It was a brave film by Victor Schonfeld, who wisely offset charges of prejudice by making it known at one point that he was motivated not because he was a journalist, but because he was "a concerned Jewish parent". It was brave because he hit straight at the heart (or rather, slightly lower down) of a religious orthodoxy - a dangerous place to strike.
Schonfeld's thesis was that there is no medical need to circumcise, and if there is a religious and cultural desire, then the operation should not be conducted as it is now - without anaesthetic and by the medically untrained.
In the course of his researches, Schonfeld got a one-in-a-million stroke of luck; and, like all cunning film- makers, he made the most of it. Interviewing Dr Morris Sifman, the Chief Medical Officer of the Jewish Initiation Society, he asked why no rabbi or Jewish family would allow him to film a circumcision.
"Frankly," said Dr Sifman, "it's because they distrust the media." And you could see why they do when Schonfeld eventually found himself a co-operative rabbi. Called David Singer, this rabbi does a lot for cultural relations in the Midlands by circumcising both Jews and Muslims, and innocently invited Schonfeld's crew along to a ceremony. After the cut had been made (and filmed in leg-crossing close-up), Rabbi Singer took the baby off to a side room. He asked the relatives to keep out and asked Schonfeld to turn off the camera. Schonfeld didn't, and secretly filmed some sort of secondary performance which had the eight-day-old baby in question bawling his lungs out. Then, three days later, Schonfeld was contacted by the baby's distraught father: the infant was in intensive care, suffering from a blood disorder. The cut had become infected.
Now he had his own empirical evidence to go with the tales that he had assembled of mutilations, illnesses and deaths caused by letting men with no medical qualifications and very sharp implements loose on the nether regions of tiny children. And he used it to confront Dr Sifman. "If it were found that circumcision were harmful, perhaps we would think again," said Dr Sifman. "But I have no doubts, because a commandment given by God is a good commandment." Fair enough, but you can't help feeling, after seeing this film, that God might turn a blind eye to a little local anaesthetic.
If you have ever thought that those policemen who chug up and down the Thames in little launches have an attractive job, then Picture This: Identity Unknown (BBC2) would have convinced you otherwise. Focusing on the work of PC Peter Clements, the officer charged with sorting out the aftermath of suicides who leap into the water, it served as a sort of anti-recruitment film. It was not so much the grim toll of hauling 50 bodies a year out of the drink that was depressing, it was the sad emptiness of the lives that were lost. The camera followed PC Clements as he attempted to discover the identity of a suicide found with only two plastic combs and a pair of spectacles in his pockets. Eventually Clements tracks the man down and discovers, in his home, a suicide note with the sobering PS: "You can keep my pension book."
One passage revealed how PC Clements keeps sane under this kind of weight. Taking fingerprints from the corpse, he takes his mind off the task in hand by asking his assistant about holidays: "I'm thinking of taking a boat on the French canals," he says. Canals? Talk about a busman's holiday.Reuse content