Television Review

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The Independent Culture
NEW YEAR'S EVE programming habitually falls into two categories; kitsch or compendia, and last night's schedule offered a fine example of each. The creditable Decisive Moments (BBC2) fell into the latter camp. Its format was ingenious and stylised - an image was framed, its photographer given due credit and the story behind its capture explained. It was a gorgeously paced programme, which mirrored the very process of news photography as a succession of frantic snaps, brief glimpses of a whistlestop year, were spliced with longer, satisfying explanations on the origin of these now iconic images.

January opened with the story of the search for images of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in the CNN archive, existing footage which assumed significance once the story broke. Then it was click, click, click - a wet John Prescott at the Brit Awards, the Angel of the North statue, Stan Collymore and bruised Ulrika during the World Cup in Paris and, rather surreally, Prince Harry abseiling. We also had the chance to review some of the year's better tabloid headlines. "Zip Me Up Before You Go Go" accompanied an image of George Michael outside a public toilet in Beverly Hills. "Pittaful!" cried the Daily Mirror as Paul Gascoigne lurched around Soho with a kebab, just weeks before the World Cup.

The story behind a photograph of the Lawrence inquiry was satisfying in its moral complexity. The picture was taken by a young press agency snapper as the five men suspected of murdering Stephen Lawrence strutted from the impotent inquiry in South London. It showed the five, previously cool and unrepentant in sunglasses, responding instinctively to the crowd's hostility with sudden violence. For once, on film, they were caught, portrayed as the murderous thugs most people believe them to be. "In the public perception it redressed the balance... the picture defined what had happened," a picture editor noted. Maybe. But ironically it almost wasn't taken due to the same seething desire to redress the balance. The crowd pulled the photographer's step ladder out from under him seconds after the picture was taken to use it as a rather blunter weapon.

Naked Eurovision (BBC1) fulfilled the evening's quota of kitsch as Richard Fairbrass mooched backstage at last year's Eurovision Song Contest, an event bestowed on a reluctant Ireland after last year's winning entry from Catrina and the Waves. You had to hope that Fairbrass had his tongue in his cheek when he claimed ignorance of Eurovision's sizeable gay following, but it wasn't the only thing he missed. Although the tenor of the event is, of course, flip and frivolous, there was a significant story to report, but it was one whose essence and historical significance eluded Fairbrass. Watching at home, Dana International's victory felt somehow important, as if people of the twentysomething generation were helping to reshape a prurient society's sexual attitude. This may sound absurd; a transsexual Israeli out-performed a Maltese farm girl in a singing competition, and so what? But attitudes also have a domain, they too exist and the only odd aspect here was the moral locale.

Yiannis, the Stavros-like composer of the Greek entry, had been hyped as the programme's novelty element. Expecting a stereotypical buffoon, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a highly amusing - how can I put it? - stereotypical buffoon. His obsession related to the British director's choice of shot. What Yiannis wanted was a cheesy, rapid-fire sequence to follow six of his singer's more extravagant arm movements. "The Israeli lady - a lady? Okay - Laady makes similar, similar moves with my singer," Yiannis flourished in his best Harry Enfield accent. "And they shot at her not only with rapid shots, but with a digital filters, and digitally with a beams... And I notice." Yiannis was later ejected from the contest after wandering on stage during the dress rehearsal, bless him.

"It's the first rehearsal, there are many things to be fixed," Dana International said at one point, before adding with a determination which could only properly issue from an Israeli trans-sexual: "If they are not going to be fixed we shall force them to fix them." Post-victory, Ms International was triumphant. "After 20 years, the orthodox will die... They will never sleep peacefully again." Altogether now... "Viva la Diva, Viva Victoria."

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