Okay, it’s actually getting hard to remember how many weeks we’ve done this for. And I know we (the lucky, privileged ones who are just sort of doing things differently but are basically fine) are all probably kind of grieving in a small way for our previous lives, work or otherwise. Maybe that’s too strong a word, but there must be something psychological going on when you suddenly stop doing the stuff you normally do, or seeing the people you normally do, or whatnot.
Here’s some stuff that I have been doing.
I had my first functional Zoom meeting with work colleagues, which actually worked once I sorted out the wifi my iPad was using. I had initially run my iPad over wifi to a router in not just a different room but on a different floor. Not ideal for low latency communications.
My top tip for anyone with precisely my own setup is this: if you are near a desktop computer with a wired connection to your router, you can use your desktop machine to share a wifi connection (much like tethering with a mobile phone to share your 4G connection to other wifi devices).
I hadn’t realised this was was possible, much less that you can just enable it in Windows 10’s Settings under Network & Internet > Mobile hotspot. Pretty sure I used to do something similar with my MacBook back in the day as well.
Once I got this set up, my Zoom connection seemed rock solid, and it was a strangely useful/pleasant exercise. It’s not something I want to do permanently, but it’s good to have the option.
TeamViewer has also been rock solid for our entire office for the past few weeks.
Some of our functions can be done through browser access to webmail and so on, but we need access to our shared files and some bespoke software that isn’t available outside our office machines in any easy way.
TeamViewer has made this very easy. I have found the connection very reliable, and as I am using the same OS at work and at home, with TeamViewer in fullscreen it really is just like I’m sat in front of my work machine.
Homewise, we have kept ourselves amused by rearranging the lounge furniture and keeping an eye on the local bird population.
We have a friendly local pair of robins who are either building a nest or feeding and housing young chicks, and they’ve taken to our selection of sunflower seeds and fat balls, visiting the patio (handily, also the view outside my wfh window) scores of times a day to collect food or nesting material. It’s been a real joy.
I can often be found sat gazing out the window with my dSLR and 70-200mm lens in hand like some sort of Rear Window cosplayer.
We had a power cut on Monday night at almost exactly midnight. I wouldn’t normally notice a power cut until the next day when any old digital clocks might be found blinking 12:00* but we have a noticeably noisy extractor fan near our bedroom for the services in our building. We have naturally gotten used to the low hum it emits constantly 24/7 – so when it stops for whatever reason, it’s really quite noticeable.
* I tried to wrap this in blink tag HTML code but, no dice.**
** Apparently the'code' HTML tag works, though.
In this case, the power was out for about five minutes. Just long enough for me to stagger round to the window to check and see – yep – it had affected other properties in our street, and even the street lights, which I thought was unusual. Pleasingly, this was also the night of the April supermoon, and it was front and centre as I twitched at the curtains to look out into the street.
We basically don’t get power cuts any more. I remember them happening what felt like quite often when I grew up. But in the past decade or more I can’t remember a power cut lasting more than a few minutes, and more often they’re a brief flicker.
Rearranging the furniture seems to be very lockdown from what I’ve seen online. And even on the streets it’s been clear people have been having a clear out from the piles of unwanted stuff on garden walls.
The rearranged lounge has been especially pleasant as we now have a plethora of plants which rejoice in the sunshine that streams in most of the day, and our TV unit is now in a shadowy corner which makes it easier to watch, like vampires, while the aforementioned sunlight pours in, attempting to disturb our lockdown viewing.
Such viewing has this week included:
National Theatre Live’s Jane Eyre which was a very enjoyable and inventive production with real heart. It took me about half an hour to get over my initial feelings of not being able to fully get into it until I realised I was able to enjoy the production for what it was and how it made use of the set etc., and the story could come second. Unsure if this is how theatre is meant to be enjoyed, but sort of don’t care.
Jesus Christ, Superstar (which I spent the preceding days confusing with Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat – but apparently that was streamed the week earlier, so perhaps it wasn’t entirely my fault) – this was a weird one – a huge, vast, arena-sized production which mostly worked and made use of the giant stage, and benefitted massively from some good cameo performances and Tim Minchin absolutely bossing it as Judas.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which I was *delighted* to see was added to Mubi this week (it’s on Mubi in the UK for the next few weeks – if you need a code for a free trial, why not use mine?), especially having missed it in the cinema not so long ago. It was as beautifully shot as I’d hoped, and I loved it. About two thirds of the way through I noticed how weird it was – sorry – how there hadn’t been a single man in the cast. This made it no less enjoyable. Actually probably made it even more enjoyable.
