Archives for October 2008
This has been quite a week for live music, and has meant making some difficult choices. On Wednesday the options included both the Goldfrapp gig at Cecil Sharp House and Africa Express at Koko. Fortunately, The Barbican put on an Africa Now show (essentially Africa Express without the white boys) the following night, so I was able to see Goldfrapp without feeling like I was missing out. Of course I would have to miss The Streets, but Clare and Adrienne (from the Culture Show team) were already going to the gig, so it felt just about tolerable. We had Goldfrapp on the Culture Show during the last series, and you can still watch Eat Yourself and Monster Love on the site, but the Electric Proms session promised to be on a larger scale, with 13 string musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra of London taking part.
The stage was dressed with sheaves of grain and Alison Goldfrapp's microphone stand was wrapped in ribbons like a maypole. Goldfrapp had apparently requested the intimate space because of its folk associations, and the theatrical touches extended to the costumes, with the NSO appearing barefoot in cream Morris dancer outfits (without the ribbons or bells) and the chorus wearing rather spooky masks, evocative of pagan England. Alison was as stunning as ever, also barefoot, in a black harlequin suit. Honestly, that woman could look great in a sack (a silky sack with pom poms in this case).
Sarah Prag (from BBC Music) sent Twitter updates from the show (seems very naughty that her phone wasn't off, but I'm sure her calls were on divert) and she relays impressions from the concert as it happens. I was entranced, both by the old and new material, and completely blown away by Alison's voice. Moments that particularly made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck were the staggeringly beautiful Utopia, Cologne Cerrone Houdini and the mesmerising You Never Know (faultless once it got started). It's difficult to pick songs though, because the whole thing was magical. The venue is tiny and the audience were sitting on rows of the sorts of chairs that you get in a meeting hall, and Alison seemed a bit freaked out that we were all sitting there like dummies - necessary because of how the show was being filmed. I was perfectly happy, because I'm on the lazy side, but Alison kept saying how weird it felt, and at one point said that this was "The most intense thing we've ever done", although I'm sure this was as much to do with playing such an intimate acoustic set as with our immobility.
A radio broadcast of highlights is currently on iPlayer, from Gideon Coe's 6 Music show, together with an interview with Will and Alison: the interview is at 41:30 and Eat Yourself is at 1 hour 20 mins, followed by Caravan Girl. Tonight at 10pm, however, you'll be able to see the whole show on BBC Four- don't miss it.
We're talking about the ex-Smiths guitarist when Eddie (programme editor) comes out with the surprising fact that Marr's name is a pun on the French for "I'm fed up", "J'en ai marre". Adrienne (our film expert) remarks that Morrissey sounds like "Me too" or "Moi aussi"" Is this one of those things that everyone knows? I'm feeling like a very inadequate Smiths fan this morning...
J'en ai marre
We're now about halfway through this year's festival of contemporary dance, Dance Umbrella, and I've seen a couple of good pieces so far. Last night at Sadler's Wells the Israeli company Batsheva performed a piece by their artistic director and choreographer Ohad Naharin, and they were very impressive.
Entitled Three, the piece is divided into the sections Bellus, Humus and Secus. Between sections we are addressed by a face on a television screen, which provides a disjointed commentary on what is to come. The dancers begin the performance staring out into the audience, and this directness is typical of Batsheva. Whether a pair of dancers is performing a passionate duet to the sound of the Goldberg Variations or the whole company are going wild to a backing track of electronic music, they seem equally skilful and dynamic. There are phrases from classical dance in the show, but they are mixed together with movements that are anything but traditional.
Dance is probably the art form that I have had least exposure to, because my past experiences of ballet and contemporary dance have been rather trying. I haven't found myself easily engaged; more inclined to admire the skill of the dancers than feeling any emotional response. It has proved hard at times to stop my mind from wandering. I'm not saying that during the past month or so I've got over my resistance to dance, but I might be thawing. Although I didn't have time to write about it at the time, I also rather enjoyed Wayne McGregor's Random Dance performing Proprius at the Ignite Festival. The integration of professional dancers with children (some of whom had learning disabilities) felt natural and exciting.
