REVIEW / Pictures of innocence and experience

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The Independent Culture
PICTURES of young children have a strange power - I recall one mother of my acquaintance crooning rapturously over snapshots of her baby despite the fact that the original was only a foot away on the carpet. Perhaps it's because photographs are odourless and silent, perhaps it's because you can put them down whenever you want to, but they can exert their charm on even the most baby- weary. I shied from the first episode of Baby It's You (C4), last week, on the principle that a tortured man should not be forced to watch a film of his torturers at work. Having screwed my professional conscience to the sticking point, I find that I missed something special.

I melted after a montage of babies falling over backwards - unforgivably cute, I know, but I just couldn't help myself. They were so sweetly resigned to the supremacy of gravity, losing their tenuous hold on an upright life without any complaint. Besides, the whole programme is made with a delightfully gratuitous sense of style.

It may be a little pretentious to shoot it all in letterbox format (black bars top and bottom, a visual code for 'cinema, not just telly') but if that's the price you have to pay for such elegant compositions then it's worth paying.

In contrast to BBC 2's Babywatch, which employs camcorders to get at the raw matter of parental emotions, this is altogether more sophisticated, using a range of cinematic techniques unavailable to the average home-video maker. It is self-consciously elegant but the point- of-view camera and the technical tricks aren't just decor. They almost always aid your vision rather than interfering with it. Filming crawling babies from beneath a glass floor makes an image of comic randomness, scuttling creatures crossing at all angles, but it also shows you the inventive variety of baby locomotion; rug- level camerawork turns a staircase into a carpeted cliff, giving you a little kick of vertiginous strangeness. It isn't just the babies that make you coo with pleasure.

Inside Story (BBC 1) began with less innocent pictures of children - the paedophile pornography that first alerted the authorities to the appetites of Peter Righton, an expert in child care who used his professional reputation to gain access to young boys. The producer, Catharine Seddon, wasn't above using blue pictures herself either - throughout her detailed and disturbing account of Righton's activities you would occasionally cut to a heavily tinted close-up of a doe-eyed child, a sort of pornography of innocence, designed to arouse our

protective indignation.

It wasn't the only uneasy moment in the film. Pointing out that Righton had contributed to an academic book on paedophile relationships, an actor read out the conclusion of his chapter as follows: 'I contest the assumption that children need protection from any kind of sexual experience with an adult.' But the text was on screen and what he had actually written was: 'There is no question that children need to be protected from sexual marauders; what I contest is the assumption that children need protection from (in the sense of denial of) any kind of sexual experience with an adult, however loving, gentle, or even educative.' Still wrong, I think, but very different from the blatant abuser's charter the film-makers read out.

The film was important in reminding you, after last week's Innocence Lost, that we shouldn't mistake proper vigilance for paranoia and that conspiracies do exist, entangling the least likely offenders. It made its case soberly and carefully. It was just a pity that from time to time it forgot that what is in shortest supply in this area is clarity and common sense, not worked-up emotion and insinuation.