Posts from the ‘london’ Category

14 years since fish custard: The Eleventh Hour

Amy Pond - The Eleventh Hour

Steven Moffat‘s first offering as head writer offers a series paradoxically both more emotionally mature and more a pure kid’s/kid-at-heart’s show. In this episode, at least, the eleventh doctor works well on both levels, providing a doctor and companion kids can identify with (craving fun and adventure while being continually denied this – and basic reliability – by adults) with more adult observations and irritations.

There’s a lot of imagination and dress-up here, without smugly highlighting how wonderful it all is.  Despite a weak, tacked-on opener (uck, I am so sick of Zone 1 London being fellated on my tv screen!), the Doctor quickly landed in a better place, a child’s room in a small village that demands a rich inner life to ward off stultifying boredom.  Little Amelia prays to Santa for help rather than God (apologising for waking him up at Easter) because Santa is a far more relatable and important figure to a 7-year-old than a Creator that’s never left a new PS3 game under the tree. There’s a little nostalgia porn here for adults, as Amelia is wearing an adorable and timeless nightgown and cardigan rather than a Hannah Montana branded top and short-shorts…or whatever tweens demanded in 1996. She’s ridiculously capable, unhesitatingly cooking up a variety of snacks for the Doctor – who immediately spits out all of them as disgusting and settles on an odd combination of two highly processed after-school snacks (acts most children could identify with).

Twelve years later, now-Amy presents first as a policewoman – foreshadowing her impressive (if not hugely intelligent) bravery in the face of the unknown – and then as someone who dresses up as a variety of adults for work. A nudge from the Doctor is all that’s required to make her briefly take up the authority inherent to her outfit, getting her in place to confront the monster of the week. This is the wonder of play in a nutshell – pretend to be something, and you become it, at least for the length of the game.

There’s a very adult look in Amy’s eyes, though. Having had those eyes opened – and quite possibly her young life ruined – by a brief glimpse of a fantastic other life, she spent her childhood first with an omnipresent imaginary friend and then with a series of psychiatrists who clearly felt play had become dangerous delusion. Seeing her childhood fantasy (and possibly adult – in exactly what context did she have Rory dress up as the Raggedy Doctor?) in the flesh leaves her with the expression of someone who fears they’ve suffered a psychotic break, and that that might not be such a bad thing. Ultimately, joining up with the Doctor is a flight from adult responsibility into fantasy – does she really expect the time traveller who’s repeatedly overshot his intended landing by years to hit so small a target as a few hours, and make it back in time to be married?

Lots of talk about the Companion and nearly none about the Doctor – hard to tell. It always takes a few episodes for the important facets of a new regeneration to be revealed. But so far, the new guy is more fun than silly or camp. He delegates both responsibility and credit. He’s quite clearly a child at heart but aware of the duties of a powerful adult, making sure to properly scare off the dangerous aliens, and dress correctly for the occasion as well. He’s also got a bit of  Sherlock Holmes thing going, able to take in a world of detail in a glance.

I like him. I like them both. Can’t wait to see where they take us.

the Eleventh Doctor/The Eleventh Hour

(screenshots nicked from the always-entertaining nostalgia_lj.)

sound and silence

Anny Ondra in Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929)



Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie picture (actually a brilliant make-do compromise between studio-mandated sound and previously filmed silent footage) hasn’t aged particularly well, but is an interesting portrait of both the time and the early development of his trademark style. Adapted from a talky stage play, Hitchcock shoehorns in some revolutionary staging of uneasy liminal spaces (particularly his favourites of stairs, family spaces in the public eye, and super-real landmarks). This staging hints at the complicated Freudian underpinnings of desire that push the four main characters through a predictable morality play of guilt and punishment, society’s law and karmic fate, against a backdrop of universal entrapment.

The film opens up with a raucous silent segment of dignified Keystone Kops careening about the streets in a Model T in pursuit of justice. Sound begins with the arrival of a policeman’s girlfriend, who seems like a bubbly goodtime girl, a flirtatious flapper all men are drawn to. Later on, we discover young Alice White is also a meek, dutiful, and conservatively dressed shopgirl amid the aspirational furnishings of the family’s combined home and business. Her social bubbles are the only expression possible of her desire for excitement and new experiences; she’s all to aware that this dull courtship is to be the brief highlight of her youth before settling into a staid domestic and business routine, and that only if she plays her cards well. Her carelessness with small but pricey garments turns her gloves, left behind first on a café table and then at the murder scene, in the object petit a Zizek identified as Hitchcock’s MacGuffin, the lack or loss of a thing that sets the plot in motion and stands in for desire – in Alice’s case, to step back from her life and be forced into a new one. Note that she immediately sends her man to reclaim it, however; she makes her loved ones into the jailors that keep her safely barred from her fantasies.

Alice does desire the handsome stranger who flirts with her behind her boyfriend’s back. She wants to be an exotic muse, have a passionate affair, but it is never a real possibility. Inside the moralistic threat and anxiety of her gradual assenting to the artist’s manoeuvrings is one constant stance: I want this, but I won’t have it.

Here, her veneer of sophistication first begins to crack – if she was really a liberated flapper, Alice would not expect the kind of man who picks up strange women in bars to respect her boundary while she revelled like a child in the atmosphere of sensuality and erotic potential. In another Zizekian construct, she tries to live her fantasy courtship only for it to be nightmarish brutality when realised.

Women in Hitchcock films are usually the most interesting characters. They are already tormented beings underneath a coy or brittle façade, by their own unfulfilled desires and the conflicting demands of the era – be both virginal mother figure and inflamer of male passions. The cool Hitchcock blonde has responded by disavowing all passion, maintaining visual beauty, but impenetrable. The plots dovetail with the breakdown of her repression and struggle with these forces, the outcomes defined as happy or melancholy with her resulting autonomy or destruction.

Blackmail ends with Alice escaping the electric chair only by enforced silence. She would confess to expiate her guilt (and escape the now intolerable confines of a dreamless middle-class life), in some sense bringing together her two lives: the everyday bland obedience and dangerous bohemian wildchild. Even after she has escaped from her own actions back into her safe life, that life has lost the fantasy underpinnings that made it bearable.

Not that the three men fare much better. The artist – a trust-fund dilettante, judging by his opulent loft studio – has simple animal desires and a spoiled heir’s expectation that whatever he wants is already his. He’s punished directly and immediately for his assault, killed by his victim as the only means of escape. It’s easy to forget in the action that follows that the artist was himself being blackmailed by a man who made a living witnessing crimes; most likely, he made a habit out of breaking the law, and the karmic punishment covers more sins than we see on screen.

The blackmailer desires money, obviously, but even more he desires the humiliation of his “betters.” Beyond the potential for financial stability, which he could achieve in any number of legal or illicit ways, he desires payback from the world that has shown him no respect, from those who are respected. His punishment is obvious, and somewhat appropriate given his chosen profession of wrongly punishing others – he is hounded to death in the centre of British imperialist wealth by the policeman who has wrongly accused him of the murder. He is in an immediate sense both guilty and innocent – literally living off others’ guilt and innocent of this particular murder – but his punishment is appropriate according to the natural selection of the criminal sphere.

The blackmailer chose to enmesh himself in the crimes of others, and in this case was not quick enough to escape his own trap. He wasn’t as smart as he thought he was, and his victims weren’t as wholesomely naïve as he thought they were. The white knight he looked forward to degrading was willing to leap into the mud with him first, use his own methods to entrap him, and to take the same satisfaction in the blackmailer’s grovelling ruination. Like Hulda in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find, he was done in not by his own immorality but by his expectation of integrity in the upstanding citizen he’d use.

Frank Webber, the boyfriend and, coincidentally, the detective assigned to investigate the artist’s murder, staidly desires advancement: promotion in work and marriage to the well-to-do shopkeeper’s daughter. Unfortunately, he lacks the maturity to earn either. The fates of himself, his girlfriend, and the blackmailer turn entirely on Frank’s connections and quick thinking, twisting the blackmailer’s evidence to implicate him instead of Alice. Frank is directly implicated in the blackmailer’s death, pushing the chase to reckless extremes; after all, isn’t it easier to tie up the loose end of the blackmailer and his tales of the real murderess than arrest him? He ruthlessly pushes back the other possible loose end, his girlfriend’s guilty conscience and the confession that would end his career, by bullying her into silence and preserving his future – both career and unincarcerated future spouse.

Nevertheless, Frank is punished by getting exactly what he wants, after destroying the fantasies about himself and Alice that made his dreams desirable.

The justice system is absent from this morality tale except as a tool. Instead, fate dispenses with a hard-boiled but right-wing conservatively just hand. Of the four criminals (rapist, murderer, blackmailer, and corrupt cop), two receive the death penalty and two get life in prison. Intentions cannot affect fate’s judgement, but impulsive actions can twist it to reflect one’s secret true character.

Class is the only other factor that can move fate’s hand in Blackmail: the dissolute rich man and the lower-class criminal are both punished by death. Although Frank uses the blackmailer’s methods and Alice revels in the artist’s sensual lifestyle, both are solidly middle-class but remain silent, disavowing their desires and crimes. They embrace and are rewarded with respectable middle-class futures.

