Sunday

What we learned from Eurovision

Conchita Wurst's victory last year seemed to have changed the Eurovision landscape this year: everything* was either a breakup song (a la 'rise like a Phoenix') or a 'get behind this cause' song (a la don't discriminate against people like Conchita). 

All of those songs lost (although it was close). What won? Sweden, with a naff song and a gimmick. In fact, it was the only song with a gimmick. 

People need to realise that yes, Phoenix was a powerful song performed by a strong, empathetic character. Yes, people were discriminating against Conchita as a transvestite and that gave her a just cause. But the main reason that she won in 2014 could have been that being a bearded lady was just a bloody great gimmick. 

This has been a drip of a year because everybody misjudged the public's mood as to what they wanted from Eurovision. Russia's song had everything from Wurst - great song, strong performance, message - except the gimmick. It came 2nd. Sweden had a weak song, no message ('we are the heroes of our times/fighting the demons of our minds' might be the most meaningless lyric of the night), average performance, but it had a bloody great gimmick. It came first. 

The message should be clear: make it fun again, Europe. 


*except oddballs likeArmenia and Latvia. Genius, genius Armenia.

Thursday

New standards of revue

I was playing Rymdkapsel one day. Simple, stipped down, short, puzzle/strategy game. About half an hour in, close to the end, it becomes unplayable as the enemies attack too fast for you to do anything in between waves.

And I thought, what score could you give this as a reviewer? Eurogamer gave it a no-surprises 8/10; the same score as Shadow of Mordor.

Now 8/10 from eurogamer is so default that it has become a joke. And giving the same 'pretty good by all accounts' score to two games so massively different in scope seems to be silly.

This is a problem with mobile and casual games in general; Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, an android game adapted from his advanced fighting fantasy* series, maintains its text and illustrations from the 25-year-old paperback and can't really be called on to compete with something like Skyrim, can it? You want to rate the experience, but you need your rating to have some context.

The context could be simply be the price; we could give Rymkapsel 2/10, for example, and leave it to the reader to work out about value for money, and realise that that 2/10 is a damn sight better use of 3 quid than the 2/10 game that costs an order of magnitude more. But I feel that will lead to confusion, and invalid comparions. 

An alternative would be to put a price on a game; what would the reviewer pay for it? How does that compare to the asking price? That will tell you both how good the game is and something about the scope of its ambition.

This is important for me, and it came out of something my daughter said. When I asked her I give the Natural History Museum a score out of 10, she said '10'. I then asked her to rate Buxton museum**; she gave it 5/5. A light went on in my head.

Why do we insist on the same standards for every game? Why not rate both its ambition and it's quality in one fraction. This can capture the essential difference between Portal and Portal 2; 2 games of similar quality, but I'd give Portal 9/3 and Portal 2 9/10. 

I'd happily give Rymkapsel 2/2, and shadow of moroder 8/10. We can now fairly compare the two, as both are positive experiences, but the first is lesser in terms of scope. Compare a 2/2 Rymdkapsel with a 2/10 game; it's obvious which you should play. The 2/2 game will give you a lot of fun, but perhaps not for very long and perhaps not at a very deep level. The 2/10 game will have been a fiasco, with not much enjoyment to be had at all.

It's the same problem as when you see star ratings on a billboard, but you don't know how many stars the individual ratings system use. You might get 5 stars from time out, but not tell your advertisees that try use an 8 star system.

These systems obviously can apply to any media; you can't rate a 90 minute film with the same denominator as a late night sketch show, but you can apply the same principles, so the numbers should be relatable.

*nb. Not to be confused with Advanced Fighting Fantasy, the more weighty RPG rule set for the fighting fantasy universe. The Sorcery! 4-book series was merely more advanced than normal FF books, with a more comprehensive magic system and the ability to maintain a character across 4 books.

** it may not have been these exact musea.
--------------------
There's another dimension I've been experimenting with in regards to assessing whether media is worth your time, and it's my "fuckin' 'ell!" test: if a piece of art doesn't make you go fuckin' 'ell at least once, it's not worth bothering with.

