Spot the deliberate mistake

29 August, 2007

There was has been some barking in the local media columns about inaccuracies in the new Australian naval drama, Sea Patrol. Yes, ok, perhaps there were some and there shouldn’t be, but Sea Patrol and Australian production in general is not alone. Two recent episodes of the British crime series that gets all kinds of smiles and nods, Midsomer Murders, had errors so glaring they almost might be classed as “spot the deliberate mistake”.

Rolleiflex TIn A Picture of Innocence, the opening sequence features a senior amateur photographer setting up a landscape shot with the excellent Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera on a tripod. (Anyone remember tripods?). He takes a light reading then adjusts the camera’s shutter speed and aperture settings — with accompanying loud, crisp clicks which no Rolleiflex ever made.

He then adjusts the focus — with more absurdly loud crispy clicks. The focussing action of the venerable and superbly-engineered Rolleiflex is absolutely smooth and completely silent.

He then uses the fold-out handle to advance the 120 roll film to a new, unexposed frame, but the frame counter resolutely stays at “0” indicating there is no film in the camera. In any case, advancing the film (which also cocks the shutter) is always the first step so the framing is not disturbed after composing the shot and the camera is ready to take the next shot.

Multi-pocketed photographer’s vestAnd, please, not all amateur photographers wear hunting/fishing vests, not even old amateur photographers, especially when the vests’ many pockets are obviously empty of extra lenses and camera accessories and film (anyone remember film?) — and almost never over their business clothes and when not taking pictures. The gaggle of ageing amateurs all in their hunting/fishing vests was unintentionally farcical.

In King’s Crystal, a character with a rifle is apprehended in a field. He appeared to be taking aim at another character but protests he was hunting rabbits. This explanation rings no alarms with Chief Inspector Barnaby, notwithstanding that the rifle in the scene is a “civilianised” version of the Lee-Enfield .303 Mk. III. In its various versions, this was the basic, and best, infantry rifle of WWs I and II. The three-oh-three as it was commonly called, fired almost half an ounce (14 grams) of copper-jacketed lead at 2,440 feet per second (744 m/s).

Lee Enfield .303 modified as a hunting rifleHit a rabbit with that and you might find fragments of fur and occasional pieces of skin surrounding the previous rabbit — but certainly nothing to make a meal of.

I owned a weapon very similar to the one in the program. Making a clean hole in the steel wheel of a old traction engine presented no difficulties. Ned Kelley’s armour would have been a mere trifle.

Oh, yes, I also own a hunting/fishing vest but I only wear it when out taking pictures. Honest!


Rolleiflex: The Rolleiflex line of twin-lens reflex cameras was continuously manufactured by Franke & Heidecke in Germany from 1928 until recently, steadily advancing features and quality. At its height of popularity in the 50s and 60s it was the camera of choice for such luminaries as Philippe Halsman, Richard Avedon, Bert Stern and Cecil Beaton. I believe modern versions are still in limited production but Rollei’s recent focus has been on digital cameras, both amateur and top-end professional, the latter costing upwards of US$20,000. Batteries not included.
(Picture credit

Photography vest: For me the khaki vest of many pockets conjures images of the Vietnam War and combat photographers, some of whom were friends or acquaintances. True, some of them did wear this gear around the odd bar or Foreign Correspondents’ Club when not actually taking war pictures.

SMLE .303 rifle: This is very similar to the rifle in the episode and to one I owned. I think I even did the cross-hatching on the stock, too. As I can best recall, the calibre of my version was designated 7.7/54 to distinguish it from the military version. The cigarette lighter indicates scale.
(Picture sourced at

Advertisements for themselves

17 August, 2007

Station promos: don’t we love ‘em? In the first outing of Channel 10’s “there’s no better place to be” series of promos, stars of the station’s leading imports (House, NCIS, Numbers) performed stylish, minimalist, tongue-in-cheek snippets to camera. I am guessing here but the clips were shot in the US and the lines, apart from the obligatory tags, were largely ad-lib.

Then 10’s promo department clambered on the bandwagon using home-grown star-equivalents. Sadly they missed the boat, the wagon and the point.

No doubt, every attempt was made to match the look and understated wit of the originals but either they just didn’t get it, or just couldn’t do it.

