Monday 5 December 2016

Television: Dancing dogs, killer heels and musical legends

John Boland

Published 16/08/2015 | 02:30

On repeat: Ray D'Arcy was joined by celebs and their pooches for RTE's latest reality show.
On repeat: Ray D'Arcy was joined by celebs and their pooches for RTE's latest reality show.
Angelina Jolie's Christian Louboutin shows for Maleficent press tour

With Ray D'Arcy recently reintroduced to RTE listeners after his defection to dastardly Denis's Today FM, it was good to be reminded also of the singular television presence with which he'll soon be gracing our humdrum lives.

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This reminder came courtesy of Superstar Dogs, which I'd unaccountably missed when it was first shown last year but which RTE1 saw fit to revive last Saturday in its teatime slot. And while I normally don't bother with repeats, I was faced with the fact that our national broadcaster had otherwise shut up shop this week - no doubt to give its staff an adequate rest-and-recuperation period before embarking on next week's Rose of Traleee extravaganza.

Anyway, it was timely to be reacquainted with the ever-youthful Ray (can he really be almost 51?) as he introduced "plucky pooches" and "eager owners" - the latter including former Miss Ireland Rosanna Davison, Chelsea flower show winner Diarmuid Gavin and someone who used to feature on The Restaurant.

Ray was beside himself with excitement (or what passes for excitement in laidback Rayland), teasing viewers with the prospect of "a show with superstar dogs and celebrities - what's not to like about that?"

Personally, I could think of about 50 replies, though when Ray commanded "Let the fun begin!" and I found myself watching three canines pushing footballs into goals with their snouts, the sunny weather beyond my window proved to be the decisive answer.

At least Christian Louboutin recognises the innate silliness of his chosen career, declaring at the outset of Christian Louboutin: The World's Most Luxurious Shoes (Channel 4): "You are going to see a documentary about someone who's been loving what he's doing, but he's doing something totally useless. If you have no problem with that, hello!" And towards the end, he reiterated the same point: "I think I make a very useless work and I'm very proud of it".

He has reason to be - making shoes for the rich and famous has turned this Parisian cobbler into a multi-millionaire with five homes around the world and an adoring client list that includes Angelina Jolie, Kate Moss, Prince, Tina Turner and Catherine Deneuve.

They're all prepared to pay up to €8,000 for a pair of his "killer heels" (16cm and more) in which they totter along red carpets or maybe even just buy a pint of milk - one rich Shanghai client boasting of owning so many pairs that she hasn't even bothered counting them.

We accompanied Louboutin as he jetted to the Himalayan state of Bhutan, where he's pally with the queen and where Bhutan artisans chisel out new designs for him, and we watched him being fussed over by his Bangladeshi butler, and it should all have been ghastly - and in many ways it was in its depiction of the vanity and foolishness of those who have made his ridiculous footwear desired objects for the rich and famous.

But the man himself plainly knew all that and you ended up not begrudging him for capitalising on other people's greedy shallowness.

Otherwise, music, and especially BBC4's devotion to it, saved the week. Celebrating the centenary of Frank Sinatra's birth, Sinatra: All or Nothing At All was an absorbing documentary, mostly using black and white footage to chronicle his rise as the greatest male popular voice of the 20th century.

All of the interviews were done in voiceover, including contributions from Frank Sinatra Jr, Nancy and Tina Sinatra and fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, who recalled being introduced to the man's singing by his mother. And there were fascinating insights into Sinatra's musical apprenticeship with Tommy Dorsey and others.

There was also an intriguing Friday night at the Proms (also BBC4), in which Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane paid vocal tribute to the singer he plainly revered, with John Wilson's orchestra using the famous arrangements that Nelson Riddle, Billy May and others had devised for Sinatra.

MacFarlane's voice was light and a bit anonymous, though his phrasing was impeccable and in the sublime Riddle arrangement of I Get Along Without You Very Well he was genuinely affecting. Who would have thought it from the guy who's become famous for outrageous gags and for an Oscar emcee one-off that many thought offensively tasteless?

Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound (Sky Arts) was interesting, too, mainly for its footage of Baez's Newport and Greenwich village days. There were good reminiscences from many of her contemporaries, not least Bob Dylan, and the now elderly Baez was warm and lively in her own reminiscences, and pleasingly less earnest now than in her folkie heyday when she sometimes seemed on a one-woman mission to save the world. And the voice has remained lovely.

I was hoping for more from Discovering R.E.M (Sky Arts) than the fanzine approach it took to the band's career. Rock writers and DJs were on hand to describe each successive album as "a giant leap forward" or as an instance of the band "coming up with gold every time". But there was no gold in this slavishly sycophantic film.

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