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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ignore the big brouhaha, true originality arrives rarely

From the Guardian's map of London Olympic
competition venues.
It just screams money. The Olympics, like other sports events, is saturated with the effluvia of Big Capital. In Singapore in mid-2005, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 Olympics to London and authorities in the city and in the UK more broadly have been planning, designing, legislating and constructing since then so that the requisite venues and services would be in place by the scheduled day, which is due to fall to in about two weeks from now. For seven years, British bureaucrats have worked with project managers, architects, town planners, members of parliament, police and the military to ensure that the program goes off without a hitch. Years of effort will be funnelled into the span of about two weeks so that people all around the world can watch athletes from most of the world's nation states compete in a broad range of sporting competitions.

But when it all comes down to it, it's all about money. Without dedicated employees the Olympics would not happen, of course, but when you take into account the fact that they're being paid to perform the tasks they complete, the conclusion is unavoidable. Money makes the Olympics, like most things, go round. Building a multi-venue sports complex is not difficult, and neither is designing and building a bridge or a skyscraper. Sure, there are engineering problems to solve in all these cases, but the designers involved are all getting paid to do their work. Same with designing and releasing a new model of car. It's easy. All you need is sufficient funds and you can get up just about any project that is based on the hard sciences.

The soft arts are a different beast altogether. Creativity, originality: these are things that cannot so easily be purchased. We see the truth of this every time we go to another "blockbuster" major Hollywood release, one that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and it turns out to be just another dog. Remember 1995's Waterworld? It cost $175 million to make and tanked faster than a seive full of hot rocks. Most people will have their favourite big-flic-gone-bad to draw on if they're looking to make something of their own, and when they get downcast.

But then suddenly along comes something different and original, like this year's Australian screening of the TV series Wallander. Produced and originally broadcast in the UK, the series is based on the crime novels of Swede writer Henning Mankell and it felicitously stars British stage actor Kenneth Branagh. Branagh brings to the role of Kurt Wallander a set of skills honed over decades acting for the stage and for the screen, and his experience shows in the nuanced way he handles the character of the stressed-out, intuitive and talented policeman.

Although the show is the work of a number of different people it could easily have been dull and predictable. But it's not. The combined effect of original stories - supplied by Mankell's crime novels - and high-quality acting - supplied by Branagh, mainly - has meant that the series is set to become an often-watched classic of mainstream broadcast TV. It's a rare event and deserves to be celebrated by everyone who appreciates quality.

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