Posts Tagged With: videos

Remastered: A Town Called Mercy, Silent Movie Style

There are different types of YouTube comments. Some heap undeserved praise to the point of sycophancy. People will tell you that a mediocre product is the best thing they’ve ever seen on the internet; it is crucial above all else to ensure that you do not start to believe your own hype, because therein lies artistic complacency and the excessive inflation of ego. At the other end of the scale are the downright abusive. I used to be polite; these days I’m inclined to argue back, albeit without letting them see that they’ve got to me. I’m not suggesting you should ever feed the troll, but sometimes you can poke it with a stick.

Somewhere in the middle there is a sweet spot; a small compartment of users who offer something that actually might be considered constructive feedback – the people who say “I liked this, but have you tried…?”. For instance, there was the chap who told me my Kraftwerk montage was a little too long. He was quite right, and were I to redo it now I’d go for a shorter edit. There were the numerous people who pointed out the mistakes in the Red Dwarf mashup – a hard lesson learned about when less is more – to the extent that I gave it a substantial overhaul in the tail end of last year and made something I actually almost liked.

Then there’s the silent movie I did three and a half years ago. Generally people seemed to like it, but a comment I got a few months back got me thinking. “Speed it up just a little more and put it slightly out of focus,” said a user named cemeterymaiden1. “It will look authentic I think! :D”

And that’s great. I can work with that. It did need to be faster, and it did need a little blurring round the edges. That’s the sort of comment I love receiving, because it is constructive without being disrespectful. It makes a welcome change from this –

I’ve decided, after careful reflection, that most Doctor Who fans are fucking idiots.

[coughs]

In any event: when I decided to retouch a few old projects that never quite lived up to their potential, this one seemed like a prime candidate. Most of the changes are cosmetic – loose frames tucked, timings adjusted. Then I ran it through a gaussian blur and tinted it with sepia, rather than the black and white I originally used. I’m still not sure how authentic this makes it as a result – my knowledge of silent movie production techniques isn’t as comprehensive as it ought to be – but it’s a Western, dammit. It looks cooler.

“Don’t you think,” said Gareth when I posted the original, back before ‘Day of the Doctor’, “that the joke about the Eccleston cameo is going to date rather quickly?” He was right, of course – it’s not something that bothered me at the time, given that all it did was time stamp the original, but the remaster replaces it with a gag that’ll never go out of style, even if the BBC eventually follow through on it.

The original is still up there, if you want to take a peek. But I’m happier with this one. Some things don’t need changing. But sometimes you reap the benefits when you do. Happy trails, y’all.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

whistle_01

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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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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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Swords of a Thousand Men

“I am the Doctor. And this…is my spoon.”

Did you see that film, The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists? It is fun, although the book (Gideon Defoe, whose real name actually appears to be Gideon Defoe) is inevitably better, focusing as it does on the Church’s reaction to evolution – a plot line that the film tries rather too hard to avoid. On the plus side, the cast (particularly Grant) are wonderful, the set pieces are impressive, and there are lots of ham jokes – by which I mean jokes about ham, as opposed to jokes that are prone to theatrical exaggeration. It even has Brian Blessed as the pirate king, for goodness’ sake. What’s not to like?

This song plays over the end credits – the montage in which the pirates see their reputation restored, before sailing into the sunset – and while I’d heard it before, I think this was probably the moment I decided that it would work rather well with scenes from Doctor Who. Because let’s face it, when you’re dealing with a time-travel themed show that features frequent jaunts into history, it’s more or less a given that at some point someone’s going to whip out a cutlass or a rapier. The Doctor’s sword prowess has varied over the years, but he’s usually game for a laugh, although it’s a shame we never got to see McCoy take down anyone with his umbrella. Certainly it might have made ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ more tolerable.

Tenpole Tudor were / are one of those punk bands that managed to be well-known in their community without ever reaching the household name status ascribed to someone like, say, The Sex Pistols, typically in disapproving tones about how awful the music was. Or perhaps that was my house. I mean, my father dismisses most of my jazz collection as ‘just noise’ (which I refute utterly, although when it comes to Ornette Coleman, he’s got a point). Punk as a movement was designed to be brash and functional in a way that decorative prog rock was not, but to reduce the entire genre to a three chord wall of noise and profanity is to ignore the stylised, occasionally highly intelligent music of people like The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and Sham 69. But this isn’t a musical discourse, although if I were feeling whiny I might point out the sheer laziness of setting an establishing montage of the capital to ‘London Calling’ – something that TV and film directors do constantly, usually accompanied by at least two or three images of the uniformed police force that the song condemns.

But anyway.

For the purposes of this exercise I limited fights to ones involving the Doctor. There are plenty of other scenes in the show in which Ian, Madame Vastra and even Amy Pond demonstrate some form of prowess with a pointed weapon, and they’re usually fun to watch (even if Amy goes from being entirely competent with a hunter’s rifle in one story to completely useless with a revolver a week later). But it muddies the waters. And why do that, when you have stuff like ‘The Androids of Tara’? I mean, just watch Baker with that sword. Watch him. He fights like a demon. It’s a wonderful conclusion to the second-best story that years (beaten into submission only by ‘The Ribos Operation’, although there are some who would disagree. Missing: the First Doctor taking on his robotic clone in ‘The Chase’, and the bit in ‘The Time Warrior’ where Pertwee prances around a hall in a suit of armour. They just didn’t fit.

There are times when you almost regret starting something, and that might have been the point at which I decided to overlay every single clash and clang for the sake of making a unified video (because otherwise the swordfighting is entirely silent, which somewhat lessens the effect). And it’s not like that took ages. Or that I spent three hours trying to get the damned thing to interlace properly. Not at all. But that’s fine, because eventually it worked. And I was quite pleased with it. And then it occurred to me – in that way that one thing inspires another – that there was plenty of scope for a montage with axe fights.

Yes. Well.

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Clara and Ashildr: The Long Way Round

I’m doing a River Song. Certain stories are being told out of sequence. I usually post videos in the order I create them. Today’s an exception, largely for the hell of it. What’s the point in having a self-imposed rule if you can’t break it sometimes? This might, of course, explain why I’m still fat.

Emily and I got home from the school quiz on Friday evening to discover the news that Chris Chibnall will shortly be replacing the departing Steven Moffat, after Moffat has produced series ten of Doctor Who – a series which has been delayed until 2017. I have my own views on this, which I’ll save for another day. If you want the Cliff Notes, here they are: a year off is probably going to do us all good. It’ll give me time to stop hating the direction the show has taken. I need breathing space. I need to watch the Sarah Jane Adventures with the kids. And goodness knows I ought to get that book finished.

But talking of spin-offs, this revelation came hot on the heels of a video I’d uploaded only hours previously. It was one of those things we talked about back in December, when such a thing seemed obvious. A few days ago I had the germ of an idea. I Googled it. The results were minimal enough to convince me I could offer something of substance that wouldn’t look like everything else that people are doing. Alternative title sequences for Doctor Who are all over the internet. Have you seen the Friends one? There are several, but I like this one better than most of the others, largely because John Simm seems far more convincing as a slightly crazed Murdock goofball than he ever was as the Master.

Still. You remember that series nine finale. When Ashildr (I cannot and will not bring myself to refer to her as ‘Me’) and Clara nicked the TARDIS – now permanently disguised as an American diner, which presumably made it impossible to actually park the thing – and went off for centuries of adventuring? I mean, I hated it. I really did. Clara’s dead. She’s pecked to death by a giant bird in the middle of Diagon Alley. She’s already had more than enough adventuring for someone her age. Why does she get to have more? Can’t she leave some for the rest of us? But still the cries of ‘spin-off! spin-off!’ ran thick and fast. Never mind the fact that Jenna’s off to play Queen Victoria and Maisie Williams is presumably still knocking around in Game of Thrones (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen it). It doesn’t matter. The fan-fiction writers are, I’m sure, out in force and I daresay that a lot of it comes under the Rule 34 subheading.

Photo: Simon Ridgeway

I mean, that’s good. I rather like that one. But you couldn’t possibly do a spin-off and not call it The Long Way Round, could you? It just seems such an obvious title. I can even forgive Moffat for using it twice. It works.

The most difficult part of this was finding music that worked. There is a decent Stereophonics song entitled ‘The Long Way Round’ – used for a biking documentary that was quite popular over here – but stylistically it didn’t fit. A close contender was ‘End of the Line’, which was eventually ditched because a poor facsimile of the song has served to underpin the New Tricks titles for years, and it just felt a bit like cheating. I consulted a Facebook group of which I’m a member. They were helpful, although I didn’t employ any of their suggestions. The idea of using ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ was one I feared would be fraught with difficulties until I discovered the 12-inch version. There was a lot of copy-and-pasting, and if you listen carefully you can hear the joins.

The trick is to use as many different outfits and contexts as possible. Coming up with a variation for Ashildr turned out to be easier than I thought, even though she only appears in four episodes. There’s understandably very little footage of her and Clara together, which is why I spliced a scene from ‘Cold War’ with the ending of ‘The Woman Who Lived’, in one of those things that’s so bad that people will hopefully just assume I was being artistic. The opening dialogue is a composite of Clara’s monologue at the beginning of ‘The Name Of The Doctor’ and various things she said in ‘Hell Bent’.

Overall, this straddles a fine line between Life on Mars and Cagney and Lacey, purposely emulating the former. In that respect, it works. You don’t see the Doctor at all, and that’s entirely deliberate. Someone else mentioned they’d like Jenny to be on board, and while I don’t think the TARDIS is quite that big, she could be a recurring character. She could pop in every series and slide under lasers or something, and then bounce off again. Or they could do a series finale where she goes all veiny and evil. I’d kind of like to see that one.

Oh, and that quiz I mentioned? We won. And there wasn’t a single Doctor Who question. Some days, you just throw a double six.

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