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Actor Gabriel Byrne talks about the 1950s Ireland he grew up in, and in which a new BBC crime series he stars in is set:
Both Byrne and Banville, who are old friends, grew up in this Ireland of the 1950s. "It was almost a Taliban-esque society," says the actor, recalling an incident when his mother, who was walking down the street with him while pushing a pram, stepped off the pavement into the road to make way for a priest. "That's how much power they had. Now all the rocks have been lifted and all the maggots have crawled out. The Catholic Church is a tyrannical, evil institution, there's no doubt about it – anti-woman, anti-homosexual, anti-love, anti-condom, totally elitist."The series, Quirke, is to air on the BBC “later this autumn”, and looks like it could be interesting.
It seems that yesterday quite a few notable people died; among them:
There's an article in the New Yorker about the US television show Portlandia, a sketch comedy show satirising the foibles of White People in bourgeois-bohemian enclaves (like the titular Portland, Oregon, which seems to be the Berlin of America or something), and the relationship between the two creators of the show, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (better known to some as a member of the legendary Pacific Northwest riot-grrl band Sleater-Kinney):
“Portlandia” presents a heightened version of the city’s twee urbanity: a company sells artisanal light bulbs, a hotel offers a manual typewriter to every guest, and a big local event is the Allergy Pride Parade. The mayor, played by Kyle MacLachlan, becomes an object of scandal when he’s “outed” as the bass guitarist in a middle-of-the-road reggae band. (The real Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams, who is openly gay, plays MacLachlan’s assistant on the show.) Armisen and Brownstein, wearing anthropologically precise wigs and outfits, portray most of the main characters: bicycle-rights activists, dumpster divers, campaigners against any theoretical attempt to bring the Olympics to Portland, animal lovers so out of touch that they free a pet dog tied up outside a restaurant. (“Who puts their dog on a pole like a stripper?”) Many characters recur, and, because they often seem to know one another, their intersections from sketch to sketch give the show the feel of a grownup “Sesame Street.” This childlike vibe has an edge to it, however; as an Armisen character explains at one point, Portland is “where young people go to retire.”
But the most palpable affection onscreen is that between Armisen and Brownstein, who have an unusually devoted platonic relationship. They met in 2003, when Sleater-Kinney was playing in New York City, and Armisen invited the band to an “S.N.L.” after-party. When Brownstein showed up, she found him wearing a Sleater-Kinney button with her picture on it. Their paths had probably crossed before: Armisen started out his performing life as the drummer in a Chicago punk band called Trenchmouth, and he was married for six years to the British singer and songwriter Sally Timms, from the Mekons. Brownstein says that she and Armisen likely slept on some of the same couches when both were touring. (“If you were in an indie band in the nineties, you slept on a lot of couches.”) After that party in New York, Brownstein and Armisen began building a friendship, but, given that they were living on opposite coasts, they decided that they’d have to work on something together. As she put it, when you’re not dating somebody, “it begins to seem kind of weird if you’re flying around the country to see him.”
Armisen and Brownstein text each other every night before bed. Brownstein says of their friendship, “Sometimes I think it’s the most successful love affair either of us will ever have.” Both claim that it wouldn’t work if they were romantically involved. “It would be colder, because we’ve both treated our romantic relationships in a cold way,” Armisen says. “Carrie and I are more romantic than any other romantic relationship I’ve ever had—that sense of anticipation about seeing the other person, the secret bond. But things don’t become obligatory. I’m not thinking, I’m doing this because you’re my girlfriend; I’m just thinking, I love Carrie.”
A team in Germany has developed software which can edit objects out of live video in real time. Termed, catchily, "Diminished Reality", the software works a bit like Photoshop's content-aware fill, but is able to track, and eliminate, objects in moving video. The team from the Technische Universität Ilmenau are planning to release an Android port, so you too can be Stalin.
Perhaps even more interesting is software from the Max Planck Institute which can alter the body shapes of actors in video. The software contains data obtained from 3D scans of 120 naked people of different body types, apparently using a machine-learning algorithm, to form a 3D body model with a number of controllable attributes, such as height, muscularity and waist girth. The system can pick out human figures in video (in some conditions, anyway), map them to the model, adjust it, and then rerender the video with the adjusted model. The team have demonstrated this with a clip from the old TV series Baywatch, in which the male lead is given Conan The Barbarian-style musculature.
The article gives a number of potential applications for such technologies:
The technology has obvious applications in films like Raging Bull, for which Robert de Niro put on 27 kilograms in two months to portray his character. "The actor wouldn't need to go to all that trouble," says Theobalt. It could also be a cost-saver for advertising companies. Because standards of beauty vary across cultures, it is the norm to shoot several adverts for a single product. With the new software, firms could make one film and tweak the model's dimensions to suit different countries.The possibilities don't, of course, stop there. In the market-driven entertainment ecosystem, film and TV companies are competing for the attention (and money and/or eyeballs to sell to advertisers) of a public, a large segment of which is captivated by spectacle. With improved special-effects technology comes "awesomeness inflation", where yesterday's blockbusters look boring compared to the latest; so anything that can capture the eyeballs of the sensation-hungry, compulsively channel-surfing consumer (whom William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote") could give a film studio or TV network the edge; that extra average five seconds before the viewer changes the channel which, aggregated over an audience of hundreds of millions, means a lot of ad revenue.
It's perhaps obvious that film studios will use the software as another computer effect, making their actors more cartoonishly exaggerated, more punchily extreme, with taller, more ruggedly muscular action heroes, more exaggerated comic short/fat/skinny guys, leading ladies/love interests whose waists could not physically support their breasts, and so on. Eventually the public will get used to this, and the old films with realistically physiqued (by Hollywood standards) actors will look as shabbily unattractive as those films from the 70s they're always remaking because the pace's too slow, the scenes look crappy (didn't the ancients even know about orange and teal colour grading?) and there aren't enough awesome explosions and sex scenes. If the software's cheap enough (as it will eventually be), though, they won't even need to remake things: imagine, for example, a channel that shows reruns of popular old series, "digitally remastered for extra awesomeness". And so, every year, the stars in yesteryear's classic serials become that bit more like animated action figures and/or anime schoolgirls, culminating in a 8-foot, musclebound Jack Bauer who can shoot laser beams from his eyes. (The remastering process would also quicken the pace, by speeding up scenes and cutting out pauses, which would both hold the audience's attention for longer and leave more time for ad breaks.) Meanwhile, Criterion sell box sets of the original, unretouched versions in tasteful packaging; these become a highbrow affectation, a signifier of refined taste, and end up featured on Stuff White People Like.
Of course, in this universe, there'd be an epidemic of body-image disorders, with large numbers of deaths from anorexia, steroid overdoses and black-market plastic surgery. At least until physique augmentation ends up as a universal feature of compact cameras and/or Facebook uploading software, and gradually the survivors come to accept that it's OK to look imperfect, as long as you don't do so on film or video.
The Graun's Alexis Petridis looks at the one genre of 1970s musical entertainment not yet revived or reappropriated by anyone: cabaret pop, which, by his description, is a lukewarm broth of reactionary light entertainment aired on British television throughout the 70s. Cabaret pop pointedly ignored all the stylistic innovations of the past decade, and was so unabashedly naff that it makes Eurovision look polished by comparison:
These days, we tend to view the years 1965 to 1968 as a high watermark of daring creativity, greeted with untrammelled delight at the time: after all, who wouldn't prefer Jimi Hendrix to Gerry and the Pacemakers? Look at the charts, however, and the answer seems to be: loads of people. The shift from pop to rock, and all the things bound up with it – drugs, dissent, the rise of the counterculture – clearly horrified as many record buyers as it delighted, and they responded by buying music as far from the cutting edge as it's possible to imagine. The incident in which Engelbert Humperdinck's Release Me kept Strawberry Fields Forever off the top of the charts wasn't an aberration, it was part of a trend. By late 1969, the predominant style in the UK singles chart is reactionary gloop. The Stones' Honky Tonk Women and the Temptations' Cloud Nine are fighting for space not just with Englebert, but with Clodagh Rodgers, Ken Dodd, Joe Dolan and Karen Young.
You're struck by how utterly cut off all this music seems from anything else happening at the time. There's not the vaguest intimation of glam rock or soul or singer-songwriterisms about the artists' sound or appearance. Children's TV was packed with pop music in the 70s – Lift Off With Ayshea, Supersonic, Get It Together, Shang-A-Lang – but a decade after the Times approved of the Beatles' Aeolian cadences, it's clear that no one working in light entertainment considered rock or pop music suitable mainstream entertainment for adults. When the Three Degrees appear on The Wheeltappers and Shunters, all hotpants and inoffensive Philly soul, the audience look aghast and baffled: you'd have thought Kraftwerk had just come on and played Autobahn in its entirety.
Even more astonishing is the way the musicians have shut themselves off from pop's recent past. You might have thought at least the Beatles' oeuvre had swiftly attained standard status, that Yesterday or Something might be precisely the kind of thing the balladeers with the shag-pile sideburns would gravitate towards, but no: it's still clearly considered too racy. During my light entertainment marathon, I hear two Beatles songs. One is courtesy of Little and Large: Syd Little sings Till There Was You while Eddie Large interrupts him doing impressions of Deputy Dawg. The other is Can't Buy Me Love, performed by the Morton Fraser Harmonica Gang: three men huffing away accompanied by a dancing midget in a wig.Cabaret pop's most lasting contribution to pop culture may well have been being an irritant which contributed to the welling up of rage that brought about punk and the explosion of rule-breaking creativity that followed:
From a distance of nearly 40 years, punk can be hard to grasp: not the music, but the spitting and the swastikas and the fuck-everything nihilistic rage. But when you're drowning in light entertainment pop, you start to get an inkling of why so many people were so eager not just to listen to the Sex Pistols – that's obvious – but to indulge in all punk's unsavoury gestures. It's partly because anything, even dressing up like a Nazi and coming home covered in someone else's flob, was more entertaining than staying at home and watching three men play harmonicas accompanied by a dancing midget in a wig, and partly because, judging by what constituted mainstream popular entertainment in the 70s, not one of the previous decade's supposed revolutions had affected wider popular culture at all. The youth culture of the preceding decade seemed to have failed: to anyone watching the TV, Britain still looked trapped in the 1950s.It's not clear whether this will remain cabaret pop's only claim to historical significance, or whether it will end up, eventually, being reappropriated by someone. Perhaps it'll be an adjunct to wickerfolk or hypnagogic pop, the insipid blandness and lack of artistic significance compared to the other things revived (from 1970s folk revivalism to radiophonic library music) merely a red rag to the bull of hipster irony. Perhaps someone will sample it, and the white-gowned ladies and dancing midgets will enjoy a post-ironic new lease of life at festivals. (Stranger things have happened; the Australians reading this will recall Kamahl's transition from ultra-bland crooner to ironic Big Day Out performer.) Or perhaps cabaret pop, without the antediluvian cool of lounge music, the polyester smoothness of yacht rock or the subtle undertones of the outré that shade the folk and radiophonica of that epoch, is truly beyond redemption as a subject of sincere interest going beyond half an hour of cringing at fuzzy YouTube videos; one of those things there isn't enough hipster irony in the observable universe to redeem.
Delivering the Bafta Annual Television Lecture, Stephen Fry laments the infantilisation of British television, including favourites like Doctor Who:
Fry, who hosts QI, said that the programmes were "like a chicken nugget. Every now and again we all like it … But if you are an adult you want something surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong. "You want to try those things, because that's what being adult means."
