Wednesday, June 28, 2006

today : sorry motty

One thing that the World Cup has thrown into sharp relief is the sad fact that Motson is over the hill. The sheer amount of footie on the TV means that the world of footie commentary is now full of alternatives. The modern commentator has a career path. Many of them are professional journalists who begin covering news as well as sport. In commentating terms they will usually start off on local radio, often covering many sports, before moving towards local TV coverage. Then comes the step-up into national radio, where they really start to develop their commentating chops. After that, a move into the big time: national TV.

Motson is old school. One of those people who came up in the times when competition wasn't so fierce, when the BBC seemed full of correspondants whose principal qualification was that they went to the right school. This was no bad thing, and the world of Bloers and Johnners, Arlott, Eddie Waring and Sid Waddell has a delightful and quaint nostalgia about it.

Don't get me wrong. Motson's pretty good. But he's just been overtaken by the new breed of commentators that have grown up in an era where, as local radio reporters, they routinely followed their teams across Europe, and possess a range of knowledge that shines through.They are at home covering a league cup first round match and a Champion's League Semi Final. The likes of Simon Brotherton, having cut their teeth on radio, are precise, witty and incisive; and knock Motson into the stand. (incidentally, Brotherton called the 2005 Baseball World Series on Radio Five and I pretty much consider it the finest bit of commentary I have ever heard. He beautifully balanced a detailed analysis of the game and the atmosphere with a perfectly judged nod to his audience of interested but not necessarily knowledgeable Britishlanders. It was so brilliant that his American co-commentator more or less gave up and went home in awe)

But it's time the old boy was put out to grass. It might mean that Barry Davies gets to do one important match before he dies.

Monday, June 19, 2006

today's classic footie scrap is...

...actually, not exactly a scrap but more of an unprovoked attempt at murder. I am talking, of course about Harald Schumacher's attack on Patrick Battiston in the World Cup of 1982. Battiston was knocked out, lost several teeth and apparently ended up with damaged vertebrae. The ref didn't even give a free kick.

BTW this gives me a chance to put a link thru to Football Poets @

Friday, June 16, 2006

today: Dreamflowers/Lupins at Dusk

photos by me 2006

today : when winning just isn't enough

Yeah alright, I know. England have huffed and puffed their way through their first two world cup matches and looked anything but a cup-winning team. But despite the fact that their football has been prosaic and dull, they haven't really looked like conceding a goal and have managed to score three, winning both games so far.

Yet people are still not satisfied. The airwaves and papers are full of analyses: most of which seem more concerned with the performance than the result. In fact, many people, in their fury that Sven didn't pick the players, set the tactics or make the substitutions that THEY would pick set and make. People are angry that their team didn't live up to their hopes. Yet what do people hope for? For some, winning isn't enough.

During the 1-0 win against Paraguay the BBC TV pundits were overcome with anger that Michael Owen was subbed, despite in the weeks before questioning his fitness and match sharpness. They were also fuming that England didn't play well. These are the same people whom, week in, week out opine about there being no easy games at this level and that form and ranking go out the window when it comes to cup football. Well, hello? We are at this level and this is a cup competition. That's why when you win it you get a big shiny cup.

During the 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago the BBC radio pundits became audibly angry at England's performance. This was spun out into a deeply pessimistic conjecture-fest about later rounds and matches. It was almost as if England had not won the game and become the second team in the tournament to guarantee their place in the next phase. Basically, it all came down to the fact that, yes you guessed it, Sven didn't pick the players, set the tactics or make the changes THEY would make. One or two of the pundits and plenty of the journalists also allow, in such moments, their true feelings to emerge. It appears that they don't want England to win because they hate Sven Goran Erikkson. This hatred goes all the way back to when Sven was hired and they howled in protest that a foreigner was being put in charge. It was sheer Xenophobia then, and remains so, if exacerbated by his predilection towards studiousness, getting paid stupid amounts of money and boffing everything in sight. There is also the fact that, before he was appointed, someone bet a load of money on him getting the job at 100-1 and won. My guess is that this person was an FA insider and resentment has built up in the football pundit village ever since.

