When this was due for release earlier in 2008 it was going to cost a stonking 75 quid and contain something like 8 discs. This has now dropped in price and slimmed to 3 disks. We are presented with a selection from the 50 programmes Mr Meades made between 1989-2007 (that's 4 prime ministers worth!) A well mannered surrealist, who gets more confident and inventive as time goes on. He "peels off the drab grey overcoat of preconception, to reveal the lime green posing pouch of reality beneath," as, in his words, his waistline expands and shrinks.
Extras (apart from subtitles) include a helpful introduction by Mr Meades and a rather scary interview with Dominic Lawson where he goes completely to pieces and ums and ahs all the way through.
Abroad In Britain : Severn Heaven
The Black Country playground of the Severn Estuary contains 700 "structures" of bodged together housing, (a more ambitious version of the allotment shed) delightful in their eccentric construction and now sadly viewed as eyesores.
Abroad In Britain : In Search of Bohemia
There are four places in Britain called "Bohemia"- why did people view this area of Czechoslovakia as a way to typecast an alternative racy sub culture.
Further Abroad : Get High
Jonathan unwisely tries to get over his fear of heights by making a documentary. It doesn't quite work out for him. His blow up body double has to perform some of the stunts.
Further Abroad : Belgium
My favourite. Was Magritte not a surrealist, but an accurate portrayer of Belgium life- only you and the man in the penguin costume can decide. The fantastically diverse Brussels suburbs are featured where every terrace house is different (due to lawyer-happy architects).
Even Further Abroad : Remember The Future
So much for the white heat of the technological revolution! Jonathan looks at the unashamed "futuristic" radio masts, power stations and cold war listening devices of the 50s and 60s.
Even Further Abroad : Absentee Landlord
Church architecture from Gothic to present day. Featuring a choir boy singing "Bat out of Hell".
Even Further Abroad : Double Dutch
The influence of Dutch culture on Norfolk- vast expanses of drained agribusiness fields and gables. Although there are also similarities with Alabama.
Meades Eats... Fast Food
We owe our national obsession with fried food to Sephardic Jews (Fish and chips first appeared in the mid 19th century). Fast food is all about appearance and deception. The vegetarian in me laughed as he constructed a sausage- first take your condom.....
Abroad Again: Father To The Man
Jonathan explains how the influence of his father formed his obsession with architecture.
Magnetic North - 1+2
Bored with banal phrases such as "the Venice of the North", Jonathan seeks to reaffirm the rights of the North of Europe to be considered as an architectural and cultural gem. We explore the still telling influence of the mediaeval Hanseatic League cities. A very impressive essay with lots of shots of spirit and herring.
I was very impressed by the whole collection and frankly I'm baying at the moon for some more!
Whether you agree or not with Jonathan Meades his ideas are nearly always perceptive, stimulating and sometimes downright mischievously provocative. He relishes the use of language and uses it as a scalpel to dissect and expose. His approach - thank gods - is diametrically opposite to the majority of presenters and makers of Polyfilla television, and I apologise to the makers of Polyfilla, a fine product I might add, for the simile used here. We have brains but it would seem that the nation generally has tired of using them. Please make this and other Jonathan Meades DVDs available. We desperately need this sort of quality if our evolution from human to gibbon is to be avoided.
... be released in full. This tantalising subset of his output that the BBC has deigned to release is scarcely adequate as an aperitif. For those yet to encounter him Meades is an architectural populariser, morbid wit, trenchant humanist, but above all the most penetratingly insightful of social commentators in present day broadcasting. Meades and his team are the most innovative, which is to say downright eccentric, purveyors of that rarest of cultural commodities, intelligent telly. Yes, there are some fine episodes in this package, the roots-affirming Bohemia, the sublime Belgium, the somewhat provocative Get High, and two completely revelatory pieces of Magnetic North. But where is Jerry Building? And Joe Building? Not to mention the supremely surreal Surrealism? We live today in a culture whose defining characteristic is its capacity for the billion-fold replication of the banal. Yet, when something is finally made worth seeing or hearing more than once, why should that thing get its single, erratically scheduled, squirt into the Aether, only then to be buried in the deepest archives where no light shall ever penetrate? Is it because the commissars of culture are wary of fomenting the expectations of the brain-owning public to such dangerous levels that it should come to presume this kind of quality for the norm? Come on Beeb, this just isn't good enough. For those who enjoy Meades at all, there can be no such thing as a `best of' for something there can never be enough of. You cannot release a portion of the whole without incurring real disappointment for what has been omitted.
