Archives for June 2018

The Handmaid’s Tale: the future of television.

The Hand­maid­’s Tale.

In the first decade of the new mil­len­ni­um the music indus­try was destroyed, felled in a sin­gle strike by Nap­ster. Sud­den­ly, indeed overnight, every song that had ever been record­ed was freely avail­able over the internet.

Tra­di­tion­al media was a thing of the past, and any day now, tele­vi­sion, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and all of those oth­er relics of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry would like­wise be con­signed to the dust­bin of history.

The Nap­ster him­self, Sean Parker.

But as we move into the third decade of the new cen­tu­ry, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines are still around, TV is thriv­ing and even the music indus­try is actu­al­ly doing rather nice­ly, albeit in a dimin­ished form.

There are two per­spec­tives on the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. One says that the future is dig­i­tal, and every­thing else is doomed to go the way of vinyl. The oth­er slight­ly more nuanced view goes as fol­lows; we all have a cer­tain amount of mon­ey that we enjoy spend­ing on stuff. All the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion does is to change the way that we dis­trib­ute what­ev­er that sum is, by adding a new out­let to chan­nel those funds into.

So if you had a cer­tain amount of mon­ey that you looked for­ward to spend­ing on cds in any giv­en year, the fact that any album you might be inter­est­ed in is now freely avail­able on the inter­net will very prob­a­bly mean that you now spend lit­tle or none of that cash on actu­al cds.

The hand­maids.

You’ll still spend that mon­ey on the music indus­try though. It’ll just be on going to gigs, on down­loads or on mer­chan­dise, say on a rare, deluxe cd boxset, or on a vinyl edi­tion of an orig­i­nal recording.

Indeed, what all the research shows is that you’ll very prob­a­bly spend more than you used to now, whether that be on music, film, tele­vi­sion or pub­lish­ing. As the inter­net cre­ates fur­ther syn­er­gies for all of the oth­er medi­ums, in much the same way that tele­vi­sion, and then video and cable did for cin­e­ma, in the 50s, 70s and 80s. Hav­ing access, in oth­er words, to all that free music just makes you want to spend even more of your mon­ey on music than you used to, before every­thing was avail­able for free.

Ama­zon’s Seat­tle bookstore.

The same thing has hap­pened in pub­lish­ing. When ebooks began to take off about ten years ago, the death of the print­ed book was con­fi­dent­ly pre­dict­ed and was, more over, a mat­ter of days and weeks.

But ten years on, ebooks have plateaued and been super­seded by audio books. Nei­ther of which, we now realise, are going to replace the print­ed word. Rather, ebooks and audio books are an added source of rev­enue for a reju­ve­nat­ed pub­lish­ing indus­try. And it’s not just the indus­try that’s bounc­ing back. Inde­pen­dent book stores are expe­ri­enc­ing a mini renais­sance as well. Indeed, the big bad wolf itself, Ama­zon, has start­ed open­ing up its own bricks and mor­tar, actu­al phys­i­cal books stores.

Most obvi­ous­ly of all, tele­vi­sion is alive and well and boom­ing. Which isn’t to say that the dig­i­tal effect has been neg­li­gi­ble. Far from it, dig­i­tal has com­plete­ly dis­rupt­ed every con­ceiv­able cor­ner of the media land­scape. So that the way that we now watch, read and lis­ten to films, tele­vi­sion, music, the radio, books, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines has been com­plete­ly trans­formed. It’s just that none of them are about to dis­ap­pear any time soon.

Apple’s view of the future.

If you want to see what the future of tele­vi­sion is, all you have to do is look at screen size. Mobiles want to be smart phones, smart phones want to be lap­tops, lap­tops want to be desk­tops, desk­tops want to be TVs and TVs want to be cin­e­mas­cope. Every­thing is get­ting big­ger, not small­er. And all con­tent is fol­low­ing suit, and is try­ing per­pet­u­al­ly to move in the same direc­tion. How many TV stars do you know that dream of one day being on the internet?

Try watch­ing the Handmaid’s Tale and see how you feel. Of course you could watch it on your lap­top, or even on your mobile. But as you do so, you’ll have this increas­ing itch to see it on a prop­er screen and with a grown-up sound sys­tem. So you can real­ly lux­u­ri­ate in the tac­tile sound of an old fash­ioned foun­tain pen, as it scrawls and scrapes its ital­ic script clum­si­ly across the fibres of an actu­al piece of old fash­ioned paper. And you can pick

out with pleas­ing clar­i­ty the dusky book cov­ers as the Com­man­der runs his fin­ger lov­ing­ly over their cor­ners, as he appears from the depths of the shad­ows to gaze greed­i­ly on his mahogany bookcase.

Eliz­a­beth Moss and Joseph Fiennes square off.

And the peo­ple who make the best tele­vi­sion, and the tele­vi­sion being made at the moment is some of the best that’s ever been made, the Handmaid’s Tale being a case in point, feel exact­ly the same way about mak­ing their pro­grammes as we do about watch­ing them.

Nobody’s going to choose to watch some­thing on a lap­top if giv­en the choice of see­ing it on a 32 inch tele­vi­sion. And no-one’s going to be sat­is­fied with watch­ing it on that 32 inch screen if offered the chance to see it on a 55 inch one. Television’s not dead. On the con­trary, it’s get­ting big­ger and bigger.

