I’ve written before about the quality of Italian tv – it’s basically an excuse to oggle attractive women. Which is just fine, for a while but, believe me, it gets wearisome pretty quickly because there’s no depth to the people nor the programmes. The women who present the major sports shows for example look and dress quite sensationally but their contribution doesn’t compare to, say, a Claire Balding, who in a million years would never be considered a forces pin-up but has succeeded because of her journalistic/presenter skills – she at least knows her subject matter. Even so I don’t think Claire’s a patch on some of the great male sports presenters in the UK; old school – Brian Moore, Harry Carpenter and Richie Benaud as well as ‘new’ boys Martin Tyler, Jeff Stelling and Martin Brundle for example. She’s good but nowhere near top gun. In Italy the female presenter’s primary task it seems is not to offer insight but a sight of her plunging neckline and/or oh so short hemline as she moves off and on the studio high stool (it’s a challenge repeated dozens of times, often not perfectly demurely) whilst shouting inanities increasingly loudly over the many voices of the assembled throng of old and seedy-looking former players and has-been male commentators.
After a while it’s like listening to Kerry Katona (albeit more attractive) bidding at the early morning fish market. There’s even one mega-popular prime-time programme called Veline which translates as ’tissue paper’ because that’s how substantially the women’s roles on the show are viewed and presented. It’s desperately sexist but, whisper it quietly, actually quite good fun but the positioning and tone just wouldn’t be acceptable almost anywhere else in the western world. It’s no surprise to find that many of the most successful shows are on the channels run by Silvio Berlusconi who makes David Sullivan look like a UK feminist icon.
It must be my Blackpool seaside upbringing because to me watching Italian TV is a bit like looking at those saucy Donald McGill postcards of the 50s/60s; naughty and mildly amusing but now significantly outdated on several levels. I have to be honest and say I’m not massively offended by either format but in both cases a little is enough. Then again I cannot think of a single place that would have women as its primary tv presenters in almost every TV programme except Italy. And regular readers will know I have no problems watching beautiful attractive women but I do like their presence to be meaningful and not simply gratuitous ’tissue’ dressing. But I’m not going to turn all Germaine Greer over this. Fact is I’d rather watch an hour of Italian Sky Sports’ Ilaria D’Amico than 5 minutes of Ray Stubbs any day of the week. See what I mean…
So, you’re probably thinking, what’s all this got to do with some World War II movies? Well despite Ilaria’s many attractions watching, even the ‘best’ of, Italian TV dulls the brain very quickly. Plus we lose so much by not being entirely fluent in our understanding of what’s going on. Then again Italian TV humour doesn’t rise much above slapstick pie-in-the-face so it’s not too hard to follow the plot. The Office? They just could never get it in Italy. Hell it’s taken the USA with 4 series of the same-language yet Americanised toned-down version to get the ironic subtlety. David Brent would blow their brains in Brescia.
And so …we end up taking lots of dvd’s out to Italy to turn to when the tv going gets tough. One of the recent ones was a 3-film compilation of the best (!) of British WWII movies ie The Great Escape, A Bridge Too Far and Battle of Britain. We bought it for a fiver in Sainsbury’s a couple of weeks ago and it seemed like a decent value purchase. Umm. I’ve written about The Great Escape before. I’ve enjoyed watching it on every Xmas day over the last 30 years and can rattle off most of it verbatim. It’s a tradition to watch it after the turkey’s been gobbled and the crackers pulled. But to be honest it’s not a great film when viewed without the benefit of several bucks’ fizz, a bottle or two of wine and a couple of brandies inside us. Steve McQueen looked great and his scenes on that motorbike virtually stole the film but he was a cheesy actor if truth be told. And I couldn’t help but laugh a little when the character played by the diminutive Dickie Attenborough was given the code-name Big X, tee hee. And the portrayal of the evil Germans in their black leather overcoats, slapping their briefcase covers shut with a quick flick was just OTT comic and surely the inspiration for the baddies in ‘Allo ‘Allo. I half expected a piano to chime out daa daa daadaaarrr every time they appeared.
So maybe A Bridge Too Far, which I hadn’t seen in donkey’s years, would fare better. Umm. The truth is it created an impact when it first came out because it featured every significant male star of the time. Sean Connery, Dirk Bogarde, Sir Michael Caine, Edward Fox (gloriously hammy), Gene Hackman (leader of the Polish contingent!), Ryan O’Neal (playing a ridiculously youthful-looking US General), Anthony Hopkins, a cigar-chomping bridge-building Elliot Gould, Sir Larry Olivier doing his mittel European doctor role, Robert Redford and so on and on. A Star Too Far might have been a better title; what a dog’s bloody dinner of a film. And of course the outcome is kind of given away in the title. The project failure markers were being laid out with big red arrows on them from scene 1. It was a good story badly told though I did enjoy watching the Fox-meister’s performance enormously. If this short trailer, where he briefs his men on Operation Market Garden, doesn’t make you want to sign up for the British army, I’ll eat my cravat:
Roll on film 3; The Battle of Britain. Never has so much drivel been seen by so many or was it so few? Because I don’t remember this coming out on the big screen nor had I seen it before. And it was like the poor cousin of the other movies with several of the big names featuring in this one. Edward Fox seemed to play the same character (perhaps he always does) – Morning Chalky! Plus we had some sex interest too with Susannah York playing a plucky female military role (though I never quite understood what she actually did) by day and love-lorn wife to grumpy flyer Christopher Plummer parading in her blouse and suspenders in the bedroom by night. All in all though it was tedious drama with some not bad action sequencies thrown in, though none of them in the bedroom. No wonder he was grumpy.
And so we turned to Pearl Harbor, a vision of WWII as seen from the American perspective. Would it be an historically accurate portrayal showing the people of the USA to be diffident yet doughty and self-effacing or yet another overblown excuse to show the Yanks initially getting their arses whupped but heroically getting off the floor to triumph majestically over evil as in Independence Day, The Patriot and countless other films? Well what do you think? But this turkey is about the biggest load of old bird I’ve seen since, well, Novacaine (now that was a dreadful film). Pearl Harbor isn’t complete rubbish – it does have some good action sequencies which occupies about 20 minutes of the film. The remaining 169 minutes – yes it’s over 3 hours long – is taken up with the plot of the two best mates who grow up competing as flyers, for the love of nurse Kate Beckinsale with the long sexy hair (surely that wouldn’t be allowed in uniform?), to see who would shoot down more Japanese zero fighter bombers at Pearl Harbour (because they were the only two American jets that got in the air of course), to see who could die more heroically in hand-to-hand action with the Japanese, and as fathers of nurse Kate’s baby boy. Oh it was all I could do to stop gnawing at my wrists watching this plot unravel. There were lots of tears and sad moments and that was just me on the couch. God it is truly bad but there was one other redeeming feature of the film which lightened my mood enormously. That was the performance of Alec Baldwin as this gnarled old Top Gun type instructor who eventually leads the let’s-get-’em-back raid on Tokyo. His performance and dialogue is straight from the John Wayne school of acting – almost everything he says is dramatically nauseous and just hilarious. I’m sure that at one point he says to his assembled bunch of young fliers something like ‘I’m so important to this war effort that ‘they’ forbid me from going on this raid but I told them the hell I am…. and so gentlemen I’ll be proud to lead you on this mission’. There’s so much more of this but you’ll have to get the film and watch it for yourselves. I can’t do it’s awfulness justice.
But I tell you what, this is now going to become my film du jour on Xmas day morning as we’re cooking up the lunch with a few glasses of wine. And I salute you Alec Baldwin for usurping Edward Fox as the ham-meister general.
And if you can nominate a worse war film then you’ll make my day. Just look at his coy little smile…Morning Ginger!