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The Long Good Friday

posted by Mickey on 4/09/02

The Long Good Friday

Over the last year or so, I haven't watched much television but finding myself at a loose end on Good Friday, I decided, by jingo, I was going to spend the whole day alone in front of the box. The way I figured it, this would be like watching a whole half-a-season of some program, and I could present the fruits of my research to W-D readers. The day before, I used a nice bright pink texta on my copy of the "Sydney Morning Herald" TV Guide to map out a viewing plan, and I provisioned myself with a couple of bottles of pop and packets of bacon substitute (which fries up in like a minute flat, my idea being that I could cook myself lunch and dinner within commercial breaks). I set myself the following ground rules.

No channel surfing. When I sat down to watch something, I would watch it. However, I would allow myself to complement shows I really wanted to watch by watching portions of other shows, if necessary.I would only watch the five free to air channels available to residents of Sydney (since I don't have cable, it proved surprisingly easy to stick to this ground rule).
No videos. It was going to be my day with the networks.

The first program I had selected was "Aerobics Oz Style" which was a show I used to watch sometimes when I was a student back in the early 90s. It would have been a sentimental journey. Unfortunately, I missed this completely because I turned over to catch an extra minute of sleep and ended up snoozing for a further 45 minutes. It was an inauspicious beginning, but by 7.00 AM I had a cup of coffee in one hand, and a remote control in the other, and the project was underway. Steam rose from the coffee cup and motes of dust danced the light from the screen. Outside, possibly, it was a beautiful day, alive with possibility. But not for me.

7.00 AM. "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima".

For those who do not know the story on which this 1952 film was based, the miracle in question occurred in 1917 when the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in a field near the town of Fatima in Portugal.

The first thing I saw when I switched the television on was children saying, "We saw a beautiful lady in the field. She was an angel. She came from Heaven." It was clear to me within 30 seconds or so that the children must have been dropping acid, but the world was clearly a different place back in 1917 and/or 1952, because this didn't occur to any of the yokels in the village, who, instead, accepted the children's druggy claims with astonishing speed and credulity. About the only person in the whole village who expressed any suspicion at all was the mother of one of the kids, who won my affection by scolding them as follows, "As if the blessed virgin had nothing better to do than ride around in clouds and appear to silly children in fields."

I thought that was a very good point. The blessed virgin probably does have better things to do. Like watching television.

The oldest child, Lucia, looked a bit like Christina Ricci and it occurred to me that if the movie had been made in the 1990s she would certainly have played this part. This made me wonder who would have played the Virgin Mary and that occupied my mind for all of, like, 10 seconds, until I realised that no casting director worth his or her salt would need to look any further than Jennifer Lopez and that was the end of the biggest intellectual adventure I would take during the whole day (at least until I matched wits with the contestants on "Wheel of Fortune"). While I was doing this intellectual spadework, some sinister looking cops had hit town, looking more like gangsters. They explained, "Under the laws of the republic, it is a crime to report miracles." Imagine a society where it would be illegal to watch shows like "Touched by an Angel".

Meanwhile, the Blessed Virgin was giving the younger kids, Jacinta and Francesco the cheerful news that she would be taking them to heaven soon. Lucia, however, was told that her mission was to remain on Earth and give testimony to the great miracle she had witnessed. The BV wanted to warn the world about the savage nature of war. This was probably something that had not occurred to many people in 1917. Moreover, she wanted to warn the world that other wars would surely follow if the faithful didn't get cracking in terms of saying the Rosary. She explained that if everybody said a lot more rosaries, there would be no more wars. It definitely should give people some pause for thought that major conflicts have indeed, continued to wrack the world.


Get cracking with the Hail Marys, people.

The special effects were less than spectacular. The Blessed Virgin appears in double exposure and hardly moves, although she does raise her hand once. In the Jennifer Lopez version they would probably write in a scene where she gets to do some dancing. The children get thrown into prison for breaking the controversial Portuguese "Touched by an Angel" law, and in a completely ridiculous scene, the nippers lead the entire population of the prison in a recital of the rosary. Even more ridiculously, the prayer they lead is in fact not the Rosary at all, but the Nicene Creed. The Blessed Virgin must have been slapping her hand against her head and telling God that He would have to go ahead with the Battle of the Somme after all.

