04 May 2004
The Series: The Sopranos
Four years on and Mafia boss Tony Soprano is still alive. That's some achievement, but of course they can't kill him because he's the star of the show. The fifth series of 'The Sopranos' is now in full swing on RTÉ Network 2, where it has its first European showing. 'The Sopranos' is already something of a phenomenon. A multiple Emmy and Peabody award-winner, it's the jewel in the crown of HBO, the US subscription channel which also makes 'Six Feet Under' and, of course, the recently-ended 'Sex and the City'. For those of you still unfamiliar with the series, it's not just about Tony Soprano. There's an extensive regular cast including his now estranged wife Carmela, his kids, his sister, his shrink, his psychopathic Uncle Junior, his sort-of nephew Christopher whose partner is secretly talking to the FBI, and a whole plethora of other colourful Italian-Americans. What they have in common is they're each and every one a very bad insurance risk.

Harry Browne, Michael Feeney Callan and Susan McKay discuss 'The Sopranos'

The Film: The Fog of War
Errol Morris' film, 'The Fog of War' won this year's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. It's all about one of the major figures in late 20th Century American history, Robert S McNamara. McNamara was a Harvard Business School graduate and World War II veteran who became president of the Ford Motor Company and later head of the World Bank. He became President Kennedy's Secretary of Defence in 1961 and stayed on under Johnson, a seven-year period which saw America face the Cuban Missile Crisis and get bogged-down in the Vietnam War. Errol Morris has a strong track record in documentary. His previous films include 1988's 'The Thin Blue Line', about a possible miscarriage of justice in Texas, 1992's 'A Brief History of Time' with author Stephen Hawking, and the acclaimed, four-way character study, 'Fast, Cheap and Out of Control', from 1997.

The Panel discusses 'The Fog of War'

The Book: The Line of Beauty
The critics have been saying a lot of nice things about the English writer, Alan Hollinghurst, including comparisons with the likes of Proust, Thomas Mann and Evelyn Waugh. Whilst working for the Times Literary Supplement in 1988, he published his first novel, 'The Swimming Pool Library', winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. His second, 1994's 'The Folding Star' won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker. Four years later came another novel, 'The Spell', and he's just published his fourth, 'The Line of Beauty'. Like much of the work before it, the novel offers an often explicit view of gay life. It's set in the Thatcher era, its central character Nick Guest the family friend, lodging in the home of a very rich, newly-elected Tory MP. The book charts Nick's affairs, and his obsession with beauty, through the ominous boom years of the 1980s.

The Panel discusses Alan Hollinghurst's 'The Line of Beauty

The Show: NSK
As part of the European Enlargement celebrations, the Slovenian art collective NSK has come to Dublin. Hard to describe, NSK is a fluid political/social and art grouping which began in the early 1980s. One of the NSK groups, IRWIN, currently has two installations in the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. Parallel to Slovenia's Declaration of Independence in 1991, and noting the rush everywhere to make new territorial claims, IRWIN created a project known as the 'NSK State in Time'. It's a kind of virtual state with no real territory, but with its own temporary embassy that issued passports. Well, reflecting that act, it's now established a new passport office here and is issuing special NSK 'state passports', an alternative to the official political and ethnic demarcations. The other NSK installation in The Project is called the 'East Art Map' and it seeks to re-define the history of art in Eastern Europe. IRWIN and the other groups behind it argue that no reliable system or record of art exists in the former communist countries, one effect of which is to preclude comparisons with Western art. In drawing up their 'East Art Map', they want to establish a universal, definitive reference for East European art, both mainstream and underground.

The Panel discusses The NSK's 'State in Time' and 'East Art Map' at the Project Arts Centre

The Performance: Rodney Crowell
The songwriter Rodney Crowell has the distinction of being the only guy to write, sing and produce five consecutive Number One songs in the US country music charts, and he also has a Grammy and a load of other awards in his wardrobe. Things originally got interesting for him in the early 1970s after Emmylou Harris recorded two of his songs, and then he joined her Hot Band as guitarist, harmony singer and songwriter. Since then, an awful lot of singers have covered his songs. He performs 'Preachin' to the Choir' for us from his new album 'Fate's Right Hand' and is accompanied by Will Kimbrough.

Watch the performance

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