Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cultural review: Lowdham Book Festival, Funland, and Jerry Springer - The Opera

Well THAT's a feast of material. It almost reads like a Newsnight Review edition (funnily I nearly typed The Late Show which was its long-since-past predecessor, most fondly remembered by me for when the Stone Roses blew the limited speaker provision and bemoaned "amateurs!").

Anyway:

Lowdham Book Festival

Only been to two events so far and we're scheduled for another on Friday. Yes, as befits most book festivals - especially small ones held in obscure little Notts villages - it was a very white and very Guardian/Independent reading affair. That was pretty depressing. Cloud and I were also probably the youngest (certainly for the opening session with Mike Marqusee, 'lovable' leftie, discussing Bob Dylan).

Nevertheless, the Dylan talk was worth the price of entry for just being able to indulge in someone smart acknowledging le Dylan's ambiguity and contrariness (as well as for intro-ing the talk with a nice amount of Dylan selections playing). A witty, honest and intelligent discussion of lyrics, politics, and the political/personal context of Dylan's work. If you haven't already bought Chimes of Freedom, it's now been reissued in paperback with a new title and some revisions/expansions as Wicked Messenger. Highly recommended.

Next up was Will Hodgkinson talking (and playing) about his book Guitar Man, the story of one person's journey to learn the guitar in 6 months and then do a live concert. Along the way he was advised and taught by some of the great guitar players like Bert Jansch and Johnny Marr (the former helpfully and critically; the latter rather too positive to be useful) and given pertinent - if dismissive - advice by Les Paul ("practice"). He did an admirable rendition of the nigh impossible-to-play Anji by Davey Graham, and reported with much affection how the now raddled Graham met a woman when he was visiting an out-patients mental health centre and, embarrassed at his situation let her believe he was a doctor. Shetold him she was a social worker. Only some time later did each discover they were in fact BOTH out-patients. Very amusing and engaging young man whose looks belied his mid-30s age.

Friday, we go to see Simon Callow talk about Orson Welles. Looking forward to it.

Funland

The final episode is on next Sunday (I hope - they booted it from the BBC2 schedules weekend before last, much to our indignation. Still, I called the BBC and got put through to a LOVELY guy called Paul who not only confirmed it would be back this Sunday just gone, but also happily chatted with me about how good it was. He was, as I told him, a sweetie, and made what could have been me ranting at the BBC schedulers into a very pleasant conversation indeed).

I know some of you may have watched this on BBC3, but as you all should know - grumble, grumble - no Freeview in our house. So Cloud and I have picked this up on BBC2. It's not easy viewing it has to be said. In fact, I would happily admit to it being depraved, twisted, sick and full of barking mad characters. It is also horribly, horribly funny and bleak.

Needless to say, we've been loving it! No spoilers please from BBC3 viewers, though I can't imagine there are entirely happy endings.

That bit of depravity neatly brings me to last night's cultural spot:

Jerry Springer - The Opera

Cloud had won two tickets via the council (for an eco-friendliness questionnaire raffle, bizarrely).

Wow. Friends had seen it, either live or on the BBC screening, and both had praised it.

Let us be clear: it IS offensive. It is bawdy, obscene and excessive. It is also hilarious (though I'm not sure whether ALL the audience got that or whether they just appreciated a musical version of an actual Jerry Springer show...)

But it is much more than that. It is, in many respects, a deeply MORAL piece, in so much as medieaval works were usually morality plays. If you imagine that Chaucer is the accommodatable side of medieval writing - with all its bawdiness - imagine all the stuff that didn't make it down through the centuries (partly because of oral traditions).

I doubt I'm the first to say it, but in this instance, viewing it can help you critique it. For example, there was a lot of horse-crap from protesters about how it depicted Jesus in a nappy. Oh lord. NO. That is NOT what you see.

In the first act a black guy confesses to wanting to be treated as baby. He pulls off his suit to show he is wearing a nappy.

In the second act, when Jerry is 'dying' he is called to referee a special Jerry show to arbitrate between Satan and Jesus/God, and the same actor from the first half reappears as Jesus WEARING A LOIN CLOTH. A LOIN CLOTH. Not a nappy (though the visual link is smartly witty).

The best analogy I can think of is how in the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's imagination of the good and bad guys draws on the real-life counterparts she knows (the quack travelling salesman becomes the wizard, the nasty lady the witch, her friends at the farm her inspirational but flawed travelling companions of metaphorical significance: courage, brains, heart). Sheesh, I can't believe that anyone aware of the tradition of morality plays and the like could ever make such a simple error of reading the play. It really ISN'T Jesus in a nappy!!!!!

Anyway, choreographed Ku Klux Klan dancers aside, it really was a smart satire on the role of television in our lives, the pseudo-morality of reality TV, and - astutely - on even the form of musical theatre, especially opera (lots of knowing bemusement when singers were doing their most excessive operatic stylings: and by the way, the singing was excellent).

And you have to love a show that features a warning "may not be suitable for those without a strong grasp of Judeo-Christian mythology." Provocative genius...

8 comments:

Matt_c said...

I'm prejudiced against it because Stewart Lee thinks its ok to take the piss out of Christianity and not Islam, and he is way too smug.

Billy said...

Stewart Lee is way too smug but I can understand why he doesn't take the piss out of Islam.

I'm assuming, that like me and a lot of people in this country, he was bought up notionally "Christian" (i.e. got christened, went to a school that sung hymns in the morning, celebrated Christmas etc.) and therefore is well aware of the mythology and is therefore able to take the piss out of it.

The mythology of Islam, although sharing a lot with the Christian and Jewish tradition just isn't as familiar to people, making mocking it harder without resorting to cheap stereotypes.

corin said...

Billy makes a very good point. I was working on a play once about the Spanish invasion of what is now Mexico. Every time we did something meant to be fun (setting the storytelling in a Mexican Restaurant, for a start) someone was bound to point out that we risked falling into stereotype. They were correct: Our group comprised a Welshman, two Americans and Albanian. I don't think we did anything offensive or knowingly fell into stereotype, but it's a lot easier (and 'safer') to stick to what you know.

For what it's worth, I try never to pick the safe option. I didn't get to see Jerry Springer, but from what I hear the show didn't need to worry too much about that.

Scott Matthewman said...

Some great points about JS:TO, Lisa.

I'd agree with you about it being a deeply moral piece. If anything, it highlights the hypocrisy of those who protest about portrayals of Biblical figures in the second act, and how they're held up to ridicule -- without saying anything about the ridicule which people and families are subjected to not only in the first act, but on shows of this type on TV.

I can't help feeling that 'true' Christians would have enough faith in their God to let him fend for himself and spend their energy in more productive ways.

Matt_c said...

I can understand why he doesn't take the piss out of Islam.

If I remember rightly his argument was that Christianity had foregone the right to not be criticised because historically it hadn't reacted - and that Islam had earned this right because they were stricter about it their response...

I can only find this
He suggested that it was fine to offend Christians because they had themselves degraded their iconography; Islam, however, has always been more "conscientious about protecting the brand".

It would be like bullying the small speccy kid because its easier. But (it seems) that Lee is doign satire; whats the point of satirising an institution that has little or no power? As a hegemonic cultural entity the Church is a spent force. (Any oppression it enacts is volountary - as Lisa and I discussed here.) To not criticise Islam because it is powerful social entity is to forget that that's the reason it should be criticised.

(Whether it should be criticised by someone like Lee is another matter - supporting the feelings of victimisation felt by some isn't what I want either... I'm just discussing the principle and that Lee's principles are stupid.)

Sorry for going on so long...

ross bradshaw said...

I was interested in your comments on Lowdham - being one of the organisers... The Festival is not so small - about 5,000 people attended the Festival over the week, with 300 for example at the Simon Callow event. I take your point about it being almost all white. That varies though, for example when Gary Younge spoke at an earlier Festival there were probably more Black people in the village than in the sum total of recorded history. But if it was the case that Black people don't want to come to Lowdham what should we do - force them? I was also interested that you thought it was a Guardian/Indpendent reading crowd. Should we exclude them? Offer half price to people if they come carrying a copy of the Mirror? As it happens the Times listed the Festival as one of their "five things to do this week" - but I guess that would make it even worse. Maybe if we programme Jordan we'd get Daily Star readers. Would that be a step forward???

ross bradshaw said...

I was interested in your comments on Lowdham - being one of the organisers... The Festival is not so small - about 5,000 people attended the Festival over the week, with 300 for example at the Simon Callow event. I take your point about it being almost all white. That varies though, for example when Gary Younge spoke at an earlier Festival there were probably more Black people in the village than in the sum total of recorded history. But if it was the case that Black people don't want to come to Lowdham what should we do - force them? I was also interested that you thought it was a Guardian/Indpendent reading crowd. Should we exclude them? Offer half price to people if they come carrying a copy of the Mirror? As it happens the Times listed the Festival as one of their "five things to do this week" - but I guess that would make it even worse. Maybe if we programme Jordan we'd get Daily Star readers. Would that be a step forward???

Neil said...

We did enjoy the festival and found it a very well organised, friendly event.

AS is the way with such events it's often the same crowd turns up.

This is as true of events such as Leveller's Day at Burford as it is exhibition openings at galleries.

Getting a demographically varied audience is challenging.

But, Ross, congratulations on putting on an excellent festival.