CD and DVD Copying to Be Legal in the UK on June 1; Finally

As crazy as it sounds, it’s been illegal in the UK to rip CDs and DVDs. New copyright regulations which take effect on June 1, now make this legal:

Personal copies for private use

3. (1) After section 28A(4) insert——

“28B Personal copies for private use

(1) The making of a copy of a work, other than a computer program, by an individual does not infringe copyright in the work provided that the copy—

(a)is a copy of—
(i)the individual’s own copy of the work, or
(ii)a personal copy of the work made by the individual,
(b)is made for the individual’s private use, and
(c)is made for ends which are neither directly nor indirectly commercial.


(5) In subsection (1)(b) “private use” includes private use facilitated by the making of a copy—

(a)as a back up copy,
(b)for the purposes of format-shifting, or
(c)for the purposes of storage, including in an electronic storage area accessed by means of the internet or similar means which is accessible only by the individual (and the person responsible for the storage area).

Finally. I won’t be breaking the law when I rip my CDs and DVDs.

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DVD Review: Twelfth Night by Shakespeare’s Globe

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Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, which dates from the fecund year of 1601, just after Hamlet, is one of the bard’s plays about confusion. A pair of twins is separated in a shipwreck. One, a woman, dresses as a man, and the two are reunited at the end of the play. But between the separation and reunion, much happens, all having to do with wooing and love.

The idea of separated twins is something Shakespeare used in the early Comedy of Errors. In that play, the twins were separated at birth. And the woman dressing as a man was essential in As You Like It, which Shakespeare wrote just a year or two earlier, where Rosalind had to hide her femininity during her travels in the Forest of Arden.

The Elizabethan stage did not allow women on stage, so any time there was cross-dressing, it created double ambiguity: a man playing a woman dressed as a man; the audience certainly understood that two-pronged change. In this production – described as an Original Practices performance – the Globe Theatre company performs Twelfth Night with all men, bringing back the way gender was treated in the early 17th century. Johnny Flynn plays Viola (also known as Cesario, creating yet another layer of dissimulation), Mark Rylance is Olivia, and Paul Chahidi plays Maria, Olivia’s maid.

The play begins with Viola’s explanation for why she dresses as a man. She hear’s of Orsino’s love for Olivia, and realizes that, if she were disguised as a man, she might serve as matchmaker, and “might not be delivered to the world.”

The rest of the play revolves around the confusion that arises when Viola falls in love with Orsino, and when, as courier to Olivia sending messages of Orsino’s love for the latter, Olivia becomes smitten with Viola. A side plot involves Malvolio, who has the beguine for Olivia. Maria, Olivia’s maid, together with two comic characters, Sir Toby Belch (a Falstaff-like character) and Sir Andrew, are involved in a ploy to trick Malvolio and make him think he is loved.

In the end, Viola’s brother Sebastian returns, and there is confusion with Olivia who marries Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, then sees Viola who knows nothing of the marriage. But all ends well, as the two loving couples unite.

This is a lively production, with wonderful comic timing, with entrances and exits making scenes segue with no interruption. The Globe’s approach to have almost no sets – other than the occasional table or bench – makes the stage very fluid, and the actors all bubble with humor throughout.

The performance revolves around Mark Rylance’s Olivia, who has a strong stage presence throughout. Rylance plays a role that is subtle and powerful, yet I had a bit of difficulty suspending belief. Olivia should be fairly young, yet Rylance is in his 50s. The voice he uses – a slight falsetto – makes him sound like an elderly woman. While his acting is nearly perfect from a textbook point of view, I just didn’t find his characterization believable enough.

Nevertheless, there are certain points in the play when Rylance’s Olivia achieves perfection. Certain gestures, glances, and stuttering words give the character a life that no soliloquy could equal. The look on Olivia’s face when he suggests that Malvolio – clearly a trifle mad – go to bed, and the latter replies, “To bed! ay, sweet-heart, and I’ll come to thee,” is memorable.


Steven Fry (Malvolio) and Mark Rylance (Olivia).

As for Malvolio, Steven Fry gives a powerful performance of this somewhat gauche man who is full of himself, then thinks himself loved by Olivia. The scene in the garden where Malvolio reads the forged letter from Olivia – really written by Maria – is a masterpiece, as Fry falls into the character with ease and grace.

The rest of the cast is very good, if not excellent. While I found Johnny Flynn unconvincing as Viola, I thought Colin Hurley, as Sir Toby Belch, and Roger Lloyd Pack, as Sir Andrew Aguecheck were a wonderful comic duo.

