Train experience to Winchester

The journey begins. Coffee in hand (coconut latte from the local independent), heading off to Victoria station on an unusually sunny October Saturday morning. Lots of families with young children on the Victoria Line, probably looking for a green patch in… Green Park?

Arriving at Victoria Station was an easy affair. As I came out of the tube, the smell of bacon butties and pastries engulfed me, but alas, my priority was getting the ticket first. Coffee still in hand, I fumbled around with my purse, finally managing to dig out the email with the booking number. 
There was no queue at the self-service machine, but a massive queue of people with trolleys at the standard (traditional) ticket desks. Side stepping that, still fumbling in my bag, careful not to spill any coffee on myself, I made my way to a self-service ticket machine to be greeted by a message saying “please choose railcard type”. No railcard type here, so I pressed to start again and choose my prepaid tickets. 
I was a bit disconcerted by a message “please enter the card you used to pay for the ticket”. I did not have that card so I restarted my journey, thinking I might have missed something. A second attempt and I entered a card, not THE card, praying it would work. It did! They finally asked for my booking number and the tickets were swiftly printed. As soon as that was done I could hear the PA: “the 10:25 train to Horsham is departing from platform 11. First stop Clapham Junction”. Knowing I had to stop at Clapham Junction and change for the South Western Railway to Winchester I hurried. With only 5 min to spare I made my way to the platform and onto the train. It was the Southern line. Fairly clean and not too packed. Wi-Fi picked up almost immediately and good connection too.  Across the aisle, a French group were chattering deliciously about food, whilst eating bread rolls. My stomach grumbled as I realised I had skipped breakfast again. 
At Clapham junction I was met with a bit of a difficulty, which was promptly solved by good old Google who knows exactly what platform the train to Winchester was leaving for. Platform 9 (unfortunately not 9 and 3/4). And I have 10 min to spare. What Clapham junction lacks in terms of notice boards (either that or I didn’t look hard enough) makes up for in bagels and pasties. However, I had little time to deliberate and I chose a massive salted pretzel, which made me very thirsty indeed.
The train arrives with a gentle puff and the red upholstery of the seats which can be seen from outside gives it a posh appearance indeed.
As I take my seat (unallocated seating) I notice there are no charging sockets on this train. The trays are a bit small so I can only place my laptop on them. The coffee cup will have to sit on the tray belonging to the seat next to me. The Wi-Fi is a bit slow but at least it’s there. It’s taking me to the South Western Railway website which is a very colourful and animated experience.

I discover with a twang of disappointment that this seat makes it rather hard to do any work on it. The trays are definitely not designed for any laptops or work to be done on them, as the laptop keeps sliding off. But I don’t like to complain too much. The train carriage is very quiet and pleasant. A young lady is enjoying her yoghurt granola breakfast across the aisle, while on the seat behind her, a man in his 60s is doing the crossword puzzle. There’s no chatting among friends (yet) as this carriage is mostly filled with lone travellers. So far. This works for me as I managed to fill the empty seat next to me with my belongings. 

the Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough for me to upload my lovely pictures onto captureme, but I will make another attempt shortly. As we arrive in Farnborough, attempt at decency prompts me to clear the empty seat next to me. 

The train carriage is a bit livelier now, with 3 blokes having some breakfast beer (Kronenbourg) a few seats in front of me. Place has got a bit chattier but around me, the same quiet people are reading the paper and doing the crossword puzzle. we’ve left Fleet and are approaching Basingstoke. Outside my window things are getting greener by the minute. This pleases me. I spy some beautiful cows basking in the sunshine and I smile. It’s the little things. 

A lady with a food cart came by at Basingstoke. Alas, my coffee had finished and snobbery didn’t allow me to follow it up with the instant coffee served on the train. I was also disappointed they didn’t have Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. After Basingstoke, the next stop Winchester. This has been a short and pleasurable train journey. the end destination is Poole and I am half tempted to stay on and visit this city. my eyes had lingered on the name on the map a couple of times. it will have to wait till next time though.

Winchester, we have arrived.  Papier mâché pumpkins greet me from a window with a smile. The journey took 2 min less than expected. The 11:49 train to Poole arrived at 11:47. Winchester is sunny and friendly and I’m looking forward to vising the City Mill and the cathedral.

Bohemian Rhapsody – glorious yet shallow flattery

Anyone with a true passion for film would say that a great film stays with you long after you’ve seen it. In one way or the other. By that token I consider Bohemian Rhapsody a great film. However, it is not a great film from a cinematic, or even storytelling point of view. There are a few carefully chosen angles and camera pans that did make me stop and admire its cinematography.  It is a well executed film, but one would struggle to find more than two truly memorable scenes which would resonate with both film lovers and fans of the band alike.

What the film does well is preserve the legend of Freddie Mercury, and there’s no doubt as to why that is. Brian May and Roger Taylor made sure that everyone attached to the project played it safe and showed respect to the source material. This might not have been the best idea. I couldn’t help wonder what the film would have been like if it had been directed by a true fan of the band and of Freddie. True fans would accept the darkness with the light, champion it and stylise it. That light does shine through in this production,or part of it. It cannot be kept away, for Freddie’s light shone very bright indeed, a force as great as rock music itself. Fortunately for us viewers, Rami Malek managed to capture a glimpse of that light and show it to the world. It left us wanting more. It left me wanting to discover more about Freddie’s extraordinary talent and his controversial life. Hence, weeks after having seen the film, it is still with me. I find myself wanting to watch it again, to see if any hints, innuendos or references to the musical genius might have been missed. On first viewing one feels they are shown a show reel, a best of of a best of. It is an ordinary presentation of an  extraordinary rock’n roll band. We all know from the very beginning that the story and more importantly the music was anything but ordinary. We are still waiting for the goosebumps we know good cinema undoubtely give.

What the film failed to capture, whilst busying itself with being as PG and PC as possible, was both the essence of the band’s musical legacy and the complexity of Freddie Mercury’s tumoultuous life. We can’t tell for sure which film Bryan Singer would have ended up making, had he finished the production. Fans of both the band and cinema itself would want either one of those, not both crammed up into one, without doing justice to either. The source material is too vast, too sagaesque both in terms of music and the private lives of the musicians to be made into one film. As someone who has now researched their music extensively, it is my belief that Bohemian Rhapsody only manages to show a glimpse of the kaleidoscopic narrative that is represented by the two titanic entities: Queen and Freddie Mercury.

Inner revolution

When the mortal remains of our immortal gods are no more
Who’s going to sing our generation’s pains?
When the fight isn’t done, about to be undone
Whose chant can we turn into the hymn of struggle?
When the summer of love is just a memory of a distant memory,
are we ready to love again?
When change needs yet another change
where are our poets with voices of angels and disguised as scary monsters?
When our cheeks are burning red from the slaps history has given
We’re waiting for new prophets and davids to slay the blind goliaths of hate.

Music, Technology and Lifestyle

We have arrived to an era where if one states that they’re “computer illiterate” means they’re just “illiterate” and that they’re having great difficulty with coping with the world around them. There have been a few isolated voices crying that the internet is ruining people’s lives, preventing them from communicating properly with the real world. With the advent of the smartphone, the tablet and the mobile internet, people have come to enjoy their real social life and their virtual one at the same time.  And it doesn’t stop there.

An event that I witnessed a couple of days ago made me think of this BBC documentary: Synth Britannia . About 35-40 years ago there came a new type of music and it took time for the critics to accept it as a “valid type of music”. Then, as now, it started with mixing the new technology, the synth, with the oldest and most valued type of music, the classical music, as heard in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

The concert I attended was a replica of the same experiment, only with tablets instead of synths. The concert started with a DJ performing at his table. He had the typical gear a DJ would have on his desk, with the addition of two tablets where he had sounds looped in, which he would manipulate whichever way he pleased during his DJ set.

The most impressive part was however the classical music performance, which made me think of the influence classical music still has on modern music and how fast music as an art is evolving, now with the help of technology. The act consisted of a male baritone voice, an oboe, a violin and a cello. As each of the performers played their instrument, the DJ, while still on the stage, began mixing and modifying live the sounds emitted by the instruments and the singer’s voice respectively. The only tools that he was using were the two tablets he had played with before, in his DJ set. We, the audience, know this because a camera was tactfully placed behind the desk, the images captured being projected on a big screen at the back of the stage.

This was a cutting edge experiment with an impressive result. It is all the more interesting if we think that the end result sounded like a classical music concert which had been recorded, then submitted to hours of processing in a specialized sound recording laboratory. It all sounded like an instantly remixed version of a classical piece, which of course was the DJ’s intention. Technical innovation is making its presence felt in the music industry, making lives easier to musicians worldwide and giving them more tools to create original music.

