Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
THE NOMINATIONS for Most Embarrassing Awards Ceremony are: the Bafta Awards; the Booker Prize; anything involving the Prince of Wales and polo medals; and anything sponsored by the Evening Standard. The competition is, on any reckoning, hot. But the winner has to be the last of the contenders, which offers twice the value - not just the Evening Standard Drama Awards, but the Evening Standard British Film Awards, held last Sunday. Never in the field of human prize-giving have so few given so little to so few. As the presenter, Clive Anderson, admitted at the start, there were 'literally several' British films to choose from - just enough, in fact, to supply nominations for each category. The desperation is such that Ireland is permitted to enter its products, thus making them honorary British films. That must really thrill the Irish. The winner of Best Film was Howards End, a choice guaranteed to offend no one at all, apart from those who believe that our national cinema should stop tugging at the skirts of our literature. There was only one reason for sitting through this grisly event - the speech by Peter Ustinov, who launched into one of his anecdotal riffs, wandering blithely from Jayne Mansfield to the Vatican. Still, British movies must go on, although the fates appear to be stacked against them. Ken Loach's rough little comedy Riff-Raff has just opened in New York; unfortunately, the accents are so thick the Americans have demanded subtitles. The British are coming, as Colin Welland once cried, but no one can understand them.

THE HAYWARD Gallery's new exhibition, Gravity and Grace, met with some stony notices from the critics. Walking round it this week, however, I wasn't annoyed by the second- division 1960s sculpture so much as by the name itself. Pretentious, quasi-poetic, and abstract, it is another in a long line of names concocted to cover weak anthologies: Falls the Shadow, Ecstatic Antibodies and the memorable A Cold Wind Brushes the Temple. The first was called Magic and Strong Medicine, but that was two decades ago. Nowadays these titles are everywhere and they may well be turning art-lovers away; by refusing to divulge the subject, they only reinforce the suspicion that the show isn't about anything at all.

THE NEWS that Radio 4's Bookshelf has reached the end of its shelf-life raises a cheer and a sigh. Bookshelf's timidity has been alienating people for years. The beginning of the end was the rustic Susan Hill, who seemed to be speaking from under a toadstool. But did the show have to be axed? The BBC says it does enough for books, pointing to the sales generated by radio readings. But being scattered over the sea of arts shows is not the same as having a haven marked 'books'. It may be argued that the same thing happens on television; all the more reason not to allow it on radio, the natural home of the word. Maybe Liz Forgan, who has made such an excitable start to her new job (see below), could launch a rethink.

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