Category Archive • TV
January 08, 2005
Makeover link

Now I know what you're thinking. Where can you find out about a plastic surgery, diet, dentistry, etcetera, makeover reality TV show? Well, not here. Not today anyway.

But try here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:07 PM
January 04, 2005
The love Rabbi on Sex and the City

I am delighted to report that a new remaindered books shop has opened up near me, although the one a bit further away that closed down recently had a much better choice of recent stuff.

Anyway, at the new place I obtained, for a mere £3.99, a copy of Why Can't I Fall In Love? by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. (And never you mind why.) Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is also the author of Kosher Sex, and, although a new name (and what a name) to me, is apparently quite a big cheese in America, on talk radio and such.

Here is what he says about Sex and the City, the final two episodes of which were recently reshown on Channel 4 TV here in Britain:

Our culture's obsessive emphasis on independence has led too many singles to back-burner their search for love and turn instead to their like-minded, sympathetic friends for solace. Now I don't want to go on record saying we should cut off all our friends if we're going to find romance. But I will take a stand that may prove controversial: For too many of us, our attachment to friends threatens to dull our longing for a long-term romantic relationship. The wildly popular HBO series Sex and the City offers a fascinating window into this problem, though I hardly think its writers intended it this way. The series presents its four central characters as avid manipulators of men; ultimately, they always seem happier complaining to each other about the flawed opposite sex than pursuing the men they bemoan. To be sure, they make brief forays into the world of dating, but it's when Samantha, Charlotte, Carrie, and Miranda return and regale each other with the stories of their encounters that each episode reaches its stride. In fact, I believe the secret of Sex and the City's success isn't just that it's funny and sexy, but that it captures the camaraderie many women today have come to think of as more important and more lasting than the romantic relationships they claim to crave. For these women, men are a means to the end of their own friendships, rather than vice versa; they derive greater stimulation from each other than they could ever derive from a man.

Setting aside the matter of whether you agree with the Rabbi about whether friendship really does interrupt more intimate relationships in real life, I do think that the man has a point about Sex and the City.

I watched those final two episodes before reading the above judgement, and was myself struck by the air of falsity and fairy tale which pervaded all the various happy romantic endings we were offered for the four ladies (most especially for Carrie and Samantha), while noting that the relationship between the four when they got together to talk about these various endings was as convincing as ever.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
November 27, 2004
London's Billion Monkey Rugby World Cup celebrations

Just under a year ago, on Monday December 8th 2003, the triumphant England Rugby Union squad paraded the Rugby World Cup which they had won the previous month, against Australia, in Australia.

I found the final almost too painful to watch, and even now I can hardly bear to watch the DVD I now have of it. England should have finished off Australia an hour sooner, but they just couldn't, and in the end only Wilkinson's famous drop kick at the death won it for England.

So for me, the big thrill was not the final itself, but the celebrations in London, which I watched on the telly. This brought two of the things I have most enjoyed looking at during my whole life, the England rugby team in all its many variations, and the great city that is London, ditto, into one grand jamboree.

You can find far better photos, technically speaking, of these celebrations than the ones I took, but here are mine, which I snapped in a technically ridiculous fashion which I am sure was unnecessary, with my newly acquired Canon A70, of the digital TV coverage of the celebrations by the BBC, which I did not (and still do not) have the technology to record properly. (The only telly tapes I have are still of much inferior analogue reception.)

I couldn't even pause the pictures to get them less blurred.

But I love these photos. They capture a moment in the life of my country and my city, and of my own life, in a way which will surely never happen in the same way again, even if England win the next Rugby World Cup and parade that around London also, as is not impossible. For by the time of the next World Cup, I will surely have some means of digitally recording digital TV, and quite possibly I will by then have worked out how to capture such imagery on my computer, with some kind of card thingy or something. This, I feel sure, is what everyone else except me does already.

But for me, the technical bizarreness of it all only all adds to the fun, and it adds even more to the atmosphere of these pics that I think I started snapping away at the telly pretty much on the spur of the moment, having never tried doing this before.

All part of the oddity of them is that it has taken me so very long to finally get around to sticking them up here, the excuse being that it was a year ago. Also, today, at Twickenham this time, an almost brand new England side is playing against Australia.

Anyway, enjoy them, skip in among them, get the picture with one picture and move on, ignore them, scorn them. In short, treat this like any other brand-X blog posting. But for me, these will be a diary entry to treasure.


As you can see, the Billion Monkeys were out in force, many of us, it turns out, being England rugby players. My favourite Billion Monkey shot being the very first one here (which I'll call 1.1 – first row, first from the left), of Josh Lewsey, seen from above, photoing the Cup itself.

2.2 preserves in photo form all the clobber that surrounded my TV set at the time, and is one I will therefore particularly enjoy. And speaking of irrelevances, I especially struck by an individual I had completely not noticed at the time, namely the little blue guy whose job was to see that the Cup itself came to no harm. See especially 3.2, but he's in others too. What a day he must have had.

3.5 is a classic heroic shot from street level of Richard Hill on the bus, breathing it all in and making sure to savour these magic moments, with Jonny W for once rather spoiling things. And although 4.4 is very blurred, it gets Dallaglio very well, I think.

4.1 is another classic Billion Monkey pose, this time of the guy you have asked to try his best to do one of you with your camera. Jason Leonard is having fun, but he wants to get it right. And 5.1 is another generic Billion Monkey shot, the one where the Billion Monkey fiddles with the nobs in a somewhat puzzled way, with the strap hanging down over his hands. That's scrum half Matt Dawson.

In 5.2 and 5.3 we observe a veritable Billion Monkey Troop in full capture mode. A cameraless Mike Catt looks like he swallowed all the cream in England, but maybe Jason Robinson wishes he'd brought one of these camera thingies with him too, like all the other guys.

And who is that, just about makeable out in 6.1? Why yes, it's Mayor Livingstone! And quite right too. London needed to shake hands with these guys officially, and he was the man to do it. He did it well, not trying to barge in on anything, just making sure to be there, at the side.

There's even an artistic one, 7.5, and 1.4 is in a similar vein, with stuff flying through the air past the bus. And 5.6 is pretty artistic too, of the cup itself in reasonable focus and almost everything else blurred.

And through it all, the dominant personalities of the occasion. Captain Martin Johnson (4.3, 6.2), Head Coach Woodward (perfectly focussed in 4.5, then distracted away from the interviewer in 4.6), and Jonny Wilkinson (7.4 is especially good). And of course there are lots of pics in among it all are of the ecstatic fans, flooding into Oxford Street, Regent Street, and finally Trafalgar Square.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:22 PM
October 07, 2004
At last – a good picture of Vicky Pollard

Finally, today, I found – and am able to show you – a picture of the one, the only, the magnificent Vicky Pollard


… which does her justice, and puts her in her deserved place in British society, on a phone box.

Vicky is already working her magic on British Pop Culture. One of my favourite TV shows just now – actually it just finished this evening – is called Doc Martin. It's about a grumpy doctor in a Cornwall village played by Martin Clunes. And, Doc Martin has an amazingly strange and insubordinate secretary, played by the excellent Lucy Punch. Now it may all be coincidence, but as far as I'm concerned Lucy Punch in Doc Martin was a thinner, better looking Vicky Pollard, with twiddlier hair.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:43 PM
September 17, 2004
All I want is a flatscreen TV with a view

VirtualWindow.jpgI hadn't visited since my Summer Recess, so as soon as I remembered this, i.e. today, I visited it again. This was the most cultural thing I could find via them, in B3ta Issue 151. It's about using flat screen TVs to do more than watch flat screen TV shows. You can stick flat screen TVs with fake views on them behind fake windows. Scoff if you like, but this has a big future.

And how about combining one of these windows with something like this picture.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:59 PM
September 16, 2004
The Globe Theatre on the telly again

I have just watched the first half of the televised Measure For Measure from the Globe directed and starred in by Mark Rylance, the same team, in other words, who did that magnificent Richard II, also on BBC4 TV.

This Measure for Measure has been, for me, somewhat of a disappointment. The funny bits weren't funny enough, and worse, the serious bits werent' serious enough.

David Starkey, commenting at half time, said it all. The basis of the play is that it is set in a world which takes sex seriously, and somehow that has to come across. There are rules for sex, and God help you if you get caught disobeying them. This did not come across here. I thought momentarily that maybe that could be accomplished by setting it in some decaying Muslim Fundamentalist state, which is falling apart but still lashing out with the remnants of its dogmatic certainties. But that wouldn't work because fundamentalist Islam blames women for everything, and in Measure for Measure, Claudio is to be punished for his adultery.

No, all I want to see is a better production. The other commenter, the actress Juliet Stephenson, herself a notable Isabella apparently, said that it was good to see all the arguments so clearly laid out. But they didn't sound clear enough to me.

But now the second half is underway, and Shakespeare's sheer genius as a script writer is now sweeping everyone and everything along, and everything, despite all the confusions of the first half, is being made clear. The underlying situation – so serious for those in it, so weird in the way the Duke set it all up – simply cannot be denied, for all the tittering.

There was much talk at half time of The Duke being James I, but to me he comes across as more like a self-send-up of the God Almighty Playwright himself. Shifting the characters hither and thither. Slinking away to let them do their worst, yet still spying on them. In charge, yet not in charge. Enraged when some of the characters (Lucio in particular) subvert his plottings and make nonsense of his delusions of omnipotence. Hah! What a strange play.

And a production of two halves.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:59 AM
September 06, 2004
Architecture and classical music on the telly

My TV system doesn't record digitally, and the analogue reception is garbage. Eventually I'll have some kind of Tivo/hard disc gismo. Meanwhile, life's too short to lash up an answer that will be obsolete soon anyway. So I generally now either watch stuff when it's on, or not at all

This evening I watched the first of four shows on BBC3 about guerrilla homes, which means little boxes craned onto the top of bigger buildings, or just lashed up without planning permission buit prettily enough then to be tolerated, from a kit of parts. Said presenter Charlie Luxton: "Planning permission sucks." Go Charlie. Now tell us what you think of property rights. Maybe you think they suck too? But without them, it's anarchy, and not in a good way.

Then I watched a Channel 4 documentary about the design of the new tower they're building in New York to replace the Twin Towers. I seem to recall hailing the idea of teaming Libeskind with SOM's David Childs as a good one. This show made it look like a complete mess. The Childs design would have been pretty good. The Libeskind design would have been pretty good. The Childs/Libeskind/Governor of New York design looks like it's going to be pretty bad, with a stupid, pointless point stuck on the top, in a way that has damn all to do with what is underneath it. Scroll down here for more about this show.

And then I switched to hearing the last bit of Messiaen's Éclairs sur l'Au-delà…, on BBC4. Very fine, by the sound of it, as supplied in their customary fine sound by the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Rattle.

Here is a link to the CD they've recently done of this piece. I think this will sell very well, and that in three months it will be havable in HMV Oxford Street for way less than full price.

I have been trying to like Messiaen's piano music recently, but have yet to succeed. The Turangulila Symphony sounds just that tiny bit too slushy and Mantovani-ish for my taste. This sounded rather better. On the strength of what I heard, I want the CD of all of it. When it's come down a bit.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:58 PM
July 21, 2004
BBC4 TV cock-up alert

Tonight on BBC4 TV I was lucky enough to hear a snatch of Magdalena Kozena singing some songs by Novak (before incoming phone got in the way), at the live Prom they have just shown. She didn't look nearly as glamorous as she does in her publicikty stills, but she has a truly beautiful voice and made wonderful use of it this evening. I have CDs by her, but have never heard her sound so good.

Classical music on TV is often somewhat of a waste of all that camera work, but when someone is singing in a foreign language, the subtitles are a real help.

Later in the concert, however, there was an extraordinary moment, at 9.29 pm to be precise. Jiri Behlohlavek was conducting a very nice performance of the Prague Symphony by Mozart. Except that during the last movement the proceedings were jarringly interrupted by a plug for the latest manifestation of the rerun of Robert Hughes Shock of the New series, about Modern Art. And then it was back to the Mozart as if nothing had happened.

Imagine being the person responsible for a grotesque cock-up of this sort? And I wonder if any reference will be made to this interruption, now that the concert is over they are all clapping?

Here comes the same advert again. And now a voice says: "You're watching BBC4." Yes dear, I know, but do you know what BBC4 just did? It would seem not. Now they are showing a little programme about Bollywood movies. No apparent realisation of or apology for what happened.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:46 PM
July 20, 2004
David Baddiel on Richard and Judy

BaddielSecretPurposes.jpgRichard and Judy, for the benefit of those cursed by having to live outside England, are a TV husband and wife act, and they now have an afternoon chat spot on Channel 4, which I often watch. Today, I caught them interviewing David Baddiel, who is better known as Frank Skinner's comic other half.

I sort of knew that Baddiel is some sort of book writer, but I didn't know that he is actually quite a noted novelist. Today, he was plugging – very interestingly – his latest novel, The Secret Purposes, which is about the many thousands of Germans, almost all of them Jews taking refuge in Britain from the Nazis, who were interned during the Second World War on the Isle of Man. All this was entirely new to me, I can tell you. Baddiel made it clear that the conditions they lived in were very benign, and in no way to be compared with the horrors of camps and ghettoes on the Continent. Indeed, he recounted that his German Jewish Grandfather, who was one of these internees and whose recollections got Baddiel started towards writing a story based in these events, was actually quite nostalgic for the time he spent there.

But the other interesting thing about all this is the way that Richard and Judy are doing an Oprah, and plugging books with their TV show. They were enthusiastic about this book, and this is bound to boost its sales.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:54 PM
June 27, 2004
Culture is a game of two halves

An interesting cultural angle from Michael Jennings, writing about the European Football contest for Ubersportingpundit, re the fact that, now, all the big countries (England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy) are out of it:

Meanwhile, the tournament sponsors and advertisers will be unhappy. Most of the population of Europe come from countries that are out of the tournament. Most of the star players commonly used in advertising are headed for the beaches of the Mediterranean. On the other hand, Hollywood will be happy. This kind of tournament eats into cinema admissions quite badly, but now people will once again be going to the movies.

And this posting by David Carr is quite funny too. Did you know that before he became a sit-down comedian David Carr used to be a stand-up one?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:42 PM
June 14, 2004
Radio memories

RoundTheHorneRevis.jpgI've been watching Round the Horne Revisited on BBC4 TV, the bloke on the right being the revisited version of Kenneth Horne rather than the original.

Good line:

"His men would follow him anywhere, if only out of morbid curiosity."

Presumably this line was recycled from the original. I used to listen to Round the Horne on the radio when I was a kid, and also to a show which was I think its predecessor, Beyond Our Ken. I knew then that it was all chock full, if you'll pardon the expression, of innuendo, but didn't understand the majority of them. But half the time the fact of innuendo was the joke rather than the actual innuendo itself. Even the fiction of innuendo served perfectly well, i.e. when it only sounded like innuendo.

Kenneth Williams was the master of suggestive gibberish, but they were all pretty good at it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:57 AM
June 13, 2004
Friend – sculpture – sunset – bridge

No time for anything serious. So two quota photas, both taken during a walk on the south side of the Thames a few weeks ago, with a friend.




Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 PM
May 15, 2004
Photos and TV commentary on Samizdata

Off to my Mum's Ninetieth so expect no more today. But I've been quite busy at Samizdata lately doing cultural type things.

I've done a couple of recent photo postings. Natalie Solent was kind enough to say of the first lot that they made a nice change from other photos that have been much on people's minds lately, and in general they seemed to be well received. So I've just done another little set.

samizmay12adetail.jpg  samizmay12cdetail.jpg  annsumsmall.jpg

I'd be interested to know what people think about the size I've used to display these photos. In deference to Samizdata stylistic requirements, these pics are nearer 300 across than the 500 I tend to use here. Is that bad because detail is lost? - or good because loading time is shortened?

I've also done a couple of pieces at Samizdata about a most interesting TV series.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:35 AM
May 09, 2004
More pictures of you know what plus one more from me

More ghreat Gherkin pictures courtesy Ghuardian Unlimited.

Apparently, these guys were just cleaning the windows.

This building has become an instant classic, like the Wheel, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, etc. See Jonny Vaughan fondling it in his Capital Radio adverts on buses. Picture of that follows, I hope, but adverts come and go, and I may not be able to supply that.

Meanwhile, here from me is another photo, featuring another bus advert, which I took in London the other day.


That's exactly as it emerged from the Canon A70. No cropping, no Photoshopping. Very London I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:19 PM
April 26, 2004
Another prodigy courtesy of the BBC

Yes, another prodigy has been unearthed by the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, in the form of an eleven year old pianist called Benjamin Grosvenor. No less a personage than Noriko Ogawa (yes, she does look nice doesn't she?), who is one of the judges, described the occasion as "historic".


Yes and no. To say it again, there have never been so many wonderfully capable classical musicians as there are now, but what will they actually spend their lives playing, or failing that, doing? What will it be like for the also-rans? As I asked yesterday of Jennifer Pike, what will it be like for Benjamin when the years go by and the amazement at him being able to do this when only eleven has faded?

They haven't announced the winner of tonight's keyboard semi-final, but I would be amazed if Benjamin Grosvenor doesn't win it. The others, compared to him, all sound also-rans to me.

Once again, it seems that this competition was all recorded, way back in February this time, judging by that blog posting I linked to above. So is the final, where concertos are played, to be shown by the BBC on May 2nd, live as well, or also recorded?

The last semi-finalist, a slim, dark haired chap called Otis Beasley is playing Chopin, very well. But I'd bet on Ben Grosvenor.

The decision has just been anounced. "Quick and unanimous": Benjamin Grosvenor.

Jennifer Pike looked like a grown-up, even at the age of twelve. Benjamin is very visibly only a boy. She was remarkable. This kid is downright spooky. I will definitely be watching the final.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:40 PM
April 14, 2004
Scientists fighting for The Truth on the telly

Yesterday evening I watched two television plays of a very similar sort, which often seems to happen on TV. One channel puts on a Clint Eastwood movie, and to cut into that audience another channel puts on another Clint movie, often at the exact same time. Most aggravating, if you're a Clint fan, which I often am.

BBC2 TV last night showed Hawking, and then later BBC4 TV showed Life Story. But this time the BBC was cooperating with itself, because after Hawking on BBC2 they had another little show about Hawking's work on BBC4, just before they then showed Life Story also on BBC4. There was no Clint style clash this time.

Hawking was about Stephen Hawking, and Life Story was about the cracking of DNA by Watson and Crick. I saw Life Story when it was first shown ages ago (1986?), but like everyone else watching it, I was watching Hawking for the first time.

The trouble with plays about science of this exalted sort is that someone like me has only a very dim idea of what is being talked about by all those brainy people, and I was agreeably surprised by how much incidental information I did manage to gather up, not just about the personalities involved, but about some of the actual key concepts.

Both types of information were very welcome. For example, I have never until now known just where Roger Penrose fits into the larger scientific scheme of things. Penrose: brainbox. That was about the limit of my knowledge of this man and his works. Now I learn that he was the first bloke to propose the existence of Black Holes. And as for Hawking …

Until now I have always been deeply suspicious of the cult of Hawking, suspecting that, had he not been so photogenically crippled and obliged to talk with a machine jammed against his emaciated throat, we would pay him no attention at all. But now I learn that Hawking actually has contributed something of scientific substance to the ongoing debate about what The Universe consists of. By applying Penrose's Black Hole notion to The Entire Universe, while reversing the direction of its occurrence, he has turned a relatively small planets-disappearing-down-a-local-plughole act into The Entire Universe starting out from a single point in a huge explosion. A Big Bang, that is to say. Okay, I am hazy about the proof of all that. I could not cover a blackboard with mathematical equations which meaningfully allude to all this. But, very roughly, I get it. Since I expected to get exactly nothing when I started watching Hawking, that was a real plus.

I now actually want to read this.

To put it another way, I stopped feeling sorry for Hawking and started feeling appropriately envious. He is not the physically ruined object of an idiot modern celeb-cult, or not only that. He actually did get his trembling hands onto a major piece of The Truth, the jammy bastard. His grin of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation as he staggered off into his own version of the sunset – his unthreatened mind trapped inside his ever more unreliable body – was really something to see, and a triumph for all concerned.

And nor did I know that Fred Hoyle was famous for disagreeing with all this Big Bang stuff.

Oh, I sort of knew, in the sense of having read it somewhere, and having then forgotten it. And no doubt I will forget all this stuff again very soon. After all, knowing what Penrose and Hawking and Hoyle all said is of no direct importance to me. I won't have to remember any of this, so presumably I won't. Nevertheless, acquainting oneself with the mysteries of cosmology, which have (and here I complete agree with Hoyle's ferocious atheism and despise the deluded religiosity of Mrs Hawking) now entirely replaced the mysteries of the Christian version of cosmology, is something that all educated people should do from time to time.

Personally, I now think that cosmology is an excuse for more total rubbish than any other ology around these days., my favourite "you have got to be kidding" piece of "science" these days being all that malarkey that says that there are lots of different multidimensional universes fanning out in all directions from every single moment in time and space, or whatever the hell it says. Now to me that is just these people ing, in high faluting language: "Well actually we don't know." When multiple universes shows up on telescopes and give us better flat screen TV sets then I'll believe them. Until then, I'm a multi-universe agnostic.

But insofar as the Big Bang has apparently shown up on the telescopes as otherwise inexplicable hissing (as a scientist played by Dempsey from Dempsey and Makepiece explained), then fine: I believe in the Big Bang, and I await the resulting improved TV sets eagerly. I'm a member of the congregation of science, in other words, even if I choose to regard some of the sermons as drivel. Me watching these TV shows approvingly is me nodding towards the altar of my religion.

Life Story caused quite a stir when it was first shown, because it showed scientists not as ego-less priests of The Truth, but as fiercely competitive racers after it. Well, it showed Rosie Franklin as an ego-less priest of The Truth, but the point was, as she herself admitted, she did not crack DNA, while the boy racers Crick and Watson did. When Crick and Watson began their version of the quest, the theory was that cracking DNA would swallow up the lifetimes of all who embarked on it. Crick and Watson had it all up and modelled within a few months, or whatever it was.

This lesson – that, even though the truth is The Truth, scientists are human – now having been thoroughly learned by the sort of people who like me watch TV shows about scientific breakthroughs, I was not at all shocked to learn that cosmology is also a field in which those racing each other for The Truth cover each other in great jets of mud and generally fight like hell to win their various races. Quite right, and good for them.