I started doing this last autumn, and quite soon it became a defined thing. That moment where you feel your draw drop, or your cogs turn and click into place, or your brain explodes and upgrades itself... That's what's worth living for. Those feelings that make you go fucking hell, are the ones where you feel the the author(s) are taking you somewhere and showing you new things and surprising you because you're the audience and you're not always meant to know where things are going.

It's pretty reliable, and although I can still very much enjoy things that fail the test, it's quite a threshold. We Are The Best was lovely, but it didn't make me go 'fuckin ell'. Under The Skin got 5, with a long gap in the middle; one particularly memorable moment was the dog drowning in the turning tide, looking for all the world like Goya's black painting on the same subject. 

It needn't be a schocking moment, it could be a particularly funny one or a happy surprise. But it's been interesting limiting reviews to this one reaction, and then broadening back out to see what I'm missing.

Monday

i've started this, so i'm going to finish it

By this point I just can't stand the father-son plot line trope so much, I just can't watch anything that plays it. So walking dead, I stopped at episode three. Daredevil, I just tried watching, and gave up in the second scene. Does anyone in the Star Wars trilogy ever mention Luke's mum? Don't we think that's a problem?

[How to train your dragon does a good job of subverting it - rather than the hiccup growing up, hiccup's father and the rest of his society changes to fit in with him. In the sequal, his ideas of a peaceful resolution are crushed by an insane enemy with whom dialogue is impossible - a convienent enemy for war mongers, which I'd be more critical if there weren't real groups like nazis and Islamic state.]


New Star Trek 2 plays this too, partially, with the older man who took kirk under his wing still hanging around, but it exemplifies another macho trope that's my new one to be sick of, 'I've started so I'll finish'

This involves the male lead starting at a point of immaturity, doing something badly that has unintentional dire consequences, and then having to be the hero and fix things. From mike the knight up to a huge number of slacker comedies and action films, my main problem with this plot line is this: rather than being a hero, the man is just catching up with everybody else. They shouldn't be congratulated for that. Instead, why don't they just focus on some of the actual grown ups in the story, who might still have an interesting character arc.

I mention Cbeebies' Mike the Knight, because it distills this plot for children to such a formulaic pattern that it's impossible to ignore it.

The conceit runs thus: mike is a prince who wants to grow up to be a knight. His mum is the queen, his dad the king is perpetually away on some crusade, and his sister is training to be a witch. Mike therefore feels he has to grow into the gap left by his father. Every episode, mike finds a knightly quest that he feels he must complete. He receives a specific piece of equipment, whose usefulness he calls into question. He then spends the majority of the episode getting things wrong and making everything worse, while everybody around him tries to stop him. Literally anybody else in the kingdom would be a better person to sort out whatever the trouble is, not least of whom, his very capable and mature sister. Eventually, it gets into mike's head that he needs to use the support he has and he does the right thing. 

The big problem is, next episode mike goes trough exactly the same steps, with the determination to be a dick about things of a battery-powered toy repeatedly bashing itself into a wall because its wheels are broken. Every time you think Mike has grown up a notch, next time you realised he hasn't generalised at all - he might have learned how to do that one thing, but he's just as much of an idiot he ever was because he never learns any quicker. This is the same problem with this trope in the media - we see men learning, but never see them using the knowledge for anything. 

It feels like an extension of the 'disaster porn' obsession: plot lines driven by idiotic decisions of supposed heroes. The difference is the 'hero' has to clean up their own mess.

Even the new avengers film has a major plot line of 'uh oh, we fucked up because we're idiots and now we've got to save the world from something we've created' - which is also the same plot as almost all other superhero films. And why does star wars focus on luke skywalker, the teenage wannabe-pilot undergoing a hero's maturation quest, rather than the kick-arse already-hero Leiah, who seems to be completely competent both as a secret agent and a guerrilla? 

Repeatedly, we are told that a male's quest to be a grown-up is more interesting than the actual job of being a grown up - a role usually played by a female. Where this leaves us, I'm not sure, as it implies that once you achieve adulthood, the adventure is over.


Tuesday

On receiving a brilliant mixtape.

Getting a mix in the post, out of the blue, is an absolute joy.

Even better when you sit down to listen to it, and it's full of fantastic sounds that are completely different to anything you're listening to around this time - but still obviously fantastic.

And this crystallises something about culture that's been on my mind - how it's great to have separate cultures with limited interaction, because when they do interact, the results can be stunning. 

When there's no borders, there's no countries, and we find everything blurs into the same rubbish. There's nothing to learn from. There's nothing to mash up. 

When there are strict borders, divisions are too regimented and suspicions about 'them lot' emerge. 

But somewhere there's a sweet spot where cultures can ferment something worth exchanging, to the point that it can be both excellent on its own terms and even better in comparison to something else.

All life is fermentation.

a maths problem

Right. You can't divide by zero right? That's undefined. There's no answer to the question, "what is some number divided by 0?", because unless the number is 0 itself, you can't get to any other number by multiplying by 0; and if the number is 0, then any number will work, so still no answer.

Consider an equation like y = 4x + 2. That's fine isn't it? There's no divide by 0 in there, nothing undefined.
If we differentiate this, to find the gradient at any point, we get dy/dx = 4. Why? Because simple differentiation means knocking the power of x down by 1, and multiplying by that power.
btw, if you don't know your differentiation, and are wondering what happens to the 2, well 2 is 2x^0, so it becomes 0*2x^(-1) - and no matter how difficult that exponent is, the 0 it is multiplied by ensures we can just forget about it.
so 4x^1 becomes 4*1x0, and as we know, x^0 = 1, all the time, no matter what x is, because x^0 means x/x = 1.


Except when x is 0, right? Because when x = 0, 0^0 is still undefined, because 0/0 is not 1, it is undefined.

A graph of y = 4 should be a straight flat horizontal line, cutting the y axis at 4. And it is, but if y = 4 is the same as y = 4x^0, then SURELY at the exact moment when x = 0 this graph will become instantaneously discontinuous?

In other words, for any value of x, y = 4; but when x = 0, the power of that 0 leaps into an equation it doesn't have anything else to do with and smashes it to pieces.

Can this possibly be correct? Any thoughts, jot them b'low.

Saturday

Infil: traitor

I've got an idea for a game that I'd like someone to make:

You play an infiltrator, a government spy aiming to work your way into an organised resistance force, gain their trust and work your way up their ranks while supplying information to your fence (that's not the right word for a spy handler, but what is?). The higher up you go, the more difficult it is to remain hidden as you have more eyes on you, you're leaking bigger secrets, and you're decisions inside the organisation have greater impact. You'll need to tow the line to a certain extent; at which point are your colleagues going to realise you're deliberately making a hash of their work? When are they going to realise that crushing defeats they face are due to facts only you could have let slip? How can you dispose of people who suspect you without raising more suspicion?

Perhaps it is an evil empire and a heroic rebellion, like in star wars; perhaps a peaceful democracy and a warmongering insurgency; perhaps not even so black and white. Perhaps you could have the choice of infiltrating the government or the rebellion; perhaps you could even have the choice of playing as a double agent and defrauding your fence. I think there would need to be a cut and run option, where you end the game and reveal how close you were to being caught. There would probably be a dwarf fortress style 'built to spill' mechanic, where it's really just a case of not if but when you are caught. Or gain control of the organisation, and set your mining in secret missions against each other and hope they don't talk to each other in the mean time. You'll have to build up enough trust in them, and under mine their trust in each other, to achieve that sort of victory.

I see the game as being fairly procedurally generated, with freeform and unpredictable gameplay emerging from particular choices you make and randomised NPCs. It could be anything from a text adventure to an open world sandbox city/country. There might be structured missions along the way, which might have their setup affected by the current works you inhabit.