What both of the above events had in common, aside from being dance, is that the audience was younger than usually seems the case at the theatre or opera, and that they were really excited by the performance - there was a real buzz of energy. I'd be interested to hear about any dance companies who you think are doing exciting work at the moment.
When Mary Wilson of The Supremes accepted the lifetime award on behalf of Motown Records at last week's Mobo Awards we were very excited in the Culture Show office. Just the previous day we had been filming with Wilson in LA for a special programme marking the 50th birthday of Motown, and we were delighted to see the label honoured. Our special will follow Martin Freeman, a music fanatic with a particular place in his heart for Motown, during a visit to Detroit and LA to meet some of his musical heroes.
One of the people Martin spoke to during the trip was Abdul 'Duke' Fakir of the Four Tops, the only surviving member of the group following the death of lead singer Levi Stubbs last Friday. During preparations for the documentary, songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield, one of Martin's greatest Motown heroes, passed away. With so many of this generation of musicians already gone it seems even more important to mark this 50th anniversary.
Expect the programme on BBC Two in early January 2009 - I'll give you an update when the director, Sara, is out of the edit.
Am I alone in shivering in horror every time I see one of Leibovitz' series of portraits advertising a brand of luxury luggage?
Keith Richards (Image copyright Louis Vuitton / Annie Leibovitz)
Although technically brilliant, the images are repellent in their glossiness: I don't believe for a moment that Keith Richards is strumming his guitar "New York. 3 am. Blues in C" or that Sofia Coppola is listening, enraptured to her father. In short, these pictures feel beautiful and empty - ironic really, as they seem to be supposed to represent life's wonderful journey.
Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola (Image copyright Louis Vuitton / Annie Leibovitz)
I do like some of Annie Leibovitz' pictures, and I will go and see the show that has just opened at the National Portrait Gallery, London, but I'm hoping that there are more portraits and fewer still lifes featuring carefully arranged celebrities.
Last night saw the premiere in Belfast of Steve McQueen's film about the 1981 hunger strike, a period of recent history that still holds an electric charge for people in Northern Ireland. Hunger is a fascinating and powerful film, featuring excellent performances - particularly from Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands - and mixing sequences of unlikely beauty with squalor and explosions of noise and violence. The scene that everyone mentions is the meeting between Sands and Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham). Almost the whole of their discussion is shot in a stationary single take that lasts 20 minutes, denying the audience the usual close ups on the actors until the end of the scene. It's an audacious decision, but one that seems powerful and justified rather than an assault on convention for the sake of it. McQueen spoke in his Front Row interview this week (on the site until Tuesday, unless they add it to the archive) about exploring ideas through film and that he was most interested in subverting the form. For the most part he has succeeded brilliantly.
Inevitably, many people in Northern Ireland are suspicious of the film and whether it will be a glorification of the IRA hunger strikers. The Irish Times reported the Reverend John Dunlop saying "I hope this isn't republican propaganda; I hope this is properly contextualised" as he went into the film. They didn't report what he thought after having seen it.
What I particularly admire about Hunger is that it sidesteps the litany of wrongs on both sides, which are almost inevitably brought out in any discussion or portrayal of Northern Ireland. People are nervous about anything that favours one side over another, everyone wanting to be on the side of righteousness. Ambivalence isn't a quality much-cherished because it is seen as dishonest: when it comes down to it you must be on one side or the other. Before you protest that I'm assuming too much about Northern Ireland, I'm from Belfast myself. McQueen concentrates on the brutality and strangeness of this situation, only 27 years ago, when people were starving themselves to death to protest against being held as criminals rather than political prisoners, and prison officers (and many others) could be murdered in any setting, even visiting their mum. What political discussion there is focuses on the ethics of deciding to kill yourself for a cause more than the rights or wrongs of either side. If I have any reservations about Hunger it would be the final sequences of flashback, which I found a little jarring, but this is a stark and accomplished film that deserves to be seen, inside and outside Northern Ireland.