The climax to "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima" occurs when an enormous crowd gathers to watch the kids have a conversation with the Lady of the Rosary on October 13, because she has promised a miracle on that day. She delivers. The sun grows enormously and turns green. A blind person regains his sight. A cripple is able to throw away his crutches. I am a bit sceptical whether this actually happened, because if the sun had doubled in size and turned green, not only would this have been noticed outside Fatima, it would have led to the destruction of most things in the solar system; but this is a quibble. There is a happy ending i.e. Francisco and Jacinta die, Lucia enters holy orders and the Lady gets her message out of the world that if everyone says the Rosary 24/7, war will be averted.

9.00 AM "Hi-5"

"Hi-5" is a kids' show featuring five talented young performers doing songs and dances and skits. As you would expect, the presenters are all pretty good looking (especially Charli) and so the show appeals not only to 2-8 year-olds, but to anyone who likes to watch attractive young people wearing shiny abbreviated clothes. In this episode, Nathan puts a piece of black paper over a tooth to trick the luscious tooth fairies into believing he has lost of a chopper so he can get a reward. Being basically honest, Nathan confesses to the tooth fairies that he has obtained his little bag of stardust under false pretences. Then- what do you know? - his tooth really does start to get wobbly. I was cruising at this point, but later on in my marathon, when my head was getting kind of wobbly, I might have been in a better position to sympathise with what Nathan was going through.


9.30 AM "Good Morning Australia"

Bert Newton, the host, a great legend of Australian television, was interviewing a woman who had experienced child abuse, which led her into a career of "drinking and drugging." She kept saying those words, over and over, as if they were a well known phrase. When she had finished telling us about her she had drank and drugged, we went over to Moira, who was wondering how top athletes stay in such great shape. It turns out that the trick is to use a fitness ball, i.e. a bright blue over-sized balloon on which some refugees from "Aerobics Oz Style" were rolling around. A personal fitness trainer gave Moira the good oil that not only top athletes, but also the elderly, love using the fitness ball (normally $65, but available to GMA viewers for only $39).

After the fitness ball advertisement, we had three young women with the same haircut as the Nolan sisters singing "Your Love Still Brings Me to my Knees" which was either a nod to the sacred nature of Good Friday or a paean to the blowjob. Over to Moira who was demonstrating the Steam Dream, a cleaning device that makes a whole lot of sense. Basically it's a water pic which comes with different nozzles for different cleaning situations. Moira moved straight on to promoting Wyld for Men and Wyld for Women, a natural aphrodisiac which also leads to increased energy levels. A pilot who apparently had been unable to get it up until he started mainlining on the stuff was called in to testify to the brilliant qualities of Wyld for Men. At this point, in accordance with prophecy, I switched channels.

10.30 AM "The Last Leaf"

This was a production by the Church of Latter Day Saints. It took about 10 seconds to realise it was an adaptation of O Henry's story of the same name, which is sentimental but not ostensibly Christian. The adaptation preserved the Greenwich Village setting but downplayed the bohemian setting of the original. In fact, reading over the story again just now, I am pretty sure the heroines are lesbians. Lesbian or not, they are really attractive, not like the total prigs in this adaptation. A scene has been inserted into the story where the elderly artist (Art Carney- reduced to rubbish like this) sits in bed watching a storm and flashing back in his mind to when he lived in Paris. He hears a female voice saying to him, "Remember, mon amour, zat ze greatest portrait of all is ze love and sacrifice of a common carpenter." I would say that unless she has a particular painting in mind, which she has failed to reveal, this mysterious ex-lover is making a nonsensical statement here.

11.00 AM "News"

This was really sad, since I learned that Billy Wilder had died. The dude was 95, so it wasn't as if he had been struck down in his prime, but it was sad nevertheless.

11.30 AM "Entertainment Tonight"

The headline story was the reunion of Dixie and Delta from "Designing Women". Exciting news for me, since I hadn't realised they had been apart. We also learned that Dudley Moore and Milton Berle had died. Jan Carle, standing in for Mary Hart, promised that ET would be talking to the celebrities who knew them best. Regis Philbin was obviously the celebrity who knew Milton Berle best, because he was the only person they spoke with. I was disappointed there was no tribute from Ian Zeiring, as Milton Berle's embarrassing turn as a former entertainer suffering from Alzhiemer's disease was probably the role for which Milton Berle will be remembered. By me anyway. Unless I get Alzhiemer's. Then it was back to Delta Burke and Dixie Clark, who, I learned, were the closest of friends until a rift began in the last year of "Designing Women" which didn't heal until Liz Burke let Delta know that Dixie's grandmother had passed. (Or possibly vice versa). Great to have them back on speaking terms, whoever they are. Why do they get on so well? Well, both are former beauty queens and they have complimentary personalities. "I'm the broad," said Delta, "and Dixie is the lady." Unless that is the other way around.

