Saturday, 26 April 2008

Humph and George

I’ve been lucky enough in my medium-sized life to see two surprisingly long-lived Jazz men perform, Humphrey Lyttelton and George Melly.
Humph was presenting I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and building his increasing frailty and stumbling delivery into the act just as another of my radio comedy heroes Peter Jones had in his latter years on Just A Minute.
Harry Hill sang ‘The Ugly Duckling’ to the tune of ‘I Can’t Live if Living is Without You’ that night. It was one of the happiest of my life.
Nice one, Humph.

Melly, I adored too, particularly for the delicious omnisexual geriatric flirtation he and Maggi Hambling used to indulge in on a fairly snobby Channel 4 quiz show on the arts. Only a pair of surrealists with a shared passion for Max Wall and less genuine sexual attraction than Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis could have produced such screen magic.
When I saw Melly live he was incoherent, slurring, incompetent, but then the band started and he sang- note, pause, word perfect, sublime.

He told one great joke about getting old that night, if rather badly.
Now he was getting on he found he was having to come down to the loo more often in the night, sometimes several times, and thus, in one such middle of the night trip, had been delighted to discover his wife had set up a system in the downstairs toilet whereby the light came on as soon as he opened the door.
‘Excellent,’ he thought, and was rather happily relieving himself until his wife came up behind him and said ‘George, did you know you’re pissing in the fridge?’

I think Humph would have liked that one,

Monday, 21 April 2008

One down, three in contention, with one left to go

Well No Tomatoes seems to have fallen at the 'presumably, just not liked enough by the commissioner' hurdle, now, so that looks fairly categorically that.

Maybe, one day it'll come back. Yes. One day. Probably not. Until then just go forward making vague promises only ever followed up on in unpopular tie-in novels and prove to me a paraphrase is as close to a correct line reading as will makes no mends by the end of an episode, when you can't go back and re-edit of course, yes, yes, my boy. Hmm?

Meanwhile, my hurdle clipping play has reached the final Radio 4 commissioning barrier, unexpectedly accompanied by two documentary ideas I threw in a bit back to a colleague pitching for freelance factual work.
One of them is about an actor with a very particular talent and another is about a piece of slightly scatological 17th century literature. The usual stuff, you know.

Now read on. From here on in, it's either getting paid or not getting paid.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

4, 5 & 6

Such is the state of Wednesday evening telly that the best that was on offer for the likes of me yesterday was probably Five employing Paul McGann (and his curiously placed vocal stresses that make it sound like he's constantly being surprised or losing his short term memory) to talk about The Real Indiana Jones.
The amazing revelation here was there wasn't one, he's pretend. However this populist hook did give Five the opportunity to talk about Nazis, Cathars and the Grail which are all core Five documentary topics, and show a surprisingly stirring trailer for the new film, featuring an old man doing amazing feats, right at the end. Job done.

I do find McGann's voice-over delivery oddly hypnotic, because idiosyncratic as it is (like Australian Questioning Intonation breaking out at random all over the place) it does sometimes make you imagine he's genuinely intrigued and marvelling about the subject he's talking about, rather than making you wonder when exactly he first saw the script.
Sometimes the line readings on science documentaries do rather give away that he doesn't know what the script is about and is just clinging to a word in the sentence he can emphasise to give coherence, but this is understandable; he's an actor not an astrophysicist, damn it! It does, however, mean script writers really should be careful with their use of 'actually's and 'in fact's because they'll tend to be heavily overlayed with wonder to the detriment of the sense of surrounding sentences.
Anyway, what a guy, what a voice.

Given that was my analogue terrestrial highlight (though I watched it digitally obviously- I wouldn't want to miss the edges of the film clips) I went looking for a bit of entertainment on Freeview too, which led me to The Prisoner.

Now, I like The Prisoner a lot, it's gripping, intriguing, only occasionally dreadfully silly, looks gorgeous and has a really riveting lead- MacGoohan's intensity just demands attention, but I last saw it properly when the VHS releases came out at the back end of the 1980s on the Channel 5 label (not to be confused with Five which used to be a different Channel 5, keep up).
The only episode I've seen with any regularity since has been a mp2 copy of a Beta SP copy of a low band u-matic copy of a rather grubby ITC library sales print of the first episode 'Arrival'.
So imagine my amazement at how colourful the newly mastered film print ITV4 was showing was. It was a riot of colour, hammy stage fights, reused footage and music cues and more exciting clashes of 1960s Edwardian revivalist and Modernist stylings than you're ever likely to meet outside Brighton Beach on a Bank Holiday Monday.

