Sunday, 22 December 2013

Seen and heard: November 2013

Articles and postings

Review of Writing on the Wall: Social Media: The First 2000 Years by Tom Standage. "Standage's central argument [is] that mass media, the means of distributing information that we have become so used to, are an aberration, closely linked to the industrial phase of history. Now centralised industrial processes have given way to distributed, technological ones, with individuals at the controls, we are settling back into old ways of doing things." (David Shariatmadari in The Guardian)

The Dunning-Kruger effect - in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average . So for example about 80-90% of drivers think they have above-average ability. (Guardian Headquarters blog and Mind Hacks blog)

Top nine things you need to know about 'listicles' - a listicle being an article in the form of a list: an increasingly popular form because they're easy both to write and to read. (Steven Poole in The Guardian)

How’s your creativity coming along? (Dilbert cartoon)

Shows and events, books and games

Heavenly Spaces - concert by Polymnia (in which I sing) in the beautiful resonant space of the Milton Keynes City Church of Christ the Cornerstone. Highlight for some of the audience was our rendition of Monteverdi madrigals; highlight for me was the solo cello playing of the stupendously talented Gemma Rosefield.

Philomena - film of the true story of the journalist Martin Sixsmith helping an elderly Irish woman trace the infant son she was forced to give up for adoption when she was a girl. Judi Dench as excellent as one would expect as Philomena, but Steve Coogan as Sixsmith was a revelation: he can do serious, and do it very well. A tremendous film; you may start thinking that it's going to be a gently sentimental story - what Sixsmith calls disparagingly a "human interest story", the kind of journalism he doesn't do - but gradually and insidiously the film gets you in its grip, so that when the story proceeds to its final shocking revelations, the impact is colossal.

Cheek by Jowl - beautiful collection of articles and talks by Ursula Le Guin on the theme of the human-animal relationship in fiction, though actually the piece which resonated me most was one in which she talked about the origins and development of her Earthsea cycle.

The Choir: Sing while you Work - second TV series, in which Gareth Malone forms and trains workplace choirs in organisations such as a city council, a fire service, and a city bank. There are probably many other choirmasters who could do what he does in terms of getting a choir going; but what he has uniquely is the ability to make this work on television: to let us get to know the people and their jobs and to make us care about them and what the singing means to them. (As I've blogged elsewhere, "it's not so much the song or the singing which makes its impact on us: it's who the singers are.")

The Coronation of Poppea, performed by English Touring Opera - I could have done without the Russian Revolutionary staging, with Poppea dressed like Grayson Perry in his transvestite persona, but most of the singing was really great, especially Helen Sherman singing Nero.

Richard II - the Royal Shakespeare Company production, broadcast to cinemas, with David Tennant in the title role. A good production (though not a great one, says my wife, who's favourite Shakespeare play it is), and wholly immersive, with excellent camera work, moving between close-up and whole-stage view largely seamlessly. David Tennant was excellent as Richard, of course, but Bollingbrooke felt shallow by comparison; as Richard says, they're like twin buckets in a well: when one rises the other goes down, so it should be possible to see them as counterparts or equals.

An Adventure in Space and Time - nostalgic (for me) TV drama about the creation of Dr Who, focusing on the roles of Sydney Newman, the head of drama whose idea it was; Verity Lambert, the producer who made it happen; and Bill Hartnell, the fading actor who was chosen to play the first doctor.

Gravity - astonishing new space film, largely carried by Sandra Bullock (George Clooney being in a support role), with echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and (how embarrassing to admit knowledge of this) Barbarella. Unexpectedly intense; the tension never really lets up for all of the 90 mins, until she take her first shaky steps back on Earth. I'm still not sure what it was all about, though.

Setting boundaries: psychotherapy and spirituality workshop at Turvey Abbey. A day well-spent in the company of spiritual directors and therapists, provoking troubling reflections on what happens when boundaries break down - or are compulsively defended.

The Odyssey: a soldier's road home - article by Charlotte Higgins in Guardian Review. Penetrating interpretation of the return of Odysseus, bringing out aspects of the story which were wholly new to me - setting it alongside the contemporary experience of returning war veterans.

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