Sunday, 28 June 2009

be careful what you search for

A lot of people come to blogs by google searches. The great thing about blog stats is that you can see exactly what people were searching for when they came to your blog. These are usually hilarious, often ridiculous. Some of the best in the last week for your amusement:

(in parentheses is what the post actually was)

- what is the meant by "appetitive system?" (porn and neuroplasticity post)
- buildings that convey sentiment of love [what does that even mean?!] (Auden's poem, September 1, 1939)
- sexy haunch video (Adrian Ghenie at Haunch of Venison)
- sexy bbc radio plays (I do actually have a post called 'welcome to sexy voices on bbc radio 4')
- post letter opening by neighbours (an open letter to our neighbours)
- big haunch photo (Haunch of Venison review)
"Tanya Gold" "hard to swallow" esquire (dinner party diva)

Moral of the story. Be careful what you search for. Someone out there knows that you, by virtue of your googling, are a pervy, sentimental, paranoid freak of nature. Unless, that is you're the one person searching about the appetitive system, in which case you're probably addicted to pervy, sentimental, paranoid freaks of nature.

Keep it up.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Top 10 reasons why you should never sleep with The Man

1) Playing dirty hide and seek with the surveillance cameras is only fun for a little while.
2) It isn't the size that matters, but what He can do with it.
3) And He can't do anything with it. Cf. Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
4) Your sexy police helicopter impression isn't sexy: it's shit.
5) What seems cool in a foreign country isn't such a good idea back home.
6) Big Brother is never as good with a condom on.
7) Despite all His promises, He'll never make you Queen.
8) Or famous.
9) Unless the phones are tapped, He'll never call.
10) It's not Him; it's you. Cf. Immigration Act 1971 and Immigration Act 1988.

The Civil War goes Global

For D.P.

In session three of what the fish had taken to calling my 'cultural enrichment programme', he asked me to take him to one of my regular haunts. He said he hoped it would help him figure out where I went wrong.

I took him to a little place in Shoreditch. 'I've only been here once,' I said, 'but they do make an excellent Sazerac.'

'Fine,' the fish countered, 'but does our waiter know who said: "when sorrows come, they come in battalions"? How do you suppose you will ever learn anything if you persist in such ignorance.'

The poor waiter's skin-tight jeans and trendy tousled hair were no match for the fish's aggressive contempt. The waiter turned his head toward me, as if to ask for help, though he looked surprised when I finally spoke up: 'if you want to know the answer, go and buy your own fish.'

Surprisingly the fish laughed loudly and said, 'that's funny, I don't know either.' He slammed his empty lowball on the glass-topped table, making an awful sound. 'Another round, young man, and one on the house!' Many made-up faces turned to stare at his outrageous behaviour.

He fixed me with judgemental eyes and asked what I hoped to gain from my purchase. I was becoming uncomfortable with the nature of our relationship. 'I rather gathered,' I said, 'that I paid for you to answer those sorts of questions, not to ask them.'

'You know,' he said after a lengthy pause, 'you cannot write poems about fish forever.'

Monday, 22 June 2009

utility sucks

"To the question 'of what use are the humanities?', the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said – even when it takes the form of Kronman’s inspiring cadences – diminishes the object of its supposed praise."
~ Stanley Fish

My least favourite part of modern academia is its continuing commodification: the necessity for an education to mean something, to confer something, to be anything other than what it is and ought to be. And it's not just because I'm a classicist that I lament the demise of the humanistic education. It's because at least then we as a society felt we knew what an education ought to be and what the goal of a good education was. Now, because of the diversification of subjects into mainstream academia - hello film studies and hotel management, surely these things do not belong in modern universities? - we are less sure what should constitute a good modern education.

I'm not entirely sure when utility as a measure of judgement seeped into British Universities, but I'll wager it was sometime after 1970. The advent of the research councils in the late 90s meant the complete death of academic freedom in the UK. A contentious and controversial statement for sure, but look at it this way. Most students in this country do not complete a PhD unless they receive funding - in my case it's the AHRC which provides funding for Humanities students. A student will not even be encouraged by their department to submit an application for funding unless it is likely that the student will actually receive funding, as each department has a limited number of possible funding allocations per year. As the department knows that the AHRC only funds a certain kind of research, this is inevitably the kind of research that gets put forward and funded by the AHRC, and is thus the kind of research carried out in British Universities. Utility is one of those buzzwords greedily devoured by the AHRC and its funding panel - how does this add to the subject, to the canon, to the body of research - they want to know. This means that graduate students rarely get to tackle the big, important, interesting ideas as they're too busy analysing one sentence of an obscure text no one gives a damn about - but at least this obscurity guarantees 'utlity'.

I realise that Universities must find some method by which they can support themselves, whether it's by raising fees or through alumni donations, I certainly don't have an easy answer. But academia has always been about research and big ideas, but most importantly, about providing an environment of freedom and safety in which to carry out research and have these big ideas. As soon as the Universities start putting a price tag on ideas - and utility carries its own price tag, believe me - they quite obviously cease to be free. Learning is exciting, stimulating, and enriching. When did Universities move away from promoting these ideas?

In my second year viva last week, one of the main criticisms of my work was that I wasn't careful enough in 'preserving the conventions of academic presentation.' The marker actually said, 'Crystal must preserve the conventions of academic presentation' and I couldn't help thinking - is this what we've really come to? Are we, as academics, more concerned with the proper citation of footnotes than with the big ideas? Sadly, I think for many the answer is yes. And for the next generation, who may arrive with big ideas, we're browbeaten into submission by the current staff, so that by the end of the process we've just given up. And the saddest thing is that this focus on technicalities only disguises the fact that what's really missing are those very same big ideas. This obsession with utility and convention and presentation only leads us farther away from truly revolutionary thinking - from making those big breakthroughs. You might think that in a field like Classics there aren't really any breakthroughs left to be made. But, for example, most of the old guard are too busy lamenting the death of Greek and Latin teaching in schools to even discuss the merits and possibilities of learning via translations of classical texts. While the rest of the literary world is running away with classical discourse and debate, stealthily stealing it straight out of the classicists hands, Classics dons are getting hung up on the fact that their students are occasionally using poor grammar in their essays or reading from the translation instead of the original. So what!

Academia has become, well ... just so boring. It used to be that the most brilliant minds in all fields came from within the academic tradition: the Cricks and Watsons, the Eliots and Wittgensteins, but none of these people would stand a chance in today's academic culture. First of all, these days a paper without footnotes would get thrown straight in the fire, and forget any sort of academic career if you aren't publishing regularly. It's just all a bit depressing. But thankfully, I've at least least come to one conclusion: this is my PhD. These are three years of my life and my future we're talking about.
I'm not about to let any 'conventions' or ticked boxes get in my way. You can stuff your obsession with utility. I'll take my big ideas any day of the week...

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Civil War

I went to the shop where my friend suggested I’d find what I was after. ‘Excuse me’, I said, ‘but I’d like to buy a wolf.’

‘I’m terribly sorry’, said the pretty young shopkeeper, ‘but we’ve just sold the last one. He’s to be married to a nice Indian girl from Tooting Bec.’

‘I was hoping he’d be able to give me lectures on recent cultural events while I sat in the bath and shaved my legs,’ I said.

Her eyes were kind. I could see she wanted to help. ‘It just so happens,’ she said, ‘that I’ve got one fish left. He’s an expert on international development and sustainable aid. He might know a little about opera.’ I bought the fish.

We stopped off at a newsagent on the way home. The fish wanted to get the Financial Times. ‘Can you believe all these journalists going on about MPs expenses, when they’ve fiddled their own accounts since time immemorial?’

Arriving home, I ran a bath. I gestured to the bench in the bathroom and invited the fish to discuss the legacy of post-colonialism in Southern Rhodesia. The fish said, ‘you do know it’s now called Zimbabwe?’

The fish sat down on the bench, sipping a glass of Chablis. He snapped open the FT and explained, slightly muffled behind the salmon-coloured pages, that he didn’t want to see me naked. I slid into the bath and arranged the bubbles to cover my modesty, not wanting to offend the fish.

