Apple Photos can fuck off

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 20.34.20I’ve been quietly seething since Apple announced that they would no longer be updating Aperture – shortly after I’d finally got around to buying it. I’d been living with the woefully inadequate iPhoto for so long, I was almost in denial about how much quicker an alternative app might be. I simply couldn’t believe that Aperture’s ability to deal with a large-ish photo library would be superior in every way.

I wasn’t all that interested in the advanced editing tools in Aperture (or Lightroom, or Photoshop, for that matter). I’m a snapshot snapper who likes to compose the shot in the camera and my interest in tweaking the resulting photos is restricted to a quick boost here and a quick crop there. I don’t shoot raw and I barely have time to deal with quick edits of the number of photos I take, let alone spend time titivating them. In Aperture, I mostly stuck to the built in pre-sets and I didn’t delve too deeply into its options. I was just grateful to be able to scroll through the library without stuttering.

We’ve all been dealing with this digital photo legacy. Back in the days of negatives and prints, you’d end up with shelves full of photo albums and boxes full of those envelopes that Truprint would send you, and hundreds of negatives that you kept forever without any intention of using them again. With digital photos, that endless storage of negatives has become the endless storage of sub-par snaps, items you should have deleted more or less immediately after import, but kept – simply because you have a life-long photo hoarding habit.

It’s all a bit messy. I’ve got multiple iPhoto libraries dotted about, not even safely backed up, and even in the short time I’ve been using Aperture I’ve accumulated about 60 projects and a dozen albums and the prospect of ever going through them all and organising them fills me with dread.

So to Photos, Apple’s annoyingly generically named replacement for both iPhoto and Aperture. It has been reviewed and discussed widely. It’s okay. Like recent versions of iMovie, it’s stripped back in ways guaranteed to infuriate at times. For example, instead of being able to quickly rate imported photos based on gut reaction between one and five stars, you now only have the option to mark them as favourites – or not. My use of the star rating was fairly precise. Four stars and over might get uploaded to Flickr. One stars would be deleted immediately. Two stars, maybe deleted later. Three stars remained in limbo. Five stars? Well…

Photos does have some decent editing options. Nothing like Aperture, but okay. What I’m missing are the Aperture presets, which were my main way of quickly tweaking pictures. Photos gives you the auto-enhance option, or you can use the same filters you get on your phone – or you can delve into manual settings, which takes more time than I’d like.

When you first launch it, you’re offered the chance to use iCloud storage for all your photos, and having the option to optimise the storage on your devices. But Apple are notoriously expensive for this kind of thing. Why? Because they can, I think. Their core customers are not the kind of people who know or care about what other companies offer. I currently pay £7.49 per year for 20GB of iCloud storage. I pay for this so I can use Pages, Numbers and Keynote and access documents from any of my devices. To accommodate my photos, I’d need to pay £6.99 per month for 500GB. That’s nearly £84 per year, fact fans. Amazon are similarly expensive, but they dangle unlimited photo storage for Prime customers, which is £79 per year, close, but gives you video streaming and free one-day delivery on Amazon orders. Dropbox gives you a terabyte for less than the price of Apple’s 500GB.

I almost went for Apple’s rip-off, but stayed my hand. I thought about it. Do I want to be able to see all my photos on all my devices? Why would I want to do that? I barely look at photos on my phone as it is. I take ’em, I Instagram ’em, and I edit them on my Mac and upload to Flickr. What else? I’ve more or less abandoned the iPad. So if I paid, it would be about having my precious photos safely stored.

But how many of them are really precious? Let’s return to those five-star photos in Aperture. What do I do with them? I print books. For the past few years I’ve paid for (expensive) Apple hardcover photo books – in the largest size. For 20 pages, you end up paying in excess of £35, but you’ve now got something you can keep forever (and hope to rescue should your house burn down). Doing the maths, I can afford to get a couple of these printed per year and still come in under the £84 for iCloud storage. And iCloud storage doesn’t help you deal with the fact that 90% of the photos you’re storing are probably not worth keeping.

So my decision was made: I’d up my book production from one per year (sometimes more than the 20 pages, so more expensive) to two per year, and I’d go on doing what anybody who wants to preserve photos should be doing, which is printing them.

So it was back to Photos and into the Create Book option. There are some new templates to choose from. The process of getting a project started was much more fiddly than in either iPhoto or Aperture. In fact, the process sucked. It’s much harder to get the photos you want to print (from various albums and imports) in one place. When you do finally manage that, and you select the Create Book option, the software automatically populates the pages – at a rate of one photo per page. So you end up with something that would cost a lot more than the (already expensive) £36 or so. Why do this? I think for the same reasons that they rip people off for cloud storage: they’re counting on people not noticing how much more expensive their book just got than the base price on the Choose Template screen.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 20.37.23So I then spent time re-designing the pages to accommodate more photos and then deleting the unwanted ones. Again, a fiddly process. Finally, I’m ready to order.

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 20.35.24But the store is unavailable. For updates? But then that message disappears, and you can agree to the terms. But then the Buy Book option is greyed out. When I try to re-add my shipping address, I’m told I live in an Unsupported Country.

I wonder if the store really is closed for updates. I do a search and find the Status page. It’s Green to Go, according to Apple themselves. I try again, and then I give up and open Aperture. I go through the process of re-creating a version of the book in Aperture. I realise I’d never got around to creating an Aperture book. All my previous books were done through iPhoto. Aperture gives you much more control over the editing of pages and content in terms of size, fit, and cropping. I do all this just to test whether the Store is actually down.

And it’s not. So I order the book in Aperture. And then I decide I’ll go on using Aperture till it dies and Apple can fuck off with Photos.

How about this Undisclosed podcast, then?

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 16.12.11Undisclosed: the State vs. Adnan Syed is a new (fortnightly?) podcast from a group of lawyers who have been blogging about the case since it was made a public obsession by the Serial podcast. Both parties are at pains to point out that this new thing has no connection with the old thing, except you have to have listened to the old thing in order to understand this new thing.

I hope that’s clear. I had read two of these lawyer-bloggers (Susan Simpson, who writes View from LL2, and Rabia Chaudry, who writes Split the Moon), but was not aware of the third (Colin Miller, who writes Evidence Prof), so I knew that they had much, much more to say about the case, in greater detail, than the Serial podcast had time for. Some of the detail, you should be warned, can get pretty gruesome. If you’re squeamish about CSI and stuff like that, do not read Evidence Prof., for example.

So who is this for? You have to be really interested in this case. I know a lot of people ran out of steam with Serial, and lots of people were a bit bummed that it didn’t really have a conclusion. If you are one of those people, I don’t think Undisclosed is for you. Because this is going back over old ground in granular detail, exposing flaws and contradictions in the case and the evidence. Some of this points to Adnan’s innocence, some of it might not. Some of it just muddies the waters. What it does definitely achieve is the complete undermining of the prosecution case, which (as Serial listeners already know) was a narrative constructed to point to Adnan’s guilt, and which deliberately ignored or tweaked facts to fit.

The first episode goes right back to Serial’s first episode, and considers Adnan’s schedule on the day Hae Min Lee disappeared. It interrogates the witness statements assembled by the police (playing samples from the original recordings) and exposes their inconsistencies. For example, the business about track practice and what day it was, and when it started and what time Adnan arrived, what he was doing between the end of school and the start of practice, and how he participated when he got there. Or the differences between what one witness said at the first trial, and what she said at the second trial. Or the famous phone call that Adnan received at another witness’ house, his supposedly paranoid reaction, and when exactly this event took place (spoiler: possibly not on the day of Hae’s disappearance at all).

These people have examined the call logs not just of the day of Hae’s disappearance, but of other days, too. They expose some statements as being completely mistaken or misremembered. Unsurprisingly, they remind us just how much and how often Jay changed his story to fit the police case, whereas what Adnan said in 1999 and what he said in 2010 remains pretty consistent. Calls that were supposed to have been from Hae’s brother turn out probably not to have been, and so on.

It’s fascinating – but only if you have an affinity for these kind of granular details.

