Posts Tagged ‘Cutting Edge’
Channel 4 commissions grown up TV shock! Once a bastion of intelligent documentary making, recent offerings have failed to engage the audience in any kind of discourse. It has even seemed at times as though the ground rules of observational documentary making were being jettisoned in favour of the kind of jeopardy obsessed nonsense served up by the digital channels.
So congratulations to whoever commissioned “What the Green Movement Got Wrong”, a good old fashioned polemic, espousing a controversial point of view and challenging its audience to engage in a healthy and intelligent debate.
In essence, the programmes thesis was that we need to reconsider the possibilities offered by technology in resolving some of the planet’s major issues such as famine and global warming. The programmes most controversial point was that the green movement’s effectiveness in slowing down and in some cases halting the adoption of nuclear power as an alternative energy source forced energy providers further down the road of fossil fuel based energy. The consequence was the massive pollution of the rivers and skies that we now know is responsible for global warming.
Naturally real controversy has broken out as contributor Adam Werbach, former president of the conservation group the Sierra Club, attempts to distance himself from the programme saying that he was not made aware of the polemical nature of the programme (though the title must have been a bit of giveaway) and that his views were misrepresented.
The programme was at 75 minutes, slightly longer than it needed to be, but it featured no celebrities and chock full of interesting facts. I particularly enjoyed the footage of the elderly residents of Chernobyl, who seem positively sprightly in comparison to some of the denizens of the UK I’ve come across in my travels.
The programme can and no doubt will be criticised for taking the deeply unfashionable position that it does and an extreme view would say that it does little more than articulate the views of the pro-nuclear lobby. However, there is a perfectly valid debate to be had around this topic and if we close our ears to the pro-nuclear lobby then we are not having a balanced discussion. We’ve seen too much Television that patronises the audience.
This is the kind of Television I love and I hope we see more of it.
Witless, vapid and contributing nothing save a supersized ego to the sum of human knowledge. Ok, that may be a subjective opinion, but am I the only one who has grown to detest celebrity led Television documentaries to the point where I will actually refuse to watch them?
There is a trend these days towards hiring ‘celebrities’ to front documentaries on subjects which a discerning audience may safely deduce are of, let’s say limited interest to the vacuous twerp presenting them. The nadir of this miserable format is surely ‘Lindsay Lohan’s Indian Journey‘, a documentary with a fascinating subject; child trafficking, ruined by the most inappropriate presenter. The identity of the halfwit who came up with the idea that Lohan’s vast experience of scandal sheets, rehabilitation and straight-to-video films would qualify her to pontificate on this subject is unknown, but I wait in trepidation for them to commission a series featuring Amanda Holden on “Joan of Arc – the making of a martyr”.
Budgets are being cut, format television is in, the hapless viewer is in the grip of an industry that has promoted a generation of reality TV makers into editorial positions. Is it any surprise then that TV is in such a mess? Google has replaced imagination, researchers armed with Apple Macs scour the web, retrieving facts by the million …and completely miss the human stories that used to make documentary such a fascinating form. Commissioners pore over these tepid offerings, invent a suitably tabloid styled title and then, hedging their bets, invest half the budget in a celebrity presenter. Ratings are everything, quality is out, superficiality is in.
I would like, just for a change to see an old fashioned documentary that breathes life into it’s subject, one that makes me want to find out more. Genuine enthusiasts are endlessly fascinating given the chance and in some cases, possessed of a passion for their subject which is TV gold. That doesn’t mean that all celebrities are as banal and self interested as the dismal duo cited here, but please, before documentary as a medium is reduced to the depths so effortlessly plumbed by “My 100 Best Rock Songs”, can we stop patronising the viewers and return to the type of television we used to do so well?
In a perfect world, I like a television documentary to offer some insight, to make me think and to show me something I don’t already know. In real life, I’d happily take any two of those options.
The current series of Cutting Edge has been a mixed bag. Starting with the excellent ‘Eight Boys and Wanting a Girl’, a fascinating and controversial film offering genuine insight into the condition of gender disappointment it continued with ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, a good, if one dimensional film about travellers. At this point the series seemed on course to deliver excellent viewing figures as well as interesting TV, however the plot was well and truly lost with the dreadful ‘Too Poor For Posh School’, a toadying paen to public school life that achieved nothing, other than to patronise its contributors and manipulate its audience.
The premise of the film was that we would follow the progress of a selection of students competing for entry to Harrow Public School via the ‘Peter Beckwith Scholarship’, an arrangement that has the benefit for the school of guaranteeing that at least two of the yearly intake are blessed with talent or intelligence. The assumption, accepted without question by the programme makers that the recipients would somehow be made for life, seemed questionable. No doubt there are advantages to an education in the company of the moneyed middle classes, but statistically at least there will be a proportion of these children who will turn out to be as feckless and wasted as their equivalents in state funded education.
The director was given excellent access; to the boys, to the teachers and headmaster and emerged with a film that unquestioningly accepted the view that a public school education is best and that Harrow is the best of the best – both highly controversial statements given that only 1 in 7 Harrovians graduate to Oxford or Cambridge and that the most challenging obstacle to entry is the school fee – in the region of £30,000 p.a.
Beckwith himself seemed like a decent chap, although his assertion that the beneficiaries of his generosity would sally forth to do good in the world was naive at best. Any lingering impression of humility was dispelled when we were shown an extraordinary ritual, held yearly, where the ‘Beckwith Boys’ past and present gather to tell their benefactor how their lives have been changed for the better – a ghastly event straight out of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
The manipulation? We are told at the beginning of the programme that there are only two places on offer – we follow the efforts of four children and see two successful candidates before cutting to a scene showing the third, Tumi, receiving what we assume to be bad news…except there are really three places and Tumi is successful. Trite and manipulative. What would have been more interesting would have been to find out why one of the successful candidates chose not to accept the scholarship, in favour of a similar award from Eton.
Finally, a minor point – why does the same piece of incidental music crop up in all the programmes in the current series? Is it intended, like the dreadful mock tabloid titles, to be a signature? If so, it fails. Like this particular programme, it is an irritant.