Friday, July 31, 2009

What The FOX?

FOX News is rarely credited for its accuracy at the best of times but this beggars belief.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mad For It

Back on my feet, I’ve been sat on my ass the past few days trying my damnedest to catch up with the work I’ve had to let slide the past week. Taking a break to snoop around AMC’s Mad Men website to search for any juicy tidbits regarding the upcoming third season, I came across their Mad Men Yourself application allowing you to recreate yourself in swanky ‘60s style.

As best as I could come up with, this is me. Not doubt I’m once again having to sit the poor “artists” down and explain to them that all the clients really give a shit about is the size of the packshot.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

From A To Z In The Good Dog Alphabet

Tagged earlier this month by the great Brian Sibley, here, finally, is my ABC, which stands for AUTOBIOGRAPHICALLY BLOGGED CONFESSIONAL. The questions were already set, which is a good thing because left to my own devices I might have divulged some seriously dirty little secrets.

A is for AGE

At present, 44. Although I’m sure many people would admit that I could be perceived of very rarely acting my age. So ya boo sucks to them!

B is for BED SIZE

A queen-size bed that not only lets me stretch out some but also indulge in sleeping with my feet sticking off the end of the mattress, which, perhaps bizarrely, is my favoured state of repose.


Well, I’m not sure any chore puts a spring in anyone’s step. I suppose having to be diplomatic at times when I really want to tear somebody’s face off because they’re being a total cock is a real chore. Shaving runs a close second.

D is for DOG’S NAME

The last family pet, when we were living on the farm, was a black Alsatian/Labrador–cross, rescued from an animal shelter called Floyd. He was a lad, and should have lived a longer life. Though it’s doubtful, once he came into our custody, he could have lived a happier one.


Toast, cranberry juice and a gasper. (Toast and cranberry juice optional). Years back, filming for the National Obesity Forum at the party conferences, one of the nurses giving free health checks stated breakfast was the most important meal of the day. To run a car you have to put fuel in it first, she explained without sounding at all patronising. I agreed that it was best to stay healthy and then immediately went outside to spark up.


Green. It may seem an odd choice simply because I don’t wear much green anymore, instead going for darker, more muted colours. But then how boring would things be if everything made sense.


Gold, only because it’s more shiny, shiny! Though I’ve never worn any jewellery or ever had any piercings. Heck, I’ve even stopped wearing a watch, using my mobile phone to check the time. I guess it makes it easier going through metal detectors.

H is for HEIGHT

The short answer... 5′11”.


Not a one! We had music classes at school but I’ll be damned if I can remember exactly what we did in them other than harass the teacher at every opportunity we could. It’s not that I have a tin ear for music, I suppose I just wasn’t that interested.

J is for JOB TITLE

Writer (subject to change). And that’s all he wrote.

K is for KID(S)

None. Although, if the crazy girlfriend who tried to stab me almost two decades back hadn’t had a miscarriage in the middle of the night, I’d be a member of Fathers For Justice right now.


In the broader term I’m happy to allow people to coexist (although the pet peeve may suggest otherwise). More locally I have a one-bedroom apartment in a nice part of the city, even if, within the walls, everything centres around a desk that looks like someone fired a mortar round into a filing cabinet.

M is for MOM’S NAME

Veronica. 80 years old and still going strong. Because rain was forecast for this morning out west they were having to schedule their weekly tennis match earlier than usual.


Good Dog or GD. Years back, working for a trendy design and advertising consultancy, someone started calling me Baloo although it didn’t really take and soon fizzled out. As for the school nickname, which was kind of obvious when you think about TV comedies circa 1978, since I tried to forget it then I’m certainly not bringing it up now.


When I had my tonsils out as a kiddie. Because the knock-out drops initially given to all the kids awaiting surgery – which was like some kind of purple liquid in a small metal cup – didn’t have any immediate effect on me, my abiding memory of the event is struggling on the operating table as the anaesthetist forced a mask over my mouth.

