If this is pornography, then I'm going to bed
Monday 13 March 1995
In the event, though, Sir Teddy Taylor, MP, will have been disappointed. He predicted "vile, filthy porn" and what he got was just the ordinary soft-core stuff. Not a great deal of that either, even though the first film of the evening was about Police Officer Carol Shaya, who decided that the profile of New York's finest would be improved by a centre-spread in Playboy. The Policewoman's Endowment Organisation, which in this context sounds unfortunately like a model agency, took a dim view of this, on the grounds that other policewomen were receiving ribald remarks about how they should employ their billy clubs and handcuffs. Carol herself couldn't understand the fuss, despite having posed in, and out and on top of her uniform for the pictures, which suggests that she deserved her dismissal on grounds of gormlessness alone.
The hairier of the pictures, if I can put it that way, were flashed at you with the speed of a nervous Port Said postcard salesman displaying his stock. You imagined frustrated drunks all over the country, winding and rewinding as they tried to freeze-frame the right bit. Despite a game attempt to prod some larger issues into life, this always seemed like a small story in a big box, raising the double-edged question that will haunt all the programmes in the season: "Would this have been shown earlier in the evening?" The early hours of the morning have long been the shallow grave in which schedulers dispose of mistakes.
That clearly wasn't the case with White Jazz, a jumpy night-drive through the psyche of the crime-writer James Ellroy. A weird neighbourhood this, with some unseemly things going on in the shadows, but it made for an excellent film. "A warning," said Ellroy at the beginning. "This is an incendiary re-creation of a time and place. It is written in blood, seminal fluid and NAPALM!" Whoa there James, you thought. Let me just grab some kitchen towel before we set off. His ambition is to grab his readers "by the short hair of their intellects" and he has the grip of a maniac, holding your attention by the sheer energy of his confessional rap. His obsession with LA crime, with sexual psychosis and murder, began when his own mother was strangled and left by the roadside, a crime he is now investigating himself, with the help of a retired police detective. It seems unlikely that he will solve this, 36 years on. But he has high hopes that he might solve himself in the attempt.
Band of Gold (ITV) has an eye on sexual violence too, along with a determination not to fall into casual exploitation of the subject. Kate Mellor's intriguing first episode ended with the murder of a prostitute, but this was not the standard deployment of a disposable victim. "Let them think she's straight," one of the dead girl's friends says. "That way they'll find him soon."
The drama could be said to have followed the same misdirection, employing an entire episode to win your sympathies for a character who was never going to make it beyond the final credits. This is clearly a political decision, but the drama isn't marred by rhetorical condemnations - Gina's errant husband, who has hit her, is a rounded, even sympathetic character. By the end, your thoughts about their future are central to the drama's energy, which makes it all the more shocking that Gina turns out not to have any sort of future at all.
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