The trouble with the Great Lost Story is that it is almost never as good as the version in our heads. My Great Lost Story was Robin of Sherwood, which was never repeated on UK terrestrial television because the writers were in dispute over royalties. For the same reason, it only came out on video and DVD comparatively recently and it is now, at last, being repeated on ITV3 on Saturdays.
The virtues of Robin of Sherwood are many (Ray Winstone as a damaged Will Scarlet, mucky looking mediaeval folks with random regional accents, magic, the music of Clannad, the fact that its blatant paganism pissed off the National Viewers And Listeners Association...) but its faults are many too. The pacing is glacial, there's scenery-chewing and it can get very silly in places where I remember it being scary. The main reason it is no longer scary is that I am no longer 11.
The past is another country and it's near-impossible to get a visa. I almost think that our Great Lost Stories, Great Lost Songs, Great Lost TV shows, should remain exactly that -- lost. Lost and untarnished by actual dull reality.
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I went to see the new movie of Pride and Prejudice at the weekend. It was a win-win situation really, because even if I hated it, I knew I could enjoy ripping it to bits.
As it happens, it's a rather lovely version, if flawed in places, but Keira Knightley proves she can act, and is a lovely Elizabeth.
For me, the benchmark is the excellent 1995 BBC adaptation (and how terrifying is it that the Ehle/Firth P&P is 10 years old?) It's almost unfair to compare a series that had almost six hours to tell its story to a film that had only two, but I am going to do it anyway -- the filmmakers brought in on themselves by using the same music for the dances as the 1995 version *g*.
The easiest way to compare the two adaptations is to say that the 1995 version is probably the one that Jane Austen would have liked: it's almost cruel in the way it has a steady eye on and secret delight in the flaws of the characters that Austen disliked.
By contrast, the 2005 version is altogether kinder and warmer, finding sympathy even for Mrs Bennet. Played by Brenda Blethyn as a real, if very silly woman with a mission to marry off her daughters, she's far more likeable than Alison Steadman's screeching caricature. They even find time to suggest that she and Mr Bennet have a functioning marriage, whereas in the 1995 P&P (and the book), it is suggested that the two parents can barely stand to be in the same room.
If the Mrs Bennet in the 2005 version is rather more successful than the BBC version, Lady Catherine De Bourgh is a more notable failure. As talented an actor as Judi Dench is, I did not buy for a second that she was a cold, idiotic snob, I kept expecting some drop of twinkly goodness to emerge from the stern facade, as in the 1940 Greer Garson/Lawrence Olivier P&P, where Hollywood rescripted the confrontation at Longbourne so that Lady Catherine was merely testing Elizabeth to see if she was worthy of her nephew.
ajhall pointed out something I noticed too: the odd disconnect in the scripts, most notably where Lady Catherine now arrives at Longbourne at night to have a pop at Elizabeth (odd in itself) and mentions that the Bennets have a small park, which she could not have seen in the dark. I think the script underwent several rewrites -- allegedly, a through going over from Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliott and Spoonface Steinberg, and then a brief tickle from Emma Thompson -- and someone left a line in that made no sense.
The 2005 script misses out some of my favourite parts of the book -- much of the verbal sparring at Rosings and the attraction between Wickham and Elizabeth is given short shrift. They lose the lovely slapdown of Caroline Bingley at Pemberley too, and the poor Gardiners, who prove that Elizabeth has sensible relatives, barely get 10 lines each. Minor characters are chopped out, such as Maria Lucas, or else miscast (Col Fitzwilliam).
However, it manages the crucial confrontation between Darcy and Elizabeth pretty well. The adaptor is hamstrung by the fact that in the book, Darcy's explanations are given by letter. The 1995 version lived with that by using voiceover and flashback; the 2005 version uses more of this information in the open conflict and I think that works pretty well, even if it could have done with one more rewrite to remove some of the circularity of the argument.
And now to the most crucial question: how fabulously broody was Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy? The answer is 'fairly'. This was a younger Darcy than Colin Firth's in age and in manner, but he did the billowy shirt, lost-in-sexual-longing thing just as well, and they managed to get him wet via a rainstorm, which shows they know their audience. I read a review which described Darcy as one of English literature's Magnificent Bastards. I'm not sure MacFadyen quite managed those heights, but he was certainly pouty in a very alluring way.