And good for the BBC. Nobody has much good to say of the BBC in my part of the political landscape, and I often join in with such complaining myself. But this kind of thing justifies the license fee if anything can, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:14 PM
April 03, 2004
On living with and not living with Mozart

Charles Hazlewood's attempts to interest us in the life and works of Mozart have certainly been getting my attention. Last night I watched the final part of the drama documentary The Genius of Mozart, in and a bunch of actors in ancient outfits both acted out and were "interviewed" about Mozart, while Hazlewood in a modern outfit commented, like one of those modern TV military historians striding about on a battlefield.

Opinions differ about the legitimacy of mixing the rules up like this, but I liked it, a lot. After all, a play is, when it comes down to it, the opinion of our contemporaries about what happened, not the thing itself. And why shouldn't historical characters be interviewed the way real people are interviewed about Dunkirk for the History Channel. I thought that Emma Cunniffe as Mozart's wife Constanze was especially affecting, convincing and memorable.

Talk about mixed feelings. Constanze adored Mozart and was adored back, and she shared her husband's adoration of music. And she knew right away that he was a great composer, what with Haydn telling everyone who would listen. Yet she lost baby after baby. And although Mozart may have been a musical capitalist, he was a sadly incompetent one when it came to making or keeping money, and being married to him was a bit like having another baby to look after.

mozart2.jpg But then there was the music. Hazlewood rightly, both in this drama-documentary and in subsequent shows on BBC4 TV and on BBC Radio 3, made much of Symphony No 40 in G Minor, K550. But then I am hopelessly biased, as this would be the one piece of music, if I were forced at gunpoint to pick just one, which I would choose as my absolute all time desert island favourite.

I recall writing a decade ago or more (towards the end of this) that Mozart's G Minor Symphony seems perfectly poised between the classical and the romantic, the world of outward stateliness of form and the expression of inner feeling. Hazlewood made rather more of the inner feeling aspect, and he made it clear that as far as contemporaries were concerned, this music was all over the damn place, like some kind of natural disaster, like an earthquake or an erupting volcano. That makes sense. Those of us who now love it now hear the similarities between this music and the much more mundane stuff that Mozart's contemporaries were then turning out. Salieri and Mozart, in the age of electro-pop, do sound very alike, and to an ear unused in classical music completely alike, I dare say. But in Mozart's time there was no electro-cacophany to force them to hear the classicism of Mozart's late symphonies, their controlled-ness, their formality, their eighteenth-century-ness.

What applies to Mozart's contemporaries also applies to an expert like Hazlewood, who thinks himself so completely into the shoes and ears of Mozart's contemporaries that he too is liable to, not miss, but maybe under-react to the continuing classicism of Mozart's late works, to the extraordinary way that he managed to pour his musical lava into the regular shaped musical containers of his time, albeit somewhat expanded ones. But this is only a matter of nuance, and I don't want to turn this into some kind of fight. I loved all these shows, and I learned a lot from them.

Things like the movie Amadeus are all very well, but they contain too many made-up non-facts for my liking. The big talking point about this TV series has been how solemn and sensible this Mozart was compared to the Mozart of Amadeus, but the thing I didn't like about Amadeus was the way it convinced everyone that poor old Salieri had murdered him. Nonsense, of course. Mozart died too soon for the same reason his babies did, which was that in those days, people did.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:02 PM
March 25, 2004
Go Kris Marshall!

This chap is going to go far. He is pictured here with Zoe Wanamaker, in one of those sitcoms that the critics disapprove of very strongly because it is so nice, but which the public (which includes me) thought was great fun, what with it being so nice, and also funny, called My Family.


The chap in question is called Kris Marshall, and Nick, his creation in My Family (Zoe Wanamaker plays his mum), was a work of genius, right up there in the comic universe with Vicky (yer bert no bert yer bert no bert) Pollard.

Kris Marshall is now starring in an ITV series called Murder City, which is set in London and which I dip into now and again for the pictures of the snazzy new buildings, bridges, etc.

Murder City is tripe so complete that I have no words to describe how complete this completeness, from the tripe point of view, is, other than to say that it is completely complete. And the character played by Kris Marshall is the most ludicrous creation I have paid any attention to on TV for a very long time. The plots are beyond preposterous. The scripts are beyond parody.

Yet, Kris Marshall will emerge from this grotesque morass with his reputation unblemished, if only because he has proved himself willing to do absolutely any old complete tripe that anyone puts in front of him, and to do it in a manner so far over the top that he can look down on the battle and see the airplanes fighting each other, never mind the soldiers on the ground.

His performance in Murder City reminds me, in this respect, of the character played (Oscar winningly) by Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl, who is an actor, and who is made to play a gay Richard III, and who then gets given a film part by Nicol Williamson on the grounds that if he is willing to do that he is obviously willing to do anything.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:16 PM
March 19, 2004
Mozart the entrepreneur

I'm watching Charles Hazlewood conducting and talking about the Mozart D Minor Piano Concerto No. 20 K466, which I have loved since early childhood when I first heard it. It's all very persuasive and interesting, and it greatly helps that the guy playing the fortepiano (i.e. the modern concert grand piano in the making, but still a bit clunky and pre-industrial – a kind of musical Missing Link) is Ronald Brautigam, who can really play.

Just before this BBC4 TV programme there was, on BBC2 TV, a drama documentary about the relationship between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold. The essential claim here was that the depth of feeling expressed by Mozart in his music is traceable directly to the dramas and sufferings of Mozart's own life.

However, Mozart is not the first composer to have suffered intense and painful dramas. The question is: why was he able to express such personal dramas, if that's what they were, in his music?

Mozart was, as Hazlewood himself said, one of the first musical Romantics. And he was this because, in addition to having the musical genius to bring this off, he was also lucky in the external circumstances he had to live with. He was a Romantic because he could be. The D Minor Piano Concerto was given its first performance not in an aristocratic drawing room, but at a subscription concert. The music in this piece has quite plainly escaped from the control of the old courtly power structure, and is expressing the tempestuous personal dramas and hopes and passions of a whole new class of creators, dreamers and lovers, and the show was organised, promoted, and conducted from the keyboard by Mozart the capitalist, as well as by Mozart the musician.


And in case you think I am shovelling my own ideological interpretations onto a much more decorously statist event, and upon an equally decorously statist BBC programme, let it be emphasised that Hazlewood himself used the word "entrepreneur" to describe Mozart. It's not just me saying this.

I wonder how Mozart would have functioned it there had been telephones in those days. (See the comment here from Zulieka, about Daniel Barenboim.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:53 PM
March 18, 2004
Knowing why you like a TV series means you don't like it so much

Yesterday, Channel 4 TV showed the penultimate episode of Sex and the City, and tomorrow night, they have their first showing of the very last episode of this show.

Here is one of those articles which explains why its author likes the show.

I, however, am in no position to write such an article, because I don't know why I like Sex and the City so much. And what is more, I think that if I did know why I like (or liked - see the rest of this sentence) this show, that might diminish the pleasure which I now, still, get from it.

American TV series tend to follow a certain formula, presumably because they tend to be written by so many different writers. There has to be a formula, to make sure they are all doing the same thing. They need to have common principles of what the show is all about and how it works. But once the viewer works out what this formula is, the magic for that viewer begins to fade. Suddenly, you see the wheels turning over. You see this bit coming, and the bit where ... coming, and before you know it, all see is machine.

I have never got to this state while watching Sex and the City, perhaps because I have not been attending carefully enough, or maybe because in this show the machine is quite well concealed.

I will not read that Telegraph piece until I have watched the final episode.

Critics who explain why TV shows are so good are the most dangerous kind, because they stop you ever enjoying it again. Discuss.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:55 PM
March 14, 2004
Ceefax photos

Warning: this post stretches the meaning of the "culture", but: see above.

I had to put these pictures somewhere, and the truth is that it is a whole lot easier sticking pictures up at your own blog than anywhere else. None of that do you actually want pictures?, how big shall I make them?, how do you centre them? nonsense.

I suppose I could pass these things off as pictures of where I blog, of the sort that are buzzing about the blogosphere just now. Thus:


Okay, so there's the computer screen on the lower right, and above there's lots of gunk too brightly light by the, you know, lights, and on the left, that would be …? A TV set perhaps? But what story does it tell? Let us look closer.


Yikes on a bike.

That was the actually decisive moment. Lara c Flintoff b Hoggard 0. At that point it was all over. So, I know you want to know how it all finished. Well basically, this was what happened:


… which meant the following:


Note the brightness of the lettering, and the strangely disturbing, even nihilistic black background. These images capture the profoundly evanescent nature of media imagery in our modern technological society, both in the obsolescence of the technology being used, and in the fundamental emphemerality of the message being conveyed. Plus, the Windies got a right stuffing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:16 PM
Colin McFarlane

My friend Kevin McFarlane, who wrote the Libertarian Alliance publication with one of my most favourite LA titles ever (Real Socialism Wouldn't Work Either), emails as follows:


My brother has just got a part in the next Batman movie, due for release next year. It will involve at least a week's filming in Chicago. You can also see him next week on the BBC, in If... Things Don't Get Better.

Colin McFarlane is now a regular face on British TV. I found the picture of him here, where there is more information about his career, at any rate during the nineties.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:01 PM
March 11, 2004

I have been watching some late night TV and it was great.

First there was a terrific episode of Sex (now I need to get this right) and the City. In this episode there was a particularly terrific scene where Kristen Johnson, who was the big, beautiful one in Third Rock from the Sun and who is a comedienne of genius, playing a fat, forty, New York woman, alone at a party, still trying to snort coke and smoke cigarettes (which are damn near illegal in New York nowadays from what I hear), well, this sentence is getting out of control so I need to start another one. Kristen Johnson first opened the window (which was towards the top end of a skyscraper), so that she could carry on smoking but blow the smoke out, and then she made this speech about how New York is "over!!!". Certainly her time of having fun in New York looked like it was over. Then she said "I'm so bored I could die!". And then she did. By falling out of the window. I know, you could see it coming, but it was still great that it did actually happen.

Here is the magnificent Kristen in Third Rock:


And then, as if that wasn't great enough, immediately after that, there was The Simple Life, with Paris Hilton (see: The Internet) and her Silly Friend, who have arranged to go and live in the Wilds of Texas while being followed around by TV cameramen, and to do terrible things like get Jobs, and do Work. Only they are no good at it, on account of being Spoilt Rich Girls. They make life hell for any employer stupid enough to engage them. Perhaps these employers calculate that having a TV crew wandering around, watching Paris and Silly Friend play the fool will somehow work out to their commercial advantage, but pretty soon, whatever advantage there may be is overwhelmed by the impossibility of getting Paris and Silly Friend to take their work seriously, and to stop giggling and causing havoc. The sight of the two of them wandering around town dressed as giant icecreams and eventually falling on top of each other in a supermarket make me laugh out loud, despite it now being after midnight and this being a block of flats full of wage slaves a few of whom might even bang on my door if I give them an excuse. Also, they are starting to party (Paris and Silly Friend, not my neighbours) at night, which can only cause even more havoc.

I have seen fag ends of this show before and found it fun, but my fixed loathing of "reality TV" shows confused me. Basically, I told myself, I can't be enjoying this. It's reality TV. It's shit. It must be.

Normally, what is dementedly known as "reality" TV is mind-numbingly idiotic, being full of boring English people sitting about having deep conversations about utterly trivial trivialities, but lacking the words to actually say any of the things they are trying to say. Also, they are dumped down in completely unreal situations like a specially constructed house or a desert island and they have to do completely unreal things and win unreal competitions dreamed up by idiotically unreal TV people. But American girls being silly about serious things, real things, like work, other people's lives and businesses, etc., is far more fun to watch.

