“Independent film” brings to mind noble concepts like “integrity”, “vision”, “self-expression” and “sacrifice”. It evokes the image of struggling young filmmakers maxing out their credit cards to pay their actors and crews, who work long hours for little or no compensation because they believe in what they’re doing… Although there is more than a little truth to this conventional notion, it’s important to remember that it’s not the whole truth. Life in the indie world can be nasty, brutish and short. It was once said, if Hollywood is like the Mafia, indies are like the Russian mob. In both cases, the bad guys will cap the good guys, but in Hollywood they do it with a certain degree of finesse – they send a basket of fruit over for your assistant afterward – while the indies just whack you – and your wife and kids for good measure. In the studio world, you’re imprisoned in a gilded cage. In the indie world, you’re in the hole, which is darker, dirtier, and a lot smaller. With less at stake, fewer spoils, little food and water , the fighting is all the more ferocious, and when times are tough, the rats (let’s be nice – the mice) feed on one another. And, because there’s no place to run, there’s neither respite nor recourse. People get away with even worse behaviour than they do in Hollywood.

Peter Biskind, “Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance & the Rise of Independent Film”. 

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Van in vain

Not a night to remember. From my review of Van Morrison at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival:

If you love vintage blues and jazz, you may have mixed feelings about Van Morrison’s desire to dig through the archives and pay homage to the songs of his youth. In one respect, it surely has to be a Good Thing: three minutes of Van the Man singing Cole Porter will reach a far bigger audience than three tons of scribblings by any well-meaning journalist. After all, this music will survive only if people actually keep playing it.

Yet when a performance is this perfunctory and slapdash you have to wonder who benefits. Morrison slotted some sprightly themes into this set in the Cheltenham Jazz Festival’s Big Top – songs from the new album, You’re Driving Me Crazy, were well to the fore – yet his vocals were so limited and monotonous that, for a neutral at least, this show became a test of endurance. His alto sax playing was equally flat-footed. By the time he left the stage, his hard-working band – with MD Paul Moran doubling up on keyboards and trumpet – had generated enough energy to win an impassioned ovation from the audience. But strip away the mystique and the memories of Astral Weeks, and you were left wondering what the hardcore fans were actually applauding.

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These were the days when announcers wore dinner jackets in the evenings, and he explains this practice: “In the evening most of the people of our sort did change into dinner jackets, if they weren’t wearing white ties and going to a really grand dinner party. And the people who came to speak, who gave the talks, very often in the evening had evening dress themselves. So it would have rather odd in a way to encounter some person who was representing the BBC, who gave them a drink afterwards, and that sort of thing, if they weren’t wearing the same kind of rig-out.”

But Grisewood, who moved into Programme Planning in 1936, does not deny that in the 1930s the BBC was predominately stuffy and narrow-minded. He cites Basil Nicolls objecting to his being seen in public with a friend who wore a pink shirt, remarking that this was “not BBC”, and he tells how Ogilvie, the then Director-General, suggested that the Nazis could be persuaded to stop persecuting the Jews if the BBC broadcast “Beatrice Harrison playing the cello in the woods, so that the nightingale would sing for her” – this was a famous programme at the time. When Grisewood expressed astonishment, Ogilvie replied: “The Germans are very sentimental about the nightingale; it might persuade them to take a more peaceful view.”

Humphrey Carpenter, “The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3”.

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Words on parade at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

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Menopausal madness

The grumpy old women are back on the road, and Dillie Keane is back in the line-up. My Times review:

The franchise is well into late middle age now — 13 years have passed since Jenny Eclair and friends first went on the road with their catalogue of menopausal woes — but the concept is still in pretty good health. Yes, the script of the latest incarnation, To the Rescue, carries a bit of padding around the middle. Yet Eclair and her team instinctively know how to bond with their audience, and the return of one of the original members of the Grumpy ensemble, Dillie Keane, adds a layer of louche sophistication to the jokes about flatulence, condiments and the mysteries of internet dating. As anyone who has seen Fascinating Aïda will know, Keane is one of our finest yet most under-rated comic talents. That plummy voice can convey the squeak of authentic, four-in-the-morning distress, as well as the booming sound of the most self-satisfied of ageing alpha males.

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Memory hole

The most chilling sentence I’ve read in some time. From “Mao’s Great Famine”, Frank Dikötter’s book about the millions who died in The Great Leap Forward.

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Virtuosity isn’t everything

From Peter Jones’ new biography of Mark Murphy, role model to many a jazz singer.

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