Friday, 3 October 2014

Doctor Who: The Caretaker versus Remembrance of the Daleks

Coal Hill School occupies a magical place in Doctor Who history, ever since William Hartnell abducted two schoolteachers back in 1963. The last time the TARDIS landed in East London, his Seventh incarnation had a confrontation with the Daleks and Davros that consistently ranks high amongst fans – not only for McCoy’s run, but for the pre-2005 episodes as a whole.

Last week, we had another episode set in that venerable education establishment, and I decided to stack Remembrance of the Daleks against The Caretaker in a versus review!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Blogging Anniversaries and PR Failures

It was a pleasant surprise to be notified by the professional networking website LinkedIn that my other writing project - The Blogging Goth - has been running three years as of August. Very much a labour of love, I haven't always been able to devote the time to it I'd like - more official demands on my time always have to take a priority!

However I was inspired by the anniversary, and immediately had a good topic to cover - the , due to be held in Kettering this coming weekend. Fans were torn between awe at the stupendous line-up, and resentment as Alt-Fest's juggernaut progress eclipsed older and more established festivals - outbidding for artists and drawing off fan-bases.
implosion of massively ambitious alternative music festival Alt-Fest

A greater exploration of the rise and fall of Alt-Fest is available on The Blogging Goth, but the ultimate conclusion seems to be that ambition soared a little too high - with around a million in the red even after their successful Kickstarter campaign.

The real issue of note to media, PR and journalist types in my readership is the communications blackout from Alt-Fest itself. Even now, we aren't sure of the details - and rumours continue to burn up forums and social media. But when bands started being quietly let go, they saw their obvious responsibility to alert their fans to the oncoming disaster.

If Alt-Fest management had the foresight necessary, they'd have preempted an unwanted release from the bands with a statement. As we understand it, eleventh-hour negotiations were ongoing with various investor types and other revenue sources - and the organizers chose to maintain radio silence, even going so far as to delete inquiries from their social media presence.
Instead, the rumours and contradictory tweets and status updates from the artists engaged to play took on a momentum all of their own. The vacuum of comment from official sources was rapidly filled with suposition, rumour, and the unsubstantiated but increasingly convincing statements of withdrawal from the engaged artists - and then, the site for the festival and the PR company professionally engaged to promote them both withdrew themselves!

I see this as a valuable lesson to all media professionals. As a journalist, I was one of the minority who held on stubbornly for an official statement - in an era where social media takes priority in all communications strategy, my role as a gatekeeper of accuracy and verifiability does not fade away. If anything, it becomes more important, and in my opinion, transcends that of "first with the scoop."

I have that luxury as a blogger, without a profit margin or exclusivity to concern me - what does concern me is the prioritizing of, well, priority over accuracy.

In the end, it was a twenty-four hour cycle from the first signs of collapse to the Alt-Fest official statement of cancellation. Throughout it my twitter feed was a regular flux of links and statements I judged independently to be informative, prompt, based in fact and occasionally even amusing. Crucially, none of it was orginating from within Alt-Fest until the very end.

What we were left with is a raft of concerns. The UK alternative scene must now deal with the toxic fallout of an expensive, collapsed festival that will sour relations between artists, promoters, locations and fans. The PR industry will now have a textbook example of Kickstarter backed, grassroots organizers utterly failing to be up to the task, and potentially reneging on their employment of such communications experts. And through it all, a wealth of simple marketing mistakes that at least might be a valuable - sorry, expensive - lesson for anyone following in their footsteps.

Had the Alt-Fest team been able, somehow, to arrest their financial freefall they would have found that by neglecting their previously vast and robust communications structure they had alienated their entire customer base. You cannot re-prioritize your PR situation for anything

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Centuries of Conflict

This is the centenary year of the outbreak of World War One - the 'Great War', the War that would end them all. Of course, it wasn't to be - and social media is alive with heart-rendering images comparing the devastation of WWI with the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

What concerns me is that caption - "Have We Learnt Nothing?" How can we allow such violent warfare to unfold a full hundred years later?
The answer is, of course, because we've let it happen before.

In 1814, the Sixth Coalition of nations finally put a stop to Emperor Napoleon I's megalomaniac plans - briefly - in a conflict that raged from Haiti to Cairo via Madrid, Berlin and Moscow. In the newly-minted United States of America, a national anthem was born in the shape of 'Star-Spangled Banner' and a new capitol was born after the British stormed Washington DC, burning the White House. Fighting reached around the planet a hundred years before the continental powers took to the field in the first industrialized war.

For the first time in two hundred years, Europe is not riven by vast international war. This isn't to belittle the savagery of the Middle Eastern conflict, any of them, but to point out that this century has finally begun, if not in total peace, then in far better shape than the past two.

The staggering death toll of the First World War was only eclipsed by the even more horrendous Second. Those figures will stand in eternity as the greatest loss of human life in recorded history. They cannot be equated with any other conflict on record, in simple internet propaganda like this.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Newcastle Film & Comic Convention - March 2014

It may be time to consider the title of this blog as I am spending more time in the North-East with the significant other! A couple of weeks back, I was enjoying myself at the Metro Arena for the first - and clearly not the last - Newcastle Film and Comic Convention.

Organised by the clearly experienced Collectormania company, the Convention nonetheless made local headlines when the two-day event was swamped beyond all predictions, leaving many - including some with advance tickets - queueing for hours in the bitter weather. According to the BBC's local news, attendance reached 15,000 which is a staggering figure outside London!

I luckily avoided this issue by sheer luck, turning up at around 10:00am on Saturday to buy on the door. Only an hour after doors opened, and the queue stretched the length of the Arena, but moved at a fairly impressive pace. Once inside, we decided to buy advance tickets for the following day in case the queues were longer. It wasn't until the early afternoon that I noticed visitors stopped at the doors - by this point the Convention was operating on the frankly barbaric one-in, one-out policy.

In Collectormania's defence, nobody could have anticipated the explosion of enthusiasm in Newcastle - when the cult convention circuit is dominated by the MCM Expo events of London and Manchester. It's heartening to see such focus moving further up the country, and I fully anticipate the convention staff being ready for a similarly impressive turn-out next year. Letting down advance ticket holders is a serious failing, it should be observed, but at the same time it is a rite of passage for convention attendance, when one realises the importance of turning up early!

A core component of these events, and a major motivation for my attendance, are the guests and NFCC scored a hat trick with the signing of three former Doctor Who main stars - Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. Always firm favourites amongst the fans, even Colin Baker's inability to attend didn't dampen their enthusiasm. It was well-rewarded too - Sylvester McCoy is a consummate showman, and peppers his hilarious anecdotes with the clowning mischief that defined his early portrayal of the Seventh Doctor.
That mischief seemed most obvious when he casually dropped into the Q&A his knowledge that Peter Capaldi would be facing perennial nemesis The Master at some point - seemingly so effectively killed during John Simm's tenure. The sound of so many people gasping at once is quite unusual, I can assure you!

There were no spoilers from McCoy's replacement (in more ways than one), Paul McGann. The remarkably fresh-faced veteran actor wears none of his fifty-five years, and instead was a dry and witty spirit who seems to personally enshrine so much of the Eighth Doctor's charming bemusement. His reaction to the riotous fan approval of The Night of the Doctor was atypically British astonishment, his passion for the Audio adventures that have extended his Doctor's life is conversely so apparent. Although I have seen McCoy at conventions previously, McGann's Q&A was a new delight and I only believe it could have been bettered by having both men together. However, I doubt anyone else could have got a word in edgeways!