He lowered the newspaper and asked casually whether I had a cigarette he could pinch. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I don’t smoke.’ He folded the FT and looked at me in the bath, as if what I was doing was in some way ridiculous. Finally he said, ‘a drink is too wet without a cigarette’ and poured the Chablis down the sink.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Salt & Just One Book

I should have blogged about this before, but here I am - better late than never, eh?

For those of you in the know about poetry Salt will be old hat, but newbies to poetry publishing will be less well informed.

Salt has been around for the better part of 10 years and publishes an astonishing number of debut collections from some seriously talented writers. Shirley Dent, writing in the Guardian, said something that really resonated with me: while the poetry community was lapping up the gossip pages drama that was the battle of the Oxford poetry dons, a far more serious issue was receiving little to certainly not enough attention in the 'other place'. Salt, more the victim of bad luck than bad business, was faced with a chunk of debt and an industry smacked by recession.

What's so brilliant about Salt is that instead of letting blind panic drive them further into debt, trying to borrow their way out of a bad situation, they came up with a clever viral marketing campaign that perfectly appealed to the literary community.

The 'Just One Book' campaign is just that: buy one book. Anyone can afford one book and if lots of anyones each by one book, Salt will at the very least buy itself time with suppliers and creditors. But this isn't just a 'please give us money to save us' campaign - Salt is a genuinely important independent publishing house. They support and encourage new authors, publishing fantastic new work by writers who deserve to have their work out in the big wide world. Especially in the web 2.0 age when so many seem to think everything should be online and free, there's something immensely important about supporting a publishing house so clearly committed to produced beautiful works of literature. While every author likes to be published - if it's online, we'll take it - I don't know a single one who doesn't have 'being published' as their ultimate goal. There's still something special about the printed word. Help Salt keep this magic alive.

So. Go. Buy. Just. One. Book.

PS Salt is offering 33% of ALL books until the end of June. Use the promotional code G3SRT453 in the checkout to benefit. And if you spend £30 or $30 you get free shipping. Hey! Go mad! Buy two!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

dr livingstone: your edit, i presume?

What a strange, lucky day yesterday was. My passport that went missing when our lovably idiotic post room workers sent it second class instead of special delivery turned up at the embassy, EMAP is generously sponsoring the salon[london] event I'm running in August, my 2nd year viva went off without a hitch, and I started the edit on my film class short film. All in a day's work, you know.

Though it took me the better part of two hours to edit two minutes of film (a very rough edit, I should add), I didn't mind at all. It's such an engaging process, though a bit of a nightmare for anyone with even the smallest designs on perfectionism. I thought that we didn't shoot enough takes during our weekend shoot, though I see now that we probably shot too many. I also suppose that this is where storyboarding becomes worth its weight in gold. I always thought that storyboarding was a bit airy-fairy and couldn't really see the point, but I realise now that it's the equivalent of creating a very detailed outline before writing an essay. It makes it much easier to go through all the kazillions of takes to find exactly the shot you're looking for in the edit. If you know you want a close up on a certain character's face while that character is saying certain lines, you can get through your edit a lot faster than if you haven't got a clue what shot you want and where you want it.

It also transpires that Final Cut Pro is a lot easier to use than I thought it was. I don't know why I couldn't figure it out before. I'm sure there are lots of interesting effects and shortcuts which will make editing more fun in the future that I still haven't learned, but I've got the most essential skills which means I can at least get a half decent edit thrown together. It's all so exciting. I love learning new stuff! So we'll be finishing off our edits in a few weeks time and then we're having a screening (how very quaint) for our last class, where we'll watch all the different edits. It'll be like watching ten different, yet all very bad, short film versions of Holby City. Probably funnier though as you'd be surprised how hilarious bad editing can be...

Monday, 15 June 2009

poem of the day

Space Invaders

The catastrophist flashes shadow
Puppets, throwing gang signs
Like baseballs and laughing.

Too many trials docking these
Monorails, and you say, ‘keep
Your eye on the ordinary ones,’

As if they are of any danger to me.
We both know what it meant,
that night you left your copy of
Conran on my night stand.

tell me about that time...

I watched a charming little film last night, La lectrice. I think only the French could make an entire film about the seductive powers of literature, but especially the power of reading aloud - that fabulous frisson created between two people when one reads to another. Or even when one reads to a larger audience. I can only really think of The Princess Bride as another great film with storytelling at its heart, but it only really uses storytelling as a vehicle to tell the story - if that makes sense - not as a theme for exploration, like La lectrice.

I love it when someone reads to me and I love reading aloud. I think it stems from childhood and having parents and grandparents who read to me as well as attending a school where the teacher read aloud to the students. Certainly, context changes everything. For if you are two lovers in bed reading to each other, there is a kind of comfort, a vulnerable familiarity which is completely different to the electric frisson of one potential lover reading to another - before any physical connection has occurred. Even still, the tenderness of a parent reading to a child, or a friend reading to a friend, or the intellectual stimulation of a teacher reading to a student, all different, yet equally potent emotions tied up with the art of reading aloud.

I don't know when or why we stopped reading to each other. We still read, of course, but it's become such an intensely personal thing. Even when we participate in book clubs or discuss a book amongst us, the actual experience of reading the book still takes place on an individual level. Only the discussion and analysis is shared. Why not a reading aloud book group?

In light of this deficit, I'm hosting a story reading night at our salon [london] event in August. I think it would be great, if even perhaps a little regressive, to have a storytelling evening - that feeling of sitting around the campfire and going back to more primitive entertainment - an evening inspired by Homer and the oral tradition. I haven't collected all my story-tellers yet so if you want to be involved, let me know. Read your own story or not, just come and read.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Coventry and Ghenie at Haunch of Venison

Paid a visit to Haunch of Venison's new show on Friday, featuring the work of Keith Coventry and Adrian Ghenie. I'm always slightly apprehensive before I walk in to a modern art gallery. I really, really want the work to be good, but experience has so often brought disappointment. I suspect the Tate Modern is largely to blame. Let me explain. Because the Tate is the biggest, most prominent, extensively funded space for the display of modern art in the entire country, one might expect it to - like one's parents before one is old enough to realise parents have affairs and neglect to use contraception - hold some degree of authority and expertise. Yet in the last two years, all but one of the Tate Modern's exhibitions have filled me with dread, apathy at the very least.

But since HOV has moved into its new home, I've arrived at each exhibition with a tingle of dread and departed with a satisfied sense of encountering artists of both great talent and great wit. Once upon a time a painter could get away with simply being a master of his craft. Michelangelo and Rembrandt didn't have to look far for their subjects. Though we like to think we have raised art as a profession above base comercialism (hahahahahahahahah!), from the Renaissance onwards, painting only made sense if there was someone to purchase the painting. So work did not tend to be created and then sold, for this was an inefficient waste of time, but rather only painted if there was a guaranteed buyer - hence commissions. Family or individual portraits, paid for by the sitter; or religious iconography, paid for by the church. So when we look at an old master painting, say Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earning, we tend to focus on the artist's wonderful technique, his use of tone, lighting, and brush strokes, and ignore his clever social commentary - if only because there isn't one. No matter. This isn't what portrait painting is about in the Renaissance.

Modern artists have a harder time of it in some ways, then, because they are expected to not only be excellent technicians, but also to be incredibly witty. Taken to the extreme with something like Duchamp's urinal, we have only the idea and no art. I think this is why you so regularly hear comments such as, 'my kid could have made that' or 'yes, but is it art?' And while we'll all draw our own lines as to what does or does not constitute 'art', these two painters, Keith Coventry and Adrian Ghenie, represent all the best possibilities of modern art: bringing together technique and wit in compelling and unique ways, creating beautiful works of art that restore ones faith in modern art.

