ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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AND THE winner of the award for the most sensible awards nominations is . . . the Oscars] I sat here on Wednesday afternoon sharpening my pencil, but to little avail. If a few films have to scoop most of the nominations, they might as well be as thoughtful and distinctive as Unforgiven and The Crying Game; we can forgive the Academy its weakness for Howards End, as long as it doesn't actually win on the night. One small example shows the gulf between the Oscars and, say, the Evening Standard Film Awards. Best Actor there was Daniel Day- Lewis for Last of the Mohicans: a stylish performance which required no more characterisation than the role of the man in the Milk Tray ad. The Oscars have ignored it and give the Token Brit slot to Stephen Rea for The Crying Game: a performance of substance and subtlety, which persuaded a hostile audience that to be a terrorist is not necessarily to be inhuman.

LIKE a few other things in this country, audience behaviour at classical concerts is in decline. Earlier this month the distinguished Czech mezzo Marjana Lipovsek had to make a platform announcement asking someone not to read his newspaper so obviously during her recital at St Johns Smith Square (where last year Sarah Walker interrupted her own performance of Beethoven's song cycle A Woman's Life and Love to ask an amorous couple in the back row to desist from visual commentary). And last weekend a man at the first night of Welsh National Opera's new Tristan spent most of the performance in vigorous conversation with companions on each side of him - until reprimanded by someone in the row behind. The man was Matthew Epstein, WNO's managing director, and one of his chatty companions Dame Gwyneth Jones.

THE CRITICS have not been kind to the telly version of Diana: Her True Story. Nor should they have been. But they would have been harsher still if they had watched it the way the rest of the population did (or that sliver of it that has a Sky dish). At the critics' screening - a glittery affair in the West End - there were no ad breaks. In real life, the series contained as many ads as cliches: a batch every quarter of an hour, lasting about three minutes, and beginning with some tedious promotion for Sky itself. The company is said to be making money now, if you ignore its borrowings, which of course you can't, unless you are one of its accountants. If it treats programmes as something to be squeezed in between the ads, you wonder why it hasn't made money earlier. For Allison Pearson's view on the show itself, please turn to the main paper.

IF EVER a firm seemed incapable of naffness, it was Sainsbury's, sponsor of worthy arts events, maker of tasteful, indeed succulent TV commercials, and a fine grocer to boot. But now something lands on my desk which shows that even Sainsbury's taste can falter. 'You've read the book,' it says, 'seen the film, and now you can drink the wine]' The book is A Year in Provence. The film starts next Sunday on BBC1. The wine is an innocent Provencal red (Cotes du Luberon 1991) which has been renamed A Year in Provence and given a label that 'reflects the style and wit of the book'. A blank one, evidently.

READERS' nominations of great art since 1917 (C&W, last week) will appear next week. If you've sent one in, thank you. If not, please do - with a brief reason - on a postcard to me at the Arts Desk, IoS, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB, or by fax on 071-956 1469. The champagne remains up for grabs.

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