In short, this version is thoroughly Hollywoodised, concentrating on the Romance, with a capital R. Everyone is frighteningly young (which they got right. Julia Sawalha was a marvellous Lydia but she looked five years too old and was 10 years too old). The countryside is like the top of a chocolate box and no one looks mucky. The BBC version is thoroughly British, concentrating on class, cash, status and smalltown gossip. People look mucky. Pigs get loose. Family are irritating and embarrassing. Love conquers all occasionally.
However, despite all caveats and nitpicking, I thoroughly enjoyed the new film.
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The X Factor is currently going through its audition stages and I am not sure I can bear to watch, for much the same reasons that I cannot bear to watch Pop Idol -- the levels of self-delusion that some people display are becoming upsetting. Sounding good in the shower does not make you Justin Timberlake. Even I sound good in the shower. Almost as upsetting is watching that toxic goblin Louis Walsh laughing at the delusional. Unlike Simon Cowell, he takes joy from puncturing some young hopeful's dreams of stardom. Cowell may be a rude bastard but there's little malice in it.
A good thing is that the songs these people are murdering are mostly songs that I don't give a shit about. For example, you're perfectly welcome to murder Amazed any time you like. I'll help you bury the corpse if it guarantees I need never hear anyone honking their way through that piece of sentimental cack one more time. (see also almost any boy band song, the back catalogue of Elton John)
One thing I noticed is how almost all the singers that they're putting through sound exactly the same -- pretty trills, R'n'B stylings, melismas, clenched-buttock hooting through the upper ranges.
I blame Whitney Houston (well, her and Mariah Carey). Somehow in the 90s it became obligatory for any balladeer to show how versatile their voice was by arsing about and woobling on every third note. It's all very clever but it doesn't *mean* anything if you don't listen to what you're singing. Jamie Cullum and all those new MOR singers do it as well. They sing as if the words are just a guide for what shape their mouth should be in at a certain point in the music. (I sometimes wonder whether [Bad username: Sharinlilbit's] boyfriend has been successful post-AI because even though he *can* warble and swoop and trill, he *doesn't* unless the song requires it and he sings as though he cares what the words mean)
So, I say to the new batch of contestants on The X Factor -- just because Whitney does it does not mean you have to do it. After all, Whitney spends a large amount of time off her tits on the Idiot Dust and gets her husband Bobby Brown to excavate her more troublesome colonic blockages with his finger and you don't think either of those are good things, do you?
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what song have you played most, according to the play count on your iPod/iTunes/winamp/whatever?
Of your newer acquisitions, which might make the top 10 most played?
Have you ever fiddled your playlist because you'd played something embarrassing a lot?
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As X Factor has exposed me to high levels of SongCrime over the past couple of weeks, I thought I'd post a few pieces of wonderful music that have helped me recover from the trauma.
Please listen to this if you have time. It is sublime and not a little scary:
Kitty Jay -- Seth Lakeman
This is from his Mercury Prize-nominated album Kitty Jay, a set of folk songs about his native Dartmoor that rocks in a way that folk usually ... does not
Harder to Walk These Days Than Run -- Karine Polwart
This is another somewhat political song from Polwart's album Faultlines of the kind that might appeal to comice, loosehorses or cofax7
Dare -- Gorillaz
Can you listen to this without dancing, and -- dare I say in my rather English way -- shaking your booty somewhat? If you answered 'yes', are you *dead*? There are few records not improved by Shaun William Ryder's appearance. In a sane world this would not be true.
Going Missing -- Maximo Park
This record begins with the lyric "I sleep with my arms across my chest" and a million Spike fangirl vidders reach for the clips file. Thankfully it's a shouty, driven guitar song that I can imagine The Buzzcocks singing. I think that perhaps musesfool, erehwesle, lenadances and maybe incorruptibles would like this.
And now, my favourite song *right now*, currently on about 22 plays on itunes...
My Very Best -- Elbow
Must we speak again of how much I adore the broken-hearted Guy Garvey? This is just gorgeous. And lastly...
Get off the Internet! -- Le Tigre
Which is really what I should do *g*