But this is not Serial. Most especially, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same quality audio. The sound is uneven – and I’m not just talking about the old recordings of witness statements. I think one of the three talks way too fast. The presentation, in short, is nowhere near as slick as Serial’s, and none of these lawyers would claim otherwise. So if what you enjoyed about Serial the most was the NPR-style richly layered soundscape, steer clear.

I’m personally always ready to learn more about this case in particular, and I’m definitely interested in understanding how prosecution and defence cases get constructed and how juries can be bamboozled by misleading evidence. So I enjoyed it and have subscribed.

Recommended for die hards.

Larkin Poe, Bullingdon Arms (Art Bar), Oxford, April 10 2015

P1020218Like all my gig reviews this will doubtless turn into some kind of existential tract, so consider yourself warned.

This was my second attempt to go to a gig at the Bullingdon Arms, the first (to see Tift Merritt) having been aborted a couple of years ago when it turned out the venue was age-restricted, meaning we couldn’t take our daughters into it. My oldest daughter, who was with me for this Larkin Poe event, still hasn’t forgiven me for the half-serious discussion we had outside on the street, when I suggested options for abandoning the kids to a coffee shop on Cowley Road.

Now, from what I could tell, no age restriction was mentioned. The venue now has a separate door, around the side of the pub, so maybe that’s what has changed. Anyway, there we were.

Larkin Poe play roots music. Their first few EPs were a bit folky, a bit country, and they’ve played backup for the likes of Kristian Bush and Elvis Costello. Kin, their debut long player, now they’re signed to a label, has been described variously as ‘swampadelic,’ ‘zesty Americana,’ and ‘grungy T-Rex glam overlaid with harmonies.’

They’re touring as a 3-piece, with versatile drummer Marlon Patton adding electronic bass sounds with a foot pedal. Talk about being able to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time.

The Lovell sisters, Megan and Rebecca, are 25 and 23 years old. They’re a young, talented, genre-busting, hard-working band.

So naturally their audience consists of grizzled old blokes.

Having read that Tweet before heading down there, and having seen a number of disturbingly similar photos of middle-aged bloke flanked by the two sisters, I felt somewhat self-conscious. I’m 52 and I was with my 17-year-old daughter, who loves Larkin Poe. Maybe 10-15% of the audience was close to her in age. The rest were your typical Radio 2 or UK roots music crowd. Anyway, not wanting to be in the ‘five deep’ crowd of grizzled and balding blokes, I stood to one side.

Thinking of it, all my life I’ve been going to gigs where the median age seemed to be 50+. So even when I was in my 20s, I found myself surrounded by ageing rockers or retirement-age country fans.

I’ve got nothing* against these people. But I do wonder about the future of live music when my daughter’s age group seem only to be interested in the huge arena gigs of the top acts, and don’t seem to bother with the local, the small, the sweaty and sultry pub back room. Because that’s where real music is, and that’s where you’re standing so close that without a zoom, you can take pictures like this.

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So how was the gig? Extraordinary. These people can fucking play. Megan’s slide playing is incredible, and Rebecca’s singing voice does the whisper-to-a-scream thing to match Maria McKee. They shred, they wig out, and they rock the roof off. They also pull out surprises (if you don’t follow them on YouTube), like a segue into ‘Black Betty’ or a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang.’ And their final encore, a tribute to those other musical siblings who sang two-part harmony, was ‘All I Have to Do is Dream’ by the Everly Brothers.

*Well, I have, a bit. I particularly have something against the people who came in just as support act Jess Morgan started her set, stood in front of me, and then proceeded to have a full-volume conversation, non-stop, until the bloke standing next to me had a word (thank you). I was desperately trying not to get wound up because I was with Chloé and didn’t want to embarrass her, but fuck. These people come out, pay for tickets, and then act like they’re sitting at home in their living room, ignoring the fact that people around them are trying to listen to the music. Jess Morgan was all right, by the way, and had a particularly good fingerpicking technique. Everybody’s a support act once, right? People talking at gigs is one of the reasons I’m ever-more reluctant to go to them.

P1020193

Kristian Bush – Southern Gravity

We already knew that Kristian Bush was a great songwriter. As one half (or one third in the early days) of Sugarland, he produced a run of no-filler albums and provided backup vocals to his professional other half Jennifer Nettles. Nettles is one of the best singers in the business, and released a solo album last year (reviewed here).

