Concrete Poetry with Jonathan Meades, TV review
A brutally honest contrarian reveals why buildings don’t have to be beautiful
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Monday 17 February 2014
Sunday evening. That TV time, when the nation settles in for a cosy episode of Call the Midwife or a cosy episode of Downton Abbey. The perfect time, then, for an aggressive documentary assault on accepted notions of “pleasing’ and “pretty”.
A documentary like Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloody-mindedness: Concrete Poetry (BBC4) with Jonathan Meades.
Bonkers, brutal and bloody-minded would be a fair description of Meades’s entire TV oeuvre, which, since the early Nineties, has included Jerry Buildings: Unholy Relics of Nazi Germany, an unforgettably odd, surreal film, and last year’s brilliant Jonathan Meades: the Joy of Essex. An architectural style still synonymous in many minds with “concrete monstrosity” is the perfect match for Meades, and, boy, did he do it justice.
In the decades since Brutalism’s heyday, we’ve already had a Prince Charles-led backlash, followed by a concrete fetishist’s frontlash. These days, Britain’s Brutalist triumphs – Trellick Tower in London, Preston Bus Station, Edinburgh’s Scottish Provident building – are as likely to be the subject of conservation campaigns as demolition orders. This, we learned, is a similar taste trajectory to that followed by Brutalism’s precursor the Modern Gothic, almost a century earlier.
Meades allowed time for such interesting historical reflections by mounting no defence of Brutalism, as such. Instead, early on in this part one of two, he asserted that “the greatest artists incite the most furious contempt”, and then let all the familiar criticisms – “ugly”, “cold”, “tainted by totalitarianism” – stand as further evidence of greatness. So confident was Meades in concrete poetry’s eloquence, that he saved his bitchiest disdain for its early proponents. Reyner Banham was “a man who would have trampled on his grandmother to snuggle up to a passing trend”.
Like the work of that other great contrarian Adam Curtis, this was enjoyable as much for the spectacle of dexterous thought in action as for its revelations on any narrowly defined topic. If Michael Grade has his way and the BBC becomes news-only, who’ll be left to expand our minds with television?
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 3 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Isis publicly behead man in Syrian town square for 'insulting Allah' as he screams for help
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Game of Thrones: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' goes viral 35 years later
Our fascination with the Arctic from Greek myths to Sky Atlantic's new drama Fortitude
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures