Month: March 2010

Shit My Girlfriend Watches: #1 Over The Rainbow

This man wants to see so much more of you

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that my girlfriend will watch pretty much anything with the following:

A judging panel – that must consist of:

  • A group of relevant professionals, or
  • A set of people who have some relevant experience of whatever it is they’re judging, or
  • A bunch of people who the public have heard of, who are willing to do the job if none of the above agree to appear on the panel, or
  • Anyone else, or worst case scenario
  • John Barrowman

This assortment of humans will have been brought together to  judge ability in the field of musical theatre, dancing, modelling, cooking or some other essential life skill.

Less importantly, any show must offer up a selection of as yet undiscovered, hopeful new talents, all of whom really want to go “as far as they can” and don’t ever want to “let the public down” but however they fare, they are really REALLY grateful to the public for “all their support” and no matter what anyone says, is doing this because “it’s all [they’ve] ever wanted to do”. Sometimes they have some shitty day job that they use as a means to appeal to us, so that we may intervene and save them from ever having to do it again. “I’m just a binman/checkout girl,” they might say. “Yes. Yes you are.”

The show will be fronted by a “flamboyant”/ageing/glamourous presenter, who will “throw” out to the panel, the contestants, and on some shows, an expert, who seems to have some power over any judging decisions, but it’s never clear how much (cos that’d blow the tension).

Whatever, whenever this expert is called on to make a decision, it’s always “really tough” and regardless of who has to go “home”, it’s always great that they’ve come “such a long way”.  OK, enough quoting.

Over The Rainbow is the third, fourth or possibly fifth application of a format that has sought to trawl the public (performing arts schools) for some new talent and inject them into the world of musical theatre. So far, this has worked quite well, with previous outings having found new leading ladies for Oliver!, Sound Of Music and er, Joseph And His/Her Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  And I’m sure it’ll work wonders for Dorothy/Wizard Of Oz, even though there are, like, two songs in it that Dorothy actually sings.

My problem with it is that it’s just dressed up musical performance. Which is fine, but the songs, the arrangements are always pretty average, and familiar! So many of the songs have been showcased on other talent shows that it’s hard to remember sometimes which show you’re watching.

What’s left is split between overly explanatory VTs about how hard the training is (duh) and even more obvious, how much the contestants “WANT THIS”, and the judges trying desperately to offer criticism that doesn’t offend in any way. And by the end of these series, there is virtually nothing negative said about anything. Everyone is brilliant, and has come “such a long way”. Zzzzzzz.

Now, admittedly I don’t have an awful lot of experience of TV production, but I know enough to see patterns in how stuff is made, and as these shows don’t really stray from their formats at all, I find them frustrating to watch. I’ve not enjoyed any talent show since Faking It, but I totally get their appeal.

My girlfriend actually WORKS in TV production, but she also LOVES musical theatre, so despite the utter familiarity of Over The Rainbow, she laps up the performances and whatever edited filler they’re bookended with, and somehow, the need to grind a layer of enamel off her molars escapes her.

Basically, the show feels like so much more lazy, tired, melodramatic, manipulative, cynical Saturday night shiny floor guff, and I am mostly alone in thinking this, and it makes me sad.

That said, I spent the duration of the show watching a kind of Ace Ventura’s Greatest Hits, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

The book/film quandry

OK, here’s the dilemma. The adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo hits cinemas on Friday. So, do I rush through the book in time to see the film, or read the book afterwards (assuming I feel the need to)?

Perhaps this raises the question of why would anyone even want to read a book after having seen the film. Well, given the amount of praise lavished on both the book and film, the chances are I might want to read it after. Here’re my thoughts as to why:

Film adaptations are a tricky thing, but good ones pretty much rely on the strength of the source material. I can’t think of many examples of mediocre books that get adapted for screen (Flashforward might count, but the show is more of a re-imagining).

My reasons for not having read Tattoo yet are a) because it’s now impossible to avoid the hype around the book and b), I hate the looks that commuters and the like give when I read something popular. That’s right, their screwed up eyes and knowing looks are stunting my literary appreciations. Damn them!

Obviously it depends on the film, but reading a book afterwards can serve several functions:

1) It can clarify points that don’t come across too well in the film
2) It offers a chance to spend a little more time in that world and its characters (Frank Herbert’s Dune being an extreme but prime example)
3) It can often serve as a kind of literary DVD extra, providing background details on aspects that the film couldn’t or wouldn’t cover (Let The Right One In is a good case in point)

Here are a couple of examples of books that actually add something to their film adaptations.

No Country For Old Men
Well, actually, this doesn’t add anything to its film adaptation, but that’s pretty much the point here (or anti-point); comparing film and book confirms how slavishly the Coens stuck to the source. Apparently, when asked how they went about adapting the book, the Coens describe the process as one of them reading aloud while the other types. It’s intended as a joke, but that approach definitely comes out in the reading/viewing. In the most positive way, the book is exactly like the film, almost page for page, and it’s interesting to see that play out.

Let The Right One In
The questions raised in the film made me immediately want to read the book. And the book answers those questions. But these do not rise out of poor storytelling. There’s a definite effort to credit the viewer with the intelligence to puzzle over some of the story. I imagine that reading the book first might make for a slightly less enchanting viewing of the film, but then that can be said of most film adaptations.

In fact, for its intended audience, Let The Right One In feels like a film that’s designed to compliment the book instead of offer an easier way to consume its story. There’s a neat connect in what you can take from the film, which sustains it easily without giving everything away, and how you can “go further” with the book, which gives you the whole story. It’s almost certainly accidental, but I would love to see more of this approach in adapting books for the screen.

Generally though, film adaptations are forced to leave out reams of detail to fit the format, and they’re destined to fall short of the expectations of avid readers ([don’t] See Time Traveller’s Wife, The Lovely Bones etc).

All of which means that there are no solid conclusions to be drawn. Bad stories can make good films or TV. Amazing books can make for poor movies. Generally, the book tells the stronger story, except when it doesn’t… and that every now and then, a film manages to take everything that mattered about the book, and leave out just enough to make you want to read it anyway.

Which is either the product of a true artist, or a twisted genius (neither of which have gone anywhere near the Predator novelisation).