TV

Is it forward to ask ... how big?" said Michelle, suddenly covered in blushes. It would be positively backward not to, I thought. After all, if you are about to employ a male prostitute, it's only understandable to be curious about the tool of his trade. Still, it was slightly odd to hear such a Victorian word emerge in the middle of a peculiarly twentieth century procedure - not, I hasten to add, the transaction itself, which has undoubtedly gone on for centuries, but the recording of it on television, as part of Jane Treay's Under the Sun film (BBC2) about a Melbourne male escort.

Privacy may be an endangered species these days, but clearly some vestigial sense of modesty survives, because this wasn't the only moment when an almost confrontational candour was interrupted by a sudden flutter of old-fashioned reserve; the businesswoman who obligingly pointed out the sexual possibilities of her hotel suite hesitated when she found the word "masturbation" rising to her lips, and similarly paused for permission before letting it out.

On the whole though there seemed to be no limits to their self-exposure - so much so that when the time came to close the bedroom door you felt a mild sense of surprise that there wasn't going to be a ball-by-ball commentary on the action.

This film could easily have been ghastly. That it wasn't, was partly down to the unabashed collaboration of the clients involved (several of whom seemed to view the transaction as little more than an unusual version of shopping therapy) and partly because Treays had been fortunate in her choice of central subject. Joel, shy and slightly dorkish had a hinterland which made it impossible to look at him as just a sleazy caricature. The revelation that he was a passionate and skilled furniture-maker who had hand-built a house for his wife and carved her name into the facade, recuperated remarks that would have otherwise sounded like cheesy self-justification - remarks about his "respect for all women" and his "total emotional monogamy" with his manifestly uneasy wife.

For all the candour, nobody here was telling the whole truth - the women were unlikely to confess that the deed had actually felt demeaning and empty (though one did concede that she missed the "little cuddle" that would normally accompany sex) while Joel himself had every interest in down-playing non-financial motives for continuing what had begun as a desperate measure. Even the implicit suggestion that all these encounters were filmed as they occurred seemed decidedly implausible (would a nervous initiate really say "Sure, you can bring a camera crew"? Even if you found one such paragon of flagrancy, are you likely to be able to find two or three?) But however they did it the result was an intriguing film, one which presented the material as anthropological curiosity rather than grubby joke.

The presence of documentary cameras, and how people behave in front of them, was also central to the first of a new series of ER (Channel 4). The entire episode was filmed as if it was rough footage for a fly-on- the-wall documentary, a conceit which resulted in some dizzying involutions of form. Given that ER borrows much of its visual language from documentary anyway, the scenes in which a fictional crew tried to keep up with a crash team offered a mille-feuille of confected realism.

They weren't quite as brave with the idea as they might have been but there was plenty of thought-provoking fun all the same. The presence of a fixed camera in the staff coffee-room allowed for some nice play between on-stage and off-stage behaviour and at one point the cameraman's battery went flat at the crucial moment of a resuscitation, neatly reminding you of the formal nature of such narrative crescendos. I wasn't entirely sure that they were safe in moralising about the sentimental manipulations of documentary filming - it was noticeable that when they wanted real emotion the sense of a foreign accent in the filming style disappeared almost entirely - but the episode will deservedly star in media studies seminars for years to come.

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