ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
READER, we're winning. Last Sunday, this newspaper disclosed that the Office of Fair Trading was going to refer the music industry to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission over British CD prices. On Wednesday the National Heritage Select Committee joined in the fun, expressing its 'strong condemnation' of the price, which, as regular readers may just have gathered by now, is often as much as 50 per cent higher than the price of an identical disc in the United States.

As Gerald Kaufman gave the committee's verdict to a packed press conference, I found myself next to a curious figure in a floor-length macintosh who might have been Lyle Lovett's father. He trod on my toe and apologised so nicely that I was surprised to find he was Maurice Oberstein, the American mogul, long resident here, whose power, temper and taste in hats are legendary. The second of these qualities was soon evident. He told reporters the report was 'full of tommy-rot, lies, deceit and information simply to support a prejudged conclusion by . . . a kangaroo committee'.

It was a silly performance, from a silly man, but I felt a grain of sympathy. Oberstein was one of the executives who appeared before the committee, and there was a whiff of the stocks about the process. It is hard to refute the idea that Kaufman seemed to have made his mind up in advance. But that doesn't mean his verdict is wrong. CDs are overpriced; the only thing the record companies are doing about it is raising the price of cassettes, so that CDs don't look so bad; it is absurd that you can get them more cheaply by mail order from America. And it should be remembered that Kaufman is only one of 10 members of the committee, drawn from all sides of the House. The record execs like to paint them as a bunch of lefties, but among them is a Conservative who used to be Secretary of State for Trade and Industry - Paul Channon.

Whether prices will come down is still in doubt. The only way to make sure they do is not to pay full price if you can help it. To find out how, see the previous page.

IT WAS a muggy Wednesday in May, and I was settling down to pen a few thoughts for my column in the 'Independent on Sunday', when it occurred to me that . . .

THERE SEEMS to be a new trend in Hollywood: framing devices. Frank Marshall's film of Alive, based on one of the most riveting plots ever supplied by reality, begins and ends with the voice of John Malkovich, telling us what to think, as my colleague Quentin Curtis aptly put it. Marshall helped produce some of Steven Spielberg's greatest hits. Didn't Spielberg tell him, or indeed show him, that drama is infinitely more powerful when showing rather than telling?

Malcolm X, another gripping true story, half-suffered from the same syndrome, ending with that odd coda in which Nelson Mandela played a teacher and Soweto children stood up and said 'I am Malcolm X'. Edward Scissorhands had Winona Ryder, as an old lady, or rather a teenager with a lot of flour in her hair, telling her grandkid about when she was young: as the film was a fairytale, I suppose it has to be forgiven. Not so A League of Their Own, a charming, lowbrow tale of spirited wartime women encased in half an hour of slush set in the present, to help dim viewers make the great leap back to 1943.

. . . My point duly made, it was time to sign my name.

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