Why has this person not told me about this programme before? Maybe she has.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:09 AM
March 01, 2004
Oscar night

I was up all last night (i.e. this morning) watching the Oscars, which is odd because I cannot stand listening to the average Oscar acceptance speech, and have to switch over to another channel until whichever ghastly gushing American who is being given it has been lead away in tears. So why do I switch back, and carry on watching? I guess I just love a contest in which other people's dreams are crashing down in ruins, but not mine. (I often watch the Eurovision Song Contest voting, but would never dream of subjecting myself to the songs.)

I am a total patriot about Oscars. They should all of them be won by British people, every year, simply because we British are the only ones who know how to accept these things without making everyone's toes curl with embarrassment. By that standard, last night was a very bad night indeed. The Scottish Annie Lennox got one for a song she'd written, and although she sang it splendidly, her acceptance speech was sickeningly American.

scoppola.jpgEven the man – and I'm using the expression very loosely – who won the Best Actor prize spoke as if about to burst into tears at any moment, and I had to switch to NHL ice hockey or motorbiking or whatever it was (neither of which I normally pay any attention to) for the next three minutes. And as for Renée Zellweger and Charlize Theron, well, I can see why Oscar audiences contain so many people sympathetic to gun control, or there would surely be many Oscar Night murders during accceptance speeches. All Americans seem to behave like this, except the splendid Sofia Coppola (Best Original Screenplay - the one in the picture), who behaved with definitely detectable dignity. And thank god for Billy Crystal, who also knows how to keep some kind of control over his emotions.

I wonder, is everyone in the world a total patriot about Oscars? And are they total patriots for the exact same reason as I am, which is that their fellow countrymen are the only people who know how to accept Oscars in the proper manner, and all those bloody foreigners are an embarrassment/turn-off/cringe/absurdity/choose-another-bad-abstract-noun?

Do Americans find British Oscar acceptance speeches as vilely cold and heartless as I find American Oscar acceptance speeches vilely undignified and emotionally incontinent? Do American actors, when accepting Oscars, collapse in a puddle of gratitudinous sobbing on purpose?

With LOR3 (although actually what was being congratulated was the totality of LORs 1-3) doing so well, we also got to see lots of dreary New Zealander technicians making speeches. Their problem was that they sounded so pathetically apologetic. We're not worthy! We're not worthy! That was the vibe they gave off. NZers know how to look worthy winners of the Rugby World Cup (although they have rather lost the trick of actually winning it), so why can't they accept Oscars as if they think they deserved them? (Ghastly thought: maybe when the All Blacks do finally win the Rugby World Cup again, their captain will break down in tears.)

One of the better jokes of the night was when a lady getting Best Foreign Film expressed her gratitude that LOR wasn't eligible in this category. You had the feeling that a lot of not necessarily very brilliant little boats were lifted up by the LOR tide, and that some good ships were sunk by it.

I agreed with Ronnie Ancona, one the BBC commentary team taking up the slack during the US TV commercials, who said that they didn't have enough song and dance razamatazz type numbers, and in particular they should have had more dancing girls. True. However, my favorite (properly prepared I mean) performance was just Jack Black and a Very Tall Bloke singing a song called "You're Boring", the tune of which is apparently played at the end of every acceptance speech, but which, as they proved, also has lyrics. Jack Black has now entirely replaced the late John Candy as Hollywood's official Senior Fat Man.

Michael Jennings has more.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:56 PM
February 12, 2004

I'm watching a fun little TV documentary about Stelios Haji-Iaonnou is trying to do to movie distribution what he has already done to the airline business. He wants to do no frills cinema. He did good business for the first few nights, but then it flagged. Basically, Stelios hasn't had a mega hit since easyJet, despite several tries, in such things as cars and internet shops.

I mostly watch DVDs now, which I rent at a slowly decreasing price from various local shops, including Blockbuster Video. From Monday to Thursday, I can rent three non-current movies for a week, for £5 the lot of them. Not that there's much worth renting, but much the same applies in the cinema from where I sit, and nowadays I never see anything I can't wait a few months for.

But, to speak up for Stelios, in the days when I used to go to the cinema a lot it always used to puzzle me that they didn't go in more for differential pricing. One week you'd be sitting in a near deserted cinema. The next week you'd be queueing all round Leicester Square. Why didn't they knock the price down for the slow sellers, and shift the product? No computers to do the sums? Certainly Stelios would be nowhere without computers, not just for him to do his sums, but for all of us to buy his tickets.

Here's the What's on page and here's the Locations page. So far, it's only Milton Keynes.

I suspect that the real problem for no frills cinema is the rise and rise of home cinema, which has all the frills you can imagine, including such excellent extras as a pause button. I suspect Stelios may have arrived in the movie business a decade too late.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:07 PM
February 06, 2004
Friendly film music

From tonight's Friends:

Chandler to Monica: "What are you singing?"

Monica to Chandler: "It's Bolero from Ten."

Chandler to Monica: "It's the Ride of the Valkyries from Apocalypse Now."

Chandler was right, naturally.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:40 PM
January 12, 2004
More on Vicky Pollard: no but, yeah but, no but RABBASH!! – and why Google is gr8!!

On December 5th of last year I did a posting here about the sublime Vicky Pollard, the genius comic creation of genius comic Matt Lucas, the fat bald guy who plays a baby with the drum kit on that show with those two surreal comedians called I can't remember what at the moment, with all the celebrities, including that one from Iceland with the blond hair who had a fling with Sven G… with the England football manager.

Anyway, there's been a trickle of comments on that Vicky Pollard posting, at irregular intervals. Here they are.

On December 16th, Paul commented thus:

vicky rocks but yeah no yeah shut up!

Then silence over the Christmas period, followed on January 7th, by this, from rainbow:

yeah but no but yeah but no but theres this whole other thing wot you don't even no about so SHURRUP! u SHURRUP! and tasha ses ur gay but dont listen to er cos she smokes weed and she's pregnant with darren's baby so SHAP u!

A mere three days later, on January 10th, christine chimed in thus:

me and my friend are always sayin yer but no but deres dis ova thing u dont no bout yea and i wasnt even wid amber so i dont what ur talkin about yea but no but and we r always crakin up and i also like da man hu sez "im a ladyy me and u r alike becuz we r both ladys" and da man "yeeeees" ahahhahahahah little britian is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo funny!!!!

Followed just one day later on the 11th by this, from Dave:

Vicky has to be the best character on there. It must be so hard for Matt Lucas to play her, having to do all those takes in a scene, one after the other...the amount of breaks for a breather he must need!
Vicki though, I do luv her, shes so gr8!!!
"Doesn't matter ne way coz we got one of dese (sniffs pritt stick) Come on girls, lets gwo, dis place is RABBASH!" hehehe.

Well, well, well. Brian's Culture Blog does certainly seem to have struck a chord with Today's Youth. And thank you, all of you good young ladies and young gentlemen, if young you be, sincerely, for reproducing the patois of the sublime Vicky for the benefit of my less pop-culture-savvy readers, with their noses stuck in Shakespeare plays and their ears buzzing with Bruckner Symphonies.

Really, this is great. Sorry: gr8!! When people imitate the jokes of comedians in conversation it can be rather tedious, can't it? But when they do it in writing, I find my reaction to be quite different. The pleasure these young commenters feel along with me about Vicky and her extraordinary sayings and doings shines through, as does their joy in just what you can do with our alphabet and numerals when your teachers aren't looking.

But how did Youth keep learning about this posting? I found the answer to this puzzle when, googling for a better picture of Ms. Pollard, I discovered that my Pollard posting is NUMBER ONE on google, if you type in "Vicky Pollard". How about that!

Anyway, I will now try to find a better picture than I had up on the first posting. Is there now a Vicky Pollard Fan Club? There should be. … Bear with me.

I don't know how this works, but you could try it.

But no, couldn't find any good pics, or any fan club. ("Vicky Pollard Fan Club" did not match any documents.) But I did discover that two other Vicky Pollards exist, a gymnast, and somebody who works for the European Wind Energy Association. Bad luck, eh?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:11 PM
January 06, 2004
How digital radio and digital TV has temporarily turned my clock back

My life just now is going through an odd phase. It will not last because it is absurd, but while it lasts it is strange, and I at least will enjoy reading about it in, I don't know, five years time, when the problem I am now mired in has been solved, and I've forgotten about it. (Never forget that my number one reader here is me. That explains a lot.)

But back to this odd phase. I'm talking about the fact that before I went digital, I could record TV programmes, and radio programmes, semi-satisfactorily, but now I can't. Now I'm sure that there are simple procedures for solving these problems, but the trouble is that just for now it they are too complicated. I'm sure that if I could get a routine going, I could record radio programmes on my hard disc and then play them back through the speakers attached to my computer. I'm pretty sure that I can't record digital TV now, until I get a "TiVo", or whatever those things are called. Recording digital TV on videotape is worse than analogue TV on videotape, because the sound is utter crap.

Please spare me the helpful advice about all this. There are more important things going on in my life right now than being able to record every digital signal that enters my kitchen. When everyone else is kitted out with the relevant stuff I'll get it too, and that will be that.

But meanwhile, my life has reverted to the pre-video-recorder age. My weekly clock is now governed by the Radio Times and its contents. I find myself inventing non-existent alternative dinner engagements, so that I can watch certain movies or listen to certain classical concerts, or watch a cherished re-run of Ab Fab.

Take last night. Basically, the job in hand was to write this about how Michael Jennings wants a job. I had promised it for Monday, and did actually finish it in the early hours of today. But alas, BBC TV 4, on channel 10, was simultaneously broadcasting, live from the new-olde Globe Theatre, London, the Mark Rylance Richard II. Which was fantastic.

Basically, I have nothing much more to say about this production than that. It was fantastic. It was outstanding. Rylance's characterisation of Richard was the most convincing I've ever seen. Bolingbroke was very fine. The John of Gaunt speech was very fine. Blah blah blah. Fine fine fine. Anyway, I had to watch it. It was last night or never (although actually of course they'll rerun it several more times and it will be available soon on DVD).

And in among it, I did the piece about Michael wanting a job. So, with digital TV, I write a bad article and Michael has to settle for a dead-end job. No digital TV, the article is brilliant, Michael becomes a billionaire uber-geek and lavish sponsor of Brian's Culture Blog which proceeds to take over the world. Such is history. Anyway, as I say, it's an odd time in my life.

And then this morning I had to get up at the crack of … well never mind, to listen to a promising Dvorak chamber music recording on Radio 3. Radio 3 is now a near continuous delight. Thank god it isn't all as good as some of it is, or I'd never do anything except listen to it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:36 PM
December 17, 2003
TV sets as ceramic tiles – it's getting nearer

And the technology of visual display continues to race ahead. This from today's NYT:

AN FRANCISCO, Dec. 16 – The Intel Corporation is planning to do to digital television what it has already done to computing.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which opens on Jan. 8, Intel is expected to disclose the development of a class of advanced semiconductors that technologists and analysts say will improve the quality of large-screen digital televisions and substantially lower their price, according to industry executives close to the company.

Intel's ability to integrate display, television receiver and computer electronics on a single piece of silicon is likely to open new markets for a class of products - including plasma, projection and L.C.D. TV's - that now sell for $3,000 to $10,000.

Intel, as well as other large chip manufacturers, should be able to expand the benefits of Moore's Law, named for Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel, which accurately predicted decades ago that computer chips would continue to double in capacity roughly every 18 months, while their price would continue to fall.

