Family hell and a voice from heaven

TELEVISION

ONE GREAT disadvantage of being rich and famous in America is that when your pampered children murder you, the whole world gets to watch a banal Hollywood mini-series re-enacting your family life, complete with frequent reminders of your unsavoury demise, and actors who never look enough like the people they're impersonating. The assumption behind Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills (ITV) is that there's nothing we plebs like more than spying on the rich, especially if they're unhappy.

But the Menendez family doesn't seem in any worse shape than most close relatives cooped up together. The father's a self-made millionaire with bullying tendencies and unwarrantedly high expectations of his sons. The mother is working her way towards senselessness through drink and Vivaldi. The two seemingly full-grown boys are forever asking permission to go out. At dinner, Papa quizzes them on economics. He has limited time and patience for his paternal duties and offers mainly scorn and admonition - but, hey, it worked for Mozart.

I thought the murder would never come. The parents are contentedly eating ice-cream and watching Leave It to Beaver on TV, that sit-com of ideal family life, when Lyle and Erik burst in and open fire - proof at last, if we needed it, that parents are annoying when eating ice-cream. The jurors couldn't bring themselves to convict, probably because the boys were now orphans. Self-made orphans. Good cryers too.

Crime of the Wolf (True Stories, C4) seemed at first much more exotic. Using KGB videos and interviewing everyone from his favourite school-teacher to his mother, his wife, various victims of his misdeeds, fellow prisoners and the public prosecutor who fell in love with him, they pieced together the rise and fall of a Russian criminal named Maduev. A wily, unpleasant- looking bloke with a string of killings to his name, red lips, rectangular eyebrows and an astonishing ability to endear himself to people who might prove useful, he's a sort of murderous version of Nick Leeson, with subtitles, and spends his life in Russian prisons, where women stand outside shouting up encouragements at inmates like "Natasha's waiting, she loves you," receiving in return strange tightly rolled scraps of paper.

Maduev's childhood was suitably macabre, including drug-dealing from the age of five. He left home at 13, devoted himself to a life of crime, forgives and trusts no one, and has had so many aliases he often forgets his own name. "If you have not known grief, love me," says the tattoo on his arm. He preys on people's compassion. The poor baffled public prosecutor smuggled a gun to him and ended up in a prison camp herself. Even from there she still longs to help him, because "He saw the woman in me". Far from it. "I didn't see the woman in her," says he. "I saw someone dragging me to the death penalty ... I never loved a woman for more than five minutes ... I always choose plain women, the uglier the better."

The sun was setting. Again and again. The film wanted to be a great Russian novel, and tried to achieve this by going on and on and on, and by glorifying Maduev to the point of absurdity. "He emanates masculine power." Moreover, he's "taut like a spring which you can bend but it always bounces back stronger and stronger", and is "distinguished from all of us by two features: his absolute freedom and his incredible power, the power of his personality, will- power, and some inner power that rushes from him like some kind of avalanche!" Too much prison soup perhaps.

Various sporty types were outraged this week by Panorama's report on drug-taking among Olympic athletes (The Drugs Olympics, BBC2). I got quite upset myself about "drug cheats" until I remembered that I don't actually care about the Olympics. Tricks of the trade apparently include hiding bags of your coach's drug-free urine in your armpit, or even injecting it through a catheter into your bladder. Surely anyone willing to go through that deserves to win something. The smart ones now take drugs that can't be detected in urine at all. The tests therefore only pinpoint the stupid.

Chinese women swimmers came under attack for steroid-abuse, but in fact they have crafty training tactics not even mentioned by Panorama: they're not allowed to go out on dates until they're 22. There's nothing like a little sexual frustration to propel you through the water, as lunch- break pool-users all over the world will tell you.

Surely the Olympics are burnt out anyway. They can't even keep that torch alight, despite having, according to The Greatest Show on Earth: It's Atlanta (BBCl), three "secret" back-up flames. Traditionally the less commercial end of sports, the Olympic Games this year are merely an ad for Coke, and a magnet for shysters of all kinds. While the devious rich rent out their mansions for $70,000 a week, crooks and conmen from all over America are flocking in: 100- metre pickpockets, high-jumping burglars and world champion field-and- track car-jackers. It really brings a tear to your eye.

"I never knew how good my songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them," said Ira Gershwin. She was born in 1918, orphaned at 15 and almost destitute when she won a talent competition. Wouldn't this make a better mini-series than the Menendez brothers? But the BBC commendably raced through her biography in A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (BBC2) to concentrate on the music, simply showing two concerts. The first, in 1965, featured Ella with bleached hair and wearing an enormous black dress, singing to an uptight white audience. But she sang beautifully. It was the perfection of her voice that made her suspect among jazz musicians. Humphrey Lyttelton on Radio 2 recently admitted feeling she was "emotionally, small beer" compared to Billie Holiday. But the purity of sound which made Joan Baez insipid makes Fitzgerald a joy.

With such a voice, she could afford to take risks and was forever departing from the lyrics in order to improvise the sound of a trumpet or trombone. She was impatient with limitations: in the second concert, at Ronnie Scott's in the Seventies, she had a long conversation with the double bass, in which she mixed three songs (at least) into one. Her enthusiasm's catching. "I'm in a spin - I'm lovin' the spin I'm in." This time, she wore a taut golden gown and glasses and teetered between a seductive dedication to the music, and the grandmotherish persona she would put on between the numbers. "I'm not so hot, but my shape is my own."

It doesn't matter that some of the songs were banal, it's her utter absorption in them that's stunning. Woken from it by clapping, she resumes her embarrassed, self-effacing air, which only makes you want her to sing more. She likes it when she can get the audience to laugh, but likes it even more when they just shut up and listen. "I'm living in a kind of daydream, I'm happy as a king and, foolish though it may seem, to me that's everything." It's awful to think of her dead, when she was so good live. How strange the change, from major to minor.

Next week, Lucy Ellmann begins a new column in the comment section of the main paper.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk