Posts Tagged With: video

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.

straight_storm

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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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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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.

whistle-and-i-ll-come-to-you

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.

whistle_01

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All your TARDIS are belong to us

“So what’s Paper Mario like, then?”
“It’s great,” said Jon, as he gunned the engine and drove the battered old Nissan through the Friday evening traffic. “There’s this bit where you face off against a boss and he shouts ‘SNACK ON MY WRATH, FINK RATS!!!'”.

Do you know Jon? He’s one of Stack Overflow’s biggest celebrities, apparently. People even stop him in the street. His wife, Holly, is a respected children’s author, and also Thomas’s godmother. But I knew them as the people who opened their doors on Fridays (and Saturdays. And Sundays, and often during the week) and gave me a second home back when the millennium turned. Those Friday evenings consisted of cinema visits, followed by Holly’s pasta and wine accompanied by long games of Siedler or Super Smash Bros – usually in the company of our friend Douglas – and the four of us would talk until the stars came out.

I haven’t seen them for years, although we still keep in touch. I miss those Fridays, not least because we liked the same things but had different experiences of them, which always made conversation interesting. Jon was a big Resident Evil fan back in the day, and we loved the creepiness of those early instalments, before it became gung ho and ridiculous. But over the years I’ve managed to remove the rose tints from my glasses. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief when you are faced with such ridiculous dialogue. “Jill?” says Barry Burton, early in the first game. “Here’s a lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.”

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I still giggle about this, even though it’s fairly typical of the style. I can never work out whether these things are badly translated or simply badly written. In this instance I suspect it’s the latter, and there’s a part of me that laments the fact that designers have obviously poured their collective hearts and souls into refining a project’s gameplay, soundtrack and visual flair, only to stumble at the first hurdle when it came to finding a decent script. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Devil May Cry but it is hard not to stare at the screen and mutter “Whu…..?” when Dante cradles his (supposedly) dead girlfriend in his arms and sobs “I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with LIGHT!!!”.

On the other hand, House of the Dead 2 – or Typing of the Dead, as we came to know it – had pedestrian dialogue, very badly performed, but it doesn’t matter. Gratuitous over-acting is par for the course in many bigger titles, whether it’s Harry Mason’s B-movie schlock in the first Silent Hill, or Roy Campbell’s angst-ridden cries of “SNAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKE!!!!” in Metal Gear Solid. That’s actually OK. Sometimes the acting suits the mood. And House of the Dead is unquestionably brilliant.

Anyway. When I was a teenager, there was a game called Zero Wing. I’m told it was a reasonable success in the arcades, but I only ever knew it on the Sega Megadrive (or Genesis, if you’re reading in the U.S.). It is a generic side-scrolling shooter with nothing in particular to single it out from all the other side-scrollers that were endemic in late 1980s culture, save its intro. Because said intro has passed into legend as being one of the worst translations in video game history, to the extent that “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US” was a meme even before memes were officially invented. There is even a Bohemian Rhapsody version, if you are so inclined. It is not great – stretching a joke to snapping point seldom is – but it deserves brownie points for trying.

The irony is that the original Japanese dialogue – when tralsated properly – is actually not too bad at all. Observe:

TITLE CARD:
In A.D. 2101
The battle began

Captain: What happened!?
Mechanic: Someone detonated bombs all around us!
Operator: Captain! Incoming transmission!
Captain: What!?
Operator: Image coming through on the main monitor.
Captain: You… you are…!!
CATS: You appear to be preoccupied, gentlemen. Thanks to the cooperation of the UN forces, all of your bases now belong to CATS. Your ship too, shall soon be destroyed.
Captain: Im.. Impossible! (or F.. Foolishness!)
CATS: We thank you for your cooperation. Enjoy the remaining moments of your lives….Hahahahaha ….
Operator: Captain!?
Captain: Launch all ZIG fighters! All we can do is entrust it to them…Give us hope for our future…We’re counting on you, ZIG!!

With this:

TITLE CARD:
In A.D. 2101
War was beginning

Captain: What happen?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you!!
CATS: How are you gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us. You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time. Ha ha ha ha…
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!! You know what you doing. Move ZIG. For great justice.

Anyway.

I can’t remember the exact moment I thought a Doctor Who rendition of this would be a good idea, but I finally got round to doing it last week. I will spare you the technical details, except that I used different software in order to get the font the way I wanted it, and said software (which I will not name) proved to be more trouble than it was worth, but we got there eventually. Footage is all New Who based because it saved fiddling with aspect ratios (and besides, the ‘Cat’ substitute actually works pretty well). If it looks somewhat grainy, that’s all part of the fun. This whole experience has kind of put me off doing intros for a while, but when I eventually take it up again I really ought to work in that line from Paper Mario, simply because it’s great. It’s just a question of figuring out how to do it.