Fry said he was not arguing that all television should be pompous, academic or intellectual. "But they ought to surprise and to astonish and to make us feel perhaps the possibility there is a world outside that we know nothing of to provoke us, to provoke in the best sense of the word, sometimes in the worst sense," he said. "To surprise us, to outrage us."In other news, Japanese neuroscientists have found that monkeys enjoy watching television, or at least that viewing video of performing circus animals stimulates the pleasure centres in the monkeys' frontal lobes.
Charlie Brooker presents a self-referential analysis of the visual language of TV news segments (or, at least, of BBC news segments; your mileage may vary):
Frustrated by continued demands from viewers for more "awesome" and "extreme" programming, the president of the Science Channel (a US cable-TV channel) has taken a stand, refusing to dumb down his network's content any further:
"We already have a show called Really Big Things, which is just ridiculous if you think about it, and one called Heavy Metal Taskforce, which I guess deals with science on some distant level, though I don't know what it is. Plus, there's Punkin Chunkin. Punkin Chunkin, for Christ's sake," added Bunting, referring to the popular program in which contestants launch oversized pumpkins into the air using catapults. "What more do you people want?"
As evidence of their refusal to further water down programming, network sources pointed to a number of proposed shows they've abandoned in recent weeks, including an animal-based bungee-jumping program called Extreme Gravity, and Atom Smashers, a series that was was roundly rejected by focus groups as being "too technical" and "not awesome enough."
"People liked that the particle accelerators were really huge, but apparently the show didn't have enough smashing to hold their interest," said a former employee who wished to remain anonymous. "In the end, it was either add a huge monster truck for no reason whatsoever or pull the plug on the entire project. Honestly, I don't think I'd be able to face my wife and children had we gone through with it."
The Gervais Principle, or the social psychology of how organisations really function, as seen in the Office TV comedies:
Now, after four years, I’ve finally figured the show out. The Office is not a random series of cynical gags aimed at momentarily alleviating the existential despair of low-level grunts. It is a fully-realized theory of management that falsifies 83.8% of the business section of the bookstore. The theory begins with Hugh MacLeod’s well-known cartoon, Company Hierarchy ..., and its cornerstone is something I will call The Gervais Principle, which supersedes both the Peter Principle and its successor, The Dilbert Principle.The McLeod hierarchy, and the theory which is the cornerstone of Ricky Gervais' comedy (and its US remake), divides organisations into three psychological types, somewhat facetiously labelled Sociopaths (i.e., those driven by the desire to control and dominate, without whom no decisions would be made), Losers (i.e., those who have made the tradeoff of security for control of their destiny; these need not necessarily be losers in the colloquial sense) and the Clueless (who are in the middle of the hierarchy, but are one level below losers in self-awareness; whereas the loser typically puts in the minimum they can get away with, the clueless give their loyalty to the organisation out of a misplaced faith that it will be reciprocated). Initially, organisations start off with a few Sociopaths in the driving seat and a corps of Losers doing the gruntwork in exchange for a regular paycheque; as they get larger, a layer of Clueless is added, and expands. This layer may be imagined as a dense, inert substance, which serves to keep the otherwise inherently unstable organisation from imploding.
A sociopath-entrepreneur with an idea recruits just enough losers to kick off the cycle. As it grows it requires a clueless layer to turn it into a controlled reaction rather than a runaway explosion. Eventually, as value hits diminishing returns, both the sociopaths and losers make their exits, and the clueless start to dominate. Finally, the hollow brittle shell collapses on itself and anything of value is recycled by the sociopaths according to meta-firm logic.The Gervais Principle builds on this, and describes how Losers who put in more than is in their best interest get promoted to middle-management, not because of their talents, or because of their incompetence (as per the Peter Principle or Dilbert Principle), but because they are most useful as pebbles in the insulating layer of the Clueless.
Sociopaths, in their own best interests, knowingly promote over-performing losers into middle-management, groom under-performing losers into sociopaths, and leave the average bare-minimum-effort losers to fend for themselves.
A loser who can be suckered into bad bargains is set to become one of the clueless. That’s why they are promoted: they are worth even more as clueless pawns in the middle than as direct producers at the bottom, where the average, rationally-disengaged loser will do. At the bottom, the overperformers can merely add a predictable amount of value. In the middle they can be used by the sociopaths to escape the consequences of high-risk machinations like re-orgs.
Which brings us to the other major management book that is consistent with the Gervais Principle. Images of Organization, Gareth Morgan’s magisterial study of the metaphors through which we understand organizations. Of the eight systemic metaphors in the book, the one that is most relevant here is the metaphor of an organization as a psychic prison. The image is derived from Plato’s allegory of the cave, which I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that it divides people into those who get how the world really works (the sociopaths and the self-aware slacker losers) and those who don’t (the over-performer losers and the clueless in the middle).(Paging Greg Wadley...)
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Channel 4 will screen a fictional documentary in which, in a parallel Britain, Gary Glitter is sentenced to death for paedophilia, something a majority of Britons reportedly would approve of:
In the Channel 4 programme, The Execution of Gary Glitter, public revulsion has led to the return of the death sentence and the first person to be tried under the new Capital Crimes Against Children legislation is Glitter.
An Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by Channel 4 found 70% of those surveyed thought the UK should have the death penalty as the maximum possible penalty for the most serious crimes.It has not been confirmed that, when respondents were informed that reinstating the death penalty would require Britain to leave the EU, this figure jumped to 80%.
One thing Britain won't be short of any time soon is qualified forensic scientists; the country's universities are competing for the pool of science students by laying on forensic science degrees to attract fans of police-procedural TV shows:
Let's call it the CSI Effect: thanks to the uncontrolled proliferation of cop shows focusing on forensic investigation, including Bones, Silent Witness, CSI and its Miami and New York spin-offs, the number of degree courses in forensic science being offered in the UK has rocketed, from just two in 1990 to 285 this year.
