TELEVISION / The tarantula's tale, lightly grilled

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The Independent Online
NATURAL history film-makers often imply that the difference between mankind and the animal world is purely visual and not remotely behavioural. 'The whole process is fascinating,' enthused the voiceover in 'Tarantula]' a film for Survival (ITV). 'The build-up to mating can take up to two hours, with the male making several failed attempts.'

For a moment, it looked as if Desmond Morris was back, scientifically measuring the skimpiness of female clothing and the flagrancy of male chat-up lines, before stationing himself ringside in the cervix. But only for a moment. The female human, unlike the female tarantula, has not yet fully developed the skill of warding off sexual predators by harpooning the air with thousands of leg hairs which burn the throat when inhaled. Although radical feminists in Manhattan may be working on it right now.

When comparing The Human Animal (Wednesday, BBC 1) with 'Tarantula]', we can conclude that while sensationalist films about humans pass themselves off as science, scientific programmes about animals aim for sensationalism.

Thus, in an informative hour spent deep in the Venezuelan Amazon that inspired Conan Doyle's Lost World, the talk was all of giant this, monster that, larger- than-life the other. Anglia is second only to BBC Bristol in its coverage of natural history but, like the effect of a tarantula's poison on its prey, it sounds as if it's being eaten alive from inside by the venomous influence of Carlton.

When a spider dispatches a much larger poisonous snake, its 'technique for diving on its victim', we learnt, 'is as gruesome and leisurely as the kill is clean and swift'. In that sentence, the second pair of adjectives convey much more information than the first, which are just there for kicks.

While the tarantula might grow to the size of a dinner-plate, Piaroa Indians tend not to use dinner-plates. Of all Nick Gordon's mesmerising footage, some of it taken from a hole with as restricted a view as any Desmond Morris has penetrated, the most extraordinary was the supper sequence.

In this, an Indian lures the spider out of its lair, traps it live and ties it in a parcel of leaves. Having lit the fire, he unwraps it, kills it, yanks off the legs and prepares an international menu of omelette aux oeuf de tarentelle (a tad bitter) followed by tarantula alla griglia (not unlike prawns). Rather inconsiderate of the beast not to lay on dessert too.

The only thing left at the end are the fangs, which are quite handy as toothpicks. Back in decadent Manhattan, a pack of tarantula-fang toothpicks would doubtless cost as much, and bring as much social cachet, as it does to be snapped by Albert Watson.

My Name Is Albert Watson (BBC 2) profiled the Scottish photographer whose name you won't know but whose pictures you will: Clint as a Mount Rushmore bas-relief, Clapton resembling a Rembrandt, Mick 'n' Keef saying it with pursed lips and spurning shoulders.

The story of the Stones photo is instructive. The subjects had refused a double portrait, but Watson suggested a quickie for the road. Next time you're posing for a magazine cover, remember that when a photographer proposes just one last snap that makes a fool of you, that's the one that'll get used. And people say journalists are duplicitous.

This was one of those wearying profiles where the talking heads are all filmed at crazy angles, as if the camera has been chucked into the room any old how and left there. Even sports documentaries do this nowadays. You can be sure Kirsty Wark, who produced, would never let herself be shot like that, however persuasive the photographer.