While Nettles was promoting her album, Kristian Bush took something of a backseat, but he was connecting with his fans through his web site and releasing song demos on what he called Music Mondays. I wrote about this a while ago. While his gruff voice doesn’t have the range or power of his Sugarland co-worker’s, it’s pleasant enough, in the tradition of singers like John Hiatt and Bruce Robison.

Through the magic of *cough*WiretapStudio*cough*, I was able to create a playlist of my favourite Music Monday songs, and I’ve been looking forward to the official album release.

Which is great. It’s an upbeat collection (including seven of my own Music Mondays playlist), which has a positive, life-affirming vibe. It’s the kind of record that goes along with summer road trips and backyard barbecues. Recommended.

Friday Night Lights – no, really.

FNL_YoungCastFriday Night Lights was first a book (non-fiction), then a (fiction) film starring Billy Bob Thornton, Garrett Hedlund, Connie Britton, and Tim McGraw, among many others. I haven’t read the book, and I haven’t seen the film. Between 2006 and 2011, it ran as a TV series, starring Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, and Taylor Kitsch, among many others.

If you know me, you know I’m not particularly interested in sport. I’m especially not interested in American sports, which seem to be designed exclusively to enable many, many advertising breaks when televised.

FNL was sitting on the NowTV box for ages before I took a look at it. By the time I did, only seasons 4 and 5 remained. I wasn’t aware of this show being broadcast on free-to-air channel ITV4, back in its early years. According to the Wikipedia, just 26,000 people watched it when first broadcast in 2007. ITV4 shifted it around in the schedules, and it was then shown on Sky Atlantic, which has a daily reach of just under 800,000 – and that includes viewers of Game of Thrones.

So I watched season 4 and then season 5. I think the family were away. It took me a while to pick up who the characters were, especially the departing or older students, who were no longer part of the team. But it didn’t take long to work out what was happening, and by the final three episodes of the run, I was watching through a veil of tears.

So in France a while ago, I bought the boxed set, and I’ve been working through it, trying not to watch it all in a rush. Over the past few weeks, I’ve put a disc in once or twice a week and watched three or four episodes in a row. I’ve now reached past the point where I started watching, so I’ve seen the whole thing.

Whatever your opinions of American sport, especially gridiron football, this show is good: great, even. To summarise: it’s set in a rural town in Texas which has more or less nothing going on in it apart from high school football. For many of the students, their only opportunity of going to college is getting a football scholarship. For others, the grinding realities of every day life leave them with few opportunities, beyond working in a fast food restaurant or scratching a living with manual labour.

While it’s true that the teenage characters all seem to be played by actors in their 20s*, Friday Night Lights is exceptional in showing a more realistic portrayal of working class life than most American dramas. Not since the heyday of Roseanne have we seen so many people with ordinary incomes struggling to get by in modern America, where so-called middle-class incomes have been steadily falling since the 1970s – even as shows like Desperate Housewives and Friends fed us completely unrealistic representations of ‘middle class’ lifestyles.

But it’s all about football, right? Yes, and no. In FNL, people worry about keeping their jobs, paying their mortgages, paying medical bills when uninsured, paying college tuition fees, just like real life. The moral centre of the show is the Taylor family, consisting of the high school football coach and the school’s principal. Even though both of them are in full-time employment, they still live in a modest home, drive ordinary cars, and argue about being able to afford a new house. The coach is a father figure to his players, but the show doesn’t entirely focus on football. It takes in the whole town, from the local economy and job prospects, racial tensions, politics, abortion, and the struggles to fund the more academic side of the school. Yes, sometimes, it can get a bit Waterloo Road (when teachers go hunting for AWOL students, or students turn up at teachers’ doors), but in the context of the story and characters, it rings true.

And it makes you care, even about football. The drive and passion, the high stakes, what you know about that character’s home life: all of it makes you care, and emote, when watching the game sequences. When you know that everything in Tim Riggins’ life is a mess, and you see him pick up the ball and carry it into the end zone? You emote. But you also emote when Tyra reads out her personal statement from her college application.

