won’t stop people shouting “OH, THIS IS SO FAKE!”. But that’s too bad. You tell them. I have to go and cook dinner.

 

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