Television Review

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The Independent Culture
I HAVE TO ADMIT that, although I know I was meant to be disturbed by The Falconer (C4), what I actually felt was a profound sense of comfort. Comfort because it's so rare to see something intelligent, demanding and amusing all at once in the fiction sphere, that when you do see it you heave great sighs of pleasure. And comfort particularly because I had previously thought myself isolated in my muttered feelings about the bigwigs of the Sixties.

Christ Petit and Ian Sinclair's fictional investigation of one such figure, a mysterious writer, filmmaker, artist and sexual-partner-to-the-famous called Peter Whitehead, made me feel at last that I am not alone. Because, despite the prevailing view that the Warhols, Kerouacs and so on were among the great thinkers and revolutionaries, I have always nursed the feeling that they were rather creepy middle-aged mythomaniacs who persuaded much younger people to have sex with them by talking a load of cobblers. I grew up in Oxford, where creepy middle-aged English dons persuade much younger people to sleep with them by the same means to this day, so I can't help it.

I complained yesterday about Inspector Pitt being confusing; this, too, was confusing, but in the way that Seven, or Don't Look Now, are confusing, rather than as a by-product of sloppy planning. I have rarely seen so many camera tricks crammed into one edgy hour: shots of landscape through a rain-soaked window, jiggy intercuts, home movie reels, hairs on the lens, CCTV, one-second delay-frames, black-and-white stills, superimposition and transmission snow all played a part, along with a soundtrack that consisted of the gabble of rewinding cassette tape, corrupted voices that would have got the soundman into real trouble had it been accidental, and distant radio signals like the sampling in house music.

Plus some good off-the-cuff gags: we were introduced to a leading conspiracy theorist at Fatboy's Diner, "a well-advertised front for industrial espionage", and famous Sixties leftover Howard Marks, who spoke on screen for a full two minutes without once saying anything intelligible, was described as "a kippered Bill Wyman retread". Oh, and I loved the idea of Prince Charles being ritually slaughtered at Greenwich to celebrate the Millennium: if Mandelson's still running short of ideas by the beginning of next year...

So: Whitehead (a name shared with a character in Martin Amis's Dead Babies), was the Nosferatu. Or was he? He obviously had some sort of hypnotic power over those with whom he came into contact, but the rather less impressionable "Gentlemen of the Cadaver Club" talked of him cynically as "somebody who always had to have one more story to tell". Towards the end of the film, a disembodied voice said "He'll tell you he's done all these things, and you'll start off not knowing whether to believe it or not; but in the end, it has to be lies, it has to be fiction...". Don't we all know someone like that? "Renegade TV" deserves applause for giving airtime to weird and wonderful inventions like this; it's a shame that only those who don't have to get up the next day will get to see it.

That's the bouquets thrown: now for the brickbats. You would have thought, given that weddings have to be among the places-most-likely where there will be someone with a video camera switched on, that Weddings From Hell (ITV) would have managed to track down an hour's worth of disaster. Sadly not, it seems. You can always tell that a documentary's material is too thin for the time slot when the makers resort to lingering shots of architecture and repeats of shots we've already seen. This had both and what felt like hours and hours of talking heads drearily repeating, blow-by-blow, what had happened during a scene we had just watched.

There were a couple of snips that raised a belly-laugh - the bride toppled over when her husband shut her veil in the car door and the wedding cake sent flying by a carelessly opened door were pure Laurel and Hardy - but they were precious few in an hour's viewing. Pride of place was given to a couple who had banned his parents from their upcoming ceremony and told us (dully) all about it in part two. Part three promised the wedding. What happened? They got married, uninterrupted. Repeats of Beadle would have been more interesting.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away

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