The biggest problem, however, is that crime has not kept pace with the explosion in TV detective shows. The government-owned Forensic Science Service currently finds 1,300 scientists sufficient for its crime-solving needs. The UK's largest private provider, LGC Forensics, employs 500 people. In 2008 alone, 1,667 students embarked on forensic science degree courses. In order to ensure there are enough jobs to go round, more than half of them will have to retrain as serial killers.
Blogging ambulanceman Tom Reynolds on the clichés found in TV drama, with an emphasis on medical drama:
I think that there are two reasons, first that TV producers think that viewers are stupid, secondly that the writers carry paintbrushes.
I remember, as a child, watching Rolf Harris on a Saturday afternoon creating works of art using 4" paintbrushes. Big sheet of paper, slopping the paint everywhere and then, as if by magic, a painting would appear.
Big tools, used well to create wonderfully subtle works of art.
Writers today also use those 4" brushes, but they use them not for portraits, but to paint walls. Huge strokes slabbered on with no finesse. Before I visited NBC's character biographies I could guess the characters 'personalities'. You'd have the maverick, the womaniser, the hard as nails female, the unsure rookie, the heartless administrator, the drinker/gambler/philanderer. The list goes on. Oh, and we must not forget the racially diverse cast of good looking people.
Look at those character types, you can see them appearing in pretty much every show.
And yes, 'Casualty' does still make me grind my teeth - 'blonde sexbomb'. 'joker', 'socially awkward nerd in glasses' who, in the their second episode tell us what their personalities are by talking to a psychiatrist. Next series I think they'll stop giving the characters names and instead they will instead walk around carrying placards with their character traits written on them.Elsewhere in the post, he posits an updated version of Chekhov's Gun which applies to such shows:
'Chekhov's pregnancy' - 'If there is a heavily pregnant woman in the first act, she will get trapped in a lift/locked building/under rubble and will then give birth'. (Needless to say, on TV pregnant women race through the stages of labour in fifteen minutes, not the more normal twelve hours or so)
The BBC is making a TV "comedy drama" about the rivalry between the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro. Or, more precisely, between their makers. The working title is "Syntax Era", and it will start Martin "Arthur Dent" Freeman as the BBC Micro's creator, Chris Curry.
More details have emerged of the remake of The Prisoner: As well as Jesus playing Number 6 and Gandalf playing Number 2, Portmeirion has been replaced as The Village by the Namibian city of Swakopmund, a German colonial city in Namibia.
Instead of rebooting the influential series in Portmeirion, Wales, where the initial narrative took place, Hopkins and Hurran transplanted the action to Namibia, specifically the strange colonial German village of Swakopmund. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and inhospitable desert on the other three, the location worked perfectly to evoke The Village's dual identities. It's a nice place to visit, sure, but you'd never want to be imprisoned there.A German-style city in Africa replacing an Italianate town in Wales sounds like a reasonable swap. The story also mentions that the new Prisoner is meant to be a topical thriller in a world of "terrorism and technology". Well, at least it's not going to be all about celebrity sexploitation or something.
Meanwhile, Patrick McGoohan, who played the original Number 6, has passed away.
There is now an Asiavision Song Contest. A company named Asiavision Pte. Ltd. (which sounds like they're based in Singapore) has licenced the Eurovision format, and the inaugural Asiavision Song Contest is expected in mid-2009.
"The format is highly suited to the Asia region and its people who love popular music and have a strong national pride", says Andreas Gerlach, CEO of Asiavision Pte. Ltd. "Asia today is all about competition, economically and politically. The Song Contest is a friendly competition between cultures. Like in Europe, the universal language of music will help to bring people closer together and nurture mutual understanding in the region," Gerlach believes.
The annual song contest is planned to be a six-month regional and national tournament culminating in the Grand Final. The song contest will be distributed in the following countries: China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Targeting the most populous region in the world with more than three billion people the show has a potential audience of over 500 million viewers. A number of broadcasters have indicated their desire to be the Host Broadcaster for the first ever Asiavision Song Contest.Australia is notable by its absence from this list, and presumably won't be sending competitors there. I imagine that Australians will continue to watch Eurovision (broadcast on the Sunday after, due to time differences), often having parties to do so. Whether Asiavision will get broadcast there (i.e., whether SBS will pick it up or it'll be confined to some ethnic-interest cable channel) remains to be seen.
More news has emerged about the remake of the TV series The Prisoner. It's being made by ITV, not Sky One (for whatever that's worth), and promises to "reflect 21st century concerns and anxieties such as liberty, security and surveillance", rather than merely being a vehicle for trashy celebrity sexploitation as was rumoured. Sir Ian McKellen will play Number 2, with Jim "Christ" Caveziel being Number 6. It is not clear whether any of it will be filmed in Portmeirion.
On a tangent: an architect claims that Portmeirion appears three times larger than it actually is, due to its complexity, being what he calls a "fractal town":
"Distances will therefore seem smaller in places where people look at their feet and there is lots of traffic. We can use this to make space from nothing. It would seem that vastly more information is absorbed during a walk in Portmeirion than it is in Manchester."
He said previous studies in the US had indicated that our vision expects the world to be fractal. "This may explain why non-fractal environments such as car parks feel oppressive," he said.
Obscure television programme of the day: Heil Honey I'm Home!. Produced in Britain in 1990, this was intended to be a rediscovered 1950s US sitcom set in Nazi Germany, and concerned with the domestic life of (a fictionalised) Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun and their neighbours, the Goldensteins. The characters are presented in classic 1950s American sitcom tradition; the Hitler character himself comes across as a loud, oafish guy, a sort of Fred Flintstone in Nazi drag, Eva Braun is a traditional housewife, and the Goldensteins are cantankerous schmucks, apparently from somewhere in Brooklyn.
