TV

There were touches of that jaunty comic shorthand essential for 30-second narratives; in one running gag you kept cutting back to three excited little girls trying on every trainer in the shop, the assistants beaming at the fun of it all (rather than telling them to sod off, as they probably would have done in real life)

A critic should always review the result not the intention. But even if you like the result there can be a niggling uncertainty about whether it was intentional in the first place. How do you prevent yourself remaking the film in the review? Lorraine Charker's film Life Savers (C4) offered a case in point. Her portrait of a Toxteth credit union - a kind of co-operative bank which is run by its account holders - was stylistically rich, mixing passages of plain observational tone with more formally choreographed interludes. I took this to be doing something rather subtle - using an idiom familiar from commercials to create a more truthful kind of ad - one which reflected back on institutional advertising, with its false promise of benign amity. One scene towards the end might have been lifted directly from one of those inspirational production numbers that you get from a utility or a big building society; over timelapse footage of a city at twilight a woman's voice said "We can make changes - because we can pull together". In this case, though, the words weren't merely a marketing slogan. The woman speaking was one of those who had set up the credit union to offer an alternative to loan-sharks - a genuine local hero.

There had been other advertising elements earlier. What Charker wanted to sell to us was a different kind of financial service - and, just like the big banks and building societies, she humanised dull fiscal arrangements by depicting them as achieved happiness. A family posed in front of a big red van then faded away to reveal it in its modest, much-loved glory; two old ladies held up the religious souvenirs they had brought back from pilgrimage, and a golden light radiated around the objects; the same aura haloed a washing machine in a woman's kitchen - and all this contentment had been paid for with credit union loans. There were touches of that jaunty comic shorthand essential for 30-second narratives; in one running gag you kept cutting back to three excited little girls trying on every trainer in the shop, the assistants beaming at the fun of it all (rather than telling them to sod off, as they probably would have done in real life).

Unlike the big institutions, though, Charker didn't put the downside in print so small that you couldn't read it. If her film was sentimental (it also deployed a more venerable iconography of working class matriarchal virtue, with little girls rollerskating in the street and women bantering as they scrubbed their doorsteps) it wasn't blindly so. The credit-union had just decided to employ a debt-collecting agency to chase defaulters, making it clear that this arcadia of collectivity had its serpents. It's possible, of course, that all these echoes arise because commercials have so comprehensively borrowed the styles and gestures of recent documentaries. Did Charker really intend what I've described? I don't know but the uplifting effect of her buoyant film means I wouldn't dream of denying her the credit.

A commercial accent had also infected Life on Air (BBC2) - a novel film for Picture This that adopted the chic twitchiness of youth television for a portrait of a senior figure at MTV. Peter Dougherty is Senior Vice President, Creative, On Air - which means he's responsible for the inventive station idents and animations that distinguish the channel from cheaper competitors. The presenter was a slacker dame with indie braids and an attitude - she asked slyly dumb questions ("Have you ever met any famous people working here?") and occasionally broke off for a dance number in which she commented on the subject in song ("You know Peter. Television isn't that important. Lighten up"). All the documentary scenes were in monochrome, like the more pretentious kind of perfume ad, but the film itself was pretty funny. Introduced to Dougherty, the man with the green light, one potential auteur surveyed his office bric-a-brac and exclaimed "Wow! Cool stuff!" - which I take to be standard MTV etiquette.

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