Time periods and talent pools

For our Wednesday evening live tweeting with ds106radio, we listened to the BBC 2018 radio production of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker.

The modern production was a contrast to the previous night’s shows, produced 65 years earlier. The contrast was most apparent in the clarity, detail, and stereo imaging in the sound production. Several people remarked on this.

While the production quality was better, the production overall, I thought, was weaker. The BBC used a voice of Fleming as a narrator. Some people were okay with it and others found it distracting and out of place. Frequently it was superfluous. In some instances the narrator repeated information we could pick up from sound and dialogue, and in others the narrator interjected unnecessary details. Perhaps they’re trying to be faithful to Fleming’s stories in ways that the movies were not, but it felt like a failure of imagination and critical editing.

At one point, they used an old-fashioned newsreel to provide background exposition. This was an effective way to show rather than tell us about the villain. It also put the story in a particular time, one where newsreels were a thing. Later on they used some rather modern-sounding background music, which reminded me of Tool, and felt incongruous with the period. It’s a small detail, but it breaks the flow by calling attention to itself.

It made me think about the time periods and the talent pools. Nowadays, for the past half century really, people have grown up with video as the dominant form of storytelling. There are people who do excellent sound work, but most often it’s in service of visual storytelling. At the time of Douglas of the World, print and radio were the dominant forms of mass communication. Creators and audiences were much more attuned to those types of languages, whereas now it’s all about the moving image. That critical ear for tightly-edited audio storytelling is underdeveloped. That’s my conjecture anyway.

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