Anyway, if you’re not among the half a million or so UK TV viewers who might already have seen it, it should probably be your next boxed set. Recommended.

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*I did some research. The actor who played running back Smash Williams was 23 when the show started in 2006 (he was playing 17). Lyla Garrity was 26 (playing 16). Tyra was 23. Tim Riggins was 25. Season 4’s Jess was 24 and Becky was 19. Only Landry Clarke, who was just 18 when the show started; and Julie Taylor (17) were even remotely teenagers. But you can’t cast teenagers as teenagers, can you? They have spots.

Marking time

???????????????????????????????????It’s that time of year again, when I spend days on end ploughing through coursework folders. I’ve yet to see a way in which I could find the time to mark this work without occupying my so-called holiday. It takes so long, is so soul-destroying, that even when I wake early and start the day with the best of intentions, I conk out too quickly to get through more than half a dozen folders per day.

I’m not complaining in this instance about the quality of the student work. What’s destroying me this time is the system used by my predecessor at my new place of employment to store work. Some of this stuff is supposedly marked, but none of it was ever printed out and no paperwork was completed. So I basically have to do it all from scratch. That’s one thing. I’m having to go over work that has been sitting on computer hard drives for months on end.

Which brings me to the biggest issue here. When you’re dealing with large files, or even simple word processor documents, the risks involved in keeping it all stored electronically are enormous. I’m opening folders and instead of finding a neatly organised set of files for printing and marking, I’m finding a wilderness of untitled documents and Word .tmp files, which are what Word creates in the background, and which are supposed to delete themselves when the work is saved. Except not. Whether through incompetence, inattention or technical issues, there are multitudes of duplicates, partially completed work, and other mysteries. It’s not even as if I can just delete the .tmp files: often, the document they’re backing up is missing entirely, so I have to change the file extension of each one and explore its contents, sometimes finding a half-finished version of something that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

What causes this? I never had this problem at my old place. We worked in a primitive way, but it fucking well worked. I didn’t have network log-ins for the students, but a universal local one that they all used, and which I had the password for. This meant that if a student didn’t print something, I could go in and find it, particularly as my system meant that all students worked at the same machine all the time, and didn’t swap around. Everything that could be was printed as soon as it was finished, too, so I always had a paper copy.

But most importantly, of course, I didn’t use Microsoft software. Whatever it is that Word and PowerPoint are supposed to be good for, it is not student work. Using Pages/Keynote, not only did I not suffer from the .tmp problem, but because I switched off automatic backup (and autocorrect etc), students had to learn to do things properly: saving files with meaningful names in a location where they could find it again. Sure, I still had the occasional untitled document or silly naming convention, but on the whole, students soon learned to do things properly, or they found themselves doing the same thing over and over again.

When this happens in the land of auto-everything, you end up with a folder full of shite that you then have to spend hours sorting through. This is awful. Today, hopefully, will be my last day on this particular group’s work, but… I started with good intentions, managed to get through three folders (in a couple of hours) but then started to feel weak and shaky. Existential despair? Too much coffee? A little bit of both, probably.

Blade Runner revisited

I was 19 when I first saw Blade Runner. That year, 1982, was also the year of ET, Poltergeist, The Thing, Tron, Star Trek II, and a lot of other decent, but non-genre movies. This was the era of Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Starman, films that followed the successes of Alien and Close Encounters in the 70s, not to mention that other thing.

The original theatrical release was the one with the voiceover and happy ending and without the unicorn sequence. At the time, I didn’t think it was a bad thing. This was Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Alien; this one director had already made two of the best science fiction films of all time. But Blade Runner was a flop, right? Not to me, at least.

I was at university in Nottingham 10 years later, when the Director’s Cut was released. We were all excited to see the legendary (but not from Legend!) unicorn sequence, and to see the film without the voice over telling us what to think. The rumour that the sequence came from Legend relates to the way in which the waking dream doesn’t look like the rest of the film, I think. The lighting is different, the colour palette is different. But back then, I tended to receive the film in terms of its narrative plot, and, like everyone, I was fascinated by the question of Deckard’s status.