Jon would know. Maybe I’ll email him.

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Doctor Who: The Day Before You Came

(If you’re reading this on a phone or tablet there is a chance that the embedded video may be unavailable to you. If that’s the case, I’ve left another version at Vimeo; that one should work.)

You say ABBA, you think ‘Dancing Queen’. You think Eurovision and ‘Waterloo’. You think Meryl Streep crying on a hill. You think Pierce Brosnan belting out ‘S.O.S.’ in the manner of someone having a prostate exam off camera (not my joke). You think flashy costumes and a certain joie de vivre.

Because no one likes to remember how utterly miserable they were by the time they disbanded. ABBA were a group who bore their hearts on their sleeves, or at least that’s the way it looked to the rest of us, whether it’s the raw emotion of ‘The Winner Takes It All’, the slightly manipulative but no less heartfelt sadness of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, the parenting anthem to end all parenting anthems (with the possible exception of ‘The Living Years’)…even something as outwardly upbeat as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ is amicably miserable (though it does include the line ‘not too old for sex’, so every cloud). I’m not saying we ignore the miserable bits, more that we tend to give more airspace to something like ‘Fernando’ than something like ‘One Of Us’. (I’ve never much cared for that song, although that’s the point at which Agnetha permed her hair and I stopped fancying her, so maybe that had something to do with it.)

The starkness plays out in that final album. The Visitors is possibly the best thing they ever did, tapping new and uncharted musical territory – an almost industrial technopop that was years ahead of its time and which Andersson and Ulvaeus would see come to fruition of a sort when they finished Chess, even though that’s still fairly theatrical. But it’s those two non-album singles – ‘Under Attack’ and ‘The Day Before You Came’ – that make the playlists, despite an initially lukewarm reaction from an audience that wasn’t ready for anything like this and had in any case more or less lost interest. Years later the latter regularly tops fan polls. I wonder if in years to come we’ll view ‘Fear Her’ with such retrospective acclaim.

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…No, I don’t think so either.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘The Day Before You Came’ is worth reading, but I’ll summarise the best bits –

– Despite the minimal backing track, what really stands out is Agnetha’s voice, which is by and large sung in her native Swedish accent, rather than the twang she would adopt for other recordings

– The song’s meaning is the subject of intense scrutiny and debate – is this a song to a boyfriend? An ex-boyfriend? A murderer? Did her mundane life change for the better when this mysterious figure arrived, or did it in fact get worse? (The video goes some way to explaining this, although if you need a video to explain a song, the song’s a failure, so I prefer to think of the video as an afterthought)

– She left at 8 am and was at work by 9:15; conversely she left at 5 pm and didn’t get home for three hours. I know the woman stopped to pick up a Chinese but even allowing for rush hour traffic there is something going on here.

– Myself, I’ve always liked the image of Agnetha alone in the studio, completing the final recording with the lights out, as a musical union that’s outlasted two marriages limps along to its final, scrappy conclusion. Roll credits.

Anyway. Why the hell hasn’t anyone done something with Doctor Who? When you consider the new series’ focus on companions and the way their lives are changed by the arrival (and eventual departure) of the Doctor, isn’t it an obvious fit? The Doctor has a habit of blustering in, acting as a catalyst for revolution and reform and then making a quiet exit so someone else can clean up the mess. Doesn’t he have a tendency to treat people the same way?

What annoyed me intensely was that all those departure / regeneration scenes I found myself mocking when I watched the episodes that contained them took on a sudden emotional resonance when I looked at them again. I mean, I was crying at the Doctor / Verity Newman scene in ‘The End of Time’. That scene is faintly ridiculous and here I am wiping my eyes clean. Then I was crying at Rose. Dammit, I’m one of the ones that smirks whenever this sort of thing shows up on the Tumblr feeds. WHY IS THIS UPSETTING ME? I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD INSIDE!

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That’s a roundabout way of saying that I made this last week, feeling sad and not really knowing why. Perhaps I knew, on one level or another, that this week would be the way it was. And I do feel sad this week, more than I can tell you. The world seems to have no real sense of self, just a collection of squabbling factions and misunderstandings and hatred and bile. I feel as if we’ve broken something we’re not going to be able to fix in a hurry, and rather than actually sitting down and working out how it broke and what we can do to piece it back together, we’re just kicking the fragments round the playground like angry schoolchildren.

