TELEVISION / I am a camera: Thomas Sutcliffe on Nick Danziger

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The Independent Culture
SOMETIMES it's the little things that get to you. For instance, it long ago ceased to be interesting to comment, in a television review, on the elaborate subterfuges of documentary film-makers. The way, for example, that the person who answers the door never expresses suspicion at the presence of a television crew or the way in which you have footage both of the interior of the car as it speeds away and footage from the point of view of the person left behind.

To complain that these moments are as carefully staged as a studio drama and that this might undermine the veracity of the film is pretty much regarded as a nave objection. For the most part that's right but occasionally the thought gets lodged in your mind in the way that popcorn husks can work themselves up behind your molars, impossible to dislodge, impossible to ignore.

It happened in Adventures in the Land of SPLAJ (C 4), Nick Danziger's account of an attempt to secure an interview with Colonel Gadaffi. From the start - intense close-ups of Danziger's sweating mouth - you knew you were in the company of a documentary narcissist, one of those film-makers who have decided that it is a lot easier if the film is really, in some sense, all about them. The advantage this confers is that nothing can really go wrong (short of having the camera stolen). If you miss your bus the film becomes, for a short while, a film about what it's like to miss a bus. If you're mugged you're in clover (the audience won't be as familiar with being mugged as they are with missing buses).

This market has been cornered by Nick Broomfield, the Ingmar Bergman of calculated incompetence. With Broomfield, though, the film itself shares in the general disarray; mike baffles loom into the frame, the soundtrack clunks and clonks and the picture lurches drunkenly as the director, a balding Anneka Rice, sets off in pursuit of his victim. With Danziger's film, on the other hand, you had an unhappy marriage of old-fashioned polish and new-fangled chaos.

This was particularly brought home at a point when Danziger decided to hitch into the interior. Tasteful shots from behind superimposed his lonely raised thumb with the honking Tripoli traffic. Then you cut to a low angle, looking upwards at the solitary adventurer. Finally Danziger confessed. 'It was only after I hid the film crew,' he said, 'that I stood a chance of a lift.' From behind a nearby bush the camera watched an unsuspecting estate car pull up and the invisible comedy of the scene raised your hopes.

The camera trotted towards the car hopefully as Danziger climbed in alone and disappeared in a cloud of dust. But in the next shot we were reunited inside the car once again. Did Danziger happen to know the Arabic for covering shot? Were the camera crew in a hired mini-bus anyway? Or had the driver stopped once already, rehearsed the scene and then reversed to pick them up? The fact that these questions niggled at you for the next 300 miles suggests something had gone wrong with things going wrong.