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Newsnight Review Friday 8 May 2009

Sarah McDermott | 18:19 UK time, Friday, 8 May 2009

Here's Martha with news of tonight's Newsnight Review:

If Westminster has appeared to be a parallel universe this week, there is more of the same on Review this week. All our items grapple, in one way or another, with the small matter of The Meaning of Life.

As a child, my brothers and I loved to watch Star Trek on TV. Even at a young age, we knew that William Shatner's performance verged on cheesy most of the time, but the programme itself seemed so modern. At the height of the Cold War, there was a Russian character, and a black woman when TV was solidly white. I never got into the movies though, which somehow seemed too serious, too technological. But in JJ Abrams' new film the graphics never get in the way of the human drama, and it is a treat to see those familiar characters in their youth. Mr. Spock is actually quite sexy in a Vulcan kind of way. One of our guests, Natalie Haynes, is a proper Trekkie and she has visited a house in Leicestershire which has been entirely reworked to resemble the Enterprise to tell us why she thinks we should take the Trek franchise seriously.

I wonder whether our other guests Tom Paulin and Anthony Horowitz are quite as keen on the voyages of the USS Enterprise...?

Mr. Spock's greeting "Live long and prosper" is not exactly the theme of our next item: Beckett's Waiting for Godot, which has reached London after a nationwide tour. Its official press night was on Wednesday with a celebrity audience to match the star studded cast. I spotted Sir Paul MacCartney, Sting, John Major, Dominic West, Vivienne Westwood and Neil Tennant. Sir Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart give the tramps a vaudeville past in Sean Matthias's production which highlights the humour of the tragi-comedy more than many recent productions.

The precarious nature of existence haunts the final poems of John Updike's Endpoint which has been published posthumously. Sometimes writing from hospital bed, he reflects on his final illness in Needle Biopsy:

"days later, the results came casually through
the gland, biopsied, showed metastasis"

But there are warm recollections too of his Pennsylvania childhood and musings about the nature of writing itself.

Colm Toibin is one of my favourite authors so I am delighted that we are discussing his latest novel, Brooklyn. He explained to me in an interview that the style is based on Jane Austen whose work he had been teaching on a literature course. The Irish heroine, Eilis, emigrates to the States in search of work and ends up facing a dilemma between her new country and home. Watch the full interview here.

Do join us at eleven,



  • Comment number 1.

    Tom Paulin - its been a long time, but then I haven't always been able to keep my eyes open, memories of his past visits should do the trick tonight.

  • Comment number 2.

    Tom Paulin must be the most miserable man on television. Exactly what you don't need on a Friday night. I just knew he would rubbish Star Trek and Waiting for Godot, and I've given up watching the programme because I can't face any more of his dreary comments. Why does the BBC continue to employ such a negative analyst?

    Well done to Natalie Haynes and Martha Kearney for maintaining a cheerful demeanour in the face of such a turgid onslaught. It must be difficult keeping a sense of humour when confronted by someone who clearly doesn't possess one.

  • Comment number 3.

    For God's sake is is really necessary to have someone as out of touch with modern life as Tom Paulin so obviously is commenting on the new Star Trek movie, probably one of the sci-fi events of the last 5 years?

    What in the name of all that's holy possesses the producers of Review to week after week wheel out these pretentious, snotty old fossils who seem to have no idea about anything existing in the modern world other than what appeals to their own urbane sense of pomposity? Horowitz wrote kids books and drama for TV and Paulin is an Irish poet and literature guru - what are they doing critiquing a block buster Sci-Fi movie?

    For the record Review, Sci-Fi isn't some nasty, dingy little backwater of fiction read and watched only by spotty young hooded urchins who can't differentiate between their Tiberius or their Nero thank you Tom - and they deserve far, far more from Review than to be treated to the spectacle of poor Natalie Haynes being totally lost between two other reviewers who were so full of their own obvious artistic superiority and self importance that it left her alone and with nobody to discuss the movie with. In short the entire spot was a gimmick and an insult to the millions of people who will pay more money to watch the Star Trek movie in a week than any set of egoistic worthy poets' and drama writers reading in a dark corner will earn in several lifetimes.

    Review manages to pull in informed, educated opinion on more traditionally perceived cerebral art-forms like poetry, literature, painting, exhibitions 'et al' ad nauseaum; - week after week these self perceived 'higher brows' elucidate and inform us lesser mortals about how worthy this author is, how stirring this piece of theatre was - everything is so 'daahling'. But when it comes to something that dare I say an ordinary, less bourgeois person might want to go and see then it's treated with disrespect, condescension and laughed at.

    So, over to you Review - or are you content to be seen as elitist as you sound?

  • Comment number 4.

    Newsnight Review was very interesting again last night, I thought, with Martha Kearney in the seat this time. It made me want to go and see the new theatrical version of 'Waiting for Godot' and read John Updike's moving poetic contemplation of his last days before death, in particular.
    Loved the end!

  • Comment number 5.

    Tom of past had been gloriously red shifted from his own big bang, last night a dissipated whisper of light who seemed to be doing it for a bit of beer money. Poem was well read though, least I thought so.