This is a boisterous performance, and, aside from my reservations about Rylance, is delightful and effective. This production is currently on Broadway; the DVD here is a film of a production at the Globe Theatre in London from September, 2012. If you can’t see it live, then this DVD – with a slightly different cast from the Broadway production – is the next best thing. The DVD is not yet available in the US, but if you order it from Amazon UK, it is in NTSC format, and has no region code, and is therefore compatible with US DVD players.

Read a review of the current Broadway production in the New York Review of Books.

Here’s an excerpt from the DVD:

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the Great Existentialist Science Fiction Film

It’d been years since I had seen Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s excellent science fiction film, and I watched it last night. For a science fiction movie, Stalker is certainly an oddity. Released in 1979, loosely based on the short novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and directed by Tarkovsky, the masterful Russian director who lived too short a life, it tells the tale of a part of Russia that has been visited by an odd event. It may have been a meteorite that fell, or it may have been an alien visitation. But the event created the Zone, a dangerous area which was cordoned off by the police, and where few could go.

A Stalker – a sort of guide who takes people through the traps in the Zone – meets up with two men who want to visit the Room, a place where wishes come true. One is a Professor, a man of reason, and the other a writer, a man of inspiration. The Stalker is a man of belief. Very little happens in the movie, which lasts more than 2 1/2 hours, except for their trip to the Room, and their discovery of what they want from it.

Stalker is science fiction only in its premise; there are no aliens, no magic, nothing that would be noticed as science fiction. It is a slow movie; very little happens, and some of the shots are several minutes long. It’s a science fiction movie as it would have been written by Samuel Beckett. Yet it’s a brilliant existential examination of the desires of men and women.

At first, the film begins in sepia-toned black-and-white, but once the three characters reach the Zone, the film changes to color. Just as Oz was in color, so was the Zone. The Zone is located outside an industrialized city, and is full of the detritus of modernity. Yet Tarkovsky films these banal, cast-off items with the plastic beauty that he showed in all his films. Some of the shots are breathtakingly haunting, yet there is nothing special in them.

In a prescient shot, near the end of the movie, the Stalker can be seen returning to his home with his wife and daughter, and, across the river, a nuclear power plant is seen. The Zone could be the area surrounding Chernobyl. There is no devastation, simply signs of nature taking over some human artefacts.

Read more

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Stream Any Video from a Mac to an Apple TV

One of the most interesting features of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is AirPlay Mirroring. You can stream what is displayed on your Mac to an Apple TV (and, presumably, other devices will support this in the future). This is very useful if you want to watch videos in formats that iTunes doesn’t support, such as MKVs. The process is quite simple. Here’s how it works:

  1. From the AirPlay Mirroring icon in the menu bar, choose your Apple TV. This icon displays if you’ve checked the appropriate option in the Display pane of System Preferences.

  2. Start playing the video you want to watch on your Mac. This could be video on a web site – even Flash video – or files played with a video player such as VLC.
  3. Sit down in front of your TV and start watching.

At this point, you can sit back and watch your video. The only thing to be aware of is that if you want to pause the video, you need to do so on the Mac; the Apple TV remote won’t do this. If you have another remote, you can pair it to your Mac, so if you plan to use this feature often you can easily pause and restart videos.

I’ve found this to be quite useful. Every day at lunch, I watch the previous day’s episode of the Daily Show from their web site. I used to watch it on my laptop, but now I can pipe it into my TV, which is much more comfortable.

So if you have videos you’d like to watch on your TV, and you have an Apple TV, AirPlay Mirroring will let you watch any video that you can play on your Mac.

Note: AirPlay mirroring works with the following Macs:

iMac (Mid 2011 or newer)
Mac mini (Mid 2011 or newer)
MacBook Air (Mid 2011 or newer)
MacBook Pro (Early 2011 or newer)

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iWant: A “Music Videos” Library in iTunes

iTunes’ library contains a number of sub-libraries for the different files it contains: there’s Music, Movies, TV Shows, Books, and others. (There are also libraries for non-media content, such as apps, and ringtones, which are only meant to be used on an iPhone.) But one thing that’s missing is a Music Videos library. Music videos get mixed in with your Music library, under the genre, artist and album (if any) they are tagged with.

You can set any type of content to reside in a specific library. For audio content, you can choose Music, Podcast, iTunes U, Audiobook or Voice Memo. For video, you can choose Music Video, Movie, TV Show, Podcast or iTunes U. You can do this for any track by selecting it, pressing Command-I (or Control-I on Windows), then clicking on the Options tab. Choose the library where you want to store the file from the Media Kind menu.

