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Category archive: Movies

Monday July 07 2008

I have paid no attention to High School Musical, until now, when I realised that it would be worth linking to from here:

It’s the age of the audience you notice first, quickly followed by the punishing volume of noise the little blighters generate.

Disney’s High School Musical, first a low-budget TV movie and now a stage-show phenomenon, is a wholesome romantic comedy that tells the story of two teenagers in love in Albuquerque.

A British touring production has been doing boffo business around the regions since it opened in January, while this sister production has just opened in London for the summer holidays.

I was expecting an audience mostly of girls aged between ten and 14, and there were plenty of those around, but there were also hundreds of far younger children, from the age of four and up, many of them boys.

The only difference is that the chaps don’t tend to get dolled up in bright red cheerleaders’ costumes and wave pom-poms about like the girls.

“He loves it, he knows all the words of every song,” observed one doting mother of her tiny-tot son, and indeed he did: he happily belted his way through every number.

This venerable venue cannot have been the scene of so much audience-generated racket since the Beatles played here in the early Sixties.

I wouldn’t have a clue about how to go about proving such a proposition, but I can’t help feeling that the extraordinary enthusiasm for show-biz that seems to be sweeping the nation, but which I mean an apparent enthusiasm to be a celebrity-stroke-performer rather than just watch what celebrity-stroke-performers do their various things while getting on with real life, is somehow related to the shift away from such things as maths and science and engineering.  What will all these would-be performers end up doing?  They can’t all become performers.  Can they?

The thing is, shifts in popular culture often signal changes in the world which the more educated and official cultural commentators are unaware of, or prefer not to notice or think about.

One thought occurs to me, which is that show-biz is how the adults of the near future will keep children amused and out of mischief.  So maybe lots of these performers will become teachers, or child-minders.


One of the key figures in High School Musical seems to be the lady teacher, Ms. Darbus, who presides over everything, played in the London stage production by Leticia Dean (above), who used to be in Eastenders.  This is no out-of-touch old biddy.  This is someone you’d be glad to be.

And this, I think, is all part of the same story.

Graduation used to be a rite restricted to students leaving university, but these days schoolchildren are getting in on the fun - with American-style proms to mark the end of the exam season.

The stretch limousine pulls up and out steps a young couple: he, suave in a tuxedo; she, tanned and glamorous. They stop for a photograph then saunter past the doorman.

The scene might resemble a Hollywood film premiere but none of the guests is more than 16 and the event is a school leavers’ party in Canvey Island, Essex.

Good luck turning those girls into engineers.

Friday May 16 2008

Here.  What I like about this piece is how moderate in tone it is.  Most attempts to write about this subject are disfigured by the still raw sense of having been deceived that is precisely Graham’s subject, but without any understanding or intelligent consideration of why the lies are told.  Graham, who freely admits that he is part of the very process he describes, writes much more lucidly than that.

There’s never a point where the adults sit you down and explain all the lies they told you. They’ve forgotten most of them. So if you’re going to clear these lies out of your head, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

Few do. Most people go through life with bits of packing material adhering to their minds and never know it. You probably never can completely undo the effects of lies you were told as a kid, but it’s worth trying. I’ve found that whenever I’ve been able to undo a lie I was told, a lot of other things fell into place.

Fortunately, once you arrive at adulthood you get a valuable new resource you can use to figure out what lies you were told. You’re now one of the liars. You get to watch behind the scenes as adults spin the world for the next generation of kids.

By pure coincidence, I happen to be half watching, at this very moment, the movie Life Is Beautiful, which is about this exact same idea, of a big lie, told to a kid.

Thursday May 08 2008

Earlier this evening I was watching a movie called I Want Candy, which is about a couple of aspiring movie makers who get their start by making a porno movie.  In it there was a scene where a lecturer was lecturing a quite large room full of aspiring movie makers, and I was trying to work out just what was so very, very depressing about it.  It absolutely wasn’t merely the teacher, even though he was indeed very depressingly and very well enacted, by McKenzie Crook.

Then I got it.  Teaching a large number of people how to do a job which only a tiny number of people ever get to actually do for real is an inherently absurd activity.  It just doesn’t make sense.  By far the more intelligent strategy for the teacher, if he actually wants to accomplish anything beyond collecting his pay check in exchange for damn all, is for him to start not by doing much in the way of actual teaching, but instead by searching through all the students in the room, and picking out the one or two who look like they are the least unlikely ones to actually make it to being real movie makers, and concentrate all his efforts on making these few even better.

The usual explanations given for why some things are taught in huge assemblages of students, while other things are taught by teachers on a one-to-one basis are that the nature of the skill requires this, or the student is paying for special attention, or the pupil gets special attention by threatening to wreck the classroom otherwise (whcih amounts to the same idea).  But I think another reason is that teaching someone to get ahead in a fiercely competitive trade or profession just doesn’t make sense any way except one-on-on, very intensely.

The best concert violin students have individual teachers.  The best aspiring athletes have individual coaches.  It’s not the nature of the skill that demands this.  It is the ruthlessly competitive nature of the field that the pupils aspire to enter.  The best violin teachers don’t teach vast throngs of violinists.  They teach a very select few, and lavish tremendously detailed attention on these few.

If someone is teaching a highly competitive trade to a large throng, the chances are that neither he nor his pupils are very good.  If the teacher was any good, he’d pick a few potential winners.  If a pupil was any good, he’d find a better teacher.

If there was a large demand for people who could play the violin really, really well, on a scale approaching the demand for people who are merely literate and numerate, then violin playing would be taught in large classes, just like literacy and numeracy.

In the past, when the demand for literacy and numeracy was not nearly so great, these things were also taught one-to-one.

This has been a thinking-aloud posting, and it may not be right.

Sunday March 09 2008

The Times today has an excerpt from a book about The heroic Englishman China will never forget.  Turns out he was a teacher.  They used to make movies about this kind of thing.  Perhaps the idea is that they should again, but I don’t think that would now be on.

Hello.  I blogged too soon:


I found out about the forthcoming movie The Children of Huang Shi, at this place, while Googling for images of this man, whose name was George Hogg.  But the bit at the bottom of the Times piece where it says ...

A film inspired by the story, The Children of Huang Shi, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Chow Yun Fat, Radha Mitchell and Michelle Yeoh, and directed by Roger Spottiswoode, will be released in the UK later following a US opening in May

... should have been a bit of a clue.

More about this story, and a picture of the real George Hogg, here.  It would seem that this is not the kind of movie the Americans made in the fifties, about a heroic Christian being persecuted by evil Communists.  This guy appears to have been very much an official Communist hero, or so it would seem.  All of which makes me want to read the book.

Friday December 21 2007

Here‘s a review in Pink News of that St Trinian’s movie, the one I saw recently advertised on the side of a bus:


Dividing the girls into moderns tribes such as emos, chavs, posh totty and trustafarians, and featuring recreational drug-taking and school girl sex-chat lines, the film updates Searle’s original creations for a world with where our social mores have shifted.

Yet it retains his anarchic sense of fun that made the original books and films so fun.

Filled with one-liners, the script lampoons modern pop phenomena, from Harry Potter (’it’s like Hogwarts for pikeys’, says new girl Annabelle, played by Talulah Riley, when she arrives at the run-down school) to Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth providing a hilarious send up of the scene when Mr Darcy emerging from a lake.

And great comic turns from the cast, which includes Russell Brand as Flash Harry and Stephen Fry as himself, ensure that it’s brought to life in an engaging way, making the film a worthy addition to the St Trinian’s canon.

David Stubbs of Guardian Unlimited, on the other hand, thinks it the worst St Trinian’s movie ever.

For baffled foreigners, there is some St Trinian’s background here.  It all started with cartoons.

UPDATE: Here’s a piece about the real thing.

Thursday December 13 2007

Busy day, so something I do a lot at my personal blog: a quota photo, snapped this afternoon, in London.

What is this?


Click to get the answer.  (Clue: look at the categories below.)

The writing is just that little bit too good to be quite convincing, wouldn’t you say?