Anyway: thoughts!

Monday

Sex golem

Once again, I find myself looking at two cultural artefacts with something in common, looking for a third to transform the coincidence into a pattern.

This time it's sex golems (gola?). 

The Scarecrow by Lal Waterson describes a lot of things: pagan fertility rites, hanged men, the seasons. But undoubtably the chorus is about wanting to sex a scarecrow ("oh, that you'd lay me down and love me"). It's a very deep song with lots of intertwining meanings that I would love to adapt into a 60s style folk-horror film.

Then I was listening to Kate Bush's last work, and came across the track 'misty', about her copping off with a snowman. Bit more direct, but still: woman, facsimile of a man, fornication.

There must be more songs on this topic. Men made out of clay, or body parts, or wires. Maybe someone wrote a song inspired by 'possession', about men made out of... Whatever that was. Possibly if we extend it to men's points of view, we might find many more examples; maybe we could include roxy music's 'in every dream home, a heartache' although a sex doll seems too... I djnt know, default? If only Jason Lytle had included a sex act in granddaddy's 'Jed the humanoid' we'd be away.

Has anyone got anything on this? Any song at all about getting it on, or just wanting to get it on, or just even fancying, someone made out of stuff?

Sunday

What do troll hunter and the re/animator both fail at?

A couple of years ago I saw year two films, and it struck me soon after that they both left me unsatisfied in for a similar reason. I felt they both cheated.

The Re-animator is a better film; schlocky, humourous, and inventively gorey. Troll Hunter was a disappointment, feeling episodic and inconsequential. 

What they had in common, though, was a disregard for their source material that they visibly hacked up to try to make for a more entertaining film.

I've not read all of HP 'Herbert west: re animator', considered one his poorer works, but I see why it was considered a good property to develop into an 80s horror film, a sort-of parody-tribute of Frankenstein. What's wierd is that to fit in with the Romero zombie fashion, West now lobotomises his zombies, lest they be too clever. Even after he explicitly does this to the first reanimated, all the further Zombies have the tell-tale mark on their heads to explain their shambling stupor.

TH pulls a similar trick; it wants to tell us that trolls are peaceful creatures - so why the need to hunt them? Well, apparently it's because they have troll rabies.

It's annoying because it never delivers on its own setup - instead it fudges it to fit in with the current favourite genre.

Tbh I don't think I've seen any other work pull this unsatisfying just-becausism, a sort of have-your-cake-and-eat-a-different-cake attitude. There must be some, anyone know of any?

Learning about Simon Lord

Last year, I made a mixtape of one of my heroes, Simon Lord.

I was a huge Simian fan, I bought everything they put out. I would make pilgrimage to vinyl exchange on Oldham road to look for a promo copy every time they released a single, as the promos had all the b sides from the different editions on one cd. 

When Simian split up, they had a very clever message on their site that played one of two songs: Simian Mobile Disco's 'boat race', or Garden's 'reason for your smile'. Simian split into these two projects:  Simon Lord did Garden, Jas Shaw did SMD; James Ford was in both.

I tried keeping up with both parties, but was a lot more drawn to Garden's post-psych-folk style and after acquiring the first few SMD singles and compilation appearances, i never got around to buying their debut album.

So my understanding of Simon Lord's career was that he was the folky guitarist of simian, and Jas was the electro genius. I lived the last decade of my life under this illusion, and ignored any evidence to the contrary, like his band The Black Ghosts, who released two albums, or the fact that his Lord Skywave album was so clearly electro. 

My previous mix was done with this mentality; over-emphasising his work with simian and garden, and relating him as predominantly a folky. But in the course of researching it, I found a lot about him I didn't know and investigated further: I bought both BG albums, and discovered Lord had recorded an acoustic version I their entire 2nd album; I trawled beatport for singles and rarities; I even discovered an entire project I had never been aware of, called simply 'Roberts and Lord'. I bought every track I needed to for a follow up mix designed to show off the other side of Lord and correct the bias of the first one.
So this 2nd mix not only portrays Lord as more eclectic - he's had two albums out on different labels, under different names, this year - but I also wanted to highlight another facet of him: his status as a frequent collaborator in all sorts of ways, as a producer, vocalist, or remixer. 