I can understand people avoiding this film because of the pain of watching the violence, and degradation (self-inflicted and not) but nobody should feel that they should give this film a miss because it is propaganda. I've had a look around to gauge reaction to last night's screening, but not much has appeared yet. I'm hoping that people will wait until they have seen Hunger to judge, but there will inevitably be those who think it better to form an opinion without having seen the film. An astonishing debut from Steve McQueen.
I came to the music of Amadou and Mariam late, seeing them at this summer's Latitude Festival. Since then I have played their warm and upbeat mix of African and European influences every time the weather has started to get me down (nearly every day then). Dimanche a Bamako came out a couple of years ago and in 2006 won the Radio 3 World Music Award for album of the year. There are two chances to see Amadou and Mariam live next week: in what looks like an amazing line-up for Africa Express in the Electric Proms (including Baaba Maal, Rachid Taha, Foals, Magic Numbers), followed the next night by Africa Now at the Barbican (sadly sold out). If you can't get into either concert Amadou and Mariam will also be appearing on next week's Later with Jools.
All of this activity is ahead of the release of a new album, Welcome to Mali, in November. While Dimanche a Bamako was produced by and featured Manu Chao, the new one comes from his collaborators Marc-Antoine Moreau and Lauren Jais. The first single from the album is the one exception, produced by Damon Albarn, and which Tim Adams described in the Guardian as "like nothing you have ever heard - ethereal Malian wonder meets savvy Britpop keyboards". I'm hoping for another delightful album that will take me though the grey days of winter to the spring.
Many of us grew up with Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, Oor Wullie and loads of other characters from the home of anarchic comedy that is The Beano. The comic is 70 this year and the birthday has been marked with much jollification, including a recent exhibition at the University of Dundee. Now, a massive, and lavishly illustrated, history of The Beano has been published, written by ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie and edited by Christopher Riches. Every page of the book bustles with details from the drawings or full strips, ensuring that it makes for fascinating reading. Today's young Beano fans will enjoy this as much as nostalgic older readers because it is as much an anthology of great strips and characters as a straightforward history.
Dennis the Menace (Image copyright DC Thomson)
Here's a beautifully drawn Jonah strip from The Beano in 1959 that we put up on the BBC Four website during our Comics Britannia series last year. The disaster-prone sailor (who destroyed a ship each week) was before my time, but it's a good example of the sort of treats on offer in The History of the Beano.
We also asked users of the BBC Four website to let us know who their favourite comic book character was and Dennis was third on this (unscientific) list; he was beaten by Judge Dredd and Dan Dare. Was Dennis robbed? Do you have a favourite character?
And the winner is The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, a portrait of modern India and the cost of the economic boom to the very poorest in society. There was an interesting series of items on each of the six shortlisted authors, broadcast on the Today programme, and you can still listen to them here. There are also audio extracts from all of the books on the longlist on the Booker website. I only had time to read two of the books on this year's list (neither of which was The White Tiger), but I'm looking forward to reading the winner. Have any of you read it? Do you think it deserved to win?
I've been enjoying an album of contrasting moods and musical styles that was suggested to me by our music expert Clare. Released last month, Me and Armini is the third international album by the Icelandic musician Emiliana Torrini, although she has been a star in Iceland since her teens and has released six albums over there. This in addition to co-producing one of Kylie's albums and writing the pop princess's song Slow.
Image from emilianatorrini.com
The tracks that have made the biggest impact on me during the first few listens are Fireheads, Ha Ha and Gun, although I'm definitely going to be listening to it for a while. I wanted to mention her now because of a concert she gave last week in London, attended by Clare and our production coordinator Pete, and also because some of the reviews of her new record have been surprisingly lukewarm. Here's what Clare said about Emiliana's show and the album:
"I went to an excellent gig on Thursday at St Giles in the Fields, a beautiful Palladian style church next to Tottenham Court Road. The lack of alcohol, extreme cold and uncomfortable pews were all forgotten when Emiliana appeared on stage, full of excitement and anecdotes about recording her new record. Emiliana's songs leap about from breathy folk to foot stomping ska and a weird (in a good way) kind of pop rock. Some of the highlights from the new album for me are Ha Ha, Big Jumps, Bleeder, Jungle Drum and the title track (actually, all the tracks are pretty good, I am just listing the ones I can remember the names for). Possibly most widely known for singing Gollum's Song for the end credits of Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, last night Emiliana set out her stall as both a brilliant songwriter and a very funny girl. Her tales included being possessed by an old lady who died and went into her whiskey, and liberating a Gretsch Nashville guitar from the clutches of Fender under the pretence of being a virtuoso guitarist (when in fact she doesn't play at all); all inspiring stuff."