Advertising and SEO

It is easy to presume for everyone nowadays that they know the first thing about advertising. After so many years of being invaded by publicity everywhere we turn, we know the sales pitch, we can see a mile away what the product is about and whether or not it satisfies our needs. Since everything has more or less been done or said before the customer is now educated and therefore very hard to impress and surprise. And thanks to Mad Men, the customer has now a bit of background information about the business of advertising as well.

Adverts are history. Nobody watches an advert and says “hey, I really wonder if that product is what I’m looking for!” anymore. Sure, ads are still part of a selling campaign, but the tactic has begun to change. It’s no longer about the art of presenting a new product to the market, it’s about who is supporting that product. Big brands like Virgin, Gillette, Volkswagen and many others have asked the help of celebrities to advertise for their brand in order to push their sales forward. People nowadays are too distracted by their own busy life to stop to look at an ad and reflect on it. If they want something they would simply go online and look for what they want.

Big brands have begun to tailor their ads to fit in with the modern man. Google has been for a few years now the go-to place to find everything one needs. Like a town’s elderly, what Google says goes. As a result, business owners need to get their website, which advertises for their business, ranking as high as possible in the Google result pages. And that’s not all. To get that high ranking, a website has to have an impeccable content describing the business, advertising for it and offering information to the potential customer at the same time. Google gets the customer through the door, the website itself has to convince the customer to buy the product.

If anything, building a business website is making a sales pitch that doesn’t look like a sales pitch. And this sales pitch has to convince the google search engines first and foremost. They are operated by algorithms that process information in a very mathematical, yet secretive way. SEO experts are still trying to identify the exact factors that get one website to rank higher than another. They advise website content writers to think about the customers reading their content, and not about the crawlers that process the information in order to rank it on Google.

Target audience is always one to bear in mind when writing content for a website. Just like writing for an ad, only thinking at a larger scale. Content editing and web usability are all part of the SEO strategy of advertising. Online advertising has become much more popular than our traditional commercial viewing while watching TV. People nowadays spend much more time in front of their computers than watching TV, therefore businesses need to change their medium and tactic in order to have success and gain more customers.

Just like an ad on TV that prevents one from changing the channel, the website has to be appealing enough at first sight in order to prevent the web user from surfing away from the page. The website has to mirror the same values as the product the business is trying to sell. It has to have an appealing layout, it needs to be easy to browse through, be informative and focus on one thing, a page at a time. By offering the web user a good experience while visiting one’s website, one can be sure that the user will visit again that page and more often than not, become a regular customer, recommending the business to other people as well.

Its name is Words. Keywords

For those who want to have a successful business on the internet, managing keywords is one of the most important things of SEO. Looking back to the beginnings of the internet age, Google search engines were not as complex as today. The algorithms were clearer and simpler and it was easier to know how to get to the top of the search results: use the keywords relating to your business as much as possible.

The algorithms have evolved and now the search engines, the crawlers, have become much more sophisticated. They are looking at more than just finding the same keywords a hundred times in a 600 word content on a page. Keywords are still very important but the context in which those keywords are being used has become part of the search algorithms as well. Not only that, but the way in which keywords are used is not to be disregarded by content writers. Search engines are able to identify words that are synonyms with the established keywords on the page and will rank well pages that use a wider range of well chosen words describing a service.

For the better use of keywords on the page, Google has created the AdWords tool. It helps businesses to learn which keywords  and keyword combinations are looked for the most by potential customers. Thus they know what combination of words they should use on their page to go up in the search result hierarchy.

Let’s take a practical example. Using Google Adwords, someone who is in the business of selling phone insurance can check what are the most popular searches, what are the average monthly searches on those particular keywords on a 12 month period and even the average cost per click, which helps create an advertising plans for one’s business.

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The Keyword tool by Google AdWords is showing in even more detail the habits of web users and acts as an inspiration of writers. Using the same example of the “phone insurance” keyword search, one can discover multiple combinations of words and improve on their website content. For instance, many web users are looking for “cheap phone insurance”, “mobile phone insurance” and most often than not they specify the type of phone they are looking insurance for. This gives writers ideas on how to mix up their keywords with their content for great Google search engine rankings.

