Square Eyes #7

Posted in TV
By Mansoor Iqbal on 8 Apr 2010

Quick, big corporations are doing bad things…to kids! (and this time it has nothing to do with the Catholic Church – but I told you Benny 16 looks like Emperor Palpatine). Someone call Michael Moore! Oh, he’s busy with American stuff, well, erm, call Chris Atkins instead. It’s hard not to think of the big yank when watching Starsuckers (More4, 4od until 06/05). The American chap who plays the voice of the media corporations Atkins is after certainly doesn’t help. Like Moore, he goes after his target without restraint, taking them to task for making us into celebrity obsessed, media dependent idiots. And he’s ready for you if you claim that you’re not affected. Starsuckers has some great moments; it rips it out of Bob Geldof (who won’t enjoy that?), has parents signing their kids up to a channel called X-Ploit, and shows how easy it is to get fake stories printed in the red tops. However it suffers from being both too long and too short. The relentless attack on the media seems to labour the point somewhat, but yet somehow there still seem to be holes left as a consequence of Atkin’s attempts to connect everything together. This raises the further question of whether it is really possible to consider the media, or even ‘celebrity culture’ as one homogenous body. Also, it should’ve probably stuck to this side of the pond. Its flaws are not terminal though, and it’s a certainly a good watch if you’re at all interested in the subject matter.

Ah the 19th Century. It must have been fun to live in a time when everyone spoke in breathy whispers, and fell into fits of uncontrollable rapture every time they saw something that didn’t involve tuberculosis. Van Gogh: Painted with Words (BBC1, iPlayer until 12/04) sticks to the formula of hammy period acting, but actually it’s not too big an issue given how interesting Van Gogh actually was and is. This programme consists of actors playing Van Gogh and his brother reading the letters the real Vincent and Theo wrote, interspersed with Alan Yentob’s august visage adding some narrative detail or discussing a painting. I confess, my knowledge of Van Gogh began with sunflowers and ended with ears, and this was a great way to get some understanding of the man, and how his life and beliefs affected his work. The letters chosen are compelling and revealing; his interest in the working class is particularly noteworthy, and it seems the subject matter rather than the acting that supplies the drama. On a subject of this nature, Yentob is beyond reproach and Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who plays Van Gogh, also puts in a good shift. Of course, something like this can never be a substitute for reading the letters or seeing the paintings with your own eyes. However correspondence can be the driest of reading material, and art an all but opaque world for the uninitiated. This serves as a wonderful Van Gogh aperitif, and definitely served to pique my own interest.

“Alright Webb! Where have you been all this time? Mitchell’s been running riot, he writes for The Guardian and everything. To be honest we had started to assume you were the quiet one in real life…or maybe you just had nothing to say. Oh well, no matter, let’s get you on something right away – tell me, how do you feel about continuity errors? We’re thinking of making a programme about them, but there is something you should be aware of first – IT’S GOING TO BE A MILLION HOURS LONG”. This is certainly an issue for a programme that focuses extensively on whether Matt Damon’s jacket is done up or not. Sure, some of the these ‘great movie mistakes’ (oh right, that’s also what it’s called, BBC3, Parts 1 & 2 iPlayer until 11/04) are quite funny, and highlight the inadequacy of many a continuity editor, as well as hinting at the challenges they face – “we need to get Hugh Grant in to do that scene again, he was meant to be holding a coffee pot, not a spoon” is not a sentence anyone would relish uttering. But ten minutes into this and it’s already starting to feel a little anal. And tedious. Robert Webb is obviously sensitive to this, and plays it for laughs. Despite this, there is a consistent awkwardness that ill suits a programme of this nature. Webb can’t mask the fact that it’s hard to care about a lot these errors. He certainly doesn’t. Vicki Frost, a colleague of Mitchell’s at his aforementioned workplace, asked (she wasn’t alone in doing so) why BBC3 escaped the proposed cuts to BBC services. When a programme is made about 10 times longer than it needs to be, and this isn’t even much of an exaggeration, to fill the channel’s schedule, it’s hard to not echo this question.

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