"I think this brings Moore's Law to digital television," said Richard Doherty, a consumer electronics industry analyst who is president of Envisioneering, a consulting firm based on Long Island. He predicted that the low-cost display technology, which can be incorporated into the traditional rear-projection television sets, could lead to lightweight 50-inch screens only 7 inches thick for about $1,000, perhaps as early as the 2004 holiday season.


I have long ruminated here to the effect that a whole new era of display will open up when people have more than one TV set, and that's a function of how small they can be made. Think of how the world will change when we can all have our walls covered in TV sets which no more unwieldy than framed pictures are now. You can only listen effectively to one machine, maybe two or three if you count my habit of combining classical music and TV sport (often both together) with other things. But you can have an entire wall full of simultaneous pictures. Any decade now our living rooms will sport those wonderful arrays of TV sets that you only now see in the TV shops, and with coordinated graphics controlled from one keyboard. That is to say, you'll be able to make the screens all combine together to show the same huge picture, or have separate pictures on each TV, or a combination of the two, to taste.

For this reason, much effort will in future go into making not just thin screens, but screens with thin frames, and ideally no frames at all. TVs will be like ceramic tiles, only with changeable graphics. A bit like this, come to think of it.

Movies to nod to: That one with Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer … The Witches of Eastwick? – where at the end the baby devil spawn was watching a whole wall full of TVs, all occupied by Devil Jack Nicholson; and: the original Rollerball, which I recall having walls of imagery; as did Total Recall, I seem to recall. And there must be many more.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:01 AM
December 07, 2003
Ozzy, Kelly and the age of generational harmony

Dave Shaw took a walk last night on what passes for the wild side these days among middle aged geezers like him and him. But Kelly Osbourne, whom he apparently shared the party with, is hardly wild side. She was on Top of the Pops with dad Ozzy last week, singing a potential Christmas Number One Dad/Daughter Duet for gawds sakes. It was very sweet and all, but not exactly biting heads off bats stuff like Ozzy used to do. So I'm told. The real wild child of the Osbourne family is the mysterious Other Daughter who refuses to be on television. How weird is that?

Jonathan Ross also interviewed Ozzy and Kelly on his show last week, and compared Ozzy to the Queen Mother. Quite right. I think the link is that they both have (had in the QM's case) a public reputation for total honesty. Quite how genuine that was with the QM I don't know, but with Ozzy it seems very real. For example, the other night on The Osbournes, Ozzy was in a state about his wife's colon cancer and was being consoled by this Guru character, who was blabbering away in that special language that Gurus use which you can't remember a single word of because it makes extremely little sense, and I was thinking: "What the fuck's that all about?" One microsecond later, Ozzy says: "What the fuck's that all about?" How can I not love the man?

Such magic moments as that aside, the appeal of the Osbournes is that despite all the swearing and adolescent whingeing and moaning, and Oz's very evident history of drug abuse resulting in slurred syllables, they are, underneath all the underclass modernisms, a totally trad family. They love each other. And that mum, how about her? She stays at home, and looks after everybody. No separate career for her. Her only job type job is taking care of about two thirds of Ozzy's job.

What we are witnessing here is the ossification, not to say Ozzyfication, of rock and roll, in the same way that jazz based pop music finally arrived at its terminus in the nineteen fifties, just before rock blew its lid off. It started off being belted out by dodgy negroes in drug sodden brothels, and ended up being sung by Tony Bennet in a cardigan on some TV Christmas special. Now rock and roll has reached the same situation.

It's inevitable. You can't stop this kind of thing happening.

The proof that the rock and role era is ending is that it is more and more making its peace with the stuff it used to hate. Rod Stewart has an Xmas album out now of pre-rock tunes, full of witty, perfectly rhyming lyrics like they stopped writing in 1952. The latest pop babes routinely cover tunes that were written before they were born, and the air is thick with the sound of different generations getting along fine with each other.

Time for another inter-generation war? Is there some other rough musical beast slouching towards Bethlehem? Maybe there already has been, but by definition I hate it and have been ignoring it. (Dance, hip hop, etc.) But what if the Tony Bennet/Beatles discontinuity was a one-off? What if pop music just dribbles on for ever, getting nicer and nicer, more and more like Abba every year, and the rock and roll explosion of Devil Music never happens again? Maybe the next big row will be with a new generation that doesn't like any pop music at all, and prefers to spend all its time getting post-graduate degrees in nanotechnology, or some such freakery.

Not that pop music will necessarily be crap, any more than Mahler is, even though he was using a musical instrument pretty much perfected the best part of a century earlier. Sting's latest tune, for example, another male/female duet, sounded to me musically really good on Top of the Pops, despite the ghastly more-American-than-the-Americans accent that Sting sings in and the overwrought manner of the woman he was duetting with. I'd love to hear that one covered by a batch of kids from the reality TV pop idol fame game circuit.

By the way, talking of the Devil's Music, Ross Noble on Room 101 identified Christian Rock as something that should be wiped out for the challenge to everything properly indecent that it is. Is there anything more nauseating than a bunch of vicars imitating the Beatles? Well, yes, lots of things, but it is nauseating.

As you can tell, I spent the night in, in front of the telly.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:13 PM
December 05, 2003
Go Vicky Pollard

Jonathan Ross is interviewing Matt Lucas (the fat bald one) of the new comedy hit TV show Little Britain, and Ross is focussing, quite rightly, on the one comic creation of true genius: Vicky Pollard, the fat blonde west country girl who talks extremely fast, in order to get out of the scrapes she gets into.

I'm now going to try to find a picture. Bear with me.


That's not really right. She looks too happy. Normally she's in trouble for having failed in some duty or other, and is trying to fast-talk her way out of it. This even smaller picture is rather better, I think, but it still doesn't really get her.

Whatever. Vicky Pollard is a great TV comedy creation, up there with Loads 'a' Money, and Smashy and Nicey the Cheridee DJs. My congratulations to Matt Lucas.

I spotted Vicky P months ago. I should have flagged her up when I had my first laugh at her.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:06 PM
December 03, 2003
Sex and the US sitcoms

Very good piece by my friend Alice Bachini about Friends. Personally I read all Alice's stuff but apparently not that many others do, presumably because she is often in what they presumably regard as incoherently egocentric mode. I like it all, but many seem not to. All the more reason, then, for a blog like this which is slightly less obviously egocentric to link to Alice whenever she does a piece which is definitely About Something, other than herself and her worries, ambitions, mood swings, parental obligations, ethical views, etc.

Read the whole thing, but if not then at least this:

Phoebe's character is parallel to Joey's in that she too is considered odd or eccentric, and is apparently entirely happy with this. In this show, she has lately had a sexual encounter with an "old friend", and ends up set to have another one with the grey-haired guy. So if she did that every few weeks, it would add up to a lot of people after a few years. I looked up some statistics lately on average numbers of sexual partners, and my reckoning would definitely place characters like the ones in "Friends", "Will and Grace" and "Seinfeld" in a tiny extremely high top percentage. I think when we watch these shows we focus on individual episodes and tend not to notice the fact that they are way, way more sexually active and successful than most of us here in Ordinary World. But the thing I only got recently is that this is not a mere unrealistic dramatic device: it's a coherent portrayal of a specific kind of person, who is very interesting, and whom we want to learn about, which contributes to the popularity of the shows. Who wouldn't want knowledge about how to be better at attracting the opposite (or indeed same) sex? Even if you never use it, maybe one day you might want to, and it's certainly nice to know you could.

Lastly, I want to note that Phoebe and Joey are the characters whose sexual openness is greatest. They do not dump people for being slightly differently aged to themselves, or not conventional enough. They enjoy people older and less conventionally beautiful than themselves, and are able to enjoy the good things without letting prejudices get in the way. This is another kind of sexual behaviour – like having lots of partners – which is traditionally sneered at in some quarters, as a sign of indiscriminateness or desperation. But "Friends" doesn't endorse that view, even though it does present Joey and Phoebe as oddballs and therefore somewhat unfathomable.

I was going to write this post about the use of irony in language, especially urban language, but then it went another way. Maybe later.

And maybe not. That's another problem for some with Alice, I guess. She constantly announces things she's going to do or write about, but then doesn't do or write them. Instead she writes about something completely different, and presumably does something completely different, like eat cakes or buy shoes while agonising about the rightness and wrongness of rightness and wrongness. Which I don't mind at all. What the hell is she, a train timetable? Are you saying you depend upon Alice Bachini writing what she said she'd write about? That's an absurd way to live. Alice Bachini is an oddball and somewhat unfathomable. Deal with it as they say in America.

Ross who wishes he could add a heavy dash of Joey sums me up exactly, except that Ross is far better looking than me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:41 PM
November 13, 2003

I think I'm going to want one of these:

SOONER or later, the technologies of the various areas of our lives merge, resulting in a savings of cost, cables and clutter. For the nightstand, you can buy a clock-radio-telephone. In the car, you've got one radio-CD-player-heating-control unit. In your pocket, a Swiss Army knife.

But the area around the TV is still a mess. By the time you've installed your cable box, VCR, TiVo and DVD player-recorder, you've built a techno-tower crisscrossed by cables and overrun by remotes. If ever an area cried out for consolidation, the TV room is it.

The industry has taken a few tentative steps in that direction: combo VCR-DVD players fill the shelves at Costco and Circuit City, and Toshiba recently unveiled a $400 TiVo with built-in DVD player. But those early attempts should bow down before the sweet perfection of a new pair of hybrids: Pioneer's new DVR-810H and Elite DVR-57H.

Each of these remarkable machines is a TiVo recorder, DVD player and DVD recorder in a single box, with one remote that also controls your TV.

The TiVo part means that you can freeze, rewind or instantly replay whatever you're watching; record a show (or, rather, a lot of shows) on its built-in hard drive for instant playback at any time; and skip over ads. Above all, a digital video recorder, or DVR, like TiVo permanently disconnects the broadcast time from the – viewing time. By the time TiVo zealots – which is pretty much everyone who has ever bought one - blip over the ads, credits, recaps and promos, they can watch a one-hour show in about 35 minutes. No wonder they never, ever watch whatever junk happens to be on at the moment.

I also think I know how I'm going to do this. I'm not going to be a pioneer purchaser. I'm going to wait until my friends are paying £500 for their Giant Gizmo DVDivo Whatsits, and I'll hem and I'll haw and then eighteen months later I'll buy one for £150. At which point, I rather think, that will be it. Better technologies than this will become available for couch potatoing, but as with CDs and their subsequent rivals, I'll then be happy with what I have.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:00 PM
October 19, 2003
Otherwise engaged

Busy weekend, obsessing and writing about rugby, and also spending a great gob of time watching Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan, one of my all time favourites. So, not a lot here, in other words.

Various websites I've looked at have described Metropolitan as containing lots of sitting about and talking about nothing. There is indeed lots of sitting about and talking, but it is not about nothing. It is merely about things that most people can't be bothering with, but which some people can, like writing, downward social mobility, and so forth. Also, in extreme contrast to your average Hollywood non-left-wing movie, people say interesting things about once every two minutes instead of about twice in the entire thing. I hereby nominate Metropolitan as a key blogosphere work of art, because in it the heroine falls in love with the hero entirely on the strength of what he has written.

I also did a bit yesterday about plastic surgery, another of those pieces which began as something for here (or for here) but which ended up on Samizdata. This painful picture is of the British actress Leslie Ash, who used to look like this but who now looks like this:


The horror, the horror.

