TELEVISION / Sure as eggs is eggs

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The Independent Culture
THERESA HEAGREN used to work as a silver service waitress; now she's a manager but you would be hard pressed to decide whether she's actually moved up in the world. 'You'll be in next weekend then . . . ,' she said wearily to an apologetic employee on the 'phone, 'minus the love-bites . . . with a shirt that's ironed'. The Red Lodge transport cafe, whatever its virtues, does not offer its customers refinement.

'Chips in the Night' was a film in which technique struggled heroically against its raw materials and was decorated with the sort of desperate decorative flourish which might result if you handed Anton Mosimann a can of baked beans and a sliced white loaf and told him to get creative. The problem was that transport cafes, whatever the fantasies of metropolitan producers, are profoundly dull places. Boredom hangs in the air as thickly as cigarette smoke and, after a short while, a thin layer of tedium forms on every surface, like the grease from the deep-fat fryers. They are places in which the same thing happens again and again, a truth the film honoured with a sort of confused circling, returning you constantly to the yellow foam of the fryers and the grey froth of the washing- up sinks.

The extreme close-up was much in evidence, a shot that always hints at a certain desperation. Perhaps if we look at this fried egg really closely, it seems to say, we will see something we have missed up till now in our experience of fried eggs.

To be fair, there were some wincing pleasures as the camera followed the cooking - a fried egg lolled in a frying-pan brimming with discoloured fat, as pallid and flabby as a first-day-on-the-beach holiday-maker in a dirty Jacuzzi; a pot of beans winked sluggishly like some volcanic upsurge and a viscous mantle lay swagged across a vat of gravy like an ill-hung curtain. 'There's a few that've doied - 'eart attack and what'ave you,' noted one trucker of his fellow customers.

Elsewhere, though, the tricksy cuts - from a bingo-caller to the digit-laden conversation of long- distance drivers, from a can of hair-spray being wielded to fly- spray in the kitchen - while nicely done in their own right, only strengthened the sense that the film-makers were twiddling their thumbs. The camera, too, had a slightly gormless air, roaming backwards and forwards as if it had noticed that no particular portion of this assembly of neon- lit formica was more interesting than any other.

Even the arrival of the bypass - a development which threatened the future of the cafe - didn't quite lift the gloom. The people who worked at the Red Lodge were rather admirable in their steady, uncomplaining labour - no chips on the shoulders at least - but even so you couldn't help looking wistfully at the door and wondering whether you might be able to hitch a lift out.

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