With thanks to the Omenator.

Well, Russell Brand is at it again. And sadly, I suspect that unless someone kicks him squarely in the bollocks, he’s likely to keep banging on eternally with his simplistic call to the disenchanted to take up their pitchforks and flaming torches and… I really don’t know what. Burn the castle down? Guillotine the aristocrats? Raid the palace wine cellar? Some disgruntled display of non-specific discontent, in any event.

Not only that, there have been suggestions of late that he also has designs on the mayorship of London. This could present something of a challenge for Brand, as he has opined on numerous occasions that people shouldn’t vote. Achieving office of mayor would thus provide him with an interesting technical obstacle.

Brand is out and about promoting his new book ‘Revolution’ and it strikes me that it’s an episode of high irony that this swaggering narcissistic auteur (his Wikipedia entry now lists him as an ‘activist’) who’s made his career as a comedian, desperately wants people to take him seriously.

I have talked about him previously on the Cow, as you undoubtedly remember, and as I said then, it’s not his belief that things are broken with which I take exception. Things definitely are broken, but Brand’s simplistic call-to-arms – aligning his attitudes as he does with the Occupy movement – offers no enlightenment on the complexity of the problems, and no way forward. All Brand really has to offer, once you pare away his angry posturing and hyperbole, is a swag bag of platitudes and naive idealism.

Brand’s book has so far garnered a stack of unflattering reviews. Mark Steel at the Independent attempts a show of support of Brand with a diatribe of condescending snark that seems to suggest that the negative reaction is due to some kind of confabulated de rigueur disdain for the would-be revolutionary. He finishes off (virtually repeating the Brand mantra word for word, as if he’s come up with a new piece of insight on the whole thing):

“..in a world in which it’s accepted by all major parties that banks and giant corporations and vast inequality are inevitable and can’t be curtailed, the most radical act can be to ask why.”

Seriously? It strikes me that, as radical acts go, asking why is a bleedingly obvious question that takes no great acumen whatsoever. If that’s the very best defence he can put up for Brand (and the article offers no evidence of anything else), then he’s working with very slim pickings. Steel might like to consider that the reason that reviewers have so comprehensively trashed Brand’s book is not because they’ve all come to some complicit agreement that he’s a fashionable whipping boy, but because his ideas are, actually, lame.

Steel quite rightly (if rather obtusely) points out that Brand’s bombast will appeal to young people. Of course it will – young people always respond well to simplistic rhetoric that offers to stick it to the Man – but this is hardly an endorsement of some revelatory new political strategy. It’s simply a recycling of the same aspirational flower-waving that we all subscribed to in the ’60s. And here we are again, because, hey – that went so well.

Why do I care so much about this? Why do I bother to spend words on this arm-waving would-be Zapata? Simply because it’s all such a misdirection of energy. An intelligent person like Brand could conceivably do a lot of good by attracting a young audience and constructively channeling their discontent. Unfortunately it’s just not good enough to be opinionated, brash and outspoken, no matter how passionate you are, nor how ‘right’. Constructive politics is not an explosive and radical landscape. It’s a difficult and complex process that requires thoughtful, dedicated and often slow application of strong and considered concepts. Most importantly, I think, it asks for a few things that Russell Brand is fairly short on: patience, insight and humility.

I’m bound to get bored with this sooner or later, but for now it makes me laugh.

I’m partial to a good piece of musical theatre. Call it nostalgia, or call it sentiment, but like the idea of dramas brought to life with song. I grew up in a home where my mother was constantly rehearsing for one part or another so by osmosis I know all of West Side Story, the King & I, Oliver and numerous other stellar productions of the musical theatre ouvre. Later in my life I discovered the witty brilliance of Cole Porter and then the extraordinary talent of Stephen Sondheim, who became my favourite writer of musicals.(i)

I’ve seen a few Sondheim works performed on stage – Into the Woods; A Little Night Music; Sweeney Todd – and heard most of them as recordings. I’m always intrigued when I hear that a musical is slated for a cinema treatment because I think they can work quite well in this form. I’m especially interested when it’s Sondheim. You’ll all no doubt remember that Tim Burton made a version of Sweeney Todd for the screen some years ago, starring the inimitable Johnny Depp. It’s not one of my favourite adaptations, but I didn’t hate it either.