Not surprisingly, the programme turned out to be controversial and was scrapped early; only one episode was ever aired, a low-quality copy of which may be seen here.
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As a British TV company prepares a TV series reuniting Enid Blyton's junior crimefighters the Famous Five as middle-aged adults in today's world, the Graun speculates on what it might be like:
Little more is being said about the project, so it remains to be seen how the Five's crime-busting skills will transfer to a post-Jack Bauer world. Perhaps they won't have to hit the ground running and unravel a dirty bomb plot. "If only," thought Dick, "stern Uncle Quentin hadn't been so weirdly secretive about all his science work in the study at Kirrin Cottage ..."
Indeed, rather than the sense that the past is another country, where they do things differently, the reactions to the Famous Five announcement suggests a feeling that the present is another country, a strange land that must be negotiated in a state of permanent anxiety.I wonder whether the new Famous Five concept will take a leaf out of the 24/Spooks playbook and have them save Britain (or at least its idyllic southwestern corner) from the apocalyptic machinations of terrorist cells, armed with the requisite high-tech gadgets. That may be a bit of a stretch, though (even though a Famous Five/24 mashup could be gloriously kitschy). Ruling out terrorists, who could be the villains? Child-abducting paedophiles may be a good choice, as it ties in the childhood-innocence theme inherent in reviving such a concept with a popular fear.
After all, these days, the one where Five Go To Smuggler's Top would result in a presumably fatal shooting by chaps whose contraband is grown in Afghanistan, with no comeback from our old friend PC Gone Mad, the porphyric local bobby, who ... No, that's not right. But handled well, the updated Famous Five promises to be the most challenging of TV delights.
The BBC's "edgy", yoof-oriented BBC Three channel, has revealed six new drama series due to be screened later this year:
Being Human, from Touchpaper TV and Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse, follows three co-habiting flatmates. One is a vampire, one is a ghost and the other a werewolf.
Mrs Inbetweeny tells the story of siblings who are brought up by their pre-op transsexual aunt Emma from America.
Phoo Action is a kung fu live action drama set in 2012 London, which is in the grip of mutant criminals. Terry Phoo and Whitey Action - the first a Buddhist cop and the second an anarchist - step in to save the day.
W10 LDN, from Noel Clarke and Kudos, looks at the lives led by a group of young teenagers on a housing estate in West London.The last one sounds like they're trying to jump on the Lily Allen cool-street-hip-hop bandwagon, which could possibly sell. But Phoo Action?
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Not that long after al-Jazeera launched its defiantly postcolonial English-language news channel, another player is entering the market; France 24 will be a 24-hour news channel, funded by the French government and a French private TV network, and broadcasting in French and English (with Spanish and Arabic to be added later).
France 24 can be viewed through its web site (if you have Windows Media installed), and will be available on cable TV. Its mission is, in its own words, "to cover worldwide news with French eyes"; the channel insists its editorial policy will be independent of the French government (though, in either case, you'd expect them to say so).
Cory Doctorow argues that high-definition television might kill special-effects-heavy blockbusters, by amplifying the way that Moore's Law keeps increasing audience expectations and making last year's special-effects extravaganza look like so much cheese:
It's a good reason to go to the box-office, but it's also the source of an awful paradox: yesterday's jaw-dropping movies are today's kitschy crap. By next year, the custom tools that filmmakers develop for this year's blockbuster will be available to every hack commercial director making a Coke ad. What's more, the Coke ads and crummy sitcoms will run on faster, cheaper hardware and be available to a huge pool of creators, who will actually push the technology further, producing work that is in many cases visually superior to the big studio product from last summer.
It's one thing for a black-and-white movie at a Hitchcock revival to look a little dated, but it's galling -- and financially perilous -- for last year's movie to date in a period of months. You can see what I mean by going to a Lord of the Rings festival at your local rep-house and comparing the generation-one creatures in Fellowship of the Ring to the gen-three beasts in Return of the King.Where does HDTV come into this? Well, until now, yesteryear's blockbusters could make back some of their mammoth production costs on the long tail of DVD rentals and TV licensing; thanks to the inherent poor quality of TV, consumers were more forgiving of their dated effects. With HDTV, this may not be so, and the long tail may be decimated, making mega-blockbusters uneconomical to produce.
Cult 1970s BBC comedy troupe The Goodies, who recently reissued some of their shows on DVD and did a successful tour of Australia (where, thanks to the ABC's buying of their show, they are a national institution), are now doing a UK tour, starting off with a show at the Edinburgh Festival.
The show is a mixture of reminiscences, clips from the shows, new sketches and their chart hit song, "The Funky Gibbon". Then there are the recordings of Oddie, 65, "who we can switch off at any moment". Among the sketches is one about the Goodies' invention of Ecky-Thump, a Lancastrian martial art, at which a man in Scotland died laughing when it was originally broadcast. "We'll have medics on hand," Brooke-Taylor said.
Both Brooke-Taylor and Garden, 63, admit they are not sure who their audiences will be in Edinburgh, but if it goes well there is a chance of a national tour. Garden seems slightly nervous. "In Australia there was this great fan base. In this country, nobody has seen the show for 25 years," he said. For anyone under 40, features included a rip-off of King Kong with a kitten on the Post Office Tower, and the Goodies' bicycle for three. The show routinely attracted audiences of up to 14 million.(14 million? Wasn't that the entire population of Australia at the time? Presumably they mean in Britain during the 1970s.)
Recently, soul singer and celebrity Scientologist Isaac Hayes resigned from the cartoon South Park (in which he did the voice of the Chef) because he couldn't stomach its disrespect for religion. Curiously, Hayes had no problems with the show's repeated lampooning of Christianity, Judaism, the Catholic Church, the Mormons or other faiths, but only found it unconscionable to continue with the show after it turned its guns on Scientology.