12.00 PM "Jesus"

Here I had to decide what to watch out of two films about Jesus, two lowbrow documentaries about Christianity, or "The Business Report." I decided to go with one of the films, and chose "Jesus" starring Brian Deacon and Riuks Nomain because I noticed it was made in 1979 and wondered if it would portray Jesus having a really bad haircut. I was not disappointed. Jesus wore his hair long, but slicked back to expose the maximum amount of forehead, and creating a mullet in effect. Two of the apostles, Andrew and Judas the brother of James (not Judas Iscariot), wore "Staying Alive"-style headbands.


Brian Deacon portraying Jesus

This particular adaptation was a scene by scene rendering of the Gospel of Luke, with some nice modern idioms, for instance, when Jesus says, "I tell you this, no prophet is welcome in his own hometown." I only watched an hour of "Jesus" but it was a film with very little going for it. According to a website I visited looking for a picture of the haircut and the headbands, in the last 21 years, over 3 billion people in 233 countries have seen the Jesus film. Over 117 million people indicated a decision to follow Christ after watching the film, according to the recent statistics from the Jesus Film Project, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ. These are impressive statistics. They would tend to indicate that the Campus Crusade for Christ is being ripped off by their market research team. I mean, I could claim that over three billion people have seen "Point Break" and that over 117 million people indicated a desire to eat some of those meatball sandwiches which Gary Busey liked so much. It wouldn't mean it was the truth. Even if it were, there is another way of interpreting those statistics. Sure, 117 million is an impressive number to have decided to follow Christ on the basis of watching a pretty shocking movie, but it still amounts to less than 4% of the claimed audience. In other words, 96% of the audience either felt no more inclined, or less inclined, to follow Jesus when they made it through to the end. Unlike me. I had actually planned to stay with Jesus, but after an hour of it, I decided to depart from the plan I had made by checking out a documentary just about to begin on another station.

1.00PM "The Great Flood"


Vincent Young portraying Noah

This was a very interesting English documentary presented by Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University (ie. faceless Posh Spice voiceover) about the theories of two academics named Bill Ryan and Walter Pittman about how until around 5500 BC, the area where the Black Sea now exists was a freshwater lake (as evidenced by the existence of freshwater mussel shells in the sediment under the sea compared with the seawater shells of roughly similar ancestry also found in the sediment). There is also existence of Neolithic human beings living in the area at around this time. The show hypothesised that the flood which sent 50 trillion tonnes of seawater pouring into the region may have been the basis for the deluge in "Genesis". This, according to the show, goes against the scholarly orthodoxy that the Biblical flood derives from the flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates. In the Mesopotamian epic of "Gilgamesh" there is also a reference to a great flood. The scholars in the show suggested that the Jews may have adopted the Noah story from their captors during the captivity in Babylon.

2.00 PM. "Who Was Moses?"

This wasn't so interesting, but I did learn that around the time of the plagues visited on Egypt, there was a volcanic explosion in the Aegean which was a much bigger explosion than that caused by the detonation of nuclear devices. It is conceivable that ash from this explosion may have landed on Egypt.

2.30 "Oprah"

Oprah met Halle Berry. The interview was clearly filmed a couple of months ago, but was being screened to coincide with Halle's Oscars success. In my view, the whole Academy Awards seemed like a long exercise in humiliating poor Nicole Kidman. The first person to walk on stage was Tom Cruise. How was that going to make her feel? Then Whoopi Goldberg appeared dressed up as her in "Moulin Rogue". Then while we listened to Paul McCartney singing Vanilla Sky" we got endless shots of Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz eating one another's face. And finally the camera honed in on her as she was trying to find an appropriate emotion to deal with Halle Berry's speech. Unlike me, she couldn't really burst into the satisfied grin of a person enjoying one of the all time horrible acceptance speeches.

I've seen "Monsters Ball". It's horrible.

According to Oprah, "It's raw! Its raw, honey. If you don't like raw, don't go there, sister!" Also, if you don't want to know the whole plot of the movie, don't watch "Oprah"

It is raw. It is also horrible.

On the gratuitous nudity in "Swordfish," Halle said people were always coming up to her saying, "I'm so proud of you for not doing nudity. You're a great role model for my children. Don't ever do it." As nearly as I could understand the point she was making, Halle chose to do the topless scene in "Swordfish" specifically to betray the schmucks who had confided in her that she was the role model for their children, even if it meant displaying her tits in a disgracefully awful movie. On the gratuitous sex scene in "Monsters Ball", Halle thought that the reason it was a big success was "Because we [ie Halle and Billy Bob Thornton] were so in love with other people, we were able to go at it 100%."

