Showing posts with label television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label television. Show all posts

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pyrenean colors

In one of his recent TV documentaries, François Skyvington found himself in the middle of a wonderful world of colors in the Midi-Pyrénées region of south-west France. To start the ball rolling, he visited an amazing old laboratory that has preserved the ancient and secret know-how involved in using a local plant as a source of blue dye.


Wearing his trademark orange scarf, François gazed with fascination at the mysterious blue broth that was cooking in the cauldron.


Then a bee started to buzz in his bonnet. François wondered how his orange scarf might react to the Pyrenean blue dyestuff. No sooner said than done. He took of his keffiyeh and threw it into the vat.


I have the impression that François may have wondered, at that moment, whether he might have just made a foolish decision. As they say in the classics, curiosity can kill a cat. Maybe curiosity can destroy a keffiyeh, too…


At first, it looked as if no harm had been done.


But a minute later, the outcome was quite different. A change in color was taking place in real time before the startled eyes of my son.


Now attired in a blue scarf, François asked the lady if he might be able to put his moped in the vat of dye, so that its color would match the keffiyeh. But they all agreed that this might not be a good idea. So, François bid farewell to his newly-discovered blue world.


Happily, in the next scene, through the magic of movie-making, François had retrieved his original orange keffiyeh. Besides, he seemed to be moving around still on the same archaic moped. But can we be sure? Be that as it may, we then find our golden-helmeted hero wandering around in a field of sunflowers.


Next thing, he’s sipping a glass of freshly-pressed sunflower oil as if it were a delicious nectar… which, apparently, it is.


Things then get serious, as the dominant color changes from orange to red: of the kind that is supposed to infuriate bulls.


The local fellows told François that bulls see reds and oranges as if they were 50 shades of grey. But that seems hard to believe. They also explained that, if you happen to be confronted by a furious bull, the best thing is to simply jump out of the way.


And François was promptly invited to take part in a 5-minute crash course on how to become a torero.


Courageous or foolhardy, he was prepared to prove that he had learnt his lessons well. That’s to say, sufficiently well to survive.


Apparently he didn't feel at all comfortable while awaiting the bull's charge. Olé!


As I’ve often said, riding around France on a two-wheeled vehicle such as a moped can be a dangerous business…

Friday, August 1, 2014

Moped Facebook

My son François Skyvington told me on the phone this morning that his moped road movies are currently being aired on the Arte channel at a rate that often rises to four 30-minute programmes a day. Apparently the producer has set up a Facebook page here.


The problem is that my son, like me, is not a regular Facebook user. So, the situation is likely to be a bit frustrating for people who might wish to communicate with my son through Facebook. On the other hand, I have the impression that, if you click around, this Facebook page offers you various extracts from the series.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Our third anthem

Once upon a time, in France, we had an extraordinary national anthem—stirring, but not particularly nice—that evoked blood and gore, the smoke of muskets, and images of slain soldiers.


Recently, we've received an anthem of a higher order, intended to evoke culture, history and harmony among the peoples of the Old World.


But there's yet another anthem, designed to remind us that we Europeans have become a continent of dumb TV-viewers, willing to watch almost anything, no matter how stupid it might be.


The grand final of the notorious Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place next Saturday evening in Sweden. If ever you've been out of contact with the planet Earth over the last decade or so, and you need to know what this spectacular happening is all about, just click here to visit their official website.

As usual, we believe that France is a top favorite, and almost certain to win the contest hands down. Unfortunately, the name of our singer escapes me for the moment. I've also forgotten the title of his/her song.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Darwin documentary

Yesterday evening on TV, like millions of viewers, I could have watched the election of Miss France. Instead, I was attracted by an Australian-produced documentary fiction on the Arte channel: Darwin's Lost Paradise, written and directed by Hannes Schuler and Katharina von Flotow for Chapman Pictures of Petersham (Sydney).


This movie, which came out in 2009, describes the four-year voyage of Charles Darwin on the small 240-ton brig Beagle, under the command of Robert FitzRoy. Technically and pedagogically, the movie is perfect, and I agree entirely with this review in Télérama:


The French journalist Emmanuelle Skyvington criticizes the dramatic style of this otherwise splendid production: "The fictional parts, cruelly lacking in force, are limited to illustrations of what was seen by Darwin (mute from the beginning to the end of the movie) and the specimens he encountered." I would go further than my daughter and claim that most 19th-century fictional documentaries produced by Germany, Britain, the USA and Australia are inevitably technically audacious but absolutely lousy from the point of view of casting, acting and dramatic content. That's to say, in a nutshell, they're rarely realistic. For some strange reason that I've never understood, only the French seem to excel in producing extraordinary 19th-century movie stuff, with actors that behave like real human beings. Recently, for example, I've seen some marvelous presentations of short stories by Guy de Maupassant, often in rural settings.