In any case the result only highlights the difference in production values in general between (most) Australian TV and that of the USA; the home of the best worst television in the world.


Gargoyles at the gates

17 August, 2007

Was it inspiration or desperation that drove advertising agency creative genii to resort to grotesqueries?

More to the point, how, and with what conscience, do they persuade their clients to spend millions on detached slithering tongues, obscenely exaggerated erect male nipples and drenching underarm sweat to rival a car wash from hell.

Perhaps they missed the point that grotesque does not necessarily mean gross. Certainly it is the gross that the perpetrators of these abominations found irresistible.

In the hands of Goya, Bruegel or daVinci, grotesque exaggeration could be turned to artistic expression or satire. In the hands of these sad specimens only the vulgar and gross remain.

What’s in a name?

26 January, 2007

Perhaps the greatest danger of modern media is that it perpetuates errors by continually referencing itself rather than any original source — to the degree that the error eventually totally occludes the truth.

Eventually, the error becomes the truth.

The reasons are many: laziness, time pressure, lack of professional training or basic education, ignorance, stupidity, herd instinct. None of them noble and all have the same result.

Maria SharapovaA trivial but really annoying example: these days, a very large proportion of female tennis players have Russian names which sports commentators appear to have great difficulty pronouncing (along with many English words encountered above a grade three primer).

For their benefit the World Tennis Association has published a guide for broadcasters. Sadly, this has eight out of ten seriously wrong.

The WTA’s response to criticism has been that along the lines that “this is how most Americans would pronounce them and the players would go along with that”.

The prime example would be one of the world’s highest earning and most successful women players, Maria Sharapova. Russian speakers assure me that this is pronounced “sha-RAH-pa-vuh”, as do authorities overwhelmingly and, most significantly of all, the lady herself.

Now here is the kicker. I have read reports of prominent sport and news broadcasters knowingly using the popular but incorrect pronunciation for fear of being thought ignorant!

Truly, the inmates now run the asylum.


Up ship creek

20 July, 2006

Last night, over three successive newsbreaks in less than 60 minutes, Australia’s Ten Network News first had Australians in Beirut “…booted off their ship”. Next we were told their ship had been “commandeered” by “an international organization”, the United Nations or some other country — take your pick. The third version was that Australia had been gazumped by those sneaky Canadians who took the ship for themselves.

Which ship was that, Ten News?

The ship chartered by the Australian government which failed to show up in Beirut at all? Now that would make it difficult for those people to board the ship and even more difficult for them to be booted off it.

That it never showed up would also make it difficult to commandeer (such a juicy, dramatic word).

That the ship Australia had chartered through a Turkish shipping agency failed to show had already been announced on ABC Network News — and possibly on other networks — by no less than the Foreign Minister. It was also disclosed that the shipping agent had charted the same vessel to both Australia and Canada and cheated both governments. It happens in times of crisis. It is called profiteering, and in a sense, that is what news reporting of this kind is doing, too.

For god’s sake, Ten News, this is one story you don’t have to beat up. I know that there is nothing more important than ratings, but just try to get a few facts right and this is already more gripping and distressing than your execrable Big Brother.

While on the subject of the coverage of the plight of those people trying to leave Lebanon; why does every news story need to shoehorn the proper noun Australian or Australians between ever few words? Everyone is not just “Bruce Hayak” but Australian Bruce Hayak. It is never “they” but “these Australians”. Has every personal pronoun has been banished from the journalistic lexicon. What is this spin and why is it necessary? We get the point. We know, we know. Enough.


Can’t smack Ten News for this because (Australian) Foreign Minister Downer used the word in an earlier reference to the “Whose Ship is it Anyway?” game. For the Australian government to be gazumped, Canada would have had to have known that the ship’s agents had finalised a deal with Australia then jumped in with a higher bid at the last moment. There has yet to be any suggestion that this is what happened. The only party who knew about both deals seems to be the corrupt Turkish shipping agent.

Go get ’em, Ten News. Sic Sandra Sully onto them. That’ll fix ’em.

IBM and the Hollywood connection

18 July, 2006

Determined to eclipse his huge success with the Busby Berkley musical, 42nd Street, Daryl Zanuck demanded the writers at Warner Bros to come up with another sure fire hit. After rejecting dozens of new screenplays, Zanuck is said to have berated the luckless writers “Gimme 43rd, street, 44th Street, 45th Street …”

IBM’s HollywoodNothing much has changed — except perhaps that now a successful movie clones both sequels and prequels. Hollywood production executives choose the projects they support not on the basis of instinct for a good story and personal judgement of good writing, but on the project’s “defensibility”. In other words, the elements of the project that determine how successfully they will be able to protect their executive arses in the event the film is a turkey. An “A-list” cast and director have high defensibility quotients — but probably the best defence of all is that the project is a sequel to a known money-maker.

“Hey, who could know? With that cast and Harry-whatsisname directing and the first one grossing $200 million in a week? I tell you, I did everything right and still I get let down. Hollywood’s a bitch. Sometimes I think I should’ve stayed in real estate.”

The fact is, of course, that sequels tend to cost a third more and make half the money of the original. There are several reasons for this: 1) often the cast and director on the original were paid less than asking rates and, now they find themselves part of a successful franchise, they want more money, so they get replaced. 2) the original project was likely to have been driven by the story. The sequel is almost always driven by the desire to exploit the original. (Godfather II is one notable exception.)

The result is usually a thin and flimsy facsimile that antagonises the audience. They feel that in buying a ticket to the sequel they entered into a pact in which they were promised, if not better than before, at least more of the same. And the result of that is the most potent box-office poison of all, bad word of mouth—and in these cyberdays of Internet chatter instant publishing and broadcasting, that can be a very big, fast mouth indeed.

So where does IBM fit into all this?

There was a long-running advertising campaign for IBM with the headline: “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”.

What that campaign was really saying was not that IBM is the best or most appropriate product but that the decision to buy it was defensible! It was saying that buying IBM night be the dumbest decision you ever made — but, don’t worry, you won’t get fired for making it.

As much as I loathe the thinking, the campaign works because that is the thinking of most corporations, all the way up. It is a dangerous call to fire an inferior today for making a decision on the same grounds you may well use to defend you own position to your superiors tomorrow.

Oh, and as for IBM, the Chinese bought a whole chunk of it.


The Buzz

17 July, 2006

In huge letters on the window of a Bourke street, Melbourne, lingerie retailer: “MASSIVE BRA AND PANTY SALE!”

Just the thing for women with massive tits and arses.

Massive is the buzzword of the month for the linguistically and educationally challenged. Actually, it has been the word of every month since the last massive New Year sales. If there is any good in it at all it is that it edged impact off the top spot in the deluge of clichés, malapropisms and grammatical howlers that dribble constantly from the mouths of politicians, bureaucrats and reporters and copywriters.

According to an admiring colleague at a 90th birthday celebration for the former Prime Minister-cum-elder statesman, Gough Whitlam “impregnated Australia …” Is that what is meant by “being the father of the nation” — or a wry comment on what he did to the budget when in power?

A report on the national broadcaster, ABC-TV, on the recent bombing atrocities in what I used to call Bombay rather lost the sombre mood of the moment when telling us that “Yesterday (this man) lost his son in the bombings and today he will be cremated.”

I thought they only did that to widows in India.

It really is “Massage”.

14 July, 2006

The Medium (really is) the Massage

In case it appears that I made a monster typo or my sense of humour is even more askew than usual, here is the book in question. I did my best to wipe off the coffee mug rings but the photograph is as is and un-retouched. The title is more often misquoted than any I can think of. Could McLuhan have been making some point here?

The more things change …

14 July, 2006

Socrates was perturbed by the concept of Google more than 2,300 years ago.

Mashall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan knew this and related the philosopher’s concern in his 1967 book, The Medium is the Massage.

The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external, written characters and not remember of themselves … they appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.” — Phaedrus.

Marshall McLuhan died on the last day of 1980, long before Google was more than a noise that happy babies made.

I bought my paperback copy of The Medium is the Massage from the Central Department Store on Wang Burapma in Bangkok in 1969 where I was creative director of the Thai office of the advertising agency McCann-Erickson. It smells brownly the way old books do, but it has held up well.

The cover price was US$1.45, about 30 baht as best I recall. For an extra ten baht around the corner you could get a carton of marijuana filter-tips complete with government tax seals.