review

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The Independent Culture
Video has changed the shape of grief in this century. It means that the dead continue in an approximation of life, their voices and manners preserved by a medium which is sometimes taken as the ultimate affadavit of existence. And because video films are usually shot in happy circumstances, times of play and laughter, there's a sense that the people you watch are flagrantly showing off their vitality. Presence butts hard up against absence in a way that the little death of snapshots, with their implicit rigor, can never match.

Early in Short Stories: a Child's Grief (C4), Julia Warren's film about a charity that helps bereaved children, you watched as Catherine, Tora and James underwent this peculiarly modern ordeal - looking at their father splashing and larking in a flooded field, apparently on the day before he died of a heart attack.

Therapy has changed the shape of grief too, as the film went on to show, converting it into an expertise to be gained, a process in which we need careful tuition. To this end, the charity Winston's Wish has established a weekend activity camp - a large house in which children can be guided through the expression and exploration of their feelings. It is vaguely astonishing that no one had ever filmed this before - television, a predator which feeds on emotions, can usually scent childish tears from an immense distance.

But in the event it was an oddly dry-eyed programme, neither showing nor eliciting many tears. It may be that I simply dug my heels in, stubborn about the programme's emotional expectations. But it might equally be to the credit of the course itself, which turns sorrow into a series of party games and shared rituals. It becomes, for a while at least, a community activity rather than a private wound.

The children layer coloured salt into jars, with each colour representing an attribute of the person they have lost; they light a candle in remembrance and on the final day release a balloon, with a message to the dead. This last scene, with brightly coloured balloons disappearing into a grey mist, was a director's dream, a perfect image of fading pain and memory. But it still didn't quite break the air of detachment, the faint reserve which pervaded the film. "It is important to realise that it is all right to cry," said one of the course organisers - but somehow it never felt quite right to indulge in an armchair grief for these private losses.

The sentimental pay-dirt of very young children is also a big feature in My Kind of People (ITV), Michael Barrymore's tour of the nation's shopping centres. It's now a commonplace of high, low and middling brows that Barrymore is a showbiz genius, possessed of an almost shamanistic power over that most difficult of gatherings, the family audience. I broadly share the view, if only because of his mysterious ability to have fun at people's expense without ever abusing their complete vulnerability.

My Kind of People is decidedly odd, though - a sort of free-form karaoke in which the public do their highly variable bits while Barrymore mucks about in the background. The direction and editing frequently make it impossible to tell what is happening - whether Barrymore is off-screen, mugging, while some hapless amateur screeches through a pub ballad - or indeed what reactions go with which act. He's clearly the main event at the Olympia Ice Bowl, East Kilbride, but the programme turns him into an inspired distraction, a sideshow to which you turn when the main stage becomes unbearable - as it not infrequently does.

Unusually, for this kind of charismatic personality-led programme, there is very little intimacy with the camera, and almost no attempt to cajole the viewer into a sense of being addressed personally. You are left outside, slightly clueless, watching an audience watching a clever clown. For some inexplicable reason, it works.

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