And I don’t know the answer. I don’t. But I know that’s no way to run a planet.

Postscript: episodes used, in order of first appearance – 

Rose
The Zygon Inversion
Smith and Jones
Partners in Crime
Last Christmas
The End of Time
Listen
Parting of the Ways
Day of the Doctor
The Bells of Saint John
The Wedding of River Song
Journey’s End
The Angels Take Manhattan
Doomsday
The God Complex
The Fires of Pompeii
Army of Ghosts
Hell Bent
Last of the Time Lords
Death in Heaven
The Eleventh Hour
Turn Left
The Name of the Doctor
Face the Raven
Fear Her

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The Inevitable Doctor Who / Ulysses 31 mashup

I’ve talked about Ulysses 31 more than once. It’s a show I’ve loved since the 1980s – ever since the Chronos episode gave me recurring nightmares; ever since I was able to gloat that I’d seen the final episode when Matt Brady had missed it; ever since Philip Schofield did a memorable lipdub in the Children’s BBC Broom Cupboard on an otherwise nondescript Thursday afternoon. When Josh started studying Greek mythology as his school topic I insisted we watch the entire run together, and that’s exactly what we did. Some of the visual effects are rather dated, the characterisation is often paper thin (was any son so sickeningly worthy as Telemachus?) and the Everybody Laughs ending is used with alarming frequency. But by and large it stands up. There is, as yet, no big screen adaptation – but we do have the live action version, which I’m hesitant even to link to, given that it puts my own paltry efforts utterly to shame.

Still, you find stuff. My admiration for the programme – its mythology, its grand design, its fantastic score – is what prompted me to construct a redub of the closing monologue from the much-derided ‘Rings of Akhaten’, scored to ‘Vengeance of the Gods’. It was round about the time I first discovered the unscored audio tracks that lurk around the internet, which make seamless transitions much easier to do. It largely works, although – as I’ve recently had pointed out – you’d struggle to find a scene that wasn’t improved by the inclusion of the Ulysses 31 soundtrack. Some of it’s a little disco, but that’s by no means a bad thing. If it’s good enough for the Bee Gees…

It was while I was sharing this on Facebook, for no reason other than oh-it’s-Thursday-and-I-haven’t-posted-in-a-while, that someone suggested they’d rather see a full title sequence. It was an utterly insane idea and as such it was something I couldn’t really not do. The smallerpictures venture is all about experimenting with the insane to see if it bears fruit. In this case the fruit is lumpy and harbours the occasional worm. It’s organic. Don’t mess with it; you’ll be sorry when the bees are gone. And my goodness, this one was a faff. There are zooms and reverses and all sorts of trickery. Look, anyone can make a title sequence. There’s an art to doing it well, but it’s a fairly trivial endeavour. Far more fun, surely, to try and find existing footage that matches the original? At least that’s a bit quirky. That’s what I did with Magnum P.I., and that got picked up by BBC America, of all things.

So that’s what this is. I’d not expect you to be sufficiently familiar with the original to be aware that this is an attempt at shot-for-shot, which is why I did a comparison, which you can see below. Some parts are more successful than others. I am particularly proud of the ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ footage that pervades the closing moments – you’ll know it when you see it. Gareth said “Do a Classic Who version!” And I might, at some point. But this has wiped me out. Of course, it’s not as good as the live action version. But then, what is?

 

 


Postscript

Episodes used in order of first chronological appearance were:

The Rings of Akhaten
Death in Heaven
The End of Time (part one)
The Waters of Mars
The Runaway Bride
Hide
Curse of the Black Spot
The Big Bang
Smith and Jones
The Girl Who Died
Vincent and the Doctor
The Woman Who Lived
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
Face The Raven
Partners in Crime
Journey’s End
Doomsday
Fear Her
Doctor Who Titles (series 7 part 1 edition)
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Poison Sky
Deep Breath
A Good Man Goes To War
Voyage of the Damned
The Zygon Invasion
Parting of the Ways
The Empty Child
The Day of the Doctor
Hell Bent
Rose
The Doctor Dances
Doctor Who Titles – Series 8

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The Gospel of John: the Elbow version

It’s been a busy week, all told. Thomas’s party (improbably Lemony Snicket-themed) is next Wednesday and we are still up to our ears in cake plans, brainstorming sessions for games and the sheer rigmarole of chasing people for RSVPs. (Dealing with a few ambiguous or non-existent responses is comparatively easy if you’ve invited thirty or forty children: worst case scenario, you wind up overcatering. When you’ve only invited seven or eight, that’s half the party.)