Race Across the World on BBC iPlayer, which I hadn’t seen before, but seems like a cross between maybe The Apprentice and Channel 4’s Hunted except with more realistic restrictions, and has been great fun. Watching people romp around South America while we’re stuck inside has definitely increased our wanderlust.
In non-viewing, I was delighted that Radio 3 re-broadcast the live performance of Max Richter’s Sleep from a few years ago at the Wellcome Collection. Sleep is an eight-hour(!) piece of music designed, as you might guess, to fall asleep to.
It was broadcast from 11pm to 7am, and I found myself stirring – as I often do during the night – and quickly finding the constant musical companion pleasant, before nodding off again. Really wonderful. That’s available on the BBC Sounds app/website for the next few weeks too – I really encourage anyone to stick it on at bedtime and give it a whirl.
It reminded me that I used to fall asleep to a pretty ace playlist consisting of Stars of the Lid, Jonsi & Alex, some Peter Broderick stuff… It was a good playlist.
In fact, Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline is something I stick on in times of anxietal need, including sleeplessness and on flights.
Finally, Easter was… weird. But, well, we made nice food and drank nice wine, and even ate and drank some of it sat outside on the patio – so it was a pretty great Easter, actually. We didn’t have much chocolate as, when we’ve been able to get out to the shops recently, it felt frivolous to stock up on essentials as well as the least efficient way to store and carry chocolate.
This isn’t just lockdown fever: in previous Easters I have been much happier buying a few Chocolate Oranges (by far the cheapest/best value chocolate by weight) and some bars of decent choccy rather than wanting any actual eggs.
Instead of chocolate eggs we drank nice red wine, and I ordered one of those home deliveries of craft beer that doesn’t work out very economical apart from the first box, and I liked a fair few of them. I’m not a craft beer lover, but it’s nice to try a few different ones selected by someone else from time to time.
I’ve also been managing to get out for a ride or run every 2-3 days which is keeping me sane. Most other days I get out for a stroll, and it’s been nice walking nearby roads I don’t know, remarking at some really quite interesting residential architecture.
On Good Friday I rode my bike down to the river and it was… Weird. Pleasant – what with the roads being clear enough – but eerie, what with the city being basically empty.
Online movie streaming service Mubi is currently showing the final Monty Python film The Meaning of Life (1983). It’s also showing twenty-nine other great films. Those films (including the one I mentioned) change every day – you get a month to watch each one, and when one leaves, another is added.
The concept is strange, but when faced with the amount of stuff available on Prime or Netflix or similar, it can often be frustrating knowing what to watch. It’s even possible to spend longer scrolling through the available titles – a few well-known things but really a lot of shite – than time spent actually sitting down and watching something.
Mubi’s offering is different – it’s quality over quantity. You can usually be assured that whatever is currently showing on Mubi is decent. On average there’s often about five films you’ve heard of, a bunch you haven’t, and some oddities like shorts, new films or documentaries that have screened to about forty people at an obscure film festival somewhere.
At the moment we’ve got some classics like The Birds (1963) and Peeping Tom (1960) as well as more recent stuff like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). There’s then a bunch of stuff I’ve not heard of – and that’s fine – it’s there and it’s available. I might find my new favourite film amongst that list of unknown titles.
The key difference is these films have been carefully chosen – I’ll stop short of saying curated, but that’s not a bad way to describe what Mubi does – and they’re worth your time. I’ve had several periods of time where I’ll just watch a film from Mubi every day or two regardless of what I know about it, and it’s always time well spent. Naturally, not every film will be to your taste, but it’ll be at least worth a shot.
Mubi haven’t asked me to tell you all this, but they did recently send me some swag to say thanks for encouraging new users to check out their service. And I am only too happy to try and encourage a few more of you to do so if you haven’t already.
Over the weekend, I enjoyed two quite different things which had more in common than I first noticed. I mean, saying that, they were both fictional things being performed by actors, and they were both loosely based on actual events. Murders, even.
The first was The Christchurch Murder, an Allegra-produced Radio 4 drama which tells the story of the notorious Parker/Hulme murder in 1954 in New Zealand. The murder of a mother by her daughter and a friend, both in their teens, also formed the plot of Peter Jackson’s 1994 weird and hypnotic Heavenly Creatures.
This version, though, was written back in 1988 by Angela Carter, and apparently inspired some of Jackson’s own adaptation. Carter died in 1992 aged 51. Until this past Saturday, the Carter screenplay had never been produced. And so it was fascinating to hear it played out on Radio 4 twenty years after it was written.