The experts were all so disappointed that the Brazil team they hyped and hyped as completely unbeatable played disjointedly and were given a pretty stern test by Croatia. They won 1-0, scoring less goals than England did today. Not one of these experts even suggested that Brazil might struggle.

They seem to miss the basic truth about football. Sometimes you get lucky; sometimes you have to win ugly; sometimes everything goes right; sometimes everything goes not-quite-right; sometimes all of this happens to the other team too. I do wish they would own up to the fact that football is at it's heart unpredictable, and that when it comes to analyses and predictions they are pretty much guessing.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

today : I am speechless

The world has finally gone mad. Language has become redundant, and if I was one of those apocalypse types I would be preparing for something pretty drastic to happen.

Apprently, committing suicide whilst locked inside a prison cell is now 'an act of war'. Who the hell do these people think,we are? For whatever reason, you lock someone up for years without trial and then when they hang themself with their bedsheets, you make YOURSELF the victim. Even by the kindest definition this is INSANITY. And what is more insane is that straight-facedly they tell us this and expect us to simply accept it. Of course, it proves that these people will stop at nothing and are simply murderers! They proved it by MUDERING THEMSELVES!

The Prez is said to be 'concerned'. Too bloody right. Concerned that even the most stupid, moronic xenophobic God fearing Republican apologist will simply be unable to process this nonsense.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

today : I cave in and talk about the World Cup

Due to increasing, almost hysterical demand my resistance has been worn down and I have been forced to write about The World Cup. After all, everyone's doing it. For some reason, the rest of the media that isn't the sports media thinks that when we aren't watching the 2 football matches a day, we want to spend the rest of the time watching list shows about the World Cup goals, gossipy profiles of the players or whimsical dramas about Pickles the dog.

The World Cup is a fantastic thing. Football (or Sack Her as they know it in the United States) is the most popular game in the civilised world. And for good reason. It is, like life, almost totally unpredictable. It is made up, like life, of long periods of apprehension and expectation punctuated by brief moments of sheer ecstatic joy and deep, harrowing despair.

It is these moments that make footie so powerful. So, in honour of them I am going to name 3 of my random favourite World Cup moments.

1. Michael Owen scores against Argentina 1998. We couldn't believe our eyes as we jumped out of our chairs, knowing that in all probability that the boy wonder would be tackled. Except he kept on going and going. It was a bit like when you find yourself in the company of a really attractive person and, as the conversation becomes more and more intimate and the signals more and more unambiguous, you still expect that you might be mistaken and any moment they will excuse themselves and leave. Except they stay, and what's more everything turns out exactly how you dreamt it would. As Owen shot across the goalie and the ball spun into the top corner we were so far out of our seats that there was nowhere else to go. So we dove out the window.

2. Hahn Jung Hwan's golden goal for South Korea against Italy in 2002. The World Cup is such a great opportunity to support the underdog. I wonder if this is a particularly British affliction, to back to losers out of politeness and sympathy. This was the perfect opportunity. South Korea were the hosts and, as such, we could imagine the sheer joy that it would bring to our own nation and therefore we wanted it for theirs. As an added bonus, the Italian team are arrogant, vain, preening and prone to diving. We admire but despise them. They acted as as if it was a foregone conclusion that they would win by at least seven. It was set up for them to be humiliated. When Hahn's goal went off his head and into the goal it was perfect. The Italians gracelessly pouted and stamped their feet and eventually burst into tears like bunch of 14 year old girls whose parents ban them from seeing a boy with a motorcycle. The South Koreans were so overcome with joy they didn't quite know what to do.