on 8 November 2009
Eclectic and eccentric. Indescribable. Jonathan Meades does not patronise; he assumes intelligence, wit and perception from his audience. Even if you do not share his views on every subject he beguiles and persuades. You don't have to be serious to make a serious point and in a 30 minute film like "the future", included in this collection, Meades entertains, challenges and educates. If you have come across his work before you will either love it or just not get it. If you have not seen anything by him before, take a chance. The worst that can happen is that you'll learn something: which does not happen very often watching TV in the 21st century. Finally, it is worth stating that it is the kind of work produced by Meades that makes the BBC great. No other broadcaster would commission this stuff. Get it while you still can.
on 22 July 2010
It's been so gratifying to read the overwhelmingly positive responses here, but as someone who bows to no one in his admiration of Jonathan's work, I can't help feeling short-changed. Surely a preferable stratagem, would have been to release the various individual series? That said, there is more invention, wit, irreverence, provocation, erudition and unapologetic intelligence on display in a single programme here, than many will manage in a career of broadcasting! With regard to what's missing, I was particularly saddened by the absence of Jonathan's hilarious, perceptive and celebratory analysis of Birmingham (Heart ByPass - 1998); not to mention his magisterially bawdy treatment of Brighton (2005). What is here, however, constitutes serious pabulum for the culturally undernourished. For instance, Jonathan's treatment of the topography and culture of Belgium, is a must; so too are his paean to the Fens, two hour-long essays on northern Europe (including an impassioned meditation on totalitarianism's glib misanthropy), and a highly polemical look at the fast food industry that uses the talents of Christopher Biggins to full effect! Above all, though, there is the extraordinary televisual autobiography, Father to the Man, which, unexpectedly, turns out to be wrenchingly poignant. The latter is worth the price of entry alone.
Just buy it. Now!
on 7 January 2010
Meades's documentary style is very good and quite exceptional among British television. These documentaries are well-paced, clearly presented and beautifully shot. Most importantly of all they do not talk down to the viewer but instead treat him like an intelligent and thoughtful human being. In the interview with Mark Lawson included as an extra on this release, Meades says he is a maximalist, committed to packing in as much content as possible. This makes the films deep and worth repeated viewings. In addition the ideas, which are often complex, are portrayed in an interesting visual style, so that even if it is not always possible to follow Meades's language, there is always something interesting to look at, or an interesting visual juxtaposition. The various directors and cameramen also deserve credit for this. I particularly like the way that the camera is permitted to dwell on the entirety of a building and its details (the predominant subject of the films is architecture and place), so that we can absorb its look and atmosphere.
However though these programmes are good, this release leaves much to be desired. It seems that the most that was done was to organise the admittedly tricky process of finalising music rights of the many and diverse tunes included in the films originally. This also seems to have limited the selection of films, and i have considerable doubt that it constitutes a true 'best-of', though not a stated intention, surely the default selective principle in a 'collection'. Therefore we get the first two episodes of the series 'Magnetic North', but frustratingly, not the other four. On top of that are a few extra photos of Meades for the cover and a specially filmed introduction of him standing in a mixing room, that is quite useful but would be equally so if written. The Mark Lawson interview is largely unrevealing and was taken from the bbc4 series of Mark lawson speaking to various tv figures while sitting in uncomfortable looking chairs, in a studio, with no cutaway footage. Most maddeningly of all, there is no contents list, so that you have to play the dvds and look at the episode list in order to find out what is on the three discs. It is amazing that someone is employed by the bbc specifically with the job of packaging a dvd and they manage to omit the most, indeed only important item of information, but it is true.