In the rest of my blogging time today, I'm going to try to write something More Serious for Samizdata.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:53 PM
October 15, 2003
The return of BBC4

Never have I more enjoyed a close-up picture of an elephant's bottom ejecting elephant crap. I'm referring to the joyous moment when, having switched on my TV last night just after 7pm, I switched over to BBC4, where an elephantine David Attenborough show was just getting going. And BBC4 worked. BBC 4 had previously come, and then gone, and for months now, it's been gone. But Michael Jennings dropped by yesterday.


Although he was unable to do anything to the TV aerial on account of the door (to the communal roof to which the TV aerial is attached) being locked, Michael did do some downloading magic which, it is now clear, did the trick. For the few hours before that happy, crappy moment, I had to make do with Michael's claim that it "should" work, and we've all heard "should" from techies haven't we? – to be followed quickly by doesn't. Only this time it was did. Long may it last. BBC 4 is the most cultural of the free digital channels, so this is a most happy development.

Michael also contrived for my TV to spout forth all the digital radio programmes. So there we go. I wait years for a digital radio, and then suddenly two arrive.

To be less frivolous, this story illustrates the value of (a) Other People, and (b) Cities, which contain such a great choice of Other People to choose from and to cultivate, so that when you want your TV set to work better, you can pick an Other Person to do it for you.

You can't do things like this nearly so easily in the countryside.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:31 PM
October 10, 2003
Ceremonial angst – radio delight

Well there goes the opening game of the Rugby World Cup. Australia 24 Argentina 8. Not a classic. But it will not surprise Brian's Culture Blog readers that Wendell Sailor scored the opening try of the tournament. Not that any of you care, you Pommy-loving Pansy Poofders.

Is it just me or are sports tournament opening ceremonies getting more and more of a pain? It probably is just me, but I found this one especially dire. Working on my computer to take some of the pain out of it, I thought for a brief moment that I saw a burning swastika out of the corner of my eye, but it was just some Aboriginal figure, burning symbolically, or something. The Australians are apparently still at the Bogus Dancing Natives Stage of their relationship with their original locals.

In general, the thing reminded me of the rubbish that briefly went on inside our Dome on millenium night. Remember The Dome? The show was indeed dazzling, i.e. it had lots of colours and costumes and arsing about by huge gangs of people marching this way and that, and overweight women singing, but so what? It was a huge relief when ageing blokes in normal suits appeared, to make short and forgettable speeches about the forthcoming tournament that actually had something to do with the forthcoming tournament. I ought to watch Grumpy Old Men tonight (BBC2 – no link that makes sense and you don't have to search through for ten minutes – bloody internet), which is not the Matthau/Lemon movie, but a "documentary" of grumpy old Moaning Heads moaning grumpily about speed bumps, designer labels the internet, etc., but I'll be out.

My new digital radio continues to delight, so I switched the TV sound down (off if any music was involved) and listened instead to Arthur Schnabel playing Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto (I now realise I already possess this on CD but no matter), one of Rob Cowan's morning picks for Radio 3. It was followed by William Schuman's Third Symphony (not to be confused with Robert Schumann's Third Symphony). Cowan chose the early Bernstein New York Phil CBS (now Sony) recording, which sounded beefier and more effective than the later DGG remake by the same team that I have. It's a splendid piece and it quite cheered me up.

Have a nice weekend.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:32 PM
October 04, 2003
How Doctor Theatre temporarily cured Quentin Tarantino last night

There was a vivid illustration of the curative power of theatrical performance last night on the Jonathan Ross Show.

Quentin Tarantino was being interviewed (most entertainingly by the way) about his latest movie, Kill Bill. He and Kill Bill star Uma Thurman were in the middle of a huge and hugely strenuous Euro-tour to boost the movie. You know the stuff, thirty interviews in one day, giving the same answers to the same questions (as sent up in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant asks on behalf of Horse and Hound if there are any horses or hounds in the movie he's asking about, which turns out to be set in space).

Anyway, Tarantino's throat had gone. It was all he could do to make much of a noise at all, although he managed, and even seemed to enjoy things. At least Ross' questions were not the usual ones, and added some excellent analysis of the yellow tracksuit with black vertical stripes at the side that Uma Thurman wears in Kill Bill. Apparently it was what Bruce Lee was seen in during the very last piece of movie-making he ever did, and Ross even owned a costume just like it, which his wife had given him. He shown some photos of himself thus adorned, to the apparently genuine amusement of Tarantino and Thurman . So Tarantino seemed to be having a good time, but he was still struggle to say things.


ANYway. At one point in Tarantino's performance, he did an imitation. I wasn't paying much attention so I missed who it was or why who it was was saying what who it was was saying. But get this. Tarantino's voice was suddenly working full blast! It was quite amazing. And then when the imitation had finished, he went back immediately to croaking and choking, as if nothing had happened.

Usually when you see a performer thus afflicted, you either get him in "real life" (or what passes for real life with such people) and he can hardly say a word. Or you get him on the stage, and hear everything, and never realise that there's much of or even any problem. So for us theatrical civilians to witness this contrast on nationwide TV was really something. We've all heard about this thing, those of us with any interesting at all in theatrical performance. But it's not something we usually get to see and hear for ourselves.

Having TV on in the background, as wallpaper, is an underestimated form of entertainmnent, in my opinion. The chat show is a format which can be particularly effective as entertainment when taken or left in this way. At its worst the chat show is abysmal, wall to wall clichés and lies and insincerities and tedia. At it's best it can be truly sublime.


As for the movie itself, it scares me. Blood everywhere, apparently. But the stills they're hawking around are wonderful, especially this one above, which you can see full size here. I also like this one of Thurman and Lucy Liu having a fight. Liu looks like your granny, doing her limited best but doomed. Very comical. It's the costume, but also the gawky way she just happens to be looking at her (presumably) soon-to-be executioner.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:13 PM
September 22, 2003
Virtual community

No time for profundity (i.e. excessive length). Just time for a quick rumination on the strange places that human instinct takes the solitary but connected human in these electrical times.

Do you often watch movies on television or listen to music from the radio, at times of their choosing, not your own, which you already own in a form that you could play to yourself at a time of your own choosing?

I first noticed this odd syndrome when I caught myself listening on Radio Three to a recording of Elgar's First Symphony which I already owned on CD. And not only was I doing this, but a fact to add is that my CD player makes far better sound than does my radio.

Last night, which was what reminded me of this, I watched large chunks of one of my favourite movies, The Right Stuff, which I already own on DVD, on television.


It occurs to me that these two works, Elgar One and The Right Stuff, are rather similar. Both embody the confidence of a Great Power at the height of its power, and with an undercurrent of nervous laughter caused by the uneasy feeling that maybe it won't last. Both are very public pieces, especially the Elgar. And I've chosen a picture from The Right Stuff to illustrate this post which also captures the public importance of those First Seven astronauts. The Right Stuff is at least as much about the supreme social niche that those men briefly occupied in American society, down there on the ground, and about the earthly society they inhabited, as it is about their astronautical achievement. As Dennis Quaid's grinning Gordo Cooper says, he's got all manner of deals going, and a "free lunch from one end of America to the other", and all this before he ever ventured into space. And who could forget the scene where John Glenn, played so beautifully by Ed Harris, proves that, at least for that brief shining moment, he and the other astronauts between them outranked the Vice-President of the United States?

And of course those rocket expeditions were immense public events.

So both the Elgar and The Right Stuff, being public pieces, are the sort of things you want to witness at a public event. So is that why I wanted to witness them on the radio and the TV? At least I join a virtual "event", instead of it being a private event of my own, as the next best thing to a real public occasion.

Or is it that if there is a major terrorist incident in some big western city with huge loss of life, I want an emergency news bulletin to interrupt the proceedings and tell me about this straight away? This can't happen when you listen to a CD or watch a DVD, and in this respect the public media are an improvement. Do I want the potential connection with History, should a slice of it erupt while I'm watching or listening? Closer, maybe.

Is it simply that I'm human, and as such, am a social animal? I simply like to huddle together with my fellow humans. But actually huddling together with fellow humans brings me slap up against their imperfections, and mine in their eyes. In the sort of audiences I am usually a member of, they aren't the people I'd really like them to be. And I'm very rarely the person I'd like myself to be. But if I listen to the radio or watch it on the telly, I can imagine my ideal audience, and be an ideal member of it. I think it's more like that. Sociability without all the bother and sweat and annoyance of actual socialising. The idea of other people, as opposed to the actual fact of them. Mankind, rather than other people.

Forgive me. I profounded on rather more than I intended to.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:51 PM
September 10, 2003
Gays – girls – industry

I'm watching one of the dying episodes of Sex in the City on Channel 4, and the following item of wisdom dominates the episode. It's the rule being followed by the slutty one played by Kim Cattrall, in her efforts to boost the career of her hunk-actor-bonkfriend with the long blond hair in the stupid off-Broadway play. She arranges for him to lounge nakedly in a vodka advert. He's not happy. His friends despise it. His family is embarrassed. Says the slutty one played by Kim Cattrall:

First come the gays, then the girls, then the industry.

And it works too. By the end of the episode, bonk-hunk has a part in a Gus Van Sant movie.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:49 PM
July 28, 2003
On the difference it makes to be watching things alone

James Lileks has a lovely description today in his Bleat, about watching the movie Devil in a Blue Dress, which is particular good about the particular joy of watching the thing on a computer, and being able to freeze frame, and internet search for the details of a movie that was shown being shown, in the original movie. Lileks describes all that better, so read him.

What all this also points up, it now occurs to me, is that watching a movie on your own is also a different experience again. If you are watching on your own, you can decide two minutes in that you don't want to watch it after all. You can freeze frame to take incoming phone calls, you can freeze frame if the ball game playing silently on your TV (the DVD being on your computer screen) suddenly springs to life with a big home run, or in my case a wicket or a burst of dramatic slogging. You can just freeze it, and make yourself a cup of coffee.

Now that DVD players and TVs are so very cheap, more and more people are presumably watching movies on their own.

Which leads on to another point, which is that if you watch a movie on your own you don’t have to justify your choice to anyone. You can watch porn, or old Scharzeneggers. I can watch soppy High School Romances or Fred-and-Gingers or tapes of recent England rugby triumphs – while also doing something like blogging – and if other people think that's daft or tasteless or ridiculous, fine, they can watch something else and simultaneously do something else. Unlike me, Lileks is a family man, but he also likes his time alone to watch his preferred stuff.

Personally I value this aspect of home viewing far more than I value a million dollars worth of high techery to do the sound and fury of Terminator 5 at the cinema, or for that matter the equivalent kit for five hundred quid for all the family to watch at home, when that also arrives, which it may already have done for all I know or care. My "home cinema" is plenty big enough for short-sighted little me, given than it is only twenty inches away from my eyes.

Narrowcasting, I think they call this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:41 PM
July 20, 2003
Rejection – hatred – imitation

This is only a press release about a TV programme, a documentary about US cultural penetration of the Islamic world. But it's interesting:

Muslim countries are increasingly saturated with American-produced films and television programs. These countries are struggling to cope with a cultural phenomenon that continues to seep into even the most protected markets via American movies and television. In a riveting and revealing documentary, AMC probes a variety of Muslim viewpoints on this issue to share them with American audiences.

As satellite television and movies invade the homes of Muslims in the Middle East, many perceive it as an insidious cultural invasion by the U.S. -- overt propaganda created to undermine their religious and cultural identity. From the overt homosexuality of Will & Grace, to the exaggerated violence of American action films, these powerful images project a value system that can inspire, as one Egyptian television executive states, "a kind of shock and rejection and hatred."

Yet many Muslims can't take their eyes off these images, as they've become virtually impossible to ignore. In Kurdistan, students say that American films reflect a people with greater freedom of expression and choice. "Our youth are being affected by these media products. They are enjoying it, they are consuming it, and they are imitating what they see," says Angy Ghannam, a news editor for Islam Online in Cairo, Egypt.

Which of course will only make the disapprovers all the more disapproving.

But all will eventually be well. They'll make their own shows, that satisfy their young, but deflect the complaints of the complainers.

And then we'll watch their shows too.

My thanks to David Farrer – whom I'm also finding very linkable to at the moment – for an email flagging this up.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:09 AM
July 03, 2003
Jer! Ry! Jer! Ry! Drop! Dead! Drop! Dead!

God how I loathe the Jerry Springer Show. A lot of people say that the Jerry Springer Show means that Western Civilisation is collapsing. When I find myself watching it, no matter how briefly, I become one of them.

The disgusting JS starts it off, reeking of such obvious insincerity that it amounts to honesty.

Hey, we're going to talk about this really Deep Problem, which we don't care about at all, and we've rounded up these morons who are so desperate to be on television that they will talk about their problem and pretend that JS is going to take it all seriously and try to help, for God's sakes, and then they'll attack each other.

The studio audience, cheering and clapping and chanting in unison, knows exactly what's going on. This is not therapy. This is emotional gladiatorial combat. And bye and bye, the real thing.

This is why the lower classes are called "lower". Because they watch this stuff week after week all the way through. Although, a simple "low" would make more sense. Everyone involved in this show is totally disgusting, including me for watching it and writing about it and thus Playing Into Their Hands.

There are probably a thousand stupid websites I could go looking for to scatter over this posting. Do it yourself. And when you're there, stay there, and don't come back here. I despise you.

Deep breaths. Pause for twenty four hours.

The trouble is that the Jerry Springer Show is a classic example of the lower classes getting ready for the age of Total Surveillance, a topic already dealt with here, and the whole thing posted across to another place because they thought it was so brilliant, as did Alice.

The Jerry Springer Show prepares all concerned for when what we now think of as our private life is instead the business of the entire world, and for when we get phone calls and emails from people in other continents taking sides in the row we had last night with our wife, which a million people tuned into because it was mentioned ten minutes after it started by a radio station in Sydney Australia, and then picked up and linked to by Instapundit, who thought that our wife made some good points about Homeland Security and about American politicians who want to destroy your computer for copying music with it without paying, in among having plates and chairs thrown at her.

But I still hate the show, and if this is the future, I hate that too.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:18 PM
June 25, 2003
BBC3 Blobs

It's completely stupid, I know, but I really like these creatures, who are the work of Aardman (although I can't find them on their website), and who appear in between programmes on BBC3 TV. They don't do anything obviously useful, like announce television programmes. They just say strange or inconsequential animated things, which when animated become amusing.

This one is my favourite, probably because I also wear glasses. "With these glasses", he says to his audience of smaller blobs in a powerfully deep voice with what sounds to me (but I could be very wrong) like a South African Jewish accent, "I can do terrible damage."

BBC4, however, is gone again.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:08 PM
June 24, 2003
Reflections on "Big Brother": the total surveillance society and the prescience of popular culture

In a characteristic Samizdata posting, Perry de Havilland regrets the modern use of the phrase "Big Brother" to describe reality TV shows, and harks back to Orwell's original coinage, with grim pictures of CCTV surveillance cameras outside primary schools, and of propaganda for CCTV cameras in the form of big posters in the London Underground.

All this anti-surveillance thinking over at Samizdata is connected to the recent launch of this new blog, White Rose which will be concerned with civil liberties and "intrusive state" issues. I've already done a couple of posts there, the most substantial of which concerned organ donarship, and I intend to contribute many more similar efforts. The boss of White Rose is one of my closest friends.

However, I have long been nursing heretical thoughts about this total surveillance stuff, which it makes sense to put on a "culture" blog rather than on a politics blog. Because what I think is at stake here is a sea change not just in state surveillance, but in the culture generally. What is more, it is a sea change which places programmes like Big Brother right at the centre of what is happening.

Personally I don't watch Big Brother, or any of its various derivatives. Nor, to my extreme relief, do I feel any need to keep up with the soap operas. I recall reading a book years ago which described TV as the ultimate "psychic energy sink", and although I watch a hell of a lot of it, I think that's right.

However, I do think that Big Brother (the TV show) deals with a real question, a question worth reflecting upon. And that question is: what happens to, you know, life, when there are TV cameras trained on it twenty four hours per day? What happens to manners? What happens to the rules of how we ought to behave? What happens to the judgements we make of other people? When we see someone we know, and perhaps later meet up with, masturbating on camera, or scratching his bum, or having a seriously bad hair day, or cheating (maybe, hard to tell) on his wife, how should we then conduct ourselves?

These seem to me to be questions well worth preparing ourselves for.

Big Brother is closely linked to the also much complained about "cult of celebrity".

But the "cult" of celebrity – which is really just being extremely interested in the lives of celebrities – seems to me to reflect the exact same pre-occupations as the reality TV shows. Celebrities are the people who are already enduring total surveillance. Their triumphs and agonies as they either try to dodge the cameras, or as they make rude finger gestures at them, or else as they try to be dignified when on them, are a taste of what the rest of us may have to be deciding about in years to come. Now the Beckhams, tomorrow it'll be us on camera. How do the Beckhams handle it? How will we?

Popular culture is often dismissed as trivia and nonsense, by the guardians of "culture" in the more elevated sense of that word. But then these same guardians look back on the trivia and nonsense of earlier times, and suddenly they see that those despicably low-browed masses were actually dealing with deadly serious questions which the entire world and its various Presidents and Prime Ministers are now having to deal with in deadly earnest.

Take all those slam bang adventure movies of the nineteen eighties. I recall a wonderful fake cinema trailer done by some British TV comedians which advertised a movie called, simply, "Things Exploding". Ho ho. And it was true. The collective sub-conscious did seem to be unnaturally obsessed with (a) huge and dramatic bangs, and in general, disasters of all kinds, and (b) how people should react to them. Well, in the era of Al Qaeda, this suddenly doesn't seem quite so moronic and down market, now does it? Suddenly the world is filled, for real, with, if not an abundance of actual bangs, then at the very least the vastly heightened fear of such bangs, in official and respectable circles.

I believe that the exact same pattern will unfold with total surveillance. The "official" debate about this takes the form of saying either that we've got to have it (the government line), or that it's creepy (White Rose).

Meanwhile the masses are off on a quite different tack. Instead of arguing about whether it should happen, they have simply accepted that, just like all those big bangs and disasters, it is going to happen, and for them, the question is: how do we live with it?

I believe that the masses are right. I have no problem with trying to help my White Rose friends in what they are trying to do with occasional postings, for I certainly believe that the matter of how total surveillance is done is extremely important. But I am with the masses in pretty much believing that it will happen. To ask how we can stop it is futile. What really matters is: how will we live with it?

To put it another way, the important discussions about total surveillance are at least as much Brian's Culture Blog matters as they are White Rose matters.

End of part one. As so often with blogging, you blog away for twenty minutes, setting the scene and clearing away the undergrowth, as it were, for what you really want to get stuck into. But when you have, and are ready to get seriously started, you have actually finished a perfectly decent posting, which it makes sense to draw to a close.

If I want to pursue this, and I really really do, I will, but not here and not now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
June 15, 2003
Welcome back BBC4

I do not know why, but about a fortnight ago BBC4, one of the digital TV channels that is supposed to reach my television set through the new digital box I purchased earlier this year, stopped working. All the other channels are working okay, but not BBC4. Bad signal, said my television, when I interrogated it with my remote control about this unfortunate circumstance.

As Sod's Law would have it, BBC4 is, of all my new digital channels, the one I am least happy to be losing. It is the nearest thing to a culture channel that free-to-view TV offers in Britain. It does not supply continuously wonderful programmes, but there is from time to time something I greatly want to see, such as a programme last week about the legendary conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Yevgeny Mravinsky. And I couldn't. Damn.

Well, now BBC 4 is back. It has reappeared as mysteriously as it disappeared. Digital signals being what they are – something you either receive in their entirety or do not receive at all – there is no cracking or buzzing or blurring or fragmenting of the picture or of the sound. It is back in full. Nevertheless there is something rather old fashioned about this. I feel like some radio ham who sometimes get lucky and able to talk to his friend in Canada, but sometimes not, depending on what is happening in the Heavyside Layer, or some such magical location.

So this evening I've been luxuriating in my rediscovered BBC4. I started by watching and listening to Ian Bostridge singing Schubert and Fauré at the Edinburgh Festival, then a programme about Vladimir Putin (who I think looks a lot like this actor), and now I'm watching a programme about TV political thrillers. They are now making the interesting point that, now that New Labour is starting seriously to fray at the edges, this genre is back in business again. Is "New Laborur" a deeper, darket, less benign force than has until recently been supposed?

"We are naturally suspicious even of this government" says a smooth looking writer in a jumper. "Even." I love that. They're "too capitalist", it seems. This is in connection with the drama State of Play which is now in the process of being shown. You can feel the traditional left losing patience with "their" government.

It's good to have BBC4 back. I was thinking of clambering up onto the roof of my apartment block to see if .I could improve matters by jiggling about with the aerial. Now, touch wood, that won't be necessary. (Maybe one of my neighbours has done this.)

BBC4 often repeats things. Maybe they'll repeat the Mravinsky programme. I hope so.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:52 PM
June 03, 2003

I am watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. What is the appeal of this show?

It has lots of beautiful looking Americans. They are dealing with much more miserable stuff than most of us are, but importantly miserable. Murder is importantly miserable. Having to talk sternly to a subordinate for being a bit crap at his work is just miserable and nothing else. Having to rewrite something we thought was perfect is just miserable. We can escape to a world of important misery.

They are dealing with it, thereby reassuring us that such things are being dealt with. It is, in short, the old "trouble in paradise" formula. Paradise lost. Paradise regained by the end of each episode.

Paradise in England means looking okay, and living in a fabulously beautiful place, like Fantasy Oxford, or Fantasy Rural Village, with lots of Fantasy nice people, and Fantasy little shops selling Fantasy produce. The American equivalent is that you look Fabulous. So the CSI people are all in paradise, apart from the obligatory fat guy who makes the others look more Fabulous.

And it's all beautifully photographed. Not only do all the characters look great. It looks great. (Except that they are troubled by important misery.)

Not enough is said nowadays about how great TV looks. Watch a tennis match, or a chat show, or some idiot reality TV show. Switch the sound off. Chances are, every other shot is a Rembrandt. Does that sound daft? Maybe it's because I'm first generation TV and you aren't.

I first saw a decent modern colour TV set when I was about twelve, and it was fabulous. I can still remember the utter amazement of these magical machines. Until then, we didn't have them. Imagine watching, I don't know, test match cricket, in clunky black and white, and then seeing it in full colour. It's like seeing a colour movie for the first time, or a talkie after all you previously had had was a lunatic at an organ. You, on the other hand, grew up with colour TV, and you take it for granted. But when I was a kid, we didn't have it at all.

And CSI makes maximum use of the photographic excellence that is now possible. All those shiny, perfectly lit recreations of bullets going into bodies, of weapons slamming into bodies, of blood dripping from bodies to floors.

Above all there is William Petersen. For once we are spared the spectacle of a Man in Charge who is poised on the edge of throwing a huge temper tantrum. He seems so serene, so content, like a brain surgeon or a concert pianist, patiently going about his work with supreme calm and supreme authority. A hero for the age when yuppies have mutated into grandparents. It doesn't matter what horrors the world throw at us while he is on the watch.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:24 PM
May 18, 2003
An excellent documentary

Last week I posted a piece about how films about famous battles might be better done. I've now just watched a very good documentary, which was first shown last October but which I was seeing tonight for the first time, about the Battle of El Alamein. It was written and fronted by Peter Snow and by his son Daniel. Peter Snow told of the big decisions and the big strategic and battlefield agonisings, as befitted his age, while son Daniel related what it was like for the poor bloody infantry, tankers, gunners, minefield clearers, etc., ditto. It could have been ghastly, but Dan is obviously going to be just as much of a broardcasting pro as his Dad is and I thought it worked fine.

Concerning what I said in my previous post about how the drama genre and the documentary genre need to merge, and how documentaries need to make more serious use of actors, they used (young) actors in this documentary to tell the story from the point of view of the average soldier, as if telling the story just after the battle had ended. Maps, commentary, practical demonstrations of the difficulties of clearing mines, shots of the same landscape filmed now, all merged very well to tell the story with great clarity. As one who has read a lot about this battle over the years, I still managed to learn a lot, in the sense that it was all pulled together into a single story for me better than ever before. At first I thought that the computer graphics were going to be needlessly fussy and trixy, but once the battle got seriously underway, that mostly stopped.

Nevertheless, when they finally do make a decent drama-documentary about Alamein, they'll have to have an actor doing Monty (what a part!). And others doing Auchinleck, Lumsden, Rommel, and the rest of them.

Just as interesting as what this documentary did contain was what it did not. There was no attempt to downgrade the importance or the bravery of what the soldiers had done. There was no "revisionism". No campaigning for peace, other than noting how terrible it must be to get burnt to death in a tank. There was just an important story, clearly and vividly told.

It was interesting also, in this age of multi-national production deals and global audiences, that full credit was given to the contributions of the non-English (such as the Scots) and the non-British (Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, etc.). Special mention was, in particular, made of the contribution made to the winning of Alamein by the Australians, who made the vital attack in the extreme north after the first attack in the north had been stalled.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:40 PM
May 11, 2003
Comedy thoughts

Yesterday evening I finally got to have a listen on DVD to the World War I episodes of Blackadder, known, I believe, as "Blackadder Goes Forth", the first four of the six anyway.

They were funny, but not quite as funny as I remember them, and at first they were not nearly as funny as I remembered them, and for a curious reason. The laughter track on the DVDs is far, far too loud, compared to the loudness of the dialogue. As a result these particular laughter tracks affected me in the way I've often heard people complain that laughter tracks of any kind affect them. I felt as if I was being forced to find lines hilariously amusing which were only rather funny. Thus my comedy resistance was aroused and I found myself analysing various lines and saying to myself: that wasn't at all funny, I've heard better in a school play, and such like. However, in due course I adjusted, and found myself being as amused as ever.

The phrase "alternative comedy" is very common these days, and I have even heard this expression applied to Blackadder. But Blackadder is utterly and completely conventional, and Blackadder Goes Forth expresses the utterly and completely orthodox view that World War I was a gigantic waste of human blood and achieved nothing. I have a friend, who once gave one of my friday evening talks to this effect, who believes that actually World War I was well worth fighting, and that if it had not been fought Europe in general and Britain in particular would now be in a far worse state, and he further believes that there was not really any other way to fight it. Add some jokes to all that, and that really would be alternative comedy.

If I ever become a stand-up comic, I will describe myself as reverent and conventional, and giving voice to the establishment point of view. I shall treat captains of industry, front rank politicians, major military commanders, and such grand personages, with deep respect at all times. Only alternative comedians will be sneered at.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:58 PM
April 21, 2003
Male genitalia

Ha, that got your attention. I've just caught a really good line, from that TV show called Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I only heard because I had gone to sleep in front of my TV and then woke up during it. I don't actually like it that much, or I thought I didn't. Maybe I should start liking it. No. I shouldn't. The rest of it is complete rubbish and of no entertainment value whatsoever. It's just an old man being stupid and pointless. The fact that it is a really, really accurate portrayal of an old man being stupid and pointless does not make it any more amusing. This is just my opinion, you understand. To the rest of the universe just now, this show is everything that is wonderful. Don't let me spoil your enjoyment of this abysmal slice of foolishness if you enjoy it.

Anyway the line that was good before everything went back to being bad again was about how a man can have sex with any woman, because women a so beautiful. But women have to be in love with a man before they'll have sex with him, because male genitalia are so appalling. This makes perfect sense to me. I've never really understood why all women aren't lesbians. After all, women are just so much nicer to look at nude than men, and why would women feel any different to the way most men seem to feel? But apparently it doesn't work like that. Do all mothers just force themselves to endure sex with men just to have children? Surely not. So, I'm baffled.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:58 PM
April 20, 2003
Happy Easter!

This is another quota fulfiller, so stop now if you think that stupid.

Today I semi-watched one of my favorite silly films on TV, Turner and Hooch. This is the one about a dog that witnesses a murder and has to be chaperoned by Tom Hanks. Hanks is a very tidy policeman, and the dog is a slob who trashes Hanks' house. Hanks is a good actor. Often he plays a slob. Whoever he plays, you believe it.

Later in the evening they played another favourite of mine, The American President, which I have on tape and have watched quite enough already for this decade. In this film Michael Douglas plays a President with Clintonian policies, but without Clintonian domestic morals. He is widowed. He gets himself a sweet girlfield who stays the night, and both his Republican opponent and large tracts of the USA react as if he had got himself a blowjob with an intern in the Oval Office. All the stupid behaviour of Republicans that really happened, plus all the dignity of their man that didn't, in other words. Preposterous. And at the end, President Michael Douglas goes for a huge cut in globe-warming gases and a hugely more repressive anti-gun law, egged on by that little weasel Michael J. Fox, who I thought was a Republican, in public anyway. Dream on guys. The romance is a model of mundane plausibility when set beside the politics of the thing. But Douglas and Annette Bening are both charming and I still enjoy it.

In the later TV version of this movie, The West Wing, done by the same gang of people I strongly suspect (lead by Aaron Sorkin?), the President does Behave Badly, unlike Michael Douglas in The American President. I guess there was too much derision aimed at the movie for their comfort. But this time the President's Bad Behaviour takes the form of covering up, not a sordid sex life, but a Terminal Illness, which is much more profound and dignified. That way, all the same White House manoevrings can be recreated, but in a less depressing cause.

The American President still running, so to remind me of it for this I'm listening to Michael Douglas' big press conference speech at the end, and oh, the Democratic joy of it. He is as morally upright as Clinton wasn't and as verbally fluent and felicitous as Gore wasn't.

"We've got serious problems and we need serious people. ... My name is Andrew Shepherd and I am the President." And now he's got the girl. Aaaaah!!!!

Well, these people are entitled to their dreams. They lost the next Presidential election in a dead heat, and now they are having to live with the nightmare that is George W. Bush jnr. Now he really is serious. And for real.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
April 09, 2003
Interview art

Carrying on with this pleasure/art thing, I was watching a documentary about James Stewart while finalising the posting below, and they included clips of him being interviewed by Michael Parkinson.

Michael Parkinson is a classic pleasure merchant. Art is art, and chatshows are just chatshows. It's seldom said. It is simply assumed. A James Stewart film, provided it's good enough, is art. But an interview done by James Stewart with Parky is just an interview.

Yet this interview, like a film, is also now a permanent thing. It's some kind of superior BBC variety of video tape, or some such. So this interview passes the physics test.

How about the other test, the "how good was it?" test? Well, it is now very clear that James Stewart presenting "himself" on a chat show was every bit as much Art as any of his other performance creations. The story about Pie the horse doing a scene in one take, after Stewart had talked with him for a while. "This is not going to be easy for you … because you're a horse", etc., all timed to perfection, and surely honed during many private hours with friends and acquaintances, just like any other performance. Art, surely.

Or what about that fabulous interview that Alec Guinness did with Parky, when he performed a brilliant impersonation of a big bird in a zoo, which stood absolutely still whenever you were looking at it, but which, as soon as your back was turned, adopted a quite different pose, so when you looked back again (Grandmother's Footsteps style), there he was, standing motionless again, but differently. Classic. Guiness even gave the cameramen directions, so that they too were looking away when the bird moved.

Or what of Oliver Reed, giving Parky (again) a master class in what being a film actor actually consists of, by actually doing a scene for everyone. "If you think it's so easy, you do it."

And what of Parky himself? Can it be coincidence that these film and theatre giants seem to give of their very best to posterity, when he just happens to be sitting next to them mumbling his way through his non-questions until they interrupt him with their artful self-presentations? He too may be judged by Posterity to have been more of an artist than he's now reckoned to be.

But the bad news for Parky is what these three much loved actors now have in common. They're dead. We treasure their conversational relics the way we never did when they were still around to add to the pile. So, drop dead Parky. As soon as you do, you'll be a True Artist.

Tracey Emin, on the other hand, seems likely to head in the exact opposite direction. As soon as she stops being around to tell us all that she's an artist, she'll stop being thought of as one. Well, not an art artist anyway.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:20 AM
January 29, 2003
The flat screen explosion

One of these decades I really must sort out how to put pictures up on my blogs. It's easy. It must be. Everyone else does it without apparent catastrophe. And how can I be doing a culture blog without making use of this elementary procedure, to illustrate my profound opinions? No doubt for several weeks, months or years you will be able to witness my answer.

In the meantime, these people seem to know how to display pictures. Try going here, and clicking on the picture to the right.

This kind of electronic picture displaying is only in its infancy. For consider this. One of the consumer toys now doing the Price Plummet is none other than the flat screen TV.

I've been pondering this, and I think we are about to witness something very interesting, domestic-decoration-wise.

Who says you only have to have one TV screen per room?

I can remember when it was assumed that you could only have one TV screen per house. Then, some brave soul said to himself, and more to the point to his pestilential teenage children: you know what, you brats can have your own TVs in your bedrooms, then we can all watch what we want.

But now with these flat screen TVs, we can soon have them hanging on our walls in great assemblages. If a really good flat screen TV cost £50 instead of a minimum of about a £1,000, I'd have a couple on my living room wall, where the print-outs of my digital photos now go. And since the market for these gizmos is going to be absolutely huge beyond belief, they'll probably be down to £20 in no time at all.

For years I missed the point of these things. I used to think: So? They save a bit of space? I can now put a bit of crap behind my TV screen and a bit more crap behind my computer screen. A total of about fifty books or so. But this is totally to miss the point, which is that a flat screen is a completely different and infinitely more flexible object. It's not that it saves space. It's that it doesn't take up any more space in the first place, except wall space. It's a replacement not only for your pregnant TV and computer screens. It's a replacement for all you pictures.

I will buy one and sort out how to display pictures (mine and Michelangelo's) on it, and who knows what else besides? Ultra favorite movies or movie scenes with the sound-track off? Silent movies? Then when they are really cheap, I'll turn my home into an art gallery. (Personal computers will have to learn how to control a hundred screens rather than just one, I think.)

Question: Will "art galleries" go the way of provincial repertory theatres when TV came along?

No. And I'll tell you all about why some other time.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:40 PM