Archive: Film

Bobby Fischer Against the World cover

This year everyone has been talking about the Senna documentary, including me. But while praise for Senna has come from F1 fans and non-fans alike, I have been more impressed by another sport documentary from this year — Bobby Fischer Against the World.

Chess may seem like an unlikely game to take to the big screen. But chess comes alive in this riveting documentary about one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century.

The term ‘flawed genius’ may be an overused cliche, but if it applies to anyone surely it is Bobby Fischer. The film tells the story of how a variety of factors contributed to a great man’s decline.

The centrepiece of the film is the famous 1972 World Chess Championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. The individual American took on the might of the Soviet chess system, which had dominated world chess for a quarter of century. This Cold War face-off had as much political significance as chess significance, as is cleverly illustrated through the use of archive news footage.

But the chess itself is never forgotten. The significant moments of the match are explained in a very vivid and accessible manner. I would guess that little or no chess knowledge is required in order to enjoy this film. The world’s most popular board game doesn’t have a sexy image, but after watching this film you wonder why.

But what stays with you is the tale of Fischer’s decline. This is where this film excels over Senna. It is a painfully honest assessment of the downsides of Bobby Fischer’s character. In the Senna hagiography, the driver’s flaws are only ever briefly brought up, and even then it is only to sweep them straight under the carpet.

In contrast, Bobby Fischer Against the World in unafraid to shine the torchlight on the enigma of the world’s greatest chess player who managed to alienate everyone he knew. At times it is painful and embarrassing to watch as a successful man becomes a delusional, anti-American, antisemitic and all-round offensive man.

In doing so, the film paints a genuinely complete picture of one of the 20th century’s most significant figures in sport. Senna, in contrast, only skims the surface.

I recently learned about a Twitter account that campaigns against Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee’s excellent culture hub in the centre of the city.

Typical tweets include:

[blackbirdpie id=”124581248428548096″]

[blackbirdpie id=”124933453421617152″]

I went to see Friends with Benefits a few weeks ago, and it was pretty awful. The highlight is one funny joke about iPads in the middle. The rest is just mush. No harm in that of course. But the great thing is that I saw it in Dundee, at the Odeon, which is about a ten minute drive away from the DCA.

It’s funny because I was only just thinking about how extraordinarily well-served by cinemas Dundee is. I live about a 40 minute walk away from three cinemas. Two are “mainstream”, and the other is the DCA, which usually shows films that the others wouldn’t. The DCA shows some films that I really like. While the two mainstream ones may not be in the “town centre”, at least they are there.

Where I used to live, in Kirkcaldy, no such luck. There is the Adam Smith Theatre, which shows a small selection of films that were on general release six months ago. Besides that, you had to go to Dunfermline, a half hour drive away, then drive to the outskirts of that to get to the nearest cinema.

Off the top of my head, I think I have seen six films at the cinema this year. Three of them were at the DCA; the other three were at the Odeon (one of these films was also shown at the DCA). Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe I’m just a snob. But the three I saw at the DCA were by far and away the better three.

I understand the arguments against the public subsidy for the DCA. But the idea that, if the DCA wasn’t there, a multiplex Odeon would magically sprout up in the city centre, is a tad fanciful.

Cinemas are rare beasts these days. It’s no conspiracy. It’s because commercially it doesn’t add up the way it used to because of changes in society (for the positive) over the past few decades. With this in mind, I have felt lucky to live somewhere with as many as three cinemas nearby.

After moving to Dundee a year ago, the DCA quickly became one of my favourite things about the city and I celebrate its existence. The great thing is that, for those who do not like what is shown at the DCA, there are two other cinemas that are just a stone’s throw away (even if they are not in the “town centre”).

I would hate for the most unique cinema of the three to go.

Senna film poster

If you follow Formula 1 online, it has been absolutely impossible to avoid the hype. Films about Formula 1 do not get made often. It is highly unusual for so much footage to have been prised out of Bernie Ecclestone. When you factor in that the film is about Ayrton Senna, a driver who has reached an almost legendary status, it was inevitable that this film would attract a lot of attention.

Moreover, the film has been met with near (although not quite) universal approval. Seasoned film critics and those with no interest in motorsport have lapped it up enthusiastically.

So it has been a painful wait. I was delighted to learn that it was being shown at my local cinema, so I took the first opportunity to watch it.

