I surprised myself by feeling rather sad for the old trout; 62 is way too young to die and he looked so very tired and ill.
Fags. And lots of them.
I think he was on and off the ciggies for years, but they're not strictly speaking what killed him. His heart problem was a congenital defect and it's obvious smoking wouldn't have helped that, but it was the return of his prostate cancer that ended his life.
Add in a uniquely stressful working life and and periodic bouts with the bottle. He drove himself far harder than was healthy.
There's a lot of BBC, a couple of venerable political films (about Mao and Nixon respectively) worth catching, and some Sir Edmund Hillary action in the Documentary Channel's January lineup.
The shades of autism are almost inevitably bettered rendered by family than by medical professionals, and that's the case with The Autism Puzzle (9pm Jan 15), a documentary made for BBC4 by Saskia Baron, whose brother Timothy was born profoundly autistic in 1961, a time when the condition was barely recognised, let alone catered for in society.
Baron's father Michael jointly founded the National Autistic Society the year after Timothy was born. Her documentary looks at both the history of autism and the latest experimental research on its nature.
Another BBC documentary, Race for Everest, gets a Sunday Premiere showing at 9pm on Sunday January 7, followed by screenings through the month. Sir Ed, naturally, appears as himself (he has a surprisingly long CV on IMDB, including two appearances on What's My Line?).
Remember the Ya-ba panic? The domestic P plague has rather robbed the news value from other Asian amphetamines, but it was the MacIntyre Investigates programme on "crazy medicine" that first got the speed boom into the headlines. MacIntye's undercover adventures take him to Thailand, where tax-boys sell drugs in the street. Screens 9pm Saturday January 13.
Staying with highly political substances, Message in a Bottle is a well-reviewed BBC documentary about the soft drink giant's battle to hold on to its Muslim market in the face of a challenge from two new products - Qibla Cola and Mecca Cola - developed for explicitly political ends. It screens at 8pm January 24.
Politics junkies may lap up the two parts of Secret Life of Richard Nixon, part of the BBC's Reputations series, which screen together from 8-10pm on Wednesday Jan 17. It's not new (it first screened in 2000) but appears to be quite well-regarded.
Even older (1993) is Chairman Mao: The Last Emperor, which sparked a diplomatic furore in Hong Kong and was yanked from the schedules by a spooked local TV company. The film, released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Mao's birth, touches on the Chinese dictator's sexual preference for young girls. It debuts on the Documentary Channel at 9pm, Sunday January 21.
And, finally, just in case you were thinking about, Freeze Me (Sunday January 28) is a doco originally made for the National Geographic channel about people who choose to have themselves frozen indefinitely by the cryonics company Alcor instead of just dying like everyone else.
Real Times will be taking a break for a little while, but we hope to rejoin you some time in the new year.
Britain's vogue for public debate as the smart evening out shows no sign of slackening. A couple of years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a debate about the role and merit of religion not only selling out months in advance, but "due to unprecedented demand for tickets", moving to a larger venue and selling that out too.
The affirmative team - Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Professor A.C. Grayling - certainly has pulling power, but the team arguing against the motion will also hold some interest for Documentary Channel viewers. Alongside Rabbi Julia Neuberger and Professor Roger Scruton is Nigel Spivey, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a classical art and archaeology expert who came to public attention via Digging For Jesus, which screens, tidily enough, on Christmas Eve (10pm) on the Documentary Channel.
In the programme, which debuted last Christmas on Britain's ITV, Spivey examines the top 10 archaeological sites offering evidence that Jesus Christ did indeed walk the earth, and finding what he describes as "a core of historical reality that defies even the most hardened sceptic" as to Jesus' existence.
Divinity, of course, is quite another matter, but believers, including this Christian blogger, have been excited by the work:
The program was truly a breath of fresh air to watch, it was great to see a self-proclaimed sceptic being confronted with strong supporting evidence for the Gospel accounts and then to watch a sceptic humbly acknowledge the historicity of the Gospels. As Christians who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, archaeological exploration of the Holy Land shouldn’t be something which we worry about it ‘disproving’ the Gospels and go on the defensive. In fact we should be strengthened by archaeological exploration, as the New Testament narrative is proven time and again to be consistent with the facts on the ground. Just as we’d expect it to be.
Other online discussions of the programme were more circumspect.
Digging for Jesus re-screens at 6am and 2pm on Christmas Day, and then several times over the next few days (search the Sky listings for full details).
