Staying in: The body in all its glory
In `Lido', Lucy Blakstad made a magical documentary about a swimming pool. Now, in `Naked', she's getting more personal
Saturday 21 November 1998
Maureen is just one of the contributors who lays themselves bare for Naked, Lucy Blakstad's intriguing new BBC2 documentary series. Over four parts, the filmmaker puts our attitudes to our own bodies under the microscope, from the hormonal explosion of puberty through to the dying light in old age. The idea has a winning simplicity to it. "It's one of those things you can't believe hasn't been done before," says the producer/director. "We've all got a body. Even if you couldn't give two hoots about your own body, you're at least going to be aware of its ageing process. It's that moment where you look in the mirror and suddenly think, `My God, I'm turning into my dad'."
The tenor of the programmes could easily have strayed into women's magazine territory, but that has never been an area where Blakstad has felt comfortable. "Initially, commissioning editors were worried that it might be daytime- TV subject matter, but you steer away from issues like weight problems and how to look more beautiful. You also realise that everyone has a different take on the subject - it's not about a woman wanting to lose 10 pounds. It's a way to find out about people's lives. The body signifies where people are in life. People's self-esteem is directly affected by the way their body looks. If I interviewed you, say, I'd start off talking about balding, but I'd end up finding out quite a lot about how you feel about yourself. It is more interesting to focus on the head rather than the body. It's about how the mind copes with changing flesh."
She reckons, for instance, that our fear of ageing is merely a code for fear of death. "For the people in the programme about middle age, wrinkles signify the downhill, slippery slope; they're thinking, `I'm over half way there'. Also, people are worried they'll become less attractive as they grow older. They're constantly being reminded in the mirror that there's less time left."
Blakstad's other aim with the series was simply to put some normal-looking bodies on our screens. "One thing that struck me was how unusual it is to see ordinary bodies on television. If a TV drama has overweight actors, they never take their kit off or have a romantic scene. It's the same in women's magazines. You just don't see it - except in your own mirror. I recently met a nice-looking actor in his 20s whose agent had told him, `Find a hairpiece because you won't be able to get parts if you're balding'. What are things coming to?" Hear, hear.
This is all very well, but isn't there a danger that the programme - particularly with such a title - will attract a pervy element? "When people watch it, they'll realise it's not a peep-show," Blakstad replies. "I could have chosen to film the interviewees topless or in the rugby-club showers, but hopefully it's not too voyeuristic."
It isn't, but it is arty. In one sequence, a 54-year-old divorcee is undergoing a mid-life crisis. As she reflects on meeting her ex-husband at a dance, she is filmed sitting in the centre of a floor while ballroom dancers float around her in slow motion. Does Blakstad, who trained at art school and made her name with such unashamedly stylised documentaries as Lido, Weekenders, Flatmates and Hong Kong, feel threatened in a TV universe where the docu-soap is king? "No, I'm delighted there are so many docusoaps because it makes it easier to stand out. I should be worried about my style of film-making dying out, but the feedback I'm getting is that at the BBC there'll always be a place for people with different ways of doing things."
Part of Blakstad's individualistic approach lies in her intense curiosity about people. For all their artiness, her films have a very human touch. "I'm the kind of person you move away from on trains because I just start talking to people," she laughs. "I'm genuinely interested in people - I even interview them at parties. Since I was little, I've always asked, `Why'."
So what has the 33-year-old Blakstad learnt from making Naked? "I hope I'll feel accepting about the ageing process. I'm certainly going to do my damnedest not to feel hysterical about it. If I started getting depressed about every wrinkle, I'd be miserable for 50 years. It's great not to be hung about the things you were hung up about when you were young. In one of the programmes, an old man says that ageing is `like driving a really fast car. Then later on you get a little slow car and you think, `Well, I'm not going as fast as I used to, but the scenery's a lot better'. It's about appreciating and accepting how you are. I've always been very tall. Since making this programme, I've bought two pairs of high heels and thought to myself, `I'm tall. To hell with it - I might as well enjoy it'."
But does Blakstad imagine she'll always be this sanguine about her body? "Ask me in 10 years' time when I'm rushing off to have a face lift."
`Naked' starts on BBC2 at 9.50pm on Wednesday
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