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Monday, February 20, 2006

PBS reduces Dickens to a generic Fox-news hissy-fit on its website









How disappointing -- (but how expected and in-step with the overall plans* of the Shrub admin to scrub all public and governmental websites of all info that does not toe the right-wing-fundamentalist-conservative line) -- that PBS of all the 'republican-controlled' government-related entities has so missed the mark on its own website in describing a work of fiction.

Of course, it is a work of fiction written by Charles Dickens and brilliantly adapted for (a joint BBC-WGBH of Boston production of) Mystery!/Masterpiece Theatre under the masterful hand of Andrew Davies.

With deer-in-headlight dismay, as we've seen frightfully come to fruition, the stealth efforts of the fundamentalist radical corporate-controlled right which began in the late seventies has become far less stealth as it has racked up success after success of dismantling governmental transparency, protection of human and civil rights, and participatory democracy of the people, by the people and for the people in these last 30+ years.

(And by we, I don't mean ME, I mean the collective not-so-royal 'bourgeois, working class, peons, paupers and plebeian" WE. Hells bells, I've been screaming, jumping, working, railing in some form or fashion about this crap since I can't remember when!!)

What am I all in a tither about? It's only the (incomplete) description of Bleak House -- more specifically of Dickens' 'intentions' and conclusions in Bleak House -- but that description while technically correct is incomplete and therefore both damning and telling in what it leaves out.

The PBS-approved summary concludes that Bleak House is a "passionate indictment of the convoluted legal system" -- and so it may be at its most simplistic and least relevant 'lesson.' However, what this sanitized, unoffensive, dull description leaves out is that Dickens is far more furious and enraged about the injustices, oppressions, poverty, ill-health and bleak lives of the poor and uneducated at the hands of the unimpeded powerful and rich during his time.

It is also an indictment of the indifference granted by entitlement to human suffering (Mrs. Jellyby and Skimpole) and other ways the rich, powerful and especially a society's smug judgmental moralists use bigotry, artificial social etiquette and even religious fervor to trap, corner, blackmail, intimidate and manipulate the weak, the less educated, less powerful into keeping secrets that would ultimately cause them to lose at least part of their power (the merciless grip at the throat of the weak and frightened) and thus benefit all through revelation and transparency, not secrecy.

Hmmmm ... that all sure sounds familiar doesn't it?

Bleak House certainly is as relevant on MANY levels today as it was in the 1800s when Dickens first lashed out at such injustice and social, political and economic inequities.

And I am VERY disappointed that PBS chose such a safe, innocuous, INCOMPLETE and therefore inaccurate description of what Dickens was truly infuriated about and railing against in his insightful, ultimately truth-telling richly told works of fiction.

Luckily, despite the cowardice of PBS in its 'safe' inoffensive, whitewashed written summary, there are actual broadcasts that are courageous and undaunted by the republican right's efforts to squash truth, justice and the american way (see Frontline and NOW, for especially fine examples, in addition to Bleak House).

And this BBC production of Bleak House is no exception. The unrepentant vision, talent and concrete results of Andrew Davies and the talented writers, adaptors, producers, actors, editors and the director have stayed the course, stayed true to Dickens and in fact have focused us like a laser on the sparkling diamonds of Dickens' ULTIMATE TRUTHS about secrecy, injustice, poverty and the evil hearts of powerful, greedy, frightened men who bully and harass others to their wills.


Don't misunderstand me, this screenplay and production is finely nuanced and not the brick over the head so often preferred by the purveyors and consumers of American entertainment, especially by those in the mainstream film and TV business (news included).

Anna Maxwell Martin stands out as the lovely, warm, ethical, compassionate, strong and appealingly vulnerable orphan-with-a-devastating-secret, Esther Summerson. In fact, all the cast members are wonderful -- fabulous! -- a pure mélange of Dickens & Davies. They invest themselves so fully that they truly inhabit the roles. So enjoyable to watch what is now considered 'high art' but in its time was literature frequently scoffed at and dismissed.

The two-hour finale of Bleak House airs on PBS on Sunday, Feb. 26. If you haven't had the pleasure, or if you simply want to linger over the finely honed performances, the DVD will be released Feb. 28.

PS: I'm so giddy and relieved that someone finally dispatched with that dark-hearted, villainous, priggish, greedy, evil, stalking Tulkinghorn (a Snidely Whiplash caricature gleefully played with genius restraint by the more than talented Brit actor Charles Dance).

*Please see my most recent entry which reiterates a concern/disturbance shared by many about this Admin's scrubbing, over-classification and outright deletion of previously web-accessible publicly owned/funded information, data, databases, articles, research, etc.

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