LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
Girls, Girls, Girls (C4) - a daily series of video diaries which Channel 4 has been running, has been cut down from 175 hours of home-made recordings into just 30 minutes of television airtime - a shooting ratio, if you want to think of it like that, of 350 to one (though the footage comes from an existing project run by Goldsmiths' College, so you needn't worry about Channel 4's extravagance). This statistic naturally raises the question of whether such a slice of life is so thin as to be effectively transparent. What is it meant to do exactly? The press release, to which I turned for some clues, offers this: "The films act as a potent distillation of the lives of a cross-section of contemporary women, offering a revealing insight into their growth and development."

This begs the right questions - although, it seems to me, the films are successful precisely because that description is wrong on almost every count. To begin with, real lives cannot be distilled in the way that liquor can; the smaller the space, the less life you get, and it remains at exactly the same proof, as it were. Indeed, it is one of the virtues of the video diary as a form that it preserves the dilution of ordinary life - the arbitrary way in which crises rub up against a lot of dull routine. Secondly, if this is a cross-section it is one cut on the slant; five out of the eight diarists are black or asian, which might offer a cross-section of contemporary metropolitan women, but won't work for the country as a whole. Again, this is an advantage. The series offers a relatively rare opportunity to see black women's lives depicted as mundane and ordinary, not defined by relation to a social anxiety or some civic initiative. Thirdly, although the full 175 hours might give a genuine insight into "development and growth", what has made it on screen couldn't possibly. On Tuesday of last week, for example, you could watch Vicky, silently mouthing insults at customers for whom she was making telephone reservations, on Wednesday she reappeared with a baby, as if it had popped out overnight ("Last time you saw me," she said, "I was young free and single"). Yesterday, a medical student called Mano exhaustedly told us that she might just have passed her exams, but last week we saw her apparently getting her first job as a doctor. The intense compression of years of recordings had transformed the continuity of their lives into a series of baffling jump cuts.

As any kind of diagnostic tool, then, Girls, Girls, Girls is useless. But it's illuminating and fun to watch because of the way people seem to personalise their cameras. When one of the girls had her car written off, she explained that she would have to get a banger until the insurance paid up because "I can't be lugging you around with nowhere to put you". Another girl exchanged conspiratorial looks with her video recorder after she had crashed her mother's car and she was waiting for a maternal explosion. In both cases, the machine had become a familiar accomplice rather than a potential enemy - and it showed in the intimacy of the confidences.

Short Stories' film (C4) about a peculiarly gruelling cross-country race essentially repeated the themes of Debbie Horsfield's drama series Born to Run. Women found a new sense of self-worth through exercise, relationships were strengthened by shared exertion, and the will to better oneself was given a muddy, muscle-racking, sweat-stained expression. The race itself includes a series of sadistic obstacles and is run in mid-winter to ensure that the water hazards are as cold as possible. Even the man who devised it seemed mildly contemptuous of those who take part: "They're like lemmings, they really are," he said, pointing out that if he dug a huge pit one year, most of the competitors would plunge in without asking questions. The runners themselves insisted on the therapeutic value of crawling through muddy slush, but you couldn't help wondering how much they could achieve in more fruitful areas of endeavour if they didn't waste quite so much energy on this.

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