The big! twist! of that, however, is the ‘true’ tragedy: while a successful match as the universal signifier for a happy ending was a cliché in Shakespeare’s time, these two will be punished for the rest of their shared lives by it; not a love match but partners in a perfect crime trapped in a mockery of marriage, only together to ensure the other keeps the secret that would destroy them.

prozzies and other respectable women

Ashes to Ashes 1.03

Ashes to Ashes continues, hitting many of the same notes as Sam’s stint in Gene Hunt’s world.  Since the pilot, Alex has reliably featured moments of headdesking stupidity in the presence of her mother and her mother’s law firm partner (in 2008, the godfather of her daughter).  Abandoning her ‘you are all figments’ stance, she alternates between amazed gawping and craven attempts to elicit approval.  Rather than backing away slowly from the crazy woman, they offer brief but meaningful insights into their perspectives that inadvertently guide Alex through her hallucinatory new world.  Again like Sam, the gang surprisingly takes her lapses of cranial continence in stride while being horrified by her minor futuristic faux pas…but I suppose without this contractual genre blindness (or just plot-induced stupidity?), the show would be called Special Woman Is Instantly Institutionalised and Spends Thirteen Episodes Heavily Sedated.

Still, it bugs me.  Almost as much as Alex’s club-appropriate workwear, set in a time when a female professional, let alone a detective, would have been strapped into restrictive chin-to-knees pseudo-Victorian armor, heavily featuring those awful high-necked blouses with sewn-in bows and boxy pleated wool skirts.  A few years later, she’d be clad in a solid-color power suit with shoulder pads up to her ears.  Professional specifically did not equal sexy, outside of fetishes similar to those surrounding schoolgirl uniforms (and bearing as much relation to the reality).  A white-collar female was an impenetrable tank.

Margaret Thatcher

Despite this incongruity, the show is starting to play with a more complex morality.  Along the lines of the impenetrable tank…after subtly hitting on Gene and being shot down, Alex lets herself be picked up by a red suspender wearing Thatcherite, who she drunkenly boffs to the energetic beats of Bucks Fizz.  Her coworkers start out teasing her when she drags herself into work the following day, hungover and exhausted, but she reacts the way a modern woman working in a chauvinist environment should: yes, I’m dead tired because I was up all night shagging a total stranger, and it was bloody fantastic.  No shame, no cringing, just one of the boys.

Unfortunately…1981 wasn’t quite modern enough for that, or at least for these blokes.  No matter what Aaron Spelling and his Starsky & Hutch taught us in the late 70s, a confident, pretty woman interested in getting laid wasn’t a great girl but someone who should be far more discrete.  The men are uncomfortable, Gene is furious and offering the hard truth that she won’t be respected if she’s known to have sex—part advice for someone working beneath him who needs the respect of his crew, part fury that a woman who’d made herself ‘his’ in some vague but definite way by hitting on him had flipped over to someone who wouldn’t look after her.

This is set in an episode focusing on prostitutes, specifically whether one can be raped, as she claims.  Gene & Co display the sentiments that continue to linger in many minds today—prostitutes, as people who sell their bodies for sex, cease to be properly human.  A woman who doesn’t strenuously resist having sex with men, let alone chasing them for her own pleasure, becomes something closer to a prostitute.  These aren’t rational preconceptions, by any means, but divisions usually instilled before a child hits puberty and are rarely challenged.

Ray, however, possibly the thickest member of Gene’s squad, does rise to the challenge.  He befriends a traumatised young woman and, while he’s obviously disturbed by her revelation that she’s a ‘lady of the night,’ it leads him to the second moral quandary of the episode—framing the man who raped and assaulted her for cocaine possession.  Ray is now unable to accept that a man could go unpunished for violating just a prostitute, and betrays the law he is sworn to uphold in a satisfying but disturbing way.

Even more jolting, this takes place during the denouement, and Alex and the police watching the rapist being arrested on an obviously bogus drug possession charge applaud and congratulate Ray.  None of them acknowledges Ray’s legal violation or suggests there was a better, legal way to go after him—ideally by following the bugger and establishing relationships with the local prostitutes to catch him repeating his crime, rather than bunging him up on a charge that will likely fall apart in court.

This department feels that, together, they can answer to a higher morality than the law when the law fails them.  What terrifying disaster awaits this crew of celibate ersatz Dark Knights if they continue to follow this ‘higher’ calling?


Am repulsed and attracted to this layout—hadn’t realised clicking on it would not make it larger but apply it as my online face. Eck. The clothes are appealing, though. Very ten years ago. I’ll let it live another day.

I’m wrestling with what I thought was going to be a new story, but the characters from my abandoned thesis, attracted like moths by some semblance of a plot, have crept in. I dread to think of it as a re-tool, emphasis on the “tool.” Resurrecting the art-school days technique of bricolage, abusing the color printer at work to make dozens of images, my own and famous/non-famous portraits, and glueing them together in my scribble book in half-conscious layers. The trick then is to ignore them for a day or two—making my poor memory work for me—and upon re-seeing, connections jump out and form coherent thoughts.

That’s the goal, at least. Maybe it’s the glue fumes talking.

Should anyone happen on this (which I doubt), your homework for this evening: tell me how you break stories or artwork. And if you give the bricolage version of freewriting above a try, scan in and let me see, seething with jealousy.

I leave you with this charming London moment, atop a bus shelter next to Hyde Park: