Monday, March 28, 2011

Goodbye 7, hello Extra

At the end of this week BBC 7 will cease to exist as BBC 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra will be born. I for one am a fan of 7 – it has been a wonderful source of archive material and a few new pieces. Its challenge has always been that its catalogue is limited and over the years there has been a good deal of repetition so I hope that the new incarnation will give it a further injection of material. However I have to confess to a tinge of sadness that somehow the quiet and unsung quality of 7 will now get shared more widely. Terrible possessiveness I know – and stupid as 7 already gets a million listeners.

On the schedule this week they have the concluding part of a Professor Challenger series. Always been a fan of Conan Doyles work, and of that eras writers particularly.
A Challenger series – the Lost World has just aired on Radio 4 as well. I have to say I find the rather predictable gender changing that goes on when dramatising these things is really rather nonsensical. It changes the dynamics in the story, it introduces themes that weren’t there in the original, it misrepresents the circumstances of when the story is set and is just another metropolitan affectation so beloved by the Beeb. Oh dear another whinge.

Otherwise not a bad piece – but Bert Coules would have done it better :o)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Incidentally - Music is a pain!

Lots of debate today about the rather vexed subject of incidental music in programming. A good deal has been prompted by a comment by Professor Brian Cox who lamented the fact that the backing music on his programme the Wonders of the Universe is being reduced in volume as a result of complaints that it is too loud and intrusive. In his words he wants the experience to be cinematic. Perhaps Professor Cox wants to be a film star rather than an educator – who knows.

I haven't watched the programme at length so I cant really comment on the specific case beyond saying that I was under the impression that it is a factual programme and as such I would say some of the best factual cinema has very little incidental music and is all the better for it.

I am all for the use of incidental music when it can significantly enhanced the emotion of a fictional piece. The late John Barry was rightly praised for his ability to write music that aurally endorsed and embraced what was being shown on screen or the theme of a piece and so enhance the immersive experience.

Where I struggle with (no I actually object to) it is where it is used in factual or informative and educational pieces. Firstly it indicates an agenda or perspective on the part of the maker where we are being told how to interpret things. This is either coercive or patronising or both and for me is not acceptable. I am sure I am not alone on finding, for example, supposedly news or documentary pieces laden with incidental music that are full of martial music when showing militarism or fey tinkling piano pieces when dealing with “tragedy”. Sadly this is very much part of a mainstream United States sensibility of programming and so has a tendency to spread into a great deal of mainstream TV and film elsewhere.

The other issue for me is that it can simply make it hard to hear what is being said. Perhaps this is a function of my declining hearing, or maybe a general decline in the public desire to use precise language these days.

At the risk of being accused of being a curmudgeon I have a feeling that the use of incidental music in Professor Cox work is for another reason – he isn't actually a very good narrator. I haven't watched all the programmes but the pieces I have, and having heard him speak elsewhere, his delivery and tone leave a great deal to be desired – IMHO.

Now David Attenborough on the other hand..........

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Herzog, Margins and the Makar - a typical Friday in Glasgow!

What great Friday night in Glasgow. Started off going to see The Cave of Forgotten Dreams as part of the the rather fabulous Glasgow Film Festival. I am a big fan of Werner Herzog and for fans of his work you will not be disappointed. Beautifully shot, beautifully lit and, as usual, he manages to track down some extra ordinarily quirky interviewees. I think his skill is that he likes to operate in areas that are unique or on the edge ( or should I say Margins!) and these tend to attract people with true passion, some might say obsession, and as a result their enthusiasm comes across as engagingly quirky in an increasingly bland and homogenized world. Herzog's commentary is oddly riveting and delivered in his trademark monotone that always promises more. The music was rather dronaly fabulous even without the contribution of the late Florian Fricke, so all in all a joy to watch in a very full cinema.

But – and it is a very big but, the film is 3D and so I was double glazed with a pair of Buddy Holly specs on top of my own bins in anticipation of my first filmick experience of 3D. I can only describe it as dreadful. Its not my first experience of 3D having watched a rugby match on the TV rendered though an interface that frankly reminds me of the give away 3D pictures that would occasionally be given away in breakfast cereal packets as a kid.

Blurred at the extremity, unsettling as prominent features go out of shot but, more than anything else, really headache inducing. Now, being a glasses wearer I am familiar with the experience of collecting a new pair of glasses with a changed prescription and the somewhat unsettling drunkenness that occurs as your eyes become accustomed to the new lenses. Your eye balls ache as they strain to settle and frankly it is not an experience I like. Well watching 3D was much the same. Ultimately it was so distracting and uncomfortable I simply took them off and watched it without the 3D and you know what – it was better.

As a glasses wearer I am very comfortable with a bit of blur so the film frankly seemed entirely acceptable to me. I have actually seem 2D films badly projected look a lot worse. The maximum blurring comes on the exterior long shots and, as these were not the main revelation of the film, it really lost nothing. The cave paintings themselves looked no different, or if any change was perceptible the lighting was better without glasses.

Great film but Werner, hear me, 3D sucks - big time.

So onward and upward and after a bag of chips from the legendary Blue Lagoon on the way to my next appointment Margins festival at Stereo in Renfield Lane. Fantastic venue and great event. Margins – for those that don't know - is the brainchild of the founder of Gargo publishing Mark Buckland and he deserves a great deal of praise for his vision and persistence in making it happen.

Now we at TESCAPE can only be excited about a spoken word event and this did not disappoint. Coming in the run up to Aye Write I think of this more as a Wee Speak. I was late, well crowded and hectic schedule, and arrived too late to hear Annelliese Mackintosh but if the rest of the show was anything to go by she would have been great. I caught Alan Bissett – fantastic and finely observed reading very well received by the audience. Top of the bill the wonderful Liz Lochhead – Scotland's very own Makar. She was sensational, with the Newly Married miner being my particular favourite.

Margins is still running till Sunday and for a £1 entry its not to be missed. To really top it the bar man looked strikingly like Rufus Sewell – maybe he is resting at present – and I swear he was replaced at some point in the eventing by Juliette Binnoche. Maybe my eyes deceived me, maybe it was the effect of those darned 3D glasses, maybe I was just having too much fun.

Ans so on to a late supper with a few friends – you know with Fridays like this living in the city of Scotland with Style is pretty damned good.