Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Self-indulgence, Sloppiness and Contempt

I confess to two out of the three, occasionally.  So I’m beaten by a media mile by Channel Five.  Except that I can now drum up a measure of contempt as well, though not to match theirs.

The other evening I squinted at the listings and noticed that "The Magnificent Seven" was on.  I was feeling self-indulgent (one down), and I calculated that I could slot my pre-prepared dinner (that’s two) into one of the duller bits.  I knew there’d be advert breaks, of course, and missing the bit where the two loser characters, Harry Luck and Lee, are set up with their fatal defects so that (spoiler!) they can get killed at the end without us minding too much wouldn’t really matter.  The film is much too long, and was made at a time when Hollywood was desperately trying to salvage the Western by making it psychological, which they thought meant lots of soul-searching dialogue.  In that sense, it’s a failure; but as I say, I was feeling self-indulgent, which often means reverting to my eighteen-year-old self.  So I settled down to watch.

The first thing I noticed was that it had been cropped from its original revised Cinemascope ratio (2.35:1) to the ubiquitous 16:9 , in order to make sure the whole screen was full of picture, with no black bits top and bottom.  To put that in technical terms, the edges had been chopped off.  Luckily, this wasn’t as bad as it could have been: when this practice was first deployed back in the seventies, to sixties films in which the director had been determined to exploit the width of the letterbox to the full, sometimes all you could see was two noses talking to each other.

Just as I’d resigned myself to that piece of vandalism, after fifteen minutes the first ad break kicked in.  Well, that was a bit quick, I thought; but I’ll go and stick the dinner in to warm up.  When I got back, the ads were still going on.  I hadn’t set a timer, but it must have been at least four minutes’ worth.  Oh oh.

I went out to eat at the start of the next commercial break – the meal took about twenty minutes – and got back for the end of the following one.  By now I was too far in to jump off.  Or so I thought.

Just when Chris and the guys have been (another spoiler!) booby-trapped by Calvera into pretending to surrender their guns and leave town, so that they can do their big soul-searching bit, nod to each other and ride wordlessly back, the soundtrack started to fail.  The dialogue became less and less audible.  It didn’t matter that much, because most of the talk is over, except for the last few lines which I knew by heart anyway, and the music still sounded, well, audible.  The final multi-layered gunfight is spectacularly choreographed, ludicrously over-the-top, up there in ten compressed minutes with anything today’s CGI-enhanced wannabe directors manage in an entire movie.

Just before it began, Channel Five decided it was time for another ad break.

So well done, guys, for your valiant shot at trashing this flawed masterpiece.  You failed, as your likes do; but thanks for enabling me to give an outing to my rarely exercised power of contempt, for you.  I could never equal yours for me, of course.


  1. I was not too pleased when, some years ago, the rules were changed on the number and length of advertisements allowed. I hardly ever watch commercial television now, for much the reasons you describe.

    Two nine-hour flights recently were brilliant. I watched six films, more than I've seen in the past year.

  2. I will avoid anything on channels that ruin programmes with advertising breaks. I will never watch them live. Even when occasionally I've recorded a must-see one so as to fast forward the ads, it's a total pain.
    I hope this doesn't happen to me.

  3. Especially when advertising is an unsustainable business model which will disappear in a puff of smoke when dotcom bubble #2 bursts, any day now.
    I liked the original Spotify model, where you could either get it free with ads or pay a monthly sub.

  4. If you ever watch any of the rerun Poirots you can spot where the advert breaks should have been (originally on ITV anyway) and they're never there, they're always somewhere else, completely inappropriate.