July, 2009

David Cameron on Absolute Radio

This is a clip from an interview I was videoing this morning…

(And at time of writing it’s the most popular video on the BBC News site. Even though I’m not remotely responsible for the content of the video, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was rather chuffed to have footage on the BBC News website that I shot!)

(500) Days of Summer

08/07/2009
(This picture is vaguely of summer, and has nothing to do with the film!)
I got invited to a blogger’s screening of this film next week but couldn’t make it – so I saw a separate screening and I’m really glad I did.
Superficially this is light-hearted romantic film, but it’s really not. A voiceover at the start of the film pretty much puts you straight on this, although you never know quite whether to believe the voiceover (it’s a deep throaty one rather than one of the characters). But an “Author’s note” sets you straight too. Somebody got hurt badly when they were dumped. At that someone was co-writer Scott Neustadter. He says as much in his piece in the production notes.
The “Summer” of the title isn’t the season but Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), an assistant that Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets in his workplace – a greetings card manufacturer. He’s an architect by trade but has slipped into the card business where his job is to dream up the words in cards for previously un-heard of card occasions.
He has his two male friends – one a co-worker who he goes karaoke singing with – who are there to help him through his difficulties.
You see the thing is that we know this relationship isn’t going anywhere. The film’s timeline spins around and we very quickly learn that for no obvious reason, Finn dumps Hansen. From there, we swing back and forth through good times and bad, as we learn how the relationship was formed and what happened to end it.
Throughout the film there are flash backs to the earlier lives of the characters, although an unusual licence has been used to place those characters in the correct timeline. The opening credits run across cine camera footage of our two main characters, yet given that they’d have grown up in the eighties you’d expect video footage rather than Super-8. Then another flashback to an incident seems to be placed in the fifties or sixties for no real reason. Somehow it just works.
Other techniques are used through the film. There’s a dance number at one point, just after a very happy Hansen has been high-fiving strangers in the street and brilliantly at one point looks in a car window to check the reflection of himself and sees a beaming Han Solo smiling back at him. And during another sequence we get a split screen with what Hansen hoped would happen alongside the “reality” of it.
The music in the film is great by the way. Although Hansen seems too young for it (Gordon-Levitt is 28), he seems to be heavily into music like The Smiths and Joy Division. He has an endless selection of T-shirts for said artists, and early in their relationship Finn and Hansen compare notes on The Smiths. And somebody really loves The Boy With the Arab Strap by Belle and Sebastian. I’m really looking forward to the soundtrack. And at one point Deschanel sings a song herself during a karaoke sequence. Of course we know she can sing because she released an excellent album, She and Him, last year (she also appears on the soundtrack of Yes Man I understand).
Anyway, it’s out on 4th September, and it’ll be well worth seeing. The official website is here.

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra

24 July 2009
Next year, the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra is starting something of a residency at the Barbican and other venues in East London. It’ll happen for at least a couple of years in the run-up to the Olympics.
All I can say is that on 1 October, when tickets go on sale, you should rush out and get some because this is always a visit that’s well worth seeing. Even if you’re not the world’s biggest jazz aficionado – and clearly I’m not – the passion, skill and above all, the music is unmissable.
I’ve seen Marsalis play at least twice before at the Barbican and once more at a Prom. There’s always a theme to these concerts and this time around we heard lots of movements from a specially commissioned piece for Spain. As such, he had a guest in Chano Dominguez, the Spanish pianist. In one piece he and JLCO regular Dan Nimmer switched multiple times on piano duties – at one point “duelling”.
It wouldn’t be Marsalis without some Ellington, and we got a glorious solo from Joe Temperly playing a piece who’s name I didn’t catch (Rose?) “The Single Petal of a Rose” (thanks to the FT) on a glorious bass clarinet.
Another Brit in the orchestra is Elliot Mason and Marsalis insisted that his parents who were in the audience stand up and take a bow.
El Piraña came on for a couple of pieces at the end, playing percussion (basically a box) adding some more flamenco to the New Orleans jazz proceedings.
The evening ended in a standing ovation. I’ll be getting my tickets for next year…

Moon

Lunar Eclipse 2214
Moon is a great little film – a debut from Duncan Jones (aka David Bowie’s son). It’s nice to see a proper science fiction film based on ideas rather than space ships shooting other space ships – or more likely, blowing up landmarks.
Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell. He works in a base on the moon where he caretakes automated “Helium 3” harvesting. This is some super new fuel source that’s shipped back to earth every so often.
At first glance, it’s not really obvious why he should be alone in this base; there’s plenty of room for more individuals. But the company that employs him don’t even seem to have enough resource to fix the live link back to earth. All his communications have to be delayed.
Then one day he goes out to fix one of the harvesting machines and has an accident.
And there I’ll leave the plot. It’d spoil it if you knew.
What I can say is that Bell does have some company in the form of GERTY, a HAL-type robot voiced by Kevin Spacey and with a nice line in emoticons.
And there is obviously something a bit deeper and darker happening on the moon base. And although it’s based around a tried and tested SF standby, it’s handled beautifully and Rockwell is superb.
The look and feel of the film is good. Yes I could ask why the moon’s gravity seems more earth-like inside, why a robot communicates with earth via speech rather than data, and why things make noises outside, but I realise that this is me over-analysing things.
You never quite know what’s going to happen. The end isn’t guessable. You don’t know what GERTY will or won’t do (he’s not entirely like HAL).
And the design of the film’s great. It’s nice to see model work rather than CGI all the time. Clint Mansell’s music is great. I loved the fact that Bell’s alarm clock woke him every day with Chesney Hawkes’ The One and Only. At another point when Bell’s having an argument he insists on dancing to Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine (Which I noted also turned up as one of David Mitchell’s records on Desert Island Discs).

1-0 Up

England finished off a great victory this morning (well technically, this afternoon) at Lords. And you’ll just have to watch it on Five this evening – or on news bulletins.
Great coverage from Sky: and they even opened up their Sky Player to all Sky Sports subscribers for a couple of months – something I wish they’d make permament (It did fall over for the crucial final wicket though).
But I think David Mitchell in yesterday’s Observer makes my feelings on the matter clear – if they weren’t already:
Why did the ECB make this insane choice? For money. It forgot about building on Test cricket’s growing popularity after 2005’s triumph, about keeping it a presence in our national life on a channel people receive automatically, and it took a big cheque. It’s as if it was getting out of cricket – selling up for a fast buck, taking the money and running. But it can’t run – it’s English cricket’s governing body – so it’s left holding the money while it stares at the diminished popularity and, therefore, significance, of English cricket as a result of its actions.

New Radio 1 Line Up

Today’s Radio 1 reshuffle is interesting, and is obviously a clear response to the BBC Trust findings that Radio 1 was getting too old.
Off to weekends go Jo Whiley and Edith Bowman, as Fearne Cotton and Greg James fill up the gaps.
With a remit that targets 15-29 year olds, having a significant number of DJs outside that age group makes things harder. Having younger DJs is one way to help this.
That said, it’d be very ageist to suggest everyone should be under 30 on Radio 1. The station still has Pete Tong who’ll be 50 next year, and Tim Westwood is already 51. They’re specialist, and while the music they play is still relevant to the audience, their ages probably aren’t relevant. John Peel was still on the station at 65 after all.
Overall, a good move then.
That said, I really wouldn’t want to have Fearne Cotton inflicted on my worst enemey, so that should leave lots of opportunity for commercial rivals (or even Ken Bruce on Radio 2) to take advantage…

The Ashes

On Sunday I was at my parents – who are retired – as the conclusion of the first test was reached in the unlikeliest of manners. England hung on to claim a draw. A friend even texted me to make sure that I was watching.
It was nail-biting stuff, but I wasn’t watching on Sky as my father doesn’t subscribe to it. Instead we found ourselves staring at a scorecard on BBC Interactive while listening to Test Match Special.
I thought about this as I read this piece by David Conn in The Guardian.
I won’t run through my reasons about why the ECB is doing its level best to destroy the future of cricket in this country. But the distribution of that Sky money is interesting, and we all know that interest in the game, Twenty20 notwithstanding, is likely to decline.
Yes Ashes series will sell out. But few enough people could tell you more than three names in the current England team.

Free


A lot has already been said and written about Wired editor, Chris Anderson’s new book, Free. In particular Malcolm Gladwell reviewed it for The New Yorker in a not completely complementary fashion. This in turn has been refuted elsewhere.
Books like Free aren’t the most demanding of fare. Essentially it’s 250 pages devoted to a single idea, illustrated by lots of examples. Sometimes the examples are a little underwhelming. Both Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Prince’s Planet Earth examples are analysed: Radiohead’s pay what you like, and Prince’s deal with the Mail on Sunday. But both are major artists who are already famous and popular. Both deals worked for them (although it cost the Mail on Sunday money, and hasn’t been fully repeated since), but there’s no real proof that they’d work for “average” artists.
But there are still some lessons to be learnt – if not as many as you’d perhaps like.
Sitting behind all this is the newspaper industry – or perhaps that should be “journalism” industry. Rupert Murdoch has recently indicated that he hates the free model, and wants to start putting paywalls up around his journalism (we’ll leave to one side, alleged voicemail hacking shall we). So there are rumours that perhaps The Sunday Times might go pay only. And across the pond, The New York Times is said to be having high level discussions about whether or not to put back a paywall. Anderson’s book includes a quote from the Times’ Andrew Rosenthal about his dislike of giving away journalism free. It has to be paid for.
While Anderson has some great answers for many of the hurdles put in place, it’s clear that unless the free model can pay for journalism, then even more newspapers are going to go out of business. Anderson pretty much acknowledges that a full free platform has not been found. Probably because of the sheer number of pages out there, internet revenues are not high – and the lack of scarcity means that costs are driven in one direction. And it’s not up.
Newspapers are just one area of this of course. Free does work in many places, and Anderson highlights some excellent ones. Building something on a global scale, and perhaps delivering bits rather than something physical, makes finding that model easier than ever.
But it’s disingenuous to think that free works across the board. In a coda to the book, Anderson admits that himself.
So overall, this is a worthwhile read – even if a few too many of the examples are a little well known – but free is only part of the solution. And in some cases, it’s hard to see that it’s a solution at all.

The MediaGuardian 100 – 2009

The annual nonsense that is the MediaGuardian 100 has once again been published.
And as ever, there are lots and lots of telly folk on the list. And plenty of representation from the dead tree media. But once again, nearly nobody from radio!
Aside from a handful of presenters, you’ve got Tim Davie, Mark Damazer (both BBC) and Stephen Miron (Global).
What about the controller of the most popular radio station in the UK, Radio 2? Or perhaps Radio 1?
It’s interesting that Miron is included but Ashley Tabor of Global Radio isn’t. Or perhaps someone from Bauer or GMG?
Several of these make the sector list, but even though UK radio listening is at an all time high, they don’t get into the top 100.
The list is short of women, so it’s curious that the controller of BBC Two, Janice Hadlow, is missing. Yet the head of E4 makes the list! Which is more influential – BBC Two or E4?
And is Noel Clarke (you know – Doctor Who’s sidekick’s boyfriend) really more powerful than Jonathan Ross? Somebody’s having a laugh here aren’t they?