Coventry typically works in series which is a lovely thing for an observer. It provides a sense of harmony and visual cohesion. Walking into the first room, a gorgeous sequence of paintings following the ROYGBV spectrum catches the eye. It's not until you walk up close that the thick, impasto strokes morph into the face of Jesus. In fact lots of faces of Jesus, as all the paintings in the spectrum of colours
are of Jesus - paintings from a recent (2009) series called 'Repressionism'.

The other series I loved was 'Echoes of Albany', painted between 2004-2008. This series of more than 40 paintings is a collective interpretation of the infamous bachelor apartments, Albany, just next to Burlington Gardens. These little snippets of life at Albnany feel like clues to the mysteries surrounding the famous inhabitants of Albany and their equally salubrious lifestyles: paintings of Byron and Gladstone are interspersed with contemporary scenes of prostitution and drug-taking, all in Laura Ashley tones of pink and mauve.

While it was good to see the Coventry, Adrian Ghenie was a revelation. While the exhibition blurb talked about Ghenie's 'enduring fascination with European history, addressed through ideas relating to memory, trauma, and extremism', this almost seems to undermine the exquisite painterly quality and fantastical nature of the subject matter of the paintings.

Ghenie loves paint, that much is clear. Photographs simply do not do justice to Ghenie's skill as a painter, his exploration of technique and his perfection of a form that works perfectly with his incredibly visual and surrealist form of narrative painting. He drips and pours paint, then scrapes and removes the paint from the surface, building up layers in some areas, eroding in others. Again, the guide talks about Dadaism and Duchamp as being the primary inspirations for the work, but what is so wonderful about the paintings is that they are in no way prescriptive, but rather open to any number of interpretations. A spectacular painting entitled 'Duchamp's Funeral' looked to me like something out of Bram Stoker's Dracula. This fluidity in technique and subject is surprising, beautiful, and inspiring - this is work which must be experienced, not seen - reproductions simply do not do credit to Ghenie's work. Go and see it for yourself.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

photo of the day

et in Arcadia ego

At last some proper theatre! After the mild disappointment of Hamlet and Godot, David Leveaux's staging of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia at the Duke of York's theatre is the best production I've seen on the London stage all year.

I'll have to admit a slight, ok an extreme bias, toward Tom Stoppard, who I think I prefer even to Shakespeare or to Beckett. A bit of provocation on this Thursday morning. He's one of those writers who, especially given that I hadn't seen or read any of his work until an impulse purchase of Rosencrantz last summer, I wonder how I ever managed to live without in my ignorance. Stoppard loves words, loves meaning, loves poetry, loves learning and wisdom - in a way that makes most scholars and poets look near numb by comparison.

This should in no way, however, diminish from the extraordinary effort of the team involved in the production of the staging: the cast is absolutely fantastic, a brilliant ensemble with nary a weak link in sight. Even the tortoise puts on a splendid show. The set is marvellously conceived and the transitions between the characters in the 19th century seamlessly converge with the modern-day story line.

This is a 'big ideas' comedy, taking on collisions between science and literature, classicism and romanticism, deterministic and unpredictable theories of the universe - but don't let that put you off, for all of these great debates are elegantly played out between character relationships across the past and present.You might also suppose that a play centred around such complex ideas as iterative algorithms might alienate the audience. You would be wrong, of course, as Stoppard's characters are so roguishly lovable that one cannot help but become emotionally entangled in their successes and failures. A play that engages on an emotional level and titillates intellectually is such a rare treat. If you see nothing else this year on the stage, see this play.

And so you don't think I'm only out for high culture, I'll also mention Sister Act the musical, which I went to see with friends last night. It's thoroughly entertaining, if a little less mentally stimulating than Arcadia. If you can believe it, by the end I was standing up, clapping, dancing and singing along with the rest of the theatre. It's very good fun and definitely worth a view.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

an open letter to our neighbours

Dear No. 6,

To those who live in the flat above us. We hate you. You'll probably never read this, but it makes us feel better to get it off our collective chests.

We can't stand the fact that you play a remixed version of 'Last Night a DJ Saved My Life' over and over again. Have you no other music in your record collection? Or your demonstrable fear of being alone - must you always be on the telephone if you're in the house. Don't get me wrong, we love a party. But 3.30am on a Tuesday morning is not the time to piss off your neighbours. And no, we don't get off listening to you shag your numerous lady friends.

