Oliver Francis

Thoughts from the spaces in between


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Little grey cells

Last week I saw inside my brain.

I’d signed up for a research study on aging which involves various questionnaires, tests and scans. My replies, actions, charts and images become anonymised data; points for the researchers to plot and analyse so that what they see might perhaps become a tiny percentage of the beginning of an idea about how the brain ages and changes.

My data will become anonymous, but with this MRI scan you can still tell that this is me, even to the stubble of my beard and the shadows under my eyes. Great, even on an MRI l look tired. And I appear to be suppressing a smile – in fact just a squeeze of my cheeks caused by the plastic frame I wore to keep my head still. And then that strange wood-effect on my skin, as if by slicing me in half like that you could count the rings to tell my age. Continue reading


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Should have been a Bond theme

With Adele’s Skyfall out tomorrow [edit 5/10today], rather than looking back on Bond numbers of the past, I thought it would be a good moment for a personal top ten(ish) songs that would have made great James Bond themes. (Hat tip to @PaleDavid.) Continue reading


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The cars of Cuba

Cuba, especially Havana, wouldn’t be the same without its old American cars. When I visited in June this year I had expected just a few of these Yank Tanks to be knocking about, but in fact they’re everywhere. By my very crude reckoning, as many as one in four of Cuban cars on the road could date from before the revolution.

I’m not normally someone to get excited about a metal box on wheels, but there is something beguiling about these old beasts. Of all the ages of motoring to be frozen in time by geopolitics, this is surely the one you would pick, with its aggressive grilles, fat wheel arches and sleek tailfins. Continue reading


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Boyle, Blimp and Britishness

I could love a show like yours Danny.

So Danny Boyle’s tough task of having to describe and define Britishness to the world (or at least to itself) seems quickly to be turning into a sort of giant Rorschach test for the nation, with everyone drawing the meaning they want to see in it, or on some counts most did not want to see.

For all the people identifying Voldermort and Cruella de Vil as the Tories attacking the NHS, one commenter on a Guardian thread saw Mary Poppins’ intervention as the private sector saving the NHS from its own failures. And with the Romneyshambles fresh in our mind, it hard not to agree with the New York Times review that who felt it was  “most inspired by a scene from the movie Love Actually, in which Hugh Grant, playing the prime minister, explains [to his dislikeable American guest no less] that Britain is still a great nation because it is “the country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot.””

It was of course so much more than that: with its cavalcade of cultural references from the shipping forecast to Kes, Elgar to Brookside, it managed to be simultaneously traditional and progressive – even a little subversive.  It was flat out bonkers but also strangely moving. Continue reading


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All the good tunes

Unscientific thoughts on the strange demise of the iconic movie theme.

I’ve spent the last few days at a science conference for my day job, so I should know better than to cherry pick data to make a point. But all the same, here’s a shaky hypothesis to throw some objections at.

Film soundtrack composition has arguably never been stronger, more varied or imaginative.  Alexander Desplat, Dario Marianelli, John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Max Richter, David Arnold – just a few favourites at the top of their game. And although minimalist and moody sometimes tops melody – think The Hours or Inception –there’s still life in the hummable tune, from The Artist to the X-Men. (Sorry, couldn’t think of a recent film starting with Z.) But, and this is my proposition, after a golden age lasting from the 1950s to the late 1980s, the last couple of decades have seen the demise, or at least the significant diminishing, of the iconic theme tune. Continue reading