Archive for August, 2006

Glenn Ford (May 1 1916–August 30 2006)

August 31, 2006

Today it was announced that the Canadian-born Hollywood actor Glenn Ford died at the age of 90. In a career that began in 1938, he appeared, it is said, in some 200 films. He made his first big impact when he was teamed with Hayworth in Charles Vidor’s studio-bound, but still terrific, film noir Gilda (1946), a teaming so successful that it would be repeated in several less distinguished films over the following years.  

Fords finest period came in the fifties when he starred in Fritz Lang’s classic noir The Big Heat (1953), Richard Brooks over-earnest and now-dated schoolroom drama The Blackboard Jungle (1955), Delmer Daves classic western 3.10 to Yuma (1957) and George Marshall’s tone-perfect comedy western The Sheepman (1958) and a number of other films which made him popular at the box-office. 

Ford was one of those actors who could be truly called dependable. No matter what he was required to do on the screen, he appeared to do it with consummate ease and with very little ostentation. When critics thought a film he was in less than good, the finger of blame was very rarely pointed at Ford. Even a miscast Ford would give his all.  

Indeed, it was frequently said that the films might have been a lot worse without him. When Fritz Lang adapted Emile Zola’s novel La Bête Humaine for the screen as Human Desire (1954), it was not thought to be a great success. But Ford, in the role in which he was predictably going to be compared with the great Jean Gabin who had played the role in Jean Renoir’s 1938 adaptation, came away from the project with his reputation intact. 

Jacques Tournier’s 1953 thriller Appointment in Honduras would have probably been a fairly ordinary thriller if Ford had not thrown himself so wholeheartedly in to the role of the hero. Two westerns, one,  the rather underdeveloped The Violent Men (1955), and the other, Delmer Daves very fine Jubal (1956) – a reworking of Shakespeare’s Othello as a western – are lifted, the first above mediocrity and the second greater stature, by Ford’s excellent playing.  

I seem recall reading somewhere that Ford once claimed that he spent his apprenticeship “learning how not to act”. It was an apprenticeship well spent, and the lesson well learned.


The Royal Mail and spam.

August 30, 2006

While we are all desperatrly trying to stop spam of all kinds getting into our homes, the Royal Mail is doing its very best to deliver more and more, because it’s fast becoming the only agency that can do so with impunity. And it does not take very kindly to anybody, especially an employee,  who might think that recipients should be given a choice about whether or not they want the stuff through the letter-box.

LONDON (Reuters) – A postman who gave people advice on how to stem the rising tide of junk mail into their homes has been suspended and could lose his job.
Roger Annies, 48, wrote and delivered leaflets to people on his round explaining how to block letters offering loans, credit cards and other services. While some people welcomed the unofficial advice, Royal Mail bosses took a dim view of the apparent bid to undermine a lucrative and growing part of its business.  

Each year, it delivers more than 3 billion unaddressed promotional letters, charging advertisers up to 91 pounds per thousand posted. Annies, from Barry,
South Wales, was suspended on full pay pending a disciplinary inquiry into an “alleged misconduct issue”.
The postman’s leaflet read: “Royal Mail plans to increase your advertising mail. This will mean a lot more unwanted post. “If you complete the slip below and send it to the Royal Mail delivery office you should not get any of the above-mentioned unwanted advertising.” The Royal Mail said it was responsible for less than a quarter of
Britain‘s unaddressed mail.
“If we do not deliver this mail then rival companies will,” the company said in a statement. “A great many customers respond to the information in unaddressed mail and it’s a highly effective form of advertising.”

 Well done Royal Mail!!!

The Vatican and Intelligent Design

August 29, 2006

Under the banner  Pope prepares to embrace theory of intelligent design, the today’s edition of the Guardian reports that: 

Philosophers, scientists and other intellectuals close to Pope Benedict will gather at his summer palace outside Rome this week for intensive discussions that could herald a fundamental shift in the Vatican‘s view of evolution.

