Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE CZECH poet and immunologist Miroslav Holub once wrote an essay entitled "The Dimension of the Present Moment", which argued that the present lasts for about three seconds: that is, our brains naturally work in three-second bursts - we find it hard to comprehend anything in less than three seconds, or to sustain concentration for longer. Holub's conclusion was that "we simply happen in segments and intervals, we are composed of frames flickering like frames of a film-strip in a projector."

Well, on that basis, the pop video - so often maligned for destroying young people's ability to concentrate - starts to look like a fairly respectable, intellectually demanding form. All the same, there's something perverse about a project like The History of the Pop Video (Sat C4) - the three-minute culture extended over the space of two-and-a-half hours.

Right at the beginning, the programme acknowledged that "MTV culture" doesn't have much sense of the past, when it pointed out that Queen's video for "Bohemian Rhapsody" is usually cited as the first example of the form. In fact, you can argue (as Holly Johnson did here) that the origins of music video lie in MGM musicals. And check out the short film the Beatles made to accompany "Strawberry Fields", in which the Fab Four cavort around a disembowelled piano in a field: to all intents and purposes, the music video had already achieved its modern form.

Later on, however, the programme's sense of history seemed to desert it, when it suggested that lip-synching was the product of MTV culture: well, Norman Wisdom satirised the practise in Follow a Star (1959), and I shouldn't even have to mention Singin' in the Rain.

To its credit, The History of the Pop Video did try to be more than just a compilation of Great Moments, tackling the themes of race, fashion and consumerism. In the end, though, it was about packing in as many Great Moments as possible. That would have been fine, but the attempts at thematic coherence meant chopping the videos about even more than usual - so we got a quick sniff of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the fag-end of "Ashes to Ashes". It was nice to get a glimpse of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's rarely seen "Fellini- esque" promo for "Relax", with its intimations of sodomy and golden showers. But nagging questions remained: where were Madness? Where was "Vienna", for heaven's sake?

Meanwhile, the South Bank Show (Sat ITV) took an interview with Cher as the cue for its first ever Saturday-night outing. Recently, DJ Taylor complained bitterly in this paper about the lack of serious arts coverage on television, with particular reference to the South Bank Show lavishing a whole hour on Joan Collins, "Someone whose artistic significance could be anatomised on the back of a postage stamp". Well, Cher's been around long enough to occupy at least three or four postage stamps (the big Christmas ones, at that), and she seemed quite a pleasant person. But she is still a Star - famous for her body, and for still flaunting it at fifty-something, rather than for her body of work.

I don't think DJ will be feeling any happier about arts program-ming, and neither do I.

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