3.30 PM "Neighbours- the Early Years"

"Neighbours" is a famous Australian soap opera which is just as popular in England as at home. Until today I had never seen an episode. Various actors from this show have gone on to prominence (e.g. Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, etc etc) but I didn't recognise anyone in the half hour I saw. Well, that is not strictly true. The mother of the potato-faced girl also played somebody's mother in "The Restless Years" In fact, it would be truer to say I spent the whole hour looking at a lot of vaguely familiar actors wearing very bright ugly clothes and trying to work out what year this might have been made. For the haircuts I would guess about 1983, but the show wasn't being made then, so that can't be right.

4.00 PM "Horace and Tina"

An Australian show about an American girl named Lauren who has two troll-like creatures living in her room that only she can see. My theory: she is insane. This was the nadir of my day's viewing. Horace and Tina will feature in my nightmares for weeks.


Inside von Hangman's dream: Welcome to my nightmare.

4.30 PM "Y"

The presenters promised that this show would mess with my mind. Frankly, after watching "Horace and Tina" my mind felt plenty messed with already. "Y" turned out to be a show about mathematics. The likeable "Y" team, Tara, David, Christine and Joseph showed lots of visual illusions. At the end I noticed the show was produced in my hometown, Brisbane. As Christ said, "No prophet is welcome in his own hometown."

5.00 PM "Home Improvement"

This episode from series 7 was about Tim meeting up with "the Granite Guy" who, rather to my surprise, since he was middle-aged and pretty porky, was supposed to be hot. He tried to put his moves on Jill and she was tempted, but resisted. I spent the first 10 minutes in an absolute agony, trying to work out where I knew the Granite Guy from. In fact, he was Tom Wopat from "The Dukes of Hazzard"

5.30 PM "Wheel of Fortune"

I kind of knew I had been watching television too long when I found myself being beaten to the solutions by the contestants. The pleasure of the "Wheel of Fortune" ought to be pure schadenfreude. I was hoping for a contestant like the one a few years ago who asked for an "f" for "photograph, or the three contests who between them were unable to solve;

LEONARDO

DI

CA_RIO

They tried M and V and goodness knows what, and only solved it in the end, basically, by excluding every other possible consonant in the alphabet. The closest I got to that today was when Jocelyn, the right of screen, who I had decided was going to be my favoured contestant panicked when faced with:

E_STER

EGG

__RT__

And asked for a T. But, honestly, I was too brain dead now to feel like casting derision on her. Because I had no idea of the solution myself. And do you know what? I still don't. It could be that in my brain dead state I didn't correctly transcribe the problem into my notes, or it could be that I left a piece of my mind back there somewhere during Good Friday that will mean that, from here on in, I will never be able to solve the crossword in "TV Week". If I had to bet my life on it, of course, I'd buy a vowel. "A" thanks, Rob. Beyond that, I don't know man, I just don't know. Easter Egg Partly? Easter Egg Hurtin? Easter Egg Mortal? I still don't know, and I don't know if I ever will.

6.00 PM "Message Stick: Black Olive"

I was sucked into this one by the description in the television guide: "A city chef shows how to cook wattle seed cheesecake." Well, surprisingly, the secret seems to be to make a cheesecake, into which you put wattleseeds, but since the city chef pointed out these add texture and a kind of coffee-ish taste, it sounded pretty nice. After watching this show I
definitely craved cheesecake.

6.30 PM "A Current Affair."

This was mostly about ambulance drivers, but to tell you the absolute truth, even though I watched the screen, I spent most of this half hour trying to work out the "Wheel of Fortune" problem.

7.00 PM. "Toyota World Sport"

The highlight of this show was a piece about what Americans think about Australian Rules football. Apparently, they are fascinated by two aspects of the game 1). Goal umpires who look like ice-cream salesmen giving directions and 2). The lack of protective padding on the players.

7.30 PM "The Simpsons"

It wasn't one of the best episodes of "The Simpsons" ever made, but I was relating to Homer like I never quite knew how to before.