Just one thing though, given I'd only ever seen the series before on VHS, a multi-generation copy of a poor film print and snowy Channel 4 re-runs (we always had quite a soft fizzy looking Channel 4 signal in the 80s, so much so I thought this was part of its remit to challenge viewers), I'd never really noticed Number 6 wore a dark navy jersey under his black blazer.
Now I knew he did from photos in magazines about TV shows with spandex and spaceships in them, but the full horror had never quite hit me. It doesn't go! It looks horrid, and it never used to.
In poor light I've been known to accidentally put on dark navy and black myself, but Number 6's dimensionally transcendent house is so well lit I can't believe he'd make this kind of error. Certainly not every week. Not when he's so cool.

My suspicion is that the creators of The Prisoner didn't really want the jarring contrast we can now see between navy and black to be so obvious. I suspect they were after a broadly black upper body, and used the dark navy to subtly stop McGoohan's torso becoming an undifferentiated block of black, knowing full well that our telly screens would never reveal the actual difference in colour. Whoops, they do now.

Black and Navy? Brr. No wonder he wanted to escape, they might as well have put him in double denim.
Be seeing you? Not in that you won't.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Ignorance is Strength

Even in the rarefied climes I inhabit, halfway up Rather Liking British Television Mountain, there are still noises that waft to me from the valley below now and again that tend to annoy me.

Quality American Television
This one’s one of the biggies. At some point it was decided in TV criticism circles that Quality Television is a phenomenon that was created at some point in the 80s and 90s when HBO started making dramas outside the US network system that were glossily produced, cinematic in scope and intelligently written. This gets my goat because this is then alleged to have influenced things in UK TV that happened before it- a move from studio to OB and often filmed production, changes in cutting style etc.
Not only does this rewrite history, it also overplays the influence of US TV on the UK, and assumes an automatic superiority of film over TV. '16:9 ratio good, 4:3 bad.' It is forgotten that UK TV once had a form of its own between theatre and radio- intimate and character driven (which suited the domestic setting in which it was consumed just fine). More like film is not necessarily better, and an obsession with filmic concerns leads to a devaluing of what TV did when it simply wasn’t film and simply couldn’t be either.

It’s Just Television
I’m sure you’ve heard people dismiss the output which comes into almost every home in the country and fills our evenings with news, sport, comedy, drama, discussion and music in this way. Sadly, I’ve even heard people who work in television say the same. It’s just television.
That’s right, damn a work by the means of its delivery. The rather sniffy attitude is that none of the background to our lives is worthy of consideration. The worry is, is that when TV is made and consumed with that outlook, no attempt to challenge or be challenged is made, and of course, all that old stuff, some of which isn’t even in colour, or speedily edited and doesn’t even fill the whole of your modern set properly is somehow inferior, because it isn’t quick and easy enough anymore.
It’s just old books. It’s just some old drawings. That isn’t an attitude you normally get.
One of the reasons I think TV suffered until lately in critical analysis is that TV studies arose as a subset of film studies, at a point when film studies was rather wedded to the idea of film as an auteur’s medium in which the director was (rather like the creator of those old books and drawings) a single artist using a tool to create art, which as a bonus critics could also use as a kind of parlour game to explore his or her (but usually his) drives, obsessions and interests.
TV on the other hand was production line stuff, which had insufficient thought and time involved to allow the director this role, particularly as his (not hers often) role in the creative process tended to be much more limited than a cinema director’s. The TV director was a mere hired hand.
Thankfully, as film studies has grown up, going through its rather solipsistic stroppy teen era in which it assumed everything you looked at was merely a series of ambiguous symbols you could use to analyse the way you yourself looked at the world, the idea that film is a collaborative medium in which different authors worked either together or against each other (and even writers were in someway involved) has slowly become more prominent. This has given TV a chance to be taken, sort of, seriously at last, but the damage will be slow to undo. We have a whole generation of arts graduates running the country who have been conditioned to be as snotty about the medium and its history as the general public and jaded industry professionals.