A new series of documentary strand Storyville begins tonight on BBC Four with a film about the director Roman Polanski. Born in France and raised in Poland, a Holocaust survivor whose mother died in Auschwitz, Polanski became an actor before training as a filmmaker. He was that rare creature, an auteur who also made popular films - creating nervy, dark movies like Knife in the Water, Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. Wanted and Desired is less interested in Polanski as a director, however, than in the media circus that built up around him in the wake of his wife's murder and the subsequent accusation that he had raped a minor. This isn't a criticism of the documentary, however, as the nature of Polanski's public persona and the complexity of the events surrounding the trial require director Marina Zenovich to maintain a tight focus. The film brilliantly interweaves archive footage with interviews with Samantha Gailey (the 13-year-old girl with whom Polanski had sex), supporters and detractors of Polanski, as well as the lawyers on both sides of the case to present a portrait of a trial that, whatever Polanski's crime, was deeply problematic.
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times /UCLA Library Department
I came away from the film with two strong impressions. Of Roman Polanski as a talented and flawed individual who saw nothing wrong with sleeping with a 13-year-old girl, something that most of us would find incomprehensible. He is neither excused nor vilified in the film. The other most striking element was the depiction of the defence and prosecution lawyers (Douglas Dalton and Roger Gunson) and the judge in the case, Laurence Rittenband. Although Dalton and Gunson were on different sides, their account of the trial is completely consistent and they are striking in what comes across as their seriousness and integrity. The same could not be said of Judge Rittenband.
This is a fascinating portrait of Polanski, but also of the US justice system and the media. Polanski is still a massively controversial figure, and the intensity of feeling that he provokes is remarkable. Even Wanted and Desired was surrounded by claims and counterclaims about the truth of the final frames of the film, a dispute that was finally decided in the filmmaker's favour. It's a fascinating and intelligent film and a great start to the new run of Storyville.
The title of the new film by director Matteo Garrone is a grim pun on Camorra, the name of Italy's less well-known mafia, based in Naples. Adapted by Roberto Saviano from his book of the same name, Gomorrah follows the stories of different characters caught up in what is called the System - a structure not dissimilar to what is known in The Wire as the Game but even more pervasive. Saviano is now living in hiding, protected by numerous bodyguards and will never be able to return to the area where he grew up. He has obviously really annoyed some very powerful people, and having read the book and seen the film I'm frankly amazed that he's still alive.
Here's the trailer. I would only recommend watching the first minute or so, however, as there's a rather big spoiler towards the end.
I have no idea what the body count is in the film, but the figures quoted in the book are terrifying. Born in 1979, Saviano quotes the number of those killed in his lifetime as 3,600 - more than the IRA, the Russian mafia, ETA and the Sicilian mafia. He describes both the society that has evolved with the System and also the international implications of their involvement in the drugs, building, fashion and arms trades. Any pretence of being constrained by the same code of honour and family loyalty associated with Cosa Nostra has been dropped by the Camorra. The horror of their ruthlessness knows no bounds and it makes depressing reading and watching.
Comparing this film with classic gangster movies like Scarface and The Godfather is instructive because it is just so grim; nobody could accuse Garrone of making a film that glorifies violence. It's horribly gruelling, and the episodic nature of the film - it features some recurring characters but often people just appear briefly and then die - makes the experience feel unrelenting. That doesn't mean, however, that some retailers won't take advantage of heightened interest in the mafia. I was looking through one of the London freesheets yesterday, and not only did they have Gomorrah on their "To Do List" but they managed to work in a full-page advert for a box set of gangster movies "Celebrating 25 years of Tony Montana". Hmmm, nice. After seeing Gomorrah the last thing you'd want to do is celebrate the mafia.
