26 November 2010

Film 2010 redux

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In my earlier review of the new format of the BBC’s Film 2010 I expressed my optimism that it would cope well with the shift from Jonathan Ross to Claudia Winkleman and her co-host Danny Leigh.  Having now watched seven episodes, I can confirm that it has become a firm favourite of mine, in a way that the previous incarnations somehow didn’t.  This is not to say that Ross wasn’t my cup of tea, but rather that following the attention generated by the switch of presenters, I now have become a fan of the programme and make an effort to watch it every week. 

Central to the programme’s appeal is the onscreen relationship between host Winkleman and her offsider Leigh.  Winkleman and Leigh both have a long-standing interest in films and appear to have seen a great variety of work, and the presence of another pundit competing (politely!) for camera time prevents the sometimes self-indulgent and uncontested theorising that a film critic on their own can sometimes fall prey to.  The gender balance also addresses a valid concern about film reviewing by a solo host. 

Winkleman is knowledgeable, with broad tastes that range from arthouse to schlocky mainstream blockbusters, and as a seasoned TV presenter is able to express her views concisely and without resorting to cliché.  She’s amusing too, and has the winning trait for a film reviewer of not taking herself too seriously.  It’s pleasing to note in her defence of Tony Scott’s daft but exciting Unstoppable and his earlier hits like Top Gun (neither of which, I might add, hold any interest for me) that she is not afraid to express deeply uncool and populist views despite the sometimes prissy and sanctimonious ‘rules’ of film criticism.    

Guardian film writer Leigh also impresses in his role as Winkleman’s Sancho Panza, in which he contributes in a scholarly, traditional film criticism role.  His knowledge of film history allows him to inject context into the review discussions, and he pitches his contributions at just the right level – never over-staying his welcome or crowding out his co-host, but always offering a valid and sometimes alternative viewpoint.  It’s a pleasure to see someone who is able to couch justifiable cynicism about a suspect film in such a polite and constructive way, as he did with Unstoppable.  It’s also worth noting that the live broadcast appears not to faze Leigh in the slightest.  You would expect Winkleman, with her long broadcasting experience, to be au fait with the medium, but I’ve yet to see Leigh put a foot wrong either, in what must be a challenging format for a newcomer.

The live broadcast is one of the aspects of the programme that I’m less convinced about.  Strictly speaking, I’m not sure what it adds.  If it’s markedly cheaper to transmit the programme live, then by all means carry on.  But the main attraction of live broadcasting is the combination of its real sense of immediacy and spontaneity and the slight possibility that something could go horribly wrong – e.g. a Blue Peter baby elephant moment.  But there’s nothing so up-to-the-minute in Film 2010 that it demands live transmission, and you’ll probably have to wait a fair while for a potentially memorable or career-threatening live TV implosion.  The sofa-side film review chats between Winkleman and Leigh proceed at a fair old clip without the slightest hiccup.  Winkleman tries to inject a sense of responsiveness by reading out a few viewer tweets when she finds the time, but seldom fits it in.  And the closest I’ve seen to a mishap was the opening night live interview with Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and a microphone-hogging Andrew Garfield at the premiere of Never Let Me Go, in which a certain amount of time had to be filled by shots of two all-conquering gamine British starlets, despite the fact that no-one had much of interest to say. 

Now that Film 2010 has settled down into a steady format after the rush to introduce all its extra contributors in the opening episode, it feels like the programme is working well and I look forward to the remainder of its run.  As for potential improvements, I go back to the comments in my earlier blog.  It’s fine and indeed laudable to solicit audience involvement and read the odd tweet out on air to reward loyal viewers who make a clever point.  But realistically Film 2010 has less than 40 minutes of screen-time to engage in substantive discussions of the broad church of film-making and viewing.  There’s so much to fit in, and when you’ve got a pair of hosts whose discussions are reliably interesting and amusing, I think it’s a shame that these discussions should be rushed to fit into a jam-packed format.  At the moment it feels like they’re dashing to get through everything in time for the next pre-recorded clip. 

Winkleman and Leigh are the main focus of Film 2010 and the strength of their onscreen chemistry suggests that they should be allowed more time to discuss the films they’re reviewing.  I’d be particularly interested to hear them debate the merits or otherwise of a film that they disagree about.  One small way to save time would be to dump the live viewer feedback.  This sort of discussion is best kept for the programme website and Twitter feed, which is where fanboys and fangirls can interact with the hosts and see their name up in lights. 

Perhaps a more drastic solution would be to either drop or shorten one weekly pre-recorded segment, or to reduce the number of films reviewed by Winkleman and Leigh by one.  The former would cut down on the number of worthwhile interviews that could be shown, but perhaps might have the beneficial effect of avoiding the studio advertorial bumf that sometimes accompanies upcoming releases.  Admittedly the latter option, reducing the number of films reviewed, would also reduce the scope of the programme, and its ability to cater to a wide range of tastes.  But realistically, would the world have ended last night if, for example, they hadn’t been able to review Robert Rodriguez’s Machete?

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