I am also leading worship on Sunday, and this led to the thing you see above. I wanted to depict the resurrection (the subject of this week’s service) in montage form, rather than just playing a couple of clips.  The first problem was finding suitable source material, and The Gospel of John – from the Visual Bible series – turned out to be a second choice. Son of God, which reuses footage from the 2014 Bible TV series and combines it with new material, has more striking visuals, owing in part to its larger budget. Sadly, there just wasn’t enough – the resurrection and ascension are dealt with in about four minutes flat, so it’s gone on the back burner for another time. (There is also the 1999 Jesus mini-series, but it’s so horribly Americanised I really didn’t want to touch it.)

What strikes me throughout this was the ambiguous mood. I’d anticipated a gradual buildup to the reveal of Christ (that first clear shot, in the Garden of Gethsemane, is quite deliberately placed) and then a jubilant release for the coda, with multiple shots of smiling, overjoyed disciples. In the end, you make do with what you have, and that turned out to be a sea of troubled faces. But that works, largely because I can’t help thinking my own reaction to a resurrected Jesus would be one of similar ambivalence – elation at seeing him again, coupled with shame and despair that I’d let him down a couple of days back.

The song choice was never up for debate. I’ve been wanting an excuse to assemble something to ‘One Day Like This’ ever since discovering Elbow a few years back. While not quite their creative peak (Build A Rocket Boys is a better album) there are few anthems by them – by any band, come to that – which carry such a sense of euphoric triumph. The song’s about waking up next to someone and realising that you love them, but it seems to fit the mood. And as much as I live in fear that it’s set to become our generation’s ‘Hey Jude’ – with a wrinkled, balding Guy Garvey hoisted out onto the stage in thirty years’ time to lead the Olympic crowd in a grand singalong of a tune that’s been played to death – I’m glad I finally got to use it.

My brother-in-law, incidentally, does not share my fears about the fate of ‘One Day Like This’, stating that he “can’t see Guy Garvey allowing that to happen”. And he’s probably right. Elbow can fill an arena in ten minutes, but when it comes to creative choices, I really can’t see them selling out.

Elbow

Well, probably not.

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WhoTube

A while back, there was a circulated post doing the rounds containing a bunch of ‘honest’ logos and slogans. Here are four of my favourites.

Logos

It’s that last one that always gets the biggest laugh. YouTube is ten years old this week, and while we may talk about the way it’s redefined the music industry, the film / TV business and the way we use the internet in general, it’s the cats that stand out. The very first video uploaded was a guy standing in front of elephants at the zoo, revealing nothing even remotely interesting. That wasn’t the point, but I do wonder if people watched that first video – uploaded merely to show that you could, rather than because it had something significant or amusng to say – and thought that this was the intended ethos.

It would certainly explain a lot of what follows. I like to think of YouTube as a colossal ocean, where the whales take the form of cats, pandas, Psy videos and Minecraft tutorials. Underneath you have the sharks – film trailers, celebrity vloggers and X-Factor clips (and, somewhere, Katie Hopkins). By and large, Doctor Who videos are the tropical fish that populat coral reefs – there in abundance, but when you’ve seen one clownfish you’ve seen them all.

If the videos themselves are the fish (and the rights departments are those colossal trawlers that plough through the waters, lapping up fish left right and centre) then the video comments are presumably one gargantuan oil slick. There are occasional moments of brilliance, but most popular YouTube videos are saturated by spam, illiterate stupidity and right wing bile. The ability to type in ‘funny cat videoz’ requires minimal intellect, which is presumably why all the stupid people hang out here. The worst thing you can do is respond to it, but people do, either out of boredom or because they’re not aware that you should never feed the troll.

Amidst the sharks and turtles and catfish there are the minnows. You know – the ones that never get beyond a thousand hits. They’ll show up in the searches eventually, if you’re prepared to trawl through the thousands of near-identical bigger fish that are easier to spot. But generally they just swim around their own patch of the ocean, not really being seen by anyone. Sometimes they’ll pick the company of bigger fish, largely in the hopes of being noticed along with them, which is fine if you don’t get eaten alive.

