strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very neatly, [livejournal.com profile] wig tagged me for this meme on LJ, and TAFKAK tagged me for it on Facebook on the same day last week. So I shall answer it in both places, but obviously LJ lends itself better to nice formatting and having space to make some actual comments about the books. I have taken the concept of the books 'staying with me' seriously, and thus listed ones which both meant a lot to me at the time of original discovery and to which I have returned regularly since. They are listed (as best as I could remember) in the order in which I first encountered them.

L. Frank Baum (1900), The Wizard of Oz
This stands for the whole series, of course. I was certainly quite obsessed with them by the age of six, and indeed a picture of me reading one of them to my friends on that birthday can be seen here. The 1939 film was important too, of course, and I'm pretty sure I had seen it by that age, but there were more of the books, with far more wonderful characters and adventures than the film could deliver. Dad used to read the books to me as bedtime stories, I used to read and re-read them myself, and of course there was a great deal of dressing up, playing at being characters from the books and so on with the very friends shown in the picture, and especially [livejournal.com profile] hollyione. A lifetime love of fantastical stories was to follow...

Alison Uttley (1939), A Traveller in Time
Did loads of other people read this as children? I don't hear it mentioned very often as a children's classic, but it was another big favourite of my childhood, and has literally stayed with me in the sense that I still have my copy of it. I haven't done that for many of my childhood books - though the Oz series are another exception. Doubtless one of the attractions all along was the fact that the main character, a young girl from the 20th century, is called Penelope. But also, time travel! While staying in a Tudor manor house, she repeatedly finds herself slipping back to its early days, and interacting with characters from the reign of Elizabeth I. Clearly at the roots of my love of both fantastical time travel stories, and the real-life dialogue between present and past.

Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula
Ha, I hardly need to explain this one right now, do I? See my dracula tag, passim, for details. First read, as far as I can tell, in early 1986, when I was nine years old, on the back of having seen the Hammer film the previous autumn. Left me with a love of all things Gothic, which has waxed and waned but never really left me ever since. As the wise [livejournal.com profile] inbetween_girl once said, you never really stop being a Goth. At best, you're in recovery. Or perhaps lapsed, would be another way of putting it.

Diana Wynne Jones (1977), Charmed Life
Initially read via a copy from the school library aged 9 or 10, this came back and 'haunted' me with memories of a book of matches, a castle and a strange magical man in my early 20s. By then, the internet was advanced enough to have forums where I could ask what the title of the book I was remembering might be, and to deliver an answer within a few hours. So I bought a copy, swiftly followed by copies of the other Chrestomanci books, and then copies of multiple other DWJ books (see my diana wynne jones tag for details). As an adult, I can see that the real appeal of DWJ's writing lies in the combination of her light yet original prose style, imaginative vision and sharp understanding of human interactions, but as a child I'm pretty sure it was all about the unrecognised magical powers and multiple interconnected magical worlds. As per the Oz books, I really love that stuff.

Gene Wright (1986), Horrorshows: the A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre
In 2010, Mark Gatiss presented a documentary series called A History of Horror, during which he held up a book about horror films which he had owned since childhood, and explained how it was his personal Horror Bible, which had opened up to him the wonderful world of the genre. From the reaction on Twitter, it instantly became clear that everyone who had grown up loving horror films before the emergence of the internet had also owned such a book, and this is mine. I bought it at a book fair in about 1987 or 1988, devoured it greedily, and have been faithfully ticking off every film in it which I have seen ever since. Of course, the internet has long rendered such books obsolete, and insofar as this one was ever comprehensive at the time of original purchase, it certainly isn't now. So it is utterly meaningless to tick off all the films in it, as though somehow the end goal is to tick off every single film in the book - at which time, I don't know, a fanfare will sound and a man in a rhinestone suit will pop out to tell me I've won a prize, or something? But I still add a tick each time I see a new film from within its pages anyway, because heck I have been doing so for 25 years, and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it's not like I care about horror films made after 1986 anyway (I struggle to care about those made after 1976, TBH), so it doesn't matter to me that it is enormously out of date.

Douglas Adams (1979), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First read c. age 11, and read at least another 8 times since. I know this because I have kept a tally of how many times I read it in the front of the book - classic geekish behaviour, of course. Once again, it's basically all about travel to wondrous other worlds, but this time instead of being magical (Oz, Chrestomanci), historical (A Traveller in Time), or supernatural (Dracula, everything else in Horrorshows), they are in space! It's not actually like I discovered adventures in space for the first time from Hitchhiker's, because of course I was also watching Doctor Who on a regular basis in parallel with all of this reading material, with which of course Hitchhiker's is intimately linked. But yeah - given everything else which has already appeared on this list, it is no big surprise that I loved Hitchhiker's.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. AD 120), The Twelve Caesars
And now my list radically changes tack, because having established that I love stories about the fantastical, the rest of it is made up of books which mark key stages in the emergence of my academic interest in the ancient world. I am not, of course, unaware that this in itself also basically boils down to yet another interest in a wondrous other world, albeit one which actually existed in this case. Really, the mode of engagement is very similar - we have little snippets of information about the Roman world (texts, objects, places), just as we have little snippets of information about fictional fantasy worlds (texts, screen portrayals, merchandise), but there is also so much we don't know, and are at liberty to extrapolate from what we do. Plus the similar-yet-different qualities and the opportunity to compare and contrast can let us think about our own world in ways that just don't open up if we only think about it directly. And so I found a way to apply the thought-patterns and approaches I'd been developing from early childhood to something which grown-ups thought was admirable and serious, and which it was possible to acquire prestige and eventually even money through studying. As for Suetonius himself, he is here because he was one of the earliest ancient authors I really came to feel familiar with and fond of, mainly during A-level Ancient History. Tacitus may well be clever and sharp, but there is always a judgemental, sanctimonious undertone with him that I don't very much like. The things which interest Suetonius, by contrast, make him seem so utterly human - but there are also all sorts of clever structures and allusions to discover in his text on close reading, which together make him incredibly rewarding. I once literally hugged my Penguin copy of Suetonius to my chest as a sort of talisman when feeling alone, upset and in need of comfort. I can't really imagine anyone doing that with Tacitus.

J.B. Ward-Perkins (1991), Roman Imperial Architecture
One of the first books I bought about ancient material culture (as opposed to texts), in the context of a module on Roman architecture which I did in (I think) my second year as an undergraduate at Bristol. While strictly about buildings rather than cities, it nonetheless includes a lot of material about how those buildings fitted into the urban landscapes where they were located - unsurprisingly, since Ward-Perkins himself was really interested in cities first and architecture second, and wrote one of the earliest English-language books on the subject. So it is to this book which my interest in Roman urbanism can really be traced, and I still turn to it occasionally when I need to get to grips with a new (to me) city.

Christopher Hibbert (1987), Rome: the biography of a city
This one is from my third year at Bristol, and the best undergraduate module I ever did - Responses to Rome with Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy, which was all about post-Classical responses to ancient Rome from the medieval period to the present day. I sat in those classes falling in love with Rome, and then went home to pore through this book and the wonders within. I still return to it in order to refresh my memory of medieval myths about the city's ancient past, Grand Tourism or fascist appropriations, all of which I have needed to do in the past few years.

Greg Woolf (1998), Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul
And finally, the book which I consulted most frequently while writing my PhD thesis. It had utterly redefined thinking about the relationship between Rome the state and its provincial populations, killing off tired old paradigms of 'beneficial imperialism' (think: What have the Romans ever done for us?) for good, so would have been important no matter what province I had used to look at the relationship between Roman ideas about the urban periphery and the reality on the ground in a provincial setting. But since I had chosen Gaul as my own main case-study anyway, it was gold-dust. Fifteen years later, it remains at the forefront of scholarly thinking on the topic, and thus still features regularly on my module reading lists, amongst my recommendations to research students, and indeed in the bibliographies of my own published works.

I'm not tagging anyone, because pretty much everyone in the world has done this meme already by now - but feel free to take this post as a prompt to do it yourself if you haven't and want to.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
My research leave really has officially finished now, and I am back in the full throes of teaching and admin duties. The teaching I don't mind, but the admin - ugh! I haven't missed that. Death by Meetings, basically.