Matteo Garrone was a painter before he became a filmmaker and the film looks good. The whole thing has the feel of a heightened documentary, an impression reinforced by excellent performances, in particular Salvatore Cantalupo as the tailor Pasquale and Gianfelice Imparato as Don Ciro. While the book gives an overview of how the System works internationally the film is necessarily a series of glimpses into different parts of the chain - the port, the sites where toxic waste is dumped and the dusty street - but the wider context is missing. Despite the obvious conviction of the director, the unvarying tone means that it lacks the artistry of grim but brilliant films such as Come and See or Michael Haneke's 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance. I'm not sorry I saw Gomorrah, but I never want to have to watch it again.
The title of Silverman's DVD comes from a line in her show about what she and her Christian boyfriend would say to their children about religion, "Mommy is one of the chosen people and daddy thinks Jesus is magic." This captures Sarah Silverman's comic persona perfectly. In the show she plays somebody self-centred and smug who manages to say offensive things completely blithely. What you miss from the quote is the charm of her delivery - even while she is saying the most outrageous things she manages to be strangely engaging. And if you were to take what she says out of context it would sound terrible - Germans, Mexicans, Black people, Jews and the Chinese - all are mocked. Actually, I don't think that she says anything negative about the Chinese, she just insists on calling them "chinks".
Silverman's acute narcissism is made credible by her attractiveness; she has the undentable ego of somebody who is really fit and knows it. Not a pose that many comedians could pull off. In one scene she snogs her image in the mirror, entranced.
Jesus is Magic is actually really funny, not a sociological investigation of taboo, but I was entertained rather than laughing out loud. This was also my reaction to 'internet sensation' "I'm F****ing Matt Damon". She's not a comedian that you would take home to your parents, but (if she's anything like mine) your younger sister would think her hilarious.
Our expert in the field of comedy (and music), Clare, has just pointed me in the direction of one of Sarah's recent items on YouTube in which she encourages Jewish kids to blackmail their grandparents into voting for Obama. This really had me laughing loudly (in the office, nothing more annoying for those around you).
Sarah Silverman is at the Hammersmith Apollo on 19 October and Jesus is Magic is released on DVD on Monday 13 October.
However many people come through the doors of the brand spanking new Saatchi Gallery today I can guarantee that it won't be as many as are estimated to have visited their website. The site is the top ranked art gallery website by the online statistics company Alexa, and they aren't backwards about broadcasting the fact - the Saatchi Online homepage currently shouts "HITS IN THE LAST 24 HOURS: 72,264,758. RANK TODAY IN THE WORLD'S TOP 50.000 WEBSITES: 224". Alexa is a controversial way of ranking websites as it measures the activity of users who have installed the Alexa Toolbar, and there's no guarantee that they are representative of internet users as a whole, but there's no denying how impressive the figures are.
Also, despite my caveat, it's possible to draw some interesting conclusions by comparing like with like, and what really stands out for me is where users seem to be coming from - UK users aren't even in the top 25 countries, nor are those from the US. Here's a rundown of the top 10:
Saatchi-gallery.co.uk users come from the following countries:
South Korea 3.9%
So what is going on? All three galleries have very good websites, providing plenty of information about their exhibitions and enabling people to look at pictures online and interact with exhibitions. I mentioned Tate's interactive Francis Bacon exhibition recently, but they have also been filming material for their Tate Player - interviews, talks and behind-the-scenes tours. All shot to quite a high standard. Saatchi Online TV is a very different proposition - it feels a much more rough and ready, and includes a lot more 'event' material from art openings. Saatchi's unique selling point appears to be its global focus and encouragement of user generated content.
They have a regularly updated blog, with posts from around the world, but the most activity seems to be around the places where artists can create their own profiles, sell work online and submit their work to Showdown - a weekly competition in which users vote for their favourite artwork by a member of the community. The winner gets a cash prize and will now also have their work displayed in the physical Saatchi Gallery. If you're not an artist you can still upload photos and video, which are also published according to public vote (without the incentive of a financial prize) and there is an area for schools to upload their students' work and take part in a prize. As a quick test I did a search for my old school, which didn't feature, but my brother's school had uploaded some art works.