I can understand the idea behind having music videos mixed in with music; they are often part of an album, or if they are pop songs, most iTunes users probably want to play them when they’re listening to music. But it would make more sense if they were in their own library, especially if you have a lot of them.

I have a number of music DVDs that I have ripped, along with some music videos that I’ve gotten with iTunes Store purchases, and I have them as Movies, because it’s just more logical. But they’re not movies; they may actually be TV shows (technically), or simply videos of concerts, operas or other performances. I put many of them as TV Shows, because they have multiple discs, such as the Barenboim on Beethoven set in the screen shot below. Organizing this with each disc as its own movie wouldn’t make sense. The same would be the case for, say, a long opera that is on two discs, or the Grateful Dead’s Closing of Winterland, which is on three discs.

I would like to see a Music Videos library, and give users the options, somewhere in iTunes’ preferences, to either store music videos there or in their Music library. For those who have a lot of videos, it makes sense.

(Note: you can create a Music Videos genre if you wish, and still keep these files in your Music library. Instead of being sorted with the albums they come from, or the artists on them, they’d be in their own genre and easier to spot. But having a separate library is still one step easier.)

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DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Daniel Barenboim Plays the Complete Beethoven Sonatas

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Classical DVDs and Blu-Rays come in several varieties. There are the filmed concerts, now commonplace, which are created to provide content to the few “arts” TV channels around the world, then sold on disc to music fans. Some of these are operas, and some are just films of orchestras, ensembles or soloists performing in concert halls. There are also the, now less common, films of artists playing in grand rooms and halls in chateaus or other stately buildings.

What do we really expect from them? They can’t replace the concert experience, no matter how good your DVD/Blu-Ray player and audio system. At best, just like CDs, they provide a record of a performance, but in a way that documents a specific artist’s expressions and emotions. Many of them are simply films of concerts, with little advantage over audio-only versions. Operas are an exception, since there’s the staging and the costumes, and, in some cases, inventive camera-work that will get you much closer to the action than if you were in the audience – just as theatre broadcast to cinemas gives you a totally different view of a play than you would see from the cheap seats, or even the front row.

I’ve seen a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays, and I’ve been riveted by some, bored by others, and greatly surprised by a handful. I very much like the medium, because they let me approach music differently. However, there are only a handful of optical discs that I’ve watched more than a couple of times. A classical DVD or Blu-Ray needs to have something special to stay on the top of my pile.

There’s an intensely visual performance of Takemitsu’s From me flows what you call time which is entrancing and creatively staged. There’s a film of Purcell’s Fairy Queen which I spin every now and then. And there’s this luminous set of Beethoven’s piano sonatas performed by Daniel Barenboim in a series of recitals in Berlin in 2005. (The latter is also available on CD from Decca, as part of Barenboim’s recent “Beethoven for All” series.)

The latter are probably the films that I watch the most. Not only do I appreciate the subtly inventive camera work, but the performances are excellent. Each program – there are eight in all – provides a selection of the sonatas. Watching these films helped me gain a much deeper understanding of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and a better appreciation of Barenboim as an interpreter of them.

So, when I heard that EuroArts was releasing a “new” set of Daniel Barenboim performing these works, I was very excited. These were recorded in 1983 and 1984 in four different “palaces” and castles, showing Barenboim at what one might call his middle period. His first recording of the Beethoven sonatas on disc, in his mid-twenties, bore the impetuousness of youth. His later interpretations, such as the mid-1980s cycle for DG, show wisdom acquired through experience. These films are from that period, and catch Barenboim at a stage where he had been playing these works for decades. His performances here are polished and refined, though lacking the sparkle of the 2005 live recordings. Barenboim is generally expressionless as he performs, and, while he gets a bit animated at times, his face betrays very little.

The filming is unadventurous. Edits are conservative, there are lots of long shots, and not many showing Barenboim’s dazzling finger-work. There is much attention to the surroundings; the buildings are merely the setting for the music, however, and shouldn’t be more than that. There are some very long static shots, which are very different from today’s MTV-influenced videos.

This leads me back to the original question: what does one expect from a film like this? It’s got great music – more than 11 hours of it -, an excellent performer, and is a visual record of that performer in his element. But he’s really in a studio – albeit a grandiose one – without the spontaneity of the stage, and in many ways it’s similar to a film of someone in a recording studio. No one will watch 11+ hours of Beethoven, or even the 200 minutes or more on each disc (Blu-Ray), in a single sitting. Unlike CDs, which have the convenient length of about an hour, optical discs require more of a time commitment. You can dip into them at any point to hear a favorite sonata but then you will end up not hearing them all.

Technically, this is another of EuroArts’ Recorded Excellence releases, where the company has scanned old 35mm footage to bring it to today’s audiences. The restoration is as good as possible. Compared to something filmed in HD today, it’s lacking; there’s grain and blur, lighting issues and color saturation problems, but they don’t distract from the performances. The images are judiciously cropped from 4:3 to 16:9, and you don’t really notice the difference. (I have the Blu-Ray version of this set; it is also available on DVD.)

In the end, if you’re a fan of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and especially of Daniel Barenboim’s performances, you’ll want to own this, as there aren’t many complete sets on film. I prefer the live recitals because they are more spontaneous, and because each one is a programmatic selection of three or four sonatas, rather than them being in number order. If you’re not familiar with Barenboim’s recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, I strongly recommend you give these a listen – on film or CD. This is a fine document of one of the best performers of Beethoven on piano. In a field with a lot of competition, I find his recordings to be among my favorites. Maybe you will too.

This review was originally published on MusicWeb International.

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DVD Review: A Late Quartet

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A string quartet, considered by some to be the optimal ensemble in classical music, is a delicate balancing act. Four people work together, closely, for years, rehearsing, traveling and performing. Some of the best string quartets last for decades, but undoubtedly at the price of many compromises. Unlike an orchestra, where there are a large number of musicians and a leader – the conductor – the string quartet’s size makes the interpersonal relations much more intense.

In this poignant film, we see the Fugue Quartet after 25 years of performing together reach a moment of crisis. The cellist, played by Christopher Walken, has a health problem and decides to retire. This brings up a number of conflicts among the four musicians, who are closely knit in many ways. Second violin (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is married to viola (Catherine Keener), there is conflict between first violin (Mark Ivanir) and second violin, and there are a number of subtle links among the musicians, and the daughter of second violin and viola.

The title of this movie is a play on words. It’s about a “late” – deceased – quartet, or more precisely one on the brink of death, but it’s also about one of Beethoven’s late quartets, the op. 131 quartet, which serves as a leitmotif throughout the film. The choice of the name of the quartet, the Fugue Quartet, is also apt: the story itself proceeds like a fugue, with the various threads of love and conflict among the group are subtly woven together until a finale which ties together many threads in a brilliant resolution. This is a very moving film, though it requires a bit of patience as the different “voices” of the fugue are exposed then developed, before the story harmonizes. But it’s well worth sticking with if as the relationships among these characters become more clear.

The acting is excellent, and the direction subtle and understated. Christopher Walken shows extreme restraint throughout, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener are excellent as the married couple living and working together. Mark Ivanir, an actor I was not familiar with, plays an inflexible musician, who learns, in the end, that he, too, needs to give a bit to allow the ensemble to continue.

A beautiful film, with a subtle story, that is memorable and moving.

For an excellent recording of Beethoven’s late quartets, this set by the Takacs Quartet is an excellent choice. And Vikram Seth’s novel An Equal Music also looks at the relations in a string quartet.

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DVD Review: Les Misérables (French mini-series)

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This 4-part, 6-hour TV adaptation of Les Misérables has a lot going for it. First of all, the length; it’s the longest adaptation of the novel (arguably the greatest French novel of the 19th century, and one of the longest). It has a large cast, with some excellent actors. Unfortunately, it’s filmed in the typically bland style of French TV, and the direction is nothing more than workmanlike. When I first started watching this, I was almost tempted to give up after 15 minutes. But it got better over time. (I had similar thoughts when watching a recent mini-series based on Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu by the same director, also made for TV.)

Gérard Depardieu plays Jean Valjean, and, for me, he doesn’t quite fit the part. He’s too big, too brash to have the subtlety the character needs. On the other hand, John Malkovich is an excellent Javert, though his dispassionate portrayal of the character can be seen as a bit too distant. Christian Clavier is Thénardier, and seems a bit out of place. A comic actor, generally in simple comedies, his persona doesn’t quite fit. However, Virginie Ledoyen is nearly perfect as Cosette, with her innocence and fetching smiles.

But the main problem here is that everything is too clean, too heroic and idealized. Hugo did not write a novel where everyone is washed and shaved; he wrote about “les misérables,” the downtrodded, the poor. These are people who suffer, not people with clean shirts all the time. In this adaptation, everything is just a bit too perfect. (It’s totally different from the recent adaptation of the musical, which, for all its faults, does show the characters in squalor.)

The good points here are the length: at 6 hours, you do get much more of the story – and it is a complex story – than other versions. But the mediocre direction, so-so acting, and overall approach make it lose points. It’s worth watching if you’re a fan of the novel.

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