Thursday

What became of the knives

So, yeah, we used to have these two really good knives that I bought when I moved into the flat in manchester and needed my own cooking gear. Just two very good knives is all I bought. but over the last couple of years they've both gone missing. How can you lose two perfectly good knives in a flat?

I think I have the answer. You see, we sometimes order take-away pizza. I did that tonight, and as I walked to the kitchen with the empty box, there was a sound and weight coming from the inside. The knife I had used to cut the delicious pizza was there. In the box. On it's way to the recycling bin. I wondered... what if I hadn't noticed..?

It's possible.

warcraft

I've been playing a bit of the old warcraft 2 again, despite it's archaic and in-the-way interface. I won't go into too much detail, but blimey:

why didn't blizzard just give up and call starcraft 'warcraft 40,000'?

peons and peasants are really shat upon in the game. They're cheap, and characterised as idiotic, yet they possess an enormous skill set, able to build everything from oil refineries to temples. As comfortable down the mine as performing maintenance on literally any structure. They should cost 8000 gold each, not the 400 they go for.

Tuesday

Sluts for Zeit

So, more affectionate moans about the BBC and a couple of their new shows and general trends you can extrapolate &c.

I say new, but room 101 has been knocking around for a while in various formats; first with nick hancock, in it's early, garish, phase, then more measured, hosted by paul merton. Back on those days, you had a two person conversation that let you get to know slebs for better (in the case of stephen fry) or worse (in the case of gordon ramsey, who came across as utterly misogynistic).



I'm glad they've brought it back, but what's happened to it is... telling. We're with frank skinner now, but rather than an indulgent half hour with a popular sleb, we now have 3 separate slebs, competing in categories of annoying things to get their chosen annoyance cast in. It's been turned into a panel game, and people who wouldn't have usually been justified with a half hour to themselves are cropping up: danny baker, fern something, personality free sports presenters who somehow put 'everyone who doesn't share my obsession' in.

Yeah, back in the day, you had some pretty idiotic types turning up, vaccuous actors of the minute without an interesting thing to say about themselves or the world, whose views were poorly thought through at best. But at least they were given the chance over half an hour. And they had a free choice; Now you have to have two categories and a wildcard. So if I wanted to put both energy drinks and categorisation of music genres into room 101 I couldn't, because one isn't an animal or a celebrity.

I'm not saying the show is now terrible, change it back, argh; last week's one with alice cooper (great, if straight laced), Chris Packham, (weird and excellent), and chris tarrant (rubbish) was really enjoyable. But only when you get past the frustration at it being molded into something so... predictable. Formatty. more like a rdaio four program, really.



Evidence b is 'the magicians', and never has a purely zeitgeistily opportunistic show been so.. Crummy. You can tell magic's zeitgeisty, because there was a channel 5 talking heads list show about it earlier this year. Last year saw the launch of both 'The Magicians' and itv's 'penn and teller: fool us' where the genuinely astonishing duo judge amateur and semi-pro magic acts on single tricks, and try to guess them out. Penn and Teller's schtick is of course, that they're not magicians. They tell you how they do tricks, making you feel clever, then they go one better and do something that's completely unbelievable, despite (or even because of? all magic is misdirection) the new information they've given you. It was hosted by disgraced social chameleon jon ross, with no other sleb guests (other than when paul daniels managed to stick his oar in). Every show, p&t would perform one trick to close. The quality was mixed, as you'd expect from a show with a variety of acts. But it was excellent saturday night prime time telly.

So BBC1 decided they needed a saturday night prime time telly magic show, too. But what they've brought to the formula is shite.

For starters, its hosted by an utter non entity. Now I'm not down wit de yoof, but I've no idea why this person is presenting a live show; he's a sort of nothingness at the centre. He's competent and the right side of OTT, but last series was hosted by Lenny Henry, one of the most famous faces in telly.



Other than him, we've 3 magic acts who are all very good at what they do, but have to perform 4 tricks every week (lets see if I can remember them): close up magic, grand illusion... um, I can't tell the others, but a bit of research says they're street magic (so, close up magic on location) and location grand illusion (right, I now see why I didn't remember these. they're the same as the others). The trouble with this is, that these acts are all specialists, so getting them to do a variety of tricks is like having the same three bands on top of the pops every week, playing everybody's songs. What they end up being is session magicians, able to perform any trick that they've been told to do this week whether its escapology, mind reading, or the inevitable deck switch. So it feels to me, anyway.

Then there's the guest magician spot, which have been, in general, utterly shit. The less said the better.

The last two pieces of the show go together: slebs and (new for this series) phone votes. Each act has a sleb assistant for the week, and is voted for by the public with the losing couple performing a forfeit. The fact that the utterly missable forfeit section is apparently unrehearsed only underlines its lack of danger.

The slebs usually add nothing to the act, normally hanging on to the side and maybe coaxing the public into a trick; except for craig off of strictly, who, being a dancer, made an excellent magician's assistant and really got involv'd. And the phone voting, It's just a needless obsession. The show is like a formulaic mind map on a plate, and whatever's written in the middle of it doesn't matter; it was bound to have 'slebs', 'phone ins', 'regular performers', and 'guest spot' written around it whever it was dancing, magic, carpentry, or palaeontology. WE@RE SO GOOD AT TELEVISION.



It stinks of keeping up with the joneses in a pathetic way. Like that awful post-shaft 007 film, Madonna sampling abba, kid's performers who do sweary university tours, or korn going dubstep (although tbf that does make some sense), it's the sadness of watching a tired old performer desperately trying to impress the new generation.



On the other hand, good magic tricks are great, so I still love watching it. I guess my point with both the programs is that the content is good, but the form sucks. I want a magic show, not The Magicians Entertainment Program Experience Product.

What would be quite good would be to make it more like Later, where an experienced, possibly semi-retired magician (NOT DANIELS) hosts a compendium of turn-taking magicians.


Monday

more thoughts on characters

Something that's come out of my previous post on Rebecca is something that sounds a bit paradoxical at first: If characters are well drawn, I don't care *what* happens to them. I mean, I care, right, but I'll follow them to wherever they end up going. I won't throw the book down or switch off the box in frustration because 'that character would never do that'. the story arc can be a massively disappointing tragedy, but that's fine if I believe in the characters.

Take any character in The Wire, but in this case, Bubbles. I believe in that world and that character so much that however his story turned out, it would have been excellent and true to itself. By contrast, if you've got shit characters, you bloody well better have a gripping plot (so you don't notice the hollow characters) or a feel-good ending (so at least you get _something_ out of the experience). And strangely enough, shit characters and feel good endings have a large correlation. of course, rich characters and happy endings are a great combination, but when you've got such great material, happiness doesn't have to be the only outcome. Tragic endings for a pile of broken dickhearts is a risky, rubbish, recipe for a story.

as a final example, take 'no country for old men'. Pretty much everything is ruined for everyone at the end, but again, it's ok for us as an audience because it's engaging. But then that's also part of the Coen brother's oft-used theme of the vagaries of fate and the inconsequence of our actions. Oh, and great characters.

Maybe the point is that 2d characters, we project more of ourselves onto - so we don't want to see them come a cropper? whilst 3d characters are believable, so it's okay for us to watch them crash and burn? just a thought.

Sunday

I Killed Rebecca (total utter spoilers)

Hi.
(I tried to find a video to stick in here of 'I killed Rebecca' by Ephel Duath, but there isn't one online. I must be doing something right. Here's a really difficult to follow live performance of it, from when they were a three-piece:



Also, the song is nothing to do with the story, and I have that on authority. But still.)

I've just finished reading Daphne Du Maurier's 'Rebecca', and well, boy do I have opinions on that one. Massive spoilers from here on in, so, I'm assuming you've read it (or have watched an adaptation and know the differences from the book). I just want to add something to the discussion about it that I think is a half-original thought.