I found the film truly engrossing and hugely emotional. The story of Senna’s career — or at least one version of it — is very well told. Some of the footage, particularly of drivers’ briefings and the like, is absolutely astonishing.

Alain Prost

The film’s treatment of Alain Prost has come under a lot of scrutiny. It is said that Prost is cast as the villain of the film. I was relieved that his treatment was not as bad as I had feared.

I actually felt that Prost comes across quite well in the film — though this may be for ideological reasons, and that I already understand the Prost–Senna rivalry. It is easy to see why, in a film that celebrates Senna’s approach, others may feel that Prost’s alternative approach to racing does not come across so well.

In fairness to the filmmakers, I think it does illustrate that the frosty tensions between Senna and Prost had thawed in the final months of Senna’s life. We see Senna embracing Prost on the podium at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix, Prost’s reaction to Senna’s fatal crash from the TF1 commentary box and Prost as a pallbearer at Senna’s funeral. A caption at the film’s climax also displays the fact that Prost is a trustee of the Ayrton Senna Foundation.

Important details skipped

However, I do feel that the film does not get across just how controversial Ayrton Senna was. The only time it is really tackled is in a relatively brief clip of Jackie Stewart’s famous interrogation of Senna’s dangerous driving.

I was also disappointed in how little of Senna’s career is actually covered. The film skips straight from karting into F1, then practically fast-forwards to the Prost–Senna rivalry, which is clearly the meat of the film. Thereafter, the 1992 and 1993 seasons get the briefest look in. In the process, the championship victories of Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost are belittled, particularly through the skilful vilification of the Williams car.

After the film had finished, I felt like only a handful of incidents had been covered. I was left feeling that only a superficial account of Senna’s career had been presented.

I can fully understand why this is so. There is a limit to what Bernie Ecclestone will allow. So the filmmakers are left with the quandry of how to sum up an amazing driver’s entire career in the time it takes to complete just one grand prix.

Authentically inauthentic

I also found myself being annoyed by tiny details that I felt detracted from the authenticity of the film. For instance, almost all of the source footage must have been shot in 4:3, but the film is in a different aspect ratio, meaning that all of the footage is cropped. When much of the footage is blurry enough as it is, this doesn’t help.

A significant proportion of the film also contains a blurred-out Globo DOG, with a new one superimposed on top of it (presumably to meet the requirements of the Brazilian broadcaster). Then there are the mock TV captions that crop up throughout the film.

These are small details, but I found them irritating me. To me, they detract from the cinematic mood.

When I read about the edits that have been made to some of the footage, particularly the sound, my eyebrows were raised. “They managed to change it, so it’s very authentic,” says Manish Pandey. It reminds me of a line from the Pulp song Bad Cover Version: “Electronically reprocessed to give a more lifelike effect.”

Intense and emotional

Having said that, the film is no less gripping as a result of all these niggles. I felt the grin across my face as I watched Senna’s awesome driving in the Toleman and the Lotus. The events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend are well-handled and emotional to watch.

However, here it does once again feel that certain events are rushed through. Rubens Barrichello and Roland Ratzenberger are both only briefly introduced before their crashes are shown. Not much time is reserved to dwell upon these events, even though Ratzenberger’s death was, for me, the most emotional part of the film to watch.

Summing up Senna

All-in-all, Senna is a brilliant, emotional film packed with extraorindary footage and with a well-constructed story. But the time constraint, and (let’s face it) the requirement to make a film that would be commercially successful, did leave me feeling as though only the tip of the iceberg was considered.

In fact, for me, the Top Gear feature from last year summed up exactly what Senna was all about in only 13 minutes. It outlines exactly what made Senna so different to other drivers, and was not afraid to investigate his controversial racing style while also underlining his parodoxical concern for safety.

The Senna film sets out to do something different. So in this respect I was slightly disappointed in the fact that the film is a celebration of Senna’s career, and not a thorough factual account of it. However, as a celebration of Senna’s career, it is difficult to imagine how this film could be improved, beyond being longer. I am eagerly anticipating the DVD release.

Over the past year or so, I have become a big participant in pub quizzes. Quite quickly, I gained a reputation among my friends for being reluctant to guess.

This is an issue for our pub quiz team, because we have a few major weak areas. Part of this is down to our youth. All of us are around 23 or 24, making us among the very youngest of the regulars. As such, we are disadvantaged when it comes to questions about decades before the 1990s. This quiz contains many ‘guess the year’ questions. We also have big gaps in our knowledge in films, television and sport.

As such, it is important for us to be able to guess. So I understand why my fellow team members might be frustrated when I begin to pick apart the guesses we do make.

But the notion that I don’t like guessing is not quite true. What I cannot abide is bad guesswork. This is because I have realised there is a real art to guessing.

Taking a complete stab in the dark won’t do. Questions themselves are full of clues, even if they have been neutrally written. You just need to sniff the clues out.

I often ask myself questions about the question. What makes this an interesting question? What makes it something worthy of a pub quiz? Is it something topical? Is the answer perhaps amusing or ironic?

Many are tempted just to put down any old answer, as it’s better than nothing. And that’s fair enough if you don’t have a better idea. But bland answers don’t make pub quiz questions.

A few weeks ago we were given the following question: “Who starred in a 1950s public information film saying, ‘take it easy driving; the life you save might be mine’?”

I have to admit I didn’t have the foggiest idea. But I started to ask questions about the question. Why is this question interesting? It won’t just be any old person, because bland answers generally don’t exist in pub quizzes. It might be an interesting answer if the person who appeared in a public information film about speeding went on to die in a car crash.

So then I moved on to thinking of famous people of the 1950s who have died in a car crash. One person immediately sprung to mind, and it seemed like the perfect answer: James Dean.

Later, when the answers were announced, our quizmaster — and the owner of the establishment — started chuckling as he read over the answer to this particular question. “If anyone gets this right, I’ll give them £100.” It was looking good for us — my suspicion that it had to be an ‘interesting’ answer seemed to be correct.

The answer was indeed James Dean, and we were the only team in the whole pub to get it right. Sadly, the landlord didn’t stay true to his promise, even when we suggested a donation to charity!

Here is the “public service announcement” in question (which, according to Wikipedia at least, isn’t actually a public service announcement at all):

For me, this was one of the highlights of my pub quiz career so far, for a variety of reasons. Due to the format of this particular round of the quiz, for our team this question was the most important of the 25. So it was ultra-satisfying to get it right.

The amazing thing is that I didn’t have a clue. I had never heard of this footage. I just read the question and sniffed the answer out.

It underlines the importance of good guesswork. Every other team in the pub took a stab in the dark. Perhaps if they had asked questions about the question, more of them would have got it.

Sadly, even excellent guesswork skills aren’t quite enough to fill in all the gaps in our knowledge. While a few times we have won the “bingo” round (which involves a heavy element of luck), we have yet to win a proper pub quiz round. We are getting closer though, and I am learning more about how to guess all the time.

Record labels and video distributors had been ticked off by consumers for charging high prices for quite a while. At first the labels got away with it though. This was because they actually added value to the product. They were the only ones who were able to actually deliver the product to consumers efficiently.

However, with the advent of the internet and explosion of file-sharing, they are no longer the only people who can deliver content. It’s even worse than that. They are now woefully inefficient at delivering content.

The big question staring the record companies in the face has been: why should people pay £10 or £20 to buy a CD or a DVD when they could download it for free? Their original answer to this question has been to criminalise the very fans whose custom they depend upon. At every turn, consumers of music are accused of stealing music and killing the record industry.

Not exactly the best way to build a loyal fanbase.

Since that approach didn’t work, the record labels reluctantly dipped their toe into the digital water. But even this was a complete disaster. They insisted on releasing music that was crippled by DRM. This shackled the music, yet again making the consumer feel like a criminal.

The worst instances of DRM prevent people from listening to music on different devices. A high-profile example is music purchased from the iTunes Music Store, which can’t be played on any device unless it was made by Apple. That is like buying a CD released by Sony BMG and only being allowed to play it on CD players manufactured by Sony. It is outrageous, and it is a wonder that the music industry ever felt that it was a sensible approach. Sadly, the most blinkered companies still release digital music in this way.

Incidentally, kudos should go to Warp Records, who recognised from the very start that its fans wouldn’t like to be treated as criminals. Its foray into the digital download world, Bleep, sells music at the highest quality the MP3 format can provide and entirely without DRM.

Some albums are even available as lossless (i.e. CD-quality) FLAC files. And you are allowed to preview the entire track before purchasing. Some albums also come with exclusive artwork, screensavers and so on. Furthermore, a (comparatively) huge cut of the profits goes to the artists, which is where fans like to see profits go.