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Keywords are not the only factor that one has to take into account in order to have a successful business online and rank well on Google search engines. A website creator has to consider other things such as content, design, meta descriptions, links and their anchor text. These are of course made up of carefully chosen words, which should be derived from the main keywords on the page. Links from well established websites are useful in supporting a page by directing its customers to it. Social media is a very useful and important tool used to advertise one’s job and to get as many websites to link to their page. Social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn to name a few, are helpful in creating contacts and generating these supportive links.

Google algorithms are only known by Google operators. SEO experts can only guess how information on the web page is fed to the Google search engines, but continuous research is made on the subject, just as continuous updates and improvements are made on anything that has to do with technology every day. This leads to continuously improved SEO strategies of online marketing and to strongly built websites.


Sound in Sunrise – a song of two humans

The most exciting moment is the moment when I add the sound… At this moment, I tremble.” (Akira Kurosawa) Sound is arguably the most important concept in cinema studies, being there ever since the beginnings. It can radically change the way a motion picture is looked at and it can render what the director may sometimes find hard to depict using only his camera. Looking upon silent cinema one discovers an era which wasn’t at all silent, but rich in sound of different forms, from the simple narration of the images shown on screen, accompanied by a piano, to the complex score later composed specifically for that film. An example of that complex score is shown in Sunrise, a film by F.W. Murnau, which lies at the border between silent cinema and sound cinema. Considered to be one of the first films with an actual score, Sunrise is a great example of the multitude of dimensions and effects sound can have.

tumblr_m6iclhK9U91qcs276o1_500Certain aspects of sound are essential in creating the right atmosphere for a film. According to Bordwell and Thomson there are fundamental perceptual properties of film sound such as loudness, pitch and timbre. When referring to loudness, the volume of a certain atmosphere can be manipulated to achieve a certain effect. Using Murnau’s Sunrise as an example, one can understand these concepts better. For instance in the scene where the husband realizes that his plan is in danger of being revealed because he’s left the bunch of bulrushes in plain sight, the music played gets suddenly louder and changes rhythm, revealing to the viewer some of the inner tormentof the character who’s burdened by guilt as he’s decided to murder his wife. Loudness comes to play a very important role as it allows the filmmaker to explore and analyze the story and characters in depth.

One can understand how using or choosing to ignore external atmospheric sounds from the environment can have a great effect on the viewer by looking at two scenes in Sunrise, which are both set on the back of the city traffic. The scene where the wife runs from her husband and finds herself in the city, crossing the roads and almost getting run over is dominated not by the sound of the traffic, but by the sound of her visible pain and suffering knowing her husband had plans of killing her. Later in the picture there is a similar scene where the characters are involved in a traffic jam, but this time the music played is a happier, more romantic one and is toned down by the sound of the actual traffic and the voices of angry drivers shouting at the happy couple, telling them to move out of the way. This second time the sound of the traffic and the people shouting is important to the story, bringing the characters back to reality from the dreamy atmosphere following their reconciliation. In this traffic scene, one can notice the loudness and also the high pitch sound of the angry drivers, car horns and startled horses, all very effectively illustrating the chaos created by the two characters.

Pitch is another very important aspect of the sound analysis. Like Bordwell and Thomson point out “pitch plays a useful role in helping us pick out distinct sounds in a film”. In Sunrise, other than the traffic scenes we’ve just mentioned, there are a few examples of high-pitch sounds, like the one when the husband returns home at dawn with the bunch of bulrushes and goes into the barn. The horse startles and scares the husband. The sound heard resembles a metallic object being hit, perhaps a bucket and it stands out to illustrate the high level of tension and guilt experienced by the character.This guilt is represented furthermore in the story by the high-pitch sound of the church bell, which tolls at key scenes in the film, particularly when the husband is about to kill his wife. In the church scene, the bell rings again, perhaps to put an end to the man’s torment and sense of guilt, since his wife has forgiven him.

0000214513Towards the end, when the boat has capsized and the man is calling out his wife, we can hear a sound like a foghorn, crying out in desperation.

Though one can identify three types of sound in cinema (speech, music and noise), in a silent film like Sunrise, there can be no speech analysis. Therefore music and noise remain the main types which the sound analysis can be based on. Music is used throughout the film to help create the right atmosphere around the characters, defining them. Since the characters have no voice of their own, the music provides the element that better defines them, thus creating a musical theme for each character. In Sunrise, when the husband returns home at dawn, while sitting on the bed, the music that plays is the same that is heard whenever the woman from the city is seen onscreen, but in a different dynamic, slower tempo, signifying his lover’s presence, but not as strong (rememorized by the man). Moments later, that same theme song is played and the shadow of the woman appears embracing the man,sunrise3

as if casting a spell on him. This theme resembles very much the Longing theme from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Another theme song is the one accompanying the image of the man tortured by guilt. The double bass and the bassoon are distinct in this theme song, producing a low pitch sound and adding dramatic tension to the scene. This particular theme is associated with the image of the man walking through the marches towards the place where he meets his lover. It is a gloomy image, dominated by fog and mud and the music played doubles the effect of the image shown.