Still, I made sure my last weekend of freedom was a good one. I've been meaning for a long time to visit the Doctor Who and Me exhibition currently running at the National Media Museum in Bradford, which is all about the history of Doctor Who fandom since the programme began, and consists almost entirely of items lent to the museum by fans. So when the lovely [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours invited me to join a contingent of geeks from Manchester who were coming over to see it for a day-trip, I jumped at the chance - especially since said contingent turned out also to contain the equally-lovely [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva and (non-Mancunian) magister.

We had an awesome time, discussing which exact episode a particular Cyberman outfit was modelled on, inventing Cyberman onesies, working out which of us would be safe from Daleks due to their inexplicable inability to perceive the colour red, and generally bouncing enthusiastically off each other's geekiness, which is a highly-recommended way to spend time. My personal favourite items from the exhibition itself were:

Fan quotation, Bradford Doctor Who exhibition
One of many fan quotations printed on the walls, which I'm not entirely sure really makes sense or indeed describes Doctor Who terribly accurately, but sounds cool anyway.

Docteur Qui, Bradford Doctor Who exhibition
Phono Paul's TARDIS, Bradford Doctor Who exhibition
Easily the best piece of fan-art in the show. I've seen pictures of it online before, but it was great to see it in the flesh.
A full-sized TARDIS which belongs to a friend of several people I know, and which was liberated from his shed and erected for the exhibition by a crack team including [livejournal.com profile] big_daz and [livejournal.com profile] nigelmouse.

It's not a huge exhibition, so within about an hour we had had our fill, and went off in search of food instead - which we found in high-quality but very reasonably-priced form at a place called Glyde House just opposite the museum. Definitely better than the OK but rather over-priced cafe in the museum itself, and an excellent place to shelter from the apocalyptic weather raging outside.

Then we discussed what to do with the afternoon. Most of the Manchester geek contingent had already made plans to catch the 3:30 train back home, but [livejournal.com profile] diffrentcolours, [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva, magister and I wanted to hang around until more like 5ish, when the also-lovely1 miss_s_b and [twitter.com profile] A_C_McGregor would be joining us after the former had finished work. And I happened to have noticed that the Media Museum was screening the restored version of Hammer's Dracula that very afternoon at 3:10, which pretty much exactly filled that gap. So yeah, I went to see Dracula on the big screen AGAIN. It would've been rude not to, right?

4. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher )

Anyway, 1.5 hours spent watching Dracula are never wasted, and by the time they were finished, miss_s_b and [twitter.com profile] A_C_McGregor were waiting for us outside the cinema. So we all headed off for booze followed by curry, with a lot of laughing, more geekery and some bonus libdemmery along the way.

The following day, after sleeping off the excesses of the previous evening, I headed over to [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy's house. After presenting [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan with two new additions to her collection of Frightful Fridge Magnets, bought on my recent trip to Rome, we looked through the pictures she had taken the previous weekend at Wendyhouse, which are jolly impressive, and will be appearing on a website near you before very long. Then we settled down for another dose of vintage filmy goodness.

5. The Invisible Man (1933), dir. James Whale )

Anyway, definitely worth seeing, and now that we have discovered the sequel stars none other than the marvellous Vincent Price, we might well be tracking that down very soon...


1. Basically, all of my friends are lovely, but I see no harm in saying this explicitly whenever I happen to mention them directly in a post, rather than leaving it unstated.

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strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
This was the first film of a double-bill which I went to see a couple of weekends ago in Manchester with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy. Since I have watched it in some form or another about a gazillion times, including seeing the BFI's restored print on the big screen in 2008, and watching the newly-released version complete with once-censored footage on DVD only this May, I blithely assumed in the car on the way across the Pennines that this one would be a bit of a formality. You know, the pretty-enjoyable-but-not-that-exciting film which I would sit through while we waited for the second half of the screening: Night of the Demon, which I hadn't seen before but had always wanted to.

WRONG! Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Honestly, how had I managed to forget just how blown away I was by the restored big-screen experience of this film at Bradford only five years ago? Or how iconic just about every single scene within the darned film is; or how beautifully it is shot; or how powerful and atmospheric the music is; or how utterly amazing Christopher Lee is as at once the most dignified, intelligent, enigmatic, dangerous, darkly sexual, frighteningly otherworldly and yet still somehow strangely sympathy-inducing Count Dracula ever to grace our screens? Oh, foolish child I was that ever I could err so.