But what was almost as fascinating as the story itself was that this was a screenplay on the radio. I’ve listened to a fair amount of drama on Radio 4 but this is the first time I can recall listening to a screenplay, complete with directions. It was a bit like watching a film with audio description on.
It made for a very multi-layered experience: we had the directions (such as “She enters the room, noticing all the pictures on the mantelpiece. There is no picture of the wedding.”), then Carter’s narration, and then well-acted dialogue and Foley effects playing out alongside. The murderous teenagers are played terrifically by Dolores Carbonari and Erin Wallace in a giggly, chilling fashion.
It was interesting to hear the subtle differences between Carter’s and Jackson’s adaptations. And the less subtle: name changes, and a complete lack of the fantasy elements that make Jackson’s film so unusual.
The second was Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, which I had seen before many years ago, but had all-but forgotten. It was a gripping watch. The dialogue is rich and fast and funny and unsettling. In fact, the whole film is very unsettling, and it has that great vibe of just waiting for someone to get caught out.
But, inevitably – because my brain cannot sit still for five minutes – what really fascinates me is the production. Those long, unbroken takes. The wide, linear set. The view out of the vast window – as artificial as it seems, but as carefully as it is made to show the passing of time. The way how, on the one hand, we are shown a whole scene as if it were a play, and on the other the camera trundles along behind two characters having a private conversation which we are privy to.
It’s all very clever, and it makes for a gripping narrative.
The film also looks pretty glorious, in a sort of muted, early-colour-film way. I believe it was Hitchcock’s first colour film, and the idea of him using such a film to experiment with long, uncut takes – including one over ten minutes, which I believe was about the limit of the film reel at the time – all brings to mind Christopher Nolan chucking gigantic IMAX cameras into scenes that were otherwise deemed impossible, and getting stunning results.
It’s always interesting to see a play that’s been turned into a film but, in the case of Rope, it seems like Hitchcock actually went to more effort to keep it feeling like a stage play than he would have if he’d filmed it as a more ‘traditional’ film with A/B shots (or do I mean reverse angles?) and so on.
Rope is currently showing on Mubi, a fantastic movie streaming service which values quality over quantity.
Every day they add a film of note and keep it online for a month. This means you always have thirty films to choose from, and they’re generally really great. There’s a scattering of films you know and love, a few you know you need to see but haven’t yet, and a decent amount that you’d probably never come across any other way. Pro-tip: the app works really nicely on the Amazon Fire stick, but it’s available on loads of platforms.
The next film I watched on Mubi after The Golem was Gilda, a noir-ish casino-based thriller from 1946.
It’s typically melodramatic and peppered with shots like that shown above which just ooze class and mystique. There’s nice attention to detail, although some lines/roles feel a bit wooden. It’s the first Rita Hayworth film I’ve watched and by crikey is she something else. The central relationship is an abusive one, which is a little hard to swallow nearly seventy years on, and the ending is a little abrupt and less credible than the rest of it, but it doesn’t get in the way of what is a very enjoyable film.
Gilda was also packed full of people who make smoking look incredibly cool. Casinos, too. This theme was to continue in the next film I watched…
I recently started watching films a bit more regularly than I have done for a while.
I’ve signed up to Mubi, whose USP is providing films for streaming (and downloading to devices) one per day, for thirty days. This means there are always 30 films to choose from.
The idea is that a small, well-curated selection of films might actually be of better value to the viewer than a vast, sloppy, loose selection.
I’ve watched about ten films in the past fortnight, and that’s probably more than I had seen all year so far, so it must be working. I’ve not loved them all, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed about five or six.
Guess what this blog post is about.
The first film I watched after starting my subscription was The Golem: How He Came Into The World, a murky fairytale horror from Germany in 1920. The story is of a rabbi who creates a monster that protects the Jews of Prague from persecution. Apparently it’s an old Jewish folk tale.
The story is obviously interesting for its more modern connotations, but I was happy to lie back and just enjoy the fairytale for what it was. The sets were delicious – not a straight line in sight, and I got a bit trigger happy taking screenshots of architectural features of the walled town like windows, doors, rooflines, and hinges. Seriously, look at those wonderfully gnarled hinges!
Of course it was silent, with a fun soundtrack with recurring motifs, and the stark, melodramatic, monochromatic shots were occasionally augmented by the use of colour tinting, as can be seen above.
As a horror film (albeit a very early one), it even managed to provide two distinct sequences I can recall that absolutely gave me a sense of the willies. I was just as fascinated by the making of the film as its look and feel, and those sequences in particular were great from both perspectives.
I couldn’t have asked for a better film to kick off my subscription to a service like Mubi. And, as I’ve said, the quality hasn’t really let up since.