Now hundreds of independent labels sell their music on the service. Bleep has been a huge success, having sold over a million downloads. The majors should have realised that this is how it should have been done from the start.

The problem facing the record industry remains. Their expertise was in distribution, but this advantage was removed by the internet. Their solutions don’t address the fundamental problem. Why should someone buy a digital download when they can get it for free from peer-to-peer networks?

The worst solutions were never going to work because they made the consumer feel like criminals. The better solutions — like Bleep — work to an extent because they tickle the fan’s tummy, making him feel good.

Regardless of what the record companies would like to think, the internet has greatly improved efficiency and has made consumers better off. Unless they really like pretty boxes, a choice between buying a CD for upwards of £10 or downloading the music for free is a no-brainer.

Sticking plaster solutions such as reducing the price of CDs or releasing DRM-infected MP3s were never going to do. And you can’t un-invent the internet. In their current state, record companies are a complete anachronism. An entirely new business model is needed in order for them to survive. It is the only way. For some of them, it may already be too late.

But I think there is an answer. And I think they are catching on to it. But I’ll write about that in my next post.

There is a really interesting post about intellectual property and the woes facing the entertainment industry by James Graham. Given that I have been meaning to write about this issue for a long time, I may as well use this as the opportunity to finally get round to it.

But first, a couple of notes on copyrights and patents. James Graham says:

Both global patent and copyright laws have been extended in recent decades. The original idea behind such laws appears to have been forgotten and pure greed has taken its place. Globalisation means that the earnings potential from a new idea has massively increased; yet at the same time we’ve artificially increased it further still, and long lives will extend this still further. To take one example, J.K. Rowling, a rich woman who can afford the very best in healthcare, is likely to have a very long life. Let’s assume she lives to 100, in 2065. The copyright on her books will stay with her estate until 2135. That means that her great-great-great grandchildren will still be profiting from their ancestor’s books. Is there really any justification for that?

I quite agree. The traditional justification for strong copyright laws is to encourage innovation. You come up with a great idea, and we’ll make sure nobody else can profit from it.

Sound enough at first. But how long should this monopoly last? Is “life plus 70 years” or even “life plus 50 years” justified? Is 50 years even justified? Hardly.

Copyright was big(ish) news in the UK last year when there was a push by artists such as Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney and Bono (where’s his “altruism” now?) to get copyright extended from 50 years. Coincidentally (or not), Cliff Richard’s and Paul McCartney’s most successful recordings are soon to enter the public domain.

And let us bear in mind that this was for copyright on the recordings. So the copyright extension would have meant artists earning even more money from something that they did once, over 50 years ago, regardless of whether or not they even wrote the song. If only the rest of us could earn so much money for so long from doing a job just once!

So do strong copyright laws encourage innovation? It is difficult to imagine that Cliff Richard entered the recording booth in 1958 thinking about the money he’d be making from it in 2007. He will have been most concerned about the money he’d make from it in 1958 and a few years after that. Nobody but the most egotistical and talented musicians would imagine raking it in for any longer than 50 years.

Having copyright lasting “only” 50 years didn’t stifle innovation in the 1950s and 1960s — the rock n roll and beat music booms happened regardless. And looking at the subsequent careers of these early innovators of pop music, it is difficult to argue that these strong copyright laws have done anything but stifle innovation. After all, why would you bother to make more great music if you are still making money from 50-year-old music?

That makes sense when you think about it. Copyright laws essentially ensure that an artist has a monopoly. And monopolies are detested because of their effects on social welfare.

Cliff Richard isn’t concerned about innovation. His only incentive is to get his grubby hands on even more money. What a relief that the government rejected the proposal in the end.

So what is the optimal length of copyright? A paper by Rufus Pollock suggests that it is approximately 15 years. A far cry from the life plus 70 years for some works, or the 95 years that Cliff Richard called for.

It is a similar story with patents. The justification for patents is more or less the same as that for copyright laws. But research (PDF) by James Bessen and Eric Maskin (who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) suggests that protection of intellectual property should be more “balanced”.

The ideal patent policy limits “knock-off” imitation, but allows developers who make similar, but potentially valuable complementary contributions.

Empirical evidence backs this up, as an extension of patent protection into the realm of software in the USA in the 1980s did not lead to an increase in innovation.

An interesting point about Rufus Pollock’s research is that he suggests that copyright laws should be weakened as the costs of production and reproduction decrease. And the past decade has seen a massive reduction in the costs of production due to advances in technology — particularly the internet.