So from all of us at no. 4 to all of you at no. 6, this middle finger up is all for you.

Yours sincerely,

No. 4

PS Your girlfriend is faking it.

Monday, 8 June 2009

the three englishmen wait for godot

Busy, busy bee am I.

Had a lovely weekend. Went to see Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket with friends on Friday (more on that in a moment) then went to see those same friends perform their own brand of comedy on Sunday. A bit of Tea Smith and scriptwriting in between and voila: le weekend parfait!

So. Godot. Like Hamlet last week, I have mixed feelings about this production. I first read Beckett's play my freshman year of University - taught to me by a professor I adored - it's one of my favourite pieces of theatre, let alone one of my favourite pieces of writing. I know of few other works open to such multitudinous interpretations as Godot; it truly is a work defined by the maxim, "make of it what you will". The difficulties we may have in defining precisely what Godot is all about (in a way, a pointless exercise, as the play's meaning must be constructed through each individual's meaning) is what makes the play such a marvel.

So Sean Mathias's production, while enormously entertaining in its own right, strips the elegiac beauty and philosophic discomfort from Beckett's text and replaces it with a sort of slapstick, light-hearted humour. I'm just not sure what the point of this production was. Why didn't Mathias get Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen to do proper farce a la Noises Off or even something like The Producers? You know when Hollywood makes a dreadful film out of an amazing book? That's sort of the way I felt about this production of Godot, only the amazing book provides fairly precise blueprints for a great film. What I don't understand is how Mathias managed to strip the profundity of Beckett's undertones of the sad state of humanity and replace it with a few happy little jigs. Maybe I just need to stop going to the theatre when a big name has the staring role. Though a week later, I'm still defending my criticism of the Donmar's Hamlet, which was essentially: Jude Law; pretty good, everyone else; pretty bad. So maybe it isn't the big stars who are the problem, but the directors who let them get away with indulgent and self-regarding performances...

I'm pleased to say self-indulgent direction wasn't the case at all with my mates, The Three Englishmen. They performed their hilarious and completely innovative torch lit play, The Lighthouse Keepers, which I've seen once before performed in the round. I can't fawn overly, otherwise I'll be accused of cronyism so I'll just say that it's a delightful piece of work, very funny and truly original - a rare thing these days. My only criticism is that the space in the Wilmington Arms doesn't really lend itself to torch lit and highly physical theatre. Next time, chaps, find a bigger space!

I'm off to see Tom Stoppard's Arcadia this evening and very much looking forward to it - Stoppard's a huge favourite of mine and I've never seen Arcadia performed before so much excitement all round.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


How like a woman
To search for perfection of form
And find it not in a man,
But in a word.

a day in pictures

Breakfast at Konditor and Cook. Yummy!

Wearing flip-flops even though it turned out to be too cold.

Press view at the RA.

Some nice pieces from the exhibition:

I thought this was brilliant - a computerised, vector version of Velasquez's "Las Meninas"

Damien Hirst's St Bartholomew

Cy Twombly's The Rose


Macaroons from Ladurée.

Magazine shopping at Borders

Cool art magazine, Imbroglio

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

the one minute "found" footage film exercise

This is a hilariously poor, yet somehow quite bemusing, one minute "found" footage film project. It had to be made using stuff I already had and be no longer than one minute with no other sound than what had already been recorded.

Don't ask why I already had a clip of me saying, "this is a film about ducks." Let's just call it serendipity.

Special props to the kid in the park, who still gets a laugh from me every time, and to BC for humouring me...