Rhythm is, according to Bordwell and Thomson “one of the most powerful aspects of sound, for it works on our bodies at deep level. That means that the “pulse” of a particular scene, its nature, if it’s a dramatic scene, an action scene, a comical scene, is dictatedthrough rhythm. Pace or tempo is also important to deliver the desired effect for the audience. In Sunrise for example, when the man and his wife go on the boat and the dog escapes and starts swimming towards them, we can hear an alert rhythm that distinguishes itself from the slow music from before. Another moment worthy of being mentioned is the one when the wife runs from the boat through the woods, trying to escape her husband. Her pain and fear are both well-expressed in the fast-paced dramatic music dominated by violins. Also in the scene at the photograph, the rhythm is a playful one, becoming fast-paced at intervals, to create a relaxed atmosphere. In other scenes the rhythm changes suddenly from slow-paced to fast-paced to achieve almost a comical effect, such as in the pig chase scene. In silent films, dialogue represented by title cards, is replaced by music or sound in general, which would render more or less the same effect. “Sound effects are usually central to action sequences, while music can dominate dance scenes, transitional sequences, or emotion-laden moments without dialogue” (Bordwell & Thomson, 2008:269). It is well-known that Murnau hated title cards and in Sunrise one can notice that they are used very rarely and towards the end disappear almost completely. To make up for the lack of dialogue, sound is manipulated, so that sudden changes or alternations in the musical rhythm or musical theme arise. For example when the husband tells his wife to go on a trip across the water the musical theme that dominates the scene is that of the man’s guilt, which alternates briefly with a playful song when the wife says goodbye to the baby. What’s also interesting in this scene is that the guilt theme is played throughout, even when the wife runs happily to get ready for the trip.0010aecb_medium_jpeg

This causes a disparity between the sound and the image, which is most effective suggesting therefore that the feeling which dominates the scene is not that of a happy couple going for a trip across the water, but that of guilt of the man planning to kill his wife.

Sound has many achievements under its name, be it in silent films or otherwise and without the development of sound, the development of cinema would not have been possible. Sunrise encapsulates many of the technologies still used nowadays, when looking at the noise and music in a film. One can say it has opened the path for developing the use of high pitch sounds that have an enormous effect when placed in contrast with a silent scene, but filled with tension. The score was well comprised and edited accordingly. The theme songs are well-chosen and filled with subtlety, defining each character, their emotions and inner struggles. It is important to take into account the time when this piece of cinema was released and judge according to those criteria and also to note that the main aspects of sound (loudness, pitch, timbre) were well-represented and effectively played with. 

Beauty manufactured?

It is impossible to watch a silent movie and not be in awe of those silent screen actresses with perfect make-up, perfect hair and perfect attitude towards the camera. They did have faces back then, but they had something much more than that. They had everything else hidden from their audience. They were merely an apparition on the screen and one could not know what was there behind the performance of the actor.


Take Theda Bara for instance. Unfortunately most of her films have been lost, but this only adds to the mystery surrounding her persona. She was two different people: Theda Bara, born in the Sahara under strange circumstances, possessing supernatural powers, and Theodosia Burr Goodman, born in Ohio, from a Cincinnati tailor. Known as “the vamp”  for her roles as a  beautiful temptress, she was probably the first femme fatale in the history of cinema. Many say there has never been anyone like her on the silver screen and they wouldn’t be wrong; given the few films of hers remaining, it is very hard to argue with this statement.

This was a time where film viewers found it hard to distinguish between the actor and the character on screen, so Theda Bara, and many other actors at the time, was identified with the characters she was portraying. As a consequence, she was viewed as a villain and disliked, and actresses like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish were seen as “America’s sweethearts”.

These were the very first movie stars and even if they may have not been much different from the ordinary people, they were hailed as gods and goddesses because their faces could bring many emotions to the audience, they could transport them outside their own world and into their make-believe one.