What was kind of bizarre about the launch publicity for that film was that the initial few trailers didn’t portray any of the characters singing. Since Sweeney Todd is closer to an operetta than a musical – that is, the whole thing is pretty much sung – to produce such a trailer is not something you achieve without a great deal of contrivance.

People who weren’t expecting the film to be a musical were widely pissed off at this piece of disingenuous pretence and there were even official complaints made about it.

Now Disney is about to release a cinematic version of Sondheim’s Into the Woods – and they’ve done the exact same thing!

WHYYYYYYY?

I find it hard to imagine the kind of discussion that must have gone on in the Disney Marketing Department’s offices to arrive at this lumpen, meaning-challenged amputee of a trailer. Nevertheless, I will give it a try.

Disney Uber Marketing Boss: What we need is a trailer that will get EVERYONE to come see the film!

Disney Uber Marketing Boss’s Executive Researcher: But our data shows that everyone except senile old people and children hate musicals.

Disney Uber Marketing Boss: Then we have to FOOL people into coming into the cinema!(ii)

Disney Uber Marketing Boss’s Executive Researcher: I guess so…

Disney Uber Marketing Boss: I know! We could make a trailer that has no singing in it! Make it look like a normal film.

Disney Uber Marketing Boss’s Executive Researcher: But it’s a musical. It’s all singing. Everyone sings. All the time.

Disney Uber Marketing Boss: Surely there are some bits where they don’t actually sing?

Disney Uber Marketing Boss’s Executive Researcher: Well, yes, there are three moments in the film where the words are sort of half-spoken… and I think once or twice there may be five or six seconds where Johnny or Meryl are about to sing but haven’t quite opened their mouths…

Disney Uber Marketing Boss: Excellent. Chuck in a few special effects and a guy saying ‘In a world beyond your imagination…’ and it’s sorted! Let’s get our editor onto it!

What I don’t understand is who, exactly, their lame, half-baked, non-singing trailer is aimed at? Into the Woods is a work that is based entirely on fairy tales – do they really believe that taking the music out will give them a chance with the vast goldmine of 14-25 year olds who rock up to see Guardians of the Galaxy? Do these daft studio executives think that they’ll somehow get an opening weekend of those people who’ll be sitting there in the dark and have some kind of popcorn-infused epiphany: ‘Hey, this singing instead of dialogue is THE BOMB!!! And then text all their friends: ‘Hey G!! This musical opera thing is cray sick. I totes can’t believe I thought it was gay!’

Even more perplexingly, if the studio isn’t committed to the idea of a musical, why the fuck did they make one in the first place? It’s not exactly something you do by accident. It’s almost like they’re embarrassed by it or something.

And the thing is, I reckon you could make a really great trailer with singing – it is after all almost a music video clip. I’ll even go one step further – I believe singing should be introduced into ALL movie trailers! You have to admit – for most of them it would improve things immeasurably. And it’s not like trailers are concerned anymore with giving you any idea of what the film is like.
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Footnotes:

  1. Sondheim did of course work with the incomparable Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story, but he really began to shine when he started to compose music for his own lyrics. []
  2. Because that always works out well. []

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This season, from the people who brought you ‘The Early Bird Get’s the Right Size‘ (catapostrophe intended) we are treated to an exciting new adventure in language mangling with their wholesale invention of the word ‘giftorium’. So confused and befuddled by this word was I, that I had to look it up just to make sure there was no obscure Latin usage with which I was not familiar. This is typical of about the first hundred Google hits:(i)

Oh my fucking absinthe-addled maiden aunt. This should be a crime against humanity. Think of the poor children.
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Footnotes:

  1. There’s nothing quite like seeing all these search results in one long stream to help you understand how marketing press releases get used in the wild… []

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