The episode in question, which apparently also casts aspersions on Superclam Tom Cruise's sexuality (being gay is against Scientologist teachings, because L. Ron Hubbard wasn't gay, and as such, homosexuality is a defect caused by thetans or engrams or somesuch), has been dropped from US cable TV channel Comedy Central, apparently after Cruise threatened to refuse to promote an upcoming film of his, which is being released by Comedy Central owners Paramount/Viacom. To which the show's creators have issued a reply:
"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!"That sound you can hear is the anguished, frenzied snapping of millions upon millions of enturbulated clams.
And some fans have launched a petition urging Comedy Central to reinstate the episode, and promising to boycott all of Cruise's films until this is done.
And it seems that the South Park people have found a new actor to play the Chef. I imagine that there were enough Barry White soundalikes on the talent market to find one who can do the job and doesn't have any religious objections to doing so.
And it seems that the South Park people have found a new actor to play the Chef. I imagine that there were enough Barry White soundalikes on the talent market to find one who can do the job and doesn't have any religious objections to doing so.
Update: If this post (thanks, Peter!) is correct, Hayes didn't quit South Park, but had been incapacitated by a stroke since mid-January, and hadn't issued any statements at all concerning South Park; which means that someone else spoke on his behalf. The plot thickens...
It looks like they're remaking The Prisoner. The new series is not going to be set in Portmeirion and is not going to have "the arty 'pop' feel of the original". Given that the remake is being done by Sky One, (News Corporation's mass-entertainment network and "the chavs' favourite channel" according to media troll and self-styled chav Julie Burchill), we can probably expect something between 24-style patriotic action thrillers and celebrity-sexploitation reality TV; in other words, unsubtle, lowbrow, cheap and of little interest to those who liked the original series.
A copy of the Nathan Barley DVD showed up in the post today. At first glimpse, it's pretty good; it has the six episodes plus a variety of deleted scenes, galleries of much of the artwork (SugaRAPE covers, gig posters (the one with "DVD Pausing Wankers" or something similar was amusing) and mockups of T-shirts worn by fashion victims), and all the TV Go Home "Cunt" columns that gave rise to the Nathan Barley character. It didn't have a video of Bad Uncle or Flesh Police that I could find, but you can't have everything. And it did have some junkie-choir footage (of them doing a version of Grandmaster Flash's White Lines, like a Pete Doherty-fronted Polyphonic Spree) in the extras menus. There's also a Shockwave-ish DVD-ROM section, and it's all Region 0.
The DVD comes in a posterised, Designers Republic-referencing cover, the inside of which contains the disc and a small, thick black booklet:
Look familiar? Yes, they're ripping off the look of Banksy's Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall and Existencilism (there's even a page with the heading "Websistentialism"), down to the cocky soundbites and autobiographical paragraphs in Courier. In fact, every page that's not comprised of material from the series is a textbook Banksyism. Not that they try in any way to hide this:
It looks like there's a Nathan Barley DVD coming out in late September. (It's only Region 2, btw; I have no idea whether this series has made it outside of Britain.) I wonder what extras it will have.
Well, that was a cracker of a way to end a season of Doctor Who. Dalek cultists? Who would have thought. Even if it did seem like a bit of a deus ex machina.
Anyway, David Tennant will have a tough act to follow as the next Doctor, given how good Ecclestone's grinning-nutter-with-heart was.
Surprise of the day: large-screen TVs use more current than the smaller ones. Wal-Mart America's love affair with the jumbo plasma screen has resulted in massive increases in electricity consumption, calling on some to compare the TVs to that other emblem of the divinely-sanctioned and non-negotiable American lifestyle, the SUV. The fact that a lot of people leave the TV on 24 hours a day as a psychological security blanket probably doesn't help.
(Though is anybody really surprised that large TVs use a lot more current? Electricity consumption would, I imagine, be a function of the square of the screen size, meaning that even small increases in size result in large increases in power consumption. Which, also, is probably one of the reasons why small, wimpy-looking laptops have about twice the battery life of the larger, more-impressive-looking ones.)
I just watched the first of the new Doctor Who series. It was amusing enough, with plastic dummies controlled by an alien consciousness hiding under a London landmark trying to take over the world. (It is apparently a Welsh production, though the story was all centred in London.) They may have been a little too eager to please, peppering the script with one-liners and quips, sometimes at the expense of plausibility. Anyway, Christopher Eccleston, in his short-cropped, leather-jacketed Northern English geezer guise, made a decent enough Doctor, and Billie Piper is the First Chav Assistant. (Why did they name her Rose, when Tracey or Mandy or something similar would have been a more appropriate name?)
Interestingly enough, the BBC are milking this cow as far as they can; right after the show, the lottery announcement had one of the announcers hitching a ride in on the TARDIS.
Last night, Murdoch cable channel Sky One aired a programme titled Chavs, a documentary of sorts, written and presented by Julie Burchill, on chav culture. I tuned in to see if it was going to be interesting or insightful, shedding any light on this phenomenon. It turned out to be more an op-ed piece, with Burchill, ever the contrarian, proudly hoisting the Burberry flag, declaring herself to be a chav and accusing those who have a problem with chav to be classist snobs.
Burchill's arguments hinged on one assumption: that chav and working-class culture were synonymous. (A piece of background: Burchill is the most self-announcedly "working class" public figure since Damon Albarn.) By her reasoning, all cultural figures of note from Mozart to the Mods were chavs, and the anti-chav camp only had horsy aristocrats and the likes of Prince Harry among them. Oh, and wearing in-your-face quantities of gold jewellery bought on QVC, drinking cheap lager and smoking like a chimney are just wholesome working-class ways of enjoying life, and those who would begrudge them that are hateful snobs and/or resentful of those who made it without middle-class privilege.
