Monday, 30 July 2007

The Simpson's Movie; Heroes; Clapham Junction

A few non theatre related thoughts:

The Simpson’s Move

What a strange creature The Simpson’s Movie is. After 20 years on television, gaining worldwide recognition and universal praise, their arrival on the big screen (perhaps before the brand fades too much) seems just as hyped and cynical as all the other summer ‘blockbusters’ (i.e. rehashes, remakes and derivative crap). Unfortunately this feeling is borne out by the film itself, it has reduced the humour to constant slapstick jokes, rather than high quality gags and mild subversion (though there are funny moments, enough for a short episode perhaps). The main problem is the Simpson family themselves, they feature too heavily, the film has become a family parable and overly sentimental (of course the Simpson’s are sentimental). The Simpson’s never need to overtly justify their relationships in the TV series (apart from the normal range of loving/hateful discussions all families have), they are a just great family and we see them in their domestic Springfield setting, crucially with all the various characters who make up the town adding the storylines and incident. The film barley features all our favourites (Krusty, Principal Skinner, Apu, Mr Burns et al), and when they do appear it’s as very secondary characters. The plot is undemanding; ecological disaster strikes Springfield (caused by Homer, natch), President Schwarzenegger’s Government seals the town off with a glass dome and plans to bomb it out of existence, naturally the Simpson’s must save the day (after initially fleeing to Alaska), and Homer rises to the occasion and in doing so repairs his father-son relationship and his marriage. But it just never takes off; intermittently funny and highly disappointing (but to be fair, the television show has become disappointing too).


Watching the first two episodes of Heroes on BBC2, I was struck by the glossy feel and fast pace of it all. This was not a show where you could idly glance at your newspaper from time to time (yes, I do read the newspaper and watch TV at the same time occasionally, especially during Newsnight Review). Heroes is the new hot American import, and already has a cult following around the world. The plot is multi stranded, but all somehow linked (but please God, don’t turn into another Lost with one ludicrous turn after another. I was so glad when it went over to Sky so I didn’t have to watch it anymore), and all very compelling, blending sci-fi and thriller qualities. All the people we meet, around the globe (but mostly American or in the USA), are ordinary Joe’s going about their everyday lives, when they discover extraordinary power that can make them into heroes (though not all of them have become worthy of that soubriquet at present). It’s great fun watching a cheerleader run into a burning wreck to save a man, and then the next moment have an intriguing office type flying to save his suicidal brother. Although Heroes takes itself quite seriously, it does seem like a solid series (23 episodes, they know how to make em’ in the USA), which I will follow with interest.

Clapham Junction

Clapham Junction was also a big disappointment. Commissioned by Channel 4 as part of a season celebrating 40 years of the legalisation of two person (and no more) sex in private for males over the age of 21 (we can ‘celebrate’ just over 7 years for the equal age of consent for all sexes and sexualities). Well, Kevin Elyot’s two hour drama didn’t fell like much of a celebration to me. It was a tawdry trawl through all the ‘old’ prejudices imaginable, framed by deplorable violence towards gay men (which I have no problem in him highlighting). I felt it reinforced a negative image of gay people, they all were pretty sad characters, and the anti gay violence seemed rather besides the point (though by the end it was supposed to be serious and central, with a melancholy closing sequence behind the credits, showing a poor sensitive violin playing black boy’s violin smashed up in an underpass) when faced with these randy amoral gay types. It featured a top drawer cast of British talent (including Paul Nicholls and Rupert Graves), with possibly the most annoying and absurd dinner party ever shown on television. However, I’m not reviewing Clapham Junction, but the reviews of Clapham Junction. Many of the reviews make points about the programme that I agree with, and it’s always nice to read other peoples considered opinions whether you agree with them or not. But I was shocked by the ever so mildly homophobic comments that accompanied the reviews, it was my gay friends this, and gaydar that. Are gay people not part of mainstream society? Do they have to be referenced by straight journalists via gaydar and the grand media queens that these journos personally know? Would these reviewers take the few black people they might know and use them as a template to comment upon the entire range of the black community (‘this black guy I know doesn’t even have an accent, and he goes to dinner parties and everything!’)?

I noticed during The Simpson’s Movie, when two policemen kiss and head into a motel room (the briefest of scenes, a couple of seconds), groans and ‘ewwh’ was heard throughout the packed auditorium. I dare say that two gay men kissing amongst the local hard men on Shepherd’s Bush Green outside the cinema wouldn’t go down well either. Constantly on TV the worst thing, the most disgusting, is the thought of a straight man accidentally touching another man or any hint of homosexuality. So whilst gays might be accepted in certain ways on TV and in society, homosexuality is still as disgusting and repulsive to a huge section of the British public as it ever was (and I’m not saying that people should be delighted by homosexuality as a concept, just rather more neutral and accepting, you don’t constantly think about unappealing heterosexual situations and shudder now do you?). Gay is still a horrible word across much of the UK, and we are nowhere near equality as some of the cosy straight middle class press thinks. While being gay can’t be stated publicly, as being heterosexual can be, anywhere without fear or recriminations, equality is nowhere near.


Anonymous said...

Clapham Junction - your review of reviews. I didn't watch the drama, for many reasons. Firstly, life as a full time worker, a part-time writer and a full-on parent leaves minimal time for TV, and I'm currently doggedly working my way through the paper version of 'Bleak House'. Secondly, I don't think that I am the demographic that they were aiming for. Sex, relationship, sex, relationship fall-out, more sex. When you reach 40, you've either done all that already and have no need to see anybody else doing it or you're teeth-grittingly jealous for having missed out and don't want to see anybody else doing it. Thirdly, I am very reluctant to watch any programme that seems to 'represent' a minoritised community. For instance, I avoided 'Shoot the Messenger', the drama about a black man's breakdown and redemption because high blood pressure runs in my famiy and I've been doing all right so far. There are very few 'black' dramas/comedy out there, so for the majority of people who have very limited contact with black people such a programme may confirm existing stereotypes as there are no alternatives on view. Likewise 'Clapham Junction'.(Though I did enjoy 'Queer as Folk' as I was somewhat younger and envied the drug-addled hedonism...) In terms of reviews, and 'gay' language - I agree. There seems to be a need to roll out a gay friend to justify liberal credentials before writing a 'gay' review. Though, if it was a 'black-interest' programme, it would probably be palmed off on Gary Younge or Hannah Pool. Talking of the Guardian, this week's prize for gratuitous gay mention should go to Alex Petridis (I think) in last weeks's Style section in the Guardian in some surreal story involving Kenneth Haliwell, 'the homosexual playwright' Joe Orton and a safari jacket.

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