Friday 23 February 2018

Television: Muddled film failed to find reason for Joe's X factor

Show time: Joe Dolan in what was to be one of his final shows in The Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney.
Show time: Joe Dolan in what was to be one of his final shows in The Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney.

John Boland

My main problem with Classic Joe Dolan (RTÉ1) is that I had no idea what it was about.

At the outset, narrator Simon Delaney spoke of "a concert film that almost went wrong", but this went unexplained for the next 30 minutes. In the meantime, we heard from the ubiquitous Louis Walsh that "there was never anyone like Joe before" and that, you've guessed it, "he had the X factor".

And we heard a lot of guff from Delaney, not least that what we were about to watch was "a story about Joe Dolan, which means that - in a weird way - it's also a story about us because Joe Dolan is, deep down inside, a very special part of all of us".

Well, that's certainly not true of myself or any of my rock-loving contemporaries. Yes, Dolan had legions of devoted followers, many of whom still mourn his demise in 2007, but for admirers of Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen or, indeed, Thin Lizzy or U2, he represented a hokey showband culture from which most of us were trying to escape.

But such considerations didn't interest a cheerleading film which was intent on assuring us that he was "a ridiculously talented singer" whose death left "an enormous Joe-shaped hole in many people's lives". This was fanzine stuff writ large and was only alleviated by an interview with Gibraltar-born Albert Hammond, who had written a couple of Dolan's biggest hits and who came across as an intriguing character on the outer fringes of the mainstream.

Finally we got round to the "concert film that almost went wrong", which seemed to involve recently-discovered footage from a 1997 Athy gig, with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra latterly drafted in to provide posthumous accompaniment for the Mullingar belter. I say "seemed to" because the telling of this story was so muddled that it was hard to know what it all meant or what, if any, impact it's had on the singer's legacy - or, indeed, where this career-revamping exercise can be experienced.

But then why bother with context, coherence or even basic biographical information when you've got all those Joe Dolan devotees out there who don't need such courtesies and who'll lap it up anyway?

In the two-part Paul Williams: State of Fear (TV3), the intrepid crime correspondent juxtaposed the 1996 murders of Garda Gerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin with the lethal actions of today's criminal gangs and asked "What has changed?" Answering his own question, he pointed out that "today's gangsters are still killing gardai, threatening journalists and murdering innocents".

There was little that was new here but there was much to anger Williams, not least at the very end when he unexpectedly encountered gangland boss John Gilligan pottering around in the grounds of his former Jessbrook home, apparently having done some kind of deal with the notorious Kinahan gang to ensure his safety. This, Williams felt, made "an absolute ass" out of the whole Irish legal system and was a "grotesque insult to the memory of Veronica Guerin".

The film was at its passionate best when recounting the lead-up to and aftermath of Guerin's murder, though there were other chilling moments, too, as he see-sawed between his two timeframes and observed that, although the recession had caused a severe depletion in garda resources, "criminals don't do recession".

But if many of them have fled to warmer climes, George Lee has instead been seeking out expats who are law-abiding citizens, and in the first episode of Better Off Abroad (RTÉ1) he encountered a goodly number of them in Hong Kong.

Among these was Bill Condon, whose financial interests ranged from gold-mining to high-end art brokerage and who seemed very pleased with himself as he showed George around his luxurious home. As for his taste in paintings, he pointed to a work by a young Irish artist while confiding that "one of his other collectors is the Edge from U2, so I'm in good company".

He wasn't keen, though, to criticise repressive Hong Kong measures in dealing with pro-democracy protestors, merely conceding that it wasn't "handled particularly well" while assuring George that such authoritarian actions were "not unique to Hong Kong".

After meeting Bill and a few other Irish people who were making a success of their expat life, George was upbeat, declaring that "if there's a downside in Hong Kong I haven't found it yet". But he discovered it among the thousands of Filipina women who congregate in the financial district every Sunday and reminisce about the families they're supporting back home with their paltry wages as domestic servants to the well-heeled.

I had observed the same striking scene on my own visit to Hong Kong 15 years ago, and it was to George's credit that he spent time with these women and listened to their stories.

Presented by Harry McGee, Polaitíocht (RTÉ1) is a half-hour bilingual series on how television changed the Irish political landscape. "I feel somewhat afraid", president Éamon de Valera had said of the new Telefís Éireann in 1961, warning that "it can do irreparable harm".

One irreparable harm was to the authority of politicians who, as Eoghan Harris observed, had come to regard journalists simply as their messengers and were disconcerted by the uppity new television breed who not only dared to ask them hard questions but expected them to answer them.

The programme had intriguing reminders of confrontations between the two inimical camps, with enough pithy observations from both sides of the divide to encourage further viewing.

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