The programme of the film of the book
Watching "Novel Image" (C4), I was reminded of why I always said no. Cinefile's programme was relatively simple: William Boyd (novelist and screenwriter) delivering some amicable generalisations from the centre of what looked like a Christian Boltanski installation. Boyd perched on a dustsheet, surrounded by scattered paper and dangling light bulbs, as if he was being subjected to a lukewarm version of the third degree (the interview arena had apparently been dreamed up by Voytek, the theatre designer). Maybe the light bulbs were meant as a reference to the time- honoured cartoon icon for a good idea, or perhaps they were just intended to brighten up a slightly low-wattage discussion, but either way it didn't work. Indeed, like the elegant filmic cutaways that decorated Paul Joyce's film, the flourishes of style suggested that even the director had lost interest and had started doodling in the margins.
Boyd, incidentally, did offer one revealing analogy for the process of adaptation, or at least one that explains why so many film versions of novels are greeted with yelps of outrage. It isn't like a sculptor freeing the statue from the block of stone, he said, more a matter of finding another sculpture within the sculpture, even if it is "of necessity much smaller and may have an arm or a leg missing". Sounds like vandalism, to me, Inspector.
The rival claims of different media also present problems for The Net, BBC 2's magazine programme for Internet surfers. When you watch The Food Programme you never think that it harbours a secret aspiration to be magret de canard avec un ballotine de navets. Similarly Top Gear doesn't spend a lot of time pretending that it's really a Ferrari Testarossa. But The Net is always dressing itself up as a computer programme, or an interactive game, anything, in fact, but the television programme it actually is. This oddity was particularly conspicuous in Benjamin Woolley's enjoyable report on the threat posed to broadcast television by interactive entertainment - ingeniously filmed as an interactive game itself, complete with evil BBC controllers intent on turning us all into couch potatoes. Woolley concluded that computers hadn't won the battle for a while yet, because the quality of the dialogue and images wasn't up to more conventional forms of storytelling. He didn't seem to have taken account of the fact that many people may continue to watch television because they actually don't want to think.
Not as little as is required by Next of Kin (BBC1) though, which will reduce the most agile-minded to the condition of a gaffed mullet. I decided to treat the first episode of this truly terrible sitcom as a bad dream but I peeked over the covers last night and it was still there - the same frightening cocktail of detestable characters, lame punchlines and desultory continuity. At one point last night, Penelope Keith flounced upstairs to her bedroom in a huff. In the next scene she was lying there with cucumber slices on her eyes - something distressed people do in sitcom land. What's she got a cucumber in her bedroom for, I thought, and how will she explain it if the vicar pops in to change his trousers? At which point I decided my mind was in real danger and interacted with the off-switch.
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