“They’re beautiful and talented and also good people which is very hard to achieve…for a woman.”
These are the words of newly appointed Hollywood darling Andrew Garfield, used in reference to his Never Let Me Go co-stars Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, in a tired and emotional group interview with Chris Hewitt on Wednesday night’s premiere edition of The Film Programme, currently called Film 2010.
This bold statement from the incumbent Spiderman was followed by a fit of a giggles and a mumbled (slurred?) apology, which suggests that it was a bit of playful ribbing on his part, and he’s not the raving chauvinist that he might first appear to be. But still: what better way to begin an article about the Claudia Winkleman-hosted take on the show than with a casually sexist, sweeping generalisation?
The appointment of Winkleman in March sparked a practically unprecedented amount of venomous criticism directed both towards her personally, and towards the BBC bosses who appointed her, part of an ensuing nerd outcry of Greedo-shooting-first proportions. So why are film geeks, nerds and aficionados so viciously opposed to the Claudia?
Firstly, her track record is a problem. Winkleman has been mostly visible as the presenter of programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing spin-off It Takes Two, Comic Relief Does Fame Academy, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Eurovision Song Contest. In other words, her main body of experience is in presenting glossy, disposable fluff, and the argument of film fans is that The Film Programme should be afforded more credibility and gravitas than that to a celebrity dancing competition.
If we discount The Culture Show and Newsnight Review as more ‘highbrow’ programmes that service a different audience (although that’s an argument for another time), The Film Programme is pretty much all we have left. As a result, it’s always going to be a sore point of contention for film fans, almost regardless of whether people continue to watch it or not.
While we’re on sore points of contention, let’s address an elephant in the room.
Claudia Winkleman is a sexy woman. Some male nerds are uncomfortable around sexy women. Some women certainly don’t like or trust other sexy women. A lot of people, both male and female, indulge in nerdy pursuits to escape from the pressures and perils of dealing with the opposite sex and sexuality itself. If you then unbalance that equation with some misjudged sex appeal they get confused and angry, like at the impossibly perfect models who present shows about Starcraft on Anerican videogame websites, or at the sexy Spock who snogs Uhura (not logical, apparently). Let me be clear about something: I’m not saying that if you are male, and you don’t like Claudia Winkleman, then it would follow that you are a raging sexist powered by the heady combination of hatred, lust and jealousy. What I would argue that it is a combination of her femininity (she’s the opposite of a tomboy like, say, Emily Booth), attractiveness, and track record on reality shows that makes her so unpalatable to many male viewers.
(There’s a good sketch on the most recent series of Harry and Paul where a Gabby Logan-alike attempts to interview two perma-tanned football pundits after a game only to be met with uncomfortable silence. Eventually one of them pipes up: “Where’s the bloke, love? The bloke we talk to about football? Where’s the bloke?” The female presenter eventually fools them into talking to her by affixing a crude fake goatee and talking in a lower register. I can’t help but wonder if Winkleman saw this and considered, if only for a fleeting moment, fashioning a pipe cleaner mustache of her own.)
Gabby Logan and Emily Booth both had to prove themselves up to the task by being better informed and better presenters than the majority of their male counterparts, and this is the area where Winkleman is ultimately going to live or die – is her film knowledge up to scratch?
This will become clearer over the coming weeks, but the hardcore film nerds can’t have been won over by a recent interview where she cited one her favourite cinema moments as a trip to see Armageddon with her future husband – “I was so excited about the thought I might get to kiss this person that I was just looking at him, looking at his neck, while the world ended, and there was Aerosmith, and I wanted to marry him.”
A touching story, but you can practically hear the veins throbbing in the heads of the people who want their film reviewers to be namedropping their favourite Fassbender, rather than making googly eyes at a film by blockbuster antichrist Michael Bay. The new format of The Film Programme is such that you could argue that it doesn’t need a presenter who knows much about films, as they are accompanied each week by a proper film journalist. But if it transpires that she doesn’t have the knowledge to keep up with her guests on a basic level then there may be a lingering distrust from some of the more elitist film fans. A sense of cultural trespassing.