Besides, this screening was not just of the restored print which I already saw on the big screen in 2008. It included the newly-replaced censored scenes as well, so it had something to offer me which I had seen only once before in any form, and never at all on the big screen. Only a few precious seconds of footage, but as I said in relation to the DVD version in May, they do make quite a difference to the film. In fact, of course, they constitute a small but significant increase in the proportion of screen-time which Christopher Lee gets, since it was inevitably his most Draculaesque scenes which attracted the censor's attentions in the first place. Given that, if I could make one complaint about this film, it would be that Dracula doesn't get enough screen-time (even though I appreciate he would quickly lose his mystique if he did), that's quite an important factor for me.

Meanwhile, because I have seen this film so many times, I have flagrantly over-thought almost every possible aspect of its plot, characterisation and world-building, so that every time I watch it now, a familiar list of nagging questions present themselves in my mind. Last time, the one that nagged the loudest was "who the actual fuck is Tania?" (real-world answer, probably scripted at one point as Arthur and Mina's child and at another point as Gerda's, without the clash between the two ever being entirely resolved; in-story answer, either Gerda's child but treated like part of Arthur and Mina's family or perhaps someone's secret love-child whose status genuinely is as ambiguous as the script suggests). This time, it was What is Dracula's real motive in inviting Jonathan Harker to his castle? )

As for those other questions regarding why he wants his library sorted out, and how he went about hiring Harker, those go beyond what the film as screened can tell us, and I would have to start writing back-story type fanfiction if I really wanted to answer them. Though I have dabbled with drabble in the past, long-form fanfiction belongs on my list of things which are doubtless pleasant but which life is too short to do (though I'll often while away the time on bus journeys or while drifting off to sleep telling similar stories to myself, which provides the requisite satisfaction without the tedious trouble of having to write anything down). I have found the time since watching this film, though, to indulge over the course of a few evenings in front of the telly in another fannish activity - the making of new livejournal icons. One, taken directly from this film, makes its first appearance at the head of this post. The others will follow as I review some of the sequels which watching this film has prompted me to revisit since.

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strange_complex: (Doctor Caecilius hands)
So I don't need to make a new LJ icon in order to talk about the Twelfth Doctor, because this one is now suddenly as much about him as it is about the Tenth. I always felt that this scene was iconic for the series, as well as very well-attuned to my personal interests - the Doctor reaching across time to pluck someone from the smouldering ruins of Pompeii, just as I cannot. Now it has acquired a whole new level of meaning. I really hope they will make some comment about the uncanny resemblance between the new Doctor and Caecilius in the script at some point - like the stuff about Romana choosing to look like Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor because she liked her appearance. I think getting that element of choice requires a rather more controlled regeneration than any previous Doctor has managed, though - and given where we last saw Eleven, I don't think he's likely to get anything of the sort! But, y'know, maybe subconscious memories can affect the regeneration process too.

I'll probably be making a bona fide Twelfth Doctor icon before very long, though, because I am pretty damned sure I'm going to like him. That's the advantage of casting a well-known actor, of course. I have already seen Peter Capaldi demonstrating real range and flair, so I know in advance that he has what it takes to play the Doctor - and has it in bucket-loads, I'll venture. We know now in retrospect that David Tennant and Matt Smith did too, of course, and obviously the casting teams for each of them knew it at the time. But at the time when they were first cast in the role I had only half-heard of either of them (David Tennant reaction post here; Matt Smith reaction post here), so wasn't really sure what I could expect.

By contrast, Peter brings with him the strongest established star image since Christopher Eccleston, and probably one of the top five strongest since the show started. People on Twitter are already having enormous fun mashing up his back-catalogue roles with Doctor Who genre-markers, while poor old [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos (who is in the closing stages of a PhD about Torchwood) is tearing her hair out at the thought of the para-texts now springing up around his character in Children of Earth. Obviously the older an actor you cast in the role, the greater a chance there is of his having acquired a strong public profile before he takes the part on - and as [twitter.com profile] stealthmunchkin has already pointed out, at 55 years old Capaldi is actually the joint-oldest actor ever to have been cast in the role, right alongside William Hartnell.