In the special case of the Darwin movie, the problem is that the director and writer are so respectful of their hero, Darwin, that they're simply afraid to transform him into a real person. So, he remains perpetually insipid, like the motionless subject of an oil portrait. The unfortunate fellow doesn't even have the right to make facial expressions, or express himself in any visible way whatsoever. So, he's utterly devoid of emotions. We're told that he was extremely seasick at the beginning of the voyage, but it would have been unthinkable for the German creative team to show our hero with a green face (not that I particularly wanted to see such an image) feeding the fishes over the side of the Beagle. All Darwin's allowed to do, from one end of the movie to the other, is to admire nature, collect specimens, stroll around a little, attend church services aboard the ship, and write. I was reminded of the old-fashioned images of Catholic saints, who are expected to appear as perfect creatures in an artificial world. Ah, my poor Saint Darwin!

Finally, the English title of this movie annoys me greatly. Darwin never lost any kind of paradise. On the contrary, he revealed to us the magic mysteries and beauties of science. And his ingenious explanations concerning the marvels of the living world made it clear to us that we inhabit a glorious world where there are no gods.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Early TV technology

In 1928, when this incredibly futuristic cover of the US magazine Radio News was published, my father was ten years old.

Two decades later, when I myself was a little boy, sick with scarlet fever in an isolation ward of the hospital in Grafton, my dear father took out a soldering iron and built me from scratch a galena-crystal radio receiver so that I could listen to the local 2GF radio station… which sent me a "get well" message. But TV was still a long way off in the future...

In the above cover, we might imagine that the gentleman is using a hand-held device (connected to the set by a red cord) to select a channel. Not exactly. Primitive TV receivers had trouble staying in synchronization with the camera. So, the viewer had to use such a manual device to nudge the picture constantly back into sync. In any case, there was not yet a choice of channels.

As was the case for many Australians, the first stuff I ever watched on TV was black-and-white news coverage (not yet live, of course) of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. If I remember correctly, relatives (Nancy and Peter in Sydney) had acquired their first TV set for that purpose, and it was in their East Roseville home that I became acquainted with this technological marvel.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Childhood challenges

I watch French TV regularly, since I often find it entertaining and enriching, indeed excellent. For me, the ultimate luxury is the possibility of being advised to watch a particular program through a positive review written by my daughter Emmanuelle, published in her Télérama weekly. Lately, an additional luxury has appeared: the thrill of watching the one-hour travel documentaries signed by my son François, moving around in exotic foreign environments on his moped. (He has just returned from Vietnam, and his forthcoming TV moped mission will be in Australia.)

Last night, I watched a splendid one-hour documentary about the 75-year-old French comedian Guy Bedos.

Inventing a play on words for this funny man whose personality and disposition are profoundly serious, Emmanuelle described Bedos as "the gayest of French melancomics". A childhood memory, at the age of two or three, consisted of seeing his mother striking his handicapped father with a hammer. On the surface, Guy might be describing a witch, rather than his physically-attractive and forceful mother... but there is no trace of hatred in his calm words, merely a constant and immense despondency. "I try not to shame the young man, indeed the child, that I once was. That's one of my golden rules: Never destroy that child that was once inside me." His method, as a stand-up comic, consists of creating humor out of sad stuff. Often, his words are violent, but he explains: "I only attack powerful individuals such as the pope, the president of the republic, or members of government who happen to be important, unpleasant and dangerous."

Yesterday, by chance, I also encountered the wonderful words of another Frenchman who evokes his childhood. I'm referring to a small autobiographical book by 69-year-old JMG Le Clézio (Nobel prize for literature in 2008), who describes his father. Just as Bedos was faced with a wall of misunderstanding on his mother's side, Le Clézio discovered comparable obstacles on the side of his father, who had developed a detestable armor-plated character through toiling for decades as a medical doctor in French colonial Africa.

