The Weekend's Viewing: The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World, Sun, BBC2
Barenboim on Beethoven, Sat, BBC2
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books, 2013, and is currently a judge of the Fiction Uncovered Prize, 2014.
Monday 30 July 2012
There was no need for the hammed-up music or the melodramatic movie-trailer voiceover grooming us for the creepiness that lay ahead in the first of the nocturne nature series The Dark: Nature's Nighttime World.
The animals that went bump in the night – from predatory spiders to jaguars – did the job of scaring us royally all on their own, and to thrilling effect. Thankfully, the self-consciously scary bells and whistles were phased out (although the voiceover kept insisting that we were watching "specialised beasts adapted for the dark" as if describing a high-tech automobile).
What ensued was a fast-moving romp through the coastal jungles of Costa Rica, via a team of wildlife experts and thermal-imaging cameras, to illuminate a hidden nature with a big wow factor: David Attenborough on acid, if you like. This world had, until now, rarely been filmed so it appeared all the more peculiar. We might be inured to the thrills of Discovery Channel's stock in trade of lion prides striding through savannahs, but witnessing a pair of jaguars in a night-time mating dance on a beach was sensational new territory. So was the sight of a spider (the gigantic, furry-fingered kind) lunging at a grasshopper from a trap door on the forest floor and dragging it back to its underground lair.
The most exciting moments in these shows are invariably evoked by the human proximity to predatory danger, so when one of the experts, Justine, decided to pitch her tent on the same beach that the jaguars had been sighted, we hoped for the best. The night prowler didn't disappoint. One lone animal came swaggering down the beach, directly in Justine's eye line. All good and well, until he kept right on coming and his body blurred against the camera. We were shown the jaguar's progress set against Justine's responses, her smile freezing as she clutched the side of her flimsy cotton tent, the only thing that separated her from the jaguar's heavy-pawed strut. For one moment, it seemed as if the BBC had veered into Werner Herzog territory (remember the grisly end of Grizzly Man?) but a mauling was averted – just.
There was eccentricity too: beetles with green, glow-in- the-dark headlamps on their bodies that looked like they'd escaped from a Pixar movie and turtle hatchlings resembling old men's slippers slapping against the sand as they ran into the water. The big cats returning home in the dawn light with their kill clutched between their jaws walked like drunken sailors, giddy on their feet, from their night's marauding.
At the end, the insect expert, George, was helicoptered to a door of a cave in Venezuela. This was a place of perpetual darkness, the voiceover told us, and George would be excavating its inhabitants in the next episode, all of whom had never seen the light of day. Ever. Now that's a cliff-hanger, with bells on.
Daniel Barenboim had his own teeth-baring moment in Barenboim on Beethoven: Nine Symphonies That Changed the World when, conducting his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, his ears were horribly offended by what he heard in the rehearsal room. The histrionic moment turned out to be a blip in an otherwise warm, mild-manned and utterly inspiring musician as he talked about the meanings in Beethoven's nine symphonies.
The orchestra, co-founded by Barenboim and the late Palestinian academic Edward Said, is fêted for having Israeli and Arab musicians play side-by-side, and we saw them performing in China and close to the North-South Korean border as part of a tour. Barenboim referred to Beethoven's motivation to bring peace, and his own orchestra's political raison d'être, but he didn't ram the connection down our throats. "I think he [Beethoven] wanted to change something inside people with his music. He wanted them to wake up and not make war."
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