Capaldi in real life wears his years much more lightly than Hartnell, of course. He could be asked to do what Hartnell did and play older than he is, but I'd be surprised if so, because it would be such a huge leap from the way Matt Smith has played the character, and I think would be considered too risky from the point of view of the younger contingent in the audience. I'm expecting a Doctor much in the vein of Troughton, Pertwee, Baker (T) and McCoy, and am very happy indeed at the prospect. Witness my words of eight years ago, when I had just heard that Christopher Ecclestone was stepping down from the role:
Also, if this must happen, I'd ideally like to see an older Doctor follow Ecclestone, just to keep a bit of variety in the role. Sure, there's a fine tradition of younger Doctors to follow - especially Peter Davidson. But I'd like to see an actor who can tap into those aspects of the Doctor's character so splendidly explored by people like Jon Pertwee.
Yes, I want a Doctor who can really look as though he has the weight of unimaginable ages on his shoulders sometimes, and who can be properly fatherly when he wants to. David Tennant and especially Matt Smith both managed those things better that I would have guessed, but I think Moffat was right to say on tonight's live show that the time has come for a genuinely older actor now.

I still hope that some time in the future we will get a non-white Doctor - above all for what it would say about where we have collectively got to as a country on race issues. But the sad truth is that we are not there yet. We need to make Britain a better place for all minority ethnic groups in real life before we are ever going to get a non-white Doctor. Meanwhile, it has been established (via the dialogue about the Corsair in The Doctor's Wife) that Time Lords can change sex if they want to, and I certainly wouldn't say no to a female Doctor. But above all I am of the school of thought which says that what we really need in Doctor Who is more strong non-white and female characters around the Doctor, acting on his level and even pricking his ego when he needs it. The best way to set that up is to bring back the Time Lords - and oh, do I hope that the plot-line involving John Hurt will do that somehow.

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strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
After a minor but enjoyable lie-in and a leisurely morning of breakfast and Frasier so old I hadn't seen it, I headed into town to enjoy duck breast and chocolate tart in honour of [livejournal.com profile] kissmeforlonger's birthday, and then Weston's Perry in honour of [livejournal.com profile] kantti and [livejournal.com profile] deeply_spurious's presence in town.

Sitting in Mr. Foley's at about 6pm, I realised that the world at large now knew who the Eleventh Doctor would be, though I did not. So [livejournal.com profile] deeply_spurious very kindly looked it up on his iPhone, and thus I learnt. Back home, I find that fandom has (inevitably) exploded, though there are some very sensible posts out there from Pickwick, Lefaym and Ed Zeppelin.

I thought I hadn't heard of him at first, but now that I've seen some larger pictures I realise that I do know him from Ruby in the Smoke and Shadow in the North. And that's about the right level of established public profile for me - he's not a total unknown, but he comes free from too many preconceptions (for me, anyway).

I would have liked it to be Paterson Joseph, but I would have been worried too about how he was going to be handled, for the reasons outlined in my post about Rosita. I'm slightly alarmed at the thought of a Doctor who, for the first time, will be younger than me, but I'm very ready to give him a chance. I was fairly lukewarm about the prospect of Tennant, after alll.

Above all, I hope they'll make use of his youth to lose something of the lonely God / "the one, the only, and the best!" aspect which Tennant has acquired, and go for a Doctor with a little more self-doubt - much as they did with Peter Davison in the wake of Baker (T), of course.

And that's about all there really is to say on the issue until his first story.

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strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
OMG, why am I reading an article which contains sentences like this:
"Sahlins' argument is thus for a dialectical relationship between externally generated events and localized actions"
when I could be doing this Who meme taken from [livejournal.com profile] snapesbabe?

Who's game? )

OK, I'm working now...

Dracula

Sunday, 29 May 2005 02:22
strange_complex: (Vampira)
Tonight a huge gang of us went out to see Dracula at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

Theatrical opulence )

The play: modernistic yet true to the book )

Colin Baker fandom )

Colin Baker and Richard Bremmer autographs )

Finally, it was back in three car-loads to my place, to see this evening's Doctor Who and generally hoot loudly with laughter, do Dalek impressions and throw Creme Eggs on the floor (lordy, I do hope my landlords don't read this journal!).

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