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For blog items from previous years [2005-09], see links near foot of home page.

Beyond Downton Abbey: Some initial disappointment that Dorset-resident filmmaker Julian Fellowes did not set or film his ITV hit drama Downton Abbey locally has turned to relief in some quarters. For while some regard it as a welcome break from social-realist drama, others have cringed at its anachronistically modern dialogue and scenes copied from older works like Mrs Miniver. This region in fact has a long and varied literary tradition of country-house sagas, going back to before Hardy put Wessex on the literary map. It can be done differently, and some might say, better; thus we've done a webpage on earlier examples of local-interest novels and screen dramas in the 'country saga' genre. Decide for yourself - check out our guide "Setting The Scene In Wessex - The 'Country House' Saga."
Tamara DreweDorset On Screen Again: Several locally-shot productions are just being released: local indie Jack-the-Ripper docudrama Montague Jack, about local suspect Montague Druitt; ITV fact-based stalker drama U Be Dead; Dorset-resident actor-writer-director Julian Fellowes's film of From Time To Time, a 1950s old-house-as-portal-to-the-past children's novel; and Tamara Drewe, an adaptation by dramatist of Posy Simmonds's satiric graphic novel about a Dorset writer's retreat deep in "Hardy Country." After another series of disappointments (most recently postponement of Sam Mendes' film of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, and Julian Fellowes's costume drama series Downtown Abbey for ITV being shot elswhere), we have several productions filmed locally now being released. On the local indie production front, we have Montague Jack, an ultra-low budget hour-long docudrama, starring actor Michael Medwin, about local Rippper suspect Montague John Druitt, shot (on HD) by writer-director Ray Joyce and the Wimborne Cine & Video Club in Wimborne and at Pamphill, and in Poole using Upton House and Scaplens Court, and the harbour as the Thames. Just shown on ITV, U Be Dead is a fact-based drama of a stalker pursuing a doctor and his fiancee, who was a Poole accountant, which filmed scenes at Salterns Harbourside Hotel, as some of the events had taken place there when it was a yacht club, plus Sandbanks and a quay in Hamworthy. Dorset-resident actor-writer-director Julian Fellowes is premiering his supernatural children's drama From Time To Time at Athelhampton house, where it was mainly filmed in 2008. This adaptation of one of Lucy Boston's popular 1950s "Green Knowe" books was also filmed in Pudlletown (church, village scenes) and at Fellowes's own stately home at West Stafford.
And finally, just gone on general release is Tamara Drewe, an adaptation by dramatist Moira Buffini of Posy Simmonds's satiric graphic novel (run as a comic strip in the Guardian), directed by Stephen Frears. It stars Gemma Arterton, seen last year as BBC's largely Dorset-shot Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and Simmonds's graphic novel is described in the presskit as "loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd." (Simmonds: 'From Hardy I nicked six main characters and some bits of the plot.' ) To reinforce the connection, one of the male leads is trying to write a new biography of Hardy. The film was shot in West Dorset, with the 2 houses used (one for exteriors and one for interiors) at the hamlet of Salway Ash (NW of Bridport up the B3162), in Bridport, and at The White Hart pub in Yetminster. Described as being like "the filthiest possible episode of The Archers," the story has onetime plain-jane Tamara, now a glamorous career music journalist returning to her home village, where there is a writers' retreat. As publicity writers like to put it, complications ensue. (Trailer here.)