Guy Bedos is a pure specimen of the Mediterranean, brought up in Algeria, and settled now in Corsica. As for JMG Le Clézio, he's often presented as a native of Nice, but his ancestral soul is pure Breton. Few observers would be tempted to evoke these two French celebrities (what a silly word!) in the same breath, as I am doing now, for there doesn't seem to be much in common between them. But what struck me yesterday, when I was confronted by both of them in the space of a few hours, was the way in which they appear to have exploited their artistry (another silly portmanteau term), not so much to seduce an audience, but rather to handle vast purely personal challenges that arose during their childhood. This corresponds to my own belief that many writers often work primarily, if not exclusively, for themselves.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Great guests on French TV

In the state-owned French TV organization, the staff in charge of handling guest-star appearances do a marvelous job. A few days ago, on the midday news, we were treated to a friendly interview with Lionel Ritchie, followed by a couple of songs, live.

The charming news anchor, Elise Lucet, who has the personality of an efficient office secretary, was totally awed to find herself being serenaded by Ritchie in an intimate setting.

This evening, the star-studded Saturday show hosted by Patrick Sébastien offered viewers a fabulous live appearance of the Village People, who give the impression that they're not a day older than when they first stunned world audiences with their delightfully tongue-in-cheekish YMCA and Join the Navy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Speechless

I've often expressed the opinion that French TV can, at times, be incredibly good: a powerful medium in the hands of exceptionally talented creators with humanistic ideals. Admittedly, it's not like that all the time. You can find shit on French TV... but the ratio of good stuff to bad stuff is vastly superior in France to what I've seen elsewhere.

Last Friday evening, I watched a documentary by a French journalist, Daniel Grandclément, on the plight of children in Koranic "schools" in a village of Senegal named M'bour.

The documentary was so powerful, and some of the images were so terrifying, that I was left speechless... and I remain literally in that state. I simply don't know how to react in the face of those ugly images of young undernourished kids wincing in pain when they were whipped on the bare back and frail shoulders by a cruel adult guardian who uses this pedagogical method to inform the victim that he has made a mistake in his recitation of the Koran.

The children's misery is accentuated by the fact that they are poorly fed, dirty and dressed in rags, and they clearly don't get enough sleep.

The documentary certainly presented clearly the frightening conditions in which these poor kids are surviving. Maybe powerful TV messages of this kind can give rise to miracles. In any case, nothing short of a miracle could righten the terrible wrongs of M'bour, and attenuate the children's suffering.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Visiting Madagascar on a mobylette

Let me explain, for readers who might not know, that a mobylette is a hugely popular moped (lightweight motorbike) made by the French manufacturer Motobecane. A few decades ago, for countless French teens, particularly in suburban and rural environments, this vehicle was a symbol of emancipation: an initial step towards adult liberty. My son François Skyvington created a book on this theme, presented in a French-language website [display].

In my article of 30 May 2008 entitled Birthday of Moped Man [display], I mentioned that François was working on a documentary film concerning a mobylette excursion to Madagascar. Well, this 52-minute film will be shown on the French channel Voyages at the following dates [Paris time]:

-- Saturday evening, 24 January 2009, 8.40 pm
-- Sunday afternoon, 25 January 2009, 12.50 pm
-- Monday evening, 26 January 2009, midnight
-- Saturday morning, 31 January 2009, 10.30 am

In the latest Télérama weekly, there's a fine review of the film:

Le Monde selon ma mobylette [The World from my Mobylette] by the journalist-photographer-moviemaker François Skyvington is all about roaming through Madagascar at 35 kilometers an hour. In the lazy rhythm of the national route 7, which crosses the island from one end to the other, the rambler takes his time, while sharing with us his conception of the expedition. One can understand why TV channels are attracted to this style of reporting, which is now recurrent. Viewers can easily identify themselves with the journalist-presenter, often more like a tourist than an investigator, who provides them with access to an exotic universe. Obviously, the constant presence of this personage tends to obscure the frontier between a genuine reportage and a simple vacation video, since he stirs up intense admiration for the marvels of the country he is crossing. François Skyvington avoids tactfully all errors of this kind. Admittedly, as soon as he straddles his mobylette, he is filmed from every possible angle, but he also knows how to disappear behind the camera as soon as we have opportunities of observing Madagascan folk. The documentary is composed of short sequences on subjects such as a factory that produces soccer tables, and a sapphire-mining rush that gave rise to population changes. The resulting film does not claim to be a complete and divergent portrait of Madagascar, but it is hard to avoid being carried away by the specific rhythm of this journey.