I hope you enjoy them both.

Simon Lord - a balanced retrospective by Dj Gallowslutt on Mixcloud

Blatchmen

So I finally picked up the courage to critically examine the Watchmen film. It was... predictably disappointing. It makes me disappointed in those people who like it, or think the changes improved the plot.

I'm not going to rant about it, like I did the hobbit, but just make a couple of observations; firstly, I know why Snyder was accused of being 'in love with the source material', given the number of shots that look like they were lifted straight from the novel. However he seemed to completely miss the point of the book in two ways to my mind: by ramping up the sex and violence but dampening the commentary on it (for instance, the sex scene is heightened and lengthened to a pornographic level, but the 'did the costumes make it good?' dalogue is removed).

Secondly, removing my favourite character arc that highlights the existential angle of the book. It's odd that it's the prison psychiatrist, treating Rorschach, who most makes you empathise with Osterman and his no-frills view of the universe. In the novel, he is deeply involved with rorshach, we see his private life and descent into obsession, and see him come face to face with the meaninglessness of everything. In the film: he spends five minutes with him then walks out in defeat.
Also all the New York street characters were trimmed out, so the ending had no punch.

I'm not going to talk about the ending. 

I'm not. 

It's just... If you don't think a fake giant psychic space squid is a good way to end a story, why are you going to see a superhero film? Tbh, it does make more sense to have multiple assaults on the earth than just New York, so perhaps that particular aspect of the change is an improvement. But maybe Alan Moore (9% of people know his name, as author of watchmen, the most famous comic ever [source: pointless]) meant it like that. Maybe it's not meant I be a clear cut ending.

So instead going to discuss something else: similarities between watchmen and Sirens of Titan. There's been discussions elsewhere on the net (lmgtfy), but there's a few beats that are similar:
The science accident that turns a person into a being of energy that can see all time and space;
The plot to unify earth by faking an alien invasion;
The flat, deterministic, meaninglessness of life.

What I like is that both stories do something the other doesn't do. Not all of Sirens of Titan is in Watchmen, and vice versa. I like the fact that I know both stories, like both stories, and appreciate the differences and similarities between them. None of that stuff reaches the truth of watchmen, which is all about comics. That's really why it's an unfilmable book, because if you were to adapt it to the screen, you should end up with a film about superhero FILMS. Your reference points become completely different. IT'd be like tarnslating a Russian book into English, that was about the Russian Language itself. Do you keep the references Russian but completely lose their meaning? or translocate the references into analagous English ones? Either way, it's not the same book.

Wednesday

another Change

Key changes -

ugh.

I'm quite anally retentive about key changes. I don't like them for their own sake. If i have two pieces in different keys with similar harmonies, I usually try to align the sections by putting them into the same key.

But I have a part of the 'Kno' album i'm working on that *definitely* works in G#, and then a part that works either in G minor when played in dropped D (on a normal guitar), or D minor when played in dropped A (on my baritone-tuned guitar).

This being a post-prog album, you can take it as a given that I want to use severely down-tuned guitars where possible. But transitioning from G# to Gminor follows the melody of the G# section; while modulating from G# major to D minor is a horrendous leap, both in terms of distance and harmonics. It's a key-change across a tritone, and while metal is all about tritones (the two notes used in 'black sabbath' from the album 'black sabbath' by the band 'black sabbath' are a tritone, which pretty much define the genre), that key-change would be a jarring non-sequitur.

