REVIEW / No new sights to soothe these sore eyes

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The Independent Culture
'CAPITALISM is the exploitation of one man by another,' Vitali Vitaliev explained to a fellow passenger on the Berlin-Kiev train. 'Communism is the other way round.' His companion chuckled, not entirely out of politeness, even though the joke was something of a nostalgic ritual for Vitaliev, returning to his home for the first time since he fled the unwelcome attentions of the KGB. He is a wry and funny commentator on the remnants of Soviet power, but in Travels with My Camera (C4) there was something a little uncomfortable about his mood, evidence that the jokes have always been analgesic in purpose. He thought that by now people would have stopped putting pillows over the phones when they wanted a private conversation - 'Probably not enough pillows'.

The pain returned at the border with the new republic of Ukraine, rather literally, when the sight of a hopeless mass of people waiting for Polish visas set Vitaliev's ulcer off again. Such crowds are common in Eastern European stations, uncomplaining about the purposeless crush, resigned to wait for the bureaucratic wind to change. For Vitaliev, though, it appeared to be a reminder of the odd diligence with which people were treated badly in the Soviet Union, about the only official activity that was undertaken with any energy.

These twinges of old aches were persistent. Touring the exclusion zone of Chernobyl, Vitaliev pushed into an abandoned flat and found that it was identical to the one he had lived in before he left - the same floor plan, same furniture, same standard bookshelf. When he actually reached home he found his educated friends reduced to running corner shops or to outright idleness, their talents wasting away like the value of the Ukrainian currency. All this was recorded with the characteristic clumsiness of the Hi-8 camera, a device with many virtues (not least the ability to get through the crowd in a Ukrainian railway station) but which has a tendency to homogenise its subjects with that visible grain and the wonkiness of the automatic exposures. This series has used the equipment to good purpose but there may be diminishing returns in a visual style which is largely defined by what it doesn't offer.

In The Vision Thing (C4) Sheena McDonald talked to the musician David Byrne. It was a slightly strained piece of casting for a series on visionaries, as if someone on the production team just really, really wanted to meet him and thought they would get away with it. They did, but only just. This is because Byrne has something of the Forrest Gump about him, a simplicity which can sometimes seem almost dumb.

Fortunately it is married, in his case, to effortless cool. Most people with hair this long look like Def Leppard fans - Byrne looks like a shy shaman, eyes flicking nervously around the room and hesitant voice delivering those sensible, measured responses. He never makes matters more complicated than they need to be and stops talking when he has nothing more to say, highly unusual traits which can leave an interviewer floundering, and did here, now and then.

The vision label hung on the fact that Byrne believes in the importance of music as an international form of communication - something that I wouldn't have thought was exactly unique to him. In fact, when he was pressed, at the beginning of this interview, on the human need for culture, his definition of that term was rather broader than you might have expected, slipping in 'table manners' between dancing and painting. This unpretentious obliquity of mind is where his talent lies; it can make him look gormless but, in truth, he has gorm to spare and a great sense of rhythm too.

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