The Weekend's TV: The Walking Dead, Sun, Channel 5
When Piers Met Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sat, ITV1
It's not the end of the world
Monday 11 April 2011
What is it about zombies that makes them so appealing?
They're a paradoxically vigorous addition to the menagerie of dread, after all. According to the rules of the genre, you can put a zombie permanently out of action with one good shot to the head (or several hefty swipes with a sand iron), but the genre itself is apparently unkillable, staggering to its feet again and again to totter towards us with hunger in its bleary eyes. The latest example is The Walking Dead, in which Egg from This Life (sorry, but it's how I still think of Andrew Lincoln) plays a Kentucky sheriff searching for his family after an apocalyptic plague. And it's broadly indistinguishable from most other zombie movies you'll have seen recently – a depopulated landscape, the detritus of affluence, threat round every corner. It's inconceivable that novelty is what keeps audiences coming back, so the form must be delivering some other deep satisfaction.
One standard explanation is that zombies (like all forms of horror) allow us to play with our fears – of death, of catastrophic civil breakdown, of being left alone. But you don't have to watch a zombie movie for long to see that desires are being indulged here too, and some pretty dark ones as well. The Walking Dead began with Rick, our hero, pulling out his gun and shooting a young girl through the head, an action that in any other kind of fiction would terminate our sympathies with extreme prejudice. But, because she was drooling and glassy-eyed and coming at him with that stiff-kneed shuffle, she was fair game. And though I'm not arguing that the audience for these things all harbour a secret yen to shoot small children, the absolute licence of the zombie survivor is surely part of the appeal. Naturally, they tend to frame these moments as an agonising dilemma. But that's just so that we can live with ourselves. Among other things, distasteful as it might be, the zombie movie offers us imaginative access to the joys of the spree shooter.
The Walking Dead, based on a popular comic by Robert Kirkman, began pretty well, the aesthetics of aftermath being part of the pleasure of the thing. Rick, badly wounded in a shoot-out, is comatose when the catastrophe occurs, waking alone in a hospital bed to find the ward deserted and his bedside flowers dry as dust. The signs aren't good: there's a half-eaten corpse on the corridor floor and the double doors at the far end are marked "Don't Open. Dead Inside", which might pass as official but for the fact that it's scrawled in blood and some etiolated fingers are scrabbling through the gap. Rick emerges into a charnel house – the hospital yard filled with body bags – and there's something almost medieval about the relish for bodily corruption in the scene. If you want a high-minded match for this fascination with human disassembly think of Carpaccio's picture of Saint George slaying the dragon, which includes a maiden's torso that ends raggedly at the midriff, a thrillingly grisly detail that appears in The Walking Dead too, although in this case the torso is dragging itself across a lawn, trailing its giblets behind it. Among other things, perhaps, zombie movies are a memento mori for an age that generally prefers to sweep death under the carpet, as well as a reminder that there might be worse things than death. And if that's what you're looking for as you gear up for another working week, The Walking Dead does it pretty stylishly.
In When Piers Met Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of Britain's more dubious exports to the United States applied his forensic questioning skills to "the most successful composer in the history of planet Earth". Oddly, as he was trundling up his Lordship's Majorcan driveway in a golf buggy and extemporising for the camera, Morgan had described him as "the most successful composer in the history of Great Britain". Presumably, he felt the need to amplify the hype after watching the rushes. Whether you accept either description depends on how you define success, I suppose, but if it's a matter of earning power alone I don't think we can quibble too much. What Morgan wanted to know, though, was why Britain doesn't love Lloyd Webber as much as it appears to love his music.
I have a feeling he'd left it a little late to ask this question. There was a time, yes, when Andrew Lloyd Webber was a punchbag for the culturally snobbish. But his appearances on various reality television shows have given him a certain eccentric cachet that was reflected in his manner here, which was oddly like a precocious 14-year-old who knows that his mother and his aunties adore him. He was full of giddy little jokes and a rather self-loving self-deprecation. Also, to be fair, the odd moment of winning plain speaking: "Useless piece of television," he said, in the awkward beat after a staged encounter in his Deya kitchen. This is the interview that told us more than we perhaps wanted to know about Lord Webber's post-prostate sex life, but the best bit to my mind was the moment when Morgan, emboldened by white wine, pressed Webber's wife, Madeleine, to confirm Wife Number Two's indiscreet testimonial to the size of the composer's manhood. I'm glad to say Madeleine declined. "You can ask Sarah Brightman," she said tartly, "she loves talking about those things... and she's had many to compare it too, I'm sure." One-nil to Wife Three I think.
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