TELEVISION REVIEW / The nips and tucks of outrageous fortune
Friday 21 October 1994
For 20 minutes or so Catharine Seddon had put up a heroic resistance against trite cliche, and then cliche had won.
The moan was the louder because she had managed, against all odds, to win you over. Perhaps the very last thing television needs is another documentary about plastic surgery. There is a large warehouse on the outskirts of Strasbourg where they keep the plastic-surgery film mountain; the EEC is even considering a set-aside scheme, paying directors to film ponies or Alpine scenery rather than add to the glut. It will be difficult to change old habits, though - as a subject, plastic surgery offers a cheap dividend of moral superiority and gore. It's queasy money.
But, from its opening frames, Seddon's film suggested she might give a face-lift to this sagging theme. Her method was an odd mix of the mischievous and the tactful, the resulting film both slyly comic and genuinely melancholy. She seized upon the fact that the clinic was having an extension built. 'For lipoplasty, known also as body-contouring, dial 423' said a genteel voice from the clinic's answering machine, as you looked at a labourer with the contours of the Quantock Hills. There was a point to this, as to many other glancing details - a point about male attitudes to their bodies which was there for you to pick up but which you weren't obliged to shoulder. There was a similar wry wit to the way she presented those who profit from the business.
But when it came to the patients, Seddon advanced with considerate caution, tiptoeing towards their real desires with such tact that they occasionally put into words what she couldn't. 'Some people think I'm a half-crazed anorexic, but I'm not,' said the woman who had gone in for a tummy tuck, and you understood why Seddon had included an earlier scene in which she adamantly refused to eat an evening meal. Seddon let the denial stand but then asked whether she had ever wanted children. 'No,' she said too quickly.
'Fifteen years ago I thought I might have. I would have liked a daughter but it would have been for the wrong reasons. Selfish. . . like a toy I suppose, that I could go and buy her beautiful things.' She laughed as if she was being silly, but the truth was movingly explicit here, a reminder that when people with perfect bodies go to plastic surgeons the scar is often under the skin.
The profession was given a better showing in Children's Hospital (BBC 1), in which a plastic surgeon sewed up the ragged scar on a young child's face. I know all the arguments about such programmes - that they inform the public and ease our fears - but there's no getting round the fact that this is popular programming and that it simply wouldn't be as popular without the visible distress of children, without the bloody 'before' which the 'after' resolves. In this case the 'before' was a young girl having a fit and a baby with its face ripped open. How on earth would you go about explaining this to a traveller from another time? 'In this century we divert ourselves in the evening by watching scenes of children in pain. But, tell me, why do you think that strange?'
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 2 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election