So: how was it? It’s impossible to judge things on the basis of one episode, obviously, but it was relatively entertaining, inoffensive 40 minutes television. The worst fears about the new format from bloggers and critics seemed to be the worry that films wouldn’t actually be reviewed, but discussed loudly, witlessly and at high volume – the brandy-and-cigars, hushed conspiratorial monologues of Barry Norman and Jonathan Ross replaced bv a group of hyperactive kids, trying to shout opinions about Twilight over the music at an Oceania works-do.
Obviously this isn’t what happened. Winkleman, clearly nervous and “wearing so much eyeliner I can’t see” (her words) started off the show positively subdued. As she relaxed, flashes of the hyperactive Strictly presenter we know occasionally came through, but she was still nothing like as hyperactive or grating as some angry tweets the other morning would have you believe. Her aggressive dismissal of the admittedly easy target Vampires Suck was impressive, and while her reaction to the French art documentary Over Your Cities the Grass Must Grow might have been viewed by some as stubbornly Philistine, I admit that I actually found it pretty funny, reminding me as it did of this Simpsons clip.
All things considered she sailed through the live broadcast with few hiccups and coped with what must have been an insane amount of pressure admirably.
Which brings me to one big criticism – why is the show live? It seems to have been implemented purely so Twitter updates can be read out during the show.
This is a totally redundant exercise, as the truly funny and interesting tweets would never get past BBC standards and practices. So what we are left with is a stream of asinine platitudes on a show which, frankly, could potentially be sailing pretty close to the wind in that respect anyway. Admittedly the live format did gift us the aforementioned Garfield/Knightley/Mulligan interview – look it up on YouTube and pity poor Chris Hewitt from Empire, who did a sterling job in the circumstances.
As for the co–presenters, they were very much the proverbial rag-tag bunch of misfits. Look, it’s the ‘geeky’ one! Look, it’s the ‘posher’ one! Hey wait, this guy’s “eight years old”! The idea clearly was to create a cross section of critical opinion, with Winkleman there for the mainstream, the Empire journalist and blogger there to satisfy the nerds, and the posher one for the Time Out readers who forgot to Sky+ The Culture Show.
The problem with this approach, and this is a problem that affects a lot of BBC programming due to the layers of bureaucracy and constraints of the public service remit that is imposed upon them, is this: it tries to please everyone, and in doing so of course pleases no-one.
The references aren’t oblique enough for the geeks, Winkleman’s presenting style will prove too grating for the Guardian crowd and the mainstream just won’t care at all – one of, if not the main appeal of this show is the showcase of preview trailers and clips from upcoming films. Now this has been rendered completely redundant by the availability of every film ever made or that ever will be made on the Internet for free. Why would you tune in at 22.45 every week when you have immediate access to what you want at your fingertips?
What the new edition of The Film Programme brought to light was that the show itself has always been fluffy and disposable, a selection of electronic press kits knitted together by succinct, unchalleging reviews. It isn’t the bastion of cultural significance that the outcry over Winkleman’s appointment would suggest it is.
But what it is, is the only dedicated film programme left on mainstream TV. The glory days of Jonathan Ross’ The Incredibly Strange Film Show, Moviewatch, Vids, and even Movies Games and Videos all occupying the airwaves are now long gone, and the spirit of those shows has migrated to different mediums, like Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s popular movie show on Radio 5 Live, podcasts such as Doug Loves Movies and internet TV shows like the Angry Film Nerd.
The anger over Winkleman from ‘geeks’ manifested itself as a lot of personal, misogynistic vitriol, but it stemmed from what she represents, as a presenter of various reality shows and as a BBC Three stalwart: the mainstream encroaching once more on our territory, which we’re obviously fiercely protective of.
The hardcore will grumble for a few weeks, then they’ll stop watching and go back to the shows I’ve mentioned above. Same with the bulk of Guardian/Time Out readers. This programme, despite the numerous concessions it attempted to make, really isn’t for them. So who will watch it? Because the show relies on viewing figures just like any other. It could prove that as the show progresses, Winkleman has such winning charisma and chemistry with her co-hosts that the show becomes a breakout hit and the most-watched Film in years. Everyone involved seems passionate and likeable enough that I sincerely hope that happens. However, it could also prove that there just isn’t a place for a film programme on broadcast television any more. Maybe technology has moved on, and the audience has moved on. That would be a shame.
But please: leave Claudia alone. At least until she releases her own brand of pickles (Winkled Onions?), or harasses somebody’s Grandad…
Follow Paul Martinovic on Twitter @paulmartinovic.