P is for PET PEEVE

Only a small one but it’s humanity, thinking it has ownership of this spinning ball of rock and generally fucking it up for everything else.


This got covered in the previous post and the answer is “His real name is Arty Morty!” from the Sherlock Holmes spoof Without a Clue, simply because it’s a great line to drop into conversation and see how people react. Alternatively, the last line from the opening narration of Phil Kaufman’s The Right Stuff always brings a lump to my throat: “...They were called test pilots. And no one knew their names.”


I’m right handed, which is a good thing because I don’t fancy being persecuted as a devil-worshipper. That said, it still doesn’t stop people treating me with suspicion and disdain, which is unfair.

S is for SPORTS

Croquet, which I got rather good at. Like water-skiing, I haven’t played for a while. Still, I don’t think I’m ready to peg out just yet.


I’m usually awake around 7:30, even if I don’t always have a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep. The fact that most days I can wake up without the aid of an alarm clock screeching in my ear makes it really irritating come the weekend.


M&S briefs in dark blue or black. They may not be exotic but they keep my boys safe and snug, which is what counts.


I’ve never seen the point of the aubergine. The marrow runs a close second, especially when, unless cooked properly, it makes everything so watery in a recipe.


Relying on public transport. Although to be fair the general lackadaisical nature of buses and trains occasionally balance out my near pathological need to be early for everything. I’m the one person happy to turn up at the airport check–in hours before I need to be there.


Pelvis X-ray last month and again midweek to get a look at where that pesky kidney stone is at. I have to say the CAT scan was far more animated and interesting. As for the ultrasound of my testicles, the less said the better.


I used to do a darned good chicken stir-fry and a particular wicked chilli shepherd’s pie. From the recipe books, that I can only assume are still with an old girlfriend, I’d pick something and see how it goes. Now that I’m simply cooking for myself I tend not to give a damn. The most adventurous I’ve got of late is having beetroot in the sandwiches.


I like the penguins. While other animals can look peeved at being behind bars, the penguins just get on with it. Actually I have to say I prefer aquariums to zoos. At the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas on Canal Street in New Orleans I even got to pet a baby sand shark. Although it was more like the attendant ordered us to stroke it as we were passing by, whether we wanted to or not.

Now I suspect I’m supposed to tag a bunch of folk to pass it on, but since the last time I did that half of them bailed on me, do it if you want or don’t do it, it’s your call.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's Only a Movie Meme

From the delightful Laura Anderson at Miss Read comes a Movie Meme she suggests that everyone has a go at. This obviously originated from one of those darn colonials because they use the word “theater” when they mean, “cinema”, and as we know from William Ivory last week, calling a cinema a film theatre is just awful snobbery. That said, here are my answers...

01. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.

Great, let’s start with an easy one. Now with their availability on shiny disc there are numerous movies I’ve seen again and again. These are the films made by Hitchcock, Kubrick, Michael Mann, Billy Wilder, David Lean and Ridley Scott and any number of other great directors past and present. But because I’m a reasonable guy who has just experienced some very unreasonable things, I’ll plump for John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.

02. Name a movie that you’ve seen multiple times in the theater.

I suppose there are quite a few. During those fun-filled years at The Esteemed School of Art you could never get everyone wanting to see a movie to go at the same time, so I’d see it with one group and then again with another. No wonder I ended up going to see new releases alone to save the hassle. Then there were films from before the days of VCRs let alone DVDs, so you saw it while you could. The very first film I was ever taken to the cinema to see for a second time when I was a kiddie was Where Eagles Dare.

03. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

I don’t think I ever choose to watch films simply based on the actors involved, mainly because you know they don’t always make the right decisions so there’s always an utter dog in the offing. Then again, there were always actors I was glad to see in a film, like Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin and Alec Guinness. Amongst the living I suppose I look forward to seeing Michael Caine now that he chooses roles he wants to play rather than simply signing up to pay the mortgage.

04. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

Meg Ryan and Ben Stiller are two actors who, being all perky and needy, just make me want to vomit myself inside out. I would quite happily watch them get chased down by ravenous dogs, or, if they starred in a remake of Hostel, I’d book my ticket well in advance. In the meantime I can do without seeing them on screen, thank you.

05. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

I’m sure there are movies that I quote from all the time, whether realising it or not, but the best one to drop into conversation is “His real name is Arty Morty!” from Without a Clue.

06. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.

A big fail on this one, I’m afraid. There are some films that, at a push, I know the lyrics to some of the songs, but not all.

07. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.

I may not know all the words to all the songs but Untitled, Cameron Crowe’s director’s cut of Almost Famous, is the film I probably sing along to most. The Tiny Dancer sequence on board the tour bus is simply genius.

08. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death. It needs no more explanation. And after watching it everyone should continue on with the rest of Powell & Pressburger’s classic films.

09. Name a movie that you own.

Oh, there are many. But one film I was really pleased to finally get on DVD was Whit Stillman’s debut feature, Metropolitan. If you ever want a tale of adolescent angst that takes place against the backdrop of New York’s debutante society, this is the movie for you.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.

Does Jason Lee, previously a professional skateboarder, fit the requirements? He was great as one of the band members of Stillwater in Almost Famous, and the supervillain Syndrome in The Incredibles. His best role so far is as Banky Edwards, the “tracer”, in Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy.

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?

Not many drive-ins around this way, or even back in the Westcountry. There have been numerous times I’ve wanted to drive a tank through the front of the cinema and fire a depleted uranium shell into the projectionist’s booth.

12. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it.

I’m not a great fan of Italian Neo-Realism and everyone associated with it. Although he’s revered as one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, I’ve avoided the films of Federico Fellini. I saw La Dolce Vita many years ago, which almost put me to sleep. Although I may regret it I keep meaning to catch Fellini’s . So far the closest I’ve ever got to it is watching Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.

13. Ever walked out of a movie?

There have been a few that I’ve fallen asleep watching, not least Jackie Brown during which I nodded off three times, but the the only time I ever got up and left was during Mean Streets, which was second on a double bill with, I think, Taxi Driver. To be fair it was close to the end of the film and if I stayed any longer it would mean waiting a whole hour for the next bus back home to Dartmoor. And anyway, by then I had pretty much had enough.

14. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.

As a callow youth I hated films that purposefully try to manipulate the emotions, but as the years go on I find myself welling up at the drop of a hat. The last one that had me blubbering like a little girl was Pixar’s Wall-E.

15. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?

Unless a film justifies being seen on a big screen, I tend to wait for it to be released on DVD. That way I can watch it in comfort and not be pestered by any nearby proles. Recently I went to the O2 Centre to see Star Trek on a massive screen with an ear-bleeding sound system. Before that it was probably The Dark Knight, which was enough to put me off going to the cinema altogether.

16. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?

A good drama that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. So, not exactly asking for a lot there.

17. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

I’m sure it was Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book, which was the first movie I was ever taken to see. The sequence where Baloo and Bagheera attempt to rescue Mowgli from King Louie stands out in particular. Obviously I was too young to understand that the vulture quartet was supposed to resemble The Beatles, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

18. What movie do you wish you had never seen?

Without doubt, The Matrix Revolutions. Not only was it a dreadful piece of shit that sullied the reputation of the rather fine original, but this was at a preview screening on a Sunday morning... at the BFI IMAX. So not only was it horrible, it was BIG and horrible. Frankly, I’d have preferred to watch a close up of a cat’s arsehole for two hours. What the hell were they thinking?

19. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

Obviously discounting a bunch of weird movies that I utterly hated, Bruce Robinson’s How To Get Ahead In Advertising was pretty darned strange, but for sheer weirdness and a damn good laugh, it comes a very distant second to the utterly bonkers The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Laugh while you can, monkey boy!