And it is the entertainment industry’s complete inability to adapt to this reality that has left it in the mess it is currently in. That will be the subject of my next post in the series.

I hope you all managed to have a good Christmas. I have to say, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed Christmas so much.

In recent years I have enjoyed it just as a nice day off with a big meal. But beyond that I didn’t enjoy them much more than a normal day of leisure. So maybe I’d watch my new DVDs, but I would probably spend a great deal of the day on the internet anyway.

Perhaps it is because I have had such a tough year (not emotionally tough, but physically and mentally). Maybe it was because last year my brother wasn’t here, but it was probably mostly because I have become older, jaded and cynical.

Of course, when you’re young, Christmas is probably the most exciting part of the year. All those presents! Unfortunately as you get older this wears off. One day you find that you have the responsibility to give presents as well, with all the shopping hell that entails. And soon enough you might be earning enough to buy pretty much all of the luxuries you want.

For that reason, I always tell my parents to try and surprise me. They still want me to write them a list of what I want, but that is rubbish. Normally if I want stuff I can just buy them anyway. So I find myself not buying things just so that I can put them on my Christmas list. What a load of old bum. What is the point of knowing what you are getting anyway?

So I was quite pleased when my parents decided to buy me a poker set, which I completely didn’t expect. I didn’t even realise the big box was meant to be for me, so I just left it at first.

Apparently my father didn’t really want to get me it in case it encourages me to gamble. I think that’s a bit rich coming from someone who spends £2 on the lottery every week, but there you go! I doubt I’d ever gamble myself. I am pretty risk-averse and the odds are always stacked against you.

I have kind of hinted at getting a poker set before, but only as a sort of “ooh, wouldn’t that be amusing” kind of thing. I wasn’t dead serious about getting one. But I found myself getting quite excited about it, and we all played a game later in the evening.

I had never played a game of poker before, and I knew very little about it. All I knew was whatever I gleaned from watching Late Night Poker back in the day, which was very little. I only ever watched that because there was nothing else on, and I was mesmerised by the amazing under-the-table cameras.

My brother led us all by the hand, explaining the rules as we went along. My parents were knocked out quickly, and it was just the young’uns — me, my brother and his girlfriend — left. Time flew by really quickly. Before we realised it, three hours had passed and it was after midnight.

And in the end, I won my first ever game of poker! Muhahah!

And this evening, I won at Scrabble. This is in stark contrast to my record on Facebook Scrabble (won 2, lost 8). This winning streak is unusual, because normally I am just one big loser. I should ride the wave and carry these optimistic feelings with me into 2008. It’s a big year, so being optimistic is probably the only way I can get things done from now on, even though it goes against my instincts.

What else did I get for Christmas? Well, most of the other stuff was on my list. A few books to add to the ever-growing pile of books I haven’t yet got round to reading. Jackie Stewart’s autobiography (very hefty looking and thorough — unlike Lewis Hamilton, Jackie Stewart has lived a life), The Long Tail and Dead Children Playing.

My brother got me Dead Children Playing, although I had already bought it for myself and had got it wrapped up. Amusingly, I bought it partly as a backup for my brother in case I couldn’t find him anything better (eventually I got him this). That we both got it for each other is a sign that it was a good present, I think. We are keeping a copy each.

I also got a few DVDs — the F1 season review, 30 Century Man (a documentary about Scott Walker) and Taking Liberties (a documentary about Tony Blair riding roughshod over the constitution).

Taking Liberties I have just watched Taking Liberties and I can very much recommend it. It concisely documents what is happening to this country under the Labour government and why it matters. It demonstrates that this affects a wide range of people and includes interviews from critics of the government across the political spectrum, from all of the major parties. If you don’t recognise the loss of freedoms that is happening in this country, you should watch this film and you will soon enough understand.

The film looks as though it’s only half of the story as well, because taking a look at the list of DVD extras, there is lots more to get through.

Back to normal tomorrow I think. I decided — two days off: Christmas Day and Boxing Day. But deadlines loom. Back to writing essays and dissertations tomorrow. :(

In my previous post I wondered if Nick Clegg would do much to enthuse me. Well, in my view he’s got off to a good start.

He revealed on the radio that he doesn’t believe in God. What’s more, he seems to have a thoroughly sensible, tolerant approach to the whole religion issue.

What a refreshing thing to hear from a politician. It does often seem as though atheism or even agnosticism is one of the worst things a politician can be associated with among some circles. Tony Blair even seemed to think it was a liability to be the wrong type of Christian. C of E while PM, since resigning he has mysteriously become a Roman Catholic.

Paul Linford, for instance has said that Clegg’s non-belief is “certainly concerning for me as a Christian” (via Bob Piper). Never mind the millions of non-Christians in this country who have never seen a non-Christian PM! I wonder if he ever found Margaret Thatcher’s sex as concerning for him as a male.

In this supposedly tolerant society, I sometimes think we’d sooner see a three-legged Prime Minister than a non-church-goer — never mind a black or openly gay PM. I wonder how many leaders of the major parties historically have publicly stated that they don’t believe in God. I assume Nick Clegg must be among the first. Full credit to him for speaking the truth.

The second thing that has impressed me is the fact that he has enlisted Brian Eno to “reach out beyond the London beltway”. In particular, Eno is to advise the Lib Dems on how to appeal to young people.

This is good in two senses. Firstly, appealing to young people is good. One of the biggest crimes in the country today is to be a yoof, as you can see with the vilification of the hoodie, a convenient item of clothing.

Appealing to young people is a typical politician’s cliché. But this comes across to me as quite a serious attempt. Brian Eno is not some greasy pole-climbing politician looking to get good headlines in the Daily Mail.

The second sense in which is this good is… Brian Eno, man!

Brian Eno is 59, which has led some people to wonder if he is really the right person to appeal to youth. I’m 21, which is pretty young, although I guess I am not like most yoofs. But I think Brian Eno is great. The person who (as legend has it) invented ambient music has got to be awesome, right?

He has created some of the greatest pieces of music of the past thirty or forty years. A lot of young people respect this. I know I certainly do. Okay, there are various U2-related crimes, but that’s a tough gig. I mean, talk about polishing a turd!

Brian Eno should be respected for actually engaging his brain (one). He is the only pop musician I can think of who doesn’t just dribble out ignorance every time he opines about a topic other than music. In a world teeming with preening pricks like Bob Geldof and Bono, Brian Eno is a real breath of fresh air.

And, unlike Bob Geldof’s sojourn with the Conservatives (presumably David Cameron has some really nice biscuits and a good belly-rubbing technique), Eno’s association with the Lib Dems is principled. Remember Eno’s website from a couple of years back, Lib Dem This Time (rather broken-looking now)? Eno is also a long-standing supporter of electoral reform.

One other thing, and it’s related to what I said yesterday. It looks as though Nick Clegg has raised a few eyebrows by saying that he hasn’t heard of ‘Fairytale of New York’ and by citing a non-existent album (‘Changes’ by David Bowie) as his favourite.

It does seem a bit odd. But what if the poor guy just doesn’t like pop music? I have written before that I don’t understand why we expect politicians to know these things. Sure, most people keep tabs on pop music. But we are all different, and we all have different interests. Maybe Clegg’s “gaffes” are just down to the fact that he doesn’t waste time on trivia.

I’m glad I have ruled out becoming a politician in the future. If I did, I would no doubt be asked what my favourite film was. I’d have to answer, “I dunno, I don’t really watch films,” because I don’t really watch films. Then I’d be crucified by a media (and society?) that wants mine to be a mirror image of the median voter’s leisure tastes.

I was beginning to lose my faith in Sigur Rós a bit. Takk… was a pretty good album, but lacked the oceanic beauty of Ágætis Byrjun, the novelty of ( ) and the experimentation of Von and Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do. The most recent EP, Sæglópur, contained the most boring output I have ever heard Sigur Rós release.

Hvarf cover So I was not expecting too much from their latest release, Hvarf / Heim, a double CD. The Hvarf CD contains “new electric recordings”, although really it seems to be old leftover songs that never made it to an album.

‘Salka’ is nothing particularly special. ‘Í Gær’, meanwhile, sounds like it was specifically designed to be used on any television programmes that want to evoke a kind of creepy, wintery feel. That tuned percussion provides plenty of ammunition for those who have bemoan the use of same Sigur Rós songs on television over and over again. (‘Í Gær’ is the music used in the Heima trailer which I have embedded at the bottom of this post.)

However, it is good to see ‘Hjómalind’ (what used to be called ‘Rokklagið’) finally getting a proper release. But why not ‘Fönklagið’? It might not fit in with their current image, but I still think it’s a great, fun song.