But there's not much more for the pious on Christmas Day itself: the day from 3pm is devoted to Living Famously programmes on the hour, featuring, in order: Oliver Reed, Benny Hill, Dusty Springfield, Keith Moon, Rudolf Nureyev, Mae West, Karen Carpenter and Peter Sellers. Most, if not all, of that lot would have made Baby Jesus cry …
Dutch director Water Stokman's Let Me Have It All, a road-movie documentary following his search for the crazy, brilliant funk president Sly Stone, gets a screening on the Documentary Channel at 10pm tonight.
Stokman's award-winning directorial debut was made in 1993, six years after Sly's last live performance, and it would be a full 13 years later before Sly would get back on stage, to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February of this year. A tribute album, Different Strokes By Different Folks, featuring The Roots, Black Eyed Peas, Steve Tyler and others, was released at the same time.
The Washington Post ran a backgrounder as rumours of Sly's Grammy appearance spread earlier this year.
There's an official (ie: Sony BMG) Sly website and a fan-run MySpace page, which includes a link to buy the catalogue at the iTunes Store (don't bother with the New Zealand store - like most things of interest, it ain't there). And, naturally, there's a solid Wikipedia entry.
Where you really want to go after watching the doco, of course, is YouTube, where there's a real trove of fine Sly moments - not including this shocking what-were-they-thinking moment from the 1975 American Music Awards.
The point, though: such environments are clearly precious, and such attitudes are clearly needed to make progress. To work in an environment that is not like this (which politcians seem to have to) cannot, in my experience, be conducive to ideas emerging and good ideas surviving and growing.
Damn, that's an interesting comparison. I guess there's some effort to try and allow for that by making policy advice to ministers (in theory) confidential, but I guess you still end up with a situation where accountable = risk-averse. Ah, the ironies of democracy ...
This month's Skywatch features a smouldering cover shot of Ewan McGregor, on occasion of Return of the Sith reaching the small screen. But the actor features in a more interesting programme - or at least one you haven't already seen - from this Sunday night.
The Documentary Channel's 9pm premiere slot on Sunday hosts the first episode of Long Way Round, the seven-part story (moving to 8pm Sundays thereafter) of a motorcycle journey from London to New York - via Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and Canada - undertaken by McGregor and his friend and sometime actor Charley Boorman, to raise money for an awareness of the work of UNICEF.
There's an annoying and over-engineered official Flash website for the project, but you're better off with the very detailed Wikipedia article about it, which notes the offscreen logistsics that made the journey possible, and records the physical trials it involved. Yes ladies, a flurry of mosquito bites renders Ewan's penis even bigger than usual.
The IMDB entry for the series is also comprehensive, and includes fan discussion about the music used, which includes Orbital, Massive Attack, Radiohead and Stereophonics, with the last group providing the title track.
There's also a Wikiquotes page, and a quite a few YouTube clips to view, including the official trailer:
The beard-biting puppy:
And an after-match interview with McGregor and Boorman:
You probably didn't see Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey first time around. This is because, despite being bloody good, New Zealand-made and not yer usual travel show, it was consigned by TVNZ to deadly weekday afternoon timeslots (because all the hipsters are glued to the telly at 1pm on a Thursday). It's back with a better bunch of slots from Wednesday*, and to celebrate, we asked producer-presenter Camilla Andersen to write a little something for Real Times ...
Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey
Documentary Channel (Sky 49) 7pm, Wed Nov 22
Julian and Camilla’s World Odyssey is a very real travel series. It is not a holiday series with slo-mo spa shots of washed up boob jobs or ear to ear grinning presenters sipping sticky. Julian and I could not be “presenters” as he is not hot enough and I am not stupid enough. There are no sharks or nazi’s but there are plenty of local characters, and not just the pool attendants and safari guides. The series is a real journey, an odyssey, not a week’s dip into the best hotel rooms and duty free shops. We start on Kuta beach in Bali and end up drinking ayahuasca deep in the Amazon in Peru. Julian is a lovable cheapskate rogue, with a penchant for bbb’s (blonde british backpackers). I am an inquisitive (Julian would say “nosey”) pseudo-journalist with a weakness for black men plying cocaine.
Ever since I can remember I have always had to win. Not just that I like to but I need to win. Luckily for me, I am also aware that this competitive nature has meant that I can embarrass myself with my shameless efforts to triumph and my obvious disappointment at the rare event of defeat.
Before Julian and I embarked on our odyssey, I never realised that there was a competitive edge to being a traveller. Who had been to the best places first, who had eaten the hottest or most disgusting food, who had found the cheapest room and who could tell the best travel stories. I had also finally met my match in terms of someone as competitive as I was. When Julian and I (and two others) took off on our world odyssey, he had the advantage. He was a well seasoned traveller having been to India, south East Asia and the USA many times and he seemed to take great pleasure in “advising” me on what to pack, what to eat and that I should never fear because he would know what to do in every situation. He was, according to him, the best “bargainer”, the best navigator, the best packer, just the best fuckin traveller this world had ever seen. Despite my constant reminders of how I had spent the first 14 years of my life in Africa he was convinced I would be inflicted with “culture shock” that would leave me reeling as he came to my rescue with all his experienced traveller knowledge. Hmmmm.
As we left Auckland and headed for Indonesia I was about to be thrust into the world of the “backpacker” subculture! Goodbye drum and bass scene, hello new tribe and I had my friend Julian to show me how to do it. As we checked into our flight to Bali, Julian told me he hated Indonesia because last time he was in Bali customs had managed to bribe him of $5. He had arrived without a ticket out of Indonesia, and we were about to do the same. We had flights booked further along the way, but Julian-the-worlds-best-traveller said we could get a cheaper flight by getting it in Jakarta. As I nervously shuffled up to the customs officer expecting to have to try deal with my first bribery attempt I was very disappointed as he accepted my explanation that I intended to buy my ticket out in Jakarta. Not even an attempt to help me increase my traveller kudos. Julian however seemed to be adding a notch to his “cool traveller” bedpost and slid a bill surreptitiously over to his customs officer. Fuck he is a cooler traveller than me I cursed. Aren’t young females meant to look like drug mules?! Suspect me please.
Julian came over, strangely not sporting his usual pre travel-wank gloat. “Fucker got me for 50 bucks” he cried. Ha ha…nothing worse for a seasoned traveller than actually getting ripped off. Getting bribed for 5 bucks is worthy of kudos but 50 bucks could last tight-wad Julian for a week in Indonesia. He had reached into his pocket to where he had a $5 bill waiting, forgetting he had put his emergency $50 in there too. Wrong bill! Camilla 1, Julian 0.
We set down our bags at the cheapest hovel we could find and headed out to be real travellers and not two honkys from New Zealand. My lesson from Julian in bargaining as he bought a cheap souvenir hat (Camilla 1, Julian 1) was very quickly forgotten as I sat down on Kuta beach for a pedicure only to be besieged by three more women each grabbing a limb, massaging it and demanding payment for unsolicited services (Camilla 1, Julian 2). I was losing this competition and it was only 1 day into the year’s journey.
A couple weeks later as Julian and I wandered the streets of Jakarta, dodging sex tourists and transvestites we pondered the bubbling filth masquerading as one of the city’s rivers and I suggested this was not my kind of place.
“Its culture shock, Camilla” he squealed at me with triumphant glee.
No, Julian, its not.
You will see both Julian and I change as the year and our experience alters us. The series though is more about the locals than Julian and I, despite what I have penned here. Indonesia was our baptism of fire into the year that was Camilla and Julian’s World Odyssey and it certainly doesn’t stop there. Things get more interesting as we are less concerned with getting our backpacker badge. It was the journey of a lifetime that took us into sex-change operating theatres in Thailand, abandoned Indian ashrams haunted by the Beatles, the mausoleums of masked Mexican wrestlers, Cuban Cabaret clubs, Jamaican swingers’ resorts, Peruvian alien cults and Noam Chomsky’s office.
Join us on the Doco channel for a series too good for TVNZ to screen in primetime …
* NB: The vagaries of launch scheduling mean that Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey will take the 7pm slot on Wednesday, before dropping back to 4pm Wednesdays, then getting a better run in a 7pm or 9pm slot in January and February. We'll keep you posted - The Doctor.
Alistair, sorry to interrupt your echo chamber, or should that be circle jerk?
Keep it seemly James. No one is talking to you like that.
I wasn't too sure about the little white tablets they gave us in the goodie bags, but Matthew Hooton told me I'd be a pussy if I didn't neck at least half a dozen. After watching a film about sharks eating Nazis for half an hour, I had to be outside, where something made me look up.
David Slack (who doesn't do drugs but becomes adventurous under the influence of wine) was free-climbing the front of the building. (I actually saw two of him climbing the building in perefect unison, but the laws of physics dictate that two instances of Slack may not occur in the same space, so I put that down to double vision.) He was singing.
"Sly and the Family Stone," observed Graeme Hill. "Nice."
I turned around to ask Hooton how he was getting on, but at just that moment he was taken out in a flying tackle. The Prime Minister got up cackling and ostentatiously dusting off her hands. It's nice to see her smiling again.
After the DPS guy had helped Hooton to his feet, I asked if perhaps things weren't going a bit far.
"After all, Norrie Montgomery's here taking photos for Bridget Saunders. She might write some long-winded thing saying how disappointed she is in us."
"No worries," said Hooton. "I slipped a couple of pills in the little bugger's lemonade."
"Jesus. Where is he now?"
"In the toilets, taking photos of himself in the mirror."
We were interrupted by a loud crash. Slack had come down from the front of the building and was cradled in a huge, crumpled dent in a Toyota people mover. He was still singing.
"STAND!" he bawled, "__STAAAAAAND!__ …"
Richard Driver, the founder of the Documentary Channel, hove into view. His hair was on fire. With a pretty blue flame.
"Why is your hair on fire?" I asked.
"Guy Fawkes," he said.
It was at that point I had a vision. I saw The Goddess, golden and shining.
"Hi," she said, "I'm Camilla from Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey. Thanks for supporting our programme."
My brief moment of reverie was interrupted when …
Oh, alright. That wasn't exactly how it happened, and the little white tablets in the nifty container were sugar-free mints. But all the abovementioned persons were at the Documentary Channel launch at Soca Gallery (met the owners - nice place) on Friday, Richard Driver used to have blue hair, the channel is in fact giving a deserved re-run to Julian and Camilla's World Odyssey, the Prime Minister was indeed in a notably good mood and Camilla is pretty fly.
Meanwhile PA System reader Tristan reviews early offerings from the channel thus:
Well documentary TV started last night and being the usual pap on Sunday TV we spent most of our time watching the new TV.
Old Enough to Be His Mother
A real stinker! This "doco" followed the lives of couples with very large age differences. All the way up to 30 years was covered.
It started off well enough with couples gently talking about their lives and how they got on with things. There was one couple where the mother had been vilified by the English press for leaving her daughter behind while she moved to Turkey. We got to hear the mothers story and how her daughter and the press and lied.
Then it went downhill fast ...They must have run out of material because after going through 6 couples they went around them again and the last half of the show was all about their sex lives. One point that really made me angry was when they taped one couple in the shower washing one another. That was just gutter stuff.
But he took a much more positive view of Legendary Faces - Benny Hill:
Part of a series of portraits on famous people from around the world this was a really personal and loving look at very funny and it seemed lonely man.
His friends and co starts as well as an historian talked about his life and how he became the first TV made comedian.
The really special stuff in this doco was the insight into his personal life which was not full of bawdy girl chasing (well mostly) but of a loner who lived a very frugal life despite being very rich.
His long time friend talked about how Benny signed his own death warrant by refusing a heart bypass and he knew that he would die. It seems even if you are a comic genius you still suffer like other geniuses.
One really funny story was his pick up routine... He used to take women from his show out to lunch, have a few wines and then take them home. They would be finished by the early evening so then he could watch telly at night!
I'm look forward to more of them. Oh and I'm also looking forward to seeing more of Judy Bailey who is now presenting short NZ History segments between documentaries. Last night it was Charles Upham and it was marvellous.
Oh, that that's what Judy's doing. Anyone gonna YouTube it?
Meanwhile, my good lady wife and I watched Days and Nights in an Indian Jail which was sort of disarming, because, while the Indian justice system seems to be like Kafka on downers, the prisons were not what I expected at all. Well worth catching if you're setting the MySky …
I heard a interview on bFM yesterday about a film maker who made a documentary about the real guy from Dog Day Afternoon - "Based on a true story"? He seemed to have been brought out by the Doco channel, any word on when that's on?
Its first play is at 9pm on Sunday November 12. There are several other Walter Stokman documentaries lined up - I was intending to blog them after I interview Mr Stokman today. I'll keep an eye out for Simon Pound's interview to turn up as a bCast - it was very good.