TELEVISION / The loneliness of the long-distance runner: James Rampton watches Rushdie on the move, four years on; plus Adventures, Screen Two and The South Bank Show
Monday 08 February 1993
In telling the history of the fatwa, issued on Valentine's Day 1989, the documentary relied rather too heavily on the 'floating screens' montage effect. It worked better playing it straight - as when Rushdie, in a darkened room, read direct to camera from his journal. He told of people clutching his arm and wishing him well in a pub two days after the death sentence was decreed. And as the world's press hunted for him high and low, he was holed up in a country hotel room next to a Daily Mirror reporter too preoccupied with his dirty weekend to notice his neighbour.
Two days after the Iranian government reiterated that the fatwa is irreversible, this film was a timely reminder of Rushdie's plight; not an angry punch in the face, just a gentle tap on the shoulder.
A more light-hearted news story recently told of a young man's carnal affair with the family Austin Metro. Early on in Adventures (Saturday C4) a no-nonsense gricer dispelled any fanciful notions that steam enthusiasts enjoyed a similar relationship with engines. Spotting steam engines is 'very thrilling', he confided, 'but I wouldn't say there was anything kinky in it.'
'Steaming Passions' was bubbling over with such entertaining moments. Reporter Nigel Farrell blew the whistle on the sexism of some steam buffs. A devotee declared that one always calls engines 'she' because they are 'temperamental'. However, Farrell's affectionate documentary will have done much to rehabilitate the image of the anorak-wearing, fish-paste-sandwich- eating brigade. As the film was keen to emphasise, it is now as much a sorority as a fraternity.
A cloud of steam - from a saucepan, not an engine - heralded the entrance of Maddalena, the Femme Fatale in Screen Two (Sunday BBC2). In this macabre comedy by the prolific Simon Gray, a nave Sicilian girl (Sophia Diaz) was unwittingly responsible for as many corpses as Don Corleone - as if to stress the point, a guitarist played The Godfather theme in the bar where Maddalena worked.
The film offered some killing jokes as the inhabitants of a normally reserved Devon village - the ironically named Meryton - went all Sicilian over the femme fatale. Simon Callow (retreading his jolly vicar from Room with a View) helped out the Catholic young woman by hearing her confession through a front-page of the Times emblazoned with a picture of the Pope. But Femme Fatale shared too many traits with its central character: lovely to look at, promising many delights, but ultimately leaving you unfulfilled.
Through her snapping of femmes fatales, photographer Annie Leibovitz has become as acclaimed as many of her celebrity subjects. Belinda Allen's profile of her for The South Bank Show (Sunday ITV) made for a textbook chronicle of American popular culture over the past 20 years.
The programme had unearthed many fossils from the Seventies - such as Leibovitz's long-time collaborator, Dr Hunter S Thompson. In an extraordinary interview at his remote home in Woody Creek, Colorado, the good doctor failed to muster coherent recollections of the previous day, let alone previous decades. Even the bizarre background squealing of a neighbour's pig caught in a 'mechanical nutcracker' could not jog his deeply drug-damaged memory.
The documentary waved through a few 'live fast, die young' rock 'n' roll cliches without so much as a road- check. Leibovitz claimed that on the 1975 Stones tour 'I almost lost my soul'. (Mick Jagger, for his part, reckoned that having to take so many crotch-shots of the band turned the photographer into a feminist.) But, in the main, this South Bank Show took an uncharacteristically sceptical view of celebrity. How else could you explain the scene in which a Leibovitz aide detailed the sites they had in reserve for a Demi Moore shoot . . . five Bel Air houses, four hotel rooms, three mobile homes, two state beaches . . . everything bar a partridge in a pear tree.
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