I Love 1994

Saturday, September 15, 2001 by

Saturday night, Saturday night… and I’m sitting in front of the television, recalling a conversation with a colleague at work. “Everything came back in the ’90′s, so the decade never really had a style of its own,” I was informed. So I Love the Nineties was always destined to be problematic. Not in terms of execution of course. We’re used to the arbitrary exclusion of items we feel sum up an era more succinctly than those the programme-makers have chosen, though one can imagine the spectacle of an unimaginative pundit drooling over “having an old friend for dinner with a nice Chianti” or emulating Whitney’s warbling over always loving Kevin Costner and breathe a collective sigh of relief that these did not materialise. The problem lies more in the programme’s basic raison d’être.

The great strength of the ’70s and ’80s shows were their affectionate pop bluster, looking at our shared past and where necessary, exploding our assumptions about “the good old days” by revealing that certain fragments (Sodastream, Cabbage Patch dolls) were every bit as crap in their contemporaneous contexts as they are now. Many of the cultural talking points of the last decade remain too fresh in our collective consciousness for any significant reappraisal or reinvention as kitsch. How is it possible to trawl nostalgically back through a decade that was itself so intertwined with notions of irony, parody, revival and retro-rehabilitation? Now I’ve got fond memories of 1994 – the year of A-levels, leaving home, starting at university. Though suffused in an alcohol-fuelled haze, my recollections of student life are abundantly clear so the programme did not engender rose-tinted remembrances or wistful trips down memory lane. There’s scarcely any warm glow to be gained from the programme anymore so why bother? But since I am watching, let’s examine BBC Manchester’s take on 1994 without further ado – after all, it’s party time and not one minute we can lose.

“Britpop” was one of those nebulous terms, like “Cool Britannia”, I never much cared for. Touted as a bright new broadside against the dominance over grunge and indie by America, the work of Blur, Oasis, Supergrass and Suede (linked by the media with The Kinks and the Small Faces) did not so much hinge on anti-Americanism but rather revealed the British tendency to cling to traditional icons whilst endeavouring to innovate. Recounting the saga of Blur vs. Oasis was an entertaining piece – reminding us that when Country House beat Roll With It to number one it was ultimately a pyrrhic victory, yet respect was shown to both bands. If excerpts from the Parklife video showcased Damon and co’s keen sense of irony and playfulness then the equal emphasis given to backstage belligerence and the wonderful Wonderwall admirably encapsulated Liam Gallagher’s budding duality. Where did I stand on this all-important question? To lay my cards fully on the table, as much as I appreciated both bands, actually I spent most of the mid-1990′s listening to ’60s/’70s/’80s music at the student union discos. Ah, nostalgia …

There’s not much that can be usefully added about Four Weddings and a Funeral other than to echo Johnny Vegas’ spot-on summation that the film was made by the chattering classes about the chattering classes. The raw poignancy of the funeral scene atones for this however, and Four Weddings was indeed that rare thing in 1994: a British hit movie amidst a slew of multiplex dross, demonstrating that British cinema could be a commercially viable proposition in the international film market. There’s certainly a valid argument that without the success of Four Weddings, we might never have got Trainspotting, and therefore I’m happy to cut Hugh and Andie some slack.

Having spent the bulk of the programme regaling us with memories of such frivolous ephemera as the Wonderbra and Tommy Hilfiger fashions, the arrest and prosecution of OJ Simpson seemed somewhat incongruous. Ice T (one of the series’ most reliable contributors) was on top form here, reminding us that the biggest drawcard during the “trial of the century” was not Orenthal James himself, but the charisma and verbal dexterity of defence lawyer Johnny Cochrane. Rather too complex an issue to be adequately addressed by the programme, the contemporary comparisons made between the trial and the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of white police officers of the assault of Rodney King introduces debates about the disparities between races, the invocation of celebrity status, the institutional procedures of the police force and the inequalities of the legal system that the subsequent “media circus” (thank you, Sarah Cawood) of OJ’s trial may have endeavoured to conceal. Much of the defence’s emphasis did indeed lie in arresting officer Mark Fuhrman’s inappropriate use of the word “nigger” – sadly, a rather more under-used word throughout the trial was “Nicole”.

Swiftly moving on to more trivial matters, the crispy pages of Loaded magazine saw the neutered New Man reclaim his balls. This was a publication always shrouded in a layer of irony that suggested us blokes were all so modern and self-aware we recognised the macho tomfoolery therein for what it was, but James Brown waxing lyrical about the “champagne and cocaine” lifestyle that came with the editorship of the mag perpetuated the old adage that boys will be boys after all. Nevertheless, if the lads thought they were going to have it all their own way, their ladette flipsides would soon manifest themselves. The presence of Eva Herzegova confidently asserting her sexuality, the apotheosis of Elizabeth Hurley and jumping, gyrating Whigfield acolytes hinted at a nascent Girl Power that will presumably be explored in greater detail in I Love 1996.

And so, we’ve had The Simpsons and The X Files, let’s look back at yet another show still in production … let’s make Friends. Once again, the top-notch selection of clips we’ve become accustomed on I Love was in evidence as we witnessed David Schwimmer, Matt Le Blanc and Matthew Perry all looking alternately bored and uncomfortable being interviewed by Gaby Roslin. The fact that this segment focused on little more than the theme tune and Jennifer Aniston’s hairdo spoke volumes about the stunningly shallow nature of the programme as a whole. If M*A*S*H and Cheers reached high watermarks of intelligently written American ensemble sitcom (even The Golden Girls had genuine pathos from time to time), then Friends‘ slickness can be very neatly equated with its utter charmlessness.

Finally, after its coverage of Reservoir Dogs just two weeks ago, it seemed that I Love the Nineties was beginning to resemble a Tarantino fest, as once again we have the pundits and gratifyingly bit-players from Pulp Fiction lining up to praise the director’s deconstruction of cinematic convention through the presentation of violence as primarily comic in form, stylised dialogue and interrogation of the hollow façade of machismo. Talented Tarantino might have been, but original he certainly was not. Nevertheless, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s raid of the coffee shop remains one of the funniest openings to any movie, and there’s much wry cynicism present as Uma Thurman’s character regales John Travolta with her memories of starring in the tragically undeveloped pilot Fox Force Five, five foxy chicks who were a force to be reckoned with. Despite being sassy, provocative and generally worthwhile, Pulp Fiction crucially lacks a core depth that genuinely draws me to engage with its characters and the milieu they inhabit. Still, one Pulp Fiction is worth a dozen Jurassic Parks or Forrest Gumps, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s cool enough to posit Jackie Brown as being Quentin’s finest.

It was always highly unlikely that I Love the Nineties would come up with a fresh slant on the established format and so it was just a matter of whether the individual programmes would produce some diverting material. As perfunctory and workmanlike as this series is, I Love 1994 was one of the better efforts so far and does exactly what it says on the tin. So let’s not be too harsh if Thelma and Louise, Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves and Marcus Tandy fail to turn up to the party and just see things through their natural course. We’ve all invested too much time in the I Love strand to give up now.

Then again, we could always bring out the Gimp…


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