Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Seen and heard: March 2014

A Bestiary of Jewels - a remarkable artwork created by the jeweller Kevin Coates, consisting of a series of broaches and necklaces mounted in imitation book pages, each one of which is themed around a person and an animal (for example, Flaubert and a parrot, Montaigne and a cat, Charles Ludwig Dodgson and a dodo). Unfortunately the film of the opening of its exhibition at the Ashmolean is not very good, but it does at least show some of the objects, which are actually quite wise as well as witty…

SyberiaiPad version. (See review of original, and "making of" video.) My initial excitement an iPad version of one of my favourite games was tempered by the discovery that (1) the iPad interface doesn't work as well with the gameplay (instead of hotspots becoming visible on mouse rollover, you're only able to have their either On or Off - On and all the surprises and hidden objects aren't surprising or hidden, but Off and you can't see where you're able to move and explore); (2) some of the animation sequences have been shortened (why? how much money can it really have saved?); and (3) it's only the first chapter of the game, the first of four locations. I won't be recommending it to all my friends.

The Last Express - by contrast, this is a really super conversion of a 1997 game, set on the Orient Express in the months before the Great War. There's a tremendous feeling of being in an early Hitchcock movie (The 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes), as you discover the friend who'd summoned you to join him murdered in his compartment (your first task is to avoid getting arrested for his murder), and you slowly investigate the other travellers on the train (a German "businessman", an Austrian celebrity violinist, a French engineer and his family on their way to an oilfield in the Middle East, a bohemian Frenchwoman and the Englishwoman she''s persuaded to come on a romantic getaway, an elderly Russian count and his daughter, and a posse of Sebian nationalists). Fantastic rotoscoped animation conveys character and response, with very smooth transitions from first-person to third-person view as they character you play enters a cut-scene. A time-based adventure too; characters move between the cars (for example, to have dinner) and you need to be in the right place to overhear the right conversations. Definitely a classic. (See the iOS version trailer, the original trailer, and the Adventure Gamers review.)

Oh Do Shut Up Dear! The Public Voice of Women - London Review of Books lecture by Mary Beard. A proper, old-fashioned lecture; why don't we have more of them on telly? Especially when they're as good as this. Beard, as is well-known, has direct experience of the disturbing and disturbed ways in which men try to get women not to speak in the public sphere, and the classical knowledge to trace it back to the Odyssey where it's presented as part of the adolescent Telemachus' coming of age. But her argument goes beyond her own, or other women's, experience. "We should ... try to bring to the surface the kinds of question we tend to shelve about how we speak in public, why and whose voice fits. What we need is some old fashioned consciousness-raising about what we mean by the voice of authority and how we’ve come to construct it."

Serenade to Music, by Ralph Vaughan Williams – performed by Milton Keynes Sinfonia and Polymnia (in which I sing). Stunning RVW harmonic textures, with words from Shakeapeare’s Merchant of Venice, including this passage expressing his mistrust of anyone who did’nt “get” music: “The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;… let no such man be trusted.” Which when you think about it is pretty much the same as Trevor Chaplin’s verdict on the people who can and can't hear the music in Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke Connection (about which I've blogged previously).

The Americans, series 2 - the return of our favourite KGB agents. Now that Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage has stabilized, after he saved her from death at the hands of the FBI in the last season’s final episode, the domestic drama for this season is proving to be the effect of their espionage on the children – especially their far-too-savvy teenage daughter, who is understandably curious about what Mom and Dad get up to at night.

Turks and Caicos - very watchable political thriller by David Hare, with Bill Nighey rivetingly compelling and full of presence as the honest and decent ex-MI5 man seeking obscurity in the titular islands.

W1A - does one laugh or does one cry? For anyone who works in a large organisation, the idiocies of the fictional BBC's PR and senior management are all too familiar, and to see the absurdities blown up on screen is at least a reassurance to us that we're not crazy.

Sacred Body - experiential workshop at Turvey Monastery. A very good day with pschyotherapists Katarina Gadjanski and Hannah Russill, moving back and forth between the triple foci of mind, body and emotion. Leaving behind the dualism of Western philosophy and Pauline theoogy, as Thich Nhat Hanh says: "Only by cultivating a mindful body and an embodied mind can we be fully alive" (Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present).

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