In Their Own Words: British Novelists: The current [August] 3-part BBC4 documentary series "looking at the story of the British novel in the 20th century, told by those who know it best - the authors themselves," compiled mainly from archived interviews with 20th-C British novelists, features a number who had local links.
In Ep 1, 'Among The Ruins (1919-1939)', we hear from Virginia Woolf, who spent time before WWI at Studland with others of the Bloomsbury set, such as EM Forster (who also appears). DH Lawrence, from whom the episode title derives as the label for the interwar year ('We are among the ruins', he wrote), holidayed on Wight in 1909 and spent time in Bournemouth in 1912 for health reasons, leading to his Wight-set novel The Trespasser. Evelyn Waugh spent time locally pre-WWII, largely in the Poole-Wimborne area, among the visiting Bright Young Things, and later returned in WWII to be billeted at a Dorset stately home (shades of Brideshead). PG Wodehouse spent youthful weekends in West Dorset with a wealthy family related to the royals, the Bowes-Lyons, several of his novels having West Dorset settings.
In Ep 2, "The Age of Anxiety (1945-1969)", we have Tolkien (who had a bungalow in the area and died here) denying his work is merely an allegory of WW2; SF novelists like John Wyndham, whose classic Day Of The Triffids is set partly in Dorset and Wight, and of course the Angry Young Men, including John Braine, whose 1957 Room At The Top, currently being adapted as a BBC drama, has a key episode set in Dorset. The Cold War spy genre is represented by Ian Fleming, who went to school in Purbeck, and John le Carré who was born in Poole (which he never talks about, due to an unhappy childhood). Iris Murdoch, who often visited other Dorset-based writers and set her 1968 The Nice And The Good on the west Dorset coast. We also get William Golding, the Wiltshire schoolmaster turned author who drew on his time living in Salisbury for his 1964 novel about building a cathedral, The Spire. Ep 3, "Nothing Sacred (1970-1990)," is not yet transmitted at time of writing [tx M 30/8/10].
For details on the authors' local links (not mentioned of course in the BBC series), see our webpage listing 100 local-interest writers (well, more like 90-odd writers at present - it's a work in progress, with some entries awaiting verification of details). The series is on 900pm Mondays, and on iPlayer for 3 wks after each tx date: Ep 1 "Among The Ruins (1919-1939)" ; Ep 2, "The Age of Anxiety (1945-1969)" ; Ep 3, "Nothing Sacred (1970-1990) The BBC site also has permalinks to full length versions of the interviews, plus others, here.

2010 Airshow: The area's biggest annual media event, the Bournemouth Air Festival, is on Thur 19 - Sun 22 August. Local airshows actually go back 100 years - in fact the first UK international airshow was here in 1910; this was also the occasion of the first airshow fatality, the Hon. Charles Rolls, of Rolls-Royce fame, the first pilot to fly across the Channel both ways nonstop, and founder of the firm whose aero-engines later went into both WWI and WWII warplanes, including the Spitifre, Hurricane, and Lancaster. Returning media 'stars' include the Red Arrows [Fri/Sat/Sun], the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight [Fri, Sun], this year celebrating its 70th anniversary [see item below], the 'Sally B' B-17 last Flying Fortress bomber [Sat, Sun], and the Avro Vulcan [Sat], the RAF's 1960s nuclear bomber of the type that appeared in the James Bond film Thunderball. Various other attractions are returning (luckily there is no sign of the "Roar On The Shore" display which caused so much adverse coverage last year). Video footage of the various turns will no doubt again appear on YouTube as well as on the official site, with DVDs available soon afterwards.
Post-Event Update: Complaints continued this year about lack of up-to-date timetable info, the inclement weather leading to uncertainty over the schedule as most weekend events were cancelled at the last moment on health-n-safety grounds. Most of the estimated million attendees reportedly gave up and went home early, but those who stayed on hopefully were left up in the air (or rather, down on the ground looking up). This seems to have helped prompt the Council and Echo to provide more up-to-date info online this time, and concentrate less on promoting their printed brochure. The Council however took the day-after view of the "wash-out" that the rainclouds had a "silver lining" as the tens of thousands who optimistically remained were forced to spend extra money by going into restaurants, cinemas, bars, etc. For those who missed it or went home early, video coverage here.

