Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Watching the Vulture
I still can't work out why the ABC has called its new arts program 'Vulture'. Obviously it's short for 'Culture Vulture', but by that logic they might just as well have called it 'Farty'. Whoever thinks these titles up was having an off day, connotation-wise: a vulture is an ugly and disgusting creature whose presence lets you know that your death is imminent.
Judging by some of the reactions to the opening night, however, this could have been pretty close to the truth. One bloke said it made him lose the will to live.
I missed the first one altogether, and had to turn the telly off and hit the bottle about ten minutes into the second one. But I made it all the way through the program tonight and it is getting much better. They have removed the much-scorned cheesy sketches, having apparently decided that anyone choosing to watch an arts program on the ABC at 10.05 on a Tuesday night is probably going to have a longer attention span than a mosquito and therefore doesn't really need to be kept amused while the grown-ups have a talk; the only sketch tonight was the 'Nick Cave meets Neighbours' number right at the end. The rest of the time, they did something really daring and just let the panelists talk. Worked a treat.
The other thing they have largely cut out is the infuriating habit the panelists started out with of constantly talking over the top of each other; tonight several people were allowed to develop, uninterrupted, an idea or opinion beyond a couple of sentences, and as a consequence were able - particularly Helen Thorn - to show us why they'd been asked to go on the show in the first place.
Either Peter Craven has become mellower and more self-deprecating over the last ten years, or TV makes him look as if he has; either way, he's okay on this show, if you don't mind the lofty allocation of each work of art to some numbered rung on the ladder of taste. There's some finely calibrated hamming-up of the 'grumpy conservative' schtick, and his take on the schizophrenic Frenchman's sad floorboard art was a little masterpiece of extempore lucidity and eloquence.
The other high point of tonight's show was Fiona Katauskas, the woman who does those clever political cartoons for New Matilda. Katauskas was funny, sharp, elegant and relaxed; she's got the good taste to be a Chisel fan and she was wearing a jacket to die for.
But the best line on the show, alas, was not anyone's ad lib inspiration. It was something that had clearly been scripted (by producer and writer Guy Rundle, would be my guess) for host Richard Fidler, who does not look at all comfortable to me and who often delivers his lines in a way that shows he hasn't understood them properly. He got this one right, though: 'Nick Cave has written other screenplays apart from The Proposition - including a sequel to Gladiator. Go figure.'