Now that I’ve watched the film (including the Final Cut) so many times because of teaching; now that I’ve paused and discussed it and dissected it, shot by shot; I see it almost entirely in terms of its visuals. I still find the question of Deckard’s status somewhat interesting (Deckard is Gaff), but I now see more visual clues than narrative clues, if you know what I mean. For example, the film is thoroughly obsessed with eyes, from its opening sequence through to the end. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and the artificial people and animals in the film all have red eyes (because they have no souls).

As to the unicorn, its painterly qualities actually match the painterly qualities of the rest of the movie. The scene when Deckard explores the Bradbury apartment while Pris hides under a veil looks like a Renoir or a Manet painting, the street scenes look like Hopper, and the production design is all Moebius.

I watched the new BFI print of The Final Cut at the new Odeon cinema in Milton Keynes yesterday. There was a queue at the entrance to screens 1-6 and we joined the back of it without asking whether it was the right queue. Of course it was the right queue. I said to my daughter, ‘Just look at the age demographic and the preponderance of spectacles.’ I could have added that it was a mostly male crowd, but I didn’t do a headcount. But this was definitely a group of people who had all seen the film before. Perhaps this will be the last time I see it on a big screen? Who knows. I watched with mixed feelings. I know the film inside out.

The big screen revealed some odd focusing issues in some scenes. At first I was willing to blame the projector, but it was clear in other, sharper shots, that the projector was fine. No, there are so many big close-ups in the film of actors who are in motion that the focus wobbles at times. I think if Ridley Scott had had more time and more budget he would have reshot these.

There are lots of uncomfortable scenes. The violent confrontation at the end is painful to watch. That’s the power of cinema, that transference of empathy from the screen to the audience through the anchor character to whom we relate. But one scene that stands out as discomfiting to modern sensibilities is the one where Deckard more or less forces himself on Rachael as she tries to leave his apartment. The scene plays out with her pinned by him against a wall and repeating what he tells her to say (‘Kiss me’). But then there’s a moment where she volunteers: ‘Put your hands on me,’ she says. So it’s all right, is it?

Rachael has just discovered that she is a replicant. She has feelings for Deckard. She doesn’t trust these feelings, because they might not be her own. That’s the source of her reluctance. What’s the source of Deckard’s forcefulness? Does he want her to understand that feelings are real even if memories are false? Or does he think that it can’t be rape if it’s a replicant? The whole thrust of his job is that replicants don’t have human rights.

One major problem with the idea of Deckard as a replicant is that he not only feels pain, but appears to be weaker than the others. He can’t jump across rooftops like Roy Batty. He gets beaten up a lot by all four of the escaped replicants. The only one he appears to be able to best physically is Rachael, whom he is able to force against the wall quite easily.

‘You did a man’s job,’ says Gaff at the end. As I pointed out to my daughter, Gaff doesn’t say, ‘You did a man’s job,’ he says the line without emphasis, as if saying, ‘You did some other guy’s job,’ which is to say, ‘You did my job.’ I think both of Edward James Olmos’ last lines might be fluffed. I reckon it’s possible that the shortness of time and the budget overruns meant that they simply couldn’t do multiple takes and had to live with these badly spoken lines. ‘Too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?’ is said with a fade on the last couple of words that robs them of emphasis and conviction.

Mistake? Or genius?

The film is visually stunning, and has an incredible soundtrack, an electronic version of a 1940s film noir score. For those reasons alone, it’s a must-see at the cinema. It’s also a thoughtful film as it explores the humanity of its non-human characters. When Batty rescues Deckard at the end, he shows that he values life, and displays a human empathy that seems to be lacking in the human characters. You’ve already seen it, but see it again.

Los Angeles Plays Itself

This 2003 documentary by Thom Andersen was finally made available for the home video market in the autumn of last year. I’ll confess that I hadn’t heard of it. I’m pretty up on things, generally. I mean, I knew about the Helvetica and Linotype documentaries. I knew about Side by Side. But not this.

So maybe it was my head in the sand, maybe it was something else. It all seems to have been a little hush hush. You don’t need to think very hard to come up with a reason why it took more than 10 years for the film to appear on DVD. And the same thought will explain why, even now, you can’t buy a Region 2/European version.