8.00 PM. "Whose House is it Anyway?"

I thought this was a very winning formula. Take three el-primo celebrities like James Morrison (i.e. the moon faced Australian trumpet player, not the deceased lead singer of the Doors), Deni Hines, and Jenny Morris. One of them actually lives in the stone cottage that is featured in about 90% of the shots. But which one? Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: "What fabulous celebrities! How did they manage to get them?" Personally I wasn't thinking that. Indeed, I had gone well beyond the "Why I am I watching this crap?" feeling I had experienced while watching that troll program or "Wheel of Fortune," which was probably my better nature trying to assert itself. I was numb. I had no better nature. Like Halle Berry, I was a vessel. I was thinking nothing at all. I had not the slightest curiosity whether or not it was James or Deni or Jenny who lived in the stone cottage. While "Horace and Tina" was probably the worst show I watched, perhaps in my entire life, this was my personal low point.

8.30 PM. "Rugby League Football: Brisbane Broncos vs Eastern Suburbs Roosters"

Brisbane won. See, I was paying attention. I could tell you whose house it was anyway, too, just for the record, if I thought anyone would care. It was a good game of rugby league, and it gave me some valuable perspective to watch some people who actually were about as concussed as I felt by this stage. I used this time, too, to reflect on the fact that I had now watched television for more than 12 hours straight and the only worthwhile shows I had watched were "The Great Flood" and a reasonable but not exceptional episode of "The Simpsons." Happily things got a bit better from this point.

10.40 PM. "The Comic Strip Presents: Four Men in a Plane"

This was lots of fun. Unfortunately I was too catatonic to take very good notes at this point, but the show was made by the same people who made "The Young Ones" and I had recovered enough consciousness to notice that the characters were pretty similar to the stereotypes in that show. Rick Mayall played the Rik character; Nigel Planer's character was nothing like Neil in terms of his haircut or status or pre-occupations, but he was the same in his best comic moments in his injured deadpan acceptance of the outrages of the others. Adrian Edmonston played the Mike character from "The Young Ones" much better than the actor who played Mike, while the other businessman was clearly a variant on Edmonston's Vyvian character from that show, grown up a little and settled into corporate thugdom, rather than literal thugdom.

11.20 PM "The Karate Kid II"

Just a fraction of it. I know, I know. It would have seemed the natural choice, but it was really awkwardly positioned in the schedule, and I would have had to miss the end of the football game, the Comic Strip and the beginning of another movie I really wanted to see, and I can get it out on video, so I only got to see about twenty minutes of it.

At the same time as I was doing watching the Kid, I drew up a little table, reviewing how I had spent the day so far. Here's is how it looked:

WORTHWHILE TELEVISION.

"The Great Flood"
"The Simpsons"
"Four Men in a Plane"

VILE SHIT

"Horace and Tina"
"Whose House is it Anyway?"
"Oprah"
"Wheel of Fortune"
"A Current Affair"
"The Last Leaf"

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED

If everyone says the Rosary 24/7, wars can be averted.
Top athletes and the elderly stay in great shape by using fitness balls.
Nobody (with the possible exception of Ian Ziering) knew Milton Berle like Regis did.
No prophet is ever fully appreciated in his own home town.
So long as you are in love with someone else, you can go at Halle Berry 100%

WILL I EVER DO THIS AGAIN?

No.


You are getting very sleepy, von Hangman. Very soon you will be asleep. To sleep, perchance to dream.

11.40 PM - 2.15 AM. "Breaking the Waves"

"Breaking the Waves" is a very complex and interesting film. Like the other Lars van Triers movies I have seen ("Zentropa", "Dancer in the Dark") it is melodramatic in form, but so visually arresting and so emotionally powerful that it transcends melodrama. I would have to write about it at much greater length than is possible here to begin to do it justice, but if you haven't seen it, and don't mind a film that moves pretty slowly, I recommend it. After all, if you miss "Oprah" just three times, you'll have bought yourself enough time to watch it. More than that, if you have a really good video store nearby, I recommend you watch it as a companion piece to "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima" because, amazingly enough, the two are profoundly similar films. They even end with almost exactly the same shot. I won't say what it is, but for one brief moment there, I considered keeping up my television vigil until 5.30 AM, when I could have caught "Saved by the Bell: The New Class."

Both "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima" and "Breaking the Waves" are movies about
people who possess a quality of simple goodness that places them in conflict with worldly authority that is merely pretending to be religious in nature. In both movies this quality expresses itself in literal miracles. If only it were as simple as this. Instead of redeeming everything in a straightforward fashion, however, the miracles rebound onto the people who achieve them, so that both films end up being about sacrifice. How appropriate for good Friday is that?

"Breaking the Waves" had another lesson to give me. In this movie, one of the characters becomes totally paralysed and for some reasons seems to find this depressing. As for me, now that I have had the experience of watching television all day, I'll know what to do if I ever do become paralysed. Get someone to switch the radio on for me.

Mickey
mickey@whatever-dude.com




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