Tuesday, July 31, 2007

today : an obituary of obituaries

Something happened relatively unnoticed this week that made me rather sad. BBC radio stopped making and broadcasting Brief Lives, its long running weekly obituary show that used to be on Radio 4 but has been on Radio 5 for the past few years. Brief Lives was a perfect BBC radio show. Small, discreet, literate and intelligent, it gave voice to the argument that obituaries are a fascinating and often entertaining way of examining the large and small influences that individuals have on history. This radio equivalent of the finer broadsheet obituary columns often celebrated the uncelebrated - people on whom celebrity was never endowed.

It is another half an hour of the week lost to progress, demographic profiling or budget cuts, or one disguised as the other. May I throw out into the ether the notion that, if the airwaves have no space for the show any longer, the internet was invented for such things.

And I bet the commissioning editor who wielded the axe is wishing they'd waited one more week, as the last 24 hours has seen TV's Mike Reid, Film's Ingmar Bergman and friend of shepherds everywhere Phil
Drabble bite the dust. It was almost a perfect Brief Lives line-up: the famous soap actor, the serious and legendary auteur and the interesting and nostalgic minor TV personality.

I wonder how many people who have written or compiled obituaries of Bergman have actually seen any of his films. I am someone who is pretty interested in films and can name only four that I have actually seen with my own eyes. It's not like Bergman was Michael Bay or The
Farrellys - his work plastered across the multiplexes. In fact, his fame came as much from being cited by the secondary auteurs of the American cinema (notably Woody Allen, who strove much of the time to emulate Bergman and often only ended up copying him). In fact, there are plenty of non-English speaking film makers who reputations are mainly based on endorsements by English speaking directors. Fellini, Kurosawa, Bergman, Ray, Bunuel. All are relatively little watched outside of a coterie of 'buffs' who enact their Annie Hall fantasies by attending occasional screenings of black and white and foreign language films at an ever-decreasing number of Art Cinemas, and who buy their DVDs at full price in Borders rather then in the Virgin Megastore sale (because they like the comforting signals of serious literacy i.e. the endless zero volume tape loop of Kind of Blue and the wafting smell of fresh-from-the-grinder Blue Mountain - Kinda Blue Mountain!). These film makers are lauded because other, prestige figures laud them. They also came to prominence during a time when 'world cinema' began to infiltrate the consciousness of English speaking intellectuals, who fell in love with the notion of the auteur.

By the way. The films are The Virgin Spring (or was it Wild Strawberries?), Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander (the 312 minute TV version) and The Serpent's Egg.

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