Saturday, 29 May 2010

TV Review: UK entry for Eurovision 2010 didn't sound good to me, unfortunately...

The 55th Eurovision Song Contest. Aired 29th May 2010, BBC One, 8pm.

Despite all the fanfare, the promotion, and not least the songwriting credentials of two-thirds of the legendary Stock, Aitken & Waterman, the United Kingdom's entry for the fifty-fifth Eurovision Song Contest, "That Sounds Good to Me," scored disastrously in the competition's results, receiving only 10 points. This pales in comparison to the winners, Germany, who ran away with this year's victory with 246 points.

Pete Waterman, a former judge on the UK's "Pop Idol," was responsible for such hits during the 1980s as Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky" and Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." And therein lies part of the problem. The singer, Josh Dubovie, clearly has masses of vocal potential and his enthusiasm for the stage is evident, but the song itself seems rather dated next to the sophistication of Ireland's ballad or the sheer brilliance of Turkey's very contemporary contribution, which even won over the author of this blog, despite not having any pretensions himself to enjoying hardcore rock music on a regular basis.

Which brings me to where, I think, the other part of the blame can be apportioned. Those behind the British production brought little creativity to their segment of the proceedings. Maybe this was due to a lack of funding: surely Arlene Phillips, were she on the creative team, could have treated us to a more energetic choreographic display? Or more simply, this points to a dearth of imagination among British production talent nowadays. Either way, the consequences were dire for our musical reputation.

Fundamentally, all of those involved (except Mr. Dubovie, who made the best of a bad deal) seemed to underestimate the standard of this year's competition, to our detriment. Admittedly, this year's winning performance was mediocre, and only a slight improvement on the ear-splitting singing (read shouting) of Alexander Rybak. But there were plenty of memorable, creative masterstrokes too: duelling Plexiglas pianoes; dancing motorcylists; flashy violinists - among others. And that is where the UK failed. It failed, simply, to put on a good show.

Even if the tabloids do end up slating Mr. Dubovie tomorrow for the outcome at Oslo, at least he can rest assured that he did the best he could, and the experience will stand him in good stead for the many performances he is likely to have throughout what I am sure will be his lengthy stage career. Plus, of all people, he managed to land the highly-respected Mr. Waterman as his Eurovision colleague. But sadly, this is probably little consolation for Britain ending up in last place in the Eurovision leaderboard for the third time in seven years.

Many commiserations to Mr. Dubovie from the author. And there is always next year: it can only be upwards from here on!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Book Review: Make "Time" for Niffenegger's dazzling 'concept fiction' novel

The Time-Traveler's Wife. By Audrey Niffenegger. Published by Vintage, £7.99.

Ever since "The Time-Traveler's Wife" first burst into the bookshops in 2004, it has become a literary sensation. According to Wikipedia, as of March 2009, the novel has sold more than two and a half million copies in both the US and UK. I saw the film adaptation last summer, having not read the novel prior to its release, yet I enjoyed it for what I saw as Niffenegger's inventive conceit, which to my mind had translated well to the screen.

When I came eventually to reading the novel, I therefore realised how much the screenwriter and director had excised from it in adapting it for the screen. I felt my understanding of the characters was actually enriched rather than limited because of this very fact. In case you're not familiar with the scenario, the book concerns the relationship between Henry and Clare, who first met when Claire was six and Henry thirty-six, and married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. This may seem paradoxical, but this is because Henry suffers from a "chronological impairment disorder," which essentially means he can travel through time: without warning, he is pulled into his past or future. It may sound glamorous, but as Henry and Clare discover, such a condition is fraught with difficulties and implications.

The narrative alternates between the two protagonists in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, which makes reading the novel an intimate but ultimately rewarding experience. Niffenegger is able to give us two remarkably emotionally robust central characters, whose relationship is imbued with conflict as a result of Henry's unfortunate time-travelling condition. The author manages to capitalise on the metaphorical opportunities offered by the situation, exploring ideas of free will, fate and existence, while never compromising the emotional turmoil that lies at the heart of the story. We see Henry compelled to relive his mother's death over and over; Clare keeps waiting for a husband who is always disappearing and suddenly reappearing; Henry's sexual history prior to meeting Claire is alluded to in dubious terms. Suspense is carefully maintained in how facts are divulged at different times to different people: the birth of the couple's daughter is no less emotionally affecting for its revelation a few dozen pages beforehand, having seen the couple undergo several traumatic miscarriages. What then becomes the focus is how the plot arrives from A to B: how Henry manages to convince Clare that her persistence will pay off.

"The Time-Traveler's Wife" is a great book, not only for its highly original conceit, but for the skill with which it is weaved into the narrative. The lives of the two protagonists and their allies are very much grounded in reality, but the time-travel device gives it a richness and complexity worthy of serious literature, hence some critics describe the novel as 'concept fiction.' (Indeed, the book is littered with literary references and allusions.) Even if some of the supporting cast are less well-rounded, the compelling story and the intense passion you feel for Henry and Clare to succeed in their marriage more than makes up for it. Like Henry's condition, the novel has to be seen to be believed. A journey through space, time and self, the book deserves to be a modern classic.

Rating out of 5: *****
Age Recommendation: 15+ for strong language, sex references and violence.

The Necessary-But-Trite Welcome Post...


My name is Gah-Kai Leung, I'm currently 18 years of age and living happily in England. I have set up this blog as a record of all the books, films, TV series and other arty-farty things that I have the time, money and/or willpower to discuss and review (hence the title), as well as political and economic developments. It is also designed to nurture my ambition to become a columnist/commentator in a few years' time, when I have gladly received my degree and all.

Hope you enjoy.

Best wishes,