There have been growing signs the Pope is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of “intelligent design” taught in some US states. Advocates of the theory argue that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Critics say it is a disguise for creationism.

Well, well, what next? Fully paid up membership of the flat earth society? 

A prominent anti-evolutionist and Roman Catholic scientist, Dominique Tassot, told the US National Catholic Reporter that this week’s meeting was “to give a broader extension to the debate. Even if [the Pope] knows where he wants to go, and I believe he does, it will take time. Most Catholic intellectuals today are convinced that evolution is obviously true because most scientists say so.”

Well, actually nobody, not even the much maligned intellectuals, believe in evolution just because scientists “say so”. Scientists have this annoying habit of offering very good reasons for saying what they say. They may even go so far to offer proofs.  Very occasionally, and usually very tentatively, a scientist may put forward a hypothesis about how evolution got started, but as as hypothesis, as I understand it, is merely a provisional idea which needs further evaluation, the scientist, if he cares for his reputation, will be very careful to state that this is all it is, a hypothesis. 

So when we say we believe in evolution, we are more than likely saying , on the one hand, that we are convinced by those parts which have been proved, and, on the other, that we subscribe to some hypothesis or set of hypotheses that we think will eventually prove true. The vast majority of us are not, irrespective of what Tassot would seem to be implying, bullied into belief by what scientists say. 

Google here, there and (eventually) everywhere.

August 29, 2006

Google encroaches further on Microsoft territory. See John Naughton’s comments. [link]

The individual or the system?

August 28, 2006

Simon Caulkin in his Observer column yesterday shows clearly how an obsession with performance management, or how the individual is performing within organisation, is blinding us to possibility that what may really need reform are the systems which organisation uses.

 When Britain’s athletics coach publicly ‘named and shamed’ individual team members for their disappointing showing at a recent European championships, his words could have no effect on their technical ability. Running faster or jumping further is a matter of physical conditioning that takes months of training, diet and practice. Instead, he obviously believed he could affect their attitude – that he could improve their performance by motivating them to try harder. He was doing – or trying to do – performance management.

According to Caulkin, too many organisational managers – whether they be in factories, in customer services,in the NHS, or in education or whatever, do something analogous to what the coach did and do it with about as much success.

Anybody in thrall of performance management as the cure for all ills, and you do would not have to throw a stick in any organisation to find somebody of that ilk, would do well to read Caulkin’s thought -provoking piece more than once and consider carefully his assertion that “performance management too often consists of trying to make people do the wrong thing righter” 

List of top 50 ‘worst UK programmes’ published.

August 28, 2006

Having regularly watched the output of UK TV for some 40 years or so, I find in the list of the top 50 worst UK TV programmes chosen by the TV critic John Naughton for this week’s edition of the Radio Times something worth thinking about.

To each of his 50 choices, John has appended a condensed, and occasionally acerbic,summary of how he would defend the selection.

The seventies sitcom Love Thy Neighbour, about a racist trade unionist living in an uneasy relationship with a black couple who have moved in next door, he describes as  “cruder and less funny Till Death Do Us Part” and  “a low point in British comedy”, which “never slipped out of the top ten in fun-loving, multicultural, early 70s Britain. Few us who have seen that programme would disagree with that assessment.

The Black and White Minstrel Show, which featured white performers “blacked up” to sing songs from America’s Deep South and which ran from 1958-1978, he calls “an anachronistic obscenity that still occupied a place in British primetime schedules as late as 1978”. There was no doubt of its being an obscenity, but the seekers of the obscene were too busy with other more obvious forms of obscenity to care. 

“The homegrown programmes I’ve picked here all represent moments when television went that extra mile to create something memorably rotten – whether it was an inspirationally flawed concept, a supremely botched execution, or suffered from an unusually irritating presenter,” he writes.

 However, there are some programmes on his list which, when they first appeared on our screens, seemed to be so innocuous as to hardly appear worthy of serious attention, let alone being considered for inclusion on anybody’s “worst of” list.

People, for instance, are already openly asking why Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, which John describes as portraying ” a workplace riven by class envy and where bitching, brown-nosing and backstabbing are the norm”  is on the list.

Of course, those of us now think the Thomas inoffensive are probably those very same people who never gave the series a second thought, or a second’s thought, when it was first aired. I know that children, my own included, were allowed to watch it without their parents ever asking themselves whether it  might be good or bad for them. It was after all just another charming children’s programme with what seemed to be inoffensive storylines. Harmless enough, we maintained and probably go on maintaining.

But now that it’s on John’s list, I, for one, have to ask myself whether it really was as harmless as it looked, or whether it was, as he suggests, much more insidious than that. And that of course is the point such a list. It asks us to to look again and think again.

There will probably never be a “the worst of” or indeed “the best of” list on which we could all agree, and a good thing there isn’t. But that does not mean that the list has no value. The very existence of a list, a list complied by someone who has given some thought to what’s to be included or excluded, encourages us examine our presumptions, and prods us into providing some rationally worked out, rather than subjective, reasons for holding the opinions we hold. Of course, we’re by no means duty bound heed the encouragement or prodding, but that’s another story.

John’s list

1 Naked Jungle (2000)
2 Minipops (1983)
3 Triangle (1981-1983)
4 Quickfire Balls (2006)
5 Annie`s Bar (1996)
6 Wright Here, Wright Now (2002)
7 Love Thy Neighbour (1972-1976)
8 Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends (1984-1991)
9 Through The Keyhole (1983-)
10 A Year In Provence (1993)
11 Heil Honey I`m Home! (1990)
12 The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958-1978)
13 The Borgias (1981)
14 The Good Old Days (1953-1983)
15 Breakfast Time (1983-1989)
16 Thompson (1988)
17 OTT (1982)
18 George and Mildred (1976-1979)
19 Dream Team (1997-2006)
20 Ross Kemp: Alive In Alaska (1999)
21 Kirsty`s Home Videos (2000-2004)
22 Clive Anderson All Talk (1996-1999)
23 Celeb (2002)
24 Diana: Her True Story (1993)
25 Eurovision Song Contest (1956-)
26 Celebrity Wresting (2005)
27 Babes In The Wood (1998)
28 The Edinburgh Military Tattoo (1952-)
29 The Girlie Show (1996)
30 That`s Life! (1973-1994)
31 Family Fortunes (1980-2002)
32 Littlejohn: Live and Unleashed (1998)
33 Lock, Stock… (2000)
34 French and Saunders (1987-2004)
35 Alastair Burnet`s Royal Interviews (1980s)
36 Eldorado (1992-1993)
37 LA Pool Party (2001-2002)
38 Heartbeat (1992-now)
39 Going For Gold (1987-1996)
40 3-2-1 (1978-1987)
41 Origami (1968)
42 The Gaby Roslin Show (1996)
43 Clive James` Postcard from… (1990-1999)
44 Davina (2006)
45 Kilroy (1987-2004)
46 Wacaday (1985-1992)
Fort Boyard (1998-2002)
48 Popstars: The Rivals (2002)
49 Flog It! (2002-)
50 Crossroads (1964-1988, 2001-2003)

Walter “Maynard” Ferguson (May 4, 1928 – August 23, 2006)

August 26, 2006

“Is there something vulgar about a man in a bright jumpsuit, a long scarf around his massive neck, screeching out a tragic opera theme on a highly amplified trumpet?” With that rhetorical question Washington Post staff writer David Von Drehle’s begins his appreciation [link] of  Maynard Ferguson who died on August the 23.

Ferguson had his admirers, but I could never be counted among them. Having said that, I have to say that I cannot recall ever hearing Ferguson going at it at less than full throttle or showing off the full range of effects, always  in the higher registers, that he was capable of.

“When he played lead, like an octave or two octaves above the band, it lifted you right out of your chair” the saxophonist Lanny Morgan told The Guardian’s obituarist Peter Vasher recently. As that was the only mode in which I ever heard him play, it always lifted me out my chair in order to seek shelter from the musical storm I knew would inevitably follow. It has been said, and by those who know more about such things than I do, that he was capable of being much subtler, and of doing better things,  when the right occasion arose. Unfortunately those occasions didn’t arise when this listener was within hearing distance. 

After a visit Aillwee Cave in the late 1980s

August 26, 2006

At Crag Cave  Aillwee Cave, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, Ireland1.jpg

Electric Lights
Are out of place
In limestone caves-
And so are we.

What is going on                                                          AillweeCave
And has gone on                                                          Ballyvaughan
Is secret still                                                                 Co. Clare
And should be kept                                                       Ireland
From prying eyes.

What can we learn
From slow evolving pendants
And calcium pillars?
Not much, I think!

To expose these forms
To light and us
Is to reveal nothing
But occurring accidents.

After a visit Aillwee Cave in the late 1980s

August 26, 2006

At Crag Cave  Aillwee Cave, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, Ireland1.jpg

Electric Lights
Are out of place
In limestone caves-
And so are we.

What is going on                                                          AillweeCave
And has gone on                                                          Ballyvaughan
Is secret still                                                                 Co. Clare
And should be kept                                                       Ireland
From prying eyes.

What can we learn
From slow evolving pendants
And calcium pillars?
Not much, I think!

To expose these forms
To light and us
Is to reveal nothing
But occurring accidents.

The Searchers and Alex Cox.

August 25, 2006

Alex Cox, having been to a screening of John Ford’s 1956 western The Searchers in Monument Valley, where it and many of Ford’s other westerns were shot, has, as part of describing the whole experience, written a thoughtful reappraisal of the film for the film & music section of The Guardian today:

The Searchers is an unusual film. Very few American films deal with race, and race hatred, in such unsentimental terms. Its hero, Ethan Edwards – played by John Wayne – is an embittered Confederate soldier, who, in the aftermath of the war, has become a bandit. He has little time for anyone, white or red, unless they’re his immediate family. In particular, he hates Indian renegades, and when a band of Commanche renegades massacre his nearest and dearest, he embarks on a 10-year trek to rescue a white girl, Debbie, whom the Commanche chief, Scar, has kidnapped.

The postmodern take on The Searchers is that Ethan Edwards is a racist. Ford’s view of him is more ambiguous. Reflecting this, the organisers of the screening made up two posters, both depicting Wayne‘s face: one says Soldier, Lover, Uncle, Hero; the other, Bigot, Racist, Killer … Hero. That is indeed the character he plays.

At one point, he and his sidekick, the ridiculous Marty, find several women who have been kidnapped by Scar’s band. “It’s hard to believe they’re white,” burbles Marty. “They ain’t white any more – they’re Commanche,” Ethan grimly replies. When he finds that Debbie (Natalie Wood in lipstick and a Pocahontas outfit) has gone native, he decides to kill her. But he can’t go through with it. And, notably, it’s Ethan Edwards, not the pious Marty or the preacher sheriff, who can speak Commanche and Navajo.

What does modern America make of The Searchers? Every town of the old west has sent kids – poor whites, poor Indians – to the Iraq war. Each town has a sign welcoming the kids back, or mourning the one who died. Each town has a video store, full of western DVDs, The Searchers often prominently displayed.

There aren’t any simple answers in The Searchers. Wayne is bad, but Wayne does good. Scar is bad, but is he worse than Edwards – the embittered killer, veteran of an ignoble war, whose family need his capacity for violence, but don’t like him any more? At the end of the film the reunited survivors enter the family home. Wayne/Edwards waits outside. He wants to be invited in. But nobody invites him. They don’t need his violence now, and so they close the door.

It’s interesting how Cox interprets that closing shot of the film. I’ll have to have a look at it again to see whether or not it’s an altogether persuasive way of interpreting it.