20. What is the scariest movie you’ve seen?

Without question, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. There are films that have some great shocks but The Shining has a pervading sense of unease that simply scares the shit out of me to this day. Not to be a complete wuss but I can still only watch it during daylight hours.

21. What is the funniest movie you’ve seen?

Modern comedies tend to leave me unmoved. I remember laughing my head off at the Coen brother’s Raising Arizona and the sequence in Laurel and Hardy’s Swiss Miss where Stan and Ollie’s attempts to carry a piano across a rope bridge are hampered by an escaped gorilla. But, beating His Girl Friday and Dr Strangelove to the punch, the best all round comedy has to be the four Marx Brothers in the stone cold classic Duck Soup.

So that's me done. Your turn.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dr Horrible

I’m about to head off to the hospital for the scheduled surgical procedure so there’ll be a brief pause in proceedings. Hopefully they have a stronger anaesthetic than the last time I had surgery, which was to remove my tonsils when I was a wee kiddie. Although we were given some knock-out drops prior to being wheeled into the operating room, my abiding memory is of the anesthesiologist pressing the mask over my mouth while I desperately struggled to stop him.

Maybe this time they’ll have a croquet mallet on hand to give me a crack on the noggin. Or with the cutbacks they may just give me a piece of wood to bite down on while they get to work. The next couple of days I’m expected to be out of it, but there are a number of memes I have to catch up on. If they don’t appear in due course it means something went horribly wrong and I’m lying in the hospital dumpster, bundled inside a hazardous waste bag.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For The Defence

Last week, while Tony Garnett’s email rained down, accusing the BBC of stifling creativity, from inside his White City foxhole, Ben Stephenson, the Corporation’s drama commissioning controller, lobbed back a preview of some of the new dramas coming to BBC1 next year. Whether they go some way to placate the critics we’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime a few sound tempting.

To begin with there’s The Deep by Simon Donald, which takes place onboard an oceanographers submarine trapped beneath the Arctic ice. After a catastrophe leaves them with no power, limited oxygen and the inability to contact the outside world, it soon becomes apparent to the crew that they are not alone. It may be Ten Little Indians meets Das Boot without the torpedoes but his looks good because Donald wrote the award-winning Low Winter Sun. And at least it’s not set in a frigging hospital, so that’s a start. You never know, there may even be a character having a hissy fit to equal Patrick McGoohan’s spectacular turn in Ice Station Zebra.

Because there have to be new crime dramas, Fiona Seres’ Silence focuses on a deaf teenage girl who becomes unwitting the key witness in a murder investigation. Meanwhile, Luther by Neil Cross features a detective going after a new killer each week as he battles his own personal demons. Because that isn’t exactly new – though if it’s anything like Wallander, in which Kenneth Branagh played the title character tipping toward a full–blown nervous breakdown, that’s not a bad thing – to spice it up the drama’s twist is that each killer’s identity will be made apparent to the audience. I suppose that is something new, unless of course you caught the Sunday afternoon repeat of Columbo on ITV1.

Then there’s the return of Sherlock Holmes, this time at the hands of Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis. Conan Doyle’s creation is always welcome on screen, although the BBC should still be deeply ashamed with itself for not renewing Murder Rooms. Yet this time around the new drama, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Holmes and Martin Freeman as the ever–faithful John Watson, is set in contemporary times, which seems an odd thing to do. Wasn’t one of Holmes’ strengths that along with his deductive reason he used methods of detection not available to the police of the time?

Taking place in 2009, where does that leave the character when the Met has fingerprinting and DNA databases? Even if Holmes is driven to prove himself more accomplished than the plod, wouldn’t that simply make him a less benign version of Adrian Monk? Obvious the pair have got it all worked out, but after Jekyll, Moffat’s updating of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, started well before going spectacularly off the rails, maybe he’s got a strange yen for ballsing-up classic literary characters. And anyway, don’t we already have a modern day Holmes in House? Though, of course, that’s set in a hospital.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Creative Vision

Just over five years ago I was at the bar outside Channel Four’s screening room prior to a preview of Toby Whithouse’s new comedy drama No Angels. For some reason there was a delay in proceedings so in the meantime, rather than aimlessly picking through the bar snacks, I got talking to the man who appeared beside me, grumbling about being kept waiting.

Not knowing how long it would be before the screening started we whiled away the time discussing the state of British television drama, which had been the topic of The South Bank Show the night before. The man hadn’t been that impressed with the edition, mentioning he had adamantly declined when he was invited to participate in it, or the way things were going in the industry in general.

Eventually we were called in to take our seats and the lights went down. After the show was over and everyone filed out for free wine and nibbles, along with the opportunity to compliment Kaye Wragg and Jo Joyner, I saw the man well ahead of everyone else, hurrying up the stairs toward the main foyer. On the way home, walking back toward Parliament Square I called a pal who asked how the screening had gone. It was great, I told him, oh, and I’d chatting in the bar beforehand with Tony Garnett.

Buses rumbling toward Victoria Station obliterated most of his response but the words “jammy” and “cunt” were definitely audible above the noise of the traffic. A week last Friday, just days before the BBC Trust told the BBC to shape up and produce better drama in their annual report review, Garnett finally wrote down his growing concerns about not just the BBC drama commissioning process but the state of the channel’s drama output and emailed it to his contemporaries. Obviously it was going to go public.

After The Independent reported on the existence of Garnett’s email last Saturday, calling it “a stinging attack on the corporation over what he called its ‘systemic’ failure to commission quality drama,” The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain published his missive on their website at the beginning of the week, two days before it was reproduced on The Guardian’s website and prefaced by an article by Garnett that encapsulates his concerns with the BBC drama department.

The following day the newspaper’s Organ Grinder blog had a rather wishy-washy response from Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s drama commissioning controller, who, rather than reply to the points Garnett raised, simply invites everyone over to his place for coffee. Even more bizarrely it came with testimonials from five on Ben’s mates who have worked their way up to the top table and are more than eager to let everyone know the system works perfectly well for them.

Meanwhile the likes of David Hare and Julian Mitchell were happy to let it be known they supported Garnett’s view of the BBC’s painfully slow development process – with the latter explaining, “It knocks the stuffing out of writers and producers. I know plenty of people who have given up and moved into other things because they had to fight so hard and for so long.” When Broadcast started sniffing around, trying to find out where the battle lines were being drawn, they had trouble getting writers who agreed with his stance to go on the record.

As the great GF Newman explained, “Everyone in the business is hiding behind the sofa afraid to speak out because they want their next commission.” The magazine’s reporter did cross paths with ‘another respected writer’ who blamed an overemphasis of brands rather than writers at the Corporation, saying, “The courage of commissioning at the BBC can be measured by the number of old shows being re-treated. It’s great that they revived Doctor Who, but that shouldn’t be their biggest thing.”

Somebody buy that chap a drink, and not just because he zeroes in on one of BBC drama’s current problems! Garnett’s email covers a lot of ground and while the writers that stand by Stephenson, with their “I’m all right Jack!” attitude, try to refute the odd claim they tend to fall back on the same old generalisations and space-filling blather.

For instance, William Ivory, the writer of Common as Muck who recently inflicted The Invisibles upon an unsuspecting public, declares that the BBC consistently produces the best drama on TV but then shoots himself in the foot by listing All the Small Things amongst the titles that apparently fit the bill. Worse, he dismisses the quality of US drama by coming up with the hoary old chestnut that, “we see but the tiniest fraction of a huge trench of stuff, most of which makes CBeebies look like Tolstoy”.

