Baby Driver, John Adams & Christmas TV

Caught about fifteen minutes of a programme on Channel 5 featuring Rustie Lee, Joe Pasquale, Richard Coles, and a woman I don’t recognise. All of them embarking on a trip to Lapland to ‘find’ Santa Claus.

Very low-rent. A sort of Real Marigold Hotel on Tour but without the retirement premise or the budget. Utterly absorbing. Had to stop myself from watching it live – wanted to save it for a bit of daytime viewing. Perfect Christmas TV ‘filler’.

For all the bleating about there not being enough to watch on television at Christmas, and the embarrassing hand-wringing some broadcast organisations do about viewing figures being down on previous years, I do wonder whether people overlook what the real joy of Christmas television has always been.

Flicking through the Radio Times at Christmas time was never about finding excellent programming which had to be watched. It was always about responding to the programme listings and seeing what could fill-up the hours of free time the school holidays afforded. That meant taking a risk on things, often seeing comparatively simpler offerings – some of it cheesy, most of it quite cheap. I wonder whether we’ve overlooked that original joy.

In the space of only a few years, we’ve all become incredibly fussy about what we watch, ranking big budget productions as a safer bet over lower-budget affairs.

I loved the first season of The Crown on Netflix and assumed I’d binge this Christmas on the second season. Two episodes into the second season and the shine has rubbed off a bit. The drama seems a little flabby. There’s an arrogance to the story arc in each episode as though someone somewhere is saying “This will do – all they want is nostalgia.” Big budget doesn’t necessarily mean better. So if there’s no guarantee of quality, why not stop being so precious about the need for ‘quality’ and take a risk? That way you’re managing your expectations and leaving yourself open to being surprised at the outcome.

Baby Driver: a two-hour film for a bitesize generation

Later, we watched Baby Driver on Sky. The direction, editing created a symphonic kind of storytelling. Efficient. Punchy.

A two-hour film for a generation brought-up on bitesize content.

Baby’s fascination with the rhythmic patterns of everyday speech, his curation of source material, and creative excursions made me think of Bela Bartok’s work traversing Eastern Europe collecting folk songs, and more recently John Adams’ work with tape loops.

In addition to the obvious musical references in the string of montages throughout the film, music was celebrated for the power it has to focus the mind and stoke the imagination.


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Film: Burning Fiery Furnace (1967)

The 1967 Decca recording produced by John Culshaw at Orford Church in Suffolk features in a black and white documentary film made by Tony Palmer and Humphrey Burton and narrated by Culshaw himself. The film was screened at the Rest is Noise Britten Weekend today.

The film explains Culshaw’s recording techniques producing Britten’s Burning Fiery Furnace in stereo and combines a typically meticulous and often low-key Britten working with key musical personalities in his circle. Osian Ellis, percussionist James Blades (his pieces to camera are at times quite creepy although his repeated reference to ‘Mr Britten’ and his smart turnout are rather charming) plus a young Keith Majoram (later principle bass in the English Symphony Orchestra) all feature. Read More

Filming underway for Disney’s production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods

An interview in today’s Guardian with actor James Corden about the TV programme he’s currently promoting ahead of its launch on 24 September – The Wrong Mans – has led to an exciting personal discovery: Disney is shooting a live-action film of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant Into the Woods.

Disney’s live-action production of Into the Woods was announced at the D23 Expo back in August.

Back in August at D23 Expo (left), Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production President (that’s got to be an impressive title to rattle off at cocktail parties) Sean Bailey announced the cast for Disney’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Rehearsals were already underway at that stage, with filming at Shepperton studios scheduled for late August/early September.

The cast list is impressive. James Corden is playing the lead role of The Baker opposite Meryl Streep as The Witch, no mean feat given that a great many Sondheimites will no doubt compare the film version with the seminal performance given by Bernadette Peters on stage.

Very good to see Brit-born Tracey Ullman in the role of Jack’s Mother. So too the hapless but lovable princes played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.


The original cast recording of Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the Woods is available via Spotify

Film: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Lots of friends have commented positively on Moonrise Kingdom since it’s release last year. Much of that enthusiasm has reminded me of those I know who still harbour fond memories of Aldeburgh echoed in the music of Benjamin Britten used heavily in the soundtrack in the film written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.

What undoubtedly benefited the film was that it’s publicity has been seemingly low-key and reverential both to the film and the music. Old-fashioned word of mouth has distributed the buzz instead – at least it has where I’ve been concerned.

It’s a Swallows and Amazons type tale of derring-do featuring a girl and a boy – equally ‘individual’ – in a charming story told through a series of series tableaux enhanced with judicious use of nostalgia for 1960s America. Quite apart from the absorbing performances from the two leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward – beautifully cast such that we are fascinated and ultimately empathise by the oddness of the two children – the real surprise for me was Bruce Willis’ performance: the man can actually act, it seems.

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Film: Les Miserables (2012)

A few weeks after general release, I get to see Les Miserables at Greenwich Picturehouse.

A tremendous production – arguably the best musical theatre transfer there’s been (Phantom was dire). The consensus amongst our party was that the band seemed quiet, possibly a little too distant in the mix. That said, Hugh Jackman’s performance undoubtedly stole the show, with Mamma Mia lead Amanda Seyfried deservedly taking the virtual applause (unlike some other screenings, the Greenwich crowd didn’t applaud this evening). Russell Crowe collects the award for sounding like a foghorn throughout.