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.

Bad weather

17 August, 2007

It seems a pretty fair bet that the word “drought” in a TV weather bulletin refers to a lack of rain — for time enough adversely to affect the environment.

So why does Channel 7’s David Brown insist that we have a “hydrological drought” — unless to distinguish it from a drought of intelligent weather commentary.

For the benefit of any other aspiring weather Barbies out there, hydrological merely refers to the study of water on earth and in the atmosphere. As in drought. Duh.

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.


Year’s End

6 January, 2007

(Right-click on the picture and select “View image” to see the whole. Picture by my Nikon D70)

A year has passed.
How strange that it should end
Without a sound.

~ Haiku, RSC, circa 1963.
A lot of years have passed since then. Not all of them quietly.
~ Day’s End, RSC 2006. The view across the bay from across my road and through the dunes.

Saturdays too far away

17 August, 2006

As a kid there were more Saturday matinées than even the combined efforts of Peter Sellers, Danny Kaye and John Wayne could fill. That didn’t stop me from hoarding or begging the price of a train ticket, a packet of Jaffas* and a ticket to the movies for the Saturday matinée.

Rififi posterSometimes what followed the cartoons and Johnny Weissmuller cliff-hangers was not the stuff of comedy fantasy or cowboy heroes. Sometimes it was a movie of an entirely different genre. These were movies made in shadows; not soft shadows as between seasons, but shadows of fate and doom or the black glint of a death-threatening revolver. They were full of men and women, good and bad, doomed by their needs, flaws and frailties – or those of others.

Of course I had never heard of such a word as “genre” then but, in my youthful innocence, I classified these as “dark films”. As much as these movies frightened me they gripped me too. I had yet to encounter Shakespeare or Sophocles and so film noir became my introduction to theatrical tragedy.

I mention this because I recently watched again after perhaps 20 years one of the icons of my “dark films”.

Rififi (Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes) is a séminal work; a seed, and sometimes an outright template, for following films noir and for heist and caper movies to the present day – be they films couleur regardless. Overblown latecomers such as Mission: Impossible and its type have never approached the breath-suspending sour-sweat tension and ultimate sadness of this original.

I was still young when I was promoting Stanley Kubrick’s release of Sparticus, not so long after Jules Dassin was forced out of America by the hysterical McCarthy House Un-American Activity Committee. Kubrick reportedly insisted similarly-accused Dalton Trumbo write and be recognised for the screenplay for Sparticus.

If you ever wanted to experience the rank fog of Gaulois butts and stale calvados, there is plenty here, as is a certain absolution and an exposition of a code de honoré – for some at least.

* A marble-shaped confection with a chocolate centre and an orange-flavoured candy coating beloved of Australian moviegoers.

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?