You can see the trail­er of the Handmaid’s Tale here.

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Habaneros, BBC doc on the Cuban revolution.

Havaneros — You Say You Want a Revolution.

Habaneros, the BBC’s bril­liant new doc­u­men­tary chart­ing the his­to­ry of Cuba, com­pletes an unlike­ly come­back for Julian Tem­ple, one time enfant ter­ri­ble of British cinema.

Tem­ple shot to fame in 1980, when he doc­u­ment­ed the rapid rise and demise of the Sex Pis­tols in The Great Rock and Roll Swin­dle. In it, Mal­colm McLaren clev­er­ly presents him­self as the evil Sven­gali pulling all the strings, and the brains, there­fore, behind the band’s success.

On the back of which, Tem­ple was hand­ed the reigns on Absolute Begin­ners in 1985, which duly became the most expen­sive film ever made in Britain, and which was sup­posed to have estab­lished Gold­crest as a rival for the big Hol­ly­wood stu­dios across the pond.

Absolute Begin­ners.

Instead of which, the film bombed, the quote stu­dio unquote crashed – aid­ed by the dis­as­ter that was the Al Paci­no vehi­cle Rev­o­lu­tion – and Tem­ple depart­ed with his tail between his legs in the gen­er­al direc­tion of the Hol­ly­wood hills.

One of the pecu­liar­i­ties of the film indus­try is that it is always bet­ter to have made some­thing, any­thing, how­ev­er vac­u­ous, than to have more pru­dent­ly done noth­ing at all. So once there, they gave him more mon­ey to make his sec­ond fea­ture, the instant­ly for­get­table Earth Girls Are Easy, from ‘88. He spent the next decade mak­ing equal­ly for­get­table if impres­sive­ly expen­sive music videos for big name artists like the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, The Kinks and David Bowie.

The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.

But his unlike­ly come­back began in 2000 with The Filth and the Fury, his well-received Pis­tols doc which went some­way to cor­rect­ing the bias­es of his ear­li­er ven­ture. While in 2015, he made the Ecsta­sy of Wilko John­son, one of the many, many impec­ca­ble Sto­ryville docs that BBC4 has been pro­duc­ing over the last decade (reviewed ear­li­er here). And now this, once again under the aus­pices of the BBC, this mag­is­te­r­i­al doc chart­ing the his­to­ry of Cuba over the past hun­dred years or so.

The first half of Habaneros charts the his­to­ry of Cuba in the run up to the rev­o­lu­tion in ’59. The repeat­ed inter­fer­ence of the US through­out the first half of the cen­tu­ry, which even­tu­al­ly pro­duced the Batista rev­o­lu­tion in 1933. But he quick­ly proved him­self to be every bit as cor­rupt as the regime he’d revolt­ed against, and he and his acolytes bled the island dry before retir­ing to Flori­da in ’44. But he returned once more in ’52 when he was re-installed as a US pup­pet – imag­ine that, a US backed mil­i­tary coup to over­throw a demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed for­eign gov­ern­ment. Who’d have thunk it.


But in ‘56, the exiled Fidel Cas­tro sailed back to the island with 81 troops, only to be imme­di­ate­ly ambushed on land­ing. Just the 12 of them sur­vived, flee­ing in des­per­a­tion for the hills of the Sier­ra Maes­tra, with the sum total of sev­en rifles between them. But in what must sure­ly be the most unlike­ly suc­cess­ful rev­o­lu­tion ever embarked upon, just three years lat­er he and Che Gue­vara marched tri­umphant­ly into Havana on News Year’s Day of 1959, hav­ing tak­en con­trol of the entire island.

This first half of the film is undoubt­ed­ly the more live­ly of the two, as Tem­ple bril­liant­ly mix­es media, telling the breath­less sto­ry of the lead up to the rev­o­lu­tion through a mon­tage of care­ful­ly cho­sen inter­views, archive footage and ani­ma­tion, on to which he super­im­pos­es news­pa­per and mag­a­zine pages that com­ment on the visu­als and voice over underneath.

The sec­ond half then fol­lows the his­to­ry of the island in the wake of that rev­o­lu­tion, from the Bay of Pigs, to the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis, the cold war and the even­tu­al col­lapse of the Sovi­et bloc in the‘90s, which result­ed in their sole source of fund­ing dis­ap­pear­ing into the ether.

Viva la revolucion!

As scrupu­lous­ly fair as you’d expect from one of the many projects over­seen by the peer­less Alan Yen­tob, the sec­ond half is inevitably less excit­ing than the pre-rev­o­lu­tion­ary fer­vour that pre­cedes it. As on the one hand, the rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ues to be cel­e­brat­ed by some, who right­ly point to the hero­ic resis­tance that the island has main­tained against the avari­cious inter­fer­ence and oafish grand­stand­ing of its bul­ly­ing neigh­bour to the West. And on the oth­er, there are all those who lament how inevitably dis­ap­point­ing that rev­o­lu­tion proved to be for the lives that so many of the islanders were forced to live.

It’s a bril­liant film, intox­i­cat­ing­ly so in its first half, and every­one involved, espe­cial­ly Tem­ple, should take a very deep bow.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month, on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!