Significantly, in 2007 Saatchi Online launched a dedicated website in Mandarin - specifically designed with Chinese users in mind rather than simply being a translated version of the standard website. It's a sign of massive ambition, and I'd be interested to know what you think of the scale of what the Saatchi Gallery is trying to achieve. I think it's exciting, but do you agree?
Back in the physical world, Simon - who looks after visual arts for The Culture Show - went to the opening night and said the following:
"The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art is filled with large-scale, attention-grabbing pieces, from Shen Shaomin's striking skeletons of mythical creatures to Zhang Dali's hanging casts of immigrant workers. For me though it was Cuban Sugar, a fragmented painting by Li Songsong, that drew my attention away from the crowds, evoking the subtly shifting moods and competing agendas at play in a Chinese trade meeting with Cuba."
A selection of images from the exhibition set to music
Forgive me for talking about Christmas already, but I've just heard about what sounds like a delicious treat for the festive season. Mark Gatiss has written a ghost story called Crooked House for BBC Four, in the spirit of the MR James tales the channel has shown in previous years.
Mark Gatiss on the set of Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead
The drama will tell three stories in one, hopefully in the spirit of great portmanteau tales like Dead of Night. I have high hopes, as the channel did a great job with the very creepy A View from a Hill, although another MR James adaptation, Number 13, was less convincing. The casting is also interesting - featuring not only Mark Gatiss, Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing) and Anna Madeley (Brideshead Revisited), but also Derren Brown in his first dramatic role.
"TV is in danger of ceding to the internet as the place where new talent is found" according to Secretary of State Andy Burnham, and reported on BBC News (and elsewhere). It doesn't make sense to think of TV and the web in opposition - they complement each other. The great thing about the internet is how easy it makes it to search things out and make connections. Until now programmes have been broadcast and then vanished, with the exception of those rare shows that were released on DVD or repeated before midnight. In the past when I saw something I really liked on television I had no way of sharing it with my friends - now I just point them in the way of the iPlayer or 4OD. From a programme maker and a viewer's point of view this is a massive improvement, and there's no way of putting the internet back in its box.
When Andy Burnham asks "Where is the successor programme to Top of the Pops bringing the family together to discuss new music?" this rather assumes that families would sit down together in 2008 to watch an eclectic music programme in peak time. Communal viewing isn't dead, but it's definitely changed from the heyday of TOTP.
There's lots of new music on TV, whether it's covered on Later, Sound or The Culture Show - you can just choose whether you want to watch it while it's on telly or at 6pm the following day. There are also additional avenues like BBC Introducing, which showcases new music from BBC Radio and festivals around the country.
Here's a new band we featured on the last series of The Culture Show, Wild Beasts - you can still watch their performance of The Devil's Crayon today and will still be able to do so in six months. That's got to be some sort of progress!
The intensity of Greek tragedy makes it a tempting but dangerous proposition for theatre companies - the extremity of such plays can seem either affecting or absurd, depending on the skill of the actors and director. The National Theatre of Scotland's production of Euripides' Bacchae, starring Alan Cummings, received mixed notices last year, with its detractors claiming that the power of the play was undermined by absurdity (although, to be fair, those who liked the play really liked it). I didn't see the production, but even reading the play text suggests that it would be difficult to pull off. It follows the appearance of the god Dionysus in Thebes, at the head of a number of female followers called Bacchae. Living in the mountains, drinking, dancing and having sex in the open, the actions of the Bacchae scandalise the king of Thebes Pentheus, who also happens to be Dionysus' cousin. What follows can be interpreted as the triumph of freedom over tyranny or the revolt of fundamentalism against reason - Bacchae is shocking and ambiguous, and Dirty Market Theatre's production embellishes the play but preserves its power.