Later, The Italians whinged & complained so much (they did have a point about the last minute penalty in normal time that had led to the Golden Goal extra time, but decisions going for the host countries are not uncommon) that they convinced FIFA to scrap the totally brilliant Golden Goal idea. The argument was that Hahn's goal was a momentary lapse of the natural order of things (if you look at the photo above you can see the expression on Fabio Grosso's face, it says "How dare you reach that ball before me, you little non-footballing nation type person!"), a little like when Elton John married Renate, or when The US intervene in a country that doesn't have any oil. Given a few more minutes, obviously The Azzuri would restore the natural order.

Churlishly, Ahn Jung Hwang's Italian club team, Perugia, stuck out their pet lip and sacked him as revenge. The only time in history when a striker was sacked for scoring a goal.

3. Robbie Keane's last minute equalizer vs The Germans 2002. It was Robbie Keane, it was the last minute. We were willing him to do it. And then he did. It was that great footballing thing. The draw that feels like a win.

Friday, June 09, 2006

today : The A(lpha) Team

I don't know how big a hit show The Unit is. I was attracted to watch it by David Mamet's name. He's an interesting writer who has done some pretty good stuff. Hmmm, I thought, yet more evidence of quality artists involved in TV.

And sure enough it's okay. Like Spooks, it sticks to the conventions of tension drama with a side order of domestic strife. The action is sharp and realistic, the violence kinda hurts. Jonas and his men (including Brad Pitt-a-like Bob) are attractive characters, given that they are tall, muscly, stubbled, invincible and carry big guns.

However. There are huge problems. The main one is the the entire set of underlying assumptions behind the premise. The ideology. In Spooks the spies are often pushed into morally ambiguous territory by politicians. The lines between good and evil are blurred. When Adam throws a terrorist over a balcony it is shocking and there is a questioning both in the responses of other characters and in his own reflections. When Danny has to assassinate a bad guy, the entire episode focusses on the act of crossing the line and what it means both politically and personally. It shows the weeping and vomiting. Tom's exit story involves him actually crossing a psychological crevasse and questioning the very nature of the job itself.

In The Unit the Special Forces bestride the globe, despatching terrorists, assassinating drug dealers, rescuing wayward Americans and generally defending 'freedom' by any means necessary. And they do this by pointing guns at children, exploiting the general public and basically stomping all over local and international laws with total impunity.

Which is all very well. However, nobody ever questions the reasoning and moral authority behind the 'deployments'. Whilst the morality of the colonel is questioned because he is making the bi-backed beast with Mack's wife, he manages to avoid anyone questioning his moral authority as a leader. The Unit answers directly to the President but I have never heard the President's name in the script, apart from once or twice when Jonas evokes him to reinforce his right to be in charge.

It seems that American TV shies away from politics in any real sense. Even the West Wing spent as much time explaining how tricky and difficult governing is, and showing how only tricky and brilliant lawyer types can navigate the maze.

The clue to what The Unit actually is, is contained in the first few seconds of each show. A voiceover tells 1979 Congress approved an elite secret fighting force...It's a familiar opening. There are other clues. Jonas and his men are called the Alpha team. When imprisoned they improvise an oxyacetalene torch to cut through bars. They pretty much always win.

Yes, you guessed it. The Unit is nothing more than a post 9-11 remake of the A Team.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

today : cosmetic eugenics?

Before I start, let me make two things clear. I am writing from England, where the topic of abortion isn't such a hot one. Like lots of things, it's legal and most people agree that it's better to have choice than not. Every so often someone tried to launch a political/moral polarisation like the one that seems to obssss the United States, but it never really works. I don't know anyone who likes abortion, but most people accept it as a right. Secondly, I am male, and though that means I can have opinions on abortion (I am pro-choice which outweighs my personal kind of agnostic discomfort about the act itself), I know that its pretty easy for me. I will never have to experience the direct effects of any decision. There are many others far more qualified than I to discuss it from a moral and legal standpoint.

