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Saturday Review: Life of Pi, Dance of Death and Restless

Friday 21 December 2012, 10:05

Tom Sutcliffe Tom Sutcliffe Presenter of Saturday Review

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Editor's note: Hear Saturday Review on 22 December at 7.15pm on BBC Radio 4. PM

Saturday Review

I’m not sure there’s anything quite so depressing as compulsory jollity – so I was very relieved that we’d managed to dodge every festive theatrical offering this year, like a Lancaster threading through the flak over Bremen.

No panto, no musical, but instead the resolutely family-unfriendly offering of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death, in which a married couple celebrate their silver wedding anniversary by tearing chunks out of each other.

In my experience you never see a production without feeling a little better about your own life, but Titas Halder’s production – in a tiny space at the Trafalgar Studios in London -- is unusually cheering even so, presenting the action as a very black comedy which veers at times into farce. More black comedy in the short stories of George Saunders, as well -- whose latest collection, The Tenth of December, blends meticulous observation of how the world is now with disturbing hints of what it could easily become just a few years down the road.

Our panel this week – Sarah Hall, Kathryn Hughes and Misha Glenny -- fell over each other in their enthusiasm for the book, which was pleasing, as none of them had previously read him. Less unanimity in our discussions of Ang Lee’s film of The Life of Pi and William Boyd’s television adaptation of his own novel Restless, but there was a broad consensus on The Girl, Gwyneth Hughes’s television film about the odd and obsessive relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren.

The film, which goes out on Boxing Day on BBC2, has stirred up a certain amount of controversy with its portrait of great director who isn’t around to defend himself anymore. I’d be interested to know what listeners make of it….

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    Comment number 1.

    'Like a Lancaster threading through the flak over Bremen'-
    compulsory engagements for the historical too, can be even more depressing but a brave bbc has excised at least some of these from decent concern with the phosphor of a new genre of illustrative and retrospectivly revisionary comment.
    And if the flak had hit that Lancaster what a dance of death it would have been for Tom & team to behold..

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    Comment number 2.

    I agree with the panel's conclusions about "The Girl"; I found this film, and particularly Toby Jones's performance, a huge disappointment: where was the charm which Hitchcock undoubtedly possessed? I felt the film had an axe to grind: the over-familiar one of debunking a hero.
    Of course the film should not have glossed over Hitchcock's indubitably bad behaviour, but as Tom Sutcliffe wrote in his review in the Independent, what was wanted was something more nuanced.
    Of the filming of the final attack of the birds on Tippi Hedren, she herself told Donald Spoto: "He [Hitchcock] was terribly upset by all this".

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Since writing the above, I have found a lot of questions raised on the Internet about the veracity of the film, and of the account given by Donald Spoto, who acted as consultant; an article in the Daily Telegraph quotes Doris Day, Kim Novak and Eva Marie-Saint, who had much more positive relationships with Hitchcock; and an article by Tony Lee Moral for the Huffington Post quotes workers on the film as being sceptical about the abuse portrayed in the film. Surely the BBC should be more balanced? As one of the panellists on the program said, dead men cannot sue for libel. At the very least, the BBC could have broadcast a panel discussion after the film. Once again the judgement of the Beeb is called into question.

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    Comment number 4.

    Great discussion this week, as usual, and good to hear skepticism from the panel and commenters above about The Girl - there seems to be a Microsoft Word template for proposals for BBC producers where it has a space for the raking up of salacious content and the obligatory re-evaluation of previously venerated people.

    Also, thanks to the Producer (@satrev) in the previous comment thread for this show for answering my questions - that is a truly a rare and valued quality these days in a huge organization.

    As for The Tenth of December it was heartening to hear the positive consensus. I would just like to say that a previous review of Peter Carey's 'The Chemistry of Tears' (the subject area is one close to my academic research) really fired me up, but found there was a long delay between UK and US publishing dates (ditto E.L. Doctorow's 'Homer and Langley' from a couple of years ago). Again, since this excellent programme is a downloadable podcast, listeners may be geographically distributed, so sometimes mention of release dates/ publishing dates elsewhere (when pertinent) would be appreciated. It's not a big issue - in any case it's lovely to hear what nonfiction should be on the radar.

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    Comment number 5.

    In terms of incoming films, I'm very much looking forward to your views on Lincoln (UK release date: 25 Jan), and Wreck-it Ralph (released 8th Feb, but has been out in the US since November). Both films are examples of incredibly glossy, honed and sheened 'product', in very different ways. Nonetheless, there are huge gaps in our understanding of American history and political process, and the film is less of a biopic than an imaginative recreation of complex political process, of democracy at work. I usually avoid Spielberg films because of their well-honed but often overly sentimental nature, but was very pleasantly surprised. Needless to say, the performances are terrific and it manages to create narrative tensions out of a series of voting processes and White House debates, and shows Lincoln the family man too. Astonishing.

    Wreck-it Ralph was well reviewed here, but I was über-cautious because it's a Disney film. We have a moratorium on Disney 'product' in our household for ideological reasons. But we also need to go as a family to movies from time to time that are entertaining for the whole family, Pixar films being the best exemplar. I have knowledge of the history of videogames and occasionally even get to play them when the little one is in bed. So the fact that the film makes constant reference to the history of videogames (Q*bert, anyone?) in a way that matters to the narrative, and which is not product placement, was completely refreshing. It manages to out-Toy Story Toy Story in its homage and celebration of the memory of the cheap but meaningful pleasures of videogame arcades, the fact that this form of activity has waned in favour of home consoles, but also works as a thrilling adventure in its own right. Without spoilers, there is one slightly false note, typically Disney, towards the end, but overall it was impressive how un-Disney it was. There is something there for everyone, including catchy J-pop tunes and Nintendo-type saturated colours, without being too cutesy in other parts (more grown-up Halo type pastiche). Thoroughly enjoyable for a family that includes a 3 year-old and two academics - that's quite a feat!


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