Wessex At War update: The main items in the news here, as we pass the 70th anniversaries of Dunkirk [May-June] and the start of the Battle of Britain [June-Sep] .... A number of film and TV productions, from Overlord to Private Schulz, have in the past used Studland beach to represent either a Normandy beach or Dunkirk's, but there seem to be no new productions to be added to our existing "Wessex At War" web-pages on local-interest novels and screen dramas. The 1954 film The Dam Busters, which uses actuality bomb-drop footage shot in Dorset throughout, did get into the news over a remastered-DVD reissue in June, though without extras; there is still no sign of the remake being written by Stephen Fry and directed by Peter Jackson. A "Dad''s Army" bronze sculpture of Arthur Lowe being unveiled in Norfolk (where the 1968-77 BBC series was exterior-shot) got in the national news, but there seems to be no recognition, even locally, of the series' local inspiration component [details on web-page]. And there is still no major novel or screen drama in sight dealing with the development of radar in the Purbecks.
Battle of Britain commemorations have been more in the news, with a local attempt to restore the control tower as wartime fighter airfield RAF Ibsley north of Christchurch, on the edge of the New Forest, the site being now a flooded gravel quarry [with plaque]. News that President Obama's grandfather probably served at Ibsley and at nearby Stoney Cross airfield in the New Forest in the run-up to D-Day added a certain international filip to the campaign by the RAF Ibsley Heritage Trust historical group to restore the Ibsley control tower and establish a heritage trail. New Forest council officers are also planning a commemorative plaque for the Stoney Cross airfield site. Currrently, Southampton, where the Battle's iconic fighter the Spitfire was built and tested, is asking for ideas for a Spitfire memorial to be built there. There was a Spitfire flypast over Christchurch Bay July 9th (to commemorate 100 years of local aviation), but the chief memorial to the Spitfire itself in national consciousness is perhaps found the one found on screen. A Spitfire swooping over English downland is one of British cinema's most iconic images, and can be seen in films such as (the largely Dorset-shot) Overlord, and the (Dorset-set) The Land Girls. There are other iconic images in the 1943 biopic of Spitfire designer RJ Mitchell, The First Of The Few (US title Spitfire), which was location-filmed mainly at RAF Ibsley, a project we devoted a page to earlier [here]. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, consisting of a Lancaster bomber, Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, and the last flying B-17 [as seen in many US WWII films, e.g The War Lover, Catch-22], will be returning to the Airshow this year; schedule details in link in new entry above.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like … An Ex-IMAX?
The IMAX-site controversy moves to the token public-consultation stage.
With the controversy rumbling on, Bournemouth Council has set up a webpage for the public to see the proposed options. There was also, briefly, a linked sub-page where you click buttons to 'Have Your Say.' The cynical would say this was just to sidestep the fact a number of Facebook groups have already been set up to lobby for the same options, with the Echo reporting the relative memberships. The first group set up, which began with 19 members, was for saving the building (and the £5m+ it will cost to demolish it) as an art-house cinema and fringe theatre, while a second, the Imax Demolition Party [604 members], was then set up to campaign to demolish the existing building and replace it with - well we're not sure yet, as long as it doesn't block the scenic view of the Purbecks when you drive down Bath Hill. There is also a Facebook group proposing it become an Eden Project style botanical gardens.
The Council's official shortlisted options embrace these and a few others, like a downtown "arts space" or a building with an "Art Element." (Notice the odd terminology - this should not be taken to mean a proper arts centre of the sort long campaigned for which could turn around the town's rather philistine image. Reportedly, some of the money being used to compulsory-purchase the building's business-tenant leases was set-aside from an earlier abortive plan for funding an "Arts/Cultural scheme in the town center.")
The official shortlisted options being considered are: a water park; interactive arts, museum and entertainment [sic]; tropical gardens; a spa; performing arts space /amphitheatre; family play park; boutiques and bistros. (Other proposals like an ice rink and a swimming pool to replace the one closed in the BIC have now been excluded, despite the fact the Facebook group for the latter proposal had over 2,000 members.) Though the building was privately paid for to begin with, civic costs are already mounting - £7 million to buy the building, around £5m more to knock it down (though I think they could get volunteers from the Imax Demolition Party to do much of this), £2.5m in legal fees to get the tenants out, and an unknown number of millions to create the new facility to be decided upon by June.
With a local rep company [Milton Musical Society] doing a musical about the Titanic backed by Bath Travel, perhaps the long running saga could be turned into a fundraising musical comedy pastiche, "IMAX The Musical," with heart-warming songs like "Tomorrow" set to the tune from Annie ("The Council will keep everyone happy /Tomorrow") or from The Sound Of Music, "The Sound Of Money Going Down The Drain" and "How Do You Solve A Problem Like An Ex-IMAX?"
However, Sheridan Millennium Ltd, who hold a 150-year lease to operate a cinema here, but failed to make a go of it before, say they do not want to vacate and are still proposing it could be an IMAX cinema again, due to the new interest in the format generated by the Hollywood hit Avatar (I commented how unrealistic this is in a previous post ). The Council's "water park" option sounds like the plan Sheridan say the Council discussed with them for an indoor wave-machine facility, so it may be this is already favoured, especially as the artificial surf reef, much-heralded as a European "first," has apparently turned out to be more like an underwater speed bump. (The Council is keeping details of the inquiry into this matter from the public.)
This option for the Waterfront (don't say IMAX) Building could also tie in with the College's new "Watersports Academy", offering a venue for this (now that the College lost millions over its now-abandoned plan to demolish both its Bournemouth and Poole campuses). This follows in the wake of the Olympic Watersports Academy in Weymouth set up for 2012, but the College also have a new "Surf Academy" ("a great opportunity for youngsters looking at going into the ever expanding surf industry"), with course modules in "surf fitness, nutrition, psychology, contest techniques and tactics." Other less official proposals have surfaced here: both the University and College, having got rid of most of their experienced lecturers over the last few years, and now facing further budget cuts and policy reversals which make a nonsense of earlier restructurings, could use it. The huge ex-IMAX auditorium area could be a lecture theatre delivering a "virtual education," with computerised presentations on windsurfing theory (or whatever) by a CGI lecturer-presenter, or "avatar" ...

