Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Perils of Certainty

We all like to feel secure, so people who act and speak with certainty about the future are compelling. Doctors who say with conviction that we will live longer if we eat more beetroot. That bananas can stave off Alzheimers (if we eat 20 a day). That spinach is a cancer-beating superfood. Or was it lettuce...

The UK property market was the same. Prices in 2009 would continue to fall said the experts. Except they went up.

I was researching some stuff about trends for the iPad and came up with an article called "The Apple iPhone Doomed to Failure" written just as the iPhone was launching. My favourite quote is the pithy signoff "Apple iPhone. Enjoy the limelight because it won't last long." Being wrong is OK, but the hubris here is on an impressive scale.

So what are we to make of the bullish statements around Flash, HTML5, iPads and slates in general, mobile form factors, app stores, WiMax and so on. Everyone seems so sure.

In the heritage sector we have to take a long view, and we have to do so knowing that every penny has been hard fought for and has to account for itself. So that increasingly means portability, open standards and interoperability. Want to reskin the app - no problem. Expose your data to some other museum with a bigger website - yup. Share the code or build on someone else's work - absolutely. Agility is a word I use a lot nowadays.

Don't be taken in by certainty.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Luttrell Psalter - the Movie

So the kind people at WAG Screen sent me through a copy of their film of the Luttrell Psalter in response to me blogging about it a few weeks ago.

I suppose I was expecting the standard documentary-style piece, with voiceover, pieces to camera, intercut with a couple of re-creations of medieval life. That's certainly a film they could have made, but instead they've made a deceptively simple 20 minute film recreating scenes from the Luttrell Psalter in an effort to transport us back 600 years. No plot, no narration, not many words at all.

As a result, if you just view the film, it's a very impressionistic experience. Oxen, breath steaming in the cold Lincolnshire air, haul a crude but familiar-looking plough across a field. A young boy vaults up a tree to steal some cherries, narrowly escaping a wrathful farmer. Chickens scratch around a farmyard. A wronged wife belabours her penitent husband with a stick. We're left to have our own opinions on how like these people we are and how unlike. How hard life must have been and how rewarding.

The film took 2 years to make, on a budget that wouldn't normally cover the costumes, and the makers traveled to the North West to film red squirrels, to Wales to find a medieval village, and to London to find a scriptorium. This truly was a labour of love, and it shows on the screen.

For those unfamiliar with the book, the interview with the ever-watchable Michelle Brown is required viewing, and helps relate the book to the film.

So as a piece of film-making, experimental archaeology, pedagogy and indeed art, the film is an unlikely success. I hope the team put a copy online soon and it gets the wider audience it deserves.