Rights. Clearances. You’d think the media conglomerates would be friendlier towards education and more supportive of academic work or film historiography. This film does shade towards a personal polemic, but it is still fascinating, detailed, brilliantly done.

But although I looked, I could only buy an imported Region 1 DVD or Blu-Ray, and I couldn’t find a legitimate download.

I could find an illegitimate download. It was low resolution (640×480) and looked soft and painterly when displayed on my HDTV. When I first played it, the sound was not just a little out of synch, but a good minute, playing the voice-over over completely the wrong pictures. Using different playback software fixed this problem. My daughter complained that the voice over was monotonous, and it certainly can be at times. But I found it interesting enough to watch all the way through. It reminded me of Adam Curtis documentaries. The clips were there to support the polemic.

The complaint in the film is that Los Angeles is often distorted or misrepresented in films. Cars turn corners in the movies and are suddenly 30 miles away. Characters exit a building to find themselves on a street 15 miles away. Los Angeles is often called upon to play other cities, or different countries: New York, Chicago, Switzerland. People are portrayed as living either in the hills above the city or on the beach. Rarely do we see them in the midst of the vast suburban sprawl where most of the inhabitants live. There are some wonderful modernist buildings in the city, examples of progressive, utopian architecture: but they are usually depicted as the homes of crime lords and drug dealers: only evil people choose to live in modern buildings.

My favourite sequences in the film were

  • the one about the Bradbury Building and all its appearances in film (including Blade Runner, which I’m going to see again tonight);
  • The Bunker Hill history, showing how its gradual destruction and disappearance was recorded in the movies;
  • The Chinatown sequence, discussing the background to the script, and the way in which the film’s fictionalised and temporally transposed story of water corruption serves to conceal the real scandals of Los Angeles history;
  • and the LAPD sequence, discussing how the police are seen as an occupying force, working against the interests of the people they’re supposed to serve: are they the only police force whose motto is in ironic quote marks?

There is much, much more. Street corners, diners, motels, locations that turn up again and again. Things that get knocked down and rebuilt as simulations. The film puts to bed a lot of the myths about Los Angeles. It complains that it is the only major city known by its initials – and blames the movies. The idea that ‘nobody walks’ and that ‘everybody drives’ is exposed as an example of a white privileged viewpoint. In Steve Martin’s LA Story, there are only two black characters with speaking roles: they are both in the service industry.

It was interesting to see excerpts of forgotten, independent, neo-realist films such as Killer of SheepThe Exiles and Bush Mama, depicting the Los Angeles ‘hidden’ by the movies, or only ever viewed through the lens of the privileged cop point-of-view, which sees brown people as the enemy within. These are ‘foreign’ films made in the heart of the city largely ignored by the film industry that is based there.

This page lists the films excerpted in the documentary, in order, including their repeated appearances. If you can get hold of a copy, highly recommended, rights be damned.

On yer bike, Clarkson

Jeremy-ClarksonAs the controversy raged, Clarkson was most often pictured on the news sites riding a bicycle. There were at least a couple of different occasions that photographs were taken. One is at night, and he’s wearing a black leather jacket and jeans. The other is in daylight, and he’s wearing some kind of quilted anorak.

I’ve no doubt that these photo opportunities were carefully calculated, and begging for the type of headlines I’ve used in this post. But I didn’t see much comment on his choice of transportation.

First of all, you will note that Clarkson is not wearing a helmet. This is his right, and a choice I have no problem with. In Holland, where more miles are cycled than in just about any other European country, hardly anybody wears a helmet, and the death rate is much lower than elsewhere. Cycling safety is about road and junction design and also about traffic priorities. In Holland, the bike comes first. I observe Clarkson’s lack of helmet merely to comment that I bet he’s the sort of person who will always ask, “Were they wearing a helmet?” when told of yet another London cyclist killed by a truck*.

But that’s not really what I wanted to say. Although I’ve no doubt Clarkson is a bicycle user, I’m fairly certain he engineered these photo opportunities as part of his carefully calculated PR campaign. When his friend David Cameron tried the old bicycle photo opportunity, it’s said that he was being followed by a car containing his shoes. In these bicycle pictures, you can imagine Clarkson being followed by cars containing rival broadcasters waving chequebooks.

