A few things from February to catch up on that I didn’t get around to writing about sooner. Monthnotes? Whatever. Let’s not dwell on it.
§ We watched The River (the Norwegian thriller, not David Essex’s The River, or ABC’s horror The River, or the BBC’s River) which was the first thing we’ve watched solely on Walter Presents, as opposed to on broadcast telly. It wasn’t terribly good and we were on the verge of giving up most of the way through. It was all a bit silly, the lead guy wasn’t very charismatic, and it was hard to care about any of it.
It did make me think about how thrillers and whodunits reveal things and why this one was so unsatisfying. Usually the hero starts off clueless and, via various dead ends, works out the truth by the final episode. The viewers are with them for the journey, not feeling any closer to the truth than the hero does.
In The River, however, there were several people involved in whatever the conspiracy was, who all knew what terrible thing had happened in the past (something about a plane crash and some recently-discovered bodies). We saw them trying to put the hero off the scent, or capture them, and having the kinds of conversations baddies have, and scowling like baddies do. Because we saw all this, the only mystery for us was wondering exactly what had happened in the past, which was only alluded to… and because we knew who was involved, and saw a lot of them, it felt like we only needed the camera to witness them having one conversation about those events for us to find out. So the suspense, such as it was, all felt rather artificial. If the camera had only hung around those thick-set men a couple of minutes longer we could have discovered the truth early on and not sat through the rest of the episodes.
When watching foreign dramas I miss having some context about the show. With British shows I’ll think differently about it depending on whether it’s on BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, BBC 4, ITV, Channel 4, etc. Each brings its own connotations for my cultural snobbery to work at. But with a foreign show, particularly a non-English language one, I don’t have that context to go on. Sub-titled movies have always had an “arty” or “high-brow” aura to them here — presumably because we only get, say, the arty French dramas and not the broad French comedies that don’t travel well. And that, combined with the “Scandi-noir” shows first going out on BBC 4, the higher-brow-than-BBC-1-or-2-channel-(which-isn’t-saying-much), any foreign language show automatically has a bit of an intellectual/worthy/arty aura to it. Even if it was made for its home country’s equivalent of [insert your least favourite low-brow commercial channel here].
§ We watched most of Les Misérables but gave up one or two episodes from the end. It was relentlessly grim, which I suppose is unsurprising. I also found it hard to believe in much of it. Dominic West, for instance, seemed somehow miscast. I don’t think this is solely because I find it hard to think of him as anyone but McNulty. Every sad face or lop-sided grimace didn’t seem to fit the setting somehow.
I also kept getting distracted by accents. There’s something odd about an English-language version of something set in a non-English-speaking country. “Why is this Parisian speaking like a Cockney?” “Those girls sound posh, I wonder which English public school they went to?” etc.
On the plus side, the few scenes featuring Adeel Akhtar and our new Queen, Olivia Colman, were horrible delights.
I did see the musical version as a teenager but the only music I remember is a fragment of Master of the House thanks to Seinfeld:
Apparently, singing that over and over is not endearing, so I am told.
§ Other TV…
I enjoyed the final season of Catastrophe although not as much as I hoped. I came late to the show and I think I watched all three previous seasons in one go and I loved it. This season was fine but either I’ve changed or they’ve changed. I struggled to find the chinks of light in their terrible characters this time around.
David Bowie: Finding Fame was great, especially because I knew next to nothing about how he got started. It was so impressive how he kept on trying different things, continually looking for something that would succeed. And then, equally impressive, when he did finally have a big success — Space Oddity — he changed direction and did something different.
The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway about Crossrail was enjoyable. But these mega-engineering documents do tend to feel a bit… spectacular. Not good spectacular, bad spectacular. There was more time spent watching some men pull a cable through a tube station — oh, the jeopardy* — than was spent on the problem of the whole project going wildly over time and over budget all of a sudden. A placatory soundbite from the CEO and that was about it.
* It was fine.
§ The only film I went to in February was If Beale Street Could Talk and it was very good. Amazing performances. In the Meisner technique classes that I did, one of the shortcuts to force you to make a decision about how you feel in a situation was the prompt, “Are you mad, sad or glad?” Pick one and go for that completely. It’s simplistic but it stops you dithering, falling between one thing or the other. The characters in If Beale Street Could Talk spent a lot of time being very mad, sad or glad so convincingly that I was always pulled along with them. The actors’ faces were so full.
§ I finished reading October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville, which filled in another bit of my very spotty history of the 20th Century. It was good and often raced along, day-by-day and month-by-month, although some bits were inevitably bogged down by the detailed ins-and-outs of the various committees and factions. While there were occasionally riots and soldiers and guns and drama, there were also many, many meetings.
§ That’s all. It’s nearly spring!