Monday 23 October 2017

Television: No time for losers in this 'winning' RTÉ documentary

King Henry: Henry Shefflin celebrates his ninth All-Ireland medal in 2012. Photo: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
King Henry: Henry Shefflin celebrates his ninth All-Ireland medal in 2012. Photo: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

John Boland

What's the big deal about winning? Whatever the word means, most of us aren't winners. If we're lucky, we earn a decent income and have loved ones and friends to enrich our lives, but we don't achieve artistic or sporting or entrepreneurial triumphs and our names aren't known throughout the land, let alone the globe. So does that mean we're losers?

The question was never addressed in Henry Shefflin: Winning (RTÉ1), the famous Kilkenny hurler instead declaring that winning "shapes our lives, influences our mood and drives us forward".

Well, undoubtedly it does for him, with all those All-Ireland medals to his name, but what's that got to do with the rest of us? Unfortunately, the rest of us were never included in a documentary that sought to explore "what winning actually means" and that enlisted sports stars and various academic boffins in its quest for an answer.

Psychologist Ian Robertson informed us that winning is both "a kind of power" and an anti-depressant. He also trotted out the old adage about success breeding success and about it leading to "a big surge of testosterone" in men, though less so in women.

Rugby legend Paul O'Connell was on hand to assure us that "a lot of the very best players are self-led", and we also heard from a scientist that Taoiseach Enda Kenny's self-confidence had been increased by political success, but that seemed a truism hardly worth mentioning. At the very end, lip service was paid to the notion that we can all be winners in life, even if we're not famed for any sporting or political prowess, but that seemed an afterthought, and a rather trite one, too.

No winners emerged from the murder of Meredith Kutcher in Perugia nine years ago, but Amanda Knox (Netflix) provided an arresting account of the known facts about the killing and of its still troubling outcome.

Twice convicted and twice acquitted of the murder, the now 29-year-old Knox lives at home in Seattle and was a poised but enigmatic presence in this 80-minute documentary, speaking directly to camera but leaving the sceptical viewer still wondering about what actually happened in the apartment she shared with Kutcher.

There was no wondering about Daily Mail freelancer Nick Pisa, who had broken many of the Foxy Knoxy sex-orgy stories and who was here blithely continuing to give journalism a bad name. He summoned up visions of the "semi-naked body" and the "blood everywhere" and the "sexual intrigue" and the "girl-on-girl" scenario and enthused: "You couldn't ask for better material."

He also compared himself to Watergate's Woodward and Bernstein while recalling the various front-page scoops featuring his byline, which gave him a "fantastic buzz" and was "like having sex". However, he wouldn't reveal how he had acquired Knox's prison diary because that would mean "betraying all my journalistic principles". You couldn't make it up.

Also interviewed was chief prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, a conservatively Catholic father of four daughters who was convinced from the outset of Knox's bad-girl guilt and remains so to this day, though there's no real evidence to support his assumptions.

As for the victim, she hardly featured in a film that focused on the young woman who had been incarcerated for almost four years in an Italian jail and who now says of her vilification by the media, "I think people love monsters".

Following Keith Richards' recent and absorbing film of growing up on the outskirts of London in the 1940s and 1950s, BBC2 this week came up with Boy George's 1970s: Save Me from Suburbia, which was just as cheerfully affectionate about his upbringing in south London.

George is such a motormouth that hardly anyone else got a look-in, even his mother, but he was so exuberantly amusing that the viewer didn't really mind.

"Dressing up and going out and coming out" was his mission from an early age and his mother's record collection introduced him to Shirley Bassey and other "glamorous, strong women". His builder father, though, "ruled the roost", along with three "very heterosexual" brothers. Indeed, in that era, "the men did what they wanted and the women just put up with it and cleaned up the mess".

Bowie, Lou Reed, Quentin Crisp, Vivienne Westwood, reggae and gay clubs were all lovingly evoked, though punk was dismissed as "just a way to sell more clothes" on the King's Road. Indeed, it was "not so much Anarchy in the UK as avarice in the UK".

The film ended just before the success of his own Culture Club, with George recalling of his subsequent influence that "sometimes the most political act is just being yourself". He's certainly been that.

Three years ago I timorously approached Jan Morris outside a Dún Laoghaire café and told her how much I loved her essays and books on cities throughout the world. She was completely charming and even invited me to visit her in her rural north Wales home, though I never went.

In Artsnight: Michael Palin Meets Jan Morris (BBC2), the ex-Python introduced the encounter as "a fan and hero situation" and chatted to the 90-year-old about her remarkable career, which began as James Morris covering the first conquest of Everest and ended with her wonderful book on Trieste.

At a mere 30 minutes, though, the interview was too short to be anything but tantalising.

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