Sunday 9th December 2012
We watched the 1986 Nora Ephron film "Heartburn" tonight. The best thing you can say about it is that if you're ever on Pointless and are asked for films featuring Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and (definitely) Kevin Spacey, this will be a good shot at a pointless answer. Ephron was clearly a great writer and a witty person, but this autobiographical examination of a marriage with an unfaithful husband is unengaging and languorous and a signal lesson to any writer that whilst real life can be a great inspiration, if you're too close to something you can't always show the full picture. I didn't care about or like any of the characters and it seemed to judder from scene to scene with little purpose or clarity. There was a massively long section where Jack and Meryl tried to come up with songs about babies (or that just included the word baby). Perhaps it was meant to be charming and funny (and perhaps it was when it happened to Nora and her husband in real life), but it was just odd. It became funny because it went on for so long, especially after in the first fifteen minutes the film had jumped from the couple meeting, dating, sleeping together and getting married. I actually wondered if the rest of the film might be the couple just badly remembering and singing songs involving the word baby. I would have quite liked that. I might try and write a film that is just that. Start off by giving the impression that there's going to be a story and then it's just two people trying to remember songs for 90 minutes. Ultimately it felt like a half-arsed attempt at creating a Woody Allen film (with many of the actors he uses), but they'd forgotten to put any jokes in and you had no sympathy for any of the characters (so like most of the later Woody Allen films). Ah well, you probably weren't going to watch it anyway.
And then we watched Dan Snow trying to discover the Rome's Lost Empire with an archaeologist (Sarah Parcak) who excitingly used satellite images to discover ancient sites. I think the history and the futuristic scientific techniques might have made this documentary interesting enough, but the BBC decided to make it appear like a cross between Torchwood and the Da Vinci code, with people walking around in long coats and using big touchscreen wall mounted computers (I suspect they were just TVs with a video running and touching the screen was for show) and having them working in spookily lit rooms with wind machines making curtains billow in the distance.
At the start Snow went to America to meet Parcak and asks her if she will come with him to discover the Roman Empire, as if this wasn't soemthing that was obviously preplanned and established. Again I thought it might have been a better documentary if she'd said, "Oh, no, sorry. I've got some stuff on." And he'd said, "Oh right, shit. Well that's the end of the show then. Thanks for watching."
I am all for making history accessible and trying to make nerds and academics look sexy (mainly because that is unnecessary and impossible, so it's funny to see someone making the attempt), but this all jarred a bit with me. Using satellites to find archaeology was an exciting enough idea for me. I am looking forward to the time that satellites will actually be able to view the past (it's got to be possible - if we can send them far enough into space at over the speed of light and have really sophisticated long range cameras and we can get them to transmit back their signals faster than the speed of light - get to work scientists you can have that idea for free), but this will have to do for the moment. And there's no need to lie and say that the lighthouse at Portus is one of the lost wonders of the world (that's the Lighthouse at Alexandria surely?)
I am not saying that all documentaries have to be presented by fusty and dry academics, nor that they should not be entertaining and it's great to see a subject like this on (more or less) prime time TV and up against the X Factor. But you don't have to compete against the X Factor on its own stupid terms. The BBC does fantastic work with keeping stuff entertaining and educational without pandering to a demographic that they're never going to attract (Mary Beard is a fine example of this). This whole thing seemed to be an expensive way of saying, "Fuck you Time Team, with your weirdy beardy men, grubbing around in soil - we've got sexy people in fucking space!"
I like Dan Snow and I liked Sarah Parcek and her work. I could have done without the billowing curtain in the expensively lit science lab hub.
But there's a good chance I am just jealous that Dan Snow is so tall and sexy and wish that the BBC would employ more tiny, fat, hairy hobbit men to talk about history!
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