This review was written in French by Thomas Richet, and I've translated it into English.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Same procedure as every year

The French-language blog named Jour après jour [Day after day], written by a regular Parisian reader of Antipodes known as cm, informed me of the existence of this hilarious English video, which is apparently a Xmas-time cult show on German TV:



If I understand correctly, in Germany, Xmas viewing of this sketch is a yearly ritual of the same order as our tuning in to the pope's Urbi et Orbi message or the performance of Strauss waltzes from Vienna. In France, curiously, TV channels are convinced that Xmas and New Year audiences are expecting hours of what they called bêtisiers, which means anthologies of media howlers: TV journalists and comedians who can't carry on because they've got the giggles, studio decors that collapse on the heads of participants, politicians who make stupid remarks while imagining they're not on camera, celebrities who slip down staircases, etc. It's a fact, I believe, that French mentalities (whatever that might mean) are geared to laughing at this kind of rubbish. Maybe there are students in French sociology who might find it worthwhile to carry out doctoral research in this domain.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World's greatest video publicity library

Ever since first arriving in France, 45 years ago, I've appreciated the overall excellence of French publicity. A highly visible symbol of movie publicity—handled by the firm of Jean Mineur [1902-1985]—was the little fellow who hurled a whirling sickle at a bull's-eye target. French cinema audiences grew up with this cunning midget.

Another constant presence was the creative work of Raymond Savignac [1907-2002], whose colorful posters appeared everywhere in France, on walls, billboards and in the Parisian underground stations. He became famous overnight through his pink Normandy cow that produced milk-based soap:

In an international context, it might be said: Show me your publicity, and I'll tell you what kind of a society you are. It's a fact that US publicity often smells like the fresh ink and crisp paper of new banknotes, and sounds like the ring of an old-fashioned cash register. British publicity invariably exploits quaint caricatural characters with strange accents. Australian publicity often looks homemade, like a cart that Dad has assembled for his kids. Scandinavian publicity can be stark, like a TV reality show. As for French publicity, it often appears to be the work of would-be cineasts who are obliged to earn their living (richly) lauding products such as perfume, yoghurt and automobiles for the simple reason that nobody has ever invited them (yet) to create feature-length art films.

For 18 years, up until 2005, the phenomenon of publicity throughout the world was examined in depth in an interesting weekly TV program called Culture Pub, which became a cult program among publicity aficionados. Yesterday, Culture Pub reappeared as a website:

Its collection of thousands of online publicity videos—including over 60 Australian specimens [display]—is presented as the biggest library of this kind in the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nice TV spot

Areva is a large French state-owned company in the field of nuclear energy. They handle the three fundamental aspects of this domain: the processing of uranium, the construction of nuclear reactors, and the transmission and distribution of electricity. The president of this company, with 61,000 employees throughout the world, is a French woman, Anne Lauvergeon.

The reason I'm talking about Areva is that I love their TV spot, which presents an animated display of the entire energy production cycle. To see the TV spot, you first have to display the following box, then you click the button I've indicated:

So, start out by clicking the above image.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Powerful TV commercial

The Italian truck manufacturer Iveco (which also happens to be the world's leading manufacturer of diesel motors of all kinds) has scored a hit with a brilliant TV commercial exploiting the powerful image of the All Blacks. [Click here or on the image to see this commercial. To make it play, you have to choose a language.] There's no doubt that the visual image of the All Blacks and their famous haka has always been a striking symbol. [Click here to see the official website of the All Blacks, which explains the origins of their war dance.] And there's also no doubt that Iveco must have paid a huge amount of money to create this exceptional advertising.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The winner is... a loser

The dictionary informs me that one of my favorite French adjectives, ringard, came into existence at about the same time I first arrived in France, at the beginning of the 1960s. Besides, its origin is apparently unknown. For the moment, I can't think of its exact equivalent in English, but I'll give you an idea of what it means in French, and maybe somebody might be able to suggest an appropriate English adjective. At a first approximation, it means old-fashioned, obsolete, anachronistic or kitsch. But it's a derogatory term, so its meaning is somewhat similar to the adjectives crude, tacky or trashy.