It’s not a patch on the (insert other medium) version
I suspect this is the reason the BBC’s DVD release of the 1954 version of Nineteen Eighty-Four continues to be blocked by the Orwell estate. The estate doesn’t respect the television medium, and so judge the TV show against the novel and find it wanting.
Firstly, the play (remember when it was TV plays not films?) explicitly imposes a then topical post-nuclear framework on the future it depicts which is ambiguous at best in the book, in which the alleged nuclear war is referred to in a piece of faked anti-state propaganda, that most readers (and all film versions) tend to skim through.
I can’t help imagining that the keepers of the Orwell flame sat around expectantly on initial transmission and immediately despaired at the opening narration, seeming to turn the serious art of Orwell into nothing but cheap science fiction (see the previous Clarke post for more about this), possibly even mumbling “Dear Lord, it's a travesty, I'm surprised it even did the title in words rather than in numbers!” to themselves.
Closeness to the text, would seem to be a serious consideration (because we know ‘books- good, adaptations of books to work in other terms- double-plus ungood’).
This appears to be why the 1956 cinema version of Nineteen Eighty-Four has also been suppressed by the estate. It takes serious liberties with the book, and you can’t have liberties being taken with Big Brother, can you? The estate had similar concerns with the ending of the Halas and Batchelor Animal Farm apparently, which tried to make a satisfying cinematic climax out of that undeniably superb prose ending, which really just wouldn’t have translated so well into pictures.
Secondly, the drama is undeniably creaky in parts if you go in expecting your TV drama to be like a trip to the pictures, and what seems to have particularly caused problems for any release over the years is that there is a very close adaptation of the book available in colour, a film too. This was for years the preferred version- it’s even got John Hurt and Richard Burton in it, who are proper actors.
There’s now reportedly another film version on the way to become the definitive adaptation, and it seems a DVD of some such scratchy old telly version coming out any time near that would confuse, and perhaps weaken, the Nineteen Eighty-Four brand.

Of course we, we band of brothers, we happy few, obsessed with telly, probably mainly as a result of the cheap fantasy and vaudeville turns it brought into our parlours when we were too young to know any better, know the BBC’s 1984 to be important.

Questions in the House, comments from the Palace, sleepy rats covered in cocoa, live presentations and the fact we only have take two, wind up gramophones, the lost paperweight, Peter Cushing being undervalued as a telly actor before he was undervalued as a film one, Donald Pleasence (also in the suppressed film version, fact fans), Nigel Kneale, Rudolf Cartier, Wilfrid flipping Brambell... it’s all here!

This is a cultural document, a work of art in a lost form, and almost entirely composed of a whole string of our favourite anecdotes. We could Christopher Frayling our way through this whole piece like it was a culturally important Italian made Western or something (I love him by the way, he’s top) if necessary.

British telly matters, Orwell estate! It’s part of our history, don't try to rewrite it, it isn’t all your tacky rubbish for the proles like Big Brother and Room 101 you know. Oh hang on…

Mind, Diamond Dogs is probably better Bowie for your non-collaboration so thanks for that, I guess.

This entry is to be passed to the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, for revision.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

How Annoying

Last night, while my PC was switched off, someone sent at least a hundred emails from fake users using my home page's domain name. Tsk.
It seems none of these emails were to real people I actually I know, my address book hasn't been got at as far as I can tell, it's just part of one of my addresses has been pilfered, for some drive-by indiscriminate leafleting.

The fake users of my domain that were generated were fairly obviously made up, thankfully- eg. "Slasher"- like that's a real name (if that is your real name don't contact me, trace your parents) so, hopefully, any real people the messages might reach will realise this stuff was just 'bot-generated junk, but it's still a lot of noise thrown into the system to try and catch that one unwary customer somewhere for whatever they're trying to sell using emails from faked addresses.
It's the equivalent of fishing with dynamite in a lake that's already been somewhat over fished with explosives (and its main consequence seems to have been a lot of "come on, this is obvious spam" auto response messages and big wodge of "undeliverables", because it seems the addressees are largely made up randomly too, finding their way to me this morning).
Tiresome, and just the kind of thing that puts you off swimming.

Unfortunately, because an address at the recently hot-wired and twocked domain name is what I use for contacts from Blogger, it may be I fail to spot any feedback here for a bit. Bear with me. Unless your name is Slasher, I'm almost certainly not replying to you.