I don’t know if I really need to state the central themes to this blog before I start on this post but regular readers will be familiar with the security blanket weaved of British film geekery, distaste with the modern media, nostalgia for the last few decades and general grumpery that I clutch to my cheek.
As much as I hate to enforce the cliche of my own perceived image, I find the subject I want to write about right now will actually read like some kind of parody of my own writing. The media changing a British film icon for the worst. This is like an uber-post for me. This is as pure Jonblog as a Jon blog could possibly be. Uncut, pure, perfect grade, undiluted, 100% genuine Jon.
It’s hard to write about a TV show which has been going since the 70’s and changed it’s name every year but for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to the show as ‘FILM’. When I first watched it, it must have been called Film ’85. It reinforced by burgeoning love of film. Back then, film fell into two camps for me – it was either ‘good’ or ‘grown up’. ‘Grown up’ meant films I wasn’t allowed to see or wasn’t interested in. ‘Good’ meant everything else. I loved film in an entirely egalitarian way. If it was a film, I loved it. My dad watched FILM every week. I started watching with him. It struck me to be a very grown up show. Kicking off with jazz music, it was just a man in a chair directly addressing the audience about film in a pretty grown-up manner. He would give fair reviews of each week’s films and occasionally there’d be an outside report or an interview with an actor or film-maker. It wasn’t glossy or glitzy, though, it was sophisticated and intelligent.
What blew my mind was that the man – the brilliant Barry Norman – reviewed everything! Not just grown-up films but the films I cared about too. I would expect him to be derisive (like my dad when faced with having to watch Garbage Pail Kids The Movie or Howard The Duck) but he spoke intelligently about even the most un-intelligent crap. I liked him. I really dug him. He opened my eyes to film criticism and when I found his negative comments agreeable, I started to develop a critical awareness of my own.
There are very few constants in life but from before I was born until 1998, when I was 22 and at film school, Barry Norman was there once a week offering a sharp and fair assessment of each weeks offerings. Although I was well onto ‘grown up’ films by then, it still stung a little when he’d reasonably berate the crap I so looked forward to.
In ’98, Barry Norman, feeling the BBC wasn’t respecting the show enough to even give it a regular timeslot, defected to BSkyB and out of my life forever. The beeb announced they would be replacing him with Jonathan Ross. This choice divided me. I liked Jonathan Ross a lot. He had made what, to this day, remains the best TV show about cinema ever – The Incredibly Strange Film Show. Honestly, check it out on youtube, it was brilliant. I loved Ross, I loved his ZOO TV show The Last Resort, the weird gameshow he did with Vic Reeves, everything he did was ace. I just didn’t want FILM to be reinvented. FILM was all about a guy in a chair giving considered opinions. Incredibly, Ross felt the same way and right up until he left the post recently, he traded in his brash loudmouth persona which he displayed in all of his other projects to, once a week, sit in that chair and tell us simply his reasonable views on each release.
Then the BBC got stupid. It’s been getting stupid for a while but bowing to pressures exerted by the right wing media following an act of dumbness on Ross and his cohort Russell Brand’s part, he got suspended and then, one presumes to save face, quit the BBC for good. I thought this was a shame Ross was one of a kind – genuinely charismatic, intelligent and flexible he outclassed all of the current crop of ‘presenters’ the BBC has for some reason promoted. Graham Norton, Fearne Cotton, Adrain Chiles, the lot of them. In the back of my mind, I thought about FILM. I worried about it. I loved that show and, sadly, I knew it was a relic. With the exception of Newsnight, the BBC had long stamped out the tradition of ‘intelligent man in a chair’ programming and I’d rather see the show disappear than be reinvigorated to their current oeuvre. There was talk of Mark Kermode taking over. My blood ran cold. I rather hate Mark Kermode, a man who has built a career out of having seen The Exorcist. Self concious shouty idiot. He’d love to be Charlie Brooker. But he’s not. He’s shitty Mark Kermode with his shitty quiff. I was desperate that they’d cancel it. Out of respect to it’s history. A dignified exit.
I, uh, wish they’d hired Mark Kermode.
At least he understands films.
I would think that if a programme had maintained a steady viewership for about 40 years, as with the Ross reinvention, the BBC would exercise an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ policy. Just get a new man in the chair – Mark Kermode? Mark Lawson? Mark Watson! I don’t mind, as long as they can sit in the chair, look at the camera and intelligently dissect this week’s releases. But No. The BBC exercised the policy I feared they might – if it ain’t broke, stick Claudia fucking Winkleman in it and see what happens.
A show which consisted of one man in a chair is now Two in the studio, three on location and it’s broadcast live. Why live? Apparently because the interaction with the viewers via Twitter is essential. Here’s what the viewers were asked to contribute: What should the group of presenters be called? (Yep, I’d like to have seen the unedited tweets too) and Which film has the best use of the moon in it? Not only are these insights not worth broadcasting live for, they’re not worth eliciting.
Claudia Winkleman is a true presenter and I mean this not in a complimentary manner. She can merely present. As in she is capable of looking vaguely attractive and saying to the camera ‘coming up is…’ or ‘next week we’ll be…’ Her hiring makes no sense since the BBC have also hired The Guardian’s film blogger Danny Leigh to sit next to her at all times and actually be the one talking about films and deflecting or intellectualizing Winkleman’s banal interjections. The producers have clearly decided to go ‘raw’ with this and hired a team of people inexperienced – and indeed ill suited – to back Winkleman up. Two extremes. A bubbly airhead presenter backed by unprofessional, overly geeky content providers.
The main OB guy is some goon from Empire Magazine. Empire magazine is shit. It has no journalistic integrity and is shamefully lacklustre and dull. This guy was send to the London Film Festival to interview some stars live. LIVE. Live TV hosting duties given to an inexperienced twat. He smiled uncomfortably while some kid who looked charlied-up flirted with Keira Knightley rather than answer questions. They’ve also hired a precocious teenage film blogger. Brilliant.
Film 2010 (they pronounce it TWENTYTEN) highlights all that is wrong with the BBC these days. An embargo on intelligence in mainstream programming. The desperation to appeal to a demographic which probably doesn’t exist. The need to reinvent pointlessly. I wonder who it’s for now.