Television Review: What Geri

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The Independent Culture
PLENTY OF column inches have been expended recently on the ethics of fly-on-the-wall documentaries and docu-soaps, and the effects on the people being filmed. What Geri (C4) suggested, though, was that the impact on the people behind the camera can be just as interesting.

Within a couple of days of her departure from the Spice Girls, in May last year, Geri Halliwell invited Molly Dineen (maker of the acclaimed documentary series The Ark and In the Company of Men) to make a film about her. Within a few hours they were having their first argument, after Dineen overheard Halliwell reassuring her solicitor over the phone that she would have complete control over the film. Dineen demurred: what would be the point in following Geri around for months if she was going to throw all her work away on Halliwell's whim? Geri insisted that she wanted to bare all before the camera, but at the same time, she did not want to wreck her public image by showing a horrible side.

One of the attractive things about Geri, though, is that she doesn't seem to bear grudges. Within a short time, Halliwell began to demand support from Dineen, asking her to tell her how to write letters, how to talk to the press. Over the next few months (she apparently enjoys a mutually sympathetic relationship with the Prince of Wales: their common need for a clear purpose in life must surely be a binding factor), Geri talked about needing a mentor ("Like the Karate Kid"). Dineen seemed to be getting drawn into the role, as Geri turned to her for advice and approval. Partly, this was because Dineen was the woman with the camera, supplying reassurance of Halliwell's post-Spice importance simply by being there; partly, I suspect, it was Geri, self-consciously working-class and unschooled, riddled with insecurity, responding to Dineen's middle-class, educated manner.

But after a few months, the conflicts resurfaced. At one point, Geri became irrationally upset when Dineen filmed her mother talking about her. Not long after, Halliwell admitted that being filmed was starting to get on her nerves. She told Dineen that she had only initiated the project because she was lonely, she wanted to make Dineen her friend. Whether or not this was true, it seemed clear that Dineen was emotionally involved. Now she began to experience feelings of rejection: when Geri went shopping for a puppy, Dineen commented cynically that she was being replaced. Shortly after this the film ended.

It's impossible to say how the programme would have looked if this break hadn't taken place; but Dineen would not be human if she was unscathed by the split. Certainly, you could read hurt into Geri, which stood as an awful warning of the perils of celebrity. It was full of sad moments: Geri's "friend" George Michael offering her wary, sniffy good wishes; Geri throwing a tantrum when she learned that her family had not been watching her on television; Geri wrestling with ignorance as a spokeswoman for the UN. Sadder than that, though, is the thought that millions of people would spend the best part of two hours watching this dull, enervating life. The really worrying thing about documentaries is what they do to their audiences.