Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Oban at Night. Seaport Colours and McCaig's Tower. Bioshock. The Real Elizabeth?

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
After our visit to Luing and Easdale in the last post we ended up in Oban. It was just getting dark when we arrived in this busy sea port town and I completely forgot how beautiful it is at night. Time has a habit of slipping away from you and it's many years and another lifetime ago since I used to wander around here on a regular basis. Elizabeth Taylor was still a major film star then in the late 1970s and her films were always on television, not so much now. I had a memorable outing with "Sarah" back then one evening, traversing right round the horseshoe of small semi wooded hills in the dark that Oban sprawls over, almost by touch at times as torches would attract too much attention, and the highlights of that evening came flashing right back to me now. I was determined to capture the very best of Oban at night. Great adventures don't have to be extreme ordeals all the time. Not for me anyway.
This particular hill, seen here above the ferry terminal, can be climbed at night for the views as there is a path and a twisting road up it. This and the hill the ruins of the Hydro sit on plus McCaigs Tower, which is lit up at night, are my three favourites. The views are truly beautiful from the summits, day or night. When you are with other people however, Alex and John in this instance, life has to be a compromise. They wanted food, which is why we were here, and would not entertain wandering round unlit hill tops in the dark. It was hard enough trying to keep track of their movements when we left the car in the long stay car park near the large Tesco, as I was trying to keep an eye on them but take night time photographs at the same time, which required stopping for each shot.
Alex had read about this particular take away shop which specializes in fresh seafood products. With an endorsement from Rick Stein, a famous TV chef with his own sea food restaurants in Cornwall and Australia we were keen to try it out and the prices were reasonable. I wasn't that hungry so just had a bag of chips, which proved to be good but not as tasty as the ones I had in Keswick, from The Old Keswickian, which were the best I've ever tasted though my Cumberland Sausage from that same shop was not as good as the Little Chippy in Penrith. Best Cumberlands I've tasted are the LC ones to my personal taste. Having said that all three chip shops were excellent and I'd happily frequent any of them again. Sometimes, it's also a matter of mood, how hungry you are, expectations, and company.
I for one was a bit pissed off as I now had a bag of chips to eat, I was still trying to take good night time photos of Oban and once free of the chip shop my walk happy companions were mobile again and not waiting for me to catch up. Luckily, I managed to keep them in sight as Oban was jumping with people and traffic. As the crowds increased, and young children appeared in growing numbers waving multi coloured plastic light sabers the penny finally dropped that this wasn't a normal night.
It was the turning on of the Christmas Lights in Oban and folk had come from miles away to see it.
This photo gives you some idea of the crowds. No doubt folk from some of the islands and outlying villages made a pilgrimage here too for the children as thousands lined the main street. A big event in the highlands.
Not expecting this at all we watched slightly bemused as a full pipe band marched down the street  followed by Santa, his elf, and his reindeer pulling a sled.
A surreal night.
One of McCaig's tower on the hill, which rises above the seaport like a crown. Great views from up here.
A white stretch limo and various other oddities ended the parade and I could get back to capturing the town lights.
Another view of Oban.
The Mull ferry coming in.
The harbour.
Town Lights Panorama.

I mentioned Elizabeth Taylor for a reason. A while ago I posted a tribute clip of Bioshock Infinite, a computer game that is easily the equal of most major films for artwork, story-line and epic scale. I've no interest in playing the game itself but the elaborate back story really intrigued me. It was such a well developed plot, world, and character that I thought it must have been inspired by someone real. Elizabeth? Could it really be as easy as that? Elizabeth Taylor in her prime was often regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world and the last of the great screen goddesses from old style Hollywood.
It intrigued me that both Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us, two very successful modern games of the last few years which have won many awards had a distinct retro nostalgic feel. No computers, no mobile phones, limited old style technology in both. Probably a big reason why I liked them. Ellie in The Last of Us is very obviously Ellen Page down to her mannerisms and speech patterns but could Elizabeth be based on a real actress as well?
I like things that have hidden depths and meanings so this caught my attention. Taylor and other child stars under the old studio system were strictly controlled as bankable commodities and their every move was monitored closely. They were educated on set and rarely allowed off it while filming, which was most of the time. Although cosseted and pampered at times it was a type of prison and could be brutal. Taylor broke her foot during Lassie come Home and her back during National Velvet, falling from a horse, but continued filming.  I'm not a particular fan but having watched all the classics years ago The A.I. character not only looks like Elizabeth Taylor (or possibly Vivien Leigh) but many facts from her own private life dovetail very neatly into the Bioshock back story. Too many to be mere coincidence? "Songbird" could easily fit the tight control the studio had over its young stars. Her own childhood had a strong religious element to it and many other similarities that match  perfectly.

Another good but different tribute clip from the last one with many to choose from as this game really seems to have captured peoples affections online. I'm not into crosswords so this is more up my street. A visual mystery to be solved. A daughter given away as a baby to someone else pretending to be her parents who raise her? Another coincidence? Anyway, it may be just conjecture and may be of little interest to anyone else but myself but I think Bioshock Infinite is both a homage to old Hollywood and an interesting tribute to Elizabeth Taylor who died as it was being created. Ironically, Hollywood films themselves are in real danger these days from the plethora of other entertainment available, including games and the growth of an independent made for TV film industry. To a younger audience Taylor may be just a name of an old actress past her best with numerous health problems but if it is partly inspired by her its a worthy glimpse into her career and larger than life personality as a young, spirited and at times feisty women, partly trapped and sometimes manipulated by the system that made her famous. Like so many, once fame happened, goodbye childhood. She also appeared in The Bluebird, (of Happiness) another film, and another neat visual coincidence that appears in the above tribute clip.