The fatal flaw in Burchill's argument is in the definitions; she plays fast-and-loose with what she means by "chav", switching between it meaning any happily working-class person at any time in history and the loutish subculture it commonly denotes. She also whitewashes the meaning to fit her argument, not mentioning the pseudo-criminal posturing (i.e., the combination of baseball caps and hooded tops, initially worn by muggers to avoid identification by CCTV cameras, now part of inner-city youth uniform) that's part of chav (or, indeed, the recent finding that 1 in 4 teenage boys is a serious or habitual offender), and sweeping things like drunken violence and football hooliganism under the carpet. It's not surprising that chav can start to look defensible and even pluckily admirable when you airbrush out all the negative parts of it.
Chavs was more of a snappily-edited tabloid opinion piece than anything else, and was also light on analysis, preferring to stick to simple assertions and soundbites. For example, while it asserted that the Mods of the 1960s were chavs (that is, if one ignores the difference between sharply-tailored suits and tracksuit pants), it failed to point out the one deeper connection between the two movements, i.e., that both appropriated (images of) black American culture (the Mods with soul and the "White Negro" ideal, and the chavs with their adoption of bling-bling and thug posturing from commercial gangsta rap).
It was also interesting to note that The Sun now has a "Chav and Proud" logo on its pages. It looks like the anti-anti-chav-backlash-backlash is beginning.
I just watched an episode of Nathan Barley. It's rather amusing; a sitcom set among a bunch of obnoxious coolsie wide-boys in some trendy part of London. They run in-your-face web sites and magazines (there's one named RAPE, which may or may not be a reference to Vice, present employers of Jim "Answer Me!" Goad), rap Streets-style over distorted beats, either take lots of drugs or act like it, wear ridiculous clothes and generally go around being insufferable twats to all concerned. It's written by Chris Morris, who also did controversial satirical TV series Brass Eye and wrote the lyrics to Stereolab's Nothing To Do With Me.
Following on from the fact about John Garden, a few more Goodies-related items. Firstly, the the second DVD compilation comes out in the UK in two weeks (there's an official launch in London's Prince Charles Cinema on the 12th), with Australia following on 3 March, and will include, among others, Radio Goodies and Sarth Efriker. Apparently a third DVD set is also in the works, on the strength of sales of the first set, so if your favourite episode isn't in the first two sets, it may well be there.
Secondly, Tim, Graeme and Bill are doing a Goodies tour of Australia, playing gigs on the East Coast (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra) in early March. Australia seems to be the world leader in Goodies fandom, being more fond of the series than Britain (case in point: you can get Goodies T-shirts on Brunswick St., though you won't find them amongst the Michael Caine/Vespa/Atari/random-sexual-innuendo T-shirts all over Camden and Carnaby St.). I'm hoping, though, that they do some London shows at some stage, if only for the city's population of Australian expats.
I just watched the season 3 finale of Spooks. Quite tense and topical, and once again showing that no character's too important to be killed off (literally, metaphorically, or by having their head deep-fried, as the case may be). It tied into the whole idea of the terrorist as auteur, though I won't say any more about it for the benefit of those not in the UK.
It wasn't a cliffhanger, though. I wonder if this means that there won't be another season.
Update: One of the BBC digital channels just aired a making-of documentary on season 3; for the most part, it was an excuse to recut highlights from the past season with Franz Ferdinand and the Scissor Sisters in the background, interspersed with interviews with cast members talking about how they see their characters and actual former MI5 agents (including David Shayler) talking about how inaccurate the depiction of their former occupations is. According to it, season 4 is being filmed now.
Munster Beat, an exotica-tinged dance/electro remake of the 1960s monster TV comedy. (via MeFi)
Unsatisfied with their portrayal in Russian TV serials, several Russian Mafia members have shot their own.
The program, called Spets, was shot by Vitaly Dyomochka, the owner of a shady car market who was sentenced several times for his activities. Everything in the show is designed to be genuine, with gangsters playing their own roles. Only the police are played by professional actors.
Every year, thousands of Britons come to Melbourne for one purpose: because some TV soap was filmed here.
Liverpudlian backpacker Chris, 23, and her travelling companions are star-struck after a close encounter with the actors. "It's stupid 'cause in Liverpool, you meet the Brookside (UK soap) actors and loads of footballers and you're not arsed at all. Give them a wave and head back to the bar. "But here, it's like, f---ing hell, it's Karl Kennedy, let's give him a kiss wicked."
Countless tour buses (both the official one and clandestine ones organised by pretty much every backpacker hostel in Melbourne) make their way to the sprawl of Vermont South, laden mostly with young Britons keen on seeing Pin Oak Court, better known to them as Ramsay St. Which probably pisses off the actual non-soap-character people who live in those famous suburban houses:
In recent years, minor intrusions like doorknocking fans looking for Harold Bishop, have given way to drive-by hoons and light-fingered memento hunters. Since the early 1990s, a Grundy-employed security guard has been on nightly duty, blocking unauthorised access to the street from 8pm to 7am. But this did not deter one amorous young couple found intertwined in a rather intimate position on Harold Bishop's front lawn one night about five years ago.
In two years on the job, Forster, 33, has witnessed some bizarre sights, such as the Newcastle (UK) rugby players who posed for photographs outside the Scullys' house with their daks down. "Another fella posed for a photo where he appeared to be urinating in the Kennedy's letterbox," he says.
Meanwhile, fellow Brit backpacker, Ole, 21, who arrived in a friend's car, is about to depart with some old roof tiles he found stacked next to a wheelie bin. "I'm in desperate need of money so I'm going to try and sell them to fans on eBay," he says.
(Somebody should probably tell Lonely Planet about this; the Melbourne section of their book on Australia doesn't even mention Vermont South, instead pointing out sights like the Old Melbourne Gaol, the Botanic Gardens, Puffing Billy and cosmopolitan inner-city areas which aren't home to popular TV soaps.)
