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Thu, 8 Sep 2011

The Tudors

I know, it's TV. And is therefore crap by default. But I started watching it, under the misapprehension that Henry VIII was played by The Blessèd Brian. I was wrong, he instead appears in Henry 8.0, which, incidentally, is jolly good and you should watch it.

But The Tudors is pretty good too. So far I've only watched the first series, and I do expect it to go downhill in subsequent ones, but overall it was enjoyable, and I recommend it. While there are some "departures from history", it is overall reasonably accurate, in particular in its portrayal of the King and his confidantes Wolsey, Cromwell, and the clever, erudite but nasty "saint" Thomas More. How you can declare someone to be saintly when he imprisoned people merely for their beliefs or who approved of burning people to death is beyond me. I suppose it requires the same sort of perverted mindset that thinks it's OK to hide rapists.

It was only spoilt a teensy bit for me by some glaring anachronisms, all of which could have been avoided without changing the story one iota:

  • there's a shot of St Peter's church in Rome, complete with dome, in episode 2, but it's clearly of the new St Peters. The dome wasn't completed until 80 years later. They've used CGI for lots of views of Whitehall Palace, so there's no reason they couldn't have done the same for St Peters;
  • episode 3 contains some large sheets of flawless glass, made using a process not invented until the 1950s;
  • in episode 9, the King is playing "Greensleeves" on a lute. It is not thought to have been written until the reign of his daughter Elizabeth, and especially not the version he was playing, which was a melody from Vaughan Williams's 1934 "Fantasia on Greensleeves";
  • all church interiors date from, at the earliest, the reign of Henry's son Edward. We know this because they have plain white walls devoid of the colourful murals, decorations, painted statues etc that festooned mediaeval English Catholic churches.

Do I win a gold star for pedantry?

Posted at 21:15 by David Cantrell
keywords: culture | geeky | tv
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Wed, 23 Sep 2009

Review: Civilisation, by Kenneth Clark

[originally posted 13 Sept 2009]

I'm going back in time. I started off by watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", which was inspired partly by Bronowski's "Ascent of Man", which I then watched. In turn, Bronowski's series was made as a reaction and follow-up to Clark's "Civilisation".

Both Cosmos and Ascent of Man were enjoyable surveys of their subject, and while I have a few minor factual quibbles and found both presenters slightly irritating, they pale in comparison to Civilisation.

I've only watched the first episode of 13 so far, but it's just awful. Sure, Bronowski also had some rather quaint 1970s views, but Clark's aren't just quaint, they're also Dead Wrong. And not the kind of Wrong that comes from being from a less advanced time and where we now know better. To take one example, he presents Islam as being an utterly anti-artistic and anti-civilisation movement, ignoring what was well known at his time, that cities like Damascus and Baghdad were centres of art and learning, and even if we only look at Europe he's still ignoring the Alhambra.

He's also terribly inconsistent. One moment he's telling us that the Vikings were uncivilised because (amongst other things) they didn't have books, the next he's going on about how the Icelandic Sagas are some of the greatest works to ever be written. And after slagging off Islam for being anti-artistic, he then goes on to compare Celtic illuminated manuscripts to ... Islamic art. Wrongly. Apparently, Celtic art is better because the lines were closer together or something. It's odd that Bronowski's series was not about art, but did a better job of at least explaining the complexities, constraints, passion and feeling of Islamic art than this expert ever did. I wonder what other stupid errors and contradictions he's going to spout in his horribly annoying voice.

Clark was apparently "one of the best-known art historians of his generation". No wonder the arts are treated with such disdain by modernity if he's the best scholar and spokesman they can come up with.

Update: in episode 2 he calls science a religion. I shall now file him under "wilful idiots", along with creationists and Labour voters.

Update, episode 3: did you know that the Romans didn't know love? Clark thought so. Catullus would have disagreed, but what would he know, he was only a man from a fallen civilisation.

Update: in episode 6 when decrying Protestantism and the Reformation, he goes on at length about "the northern spirit" and compares Protestants to the nomadic barbarians he so incorrectly calumnied earlier. "One can't point to a single piece of specifically protestant architecture or sculpture, which shows just how much these expressions of civilisation depended on the catholic church". Just plain wrong. There's nothing inherently Catholic about, eg, Chartres cathedral, which he raves about so much, any more than there is anything inherently Protestant about the new Coventry cathedral. Likewise all Catholic sculpture (aside from perhaps some sculptures of popes) can be found a place in Protestant churches and societies. He also, in passing, says that Luther was the sort of leader figure that the Germans so love. What an appalling little man.

Update: Half way through watching episode 7 I had all kinds of rude things to write - about it being a paean to catholicism, that it sneered so at the arts and civilisation of the Reformation, and so on. But then Clark redeemed himself by also rubbishing catholic baroque, pointing out that it was mostly the product of personal greed and vanity, and that "no good ever came from thoughts in enormous rooms". He's still a bloody Philistine, of course, especially because of his ridiculous statements about film being an inferior medium, but even so - bravo!

Posted at 21:49 by David Cantrell
keywords: culture | tv
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Sat, 7 Feb 2009

The Genius of Charles Darwin

So having watched Richard Dawkins's "The Root of All Evil?", I decided to watch another of his series. This time I chose "The Genius of Charles Darwin", hoping that it would be rather better than the previous programme. I was hoping for a clear explanation of Darwin's theory and why it is correct. Sadly, the explanations were dumbed down, the arguments simplistic and hence full of holes, and - surprise surprise - he spent at least as much time talking about religion as he did about Charles Darwin's genius. Bleah.

This time, unlike previously, there's no choice as to who gets the Punch In The Face award. It's Dawkins. Not for being smug and propagandistic this time, but for doing such a piss-poor job of presenting a fascinating subject. And again, the person I'd want to have a drink with is a CofE bishop, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. He has a lovely voice and a beard that is clearly designed for filtering twigs out of proper cider.

Anyway, that's the last review of Dawkins.TV. Writing bad reviews is no fun.

Update: one last brief observation - David Attenborough's programme "Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life" is the programme that Dawkins should have made. Watch it. It's great.

Posted at 20:45 by David Cantrell
keywords: tv
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Tue, 3 Feb 2009

The Root of All Evil?

I recently watched Richard Dawkins's two-part series from a couple of years ago "The Root Of All Evil?" about religion and its place in society.

I'm afraid that, while I think Dawkins was right about just about everything, it wasn't very satisfying. There was very much a feeling of "preaching to the choir". There's no way that it would convince a critical viewer who wasn't already an atheist. Dawkins made sure that except for one brief segment all (and I mean all) the religious people he interviewed were from the, umm, lunatic fringe of their faiths, and really obviously so. None of them tried (presumably because they couldn't) to justify why they reject various bits of the scriptures - eg, the ones who thought killing doctors and adulterers and shunning homosexuals was good obviously rejected "love your neighbour", but didn't say why. That one brief segment was mostly Dawkins agreeing with the bishop of Oxford, while still legitimately pointing out that the bishop was rejecting scripture selectively, and not giving the bishop much time to expand on his thoughts about why he rejected the bits of scripture about stoning unbelievers while keeping "love your neighbour".

Without fair interviews with main-stream thinkers in proper churches, the piece comes across as being in places smug, and in others a strident propagandist attack, and I'm afraid that people these days are far too cynical to simply swallow propaganda from a smug bastard. If Dawkins is so sure of himself, presumably he thinks he can out-argue the mainstream, so why didn't he? The obvious answer, of course, is that it wouldn't be as visceral as the loonies - it would be more Open University than Channel 4.

Of all the people in the programme, the one I'd most want to have a drink with is the bishop of Oxford. It's a toss-up which one I'd most want to punch in the face, whether it's Dawkins or Ted Haggard.

Update: on further reflection, it would be Haggard. Dawkins is an old man and it would be about as much of a challenge as mugging a five year old, whereas Haggard could fight back with those teeth.

Posted at 22:45 by David Cantrell
keywords: culture | tv
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Sun, 2 Nov 2008

Dead Set

I just finished watching Dead Set, the zombie version of Big Brother. I can't say much more than "it was FUCKING AWESOME".

If you didn't catch it on the telly, then you need to buy the DVD.

OK, so I lied. I can say more.

It's a modern take on the classic zombie film such as Dawn Of The Dead, in which a bunch of survivors of a zombie outbreak hole up in a make-shift fortified compound. In this case, the survivors are some of the contestantsmorons and crew of Big Brother, a voyeuristic TV series in which the contestants are locked away from the world for an extended period while perverts watch them through cameras hidden behind one-way glass. Normally, basing a high quality drama on such rubbish wouldn't work. But Big Brother deliberately provokes conflict by incarcerating people who, while they are all morons, are all different types of morons chosen specifically to piss each other off. The producers have played on that. They clearly have the right opinion of Big Brother and have accentuated the childish and irritating quirks of the inmates to make a really good zombie comedy, and one where you're glad at the end that the zombies win and kill everyone.

Posted at 22:28 by David Cantrell
keywords: culture | tv
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