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Non-Review Review: Pavarotti

Pavarotti is pretty much exactly what one might expect from a Ron Howard documentary looking at the life of Luciano Pavarotti.

Howard is often overlooked or dismissed as a filmmaker, in large part because he never cultivated the same sort of auteur persona associated with other great American directors like Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. Indeed, it’s often quite difficult to pin down what exactly makes a Ron Howard film distinctly his own, which is something of a compliment. Howard has a versatility and adaptability that makes him one of the most enduring and successful major American film directors, with his filmography including films as diverse as Splash, Willow, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind and The DaVinci Code.

Nailing the high note.

However, there are certain recurring motifs that can be spotted in his work. In particular, Howard has something of a minor fascination with competence, returning time and time again to the idea of people who are very good at doing what they do. Some of Howard’s best films read as odes to competence, simply watching highly capable people in tense situations, demonstrating their skill and craft; Apollo 13, Rush and even Frost/Nixon. It is tempting to read far too much into this, to ask whether Howard sees something of himself in his subjects, the skilled craftsman who delivers exactly what’s needed more times than not.

This perhaps explains the shape of Pavarotti, Howard’s latest effort. It is a film that is very much interested in the how of its subject, more than the why. The film largely avoids trying to explain the eponymous tenor, and comes alive when discussing the maestro‘s technique, craft and organisation. There is a genuine appreciation of the skill and technique on display in Pavarotti, which is very engaged in the mechanics of how the singer accomplished so much of what he did – both in terms of actual performance, but also in terms of business management. The only problem is that this doesn’t leave much room for Pavarotti as a man.

Scoring highly.

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Non-Review Review: One Chance

It’s very easy to dismiss reality television. Personally, I wouldn’t be the hugest fan of the genre. However, it’s worth remarking that – in the right hands – it can be elevated to an artform. While the use of the word “reality” is applied loosely, it comes with its own narrative conventions – its own strengths and limitations. Carefully micro-managed, painstakingly edited and even sometimes clumsily scripted, reality television is simply another format of televisual entertainment.

It’s not that reality lacks a central crafted narrative or story arcs or character beats. These exist in reality television, albeit in a hyper-stylised meta-textual form. Just as some might advise you to read A Song of Ice and Fire to fully appreciate Game of Thrones, the meta-narrative from reality television spills out the side of the television set, unfolding in tabloids or gossip website. Characters are defined as rigidly, arcs are plotted just as carefully, it’s just that the narrative is crafted differently than it would be in an hour-long scripted drama or a half-hour sit-com.

One Chance, then, feels like the feature length adaptation of one such narrative. The story of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts (“like the Cambodian dictator?” a nurse inquires in the opening scene), One Chance often feels more like the adaptation of a much-loved novel than an attempt to tell a true story.

Sing when you're winning...

Sing when you’re winning…

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