Film London Uncategorized

The irresistible thrill of a live event.

After the paralysis of the past 18 months things are opening up again, and how good it feels. Last night I went to an event in Alexandra Palace in which Quentin Tarantino was interviewed about his novelisation of the film ‘Once upon a time in Hollywood’. My son treated me – a benefit of having adult children is that they keep you up to speed on popular culture. This was a self-selecting audience of hard-core fans already primed for excitement. I have not heard a roar of cheers and whistles like that since Rufus Wainwright burst on the stage at Carnegie Hall 2016 wearing his Judy Garland outfit.

Tarantino was brilliant of course, testing the crowd for receptiveness to the F word (we were fine) and feeding in expletives in a very judicious way. I didn’t know novelisation was a thing, but apparently it is and there were quite a few geeks in the crowd. The craic was electric. and once more I was reminded that this kind of interaction is only possible in a live event, and part of the excitement is that it is unique, irrepeatable and shared. Tarantino made this point himself about moviegoing before Amazon and Netflix.

As brilliant as technology is, it can never create alchemy in this way. The opera singer Katia Ricciarelli used to the word ‘Sternstund’ to describe moments in which singers transcended the usual performance to create a magical memory that people discussed for years afterwards. There is no algorithm for that, but if there were, part of it would be the willingness of the audience to engage until the very last curtain call. Leaving early for the last train destroys the catharsis.

London Transport

The Knowledge


In the seventies here was a television play by Jack Rosenthal called “The Knowledge”. The title referred to the notoriously difficult exam which London cabbies have to pass before they can get their green badge. It consists of memorizing the grid-less expanse of streets and premises, and takes years of study to obtain. But much more than memory is required. Once the mental cartography  of the city has been stored, it needs to be combined with an ear for breaking traffic news and passing local events, to which the cabbie will then apply his problem-solving skills, in real time, in order to select the quickest route  A complex activity, as demonstrated by a UCL study which found that the hippocampus of a London cabbie is larger than the rest of the population. Testers will enjoy developing a construct for that exam.

I recently got chatting with a driver from Paddington to Waterloo and asked whether satnavs hadn’t rendered the exam obsolete. Not really, he said, conceding that while technology is a wonderful thing, it cannot deal with the contextual knowledge required to survive London’s streets on a day to day basis.  This will be of some comfort to those who fear being replaced by machines