Let me give you a local example. In the village of Pont-en-Royans, the mayor decided to transform some old buildings alongside the Bourne into a museum devoted to the theme of water. He called upon a graphic artist to produce a poster for the museum. Since there are several multimedia exhibits, the artist thought it would be a good idea to combine the notions of water and electronic display screens. And this is the result:

Now, every time I drive past one of these billboards (which are scattered all around the region), the adjective ringard pops instantly into my mind. The mediocre creative thinking of the design artist reminds me of an anecdote back in a Paris software laboratory where I used to work. It was packed with computers, on every desk, in every room. An Algerian cleaning woman would turn up towards the end of the afternoon, when most of us were still staring at our computer screens. When she needed to dust a computer screen that was being used, the lady would apologize for disturbing the engineer: "Excuse me for a moment or two while I clean your TV." We were amused by the fact that she must have imagined that we had fantastic jobs. We were being paid to sit there all day and watch TV. Well, to my mind, the guy who created the poster for the museum at Pont-en-Royans was a bit like our cleaning lady. To represent visually the concept of the multimedia exhibits, he got hold of an archaic TV set and took a photo of it floating in a pool of water. Then he added fishes and the head of a female swimmer. Happily, the TV set is obviously so ancient that nobody would be silly enough to turn it on, and electrocute the underwater observer.

The reason I'm particularly interested in the adjective ringard is that I wanted to say a few words about the amazingly tacky and kitsch Eurovision song contest that takes place annually here in Europe. It's moving from atrociously bad to worse, but there are millions of TV viewers who love it. This year, France succeeded in achieving exactly the same position as last year: third-last in a field of two dozen competing countries. The French group was named Fatals Picards, and it was meant to be terribly amusing. This is what they looked like:

Their sound was worse than their appearance. Now, it would be unkind of me to suggest that this group was not elected in a valid manner to represent France. I don't doubt for a moment that there are sufficiently many musically-tasteless TV viewers in France to cast their votes for such a group. But the bush telegraph tells me that this group might have got a little help from friends who are financial administrators in the French TV world. You see, the winner of Eurovision becomes automatically a loser, because the number 1 country has to host the following contest, and this is an expensive bore, to say the least. The situation might be summed up in words often applied to great sporting events such as the Olympic Games. The important thing is participating, not necessarily winning. For France, winning Eurovision would be a costly catastrophe.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Electoral debate

To my way of thinking (which is biased, of course), Ségolène Royal was a far better performer than Nicolas Sarkozy in last night's grand TV debate.

She stared defiantly into the eyes of her opponent, and spoke with passion, whereas Sarkozy was often drooped over his notes, or glancing sideways at the journalist PPDA [Patrick Poivre d'Arvor].

Although polls maintain that Sarkozy is likely to win next Sunday, there are several positive signs in favor of Ségolène Royal. First, the Centrist ex-candidate François Bayrou has stated that he will not vote for Sarkozy... although he refrains from saying explicitly that he will vote for Ségolène. Today, Jean-Marie Colombani, director of the prestigious daily Le Monde, stated that Ségolène Royal was his preferred candidate. Colombani writes that Sarkozy's vision of politics is "American", and this adjective is interpreted by many of his readers as a condemnation. It's a fact that Sarkozy is on good terms with leading French capitalists such as Martin Bouygues, Arnaud Lagardère and Serge Dassault, who have high stakes in French media. As Colombani explains, Sarkozy appeals simultaneously to those at the top of society and to many of those at the bottom. He wants to make it easier for those at the top to invest their financial resources to create employment for those at the bottom. Sarkozy believes greatly in the old-fashioned work ethic according to which those who get up early in the morning will be winners, whereas society's jobless whiners are generally lazy losers. Needless to say, up until now, that kind of thinking has never been particularly widespread in France. Over the last week or so, Sarkozy has even dared to attack outrightly the social values associated with the legendary upheavals of May 1968. If Sarkozy wins on Sunday, I fear there'll be a lot of social turmoil just around the corner.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Fast track

Millions of TV viewers were no doubt glued to their screens today, watching the latest French wonder train setting a new world speed record of over 574 kilometers an hour. At the start of the thirty-minute broadcast, I said to myself that the media people had no doubt assembled dozens of helicopters to follow this much-publicized event. I soon realized the stupidity of my thinking about helicopters, which might be great for cycling races, but totally inadequate for a TGV [train à grande vitesse: high-speed train]. Media people followed the record-breaking train in a low-flying jet aircraft. The event was, of course, a prestige affair. Among the guests inside the train, there was a Californian member of congress, representing potential purchasers of Alstom equipment. Although the manufacturer and French railway engineers learn a lot from high-profile experimental stunts such as this, it goes without saying that no ordinary trains are likely to be operating at anywhere near such a speed in the foreseeable future, because all sorts of costly modifications and precautions were required in order to stage this record-breaking event. Even ordinary road bridges take an unacceptable hammering when a train goes underneath at such a speed. Everyday TGVs will soon be crawling along on this new line from Paris to Strasbourg at no more than 320 kilometers an hour.