I was fiddling around and realised that the key of the G# section, is actually Eb. It resolves to this very briefly in the middle of what one might call the 'chorus' of this section, in a sequence of simple, in-key major chords. Although the verse plays around in a scale of G# major with an augmented fourth (a 'lydian' scale), this makes sense come the chorus as the resolution shows that it wasn't in G#, it was in Eb all along; but it doesn't show its hand like this very often.

So then I realised that finally resolving the piece to Eb, then falling down to D minor (a semitone below), actually really nicely mirrors the G# major falling onto the G minor below that makes up most of the verse of this section, and this would be a really canny way to make the key change work.

maybe... too neat. Maybe too well worked. We'll see what sounds best in the long run.

With this kind of progress, don't expect this album to be finished any time soon.

Friday

The change

The fundamental change in the market of console gaming is that Nintendo and Sega were historically companies that produced arcade amusements, even before computer games; whereas Sony and Microsoft were never the fun guys. And somehow the suits ended up running the show (except Valve).

OK or not OK?

So there's this album i really like:


The mp3 download was free for a while, although since they signed to Season of Mist it how seems to be 10 dollars.
Or you can buy it with some nice postcards for less than that. the digital economy is wierd.

Anyway, I would have quite liked it on vinyl - as I do with all the records I really like. But OK have made it prohibitively expensive; it comes up to 30 quid including postage.

For a double album that you really like, 30 quid isn't too bad. As I said, I only reserve that for records I really enjoy and want to experience the most fully.

This would be one of those records. It's perfect me - from satisfyingly chunky metal, to post-rock that sounds almost exactly like the my song 'the girl in the kid a top'. I love it.

but it's only 47 minutes long, just short enough to fit on a single 12" (Tubular bells track 1 is over 25 minutes long, proving it can be done). Given that the record is continuous from start to finish, splitting it into four sub-12 minute segments isn't going to improve the listening experience.

I'd happily pay 30 quid for a double album I loved, assuming it clocked in over 60 minutes. Other double records I have didn't even cost that much.

So I've only bought the cd, Which at least will be good to put on in the car. which only adds another bloody complication to the 'what format to buy things on' debacle.



There's something else that's been on my mind. You see, no matter what format you buy music on, you still have to have some equipment to play it, whether it's a turntable, cd player, computer, phone, or whatever. I do think vinyl sounds better, having made the comparison. It's not only the sound, but the way that the sound gets into you. The sounds seem to gel better on vinyl, and the music washes over you more. It actually makes it easier to feel the music and not listen to it.

But books are different, because you don't need hardware to run books on; you've got everything you need. I know that sounds obvious, but it's why ebook readers and the like are a harder sell - you don't actually need them to read a book. They need you more than you need them.

Remember that.

Monday

This isn't actually a film of the hobbit

We watched the hobbit 2, as everybody is calling it. I've predictably been through a whole run of emotions since then, but the biggest feeling I am left with is that it's simply not a film of the hobbit.

My first direction with this was going to be 'maybe they should have called it 'the expanded hobbit'. After all, all of the major beats of the story are in it, it's just there's a whole raft of other things that have been added to.

The additions come in two categories: Canonical additions, that legitimately fill in the gaps of what everyone else was doing; and padding, which serves no purpose at all.

The padding is the orcs, the legolas and tauriel bits, the politics of Lakeland, the bits from the book that have needlessly expanded, and all that sort of thing. I maybe bias but I thought all of that stuff was rubbish; worst of all when they kept cutting away from SMAUG to some elf putting herbs on some dwarf's leg. The other dwarf had already found the herbs, so I'm guessing the whole song and dance was redundant. Good bedside manner, but it crippled the pacing because our attention was flitting between a cussing great (and beautifully realised) dragon, and some kipple that no-one cares about.

I can tolerate the canon, because I've come to accept that while it's a good idea to film it, it won't have the brand recognition to stand up as a film in its own right. So I'm not averse to seeing bilbo weakening to the ring, or seeing gandalf going after the necromancer of dol goldur.  