In conclusion, the strength of these programmes makes this a worthwhile purchase, but one that is not improved by this incompetently produced dvd collection.
on 21 April 2009
Meades often comes under criticism for being too high-brow or perhaps snobby. His programmes are born out of a great love for our cultural heritage and that definitely comes across in one of the DVD features, "Severn Heaven", a defense of self-built working class homes near Birmingham. He finds the beauty in the uncoventional and the ugliness in the established "high culture".
I can't help but feel that most televison is the cullinary equivalant of fast-food, and there is nothing wrong with that, in moderation. But the programmes made by Meades are simply some of the best ever made for the BBC. In culinary terms he is 3-star michellin restaurant and that has got to be a wonderful change to our usual TV dinner.
Please BBC, release onto DVD more of Meades's films and commission some new series??!!!
"I didn't want the portentousness which to this day contaminates so much telly which is deemed serious but which is actually frivolity in a solemn cloak. I didn't want the frantic arm-waving of the repertorial cliché-monger. I didn't want the excitable breathiness of the inarticulate buff. I didn't want the sententious drooling of the man who rarely cares."
And nor do we get it. Meades' musings around the concept of 'Place' are probably the only cerebral broadcasts remaining in our rapidly dumbing-down civilisation. That we are only permitted here to see a mere eleven of his fifty programmes is a heinous act which our descendants - if they still possess a capacity for rational thought - must never forgive.
Julie Cutler's 2008 review here on Amazon offers a comprehensive account of what you get for your money in this 3 disc set (though the interview is with Mark, not Dominic, Lawson)and I will simply add that Jonathan Meades has the happy knack of educating you by stealth. That is to say, you find yourself mulling over what he has shown you and said about it several hours or days after watching one of his programmes. Later still you find yourself noticing things around you that you hadn't seen before, or not properly noticed anyway - be they vernacular architecture, old stone walls, helter-skelters, Belgian beer labels or Dutch gables on English houses. This set of DVDs is a treat from first to last.
This collection of Jonathan Meades’s programmes for the BBC is woefully deficient in that it has only ten of the fifty or so that he completed between 1989 and 2008. But until a complete collection is released, it will have to do.
In his introduction Meades say that his intention was “to cast light on what is occluded and forgotten and, sometimes literally, unmapped. And also to draw attention to what’s under our noses: the everyday stuff under our noses that is so familiar that it is ignored or held in contempt.” That may be so, and is a primary attraction of the films; but equally there is the humour, especially where he connives with members of the public to create sequences and visual puns that often had me laughing out loud.
The episodes included in this set and their subject-matter are summarised in what follows.
1. Severn Heaven – The interwar shack, plot-land settlements. Meades explores the largest of these, by the River Severn. I am surprised he says it is of its time when the tradition of erecting dwellings on common land goes back at least a millennium.
2. In Search of Bohemia – “A conjunction of name, place, and state of mind.” The places are in southern England, not in the Czech Republic.
3. Get High! – Meades confronts his vertigo. I know how he feels.
4. Belgium – In which our hero tries to solve “the riddle that is Belgium.”
5. Remember the Future – “We’re helplessly dependent on the fruits of the technological revolution, but we scorn the utopian vision that they were meant to serve.”
6. The Absentee Landlord – Postwar ecclesiastical architecture. This was a seminal programme for me, awakening an interest that has proved enlightening.
7. Double Dutch – The culture of Holland: that is, Holland in England.
8. Fast Food – “The noxious stench that defines our era. It is our tallow, our coal-gas, our sewage.”
9. Father to the Man – An autobiographical journey on how the midget autodidact from the planet Pigignoramus (his words) came to regard “suburban avenues and riverbanks, back streets and words as the best free show on Earth.” Unsurprisingly, this is the episode in which he stretches least the viewer’s lexicography.
10. Magnetic North (Parts 1 & 2) – In which our hero turns his back on the traditional Grand Tour and heads north along the coast from Picardy to Finland. Architecture, food, drink, economics, mores, health, religion, art, landscape: a veritable travelogue that beats Palin by miles.
The only extra is a forty-minute interview with Mark Lawson. Here, strangely, Meades sometimes has to struggle for words. He does enlighten us though, pointing out that all is scrupulously scripted and planned before filming commences, and Meades describes his work as being “As much music-hall as lecture-hall.”