Tuesday 23 February 2010


For the past five weeks I've been shamelessly plugging the repeat broadcasts of my BBC Radio 2 series, David Puttnam's Century of Cinema.

We made those shows back 1999 to mark what was then the first century of cinema and in the final programme (which was a kind of 'state of the union' summary of where the movies had got to on the eve of the new millennium) David Puttnam expressed the hope that if we'd done a good enough job, the BBC might invite us back to present the sequel.

Well, tonight you can hear that sequel as David and I cogitate on what's been going on in the cinema over the past decade: the digital revolution, the decline of star-name box-office champs and the rise of the franchise; the continuing success of independent filmmaking (with input from Robert Redford at Sundance) and the ongoing importance of Oscars and BAFTAS - despite Sunday's marathon where Jonathan Woss delivered a tediously unfunny script, where most of the presenters had to peer helplessly into the back of the auditorium of the Royal Opera House in a attempt to read the auto-cue and Vanessa Redgrave sadly made a speech that was neither amusing nor politically bonkers.

We'll be talking about Pixar and Potter (Harry that is, with a visit to the studio where they're busy working on the seventh film in the series); about why Twitter is the new word-of-mouth that can decide, in just one day, the fate of the movie and whether - this time - 3D really is here to stay!

You can hear David Puttnam's Century of Cinema - 'Reel 6: The Sequel' - on BBC Radio 2 at 10:30 pm, and, if you miss the transmission this evening, it can be heard again for the next seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

And, until the transmission of tonight's episode, you've still a few hours left to catch 'Reel 5: The British Are Coming', looking at the British film industry.


Good Dog said...

I tossed a coin over whether to watch the BAFTA ceremony or repeatedly smack myself over the head with a baseball bat. Unfortunately I lost the toss.

Good grief, will they please beg Stephen Fry to return as presenter and bring back some class. Still, at least the smurf movie got virtually shut out in favour of intelligent adult filmmaking. And a big hurrah for Up!

I was thinking back to the edition about the studio system and I suppose something of that lives on in Pixar. Pixar has to be the biggest success of the last decade or so.

Not simply because they have some of the spiffiest cutting edge technology and all the other bells and whistles but because they concentrate on getting the story right before they render the first frame.

Anyway, that's my "pre-game" as it were. I look forward to hearing it later today.

Brian Sibley said...

Ten years ago everyone I interviewed in LA said that, of all the Hollywood studios, only Disney still (more or less) represented what the logo had always stood for.

A decade later, Disney have bought Pixar and John Lasseter who is Pixar (and is, by general agreement, the new Walt Disney) is now running the animation works at the Mouse Factory.

I don't know whether "the smurf movie" is your (or someone else's) description of Avatar, but I like it!

Is Mad magazine still in existence, do you know? I was thinking, if they were, they'd undoubtedly come up with a parody - and probably entitle it Abattoir!

Good Dog said...


Have you seen the trailer for Don Hahn's documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty about the rebirth of Disney's feature animation after the rocky patch in the early 1980s?


When we worked on sections of Hercules and Fantasia 2000 some of the lower echelon production staff that would flit over here were those typical Hollywood pod people but Don was aces. I got to know him pretty well on The Rabbit even though I was way down, close to the bottom rung of the studio ladder.

I haven't seen a copy of Mad magazines for ages. But apparently it's still going and now published by DC Comics.


I hope they stuck it to Avatar. Abbatoir would be a good alternative title since it signals the death of good storytelling in favour of pretty pictures.

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks for the link to Waking Sleeping Beauty which I hope we will get the chance to see over here...

I met and talked with a number of the animators back in those dark days when they were 'exiled' to a warehouse in Glendale (I think) making The Little Mermaid. I also remember walking through the Animation Building at the studio when it was totally devoid of any animators!

I always loved the story I was told by someone, a few years later, when I first visited the swanky new animation building that was given to the animators after they had reminded the bean-counters that the studio's true success needed more artists than accountants; all the pipes, wiring and air-con ducts were visible on the ceilings because the animators had insisted that their new fairy-tale castle should retain something to remind them of those warehouses they'd been forced to work in for the last few years.

Unknown said...

Can't wait to hear the new show. It's a sign of the quality of the original broadcasts that they hold up to the best of what's being made more than a decade later.

As for the BAFTA's...

I felt sorry for Ross (even though he has said himself he was "barely competent"). I know Brian's never been a fan, but Ross is in an impossible 'damned if he does, damned if he doesn't' position and since his suspension has had to play it so safe the material is now seen as "unfunny". He's a dead man walking since the Brand fiasco, poor sod. He may not be Stephen Fry (how could he be?) but then he's not "brain dead" Edith Bowman ("'Ello mate. I've done no research so let's just say 'Ello mate for 5 minutes? OK?"), Claudia Winkelman ("Hi. What are you wearing?", "Hello. What are you wearing?", "Good to see you. What are you wearing?"), George Lamb ("I hope you win. You're my personal favourite" to every Best Actor nominee, with obligatory "darling" or "mate" tacked on the end). I'll take Ross over them any time.

In terms of people who actually KNOW their subject matter AND are "household names" that can attract viewers what's the alternative? Mark "shouty" Kermode referring to his personal favourites as "The Citizen Kane of xxxxx" for whatever genre he's discussing or inserting a rant into each introduction? Please God, no!

Compare the BAFTA's to the MUCH worse BRITS that aired earlier last week to see how much worse a different presenter could have been.

As for the autocue mess - compare how a classy Hollywood actor (Guy Pearce) dealt with that vs how our inferior wooden ones (Clive Owen) did. 'Nuff said! Acting is your job people - have some professional pride and learn yout tiny speech beforehand!

As for "The Hurt Locker" taking everything. Madness! Yes, it's a good film, but Film of the Year, Director of the year etc etc? 50 years from now will people be watching "The Hurt Locker" or "Avatar"? To kids who've seen it it will become THEIR "Wizard of Oz" OR their "Citizen Kane". Where will "The Hurt Locker" be?

I find it fascinating that "Lord of the Rings" still attracts the "masterpiece" claim from even the harshest critics, while "Avatar" gets endless "Pocahontasmurf" derision given the quality of the final end-product.

Yes "Avatar" has dreadful dialogue and thin story-telling, but so does "Lord of the Rings" ("Nobody tosses a dwarf", "What the hell happened to Saruman? Oh the director kept changing his mind and gave up in the end" etc etc) and at least Avatar doesn't suffer the dreadful continuity errors, "spot the bad transitions between outside and in-studio shooting" or "Oh look. Gasp. It's a lifeless painted backdrop" moments that so often take you OUT of the world that's been created, as happened so often with "Lord of the Rings".

Personally I can put up with the "wrong" films being given awards if they help boost "the small guy", but on this occasion think they went for the wrong small guy (long gone from cinema's) in too many categories (you'd have thought "An Education" and "The Hurt Locker" were the only films worth considering last year) and gave it far too many awards. In particular, where was "Moon" other than in the Writing awards (and why the hell wasn't Sam Rockwell in the Best Actor category?)

As for Vanessa Redgrave, I still haven't decided which is more depressing: Her dreadful acceptance "speech" or the reaction on "Twitter" which seemed to be mostly of the "My God! That was awesome and so moving" variety.


Brian Sibley said...

Thanks, Ian! Great to have you back on the blog and clearly in top form! "In the blue corner, Good Dog! In the red corner, Irascian!"

You are right I am not a fan of Ross, but you are also right in saying he was - due to past circumstances now far beyond his control - D.O.A. Interesting that his couple of genuine (as opposed to scripted) ad-libs were really quite funny (the BAFTA for translating a BAFTA acceptance speech) whereas the rest of it felt that it had been over-over-edited by the Nanny Safety Squad.

And quite right, too, to praise Guy Pearce who was the first (and one of only two or three) celebs who coped with the embarrassing auto-cue debacle.

A question... About that line from LotR - what was it? "Nobody tosses a dwarf"? Are you seriously telling me that wasn't from Tolkien?! ;)

Brian Sibley said...

P.S.: What truly shocked me about the BAFTAS was that the 'also-ran' categories tacked-on as a mere cough-and-a-spit at the end of the telecast included the award for - CINEMATOGRAPHY! What does that tell us about our understanding and appreciation of the art of filmmaking?!

SharonM said...

I'm so glad I missed the BAFTAs - I don't even know if Vanessa managed to keep the politics out of her speech.

Have to say to Ian, that although I haven't seen Avatar and can't possibly comment on it,the Lord of the Rings trilogy on film was a truly joyful experience for me.

Brian, I'm really looking forward to hearing the last part of the series (and will listen very carefully to hear if I can detect any change in your voice from the original).

Brian Sibley said...

Vanessa actually (and fortunately) forgot to mention politics, although she did drop a very deep curtsy to Prince William, said how much she admired his father and mentioned having been given an award by his mum. Otherwise it was the luviest bit of self-indulgent luvying imaginable. I noticed amongst the clips they did not show her orgasmic turn with an altar candle from The Devils. Wonder why...

Unknown said...

Oh I don't think Good Dog and I are necessarily on opposite corners (I only got around to watching all five series of "The Wire" because of his persistent recommendations -- he has taste!) but I do think that dismissing Avatar based on some poor dialogue (not as bad as Titanic, mind) and rather thin storyline is rather missing the point and throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

A good friend of mine, who only saw the film at his local cinema in 2D, and tends to be even more critical than me (no, really!) said he found it "totally immersive" and I came out of my IMAX 3D viewing experience thinking "I've just witnessed something I've never seen before. Something quite incredible and ground-breaking". For that I can live with the flaws: "make each character spell out as soon as they appear who they are and what their backstory is because the audience are really dumb" dialogue being the worst of them.

And the audiences do appear to be so dumb that they need these sort of stupid explanations. How else to explain the popularity of the "Pirates" sequels or anything directed by Michael Bay?

I was as appalled as you, Brian, at the way the interesting categories at BAFTA were shoved to the end last few minutes. Cinematography and Music particularly stood out. Appalled, but totally unsurprised! I think BAFTA gave up any pretence of being anything other than about mass popularity, dumbing down and "the cult of celebrity" when it changed its dates to precede the oscars to "cash in" on the interest around that celebrity event.

Just contrast the aerial views of the red carpet photo's this year with those of a few years ago. The event has become more about the celebrities in the audience and the red carpet interviews than it has about the films. Priority invites to the likes of holymoly.com (a trash celebrity gossip site, albeit a very entertaining one) rather than real journalists is proof of that. That's the nature of the world we now live in, with concerts getting promoted on the 6 o'clock "news" and the assumption that viewing audiences have the attention span of a gnat.

Actually, if I may make so bold here Brian, I think you've maybe missed a golden opportunity here. If your last "Century" programme had perhaps concentrated on some other topics eg the films of Paris Hilton, Brad Pitt's changing haircuts and the most popular countries for film star baby adoptions then I'm sure you'd have had a whole new weekly series commissioned by the BBC and endless "BBC News" feed updates to go alongside and help promote it. Is it too late to change the contents of the programme and secure yourself a job for life ;-)

Brian Sibley said...

Yep! I've blown it! Damn!

Good Dog said...

Well, from the “blue corner”... I agree that finding a “household name” presenter who knows their onions is a tough one. Personally, I’d just stick to someone who knows what they are talking about. When did we start copying the Oscar ceremony and have the red carpet “what are you wearing” fluff?

I saw some of the post-acceptance interviews on the BAFTA website with Edith Bowman and they were tragic. Standing immediately behind the main set from the look of it was the ideal place because she appeared to be a complete plank. Didn’t they have Andrew Collins doing this last year? He was a lot better and they actually had somewhere to sit down. I do like Mark Kermode and his big hands but he can be a bit intense.

As for the presenters, Ian’s absolutely right in saying that since they’re getting this exposure – and picking up a swag bag for their troubles – they should take some pride and learn their lines beforehand. I thought the best was Peter Capaldi who addressed the audience, glancing at the autocue once or twice, rather than standing stock still with that “rabbit in the headlights” look.

If Pixar was the studio of the last decade, I’d say that The Lord of the Rings was one of the top films of the decade. I can’t say I noticed the transitions between studio and location scenes. In isolation the “Nobody tosses a dwarf” line might sound iffy but it helped say a lot about the pride of the race that saved a whole lot of background exposition. When the line is reversed at the Hornburg it says a lot about the developing friendship between the disparate members of the Fellowship. I’m happy to set a whole day aside and watch the whole thing from beginning to end.

I can easily forgive little inconsistencies in filmmaking if the result is a good story well told with characters that have a depth to them. There has to be more to a film than just pretty pictures. For that I can go to the National Gallery (even if I have to take my own popcorn). Still I hope all of these films are watched in fifty years time. I hope films from fifty years ago today are still being watched in fifty years time.

The Vanessa Redgrave speech did seem out of character, or at least not what we expected given her past performances. But then she did bury a child last year, something parents should never have to do, and it looked like that had taken a lot out of her.

Good Dog said...

And because my previous post was sent before I read Ian’s most recent response... I don’t think we’re at different corners either, rather at different ends of the barricade trying to fight back the modern Visigoths and having different views on who needs to be beaten over the head with the biggest stick first.

I was thinking about the films I watched when I was growing up and how I’d start to recognize actors I’d start to see again and again, the names of the writers, producers and directors I’d read in the credits. Although these people became familiar, I didn’t know about their personal lives. I didn’t really care about their personal lives. Obviously I’d eventually learn more by watching documentaries that profiled them or reading books, or seeing them interviewed by Parky.

Now I know about “celebrities” I’ve never even seen appear on screen, simply because they’re splashed across the internet and television and there’s no getting away from them. Even with relatively recent film stars, now we know where they shop, how many babies they’ve adopted, who they’ve hooked up with, which nightclub they tumbled out of... Has the star system crumbled because the mystique is gone and we know far too much about these people?

And it isn’t just the rash of celeb websites. Last year I had the BBC news on with the volume down. In the headlines a shot of Clint Eastwood appeared behind the newsreader and I thought, oh damn it, he’s died. It turned out the news – the BBC news – was reporting on the release of Gran Torino. I mean, what the hell?

By the way, there are some Michael Bay films I like. I think The Rock is this (or last) generations Where Eagles Dare. And I liked The Mummy and the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. I do like to be entertained as long as I don’t have to switch my brain off completely. But modern sequels and franchises have to be stopped in their tracks. Sure had the James Bond films, the Carry Ons and the Hammer films bringing back Dracula, but they came up with different stories and characters rather than simply throwing massive amounts of money at the screen and hoping the audience wouldn’t twig that they didn’t really have anything new to say.

I suspect I’m jumping ahead of myself here because no doubt you and Lord Puttnam are going to address these issues. But let me finish by saying that my real beef with Avatar is that it is heralded as THE FUTURE OF CINEMA. I read the script a while back and just wanted to throw myself into an industrial crusher but in this age of stupidity it’s probably what it had to be and what we deserve.

SharonM said...

Good Dog - one of the worst cases of post-acceptance speech interviews, was the BAFTAs three years ago. In accepting her award for The Queen, she had just paid tribute to Ian Richardson, who had died two days previously. It was clear that she was upset and yet what did some plonker do the minute she walked off the set? Shove a microphone in her face.

Re Avatar, we had a women who does screenwrting as a guest speaker at my Writers' Group this evening, and she was saying that she kept falling asleep throughout Avatar. Yes, the special effects were fantastic, but apparently the script was pretty dire.

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed the broadcast, although it felt like Puttnam was determined to see everything through Rose-tinted specs (guess that's his job, and of course I would say that).

I think the only negative thing I heard him say was about "The Hangover" (which I enjoyed, although I'd agree it was an "OK" film rather than a "great" one).

Surprised about his take on 3D. I agree with him (but feel I'm in a minority of 1 - make that 2 now) although as he hinted I think it will be live sports events that push 3D into the home. The irony is that 3D is supposed to be being launched to pull people into theatres rather than stay at home.

Hard to see how that's supposed to work given that 3D TVs, 3D Blu-Ray players and even 3D Blu-Ray discs are all set to hit the market with a surprisingly large number of products in the 3rd and 4th quarters of this year. If the cinema's DO have an early lead (most don't seem to have spent the money on the upgrade) and think it's a protection against piracy as they claim it's a lead they're not going to have for very long.

The optimism around cinema's doing so well doesn't seem to be born out by the way the film companies do business. The window before films appear on shiny disc is getting shorter and shorter - why would that be if the theatrical outings are so successful. It's interesting too that Cineworld (but not Odeon) have backed down on "banning" Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" because the "window" they have to exclusively show "Alice in Wonderland" has been reduced to 12 weeks. Disney have apparently repeatedly held firm in refusing to lengthen the window, which shows where they think MOST of the money for the film will come from. Cineworld obviously saw they were flogging a dead horse, while Odeon struggle to fight to the end!

Good Dog said...


Oh I remember that, it was utterly horrendous. Poor Helen Mirren, obviously moved by Ian Richardson’s untimely passing, and that goofball just ambushed her.


I thought it was a great programme. I just wish it could have gone on longer. Like Ian, I was taken by Lord P’s optimism and reasoning. If we don’t have an ongoing industry over here in England we have great, great crews. The one thing I love about DVD with their documentaries is how people like Peter Lamont and John Richardson and their crews are getting properly recognized for their outstanding contributions to the global film industry.

I don’t know about 3D and whether it will make films better, but it’s still early days I suppose. Whether a film is made with a camcorder or created completely in a computer or still being filmed on celluloid it still needs a worthwhile story at its heart. And I get a bit narked when progress means I have to upgrade my television and DVD player when the existing ones are still relatively new.

I don’t go the cinema nearly enough nowadays. I’m trying to make the effort (and actually went last week to perk myself up). There is something about the scale and shared experience that probably makes it more enjoyable than sitting at home alone with chips and dips for company. The shared experience is also one of the problems. It’s the people who don’t turn off their phones. Even if they’re on silent the devils still damn well text. Or they talk amongst themselves. Or they do something annoying. Maybe I’m just a grouch.

Anyway, I guess we have to wait and see. Still, on the evidence of the last half-dozen weeks I think we know who BAFTA should get to do the post-awards interviews.

Brian Sibley said...

Personally, I'm not sold on the shared experience of cinema anymore - the mingled aromas of popcorn and cheesy nachos, the texting and talking and the stampede in the final minutes are far from enjoyable. Also, if you don't go with someone then a cinema (like any crowd) is the loneliest place in the world.

For years, when I was reviewing and presenting film and arts programmes, I was spoiled by being able to watching movies on the big screen in virtually empty cinemas with a group of fellow cineasts for company.

Anyway, thanks for all the bouquets, folks! Much appreciated! :)

Stephen Gallagher said...

Despite being outside of our shores at the moment I've managed to keep up, catching the Puttnam hour on iPlayer and following the Guardian's live blog from the BAFTAs. That way I missed all the guff and just got the results as they emerged. I don't really go for all that fake suspense and envelopes business, though I imagine it might be more fun with a few beers and a bet on.

I have a vote in the BAFTAs, and most years I find that about two-thirds of my picks match the consensus. For me it was The Hurt Locker over Avatar, no real contest.

As Puttnam said (I think) of Pixar, cinema's bedrock value is one of narrative art' I felt that Avatar was a superior presentation of a routine fantasy while The Hurt Locker was relentless, suspenseful, twisty, and real.

No disrespect to Avatar, it truly is groundbreaking in its way. I suppose King Kong was the Avatar of its day, but therein lies the difference - while the impact of Kong's technical innovation has long faded, as a fable and a tragedy it's still the ne plus ultra of its kind.

Brian Sibley said...

Probably nothing demonstrates this better, STEPHEN, than a comparison between the original King Kong and Peter Jackson's re-make.

Despite the fact that PJ was, unquestionably, a true and devout lover of Kong, everything added to the scenario in terms of 'character development' (and comedy) was irrelevant and everything heaped upon it in terms of 'technical sophistication' was superfluous.

As one of the great masters of film fantasy opined after seeing the re-make: "How come it took twice the running time of the original to tell the same story?"

If you don't care about the characters in a film (whether that means loving or hating them), it will -- sweeping statement coming up -- never endure.