Monthly Archives: February 2013

Letting go of your DVD collection?

The Minimalists made this curious post which caught my eye, along with some pretty startling statements like “Are you one of those people who collects DVDs, proudly displaying your stockpile on a wall or shelf or special area designated for your dozens of favorite movies? Have you ever thought about why you own all those DVDs? Do you plan to rewatch the same movies three or four times? If so, we’d like to posit a solution: get a life.”

Now at the last count we had more DVDs in the house than we will probably ever have time to watch, and I doubt the collection will ever be ‘complete’. Many of these discs are favourite films or TV shows I have loved all my life – do I rewatch them? You bet. And even if I haven’t watched them for a while, I know they are there, and I see that as ‘a good thing’.

You hear of houses groaning to the rafters with books, and they are described as personal libraries. Why are plastic cases and their contents seen as ‘trash’? I will never be a minimalist, and my little sitting room with its TV, Sky+ box, DVD/HD set, and those thousands of titles, is my favourite place to relax. There are books in here, too, and a ghetto blaster tape/radio/CD player, half of my CD collection, a phone, and a lava lamp. There are soft toys, ceramic cats, paperweights, pictures on the walls (a Gone With The Wind poster, a Bonzo Dog print), and an antique mirror, postcards, photos, and a clock which gently ticks.

My DVD collection is part of the fabric of this room. From where I am sitting I have access to sets of plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov, Terence Rattigan, Oscar Wilde, Alan Bennett, as well as runs of Play for Today and Armchair Theatre. I have Monty Python’s TV show and films, all the Blackadders, Dad’s Army, Hancock, and Steptoes. I have period dramas from books by Dickens, Austen, Brontes, Hardy, and Catherine Cookson. I have historical dramas about the Tudor kings and queens. I have most of the Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! shows, and a large collection relating to Sherlock Holmes. I have over 400 musical films. I have all the BFI industrial and documentary sets, and silent films ranging from Chaplin, Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy and Keaton through to Caligari, Nosferatu, Metropolis (four versions), Sunrise, Greed, The Blot, It, and Napoleon.

I even have three of those cheapo Mill Creek multi-packs of 50 B pictures, because there are gems within. I have American, Spanish, Greek, French, German, Australian, and Dutch releases. The Forbidden Hollywood sets and the Treasures of American Cinema sets have pride of place with Upstairs Downstairs (the original) and collections of the work of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Ken Russell. And there’s crime, too – Ruth Rendell, PD James, Barbara Vine, Minette Walters, Murder in Mind. There’s the big educational series of times past – Civilisation and The Ascent of Man – I don’t yet have America. And there are PIFs too – Charley Says, Apaches, Tufty and the Green Cross Code.

Children’s TV is here too – Bagpuss and the Clangers, Camberwick Green, Willo the Wisp, Pipkins. Thrillers, sitcoms, anthology series, horror films, girly weepies. Everything currently available by Dennis Potter. A bit of Pinter. Bilko, Dick Cavett, Face to Face, Edward Murrow. And dance too – Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Michael Clark, Matthew Bourne.

Far from not having ‘a life’ these discs have impacted on my life, reminding me of places I have visited, people I have known. Old favourites have stories and memories attached. New discoveries bring pleasure and peace.

No, my minimalist friends, I will not be letting go of this collection.

An evening with Rolf Harris, Royal Festival Hall

A rare live appearance from perhaps the world’s best known Australian at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday. Rolf Harris and his band (bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, percussion and guest digaradoo) entertained us for a couple of hours starting with the perennial and catchy ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ and ending on an encore with Leadbelly’s folk song ‘Goodnight, Irene’. He also found time to paint Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) with grey cloudy sky, sun shining on the rock, and seagrass – his technique looks slipshod, but that is deceptive. After all this is a man who painted The Queen.

Of course, ‘Two Little Boys’, ‘Jake the Peg’, and ‘Sun Arise’ featured alongside songs of a more serious bent (‘Raining on the Rock’ and the superb ‘Jimmy My Boy’), and lighter fare such as ‘The Kiwi Can Never Fly’ and ‘The Court of King Caractacus’. The nadir for me was Rolf’s version of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ (with wobbleboard). I just don’t get it, but each to their own. Thanks to appearances on The Word and at Glastonbury it is a fixed part of his live set.

Bad jokes galore appeared throughout this show, but Harris is a pro who is best when he is ‘on’ with his audience, and he had plenty of devoted fans watching in the RFH. With a backdrop of a cartoon kangaroo sporting Rolf’s head, this was a fun and undemanding confection, enjoyable and relaxing.

Hollywood Costume: an exhibition at the V&A

For the first time in the UK, a huge collection of costumes across nearly a hundred years of cinema from Hollywood have been brought together to be displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, across three galleries, curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

The big draw is right at the end: Judy Garland’s gingham dress and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (although, be quick if you want to see the real slippers, as they are only on loan for a short time before returning to the USA for Thanksgiving). Here also is Marilyn’s famous Seven Year Itch frock, looking as delicate and fragile as its owner.

At the start of the exhibition, a crowded room displays treasures from Scarlett O’Hara’s green gown (supposedly made from curtains, but far too grand), Marlene Dietrich’s Angel costume, and Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce frock, through to a tableau from Ocean’s 11 (the Clooney one) and some more contemporary pieces.

In room two we find another highlight – a Royal collection (Garbo’s Queen Christina’s ivory dress, Bette Davis/Cate Blanchett/Judi Dench Elizabeth I gowns, etc.), along with Indiana Jones, who gets a stand to himself, before the finale including pieces worn by characters ranging from Tracy Lord to Holly Golightly, Superman to Catwoman, Don Juan to The Blues Brothers.

The earliest piece here is the spider gown worn by Louise Glaum in the 1920 film ‘Sex’, the most beautiful the delicate gown worn by Carole Lombard in ‘My Man Godfrey’. The exhibition also gives a chance to see two Cleopatras side by side (costumes worn by Claudette Colbert and Elizabeth Taylor, thirty years apart), Ben Hur’s toga, and Hedy Lamarr’s flimsy gown and fur from Samson and Delilah. There is history here, and for followers of old or new cinema alike, there is much to enjoy.

It is also a celebration of designers from Adrian and Edith Head through to the most recent costumiers (Jacqueline Durran, for Anna Karenina, this year; Michael Kaplan, for Fight Club). They are often neglected, but contribute as much to a film’s success, and an audience’s enjoyment, as the cinematographer, the art director, and the performers themselves.

‘Hollywood Costume’ is on at the V&A until the 27th January 2013, and details can be found at

Film review: Les Miserables, 2012

In 1985, the Royal Shakespeare Company premiered the musical ‘Les Miserables’ at the Barbican Theatre.  Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, the Boublil-Schonberg show takes Victor Hugo’s classic French novel and creates a through-sung sensation.

The film version has been years in the planning, and during the intervening years there have been two landmark concert versions, the 10th anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall, and the 25th anniversary at the O2.  Now Les Miz becomes a major movie, with Oscar nominations and critical acclaim.

But is it any good?

Hugh Jackman, veteran of musicals such as Oklahoma and Carousel, plays Jean Valjean, and it is a marvellous performance.  Those seeking the ‘stage Valjean’ can be happy, too, as the originator of the musical role (Colm Wilkinson) also appears in this film, as the Bishop.  Jackman’s only weakness is his lack of ageing over the years covered by the story, perhaps a sop to his movie leading man status.  Jackman even makes a good stab at the hardest song in the score, ‘Bring Him Home’.

The role of the policeman, Javert, is played here by Russell Crowe, who acts well, but his singing will not trouble memories of past performers such as the UK’s Roger Allam or Australia’s Philip Quast.  Crowe is something of a disappointment in my view, failing to engage emotionally with his big songs, such as ‘Stars’.

The ladies in the cast impress.  Anne Hathaway has been rightly feted as Fantine – she can’t sing with the power of a Patti Lu Pone or a Ruthie Henshall, but she puts across the absolute degradation and misery of her situation during her big number, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’.  It is heartbreaking.  As the winsome Cosette, Amanda Seyfried (last seen in film musicals in Mamma Mia) sings well and gives the character some well-needed life.  From the stage, Samantha Barks shows star potential as Eponine, and I hope she achieves the promising career she craves on the screen.

The young student rebel, Marius, will forever be associated with Michael Ball, but he is portrayed well here by Eddie Redmayne, a picture of innocence and very touching post-barricade action singing ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’.  The rest of the students, largely from stage productions of the show, are absolutely fine.

One weak link, given the darkness and realism of the film over the original stage show, is in the Thenardiers, the comedy relief, played here by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.  They outstay their welcome and don’t really fit well in the piece.  Perhaps you have to be a fan of ‘Ali G’ to appreciate this actor.

What about the look and feel of the film?  It is very much on close-ups, swooping shots down from tall buildings, and realistic blood, snot, pus and excrement.  A sanatised show this is not.  See it on a big screen like the Imax to get the full effect.

Finally, a lovely touch is in the many small parts and cameos from stage musical stars throughout the film, including Mackintosh and Schonberg themselves in the final barricade shots.  The Les Miz film is pretty much a triumph – and if the acting overshadows the singing and the score (and around twenty minutes of material gets cut from the stage version) we still have the concert version from 1995, which is as close to perfect as we are going to get.

Happy Thoughts, Darling

Classic movies, Classic stars

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