August, 2004

BBC Three

I really do have to wonder about the sanity of some of our channel controllers – in particular, step forward Mr Stuart Murphy, controller of BBC Three.
Since it was launched, this particular channel has gone for a multi-channel styling like no other channel. That means permament on-screen “DOG” (i.e. a BBC Three logo), reminders of what’s on next before the previous programme’s finished, and of course the “All New” nonsense to highlight how few new programmes the channel carries. More recently we have “themed” nights such as “Comedy Tuesday” and “Sunday Best”, which have DOGs as well, though they’re done at different luminocities just to look even more ugly.
I think this has now reached an extreme since the channel appears to be jealous of those commerical rivals that can interrupt their programmes with an ad break. BBC Three are showing the US version of the Graham Norton show that’s made for Comedy Central. Of course, this is identical to the recently finished So Graham Norton that was on Channel 4, in particular it’s exactly the same as those episodes of that show that were shot in the States. (As a side note, the BBC had to pay extra for these shows, since despite signing Norton up for a major entertainment programme on BBC1, they’ve yet to find the right vehicle).
Now this programme airs on Comedy Central as I say, and therefore features ad breaks. So do we just cut those bits out like so many US import shows before now? No. Instead some bright spark decided that it’d be a good idea to keep a break and run short animations in the middle, while a countdown clock informed us that we were just 90 seconds away from Norton’s continuation.
Has NOBODY told BBC Three that it’s in ad breaks that you LOSE audience? People go channel hopping – particularly in this multi-channel age. Do you not think that if they could, commercial channels wouldn’t actually have breaks. You only have to look at BARB minute-by-minute ratings to see dips in all the ad breaks as audiences start zapping away with their remotes – a good percentage never to return. (I was amongst this number, but was feeling guilty enough about 1. watching Norton, and 2. watching BBC Three – a channel that this evening featured a Christmas Special of one of its shows).

Rooney Set For Man Utd

So it seems that Wayne Rooney’s off to Man Utd – but that story highlights a real problem that I have with the way the Premiership is organised.
Yesterday Man Utd drew with Everton 0-0, but Fergie refused “all post match interviews.”
Fergie already has a problem with the BBC, and is not giving interviews to them. The reason behind this is the investigation made by the BBC into the dealings of Ferguson’s son Jason with the club.
It’s appalling that Ferguson is allowed to get away with this. There ought to be a rule that the manager and at least one player is put forward for media coverage questioning at the end of every game. Professional tennis players have to go through it, noone would stand for it in the States if post game interviews weren’t given, and in international competition it’s the norm.
The BBC are paying Man Utd many millions for the rights to show highlights of Premiership matches, and if Ferguson is unwilling to participate he should be fined. That also goes for footballers who refuse all media requests. It’s part of the contract that if we’re paying them via match tickets, Sky subscriptions or TV licences, we get something back in return.
While Bobby Robson’s been ousted from Newcastle, it’s Man Utd who I think really need a change in manager.

You Thought You Were Having A Bad Day

I think it was watching Caught on a Train which made me realise that I should relate the following which happened earlier this week.
I’d been working reasonably late, and admit that I popped into the pub for a couple of drinks after work. This is the new look Midas Touch which has been refashioned by simply removing all the pictures from the walls, gaffer-taping up any rips in the leather-look seating in the back, removing all the video games and replacing of many of the draught drinks with cheaper substitutes. They’re going for the backpacker clientele.
However, that’s not relevant to the story. I then popped into Burger King for a quick meal, and was sitting there reading the end of my book when I became aware of a young backpacker further down from me who was sitting at her stool with her head in her hands. I must admit that I basically ignored her, and thought that either she was flat-out exhausted (she had a massive rucksack on her back a smaller one that was also packed attached to her front), or maybe had had an argument with a boyfriend.
I carried on munching, but then a woman, who I can only think was Spanish given her accent, came over, and I realised that the girl was truly in tears. You then realise that there really are good people in the world, as she came over to her, asked her what was wrong in very broken English, for the girl spoke English. I couldn’t really hear what she was saying but I wasn’t really reading my book now. The next think I knew was that the Burger King staff had brought her over a selection of free food. But now the Spanish women were off.
I tentatively decided to ask if there was anything I could do. Now I’m always very aware that this sort of thing is tricky. Not just that I could be useless clot in the situation, but that it could very easily seem to someone who’s vulnerable that as a bloke, I’m trying to take some kind of advantage.
She told me that she was Canadian and that she’d arrived in the country from somewhere like Slovakia where she’d been working all summer. That morning, her brother’s discman had been stolen or lost at the airport, and now, to make matters worse, the shopping she’d spent most of today putting together, had all been lost in a shop somewhere. She said that she didn’t eat junk food, and that she’d come here because it doubled as an internet cafe, but that the internet part was closed. This wasn’t the first internet cafe she’d found this to be the case for. She needed to get on the net to get a phone number from a Hotmail account.
I volunteered the services of our work computers, and we headed off there. Again, I wanted to be really careful here, as I’m aware that leading strange women at their most vulnerable off the beaten track after darkness could be easily misconstrued. Fortunately, there were plenty of cleaners at work, as well as a security guard.
The missing shopping had possibly been left in the Covent Garden branch of Marks & Spencer. I tried calling it, but with no luck. She shopping seemed to consist largely of dance clothing, since the girl was heading off on a dance tour of the States and Brazil within days of getting back – that explains why she didn’t eat junk food!
But a useful A-Z showed her where she was going, the best route for getting to Heathrow in the morning (Heathrow Express if you’ve got the cash and are in a rush), and the whereabouts of her cousin’s house where she was going to stay tonight. Felt a bit useless to be honest, but there’s not much I could do.
Somehow I managed to spend an hour or so with her and not either pass on my own name or get hers! So I can only hope that she got her shopping back and that M&S mail it on for her.

