I was going to preface this by saying “At the risk of being boring…” but let’s not worry about that and see how it goes. From 1989-1995 on BBC2 weeknights after Newsnight there was a programme called The Late Show and it was magnificent. You want a 40 minute programme about French philosopher Michel Foucault, director Josef von Sternberg or US crime writer Elmore Leonard? No problem (these are ones I’ve picked more or less at random from the BFI listing). There’s no point making an arts programme if you’re going to be self-conscious about it or worry about coming across as pretentious and among the memorable there were some less than successful episodes. There’s very little on TV nowadays now that takes an in-depth approach allied with an ability to engage the viewer in unlikely subject matter. This intriguing Culture Show special on rockers Metallica is as close as you’re likely to get.
I haven’t seen enough pre-1960s british documentaries to say how widespread this might be, but the use of voiceover in Under Night Streets, a 1958 documentary about the Underground’s 800 night shift workers, to create a narrative over the pictures seems to be straight out of Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard.
Not only does our gruff-voiced narrator describe what’s on screen to the audience, he also gets to narrate his own on-screen actions while he’s in vision. How Noir is that?
Two other things that interested me: the film seems to have been shot without sound and dubbed in its entirety after the fact (not very documentary). Secondly, the group of women who ensured the tunnels were free of paper, dust and other flammable detritus were called fluffers. Not like your modern day fluffers then.
It’s hard to imagine an equivalent act or image nowadays so simple yet so powerful that would rival Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s gloved clenched fists, raised in support of the Black Panther movement during the Star Spangled Banner at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The story of the lead up and aftermath of this act of rebellion and defiance.
At 12’32 you’ll find Turner prize winning artist Steve McQueen talking with Mark “Max Headroom” Kermode about his new work Queen and Country, postage stamps commemorating those who have died in the Iraq conflict. They’re not real stamps but he’s working on getting the Royal Mail to take them on. He also talks about his new film Hunger which is about the last days of Irish Republican hunger striker Bobby Sands and won an award at Cannes. Both are powerful provocative items.
Warning: another annoying post about an item that’s just about to expire. I’m four episodes into this five parter that was on Monday to Friday last week on BBC1 and it’s pretty good, starts slow and then picks up.
As it was all on in the last seven days all five parts are currently available in the ever-so-brief window of opportunity. It makes you realise what was lost when they stripped series-stacking out of iPlayer. Shame.