REVIEW / Woken by songs of innocence and experience

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The Independent Culture
25 BlOODY YEARS (BBC 2) came to an end last night and some viewers will undoubtedly have breathed a sigh of relief. Indeed, there were times when I was tempted myself to sneak out under cover of darkness and scrawl 'Cameras Out Now' on one of Television Centre's gable-ends. But this is a confession of flagging stamina, not a judgement on the quality of the series. Themed scheduling is always at risk of exhausting the patience of viewers. 25 Bloody Years knew we were exhausted to begin with and yet it still found ways to revive our strength.

It was partly a matter of reminding us how ignorant we are. Sure, you think you know the subject, but did you know that troops used to parade the Bogside in red noses, to wind up the women who shrieked at them, as 'The Soldier's Tale' revealed? Had you thought that this anti- cyclone of violence might have a silver lining, as 'Consequences' suggested?

Peter Taylor, who has been a reassuring presence in several of these films, effectively signed off last night with a more personal history of the Troubles, one illustrated from his own picture album, the films he has made since his arrival in Northern Ireland to report on Bloody Sunday. They traced a shared education in violence, that of both communities and of those who attempt to keep them apart.

'I felt ashamed at what had happened', Taylor said of his first story, 'and ashamed of my ignorance'. But in one sense it is his preservation of that quality that underwrites his work. Phrases such as 'I was shocked' and 'I was astonished' sounded throughout Written in Blood's depressing chronology, unusual confessions in a job which often puts great store on not being surprised by anything. But Taylor refuses to learn the lesson to which others are so diligently applying themselves - that murder is not a moral question but a matter of expedience or political leverage.

There is a disciplined navety too in the way that he hasn't given up asking simple questions. 'If you're a Catholic living in West Belfast are you a target?' he asked one loyalist bluntly. The loyalist considered the question for a long time, decided that it was a suspect package and returned it unopened. As the IRA continues its dance of the seven veils, prior to retirement, Written in Blood raised the grim prospect that they have already trained their successors. The vocabulary is the same (defence of 'the country', fighting for 'rights') and Peter Taylor looks all too likely to be taken by surprise again.

I'm quite glad to see the back of Woodstock, too, though Carlton's Children of Woodstock was more amiable than some of the other retrospectives. 25 years on, opinions differed about the event: 'three days of hell and torture' said one survivor; 'a living miracle of sharing and caring' said another. This wasn't the first generation to throw a party, get stoned and comprehensively trash the place but it was the first that expected to be congratulated for it, a reality gap that was never going to age well.

Woodstock, said one contributor, was 'the pinnacle of this movement that then crash-landed', and the director showed you that empty field littered with detritus, an aircrash site for high ideals. Most just couldn't maintain the altitude, chemically or morally. One who has is Wavy Gravy, a very lovable freak who was the festival's Director of Security (password: 'I forgot'). He has spent his life raising money to eradicate blindness in the Third World, a task he pursues with unrelenting good humour. 'I'm not letting this go to my head' he said, taking off his hat to reveal a central reservation of gleaming skin, 'See - the reverse mohawk]'

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