  • Comment number 6.

    poor Martha, having to deal with Tom Paulin. What gives this legend in his own lunchtime the gaul to sit there with his body language saying what am I doing here when I could be on the piss, totally disinterested, why didn't Martha tell him too nod off as he made no worthwhile contribution. Can NN review get people on that actually want to BE there...

  • Comment number 7.

    What was the point of having Tom Paulin reviewing Star Trek? Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this is supposed to be criticism. A critic has a responsibility. They should at least attempt to understand the thing they've presumably been paid to watch on our behalf. Tom Paulin spat in our faces with his dismissal of Star Trek. It was downright rude. He couldn't be bothered to even engage in what the film was supposed to be. If he had ventured a critique of the Star Trek genre and how he felt this film may have failed it, that would have been fine - but he didn't. He looked like someone who simply felt that the film was beneath him. That isn't criticism. That's elitism. It's pure, arrogant snobbery. Please do not spend license payer's money on this unpleasant and lazy curmudgeon again.

  • Comment number 8.

    Completely agree about Tom Paulin. I looked him up and apparently he lectures at Hertford College Oxford. I hope he demands a little more critical rigour from his students - or is his speciality lazy elitism?

  • Comment number 9.

    Aren't poets supposed to be able to empathise with how people feel? Tom Paulin lives in a grey, grey world that I don't recognise. How can he possibly write about the human condition when he appears to despise the joy felt by millions of people around the world at a story well told? He appears to despise us for feeling that joy. He appears not to understand the very nature and purpose of story telling... the purpose of fantasy, or the function of science fiction. I think his dismissal of the new Star Trek movie was actually pretty ignorant. And he proved himself an elitist when he declared that it's only saving grace was its classical references, as if name checking roman emperors was somehow a merit in itself. I agree with all the posts who found the way he spoke to us annoying, irrelevant, and snobbish. If Newsnight Review is not to become an irrelevance itself, it must attract critics who show a glimmer of understanding of how the majority of the audience view the world.

  • Comment number 10.

    You know, just because you have a lively, bright and funny panel member like Natalie Haynes, it doesn't mean you have to acheive balance by adding an leaden, dull and gloomy person like Tom Paulin. Even his body laguage was enough to make me switch off.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it's an indication of how much Newsnight Review has moved on from the days when it was Paulin, Greer, Parsons and Alison Pearson every week. Paulin felt as if he'd crawled out from another era. Someone here described him as a curmudgeon, and that used to be quite amusing, but on Friday it was embarrassing and just made him look slightly foolish. He demonstrated a strange failure of intellect.

    What amazed me is that such an erudite man said the only thing of note in Star Trek were the classical references, while failing to see that the Star Trek franchise can easily be seen as the Odyssey of its day - or Beowolf perhaps - certainly in the same tradition. It was as if Mr Paulin has lost his intellectual ability to actually read the content of the play or film he has been asked to comment upon. The way he turned his nose up at the film was simultaneously pretentious and shallow.

  • Comment number 12.

    Yes, please put Paulin out of his misery. Put him out to grass. He clearly doesn't want to be there. He was even taking his mic off before the credits rolled. It was excruciating to watch and insulting to your viewers. I'm a regular Newsnight viewer and wanted to find out about Star Trek and the new Colm Toibin novel. Thank goodness for Natalie Haynes - and Martha did a wonderfully valient job through (it sounded like) gritted teeth.

    And in Anthony Horowitz you seem to have found perhaps the only male writer for young boys who has never watched Star Trek. Quite a feat, that.

  • Comment number 13.

    haws2water (#11) ".. while failing to see that the Star Trek franchise can easily be seen as the Odyssey of its day"

    More grist to my mill? :-(

  • Comment number 14.

    What a pretentious prig the miserable Tom Paulin was on your show last Saturday. Does he not realise that some people need a little bit of light weight popular culture such as Star Trek as well as The Great works of Beckett and Updike. Its what we are in the mood for at any particular time
    that counts and the quality of the material within that genre. Lighten up Tom!

  • Comment number 15.

    I think it's interesting that in the old days of Newsnight Review it used to be quite funny that Tom Paulin never liked anything popular. Last Friday it did feel very uncomfortable. Why has that changed? Was it just Mr Paulin's manner? Or is it that his particular brand of highbrow snobbery just isn't acceptable any more?

  • Comment number 16.

    What next? Newsnight has already done a piece on some naughty woman delighting in writing about her genitalia (yawn) - so how long before Ross, Brand, Walliams and Lucas are invited on to talk about the intricacies of their scripts on 'dingalings', 'ballbags' and err ......projectile vomiting?

  • Comment number 17.

    Bring back Tom Paulin! He has been missed! Him talking about Star Trek is as valid as Robert Morley (?) talking about opera but that's the way it goes. I think the balance is fine, there is always one subject the panelist is knowledgeable about and for the rest, well.

  • Comment number 18.

    i am a young guy (27,) and more interested in popular culture than the arts but i love newsnight review and i love tom paulin! i don't need someone to be like me to respect them and i don't feel threatened when someone doesn't agree with my opinions!

    looking forward to star trek, think i'll probably really like it. hardly surprising tom paulin didn't like it so just enjoy some intellectual guy slating it, it's interesting and funny to see all the different viewpoints, why lose sleep over it?


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