What the hell can you say to that, other than offer to introduce him to the 21st century? Get yourself a Freeview box, sunshine, or subscribe to Sky, because just about every current American drama is being broadcast across the range of channels on offer. Also, we’re no longer living in the days when the best the US had to offer was The Dukes of Hazzard, Wonder Woman and Knots Landing.

As for the rest of his argument, it’s obvious that the poor chap appears to have a terrible chip on his shoulder. Spewing out inverse snobbery, the impression he gives is of the sort of lost-at-sea Midlander who, not having a grounded northern identity, still thinks the educated classes sees him as the sort of oik who should only show his face when he’s delivering the coal each week.

While Steven Moffat makes some good points he ultimately blows it by rounding off with, “can all of us telly people make a pact, here, this day, never, ever to talk about the old days and how great they were ever, ever again, because it's really getting boring.” Well, no, I don’t think “telly people” or anybody should undergo some kind of cultural amnesia and saying so is unbelievably boneheaded.

Obviously there is a tradition in believing British drama was better back in the day, and in the first instance the reason for that may down to comparing UK and US drama then and now. For instance, in the 1970s we had the likes of I, Claudius and Pennies from Heaven, while over from America came the delights of The Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie’s Angels. Whereas, in recent years, homegrown material has had to try and stand its ground against The West Wing, The Sopranos and The Wire. So there’s that.

But also, looking back to that earlier decade there was also a far greater diversity of drama. We had Colditz and Secret Army, All Creatures Great and Small, Shoestring, Survivors, Fall of Eagles, which dramatized the fall of the Romanov, Habsburg and the Hohenzollern dynasties, along with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Simon Raven’s 26-part adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Pallisers. Nowadays there doesn’t seem to be as much variety.

To settle the argument once and for all of whether television drama was better then or now, because obviously there was a lot more material than just those titles mentioned, maybe it would be an idea for the BBC to allocate some space in their big internet preserve and upload the schedules from previous years so people could see what was on BBC1 for the third week of July, 1973 or September of 1978. After all, there is always the chance that everyone who yearns for those olden days may get a rude awakening.

But back in the here and now, apart from the extended commissioning process, Garnett takes aim at the BBC funnelling “money and airtime decisively towards high volume junk food which runs across the year,” rather than directing those precious resources to more single dramas and miniseries, “the kind of original writers’ work where a voice can communicate directly with an audience.” It’s easy to see his frustrations in the weeks that EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City, now joined by Casualty 1909, keep rolling on and the rest of the schedule looks decidedly threadbare.

Creating a franchise like the bloody Holby shows isn’t exactly a new thing. Four years after Z-Cars was first broadcast in 1962 the spin-off Softly, Softly appeared, starring Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor as Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow and Detective Inspector John Watt, which led on to Softly, Softly Task Force and Barlow at Large. But those shows still ran for only the same number of episodes as every other drama rather than steamrollering over everything in their path.

There are obvious reasons for the Holby brand to keep rolling along. The continued use of standing sets no doubt make the shows relatively cheap, compared to coming up with something new and starting from scratch again and again. Occasionally they get thrown a bone for a couple of blowout extravaganza episodes come the holiday season but that’s little more than a pat on the head for clocking up another year. Another reason is that they’re safe. After all, along with Doctors these are the shows the BBC’s Writers Academy initiative annually trains new writers to work on.

Of course in the past there was The Wednesday Play and Play for Today to act as a platform for new and well–established writers and directors. Instead of the same old, same old, week in and week out the series produced material that encompassed a wide range of styles and genres, reflecting concerns of contemporary life whether through social realism or flights of fancy. Almost always provocative, the dramas were certainly not afraid of courting controversy, and therefore ‘unsafe’.

Toward the end of last year, when the Traitor stepped down as BBC Head of Fiction, she made sure she took a pop at the “fetishisation” of single drama on television before being bundled away, no doubt to fulfil her potential as a lollypop lady. Could this aversion to the single drama simply be fear of the reaction such contentious material would elicit in this day and age, especially with factions of the press eager to take a big wet bite out of the BBC?