The Moonraker (1957), a local-interest attempt at a "British western" is released on DVD by Optimum. This Technicolor swashbuckler starring George Baker and fondly remembered by many, is based on a play dramatising actual events which took place in Dorset and Wiltshire in 1651, the film version having exteriors shot locally. The Moonraker (1957) is finally released on DVD [January 18th, by Optimum), a Technicolor swashbuckler fondly remembered by many as an attempt at a "British western." (Its roots are in the many British TV series of the era about noble outlaw heroes like Robin Hood, and true to form, it comes complete with old-fashioned ballad.)

Directed by David MacDonald, it has a largely local setting, from Stonehenge to Lacock Abbey to Lulworth's Stair Hole, where the final swordfight between romantic Cavalier king's man George Baker and Cromwellian agent Peter Arne takes place [see below] as a ship arrives to take the future Charles II to safety abroad. The central section is set in the clifftop Windwhistle Inn (where Sylvia Syms is the sympathetic barmaid), the script being based on a play by a former film censor turned playwright. The story is vaguely fact-based - Charles's 1651 escape to Holland via Sussex was partly across west Dorset and Wiltshire, his various close calls with Cromwell's soldiery providing dramatic material for romantic historical novels and films ever since.


Latest entries on film-TV productions chronology page: Bright's Boffins 1970; Return Of The Psammead 1993; The Buccaneers 1995; Creatives Grow Better In The South West (aka The Harvest) 2008; The Tesco Bomber 2009; Cranford Xmas special 2009; Die Rose von Kerrymore 2001; Far From The Madding Crowd 2009; The Day Of The Triffids 2009.


Bournemouth 200 - Time For The Renaissance?
Bournemouth Tourism has been sending out emails announcing "The Bournemouth bicentenery [sic] is now in full swing." The main events are still to come, as the official calendar [downloadable PDF] of events online shows. These are an official town history by local historians out in early May (from Dovecote Press in Wimborne) and a substantial archival website, a "virtual museum" called Streets Of Bournemouth, going online in late June (courtesy of a £440K HLF grant). These will have a shelf life longer than the beach parties and other such events also planned. With the Crunch, public anger over political corruption, the IMAX, surf reef, and how the town has been turned into 'the British Ibiza' (with a nightclub economy turning the downtown core into a giant crime scene of public drunkenness and drug-taking), the Bicentenary might include some sober reflection on the future. Especially with electoral uncertainty now in prospect, it might be a good time to decide what kind of town Bournemouth wants to be in the future in terms of quality of life. That is, one with a more creative, bohemian future, rather than the present one of predominant philistinism.
In terms of current development issues, the Echo reports [3-Ap-10], regarding the public consultation on what to do with the IMAX building [result announced in June], that Council emails obtained via the FOI Act suggest they already favour turning it into 'a Wave House indoor surfing centre,' rather than an arts-entertainment complex etc. (This option would of course make up for their unpopular closure of the swimming pool at the BIC to make more space for political conferences etc, as well supplanting the under-performing undersea artificial surf reef.) The plan to turn part of the Pavilion Gardens site into a casino site in exchange for restoring the old ballroom etc has now also resurfaced [Echo 3-Ap-10]. This caused controversy when it came out the deal was signed on local election day itself, on behalf of the outgoing administration. Now, after 2 years of property negotiations over 'a complicated land swap agreement' with the Meyrick Estate, the casino plan is, so to speak, on the cards again. However, the public-poll winner was a 'tropical' garden, an idea that goes back to Victorian times.The 'water-park' proposal came second, so as in the current election, nothing is really settled yet. (A water-slide would obviously make more money than a garden.)
The standard argument for putting tourists before residents is that the town has a tourist economy, and that the old bucket-and-spade days are gone, but this is a red herring. The 'bucket-and-spade' era dates back to the heyday of bank-holiday day trippers starting in the 1870s-80s and began to die off when cheap airline flights to sunnier resorts became available in the 1970-80s. And the 'town-now-shedding-its-bathchair image' cliché so beloved of young journalists, to suggest the town was run for the benefit of the elderly (usually referred to dismissively as "the blue rinse brigade"), was always misleading. This alleged focus has come to the fore again locally since MoreBus withdrew its Airshow 2010 [19-22 Aug] sponsorship in protest over pensioners getting 'free' rides - meaning the company wasn't compensated enough for this national scheme (which has now been bureacratically modified to restrict eligibility). In earlier centuries, most of the premature deaths from disease were due to childhood illnesses (hence the drive for large families); the occupant of a bathchair was just as likely to be a child with TB or polio or a hundred other then-incurable diseases. Similarly, the adults who came here for health reasons were probably not old people as we think of them today, as life expectancy was short if you fell ill in pre-pencillin days. For instance, the artist Aubrey Beardsley, to whom there is a plaque just off the Square commemorating his stay here, was only 25 when he died of TB. (Dr Andrew Norman's recent bicentenary book on the town's founding as a spa explains nobody then knew TB was contagious, and was certainly no respecter of age.)
Since the bucket-n-spade heyday, Bournemouth has more of a balanced, mixed economy, becoming a financial centre etc, and even tourism itself developed a new mainstay. One type of tourist the town successfully specialised in was the language-school student, here to learn basic English. Gerald Durrell once wrote a short story on how he returned to Bournemouth in the 1960s to find it starting to change with the presence of foreign students. Since then, certain Councillors' attempts to block Continental style pavement cafes (on the grounds young women in short skirts would cause traffic accidents) have also passed into history. While you can't do a foreign-language degree here (Bmth U dismantled their language department as unprofitable), the town's foreign-student language school sector has brought in millions from students here to learn English. Unfortunately, this market is now in decline due to a zealous new ad hoc Whitehall agency which sees these schools as hotbeds of illegal immigration and terrorism (they've even closed down state-run language schools without warning). Their new regulations state visa applicants must already know English to a GCSE level to apply, thus cleverly destroying the market's raison d'etre. (One can surmise MI5 complained they had too many 'potential terrorist' targets to realistically keep an eye on, and this was the answer: restrict the market to a select few here to learn business English.) With the Council's last Big Idea, the notion the town can be a surfing centre, now exposed as one more wishful dream (the town is after all in a sheltered bay), it's necessary to think again.

A 19th-C. allegorical map of 'Bohemia' (home of artisan ethnic-European minorities), next to the 'Great Philistine Desert' - land of those more keen on commerce than culture. On this Pilgrim's-Progress style map (courtesy of Wikipedia), you can also see the Sea of Dreams, the Land Of Youth [in French, Pays de la Jeunesse], Licentia, Vanitas, and the City of Slums. The question is, where does Bournemouth - often called a cultural desert - want to be located in the future? (The Council's proposed sell-off of cultural assets like the Winter Gardens prompted composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to say that such cultural vandalism made him ashamed to be British, and the town was in danger of becoming a “desert of materialistic Philistinism.”)

Last month [31-Mr-10], the Editor-at-Large of Country Life magazine, Clive Aslet, wrote an op-ed piece for the Telegraph subtitled 'Art And Education Are The Keys To A Renaissance For Our Coastal Towns'. He argued the key to urban regeneration is not the route taken by Blackpool, who were given £40 million in regeneration funding by gov't and decided to spend it on 'attracting big-name "brands" like Madame Tussauds and Legoland'. Instead, Aslet cites the example of Folkestone, whose Old Town is now being redeveloped with private funding into a an artist's colony, on the premise that 'arty types create a buzz, which attracts would-be arty, and definitely better-off, individuals from the professions. Middle-class money and commitment then transform the area to which they have come.' This is a phenomenon well known in North America since the 1980s: a rundown downtown area is redeveloped, with old warehouses bought up cheaply and renovated as artists' studios, architects' offices and the like, accompanied by a new swathe of fashionable eateries and clubs. And it's not a brand new idea for English seaside regeneration, with precedents elsewhere. A 2008 Telegraph article, "Greetings from the new British seaside," listed examples:

In Tracey Emin's home town of Margate, Kent - which she once described as "Britain's tragic Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard" - the Turner Contemporary art gallery will be the focus of regeneration, while nearby Folkestone has become a haven for artists thanks to the Creative Foundation funded by Roger de Haan, the billionaire founder of Saga. While Rick Stein's restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall, has been luring the smart set for years, Thomas Heatherwick's new surrealist East Beach Cafe is now having a similar effect on West Sussex's once down-at-heel Littlehampton. Meanwhile, Bexhill-on-Sea's De La Warr Pavilion has become the modernist jewel of the South Coast; Whitstable continues to bask in its reputation as Britain's chicest seaside town; and Lady Annabel Goldsmith has just bought a house for her six grandchildren in the once-unthinkable Bognor Regis. Even Morecambe - only recently described as "the most depressed place in Britain" - is getting in on the act, with its Art Deco masterpiece the Midland Hotel, once frequented by Noël Coward, Laurence Olivier and Coco Chanel, reopening next month after a £7 million refurbishment.

The article refers to the "ripple effect" of creating a cultural ambience, a suitable metaphor here for thinking beyond the dream of a 'surfer wave'.
At the same time, an op-ed piece by the managing director of the France Tourism Development Agency, argues, "You have to make a decision with tourism about the kind of clientele you want: either you attract people with money or people with tattoos. You cannot do both." (Times March 27-Mr-10, "Most French visitors would only visit British coastal towns by mistake") Something of this view was perhaps reflected by the Council when it presented its £330+m Bournemouth town-centre Master Vision [sic], its plan to "transform the town centre over 20 years, mostly through building on council land in partnership with a developer." The Echo's headline [2-Mr-10] was "Bournemouth shouldn't become like Blackpool." (This 'Master Vision' presumably supplants the £55m scheme, now defunct [Echo 12-Jan-10, "Ambitious £55 million Bournemouth scheme 'dead in the water' "] after a decade of planning, to build 17 restaurants and a new multiplex cinema on the NCP car park where the bus station once stood, in Exeter Rd.) There was also a proposal in 2008 for an “arts Czar” to cut through local bureacracy and help establish a ‘cultural quarter.’ [Echo 26-May-08, 'Cultural quarter' could boost town']
Of course, most of the money curently being spent on bringing visitors to Britain is being spent on the 2012 Olympics, which will also take place here as well as London, due to the marine events. (These will be held at Weymouth and Portland, with sailing training facilities also at Christchurch.) However the Olympics includes a component called the Cultural Olympiad. Nobody can use this as a label for their cultural event beyond the official IOC hierarchy (who are so zealous they've even trademarked the name of the year, and classed any use of these words by other Councils etc as "ambush marketing" supposedly actionable in court). Nevertheless, there is nothing to stop local cultural events from happening independently. In 2012, the town will be chock-a-block with visitors, including many journalists, and would be a good time to push for a more cultural profile. Any events-umbrella label must not refer to any trademarked Olympics keyword, but can be a "Fringe" in concept.
One initiative flourishing nationally is literary festivals (yes, I know, it's surprising - see this article for explanation). We already have a literary festival in Bournemouth [Oct 22-28, this year's theme being Freedom, Books & Imagination] and now we also have a Poole Literary Festival [Oct 29-31]. These do not compete, but are scheduled so one neatly dovetails in right behind the other, so any literary-minded visitors who might want to attend events at both can do so. And these are both hands-on events with workshop participation (not just sitting listening to famous author promote latest book), which will help develop new writers. Predictably, neither of these are listed in the Council's downloadable official 2010 events calendar 56pp PDF, which covers up to the end of October. The only items listed for the climactic final week of Bicentenary are a Girl Guides pledge-renewal meeting and a Hallowe'en event for kids. There is also an independent/ student film festival at the Pier Theatre on Saturday May 8th [postponed from 24 April], also not officially listed. The town's own official annual arts festival, which had a false start in the early 90s, is supposedly being relaunched this year [Echo 6-Nov-08, "Town's arts festival is set for comeback"] via a "newly-formed arts and culture board", the hope being to create "a nationally recognised festival" rivalling those in Brighton and Salisbury. No sign of it yet, but I suppose we can always hope.


IMAX Redux?
Bournemouth is in the national press again over the long-running IMAX debacle, which has been in the headlines for at least ten years now for one reason or another. Right after Council leaders rushed through a surprise vote to buy and largely demolish the Waterfront building as a view-obstructing seafront eyesore, IMAX leaseholders the US/Ireland based Sheridan Group announced they were re-opening it, perhaps as early as Easter, to exploit the new market demonstrated by James Cameron's Avatar, which is being shown at some theatres in 3-D IMAX.

A properly run IMAX presentation is indeed a sight to behold, and there were great hopes for the IMAX when it was announced in the late 90s. There was even talk it might show a local-interest film promoting the area's scenic and heritage attractions. In the event, this did not happen. (They even declined a local request to show the Jane Goodall IMAX wildlife documentary, which would've been local-interest - and hence locally promoted - as Dr G has a family home in Bmth and has links to the Bovington chimp sanctuary). It opened in 2002 after an unexplained 2-year delay. In Feb 2001, I did an item on it on the media-column page I wrote for a now-defunct community website, called Bournemouth In The Media, titled "IMAX Undead!":

Like a horror-film monster, the "monstrous" orphaned IMAX refuses to lie down and die but instead lies half-dead, awaiting its moment of resurrection. The Echo publishes a 7-part, week-long "investigation" of the whole sorry business, which turns out to be a review of its last 3 years of coverage -- implying the story is dead. No sooner did the Echo' "IMAX Factor" retrospective series begin than the Sheridan Group paid the Council the £50,000 they owed in rent arrears, indicating they still wanted to be involved. Now UCI Cinemas have expressed an interest in alternating IMAX films with "regular" films.

The UCI idea came to naught. Instead, the IMAX showed the usual mix of 2-D short films then available (science, nature, and travelogue-style featurettes), for about a year, then cut back its off-season programme, laid off most of the staff, and finally closed down for 'refurbishment' in spring 2005, promising to reopen, though refusing to say when. It never did, and eventually the expensive IMAX projectors were removed and returned to IMAX [a Canadian company]. It only ran a full regular programme for a year or so of its 10-year existence (and 150-year lease). Sheridan now say they proposed to the Council that the building be repurposed, as an indoor surf centre, with giant artificial waves for families to frolic in. (Bit of irony there for anyone following the disappointment of the expensive surf-reef project to create a 'surfing mecca' off Boscombe Pier.) After the cinema closed, there was a campaign not to reopen it, but to demolish it as an eyesore. It even won a national award as the ugliest building in England, which probably reflects more the hostility towards the way an abandoned site was blocking the sea view that previously existed coming down Bath Road hill. As we said at the time in SCM's 2005 year-end roundup post:

Voted the worst, and a candidate for demolition in the public interest, was Bournemouth’s Waterfront building. This contains the closed-down Sheridan IMAX cinema, now only open to suggestions as to future use as a venue – hotel, casino, swimming pool, ice rink? This depressing five-year saga had just ended predictably with news [Oct] of its being foreclosed by its leaseholders (for failing to re-open once again), when it featured on C4’s Demolition [Dec]. In this Saturday-night TV series polling the ugliest buildings in Britain, Janet Street-Porter was bussed in to gawk at it with horror at how it looms over the Pier approach, spoiling the view of the bay, which won it the title Worst Building In England.

The Council is now planning to compulsory-purchase it, saying Sheridan The Waterfront ex-IMAX buildingare just trying to up their CPO compensation price by suddenly announcing reopening it. (Sheridan have now said they will sell if the "price is right.") The Council are suggesting creating "a new facility which can accommodate leisure, arts, culture and entertainment attractions for the public to enjoy whatever the weather." (Sounds a bit like an arts centre, which some of us campaigned for, pre-IMAX; this is as ever unlikely to occur, but at least they're not talking casino, which is what some cynics have been saying it would always end up as.) To add to the fuss, apparently there's also to be an enquiry at the way Councillors were ambushed over the off-agenda rush vote, without any discussion allowed, on the decision to put up £7.5 m to buy and demolish the place (which seems to be owned for some reason by a Northern Ireland civil servants' pension fund, and contains a few other attractions run by other leaseholders).

The problem with the IMAX cinema's local presentations was they were largely non-IMAX, padded out with a tiresome lot of din and advertising tackiness, to make the shows over twice as long. First, to demo the enormous speaker system IMAX theatres require, there would be up to half an hour of rock music, playing to a near-empty cinema at over 100dB, as if the place was a dance club. When management realised nobody else was coming, they would send in a young staffer with a mike to do a standup spiel about the IMAX process, including demos highlighting one after another of its thunderous speakers, like a sort of sound test. Then there would be an interval, then some non-IMAX, poor-quality trailers and adverts. Finally, mercifully, the 70mm IMAX film itself would be shown, and one could almost forget the infuriating preamble - almost but not quite. The actual films would run under an hour, often closer to half an hour, then you were back out on the street to the accompaniment of more hard-rock music blaring away.The actual programme of films was not well advertised either, so you hard to search to find out when the film was being changed, and for what. The process was evidently regarded as more important than the choice of film, some of the films being shown being quote old (I saw one there actually made in the 80s.) I've seen IMAX films in various venues since the 80s, and no other IMAX presentations I've sat through have been as annoying as this. And despite Sheridan's suggestion the local IMAX was simply 5 years ahead of its time, and that it will have a new lease on life now 3-D features are here, 3-D IMAX itself is nothing new; I saw it showcased at Expo 86. It was in fact the local cinema's trouble setting up for 3-D projection that led to its final closure in 2005.

