It’s A Cinema, Not A Heavy Metal Gig.

Tony Berry

During the lull between lockdowns I ventured out to the cinema to see Christopher Nolan’s film “Tenet”. Doing my bit to support the Arts and all that. The cinema was a Birmingham Odeon with a top-notch surround-sound system. Maybe a couple of dozen  people in the audience, nicely spaced apart, so great. Except, for the first time ever, I walked out after less than 30 minutes. Why? Not because the film was awful, but because the soundtrack was so loud as to be physically painful. It begins with a set-piece featuring an attack by unknown forces on a concert hall, so lots of gunfire and explosions. This had me shrunk down in my seat as I winced and stuck my fingers in my ears. And it didn’t get any better as the film progressed, with the dialogue at normal or quiet volumes, punctuated by Really Loud bursts of action and music. I decided that I couldn’t face this any more and left to go home, where I actually emailed the Odeon chain with a complaint and a demand for my money back. They replied with some guff about “we think it’s OK, it meets noise requirements (I bet it bloody doesn’t) and besides it’s not our fault it’s the way the sound is mixed by the director”. This is actually true.

It turned out I’m not alone here. A week or so after I’d seen the film I read an article by a reviewer who said he was looking forward to watching “Tenet” at home on his TV so he could turn on the subtitles. It seems Nolan likes to mix the soundtrack of his films like this. “My films are for modern cinemas with good sound systems”. Well OK, but that doesn’t mean you have to give your audiences tinnitus while they struggle to hear the dialogue. Nolan’s “Interstellar” is a decent enough film with a really good score; in fact I like the score so much I bought it on CD. It features a real church organ (recorded in Temple Church in London) and when I crank up my stereo I can rattle the windows out of their frames, which is fine because I’m enjoying a piece of music, not trying to figure out what Matthew McConaughey is mumbling (he does have a habit of saying his lines like he’s sucking a Werthers Original, but it’s the Director’s job to tell him not to do it). 

I suppose we should be used to this because of the endless Superhero films which, with a few exceptions, are BANG, quiet bit, CRASHING MUSIC, quiet bit, BANG, quiet bit WITH CRASHING MUSIC, and so on. Well, it ain’t good enough. I pay a car-loan to go and see a film and I want to enjoy it, not have to sit there in expectation of being temporarily deafened so I can’t hear the dialogue anyway. Directors like Nolan may think it all makes their films more dynamic, but he’s producing the bloody things for an audience of millions. He might reply “well this is my vision and if you don’t like it you can fuck off”, but let’s be reasonable here; I am willing to look at his vision because it’s unlikely to send me blind. On the other hand I don’t see why I should suffer damage to my hearing at the same time. No, I never got my money back.

I’d like to talk about books…

Yvonne Rowse, programme chief

There seems to have been endless media stuff produced for lockdown. I’ve even had to watch a few because Ian has made me. We watched One Man Two Guvnors and Jesus Christ Superstar and lots of little youtube shorts. My favourite, due to brevity and immense charm, is the Good Omens: Lockdown written by Neil Gaiman. I’m not a visual media person, however, so I read. Mostly I have been reading Covid-19 stuff and I’ve had enough. I need to read something, anything, else.

The trouble is, I’ve been infected with dread. I’d be an awful apocalypse novel hero. Here we are, in the middle of a cosy catastrophe (we can, except for the key workers, avoid the virus) and I am filled with anxiety. And that means I have been frozen into immobility.

In situations of stress I normally knit and read. The first acts a little like meditation. The second takes me to different worlds where I am integral (as the reader) to helping all the great characters do great things. In books I have many friends. We are doing things more interesting than singing happy birthday twice (maybe three) times while washing our hands and bickering about what essential item we forgot to buy and can’t face going back for. In books exciting things happen, important things. Mostly no-one sits all evening eating a family size bar of chocolate.

The problem has been finding suitable books to read. I am really struggling at the moment with even mild peril. I mean, even when I’m pretty sure that everything will end up alright. I’m not just talking about death or injury; even mild embarrassment is causing me to leave a book unfinished. Jo Walton, our former Guest of Honour, has two potential solutions, as described on tor.com. Either Books in Which No Bad Things Happen or Books That Grab You. In the first there is no worry, in the second you are immersed so deep that the ‘real’ world has been left behind.

Before finding these two articles I had been reading the Chalet School books and Georgette Heyer. All were pretty much re-reads, though there are some Heyer books that I can’t finish due to fear of impending (but not terminal) dread. But I’ve read all I’ve got.

I can’t read Paladin of Souls again. I think it has one more read in it before it is sucked dry of all goodness. I’m saving that for my deathbed. My Margaret Mahy books are in pretty much the same state, even the short stories and although I could read and reread The Boy Who Was Followed Home every day it doesn’t take long, even when the pictures are examined minutely.

So, I am working my way through the books recommended both in the articles and the comments. It is worth reading all the comments as some dispute other recommendations. And Nevil Shute is recommended in the ‘grabby’ books. I can certainly say that On the Beach did not let me go once started but it has a devastating finish and, along with Ancient Light, is on my list of books to never ever read again. Not that they are bad, just that they’ll tear your heart out and leave you traumatised for weeks.

So, I reread At Amberleaf Fair (Phyllis Ann Karr) and have the Moomin books piled up ready to go. 

What books are keeping you sane and why?

Blackpool Remembered

Alex Storer

All you classic Doctor Who aficionados out there might be interested in an epic free new ebook from John Collier, entitled Blackpool Remembered. The book celebrates the original Doctor Who exhibition on Blackpool’s Golden Mile, which ran from 1974 to 1985.

I became involved in this project in April – over a month into lockdown. John Collier contacted me, as he was keen to use some of my own written memories and photographs of the original exhibition, as featured in my 2011 mini-book, Who, Where and When. Due to lockdown, John finally had the time to dedicate to his long-gestating idea of creating a detailed and comprehensive book about the exhibition – and was now looking for contributors.

I completely re-wrote my account for John’s book and one thing soon led to another. I was soon writing more pieces and working together on year-by-year floor plans. This was just the kind of Doctor Who project I had always wanted to be involved in. Soon, ideas were being exchanged, memories discussed, and having put John in touch with ex-K9 assistant operator Steve Cambden, the momentum was really growing. I volunteered to illustrate the cover, but this soon led to me producing several exclusive illustrations throughout the book.

Over the following months, Blackpool Remembered evolved into a much bigger beast than either of us ever expected. The interest and subsequent reaction has been phenomenal. We have met so many great people along the way, willing to share their personal recollections and photographs with us. It has been so rewarding to re-visit the exhibition through all of this, and for me as an artist, this is the most gratifying kind of creative collaboration. It isn’t very often that so many different elements and interests collide to create something really special, but this has been one of those moments, all thanks to John’s vision for the project.

The end result was a gobsmacking 400+ pages long, jam-packed with photographs, memories and nostalgia from over 80 contributors – with several names that will be familiar to those of us in the Whoniverse. It is an absolute must-read for anybody who ever visited the original exhibition or has an interest in the show’s props and costumes.

Blackpool Remembered was released as a free digital publication at the end of August, and recently exceeded 7,000 downloads. A revised version is currently in the works with updates to things like the floor plans, which were always going to be a work in progress, and John has started work on a follow-up publication.

I never thought time travel was possible until my involvement in this book – but it took me right back to 1985, as an awestruck seven-year-old, wandering those exhibition corridors deep beneath the Golden Mile.

Head over to blackpoolremembered7485.wordpress.com to download the free book and find out more.