Monday 19 March 2018

John Boland: Are we nearly there yet, Mr creedon . . . ?

Retro Trip RTE1
Naked RTE1
Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die BBC2
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields Channel 4

John Boland

During a week in which Channel 4 revealed distressing footage of Sri Lankan bloodbaths and BBC2 raised troubling questions about a person's right to die, RTE1 sought to raise our spirits by focusing on John Waters's naked torso and John Creedon's holiday snaps.

For those of us who recall being trapped in the back seat of the family car on day-long childhood excursions and wondering when it was all going to end, the first instalment of John Creedon's Retro Trip (RTE1) recreated the experience, though I doubt if that was the RTE deejay and talent show panellist's intention.

Indeed, his declared wish was to evoke a countrywide holiday that had been undertaken in 1969 by Ma and Da Creedon and their 12 nippers, some of them travelling upfront in the family Merc and the rest piled into the caravan that was attached to its rear.

Hiring a replica Merc (with attendant caravan) for the occasion, the RTE man disregarded a rather basic problem -- "Neither I nor my siblings can remember the exact route we took" -- and set off from his native Cork city in search of . . . well, I'm not entirely sure what was his goal, beyond whiling away the summer months until The All-Ireland Talent Show returns and, of course, seizing the opportunity to remind us all what an amiable fellow he is.

Being amiable, alas, isn't enough if you're fronting a series of hour-long programmes, especially one so uncertain of itself that it couldn't make up its mind whether it was a personal odyssey, a social history (footage from the late 60s was much used) or merely a desultory travelogue.

Mostly, I'm afraid, it was the latter and midway through this languorous, indeed seemingly interminable, road trip from Cork to Trim -- via Cashel, Carlow and Dublin -- I was already pleading from the back seat: Can I go home now?

And midway through Naked (RTE1), I was imploring: please, can I go to bed? The ostensible subject here was nude portraiture, and for the sake of art three volunteers had agreed to disrobe, though all of them said they felt uneasy at what they were about to do.

Indeed, journalist John Waters was so conscious of the hoots his participation might elicit that he decided to get his retaliation in first, declaring that "every gobshite in the country will have a field day, but luckily for me I don't read any of the shite they write, so I won't know about it".

That he reads his own pieces, though, seemed clear from the loving way he kept mentioning his journalistic career, and at one point the gobshite in me also observed him gazing appreciatively at a clip of himself in full oratorical mode during a television debate.

This was perhaps appropriate in that the film was as much about exhibitionism as art -- after all, the three volunteers were consenting to appear naked, not just for the artist portraying them, but for a camera crew, too -- and a watching nation.

And yet the film wasn't in any real way revealing, either of personality or the particular art being practised, though the matter-of-factness of swimmer Melanie Nocher -- the only one of the three to be shown fully naked -- registered as a refreshing antidote to the self-conscious frettings of Waters and arts journalist Gemma Tipton.

Among the week's serious programmes, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die (BBC2) accompanied urbane 71-year-old Peter Smedley, who had Motor Neurone disease, as he went to have his life ended at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich. Pratchett, now 62 and suffering from early Alzheimer's, has pondered the same end for himself but couldn't suppress some misgivings.

And the death itself, with Smedley's wife seated beside him on a sofa and holding his hand, was chilling for the viewer, who felt that this momentous act should have remained entirely private.

Yet the whole occasion was handled with such discretion -- the camera acting as respectful silent witness -- that it would be hard to level charges of exploitation, while the film itself raised questions that can't be ignored by any person forced to contemplate their own physical or mental sufferings or those of loved ones.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields (Channel 4) was preceded by Jon Snow's warning that it showed "very disturbing" footage of the drawn-out conflict that since 2008 has seen atrocities committed both by the Tamil Tigers and by government forces -- notably, and most shockingly, by the latter, who, in the testimony of one UN observer, have regarded innocent civilians as indistinguishable from the terrorists.

The footage -- much of it taken with mobile phone cameras carried by terrified civilians -- was indeed grim, while interviews with UN personnel who had been forced to leave the region left no doubt about what they thought of the government's brutal final response to a situation that had dogged them for decades.

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