Back in the 1970s Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle and Scum, written by and Roy Minton, were seen as being so inflammatory by Alistair Milne, the then Director of Television Programmes, that he banned them outright. Yet years earlier Potter’s Son of Man, a secular retelling of the story of Christ that was shown just after Easter, 1969, certainly generated a storm of press headlines prior to transmission but once shown the audience reaction was generally muted because viewers were fully aware that The Wednesday Play presented such provocative material and excepted it.

So, budgetary concerns aside, is the BBC playing it safe and deciding that offering utterly dull, less than challenging material, covering their backs and saving the aggravation of having scum-sucking hacks at The Daily Mail poke at them with a pointy stick? Because if so, that is what’s really fucking offensive! In his article for The Guardian, Garnett explains, “I am not looking for a macho row – I am merely expressing what the whole industry is feeling. I am hoping for a productive discussion. We all deserve that.”

According to Broadcast, The Writers’ Guild is in the process of collecting complaints from its members over the state of the BBC’s drama commissioning. Hopefully once that’s sorted all of Tony Garnett’s points can be addressed and we can get back to watching challenging drama on a more regular basis.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blow Torch

By this time next week I’ll have been slapped awake by a woman in a nurse’s uniform and told to get dressed and get out. Just thinking about it takes me back, except this time the treatment will be free. Although I expect the after effects – spending the next few days feeling like I’m pissing razor blades – will probably be the same.

The past few days things the aches and sharp pains have eased off and I suppose I could back out of the upcoming procedure, pleading with the urologists that, “I’m getting better”, but I suppose it’s worth having them ram their probe right up my urethra and beyond to make sure there aren’t any more nasty surprises to come further on down the road. And at least getting the all clear means I can get off these meds and hopefully stop feeling completely run down long before the day is done.

It was probably because I was feeling so worn out last week that I found myself sprawled out on the sofa watching Torchwood of all things. In the past I think I’ve made it pretty clear what I thought of the show. Supposedly fashioned to be an adult drama, the results, more often than not, proved to be, at best, distressingly juvenile. After two series in which one or two entertaining and rather well thought out stories were forced to rub shoulders with episodes that ranged from mediocre to hopelessly embarrassing to utterly dreadful, I could have quite happily ignored this third year.

Except this time around they had ditched the thirteen-episode format in favour of a five-part serial, stripped into the schedule over consecutive nights. Rather than thumbing my nose at it, instead it piqued my curiosity. There were things that annoyed me. After the first episode I still wasn’t sure it deserved the plaudits being unreservedly showered upon it, and by the end of the second hour I would have liked a few minutes on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square so I could stand there and bellow, “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!?” at the top of my lungs.

But come Wednesday’s episode everything turned around as the pace picked up considerably, and the elements of drama and comedy, characterisation and plot all balanced out rather well to create a far more cohesive story. Even more remarkable, the usual ‘jokes of a sexual nature’ that Torchwood apparently cannot live without had a subtlety that made them far funnier than the typically obvious and annoying cock–custard pie–in–the–face gags.

One of the drawbacks to the third part was that having reached such a high point at the midway mark, the remaining two episodes didn’t continue to sustain the momentum and seemed to simply peter out. As it worked toward its unexpectedly dark finale, rather than build up dilemmas where the consequences were still far from certain, squeezing every last ounce of drama from the situation, it bluntly telegraphed the outcome far ahead of time, thereby diminishing the end results.

Though there were times across the five episodes where the dramatic tension seemed to be directed in the wrong place I still kept watching, which was more surprising. While the story didn’t always make sense I had to remind myself that this was, after all, a show that started off its second series with a goldfish driving a sports car. If there were problems with the finished product it was down to the fact that the production obviously didn’t have the budget to realize what was on the page.

Following the massive explosion that totals the secret underground base that everyone seems to know about, I kept getting distracted by the fact that the blast had apparently left the surrounding glass-fronted buildings untouched. Later in the same episode, after the cell Jack Harkness is laid out in is filled with cement, the size of the hardened block his Torchwood teammates make off seems to indicate he was interred standing up in a telephone box instead.

While that prop may have been a knowing wink to Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge model and can be seen as one of many trivial details best ignored, what couldn’t be overlooked was how relentlessly useless everyone involved was when it came to handling firearms. The John Woo moment where the gap-toothed, goggle-eyed Welsh bint leaps from the back of the ambulance, guns blazing, was just embarrassingly bad.

Even when she was standing up the woman couldn’t grip and fire a pistol to save her life. Worse were the roving black ops soldiers that kept rearing their gormless heads. When the sharpshooter missed not one but two of his intended targets they immediately started to look a bit rubbish, and the show had only really just got going. Then when the men came under fire in the cellblock they squealed and shied away like a bunch of little girls.

Pick up any recently made war movie on DVD and the extras will undoubtedly include footage of the actors being given a brief approximation of a soldier’s boot camp experience and, more importantly, instructed on how to hold and discharge their weapons properly and work together as a cohesive team. Obviously the excuse here would be that they didn’t have the time, money, or inclination to make it look the least bit convincing.

However much the director might have thought they really looked the part, all kitted out in the uniforms with their boots, helmets and tactical ammo vests, without any kind of instruction to make it look like they know what they’re doing, on screen they appeared as a bunch of jobbing extras fannying around with guns as they pretended to play soldiers. It was as if the Keystone Cops had been inducted into the Imperial Stormtrooper Academy, and then failed to graduate.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Storm

Trying to get back on my feet, although there have been a few setbacks over the past couple of days, I came across this article in The Guardian announcing that summer is “kidney stone season”. For anyone who thinks it’s all a lot of fuss and nonsense have a read, and take the necessary steps to avoid the little lovelies intruding upon your ureter.

In the meantime, attempting to catch up on the important things I’ve missed, I discovered that the winners of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest had recently been announced. Forget the Booker or the Orange Prize for Fiction, this is the big one, named in honour of the Victorian novelist, poet, and politician Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton.

Having coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” in his play Richelieu and written The Last Days of Pompeii, Bulwer-Lytton is now best remembered for his early novel Paul Clifford, which opened with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night”. Referenced in Ray Bradbury’s detective novel Let’s All Kill Constance and Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, the phrase was popularised by the great Charles Schulz when he used it as a running gag for Snoopy’s World-Famous Author incarnation.

Set up in 1982 and sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest challenges entrants to submit bad openings to imaginary novels. This year the overall winner was David McKenzie, a 55-year-old Quality Systems consultant and writer from Federal Way, Washington, who wowed the judges with the utterly astonishing:

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin’ off Nantucket Sound from the nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May,” a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.

In the Romance section, Ada Marie Finkel of Boston, MA, won with:

Melinda woke up suddenly to the sound of her trailer being pounded with wind and hail, and she couldn't help thinking that if she had only put her prized hog up for adoption last May, none of this would be happening, no one would have gotten hurt, and she wouldn't be left with only nine toes, or be living in a mobile home park in Nebraska with a second-rate trapeze artist named Fred.

Meanwhile Greg Homer of Placerville, CA, was the champion of the Vile Puns category by coming up with:

Using her flint knife to gut the two amphibians, Kreega the Neanderthal woman created the first pair of open-toad sandals.

While the last one is obviously more of a throwaway line, the other two are probably no worse than the books I’ve hurriedly (and mistakenly) grabbed in airport bookstores and then been stuck with at 35,000 feet. The list of all winners, runners-up and dishonorable mentions in the numerous categories can be found on the contest website, which also includes a link to previous year’s grand prize winners. Enjoy.