I could go on, but my point is best illustrated in the character of Bard. In the book, Bard the bowman is the captain of the guards at laketown, descedent of the lord of Dale - the ruined city next door to Erebor. In the film, Bard the bargeman has the link with his ancestor reinforced to become his main reason of being. The changes to Bard are a microcosm of the whole adaptation, and the changes not just of the events of the story, but of the tone, of the author's voice, and what he was trying to achieve.

Here's what happens in the book: bilbo notices a gap in the SMAUG's armour, comments on it to the dwarves, is overheard by a thrush. The thrush tells Bard* where the weak spot is. Bard finally gets his black arrow out - an arrow he always retrieves - and kills the dragon.

As well as being twee, this story blatantly calls back to a similar sequence of events in the ring cycle**. Plus, SMAUG as a treasure-hoarding tomb-dweller calls to mind an enlarged version of the dragon in Beowulf. Tolkien was working in the mode of north European myths and drawing on these, and those references have been adapted out of the story; Smaug no longer wakes up when he notices a single missing cup from his colossal cache. Smaug no longer has a soft underbelly encrusted with jewels except for a single gap, but rather armored scales all over except for a damaged section. His physiology is different to Tolkien's pictures, which is a shame but I don't mind because the execution was so good. Smaug is now implied to be an agent of sauron, rather than another gollum or even a radagast: someone who has gone native, who has dropped out of the world. Another foil to the bilbo who came on the adventure.

I don't mind Bard's character being beefed up, but his change from a captain of the guards to a bargeman, who just happens to be a ridiculously good shot, is unnecessary. More importantly, the adaptation has changed Bard from a hero in his own right into yet another vengeful grandson. In the film, it was his grandad who failed to kill smaug, who dislodged the scale on his chest, and who left the final black arrow to finish the job with, as if this story needed any more vengeful grandsons***  wielding their Freudian 'father's spear/arrow/sword'. Bard doesn't need to listen to a talking thrush now, as he already knows his grandfather dislodged a scale from SMAUG's underbelly and knows where to aim. We haven't seen the hobbit 3 yet, but it's already been set up to make talking thrushes redundant.

I just want I remind people that this is a children's adventure book, with a very friendly author's voice. That tone has been completely lost. For instance, Beorn is now no longer just a random magical creature in a fantastic world, but 'the last of his kind', after those damn orcs wiped out his people. 

Most of the bits from the book that are in the film are dealt with pacily and punchily; the episode in mirkwood - weeks in the book, minutes in the film - captures how you would expect an adventure film to run. They've been neatly compressed into exciting episodes and I can't wait for the fan edit of the hobbit that cuts it back down into the book form (not that it would be a particularly faithful adaptation, but at least it would be an adaptation) which I reckon would last as little as an hour and a half. On the other hand, others have been bloated horribly, although less so in the hobbit 2.

My point here, which I've been building towards, is that this is not the events of the hobbit, or the tone of the hobbit. The overall message - that you can't step in the same river twice - is in there, but it is watered down, and buried deep under an avalanche of generic fantasy shit. And its abandoned the ancestral roots of the hobbit, that connects it to its source material. It's like one of those buildings that have been knocked down, leaving the fascia, with a new core. It's not the hobbit, there and back again. What it is, and how good it is, I don't know. 

*who can speak thrush because he's a descent of the people of Dale [asif that's an explanation]

**in the V√∂lsungasaga, Seigfreid kills the dragon Fafnir by digging a pit so that he can stab upwards into it's soft and unprotected underbelly. Upon drinking the dragon's blood he levels up and gains the ability to understand the speech of birds, who tip him off at an upcoming betrayal. The same text also inspires Tolkien's cursed ring and a fallen hero's shattered sword reforged by an heir.

***also the time no longer makes sense as 200 years have passed. Perfect for a dwarven grandson like thorin, but not a human (unless Bard is numenorean too)

Sunday

Bbc 4

What The Actual is going on with bbc4's output these days? Some observations:

Only Connect is moving to BBC2.