The reworked version of ‘Von’ is also a pleasant listen. The new version of ‘Hafsól’ is fantastic as well, although was previously released as the B-side to ‘Hoppípolla’ so is not really anything new.

Heim cover Heim meanwhile is a disc of live acoustic recordings of classic Sigur Rós songs. The songs are inevitably a little bit stripped back and raw. Some of the performances were recorded in outdoor locations. In ‘Heysátan’ in particular you can hear the birds enjoying the performance.

Despite the stripped back nature of the album, long time collaborators Amiina perform alongside Sigur Rós, meaning that the band’s grand sound remains in some songs. After all, ‘Starálfur’ would be nothing without the string quartet.

But the best song on the disc is performed by Sigur Rós alone. ‘Ágætis Byrjun’ has long been my favourite song by the band, so it was always going to be a stand out for me on Heim. The original version is largely acoustic anyway, but there are still a couple of subtle differences. The piano almost takes its rightful place at the forefront.

Part of what I love about this song is the fact that most of it sounds beautiful, but dissonant notes briefly appear just after the climax of each chorus. I wonder why? “An all right (but not perfect) beginning” perhaps. Whatever, these bits stand out a lot more in this live version than on the album version, and it sends a shiver down my spine.

Heima cover But the best part of the tripartite alliterative Sigur Rós bonanza that hit the shops this month is the DVD of the film, Heima. It follows Sigur Rós touring Iceland, playing a series of free concerts in a diverse variety of locations.

Conventional concerts are documented. My favourite moment of these is at the start, where the band are performing ‘Sé Lest’. At the appropriate moment, a local brass band unexpectedly emerges from backstage to perform the brass part. But the moment is fleeting as the band walks between the members of Sigur Rós, climbs off the stage, makes its way through the audience members and out of the door.

As well as conventional concerts, the band also performs in some stranger places, such as an abandoned fish factory (where lead singer Jón Þór Birgisson and Amiina perform in a giant fish-oil tank, creating a peculiar audio resonance). The band also played a protest concert, performed without using any electricity, where a dam was being built at Snæfell.

The Icelandic tourism board must be cock-a-hoop. The film follows Sigur Rós, but it focuses as much on the scenery as it does on the band. The whole film has a beautiful visual style because of this. Heima will probably do more to advertise Iceland as a potential tourist location than anything else.

The film also follows Sigur Rós visiting some locations for pleasure. The best of these features is about Páll Stefánsson, who makes percussion instruments out of natural materials. The film shows Stefánsson tirelessly testing stones, checking the tone each makes, so that he can build a stone marimba. Sigur Rós later perform an improvisation on the makeshift instrument.

I was a bit apprehensive about buying the Heima DVD. I can never resist buying the limited edition if there is one, and this one cost £25. But with two discs (the second disc contains two hours worth of full performances of each song featured in the main film, spanning all four of their albums) and lush packaging, it feels worth it.

In fact, the artwork and packaging is a strong point of Heima and Hvarf / Heim. Both feature nostalgic-looking, treated photographs. They have been deliberately aged, with colours bleeding. It is similar to what Boards of Canada do, but I think the Sigur Rós artwork is even more evocative.

The limited edition DVD comes with a 116 page photo book. A lot of the photography is stunning — as good as the photography in the actual film. And, most importantly, the book itself smells wonderful (smell, I find, is one of the most important aspects of music packaging).

Now I find it incredible that I was actually reluctant or indifferent about buying these. I was becoming tired of Sigur Rós, but Hvarf / Heim and Heima have reminded me why I love the band so much. If you were swithering like me, I would advise you just to buy.

Cinema has had a good year. The Scotsman reports:

FUTURE-gazers claimed 20 years ago that it would be doomed by the arrival of the home video recorder.

And more recently they’ve been claiming that the internet is killing the entertainment industry. So how do they explain the following two paragraphs?

But figures released yesterday reveal that the cinema is set to enjoy a golden 2007 in the UK, with the largest number of visits to film theatres in 40 years.

The wettest summer on record and a slew of blockbuster sequels led to 50.8 million visits to UK cinemas between June and August.

This is despite the fact that people are supposedly killing cinema by downloading pirate films from the internet. This surely suggests that the entertainment industry has got it wrong when it points at the internet for its failings. This summer shows that the film industry should spend less time running scared of the internet, and more time simply giving people what they want.