All New Film 2010: First Impressions

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And why not?

 

Change is a difficult thing sometimes, especially when it comes to a long established institution. Anyone of my generation may well remember the day when Scrappy arrived on Scooby-Doo, which if you were watching as I was came completely without warning, and the remaining episodes that I watched had to be done so through tiny gaps between my fingers. It’s often easier to adapt to change when you’ve had some warning – people long for the return of Marathons, but they were called Snickers for eighteen months on the side of the packet before the name appeared on top, and sales actually went up when the name changed.

So we’ve known for some time about the coming of the Winkleman, although some of her cohorts are less well heralded. It’s always difficult when a well established institution has to change. But change can also be a positive agent, bringing freshness if that instiution has become old and tired, and somehow Jonathan Ross’ tenure seemed to have outstayed its welcome a little, so it’s good to shake things up a little. The BBC, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to shake things up a lot and replaced the one presenter format with a team. To any cinephile such as myself, this is one of the few televised outlets for film discussion and certainly the most prominent TV programme to be bringing movie news to the masses, so I was eager with anticipation to see what the Film programme had to offer as its fourth era began.

Theme music

First up is what I feel is a slightly missed opportunity. I wondered what might happen with the theme music, given the change from the Barry Norman to the Jonathan Ross years, but we still have the Ross era theme. “Don’t change the theme!” I hear you cry, “it helps give the programme its identity!” You are correct, and we should be mindful of the other occasions when the Beeb has changed flagship TV themes to disastrous effect, normally changing back; but the genius of the Jonathan Ross era was the way in which the change was made. If you’re not aware of the change, then hopefully this will enlighten you.

The theme is the instrumental version of the Nina Simone hit, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, by the Billy Taylor Trio. The beginning of the tune is the Barry Norman era theme; all Jonathan Ross’ era did was to take the end of that same tune. By doing that, it instantly established that this would be the same, but different.

Given that there are currently eighty six versions of the tune available on iTunes, it somehow feels that a new interpretation of the theme could again have been used to set out the new intent of the Winkleman era. Or even to take the segment in the middle, around the third minute of the track, which if anything is even more upbeat and jazzy than the Ross era segment. But at least we should be glad that the Taylor trio have remained, I guess.

The Presenters

Claudia Winkleman I will start by saying that I don’t think Claudia Winkleman gets enough credit for the work she does. Several levels above the Fearne Cottons and Holly Willoughbys of this world, she brings a real passion and enthusiasm to the job she does and has been very successful on the Strictly Come Dancing show – in the days when Mrs Evangelist and I watched SCD, she made that show worth watching in its own right. The major cause for concern after her appointment for me was whether some of her broader eccentricities would come through, as exhibited on panel shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

She comes across as informed and in love with her subject, to the point of being so excitable that she’s firing off her dialogue at the speed of a gazelle being hunted down in the wild. (Breathe, Claudia, breathe!) She is, however, also self-deprecating and keen to please, and an awful lot less smug and self-satisfied than Ross. She’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, although the same can be said of her predecessors. But as long as that passion can continue to be channelled, then I’d like to think that she can help this new format find an audience.

One thing though – when she, during the analysis of Vampires Suck feels that she should be offering a more intelligent opinion, then I did nearly scream “No!” at the TV. None of us should try to be something we’re not (and by that I’m not trying to suggest Claudia is not intelligent), but I’d much rather hear honest opinions than an artifice of attempted intelligence to deconstruct a movie that resolutely doesn’t demand it.

Danny Leigh Danny has the slightly thankless task of sitting next to Claudia and looking like the informed, intelligent one. He doesn’t have a significant amount of TV work in his background, so in that respect the format works well in that he and Claudia are both being asked to fill comfortable roles, he of the interviewee rather than the presenter, and Claudia works him with the effortless efficiency of a pro.

What does seem slightly unfortunate, given many people’s first choice for the role, is that he came across a little as Kermode-lite in the first episode. Everything from the slick hair to the rapid but light intonation made me think of Kermode, and I hope that the coming weeks can see him put a little more of his own stamp on proceedings. If, however, it is Kermode that is to be channelled, then I can only hope that future programmes will see Danny engage in a little more Kermodian ranting and passionate discourse.

Chris Hewitt My first live experience of Chris Hewitt was at this year’s BFI / Empire Movie-Con in London, three days of some of the most pure cinematic joy I have ever experienced. Chris is the compère for that event, and as such always shows a particular passion for his art, although just occasionally has the air of a man only doing the gig because his family are being held at gunpoint.

Here, though, he seems to be in his element – the geekiness allowed to run rampant through his short segment in the intros section, and hopefully we’ll be hearing more of his cheeky Irish brogue in weeks to come. He did draw the very short straw of having to make sense of three pissed-up movie stars, all of whom looked like they’d rather be off continuing to get pissed up somewhere else.

He did manfully in attempting to try to control them, and has the experience that he shouldn’t be phased in any celebrity interview situation; indeed, of the whole team he seems the most likely to get the best from being sat down opposite a Cruise or De Niro. I do hope that he’s given better opportunities to show off that talent in the coming weeks, though.

Antonia Quirke In the early response on forums and in some of the press, it’s Antonia who seems to have come in for the most stick, mainly for the sentence fragment “I’m not a big fan of Pixar”, which seems to have been taken in some quarters as “I’d like to rip off John Lasseter’s head, rip out his spine and use it to whip small children with”. I would take more issue with her claim that she only likes 10% of the movies she watches – while I fear that to be the curse of the dedicated movie reviewer who must watch everything, rather than the choosy blogger such as myself (and I still manage to get a small amount of soul-destroying crapola in, even with my selective abilities), it does give off the impression of someone looking for a fight rather than there to dedicate themselves to the cause of balanced opinion.

The brief talking heads (with a slightly cringe-making “toss the LFF programme” link) that gave the three field reporters their only opportunity to set out their stall this week served Antonia the least well, but also does suggest one of the directions I’d like to see more explored. Rather than just throw out statements such as “I’m not a big fan of Pixar”, I’d like to see a balanced and reasoned dissection of why that’s the case – there’s no harm in having controversial opinions, as long as they get the chance to be presented clearly, then explored and debated thoroughly.

Charlie Lyne One of the up and coming British blogerati, his Ultra Culture blog has been a constant source of satisfaction and entertainment during my own first few hesitant months of entering the blogosphere. The predominant reaction to Charlie’s appearance seems to have been regarding just that – his appearance, and as a regular reader it came as even more of a shock to discover that this foul-mouthed curmudgeon was concealed under such youthful features. As I told him directly on Twitter.

I’m thirty-six, and coming to the realisation that I’m just starting out on my own film education process, so there is undoubtedly a jealousy from myself that someone so seemingly young has already packed in so much experience. Looking like a very young Anthony Michael Hall may have the undesirable effect of making it as difficult to be taken seriously as Gary Coleman did, but it also runs the risk of inhibiting that foul-mouthed curmudgeonliness that makes his blog worth reading in the first place. You wouldn’t ask Jeremy Paxman to conduct an interview and then ask him to be polite and not ask difficult questions – I feel we need to see some of the blogger in Charlie on TV if we’re to get the best from him.

The Format

The single biggest change is the movement away from a single presenter sat in a chair, which was made more pronounced in the Jonathan Ross era by the eventual loss of anyone other than Jonathan Ross. At least with Barry Norman, we had the inimitable Tom Brook out as the roving reporter, but Ross’ voice became a constant, so it’s actually refreshing to hear so many different voices. At the moment, though, the whole enterprise is tonally uncertain, veering from a serious discussion about the art-house release of the week to a pointless list from Simon Pegg, or the crippling Top 5 feature.

Let’s be completely clear – if you’re going to have a Top 5 feature, this either needs to be insightful and revealing, imparting a movie education to plebs like myself who really ought to know better, or hilarious and affectionate (or even hilarious and scathing). This was a list of five movies that had moon references in, and when even the main presenters see fit to criticise the selections made, then it’s not working. Make it funny, or make it educational, otherwise don’t make it at all.

It’s difficult to get the overall tone right for something which has no choice but to be broadly encompassing, given its position as the only dedicated film programme on regular rotation on a major channel. If you look at print media, the internet has eroded choice over the past few years, but there’s still a Little White Lies or a Sight and Sound for everyone who finds Empire or Total Film not to their taste. The Film programme undoubtedly has to err to the latter end of that spectrum, but it does feel a little too magazine-ish and dull features led at first impression. You’ve got five presenters who between them can cover most, if not all, parts of that spectrum – now you just need to work out how to put them to good use.

I would also question the need to broadcast the show live. These are all professional people, so there isn’t that element of risk or enjoyment associated with having them broadcast live that you get from watching some T4 presenter dying on their backside on a Sunday afternoon, and the content doesn’t appear to be enriched in any way if the Garfield / Mulligan / Knightley / train wreck interview is any evidence. So please, record it and make it tighter.

Interactivity

In the 21st century, of course, it’s not enough that we watch something. Until TV executives are given the right to come round and inject pictures directly into our eyeballs, the next best bet is the use of some form of user interaction, to appear not only cool and trendy but to engage with the audience (and often, in the manner of rolling news channels, of course, to come up with cheaper content than actually having to do it yourself). You’d think that twenty years of the internet would mean we had some collective experience in how to do this, but it seems not.

For me, unless they are gems of Wildean wit, I’m not particularly fussed about hearing the 140 character ruminations of punters read out to add nothing to the debate. What the website, Twitter and any other such tools should be doing is taking this programme cross-platform and furthering the debate. Use the TV as a jumping off board, allow the presenters to present their opinions, controversial or otherwise, then let us engage to take that debate further, and use the programme to foster that debate – otherwise it just undercuts the opinions of those actually paid to be on screen.

(That interactivity may also be the other reason for the live broadcast – using the programme itself as the jumping off point would remove this last obstacle, of course. And in the event that we have a 140 character Shakespeare in our midst, their missives can always be read out the following week.)

Final Thoughts

So at present, I’m cautiously optimistic. The makers seem to have taken on a new format, and in the process put together an eclectic selection of film buffs who between them can speak to most potential audiences. What’s needed now are some tweaks to the format that allow them all to express themselves properly, a proper establishment of the interactive platform to promote debate rather than disseminate idle rhetoric and the loss of some of the more tabloid style film lists.

You may wonder, of course, why I feel the need to write over 2,500 words on what may appear to be such a slight subject, other than my love of the sound of my own voice. Well folks, I write this blog because I feel passionately about a wide variety of films and I firmly believe that for the vast majority of them, not watching them in a cinema diminishes their experience. This is currently the only major format on TV that comes close to sharing that ethos – if cinema as an art is to continue to thrive and we’re not all to be reduced to watching movies in our largely inadequate home cinemas, tweeting each other in a vain attempt to replicate the collective experience, then outlets such as this have to work. If you’re not enjoying this, or if you’re simply stuck in the past and unwilling to accept change, then hit play on that Billy Taylor Trio video and stare lovingly at that picture of Bazza at the top. I will keep coming back, and I will be hoping rather strongly that whatever teething troubles there are at the start do get worked out, because without this, it may be a lonely future for all of us.

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