Directing: a socially acceptable form of tyranny

"But at a certain point, and I don't really know...people have asked me this. I don't know exactly what it was that pushed me towards directing, but I think it was a naive notion that if I directed I would be able to play all the roles. A kind of greed."
~ Peter Bogdanovich

I'm about half way through my film-making class now and I'm pleased to say, it's growing on me. After the first night's class, where I walked home absolutely flummoxed as to how anyone could possibly conceive of High School Musical 3 as their favourite film of ALL TIME, things have gotten a lot better. We had a DP (director of photography for those not schooled in film parlance) come in last week who was interesting, engaging, and very informative. Most of my fellow students have turned out to be fairly intelligent, and though he's Hollywood and I'm Art House, the sheer enthusiasm and just plain niceness of our instructor has been a blessing in disguise.

As part of our course, we make a film - obvious, right? What kind of film-making course would it be if we didn't make a film? We wrote the scripts and organised some actors and had our film shoot last weekend. There's so much taken for granted in the making of a film, so much that goes on behind the scenes. You're watching this explosive row or tender love scene, but you don't see the 10 people standing just behind the camera, or the boom mic literally just out of frame. The fact that film makers have their own language - I mean we all know the clichés of "quiet on set!" and "cut!", but I was a bit surprised to find that the 1st AD and the director actually do say these things - there's a whole roster of crap that has to be said before the camera starts rolling or the actors start moving.

I loved directing the film. It's incredibly intimidating initially as you're given complete creative control, but you're also given a shoulder full of pressure as you want what you're watching on the monitor to look good. I also learned that you don't actually watch the actors while you're directing, you watch the monitor. Makes sense I suppose... Our amateur actors were brilliant and so patient - if this experience is in any way reflective of what being a screen actor is like in real life, I don't know why any of them enjoy doing it. Now stage acting is something else altogether, at least you get to build consistency and maintain a character over a defined period of time. But having to repeat the same scene over and over again - it's inanely robotic. It's the behind-the-scenes people on the set who get to have the most fun: the director, and the DP, and the 1st AD - they're the people who are really making the interesting decisions.

So now we're spending the next few weeks in the editing suite, putting our short film together - buffing up a little diamond. I'm completely hooked - I love the creativity, the collaboration - the fact that you get to work with a great team of people is brilliant, the pressure, everything. It's amazing. I want more.

Monday, 1 June 2009

More matter with less art: Jude Law as Hamlet

Went to see Hamlet at the Donmar on Friday. Yes, that Hamlet - the Jude Law as Hamlet, Hamlet. I think this is the only play I've ever seen where I've had the tickets for over a year in advance. I haven't seen any reviews of the show yet, I'm assuming that's because it's still in previews, but I'll be interested to see what the reviewers say. Given that I was incredibly apprehensive about the theatrical talents of our Mr. Law, I was pleasantly surprised. But that's also a good summation of my overall attitude toward this production - pleasant, not a disappointment, but nowhere near the realm of stratospheric. Production quality was high, as it always is at the Donmar - the only theatre in London that always seems to have cash in hand - but there's always going to be the problem that you're never really getting into Hamlet the character as you're too struck by his resemblance to Jude Law.

To his credit, he's obviously worked hard and has done a respectable job in making the character his own. Law's Hamlet is funnier, dirtier, and more knowing than many other actors I've seen who get too carried away with playing Hamlet as a freakishly serious emo. One of the production's biggest problems was that in casting a superstar as his lead, Grandage was a bit screwed in finding a cast that wasn't drowned out. Apart from Ron Cook, who shines as Polonius, the rest of the cast are adequate, but no one shines - Ophelia is practically lifeless and for some reason the King reminded me of a priest - this is not an ensemble piece by any measure.

Hamlet's chock full of some of Shakespeare's most well-known lines and I think Grandage and his designer, Christopher Oram, put a lot of thought into making these well-worn lines feel fresh and distinct. The "to be or not to be" monologue was a particularly inspired piece of directing/design with Law slumped down against an exterior brick wall, snow falling from the sky. For a piece of theatre normally delivered in a no-holds-barred style of declamation, this quietly poignant delivery was one moment where you really forgot about Jude Law and really felt the pull of the beauty of the language. This isn't the best piece of theatre I've ever seen, but it has its moments of beauty and despite the rest of the production's flaws, Law is mesmerising as Hamlet. I'm not saying he's a truly great Hamlet, but it's certainly hard to take your eyes off him.