The real clincher for me?  Is it just another extraordinary coincidence that the film that made Taylor an international star at 12 just happens to feature the exact same dress at 46 seconds riding a horse in this clip that the A.I. character is wearing in the library when we first see her properly. Even down to the same colour of scarf, stockings and boots and the same matching blue eyes. She wears this dress walking around as well but couldn't find a clip of that, just old photos. In a world supposed to be set in 1912 but which looks far more like the 1930s to 1950s in fashion, dress sense and design. In 1912 women wore dresses then that were usually floor length and hid their ankles. Why 19 12? I'm convinced at least. I like a mystery to solve and I like placing hidden clues in posts and books myself on occasion just for the fun of it. Anyway, whatever the case it entertained me for a short while looking it up and was much more thought provoking and enjoyable throughout, watched as a film, just for the overall plot and general concept, than most of the over hyped but disappointing fare produced by the real mainstream Hollywood in the last year. Incidentally, if you look up most entertainment stars of any period a surprisingly large number of them burn out fast once they start to fade. Either they were always that way inclined and drawn like moths to a flame or fame itself then the sudden loss of it can often be a killer. A telling lesson that is repeatedly and routinely ignored decade after decade down the centuries by new recruits. Taylor died in 2011 just short of her 80th birthday despite a lifetime of injury, back pain, decades of operations and serious illness so I'd be surprised if it didn't occur to the makers of the game to at least borrow some inspiration from her own tenacity and colourful life-story in some way. The "magic machinery" of visual and spoken entertainment, in every form it occurs today, has been perfecting this craft for centuries now. Like a good whisky or any other spirit, strong male and female characters are a carefully distilled essence crafted from raw elemental gems into the final product. So why not get a leg up at the start by using a proven brand already popular with the public? "Shoulders of giants" and all that. I rest my case. In The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite the male character appears to be a variation of the Harrison Ford type in Indiana Jones mode so was not quite as interesting a puzzle as the female product, to me at least, although a good fit for the part. It also opened up a window into the underrated realm of male and female voice and dialogue art which is a tricky skill in itself to master, bringing flat A.I characters to life and breathing personality into them with some of the recent best in the games industry involved. So an enjoyable all round education for me.


Douglas Wilcox said...

Great shots Bob. There is a plan to fill in the bay and build a park. That will be the end of such lovely reflections.

Linda W. said...

Beautiful night shots. How fortunate to be there for the turning on the Christmas lights.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Douglas,
It's a fairly congested main street area in summer with traffic and pedestrians for families with children walking around but it would be a shame to spoil the bay. I always look on the surrounding hills as elevated parks anyway but many tourists never go up them apart from McCaig's Tower which has road and bus access.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda,
We didn't actually stay for the Christmas Lights going on as the reflections were fine for us and we had a remote bothy to walk into in total darkness. We left before the actual switch on as it meant waiting around for another hour.

Ian Johnston said...

Great images again Bob, some lovely reflections and the McCaig's Folly image is a stunner.

Pipers, hundreds of people, white limo, assorted ungulates, potly old men and mythical height-challenged folk? Sounds like a typical Saturday night in the Oban I remember from visiting as ship's crew (some) years ago...... :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Ian,
Yes, it was quite a surprise to see that crowd.

Carol said...

The gee-gee in the photo for the film clip doesn't look very racehorsey (pretty though it is) - wonder if they couldn't afford to hire a thoroughbred? Wonder if ol' Liz was classed as a thoroughbred instead? ;-)

Much as I like illuminations switch-ons, I wish they'd leave the Christmas ones until at least December! Oban is truly lovely at night - I visit quite often. I too have rambled all over those hills above the town - but in daylight. I found there were sometimes very large and sudden crags so I'm surprised you guys were going around them at night! :-o

Carol said...

I hope to hell they don't fill in the bay and spoil it! They already changed Oban when they took away the old Railway Pier and wooden buildings and clock tower - I didn't approve then and would certainly be against any further major changes.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
With 7 hours of grey dreary days followed by 15 hours of darkness it just seems a good idea at this time of year to use any good weather window to your advantage and I've always enjoyed night walking across Twinkleland. Under snow or on a still clear night it's good fun with the added hint of extra urban danger to tingle the senses. Getting like minded people to go with you is always the hardest part but it was not as much of a problem when I was younger and I don't mind walking above the city on selected inner district hilltops or around the outskirts on my own. The romance of starlight is still addictive.
As L.T supposedly got the job cos she could already ride a horse proficiently it had to be one presumably that was easy for a 12 year old to handle and good thoroughbred's are notoriously tricky. She had intensive training every day for weeks and did a lot of the riding shots herself, hence the back injury, in the days before health and safety and child labour laws.

Kay G. said...

Love the colors reflected in the water...I have a poem on my blog somewhere that has the line..."the jeweled boats at night.". Your photos reminded me of it!
You are very clever to work out the Elizabeth Taylor connection. I really liked Elizabeth Taylor, she was one tough lady even though she was so beautiful. I love the attention that she gave to AIDS when no one wanted to think about it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Oban is one of the jewels of the west highlands and a great place for tourists with plenty to do in good weather.
Don't know if it's the right connection but so much of her own personal history seems to fit the plot, she died and was in the public eye just as the game was being developed,she was a Hollywood "princess"... and it is the same outfit.
Anyway, I had fun researching it. I didn't know she was raised a Christian Scientist, had so many painful and serious operations yet still stuck it out into old age with determination when many might have thrown in the towel and best of all that she donated large amounts of her substantial personal fortune to good causes in the last three decades before she died.