I picked this book up off the shelf on reputation; I only know Maurier as the author of 'The Birds' and 'Don't Look Know', both of which I've only seen as films. I'd absolutely no idea of what the plot was or anything, and I was quite happy about that so I didn't even read the blurb on the back. I like not knowing. I like going into a work of fiction, and not only being ignorant of the story arc, but even the genre. We learn that Maxim's first wife died at sea; is this going to be a ghost story? A romance? Both, or neither?




It turns out the story is something else entirely. Pure tragedy, really, but a deeply ironic one. If you're reading this, you'll know the details; The Second Mrs de Winter lollops about in a frustratingly unconfident way for the first two acts, her lack of self-worth and monosyllabic answers to any question making the book almost unreadable at times. Then in the third act, the twist in the tale leads to a complete re-evaluation of everything you've been reading, and a linear progression of events that leads to an unhappy ending.

After I finished reading, I went back to the informative introduction, which clarified many plot points. But I'm slightly unsatisfied (in a pleasant way) with the third act, and it goes a little something like this:

The twist is, we find out that Maxim never loved Rebecca, and hasn't been mourning her all this time, but in fact hated her. That's fine, because it means everyone can get on with their lives, and The Second Mrs de Winter can stop being such a misery and find her feet, except that two sentences later we are told that he in fact murdered her, and will probably be going to prison for a long time. So much for their happiness.




I found this twist really frustrating. It meant that the whole novel had been a complete wild goose chase, all The Second Mrs de Winter's angst was over some bullshit. I mean, I liked where it went, and the meta-twist at the end was great in context, but it just didn't fit with the rest of the story. Yeah, I'd picked up that Rebecca was really evil from the couple of hints dropped, but the plot just seemed to drop everything that was building up and go off in a completely different direction. Danvers never gets her comeuppance for tormenting The Second Mrs de Winter, Maxim wandering off all night after the fancy-dress ball turns out to be nothing, Frank's concerns seem to get lost in the ship wreck; the whole thing just seems to be brushed under the carpet (if you don't know what I'm talking about, this must sound quite weird, but you would probably have stopped way back there). It's like the advent of the ship wreck just off the coast seems to stop everything in it's tracks and turn the novel into a completely different one; rather than being a jane-eyre style romangst, it becomes a hitchcockian 'will the (justified) murderer and his accomplice-after-the-fact get away with it?'.

This reminds me of one of the points about fiction in Hoftstadter's 'Godel Escher Bach': how to end a book so that the readers don't see the end coming, and can't use their knowledge about the size of the book to predict how close they are to the end. He posits the idea - and experiments with it himself - that something utterly strange and beyond belief should occur in the plot, to signify that the story has actually finished.



That's what it feels like happens in the story to me. The story has built up to a climax: after the disastrous fancy dress party, Maxim is nowhere to be found, and Danvers is trying to convince The Second Mrs de Winter to jump out of the window of Rebecca's bedroom. The Second Mrs de Winter is actually being convinced, and if it's not for the rockets let off by the breached ship, we don't know if she would have jumped. She has vulnerably low self-esteem, she's in thrall to the spirit of Rebecca, and let's face it, she's daft. The rest of the story after this point has so little to do with the lead up that I'm inclined to think it's the fantasy of a still-throbbing brain dashed out on the patio, thinking it's way to a resolution as happy as possible. Or even just a signal to us that we should stop reading.

But it's a great book, and I've never been so reticent to watch an adaptation of a book as with this one. The characters were so fully fleshed out in my mind that I could see it so clearly in my head and didn't want to see anybody else's vision of it. Having watched the very good and certainly lavish ITV adaptation, it's frustrating that Maxim isn't dark and wiry enough, Beatrice isn't Honoria Glossop enough, Jack isn't a flabby pathetic drunk enough, and Danvers isn't literally a grim reaper. Next, onto the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation. I'll let you know how it compares.

ta.