A US man is suing his cable TV company, on the grounds that they made him smoke and drink, caused his wife to gain weight and turned his children into "lazy channel surfers" by giving his household free cable. Timothy Dumouchel of West Bend, Wisconsin wants either US$5,000 or three computers and a lifetime supply of free internet service as compensation. It's reassuring to see that someone's taking charge of their life. (via Techdirt)
Silicone-enhanced pop puppet Britney Spears may soon have her own TV talk show. Funny, that; some time ago I speculated that, in 2015 or so, "Britney" would be the highest-rating talk show in America. Jennifer Lopez is also planning one, which sounds like it could well be Ali G without the irony.
Four years ago, the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, founded as a Buddhist sanctuary and acting as the model for the fictional Shangri-La, became the last nation to introduce television, giving Rupert Murdoch's Star TV the rights to broadcast imported entertainment programming to its citizens. Consequently, the crime rate skyrocketed:
"Until recently, we shied away from killing insects, and yet now we Bhutanese are asked to watch people on TV blowing heads off with shotguns. Will we now be blowing each other's heads off?"
The marijuana that flourishes like a weed in every Bhutanese hedgerow was only ever used to feed pigs before the advent of TV, but police have arrested hundreds for smoking it in recent years. Six employees of the Bank of Bhutan have been sentenced for siphoning off 2.4m ngultrums (£40,000). Six weeks before we arrived, 18 people were jailed after a gang of drunken boys broke into houses to steal foreign currency and a 21-inch television set. During the holy Bishwa Karma Puja celebrations, a man was stabbed in the stomach in a fight over alcohol. A middle-class Thimphu boy is serving a sentence after putting on a bandanna and shooting up the ceiling of a local bar with his dad's new gun. Police can barely control the fights at the new hip-hop night on Saturdays.
I've just heard that the ABC is showing In the Realm of the Hackers, a local documentary about two hackers/crackers from late-1980s Melbourne, their exploits and the law's pursuit of them, tomorrow (Thursday) night at 10PM. I saw this in the cinema earlier this year, and can recommend it.
After reading the comments about BeTh's boat-naming dilemma, my mind turned to the question of why there wasn't a DVD of cult 1970s comedy series The Goodies. The theories I've heard about this included (a) that it's considered too racist/sexist/politically incorrect for this enlightened age, (b) that Tim/Graeme/Bill would rather the public forgot about their youthful indiscretions, or that (c) no archival footage of the series survives, with decaying VHS tapes recorded off the telly being the only remaining record of this series.
So I decided to do a Google search for "the goodies" dvd, and lo and behold, it appears that there is now a Goodies DVD, with 8 episodes. And it's region 0 too, for those still trapped under the jackboot of the MPAA.
(It doesn't seem to have the pirate radio episode, alas, but you can't have everything. Maybe if enough people buy this one, they'll release more episodes.)
Apparently SBS is airing a documentary on Wesley Willis tomorrow (Saturday) evening, at 10pm. I probably won't catch it as I'm DJing that night (and my TV reception is quite poor). (ta, Cos)
Apparently the Saturday-morning TV cartoons of the 1980s weren't just 30-minute toy commercials; some of them were also deeply inspired by Scientologist teachings.
I also used one of L. Ron Hubbard's discoveries in the field of study in a Muppet Babies episode I wrote.
(via bOING bOING)
There's Turkish Star Trek, and then there's the Soviet equivalent, Kosmicheskaya Militsiya, usually translated as "Cosmos Patrol". It's stylistically like Star Trek (it has its own Kirk, Spock (who's implied to be an ethnic German), even a proto-Wesley Crusher), only it's a vehicle for rather heavy-handed Marxist-Leninist dogma.
As on Star Trek, the "strange, new worlds" the Red Adventurer visits often seem ringingly familiar. Let's see: There's the Nazi Germany planet, the Gangland Chicago planet, the Ancient Greece planet, and the planet of the Militaristic Paranoid Fascists (the U.S.A. planet). And there's time travel, too: In my favorite episode, the crew somehow goes back to Zurich in 1917 to help Lenin get to St. Petersburg in time to start the Bolshevik Revolution... Perhaps one of the weirdest borrowings from Star Trek has Dobraydushev and a reanimated Peter the Great challenging holographic supervillains Adolf Hitler and John D. Rockefeller in a chess tournamentto the death!
A former waitress at a Torquay hotel talks about the real Basil Fawlty, a chap by the name of Donald Sinclair:
"He went up and down the tables like a policeman, questioning the guests. He came across a set of teapots at a table for two. He realised because of their size they were meant for a table for four, and he asked the guests for a description of the waiter.
This happened when John Cleese and his wife Connie Booth were staying at the hotel, and the rest is history. Mrs. Sinclair, however, is none too happy with how things happened.
The BBC plan to make a TV series based on Fungus the Bogeyman, the somewhat odd children's book by Raymond Briggs. I loved that book when I was 10 or so; where else would one, for example, learn what "crepuscular" means, or that "hodmandods" are snails. Anyway, the new TV series will be a combination of live action and 3D computer animation. Should be interesting if they pull it off well.
Television recently arrived in the remote Himalayan country of Bhutan, and is having a profound impact. (via RobotWisdom)
``I see that suddenly there is an explosion of fashion as people try to imitate things they saw on television... Television is a great agent to make the world into one big market, a powerful agent to melt down all local culture,'' Ura said during an interview in an office crammed with sacred Buddhist texts. ``I wish it was not welcomed so early into our society.''
Instead of learning to long for the indulgences of the outside world, most Bhutanese reacted with pride after TV arrived, he said. Until they saw the violence and lawlessness in the world outside, ``we didn't know how well off we were,'' Thinley said.
A 13-year-old student, Ugyen Phuentslo, wrote that he enjoyed watching World Wrestling Federation matches on TV, but was plagued by doubts. ``I think human beings can't take such big blows, kicks, etc. Some people say the fights are real and some say they are not. So whom should I believe?''
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