Most of my videos are minnows. I’m OK with that. I don’t think I’m ever going to make the impact on the blogosphere that I’d like to, and in many ways that’s a good thing. Notoriety can be a poisoned chalice. I’ve learned over the years that the act of creativity – of putting something back, and being a contributor rather than a consumer – is enough of a reason to keep going, even if I’d be lying if I said the remote prospect of fame didn’t matter at all. Each time I hit the upload button I live in hope that whatever it is I’ve spent hours putting together will go viral. Nothing has, as yet, although I’ve had a few that have performed reasonably well, in chicken feed terms.

I started this purely as a hobby – a chance remark that Emily made at the beginning of 2011 that gave me an idea, that led to more ideas, and so on. There are millions of people like me all over the world – and for most of us, mashing is the closest we’ll ever get to doing anything tangible within the film industry. For most of us, this is enough.

Today, to celebrate ten years of YouTube, I’m re-posting five of the Who-related videos I made that I’ve always wished had done better. Someday they might. But if they don’t, that’s fine too.

The Whole of the Moon

 

A Town Called Mercy – The Silent Movie

 

Dalek Johnny (Doctor Who / Fast Show)

 

Everybody Hurts: The Gridlock Edition

Doctor Who Meets the Goodies

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The Doctor Dances

In the first instance, this may be the silliest thing I’ve ever done.

It all stemmed from a conversation at the tail end of the school run, one afternoon last week. Daniel suggested – as we rounded the corner by the one-day-a-week bookshop and the Indian restaurant where Emily booked a surprise birthday meal back in the summer of 2009 – that ballet was not a boy’s thing, and that only girls did it. I immediately informed him that there was a thriving boy’s ballet scene, and indeed that one of the most famous ballets in the book, Swan Lake, was repackaged in an all-male form some twenty years ago. Ballet, I reassured them, required stamina and as much physical prowess as any sport. Girls could do it, and many did, but there was no reason why boys couldn’t follow suit.

Sadly our children aren’t quite old enough for Billy Elliot. I could show them the T-Rex montage, I suppose, but it really doesn’t carry the same emotional resonance stripped out of its narrative. It’s one reason why I always get twitchy when I see the likes of ‘Memory’ performed at variety shows and revues, for example, because ‘Memory’ doesn’t mean a goddamned thing if you take it out of Cats. Similarly, Clint Eastwood’s “Do I feel lucky?” monologue at the end of Dirty Harry means nothing if you haven’t seen the earlier encounter (with a youthful Danny Glover, no less) in order that the two might be compared for tone, context and eventual outcome. You wouldn’t look up isolated scenes from Doctor Who and watch them on YouTube, would you? You would? Oh well, carry on then.

But amidst the random thoughts and images that were passing through my head that particular afternoon, one got snagged on a stray branch and lingered, and that was my review of ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. It’s a rubbish episode, but it was around that time, as I remembered, that I first really started to notice Matt Smith’s tendency to lapse into dance routines. Oh, I know there’s a lot of dancing in Eleventh-era Doctor Who. There are so many GIFs of that ridiculous ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ wedding scene that you could almost fill a Tumblr page with them. It’s probably got its own weather system. I don’t mean the dancing that is supposed to be dancing. I mean this.

Ballet

I know even less about ballet than I do about football, so yes, I’m sure the feet are wrong. He’s a Time Lord. They’re probably Gallifreyan steps. There’s probably fan-fiction. No, don’t bother looking it up.

Things are much the same by the time we reach ‘The Rings of Akhaten’, an episode that features an awful lot of cavorting around the console, as only Smith knows how. That console has been the scene for many a merry dance, as multiple prior incarnations of the Doctor leap from switch to valve to dial to lever in the manner of Victor Frankenstein in his laboratory, before proclaiming (as Tennant did, in a sensationally stupid bit of revisionism) that the reason they did this was because the TARDIS is “designed to have six pilots, and I have to do it single handed”. I don’t think anyone actually believes this, any more than they believe River’s assertion that the TARDIS only wheezes because the Doctor leaves the brakes on. The leaping remains. But no one did it with quite as much visual panache as Smith did, and it really did seem to be the right moment to actually document this visually.

Edward wouldn’t sleep Friday night, so he kept me company as we went through every one of the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes looking for appropriate visual material, which is far less tedious (and which took less time) than it sounds. I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert choreographer, but I did at least try and match up the musical cadences with what the Doctor was doing, and I do hope that comes across. Musical choices were obvious – it couldn’t really be anything but ‘Dance of the Reed Flutes’. It’s just so airy.