Clarkson was no doubt intending to make a sly joke about being on his bike in precisely the way meant by my headline. Also, there’s a reference to Tebbit’s famous comment about jobseekers and bicycles. And there’s the thing. Clarkson’s PR move here is meant to cast him as the underdog, on his uppers, discarded by the BBC. And his choice of transport reveals his values precisely: bicycles are for the downtrodden, the unemployed, and the poor. Look at me, he’s saying, poor, poor, pitiful me, reduced to riding a bicycle.

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*I was forced off the road by a truck driver yesterday. He was in a juggernaut and it would have cost him nothing to give me some room. It might have involved putting his wheels onto the soft verge. But instead of showing me some courtesy and having some kind of understanding of how awkward and difficult it is to uncleat and put your foot down in the mud (and then try to reseat the muddy cleat), he chose to force me off the single track country lane that he had no business driving down.

New podcasts on my list

weblogo-gameshow@2xMy list of podcast subscriptions is ever-evolving. My finger hovers over the delete button on a few of them, and I experiment with a few.

I sometimes feel I listen to too many tech and nerd related podcasts. Am I a nerd? I don’t know. I’m obsessive to a degree, but never with just one thing at a time. I have a certain amount of social ineptitude. On the other hand, I’m not obsessed with the narrow range of things that seem to occupy the attention of most nerds, and I’m most definitely not a gamer. I don’t really congregate with other nerds, and don’t feel part of any particular community. There are few people with whom I have long discussions about the things that interest me. Life is kind of lonely in that respect, so the hours I spend alone in the car with podcasts are good company.

The Incomparable Game Show is such an interesting project that I felt moved to write about it. I sometimes skip whole Incomparable episodes (usually if they’re about Star Wars), but I generally like the discussions, even if I’m not particularly interested in the topic. I can usually justify listening on the grounds that the discussions are frequently media-related, and it all helps with the subject knowledge and being down with the kids. Ha ha.

The Game Show is an experiment in formats. They’re trying out a few on a rotating schedule, and so far they’ve all been enjoyable and funny. Listeners familiar with panel shows on the radio such as Fighting Talk, Would I lie to You etc. will pick up quite quickly what’s happening.

The first in the series is Inconceivable!, which is nerd heaven: a quiz based on knowledge about TV shows, books, movies, games, and so on. I found this very entertaining. It’s so weird to hear a pop-culture based quiz. My favourite round was, “Opening Lines,” which simply involved identifying fantasy or science fiction novels from their first lines. Knowing the answer to a couple of these made me happy, and I just shouted, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” for the rest. There are also questions about items you might find in SF universes, and there was another about minor characters in individual Star Trek episodes. It sounds unpromising, maybe, but was extremely entertaining in the execution.

Counter Clockwise is based on the existing Clockwise podcast (which is a guaranteed-short technology ‘cast), but uses pop culture topics instead.

The most recent format to appear is Turns Out, which is surely based on Would I Lie to You, but in its first episode at least had a very funny (and apparently accidental) twist that had me cracking up in the car. There’s also a quickfire true-or-false round which is slightly different. You might say that there were some teething problems, but the fact that this is produced independently of a major broadcaster gives them the leeway to experiment, adjust, and evolve the formats as they go.

The genius of the podcast format is that it doesn’t have to conform to a schedule or stop for the news at the top of the hour. Episodes of Game Show vary between 39 and 53 minutes, which is the most uncommercial thing you can imagine.

I’ll also briefly mention You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth’s self-produced Hollywood History podcast, which I’ve been finding very enjoyable. At the moment, she’s spending several weeks discussing the activities of Golden Age movie stars during the second world war. This week it was Hope/Crosby, but we’ve also learned the fascinating stories of Hedy Lamarr, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, and many more. It’s well produced, and it’s so great to have the luxury of spending time with a subject. Film History by now is a long way separate from the trends in Film Studies, but there is still a lot of relevance to movie stars and their power to fascinate. And the stories are great.