Fan enthusiasm also manifests itself in the Cosplay, easily the most visual component of any Convention. From obscure Japanese anime characters to expertly armoured members of the elite 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, via impossibly young and pouting clones of the BBC's Sherlock, the turn-out at NFCC was another healthy indicator of the fan potential in the North-East.
In my own small way I contributed, clearly to Sylvester's amusement - although any fan worth his salt knows McCoy personally disliked the most garish element of his outfit, the question-mark pullover. A core component of the recently-passed Ken Trew's design, McCoy has mellowed on his outre outfit in recent years, but between the novels set after the 1989 finale and the 1996 telemovie, McCoy's outfit never again featured that novelty knitwear!

Returning on the Sunday - this time with early-bird ticket clutched tightly in hand - we were whisked inside promptly and back for another circuit of the traders and merchandisers who make up the third, core part of a successful convention. Obviously the greatest portion is given over to the sale of back-issues of comics and DVDs of classic films, with the infamous Star Wars holiday special now in the front-lines of any self-respecting stallholder. The merchandise is catching up rapidly, and for the recent convert entire stalls exist to furnish the willing with whatever novelty headwear or mock weapons their costuming fantasies desire.

Recognition of that effort is also embraced by convention staff, and on Sunday I was actually collared by organisers of the Cosplay Masquerade, a procession of attendees in notably unique outfits. Regular readers of this blog will know that I recently paid my modest respects to the passing of Harold Ramis, and in keeping I had donned the original children's toys from the Eighties that comprised his outfit.
This originality had piqued the interest of the Masquerade staff, and before long I was stood on stage before several hundred convention visitors, who were cheering as I posed for photographs and laughs. Looking back, if anyone was to ask me - rightly so - what a grown man was playing at, wearing fancy dress like a child, I would tell them the satisfaction of giving amusement and entertainment to so many is utterly incomparable. I might not have won the Masquerade competition, and sincerely have no regrets. To take part is a singular honour, and gives such satisfaction in and of itself.

Wearily now, my friends and I took our leave, pausing only by a fan-made replica of the TARDIS console from Paul McGann's single televised excursion. Looking at this magnificent reproduction, I have to congratulate the organisers of the Newcastle Film and Comic Con for setting up - but even more so, I must praise the fans for convincing people to host a Convention here at all, and to turn out in such numbers and enthusiasm to make it all so very worth while.

My thanks to you all, and I shall see you all next year!

Monday, 17 March 2014

REVIEW: Wes Anderson's 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Agatha is one of the myriad characters in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, who works in a bakery, crafting exquisite cakes that one might associate more with the confectionery of Switzerland. Nevertheless it’s excellent visual shorthand for the generic Eastern European locale in which the titular hotel is situated, and a perfect metaphor for Anderson’s comedy-drama epic.

An elegantly spun, saccharine tasting construction, light on the palette, the film is gorgeous, lavish with vision and design and style. It venerates the cloying decadence of the last century, which still endures at the titular hotel in a kind of bubble – overseen by Ralph Fiennes’ polished, flowery, highly-strung Concierge, M. Gustave. Indeed, another character describes how Gustave maintains an illusion of the cultured excess of European ultra high-class, even as the continent itself slips inevitably into the horrors of the industrial age – a world war is the menacing shadow cast across proceedings.

Under his dedicated watch, the Hotel turns like greased clockwork – another metaphor for Anderson’s direction, as the film clicks neatly through its sequences at a brisk rate. Equally dedicated is the Concierge’s attention to the wealthy, unsatisfied and rich dowagers in a darkly comic sequence. It is the untimely demise of one of M. Gustave’s ‘clients’ – portrayed by the chameleonic Tilda Swinton – that propels our protagonist into a madcap adventure through snowy high-speed pursuits, dramatic hotel shoot-outs and grim train-bound confrontations.
Familiar faces flash by like stations we aren’t visiting – Bill Murray’s quasi-angelic concierge ex machina, Edward Norton’s dogged Javert-style policeman, Jeff Goldblum’s ponderous and unflappable Freud-inspired lawyer. Even the full-time villains – twitching, crazed Adrian Brody and impressively sadistic William Dafoe – feel like they are wheeled onto set, deliver their performance and are quickly shuffled back into storage until their next scene.

