Thursday, 14 July 2011

Claudia Jean vs. the media moguls

Is there anyone out there who doesn't love C. J. Cregg? The White House Press Secretary in the parallel universe and not-quite-perfect-but-better-than-most American democratic government of The West Wing as played by the consummate Alison Janney, and pictured above with Martin Sheen's toweringly charismatic President Jed Bartlet, is witty, incorruptible, sharpshooting, sassy (I can pick up on that though I'm probably not the world's best expert on female sexuality) and compassionate but never in a gooey way. And the reason I mention her today is because we're up to Episode 19 of Life After Aaron Sorkin, that's to say Series 5, and C. J. is hot on the trail of a Federal Communications Commission decision which turns out to be in cahoots with big corporations controlling the media. Sound familiar?

I wonder if I can explain the specifics half as well as she does. In short, the FCC has reduced the proportion of local media purchase by the big guys from 45 per cent to 39.37 per cent, 'a number that ought to come with a decoder ring* and a jar of Ovaltine'. Why the magic figure? Because that was the limit (over)reached by 'Mert Media' when it purchased nine TV stations, and the FCC has just in effect 'posted bail' for this and the other giants which reached similar quotas - cited as Viacom, News Corp (yes, there it is), GE, Disney, Clearchannel - for 'illegally gobbling up TV stations like greasy hors d'oeuvres'.

The select press to whom C. J. wants to give the exclusive aren't interested, and she quickly twigs why: 'you don't want to write about this because it's about your corporate owners'. One says 'I'm not a media critic'; 'no-one in the media is', she shoots back, 'that's the problem' (of course everyone in the non-Murdoch-owned press is now). She's told she's partisan but insists she doesn't 'have a take' when 'one company can now own stations in 199 of the nation's 210 media markets and one company can influence the decisions of 98 senators and 382 house members' (don't you love it when your telly heroes can reel off figures like that as so few real-life politicos can?).

C. J.'s revenge is short but sweet on all those who kowtow to their 'media mogul robber baron bosses' in 'the biggest media conspiracy since William Randolph Hearst was starting wars and crushing filmmakers'. She simply brings in carpenters to the briefing room to see to it that only 39.37 per cent of seats go to the representatives of their corporate owners, one each. Everything has to go quickly back to what it was before, but she's had her victory. STOP PRESS (17/7) Where C. J. led, Miliband follows, with Clegg behind him. You saw it first, as usual, on The West Wing.

Series 5 so far has by no means been as disappointing as critics claimed the show became after visionary scriptwriter Sorkin left the scene. OK, so there's much less of the dizzying baroque wordplay, but one cast member described it as down to solid work after the honeymoon, and the way an idealistic if necessarily compromised White House functions can still spring a few surprises. We lost another sassy feminist as played by Mary-Louise Parker in, was it, Episode 5 but Glenn Close breezed in for Episode 17 - more, please - and Mary McCormack has just surfaced as a stylishly tight-lipped new Deputy National Security Advisor. We even had a likeable gay press assistant pop up in Episode 18, and he's just been glimpsed again, so there's hope. But - with the dreamy but character-hazy Rob Lowe replaced by the very definite Joshua Malina - the core team is full of people you'd want to be your best friends. Or I would. Now going off to order up Series 6.

One snag - on the evening or two in a week free at home we now watch wall-to-wall West Wing, so the last three LoveFilm movies have all been sitting unwatched for months. As I had an agonising day and a half of not yet diagnosed leg pain - the most excruciating physical incapacity I've experienced, some say sciatica, gone now, thank goodness - I took late Tuesday afternoon off work and caught up on the one J had already seen.

We love Ferzan Ozpetek almost as much as we love C. J. His visually ravishing films have immense charm and frequent lightness of touch, but at some point they all seem to evoke serious issues and a sense of what's beyond the normal parameters of life. Loose Cannons (Mine vaganti)is no exception. Set like Cuore sacro and Le fate ignoranti (surely everyone's favourite) in his adopted Italy, it's a pretty good advertisement for the beauties of Lecce and the surrounding Puglian landscapes.

Character, though, is as paramount as ever in Ozpetek's singular world. How are 'loose cannons' like a fiercely conservative patriarch's two gay sons and his mother, whom we see choose duty over love in a series of luminously-filmed flashbacks, integrated into their traditional but subtly evolving society (the Meistersinger question)? I won't spoil the plot twists except to say that one of the most touching moments is when the nonna describes how she wakes up every morning alongside the man she loved and sacrificed to marry his brother, in other words that he's always with her in spirit - and the wonderful Ilaria Occhini says this with immense dignity and no false sentimentality. In the final credits, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it image where you see the old woman reading in bed, and the young man as he was lying beside her. Not to give too much away, there's also perhaps the most exultant cinematic death since Thelma and Louise hurtled over the cliff. Here's Occhini (seated) with the other female stars Of Mine vaganti Elena Sofia Ricci, Bianca Nappi and Lunetta Savino.

Of course there's a fair bit of well-made feelgood about the film, too, and though its soundtrack can be insistent, I did love this disco sequence to 'Sorry, I'm a lady' by the outrageously camp Baccara (the ladies of the 70s hit 'Yes sir, I can boogie'). It doesn't evoke the general tinta of the film - though it does go all innig when the protagonist watches the girl who's fallen in love with him and his boyfriend splashing about - but it's good, simple fun. You'll need to double-click on the moving image to get the full screen effect (and the best body). Enjoy.

As a bonus for those of you whose Italian is good enough - the YouTube clips are all without subtitles - here's a scene featuring the two sisters in the extended family. They're walking through the town trying to deal with the gossip and looks following the revelation that one of them has a gay son who was supposed to inherit the pasta business. The mother gets her own back on the bitch in the shop by telling her that the girl she's so proudly announced her son is about to marry is a 'spiaggia libera' (public beach) into whose sand all the boys have poked their umbrellas. Result.

*I think that's what she said (there's no script, so I wrote it down off the telly). It sounded to me like Dakota ring, which I thought must be a kind of donut, but in an earlier episode Sam talked about a 'secret decoder ring', and this makes most sense.


Chiara said...

Loved this. I have to say you feel desolate after watching the whole West Wing. Also agreed with the Christine Rice piece...I did wonder what AG was thinking. Was fascinated by the way her shoes, dress, jewels and bag were all exactly the same shade of red. How do you do that? And as for le lifting - dio mio, I have never seen such an array of nips, tucks, sucks and botoxia. Really creepy - especially the Joan Rivers lookalike in aqua.

I enjoyed Loose Cannons tremendously - went to see it on my own on a cold wet day. Had been told that it was not very good but thought it had immense charm and humanity. I did love the idea
of the man who finally girded his loins to tell his family that he was gay only to be pipped by the older brother. Have you seen Mid August Lunch? Lovely Italian film. Not sure I agree about Italy – prefer France if I am honest. So sorry about the leg - keep it up if you can.

David said...

A slightly more acid take than mine on the other evening, Chiara, but much enjoyed. Leg crisis mysteriously resolved instantly after 48 hours of agony.

John Slepokura said...

I enjoyed the West Wing well enough;I actually watched it twice through on a DVD projector with stereo sound about the place, but found it rather tame. The White House has got to be a bit more vicious than this, surely? I have been enjoying another WarnerHBO product, In Treatment, with the briliiant Irish actor Gabriel Byrne. An analyst with four clients, then himself with his own analyst at the end of each disc. Really brilliant writing and acting. Also Idi e Smotri,Come and See, a terrifying but beautiful film about the Nazi invasion of Byelorrus. Devasting.
John Slep

David said...

John Slepokura, do you not remember that we saw Come and See together - at the Riverside Studios, if I remember rightly. You were even more traumatised than I was. I actually bought the DVD but haven't steeled myself to watch it again yet.

Did you see all seven series of The West Wing? Oh, it can be vicious and the good guys can be compromised at times. Though it is of course an idealised version which gave America such hope during the Dubbya years - and has actually prompted some politicians to try, at least, to live up to Jed Bartlet's impossibly high standards.

John Slep said...

Yes I have seen all seven parts of the West Wing, and very heartwarming it is too, and well-written, particularly Josh Lyman's and Toby Ziegler's lines. I found CJ Cregg's "tough but not cruel" persona a little hard to swallow, and her bulging eyeballs(a la Marty Feldman) downright unattractive and offputting. John Spencer's Leo as the enforcer is convincing; he can be subversive when necessary.

By the way, I bumped into Jo's mama a week ago. Jo and Mark have sold their house in Highgate and moved to East Borders, Ettrick or Lauder..down that way, and have also bought a piedaterre in Darnaway Street, Edin. Mark is now at Brodies, and Jo has bought a borders theatre!!!Roxburgh Royal Court of the future I think.
By the way, check out Weeds(also WarnerHBO)It is VERY funny and mercifully without canned laughter which I always hate.
John Slep

David said...

Oh John, how could you say that about the glorious C. J.? She has no kind of fault or flaw in our eyes...Anyway, WW remains so topical - remember the Shutdown episode? Isn't that what's going to happen if the Republicans keep blocking Obama's concessions?

Am in touch with Jo and Mark and sons, stayed in their pile last August and should be back that way soon...will give you a ring if in Edinburgh then. Though not sure I can talk to someone who doesn't worship at the shrine of Claudia Jean.

John Slep said...

I did enjoy WW very much, and I know it isn't meant to be realistic - a president's daughter would NEVER survive a kidnapping in our real world, for example. I just found the good-natured bit laid on with a shovel, although the thing about Toby's secret "military shuttle" is very relevant(even though the NASA shuttle has flown its last flight last week, the Pentagon won't commit themselves about the air-force shuttle's future, or indeed if one exists at all).
I have enjoyed Mad Men, just finishing 3rd season, and liked this enormously. It is full of dark sides and dirty, well-hidden secrets which terrorize us all, and which the West Wing lacks, apart from Jed's MS.
John Slep