What is different about Bacchaefull, written by Debbie Kent, is the foregrounding of the female revellers, giving a sense of their lives before they followed Bacchus. When I first walked into The Old Abattoir, past a shrine to Dionysus, I found myself in a room with a number of women, in sectioned off rectangles, talking about their different lives - a businesswoman, a soldier, a runaway bride, a prostitute, among others. You can wander around at will and listen to their monologues (although Justine the prostitute is likely to engage you in conversation) and for a while I wondered if this was the extent of the play. The one thing that all the women have in common is that they are damaged, and I was initially rather worried that the play was going to focus on women as victims, but thankfully this wasn't the case. Instead the Bacchae become more than a chorus to the main action, they are unhappy people transformed by their entry into this new faith/cult.
At the head of this band of women is Dionysus, a charismatic figure who appears in a form that is attractive to both men and women and who swings between charm and menace. Thankfully, Benedict Hopper has the presence to carry off the role of a cross-dressing god, without falling prey to its potential absurdity. Instead, this production makes good use of the audience's embarrassment, skilfully moving between the comic and the horrific. At times I wished that some of the cast had stronger singing voices, as sound is such an important element in making the transports of the Bacchae feel convincing, but in general I was impressed. The pleasures and perils of surrendering your will are both conveyed by the gimlet-eyed Euripides, and you don't have to believe in his gods to be recognise his portrait of belief.
A few weeks ago I went to see the brilliant animated documentary Waltz With Bashir by Israeli director Ari Folman. You may wonder if animation can carry the weight of a feature-length documentary about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and if it can, just why you would want to watch it. The answer is because it is a profoundly intelligent and gripping story of somebody attempting to understand their past.
I went to a screening with Eddie (the Culture Show Editor) and Emily (one of the Series Producers) and we came out stunned by the thoughtfulness and beauty of the film.
When a conversation with a friend sparks memories of his time as a soldier in the Israeli army, Ari Folman decides to visit different people he knew during the war to try and make sense of the fragmented images in his head. What follows is a film that combines the striking music and visuals more usually found in fiction with first person reports of quite recent historical events. The film is bound to prove controversial, having at its centre the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, but Folman focuses on the broader issue of how war affects people rather than apportioning blame. Waltz With Bashir is at the London Film Festival and will be on general release in November.
We've just had an email from musician and DJ Bishi to say that she's going to be appearing on tonight's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Bishi made her first TV appearance on The Culture Show back in November 2007, and in the last series we also did a feature about her recent collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra. You can still watch it on the site:
Looking forward to tonight's performance. There's an insight into the last minute preparations for filming on Fred Butler's blog.
A year ago today, the people at that fascinating (and nerdy, in a good way) group blog Boing Boing launched a video version of their "directory of wonderful things". In case you have missed out on the different incarnations of Boing Boing, it was a zine that became a website that became a blog, and has been a phenomenal success due to the quality of the writing and the quirkiness of the output. The fact that they post many times a day can't hurt either. When they started Boing Boing TV, the bloggers stated that,
"We promise no huffy manifestos about Taking Down The Networks with A New Television Paradigm, no breathless hyperbole about Reinventing Citizen Journalism With the Disintermediation of Long Tail Postmodernist Blogonomics -- gah!"
While the Boing Boing blog is a must-read for those of us interested in science, the web and scary Japanese toys, I'm not sure that the video incarnation feels quite as essential. For one thing, it serves as a reminder of how difficult it is to present a video item: some of it is really wooden. The things that work better are things that follow a web grammar, like this recent SPAMasterpiece Theater item - the text of some email spam read out by somebody how is comfortable in front of a camera, cut together with footage from archive.org:
It's like Adam Curtis doing a nonsense Power of Nightmares.
As a sort of birthday card to Boing Boing I've embedded an amazing valentine from Otto the feral cat. It's the funniest thing I've seen for a while.
We're putting more and more items on the Culture Show website, but so far we have mainly limited ourselves to items from the programme. Do you like it when we create extras for the web? Do you watch them? Would you like to see us creating short, cheaply made items featuring interesting people or would you rather see a small number of well-crafted pieces? Is Culture Show Web a good addition to Culture Show TV?