review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Something sharp and uncomfortable had been buried inside The Bare Necessities (ITV), but it was barely detectable through the heavy quilting of wishful thinking that had been wrapped around it. The story concerned a group of redundant miners, first seen returning to the surface after a valiant but futile sit-in. To reward their wives for their loyal support they arrange for a visit by a team of male strippers. When the strippers cancel at the last minute they put on the show themselves and discover that "tekkin wur keks off" might offer lucrative employment - from the seam to the seamy. This is solid John Godber territory - working class solidarity, adversity trounced by wit and grit, the raucous bawdy of northern women - but it was hard to stop fantasising about what a director like Ken Loach or Mike Leigh might have done with the same material - with its possibilities for manly humiliation, the emasculation of bump and grind. One scene came close - when the nascent troupe are taken off to a local gay disco to study technique - but mostly Ken Blakeson's script evaded the issues, settling instead for a comic fantasy of embattled companionship. Indeed the men have such a strong sense of community that they even manage to perform a synchronized routine without a rehearsal. Something of an achievement this - to purge all sense of embarrassment and awkwardness from an amateur strip before your mates' wives and girlfriends. Paul Unwin's camerawork relied heavily on romantic filters, as if he wanted to find some visual equivalent for the writer's rose-tinted spectacles.

Divine Magic (C4), a new series about "the supernatural" was at some pains to be polite about voodoo. The Hollywood vision of blood sacrifice and zombie strutting was, they insisted from the start, nothing more than a gross cultural slander. In reality, they explained, voodoo is "a complete religion that offers millions faith, tradition, and consolation". There were some problems with this project, and they were underlined by the ecumenical nicety of the American voodoo priestess included in the programme. "A fetish market may not look very nice," she conceded as the camera panned across an animal charnel house, "but remember they're not always used to hurt somebody." This seemed a slim comfort to me, as if an Anglican priest had agreed that, yes, a Bishop's crozier could come in handy in a street brawl but it shouldn't be forgotten that it had other uses beside. And the thought occurred more than once that for most of voodoo's 40 million adherents, often dispossessed and downtrodden, the "don't mess with me" element to the faith probably remains its principal attraction. Voodoo was originally a slave religion, after all, a consolatory dream of power elaborated by the powerless, in which cruelty was returned for cruelty. So you can imagine current worshippers (like their traditionalist Anglican counterparts) getting a bit shirty about all these trendy houdons downplaying the revenge element in favour of happy-clappy healing. Divine Madness betrayed its own gothic appetite, despite the pieties of its opening section, when it came to Baron Samedi, one of Voodoo's more important mythical functionaries. They depicted this caretaker of the dead looming out of the darkness, glaring maniacally at the camera and surrounded with a swirl of dry ice. Naturally this undermined the pitch for multicultural respectability - even the Archbishop of Canterbury might look a little menacing under such conditions. Anyone inclined to feel a surge of cultural superiority at this point, a preen of civilisation in face of such primitive belief structures, would have done well to change channels. Over on BBC1, by spooky coincidence, they would have found Baroness Samedi at work - Mystic Meg, shrouded in fake smoke as her congregation shrieked and wailed in devilish frenzy. I doubt if there could be a better candidate for a modern slave religion than Lottery fever. It reminded you, as Divine Madness had usefully clarified earlier, that adherents of voodoo don't fear zombies themselves - what they fear, above all things, is becoming a zombie.

Comments