Illusion is at the heart of Grand Hotel Budapest. The Hotel is a safe haven for those fleeing reality – fleeing loveless lives for Gustave’s embrace, fleeing impending war for the pampering of nineteenth-century indulgence, fleeing nemeses to escape in its endless, echoing halls. By the end of the film, F. Murray Abraham’s character Zero has fled all his losses of his life for the now decaying and decrepit hotel, which is his last link to a happier past. All are illusions of safety and contentment that collapse, one by one, like dominoes falling, and the delicate icing on the start of this movie has become sour crumbs.

As the film concludes, we find we are leaving an old man’s reminiscence, only to find ourselves back with the author who wrote the story based on his tale. We then find we are leaving his reminiscence, and find ourselves with the young girl who read the author’s book. There are so many layers to this film, and yet each is the only the depth of a mirror or a fantasy. You’ll find it a glorious spectacle that enthralls so long as it is seen, and disappears as easily as a half-remembered dream the moment you step through the cinema doors.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Journalism Week 2014 and Harold Ramis

Rather than an in-depth article, which I am intending, I just wanted to update today with a few succinct points to keep my hand in the blogging field.

It is the 2014 Journalism Week at Leeds Trinity University, the alma mater and the first in three years that I haven't been able to attend. Thankfully, it can all be followed on twitter via the #ltjw hashtag, and following @JournalismWeek, and reading the official blog of the post-grad team, and watch it live, and...

Well, suffice to say I am very envious of those attending. It was one of the motivating factors behind Leeds Eye View, and you can read my multimedia updates from previous Journalism Weeks in my archives.

One of the articles I've most appreciated coming out of #ltjw 2014 has been by post-graduate lecturer Richard Horsman, and it's a wry lesson for the exuberant, ever-connected generation. I hope some of the student hacks at Trinity take this lesson to heart!

When I saw it pop up on Twitter, I was inspired to comment to him as below:
Much of the hue and cry about the 'death' of old Journalism and the rise of the blogger has since subsided in the face of, dare I say it, common sense. The call is not for old-fashioned trained journalists to be replaced by the smartphone and wifi - but for the journalist to add those tools to their armoury!


 On a more sombre note, today American actor, director and producer Harold Ramis has died, aged just 69. Like many British kids who are proud nerds, I grew up watching Ghostbusters over and over and over again. Ramis' potrayal of the awkward, brilliant, and surprisingly sly Dr Egon Spengler was to me how footballers or pop stars must appeal to the regular, sporty, confident kids. 
Still a favourite fancy dress outfit!
Spengler was a hero, a goal to aim for - if perhaps a little less nebbish - and proof that having brains was not an obstacle to becoming popular and achieving goals. The man saved the world!

He helped me feel more at ease with myself during adolescence, instilled in me a love of intelligence for knowledge's sake, and an appreciation for a dry, deadpan delivery. I am not surprised to read the list of contemporary, feted directors and producers who cite Ramis' quiet work behind some of the classic Eighties comedies as such a great influence.
Ramis' comedies were often wild, silly and tilting toward anarchy, but they also were cerebral and iconoclastic, with the filmmaker heeding the Second City edict to work at the top of one's intelligence. This combination of smart and gut-bustingly funny led a generation of comedic actors and filmmakers — including Judd Apatow, Peter Farrelly, Jake Kasdan, and Adam Sandler — to cite him as a key inspiration.
That's a legacy any Hollywood veteran can be proud of. I was grateful for an awesome character in a brilliant comedy that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. My thoughts are with Ramis' nearest and dearest, as well as fans around the world.

Courtesy of Ghostbusters Wiki