TELEVISION / Let's all write a letter to Uncle Douglas
Sunday 27 February 1994
Pilger is a stubborn man. After years observing the Western allies' behaviour over Cambodia, he knows just what to expect of them, but he persists in expecting better - in measuring their actions against some notion of right conduct. This can be exasperating, like hearing the global village idiot point out yet again that the Emperors have no clothes years after everyone else has accepted their forked depravity. But there is guile in Pilger's naivety: asking crooked men straight questions he reveals the corners they have cut with their consciences. And his patient chipping away at official lies cracks your own carapace of cynicism, restoring a sense that things need not be as Uncle Douglas says. That for Australia, the US and Britain to collude in the invasion and suppression of a small nation by a rich friend is an absolute evil, even in a world where the guiding parable is that of the Bad Samaritan.
Given the risks they were taking - Indonesians castrated an Australian TV crew in 1975 and asphyxiated them with their own penises - Pilger and director David Munro produced some very cool footage. I liked Pilger standing on the beach where the troops had landed, laconically reading a telegram home from the British ambassador: 'We should keep our heads down, and let matters take their course.' Less well placed to keep their heads down, many Timorese had theirs cut off - as we saw in snapshots of leery soldiers dangling their grisly souvenirs. Elsewhere, evidence was hard to find, most of it being buried: we had to rely on eye-witnesses we couldn't see. Pixillation - the electronic distortion of identity - is usually a tedious safeguard, but here it achieved poignant resonance, reminding you of what Picasso did in Guernica with the faces of survivors: splintered shards reassembled in a fresco of anguish.
Pilger's argument lost some force in the arms-trade maze, but otherwise he has never been more furiously controlled. He even resisted the temptation to throttle Indonesia's man at the UN - Kermit dressed by Austin Reed. At the end, I called the Timor Helpline. It was permanently engaged. At 11am the next day, I finally got through to Will, who sounded tired but ecstatic, drunk on the power of TV. He had been working for five years to draw attention to the genocide; now, within a few hours, thousands had responded: 'I felt sure,' he said, 'that if people knew they would do something.' Well, let's start by writing Uncle Douglas a letter telling him that we prefer Pilger's story to his.
In Calling The Shots (BBC1), Laura Lamson's irritatingly gripping thriller, Maggie the TV reporter (Lynn Redgrave) was still receiving abusive phone calls. The police were puzzled, but any viewer could have told them it was the people of Belfast responding to Redgrave's stab at their accent. The drama's central conceit - woman used to scrutinising others' lives finds the tables turned - was subtle and provoking as was Maggie's relationship with her dying lover (the great, grizzled Jack Shepherd). But no one seemed to have agreed what kind of animal they were working on, so it ended up like Dr Doolittle's push-me-pull- you. Moments of delicate observation were trampled by great cliches. (In future, if someone wants to suggest a woman's inner turmoil, don't have her washing-machine overflow, OK? Let her scramble to find a clean pair of knickers.) The final twist - something about the rapist's mates having posed as coppers to pretend he'd hanged himself but then he did anyway - was absurd, but not a patch on the black commissioning editor expecting an audience of 10 million for his documentaries. Who did he think he was working for - Channel 4?
Not much fidelity to the journalistic life either in Nelson's Column (BBC1). You don't expect every new sitcom to push back the boundaries of the form, but this one hasn't even left the crease - bitch editor, priapic male reporter, hapless but sweet female one. Viewers will probably only manage a smirk, but the laughter-track is having a high old time, guffawing and whooping like Dick Van Dyke in a helium factory. This is oddly disorienting, like reading a map that marks a mountain when you know you're in a desert. Worst of all, John Gordon Sinclair, that stringbean with attitude, is wasting his sweetness on it.
In Olympic Grandstand (BBC), oxygen deprivation had finally gone to David Vine's head. 'A little bit up and down this season,' noted David as a Swiss wearing a cheese catsuit whizzed by. It's still not too late for someone to tell him that they all go up and down. Back in the studio, Steve Ryder and Sue Barker were doing a perky if lightweight job. There were first-class, pithy guides to each sport, and tantalising, airy glimpses of the ski-jumping proper (not the tacky, new somersault along to Phil Collins event), but the main action was at the rink in Hamar. The balletic grace of the Ladies' skating is misleading: for its true nature you have to consider the names of the jumps: Lutz, for example, sounds like a Damon Runyon expletive - OK, Salchow, get that lutz outta here. Enter Tonya Harding, a B-movie broad; one of those hard-faced little tramps who used to snivel on Cagney's hankie. Tonya was pitted against Nancy Kerrigan, the lofty princess who may or may not have had her knees smashed by one of Tonya's good ol' boys from Clackamas County (just think of The Waltons and add Dennis Hopper).
By Friday night's final, Tonya had no hope of stopping Nancy: undaunted, she managed to stop the entire contest with a broken bootlace. 'Quite clear from that view that those laces are not tied properly,' said Barry Davies, effortlessly colonising a whole new area of ignorance. When Tonya finally made it onto the ice, her meaty upper body straining at a damson-sequinned leotard, it wasn't the ungainly jumps that struck you, but a kind of rough pathos. The Hamar horror wasn't over: there was the missing Ukrainian national anthem and Lu Chen and her magnetic attraction to the crash barrier: she was known as Loo Chain in our house where international tolerance was suspended owing to persistent judging irregularities.
Talking of which, an estimated 21 million of us watched the nightlight robbery. I had been telling myself Jayne and Chris would lose, so it wouldn't feel too bad when it happened: but hope springs infernal, especially when Chris threw his body around Jayne's waist and landed with a matador flourish. To the critical eye (all right, I'm trying), Jayne looked a bit lumpier, but Chris has always been the sexier partner. To their credit, Alan Weeks and Barry did not seek comfort in screaming xenophobia: that was to be left to the public.
On a sparkling edition of David Dimbleby's revitalised Question Time (BBC1) - or as sparkling as any show with Douglas Hogg can be - the excellent Ann Leslie put it to the audience that as a French newspaper had said Jayne looked like a flying pig, we should blow up the Channel Tunnel forthwith. Unanimous? Only Hitler has ever united us more.
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
news Opponents claim it would stop performers such as Beyonce and Madonna appearing on TV
It takes a platoon of chefs, litres of brandy and rum, and almost 100kg of dried fruit
newsThat most ancient of crimes is on the rise, threatening farmers' livelihoods, community trust – and human health
food + drink
sportIf you thought the London Olympics and Wiggins' Tour glory made last year best, don't forget Murray's Wimbledon win and Farah's double
Arts & Ents blogs
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 27 animals died during filming of Hollywood blockbuster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, says report
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 5 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- < Previous
- Next >