Cinerama -IMAX's predecessorWhat Sheridan was suggesting of course is that full-length CGI-enhanced drama features like Avatar will make the difference, allow an IMAX redux. But Avatar, though now a runaway hit, took at least $237 million and over a decade to complete, so the inevitable market followups will not be available for years. Also, the booking fees are obviously going to be a lot higher than for standard IMAX fare (documentary featurettes or potted versions of features like Apollo 13), so ticket prices will be well up. While a longer running time means there is no need for padding the programme lengthwise, cinemas in Britain (unlike in North America) insist on adverts, promos and ice-cream intervals as an essential source of revenue, and have them even with a 2-hour plus film. (Avatar is 165 mins, which will make for a very long evening if it gets here.) None of the IMAX films I've seen over several decades were preceded by a nearly an hour of non-IMAX assaults on the senses. The result elsewhere was that people would pay over and over to see this same IMAX film, which would run for weeks or even months, in the manner of the 70mm Cinerama films that were IMAX's predecessor. (These, like mainstream-cinema 'roadshow' presentations, came with an overture, an interval with entr'acte music, and exit 'playout' music all by the film's composer - and nothing else). With the Bournemouth IMAX's loud and tacky add-ons for padding, nobody I met would ever go back, no matter what the film.


See The Pulp Film Adaptation, Read the Better Book Dept: The new BBC HD screen version of The Day of the Triffids shown over New Year's and just out on DVD has marginal local interest in itself (it abandons most of the novel's local settings), but it does draw attention to the more thoughtful novel. John Wyndham's 1951 classic has not dated as badly as some Cold War era SF novels, and on screen easily takes on a contemporary day-after-tomorrow setting. Due to its influence, a whole cycle of novels and films have followed in its wake where after some eco-cataclysm (asteroid, flu pandemic etc) a small band of survivors (sound familiar?) struggle with different approaches to basic societal organisation. (There's even a sequel done after Wyndham's death, The Night Of The Triffids by Simon Clark.) The new 2 x90 min high-def screen version is said to be the 8th BBC production of the story if you include 4 radio versions - though I only know of one previous BBC TV adaptation, a 6 x 30 min one (164 mins on DVD) in 1981 [fan page here] which had klutzy pre-CGI special effects, but was a more faithful, less melodramatic adaptation. There was also a 1962 feature-film version famous among SF buffs as a botched, incomplete adaptation. (It ran out of money halfway and a new lighthouse sequence tacked on to an hour's footage already shot in France.) It seems as much inspired by Wells's War Of The Worlds as Wyndham's novel, the triffids made almost the size of Wells's Martian 'tripods.'

In the novel, the Earth passes through the tail of a comet [perhaps triggering the release of gamma rays from new satellite weapons], blinding almost everyone. The country is soon overrun by ambulatory, carnivorous and poisonous 3-legged jungle plants called triffids which had been bred and genetically improved to help cope with the postwar food shortage (the novel was written when food rationing was still on). The narrator Bill, a triffid expert, escapes a plague-ridden London for a commune near Devizes, and then heads down to the coast at Beaminster, crossing over to the Sussex Downs in pursuit of Jo, whom he met in London, their family group finally escaping to join a colony on a triffid-free Isle of Wight when a new regional military government appears.

The current HD film version, scripted by LA-based British writer Patrick Harbinson ('ER' etc), keeps the idea of Wight as a final safe refuge, but much of the rest is changed. For a start, there's no plague or disease - no doubt as it would seem to be ripping off BBC's Survivors, rather than vice versa. Here, the triffids are being farmed for their oil, which is somehow saving the world from global warming, and are set free by an animal rights activist. The sBBC HD screen version of The Day of the Triffidscript adds a Scottish father-son conflict revolving around repeated flashbacks of the mother being killed by triffids in the jungle; it turns heroine Jo into an unwitting collaborator, and turns the women's commune into a sinister religious setup [shot at Winchester's Holy Cross abbey] complete with human sacrifice.

It creates an overarching villain [Eddie Izzard], a psychopathic ne'er-do-well who takes over No 10, even though there's a functioning remnant of govt. Unblinded due to the fact his baseball cap shielded him from the deadly cosmic gamma rays [!], he survives his airliner crashing onto London by wrapping himself in lifevests. Stealing a shop-dummy tailor's blazer, he adopts a new identity (like 'Sawyer' in Lost), and bcomes head of a paramilitary gang that takes over London. When that falls apart, he somehow turns up with his henchmen at Bill and Jo's remote fortified farm (just walks in), threatening to shoot them unless they can work out how to kill the tens of thousands of triffids, by the next morning. Luckily, Bill has learned that the triffids are intelligent and respond to calls that can be mimicked (like the raptors in JP-III), and all ends happily.
There doesn't seem to be a film tiein paperback new edition of the novel, but it is widely reprinted, being part of the SW public libraries' 2004 Great Reading Adventure which used the 2001 Penguin Modern Classics edition, which was reissued in 2008.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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