But I was also born deformed. Recently, in England, statistics on abortion were published. In amongst the headline numbers compiled over the past few years was one statistic that stopped me in my tracks. Twenty children were aborted in Britain because they were going to be born with talipes. Club feet. When I was born four decades ago, having talipes was quite a major thing. I had complex operations as a baby and live with the scars. And the condition was never cured, just made better. I am pretty lucky in some ways that I could walk and basically act completely normally, although the condition has caught up with me recently to the point where it could be described as a disability. These days, thanks to the work of a pioneering doctor from Iowa called Ponsetti, the vast majority of talipes affected children, in both the U.S. and Europe, receive mostly non-surgical treatment in their early years and the problem is pretty much cured. Which leads me to wonder two things: why did twenty people feel that abortion was the solution to their child's problem and why did the medical professionals offer it as a solution?

I felt upset and pretty offended that someone would think that my condition was worthy of a termination. It posed a question that, I think, we all might find difficult to answer. If we support choice on principle, how far does our principle go? What if the choice we passionately defend means that people will make choices that we feel are abhorrent, stupid or misguided? Can I support a parent who is willing to abort a child at 24 weeks just because it will emerge imperfect? Looking like me?

As a talipes sufferer I have a higher risk of, myself, having talipes children. Twice, this subject has been brought up in relationships. You know, in the early stages when you feel out each others' opinions on marriage (Like, WAY in the future...) and kids (someday, if by chance...). Twice, I have had potential long-term partners express mild horror in the knowledge that their kids may be deformed. Perhaps they were just looking for an excuse to not marry me and have my kids. Who knows? Either way, both times, I found it pretty shocking.

Perfection and imprefection are a totally subjective things. It's a cliche that when we fall in love, for example, it is our lovers' imperfection that often endear us the most. Nature loves imperfection. Genetic corruption is the engine of evolution. Now I can't personally see how having one leg shorter than the other and painfully misaligned feet and ankles moves the human race forward any, but I guess the first giraffe didn't really consider the implications of having a longer than average neck. It was also probably teased at school.

I know little of the 20 cases reported. However, my underlying concern is that the only logic behind these decisions was one based in vanity. We are apparently entering a phase where 'designer babies' are a distinct option. It also seems that some people are so locked into the world presented to them by the TV, the perfect family, that they cannot handle it when they don't quite match this fantasy image. Today, it's deformed feet, tomorrow will it be nose size, baldness or hair colour? How do I feel about people practising cosmetic eugenics, when it already angers me that some people in the world have abortions due to gender,or sheer poverty?

Monday, June 05, 2006

today : why I rarely to go to the cinema

Used to be that you knew where you were. Used to be that everything knew its place. Used to be that films was films and TV shows was TV shows.

But all that's gone now. The Sopranos, Cracker, West Wing, 24, Deadwood, Spooks and any number of TV shows are now better than most films. Flagship drama on TV now has the big budgets of many films, the production values of films and often the cast of films. Okay, so Hollywood (which now stretches as far as New Zealand) deals wth the cutting edge technology and the really huge salaries, but the technology and the actors spreads to TV pretty quickly. Dr Who now has CGI composites and big film-like sets instead of abadoned china clay quarries and backgrounds made of plywood and tin-foil. It even has its own attendant mini-show for each episode that's like a DVD extra, except it's on TV.

In fact, the thing that TV has is the opportunity to develop, and also the economic necessity of having to remain popular over a period of time in order to sell advertising. Films make their money in a pretty of fraudulent way. You pay for your ticket before you actually see anything. These days, the merchandise floods into fast food joints and supermarkets weeks before the film itself is even released. And so often the hype machine creates an expectation that can never be matched by the actual product. In fact, this happens most of the time. When was the last time you saw a movie that has it's own attendant lunch-box, logo and MacDonalds promotion that was any good? I guess Spiderman 2 was okay, but this is because it was mercifully short compared to some of the overblown two and hour quarter hour sludgefests that are foisted upon us.

