TELEVISION / Boxing clever: James Rampton on a weekend of violent overkill and Billy Connolly

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The Independent Culture
Rocky casts his musclebound shadow over every fight film. Seconds Out (Sunday, BBC1), Lynda La Plante's Screen One about boxing, was a case in point. You cannot tell a story about a bum rescued from a life of petty crime and taken all the way to a title fight by the dedication of a dogged old trainer without prompting memories of Sylvester Stallone and his Oscar-winning pectorals. Any doubts about the link were dispelled when a fighter in Seconds Out was played in to the sound of 'Eye of the Tiger'.

The pugilistic cliches did not end there. Long before the final bell had sounded, we had had the honourable fighter who 'can't be bought', the dodgy, gold-festooned promoter with the number plate reading 'BOX 1', the tart with a heart, and the trainer who sells his prized Lonsdale Belt to save his gym - 'This is all I got, it's my life.'

As he showed with Resnick earlier this year, Bruce MacDonald is a stylish director. When the prostitute weepingly recounted the details of her rape, she flitted in and out of the light while rotating in a half-egg swivel-chair. But you still couldn't help suspecting that the director had spent too much time in front of Raging Bull. Too much of Seconds Out was filmed in aching slow motion (even a bar of soap falling from a dish was shot like a dying swan), and the sound of every punch was souped up on the soundtrack. Rather than enhancing reality, this effect only reminded you of those old kung fu films where the fights were overdubbed with the noise of two planks being slapped together.

Where the film did succeed was in its performances. Although his whispered delivery was sometimes barely audible, Tom Bell as the trainer was, as always, craggily convincing. How many other actors could bring plausibility to a line as hackneyed as 'It wasn't just a fight, it was the biggest chance of his life'?

La Plante's dramas are a little like Frank Bruno: macho, good- looking, immensely popular, given to the odd humorous touch, and seemingly on the telly every time you switch it on. But the feeling persists that La Plante, like Bruno, is currently fighting more than is good for her; she needs to take a break from the ring before she punches herself out.

Fighting - with guns rather than gloves - was also the preoccupation of Tony Harrison in The Gaze of the Gorgon (Saturday, BBC2), his latest poem to make it on to the screen, which opened the BBC 'War and Peace' season. While a versified meditation on the horrors of the 20th century is not classic Saturday night fare in the vein of, say, Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game, it still made for unusual, if over-ambitious television. To illustrate Harrison's rhyming couplets, the director, Peter Symes, picked out some arresting details (a hornets' nest snuggling up to the scrotum of a statue of Achilles).

But, like MacDonald, he tended to rub our noses in the gory details. Was it necessary to accompany a photograph of the face of a First World War corpse being consumed by flies with the sound of buzzing insects? And did it really require a shot of urine cascading on to a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm to show how terrible he was?

Perhaps surprisingly, The South Bank Show (Sunday, ITV) on Billy Connolly also offered some bleak moments. Although he claimed that he was reluctant to slip into 'tears of a clown' platitudes, the comedian said that he was still coming to terms with his harsh upbringing at the hands (or rather fists) of his aunt. This admission precipitated an outpouring of Californian psycho- babble about 'wounded children'. Connolly talked more sense about the (now fading) fashion for politically correct humour: 'Those new comedy people who say, 'No racism, no sexism, no this -ism, no that -ism' - how dare you?' (Cut to Melvyn Bragg clasping chin sagely.)

But the whole programme just went to prove the point that if you try to explain humour, you kill it. The most enjoyable parts of Nigel Wattis's thorough film were the clips of the comedian performing live, intercut with the audience in stitches. As Connolly eloquently put it: 'Funny is funny is funny.'