I went to see the Nutcracker years ago, actually, in Covent Garden, and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle, even though there wasn’t much of a story (girl meets nutcracker / nutcracker develops sentience and fights off mouse / dancing confectionery). I had been ill the day before and the day after, laid up in bed with a stomach bug, when Emily came in to check how I was feeling.

“I might regenerate,” I managed to murmur between coughs. “I don’t know. It feels different this time…”

There’s still hope for my children, but I think I might be a lost cause.

 

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Is this thing on?

Here we go.

I got the idea for this during a conversation with Gareth. We were talking, I think, about the prospect of two Doctors appearing together in the Anniversary Special in November. I cannot believe how many people are still convinced that the Tenth Doctor will actually have to be the Metacrisis Doctor in order for this episode to work. There is nothing in the script – nothing – that says two Doctors can’t cross timelines and meet up once in a while. But two’s never enough for us lot, is it? Why not three? Why not four? Five?

Actually, if we’re talking Doctor numbers, why not Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight, all of whom are still available? Well, most of them are too old. Sorry, I know that people are upset at their lack of involvement in the BBC special, but I genuinely don’t believe that any of this is posturing on Moffat’s part. Just think about it for a second. Can you really see Tom Baker popping on that wig and scarf and climbing into the TARDIS again at his time of life? I mean honestly? The apparent ageing of the Fifth Doctor was just about forgivable given the explanation provided in ‘Time Crash’. McCoy’s still pretty sprightly (he’d have to be, to drive a chariot pulled by rabbits) and Colin Baker lost about two stone in the jungle, but squeezing them back into those costumes – even if you’re going down the “Ooh, temporal anomaly” route to explain the wrinkles – is beyond the skill of the BBC wardrobe department. I’m not being mean, here, honestly. But when they digitally de-aged Jeff Daniels for Tron: Legacy it just looked creepy. Let Four through Eight handle the Big Finish stuff instead, of which I am assured there is plenty. They can all still do it (the Sixth Doctor, in particular, is a revelation, and not of the Dalek kind) and – let’s be honest – after the mess that was last Saturday’s episode I can’t help thinking that they should stay away from Moffat’s vanity project purely on the grounds of artistic integrity.

That leaves us with Eccleston.

I’ve talked about my conspiracy theories surrounding this quite recently, so we won’t dwell on it now. In any event it occurred to me that if we’re going to have Eccleston show up again in New Who it’s going to be through surviving footage. I’m sure the BBC have something fleeting and anti-climatic planned, so I have beaten them to it and pasted Eccleston in myself. His low episode count meant there wasn’t a lot of appropriate screen material, and I figured the best way to make it work was have three different Doctors in three different locations, all chatting on Skype. And so for the Ninth, his episode-closing confrontation with the Daleks (ooh, I’m getting goosebumps again) was an obvious starting point. Obvious too was the Tenth Doctor’s lengthy to-camera monologue in ‘Blink’, containing as it does all manner of asides and quizzical looks, and no extra-diegetic sound. For the Eleventh, it gets harder – but I remembered thinking last autumn that ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was top-heavy with people staring at screens for no really good reason, and as it turned out there was quite a bit of usable footage.

I put this together over two evenings. The biggest problem is the inconsistency in sound textures, jumping from the grainy whirr of videotape to synthesised choral chants to Murray Gold’s lush orchestration for parts of ‘Dinosaurs’, but not having access to the original masters that was something I simply couldn’t help. Some of the dialogue I wanted to use was clearly delivered to other parties on screen – for example, when the Ninth Doctor says “I’m coming to get you” we can see the Daleks in the background watching him, and while I could have just used the audio it felt a bit like cheating, so I kept such occurrences to a minimum. Editing, too, took some time, in order to pace things appropriately and make sure it stayed in flow – even now there are ways I’m sure I could improve it to the extent that I’m quite hesitant about watching the thing again. But as a concept I think it works (just) and hangs together (also just). And it was fun finding the common threads and having Ten and Eleven engage in sufficient tomfoolery to wind up the ever-serious Nine, who becomes increasingly annoyed (and my goodness, didn’t Eccleston spend an awful lot of that scene just STARING?).

Gareth has suggested another version with McCoy bellowing “UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING”, and at some point I will go back to ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and then make that. And throw in a bit of Troughton for good measure. In the meantime, this may be the closest we get to having Eccleston back in Who, at least until he caves in and signs up for Big Finish. Which, of course, would be Fantastic.

Note: the first version of this article, published 29 April 2013, stated that McCoy bellowed “INFINITE RICE PUDDING”, when the actual quote was “UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING!”. This has now been changed.

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