Caught on a Train

I’ve just spent a good part of this evening watching the great Stephen Poliakoff play Caught on a Train starring Peggy Ashcroft and Michael Kitchen, which was released last year on DVD.
I’ve watched it at least once, and maybe twice before, and it really leaves an impression. We follow the story from Peter’s (Michael Kitchen) point of view as he boards a train off the ferry in Ostende heading towards Vienna. This is the story of his journey, and in particular the impact that Frau Messner’s (Peggy Ashcroft) Viennese elderly character has on him.
Everything feels so real about the story, with football hooligans, a variety of Europeans, an attractive American and various other elements. I don’t want to say too much more because it’d spoil it, but it’s really worth checking out (and is again available at a bargain price in the old Piccadilly Virgin Megastore).


I got around to seeing this little masterpiece that dissects Fox News piece by piece. Of course, it’s not news that Fox News massively distorts the real news, and takes a consistently right wing approach to its coverage. But the really interesting parts of this film were those that covered the techniques that Fox engages to take this line – “Some people say” for example.
I think some more of this would have been good. I’d also like to see some more evidence of the impact of what Fox News has being doing, on other news networks. I suppose that these things are enormously hard to illustrate easily – you need to take a story and compare the coverage from several outlets to see any slants that are being taken. This film was a slickly and quickly edited film, and it’s hard to do that in this kind of filmic environment. Worth catching.
But a quick question. Murdoch is not known as being a good loser. In the UK he’s switched sides in the past to ensure that he backs the winner. What happens to Fox News if Kerry wins? Does the channel just shift round to attack mode, or does it try to reflect the views of the majority of the country given that they’ll have just elected a Democrat? Or does the party divide in the States vary so much from that in the UK, that you could never do an about turn in the same way as The Sun does here?
[As I type, the Republican convention is starting in New York, and BBC Parliament is taking the C-Span feed. It’s fascinating to watch un-commented on cameras just roaming around the relatively empty convention centre (it is early afternoon New York time, and the big speakers don’t get on until later in the evening when the networks may possibly show some live coverage).]

The One Game

I remember watching this way back in 1988 when it seemed to be coming off the boom in Dungeons and Dragons (celebrating its 30th anniversary) and the plethora of supposed teenage millionaires who’d made their fortunes in games for the Spectrum and Amiga.
As it says in the packaging, The One Game was never repeated after a single outing over four consecutive weeks in the summer of 1988.
The plot revolves around Nick, the games millionaire, who’s company has just been robbed of £2.1m via a worryingly simple computer hack. Behind it all is Patrick Malahide’s Magnus – once the creator of many of Nick’s company’s games, but of late residing in a mental hospital after a collapse following his edging out of the company’s hierarchy.
So much for the back story. The fun begins when Nick is forced to play The One Game – billed by Magnus as the ultimate reality game. You have to play it whether you like it or not. Particularly when Nick’s ex-wife is kidnapped in front of him.
In many respects the series shares much with the 1997 David Fincher film, The Game. Comparisons are easily made, although if you’ve seen one, don’t think that you’ve automatically seen the other. I’d forgotten some of the plot twists, and it was fun to see this series again. (In the summer of 1988 I was worrying about A-level results and trying to work out where I was going to be going in the Autumn). Picked up cheaply in the “old” Virgin Megastore in Piccadilly incidentally.


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The Chronicles of Riddick

A dreadful film. I only recently came to Pitch Black, and it’s not a bad low budget sci-fi thriller. But this is an atrocious sequel. OK, it’s technically competent, but the plot is dull, and there are some dreadful sequences that simply make no sense.
For example, when escaping across Creamtoria, being chased by the rising sun, I’m sure we see one of the characters die, only to be alive moments later. Then there’s the bit where seemingly only Riddick and the girl make it too the top of the mountain before the sun comes into view, facilitated by a last minute rope swing. His two colleagues are still further down the hill, and although they can hide behind a rock, they’ve not reached the mountain top. Moments later, up they pop! How?
And then Riddick is seemingly dead in the sunlight later on in the sequence. I understand that there was no way he was “really” dead. Heroes don’t die in these things, and yet, when he is revealed as alive, we don’t see or know how he achieved this miraculous escape. Did someone else pull him to safety? Did he make a Herculean effort and drag himself to the shade? Who knows. And is it me, or has the little girl of the first film aged far too much in four or five years?
The trouble with this film is that loads of money was chucked at a poor idea. From a small film, there’s suddenly a supporting universe that makes little overall sense. I suppose I should be pleased to see a space opera of this sort, but you’ve got to believe in the universe. And in this instance, it’s obvious that the producers have been watching The Lord of the Rings way too much.
Interesting to note that I saw the fabled nightvision goggles being worn by a cinema employee, and also couldn’t help but note that the print seems to be barcoded. In at least one scene (with Riddick on a very plain background), there are quite definite marks on the print for a couple of frames or so. I assume that this ties a particular print to a location so that internet and boot sale pirates can be easily traced back to a source.

V Festival 2004

It seems to have taken me the better part of a week to get over it, but it does take a lot out of me! Spent much of the weekend in the suprisingly dry, and indeed sunny, Hylands Park near Chelmsford, video and photographing my colleagues.
Live performances in the tent saw highlight performances by Keane and the guy from Snow Patrol. While the Scissor Sisters gave a pretty amazing performance on the NME stage.
Typically, despite taking some hundred or more photos and 6 hours plus of video, I have none with me right at the moment. But maybe I’ll upload a video when I’ve put it all together…