They've stopped making original drama as cut backs; An Honourable Woman, which feels totally like it should have been on 4, has been on 2.

Jacques Peratti's adam-curtis-lite 'the men who made us spend' has been airing on Saturday Nights on 2. Intelligent documentary on primetime saturday night? bbc 2. So what's on bbc 4 at the same time? Inspector Montalbanal. This is my main problem. Saturday night on bbc4, and they're showing an Italian detective show that, if it wasn't for the subtitles, would be considered at about the level of Midsommer Murders. They're trying to fill the gap left by The Killing, sure, but 'just being foreign' does not a quality drama make.

So I'm worried. I actually went as far as not watching bbc 2 for quite sometime; now it seems like all the good stuff is on it, while bbc4 turns into totp2 on friday nights. It's being shut down by increments.

Monday

Foreshadowing vs characters

A while ago, the Barbara Streisand vehicle 'funny girl 2' was on telly. I didn't get to watch the whole thing, but as I turned on to it, babs was standing on an empty stage, scowling and smoking, before tossing the fag away and bursting into song. The long-suffering and I both commented on how we were surprised that the theatre didn't burst into flames and sirens, police cars, kind of thing.


XKCD: Clumsy foreshadowing
We're both from an age in which (in cinema) the only time people casually throw aside a lit cigarette, is where it will end in a fire. We've had hack foreshadowing shoved into us by hack scriptwriters to such a degree that we pick up clues automatically, and never have these reactions challenged.

Now, not being a literature student, I heard about foreshadowing maybe only a few years ago. A lot of it comes more under the 'Chekhov' section  of tv tropes, eg checkov's gun; a gun above the mantle piece in the opening scene must be fired before the conclusion (whereas foreshadowing proper might more thematic idea). As a scriptwriting tool, it's an invaluable way of thematically tieing up your story, and making it appear to be well-planned. Indeed, one of the reasons I love 'cabin in the woods' so much is because everything is set up and payed off. It's sutch a thoroughly written piece.

But at the other extreme, you've got things like the tedious opening of One Day, where a woman riding a bike is definitely going to get killed, because nobody rides a bike in a film unless they're going to be knocked over. That's not just One Day's fault, but they play it straight and knock her down, as predicted. By the time this came up in the supercut of 'people stepping into the street and getting knocked down', I was laughing out loud at it (and only half way through). The clip is at 5.54.

So back to Barbara Streisand - what purpose did the thrown away cigarette serve? Well as Freud said, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." In this case, it's just pure character. The only purpose of it is because in that style of filmmaking, not every single bloody thing had to have a consequence. Sometimes, it's just someone's character coming through, and that's enough. 

People never bump into a person in the street, or have to repeat what they said because they talked with their mouth full, or get spam calls in these stories (I remember an episode of Seinfeld with a spam call as a throw away joke; it didn't further the plot along, it was just for character and a giggle). It's the same problem with how in virtually any film, if a woman and a man meet, they're going to fall in love, because they have to. You can't just have two attractive members of opposite sexes near each other without love happening, cinema tells us. This is just automatic.

And that's why many films resort to that kind of lazy call-forward-and-back; they're filling in the gaps that should be filled with well-rounded characters. They're trying to build a plot around consequences of actions, without having to create characters that think for themselves. The actions are accidental; the plot is developed by coincidences and conveniences rather than decisions.

(Someone will argue 'what about the coen bros? But their characters do make decisions; it's just that they're decisions don't impact the plot at all, or do so on an unpredictable way, and that's usually the point)

I don't think I'm arguing for Dogme realism, just that characters should be allowed more time to breathe and come to life. I suppose it's a delicate balance, because put not enough pointlessness in a story and you've lost the sense of characters, put too much pointlessness and it looks like you've dropped threads all over the place.

Think about truly character driven works, especially comedies, and they're full of pointless moments that only exist to expose characters. I know i oscillate, and sometimes think that stories are all about ideas, but right now I really respect authors, and actors, who are deep in character.