The last film I saw was Un long Dimanche de Fiancelles, a film that Hollywood apparently backed but would never actually produce. Like Amelie it was a film full of digital effects, but I hardly even noticed them. As with 'Le Fabulous Destin de Amelie Poulin', the director, Jean Pierre Jeunet, uses CGI as another colour on his palette to slightly alter reality, rather than showily animate it from scratch. There was something about the film that didn't quite work for me. Perhaps it was the tonal shifts, part serious drama, part whimsy, almost wholly French. However it has a strong characterisation, depth of imagination and film-making bravado, a decent plot and a bunch of quite subtle moral and political messages. Most Hollywood fare can be summed up thus: "Americans good, baddies bad and must die. Use CGI as much as possible even though it is really hard to make it convincing, replace story with set-pieces and only ever pick from a small but well known pool of actors." It is no mistake that the only Hollywood film that has recently been hailed as a proper film - United 93 - was directed by a guy who cut his teeth first in news and documentaries and then in longer form TV drama, and uses little or no CGI and no stars.

The standard is so high in the best TV that it is noticeable when it falls. I have just seen the first two parts of the fourth season of Spooks. I was disappointed by just a few things:
1. Two poor attempts at American accents by British actors.
2. One or two plot devices that were sloppy e.g. a secret agent in a tight corner who is given away by his loud mobile phone ringtone and the agents allowing a vulnerable witness (played by guest star Martine McCutcheon who phones in her usual chirpy but feisty cock-er-nee bird with a heart of gold performance) to go free, only to be kidnapped, and, over 90 minutes, THREE instances of secretly planted ticking bombs, each with a highly audible tick.
3. A 'secret' murder that takes place on a balcony in full view of most of London.
4. Unconvincing non-bleeding bullet wounds from the Casualty 'yuk but not too offensive for early evening viewers' false wound manual.
5. Everything happens within sight of 'The Gherkin' - that dildo shaped office building in Westminster.

Which was a shame because as tension dramas go, Spooks is pretty damn good. It's (hyper) reality feels real, it is contemporary and hip, pulls few punches politically and it is populated by really great actors. Okay, I am a little concerned that the entire safety of my country might be the responsibility of about four people, one of whom is either a traitor or on the verge of betrayal, the others who make simple errors like keeping their mobile phones on when making a noise might get them shot. But the mix of excitement and personal and moral crises is hugely watchable. The 10 episodes of the second season (the first run was a tryout of only six shows) was some of the most gripping drama I have ever seen on TV.

In some ways TV has trumped film. The much-vaunted year of political films like Crash, Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, were in fact retreading ground that's covered by TV as a matter of course. There is little need to go to the movies, especially if you want to see politically relevant, realistic, well-constructed and intelligent drama.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Today : TV on the Radio on the TV

I never thought I'd find myself missing the original rock DJ and all-round mirrored pilot shade-wearing, satin tour jacket sporting colossus, Tommy Vance, who died last year. However, Tommy (real name Richard Anthony Crispian Francis Prew Hope-Weston, fact fans) was the voice of Gillette in the UK. His macho, rock-associated, booming, over-theatrical tones made me realise just what a macho, rock-associated, booming and over theatrical activity shaving really is.

Now we are leading up to the World Cup, and Gillette is one of the big sponsors. So there are ads all over the telly imporing me to shave with Gillette products, because it will make me into a virile, athletic gazillionaire, or alternatively a rankly stupid, preening spitting cheat with a collection of tastless cars, a gambling habit and a penchant for filming myself banging Page Three girls. Whatever.

The thing is, the Tommy-a-like who has taken over the Gillette voiceovers lacks the credibility of the late TV on the Radio. You just know this man does not have a collection of albums by Verity and The Tygers of Pang Tang. You know that this man has probably never tried cocaine and never stayed out all night with Lemmy and Philthy Phil. In short, he's a moisturiser-using, Volvo-driving, Westlife-listening fake.

This lends Gilette, unfortunately, a less than authentic, and rather fey image, that makes me want to switch to Wilkinson Sword, or possibly grow a folk-singer beard.

Even better, in the blessed name of Tommy support these people: