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Shaky disaster doc hits rocks

I have never understood people at rock concerts who choose to spend the whole evening with their hand in front of their face, experiencing the spectacle through the 3ins x 2ins screen of their mobile phone. What's wrong with just watching what you've paid to see?

We live in a world where nothing is valid anymore unless it's filmed: births, baptisms, birthdays, communions and confirmations, school plays, weddings and honeymoons.

How long can it be before undertakers identify a gap in the bereavement market and start offering funeral packages that include a filmed record of the coffin being lowered into the ground, complete with captions to identify the mourners?

The ready availability of compact, relatively cheap digital recording devices means that not even wars, famines, revolutions or natural disasters are beyond the reach of the ubiquitous camera phone.

Legitimate TV news organisations now rely to an inordinate degree on footage captured by people who like to think of themselves as "citizen journalists", when in reality they're just people with cameras who happened to be in a particular place at a particular time.

The Sinking of the Concordia: Captured on Camera took the life-through-a-lens phenomenon to an inevitable extreme by offering a full, hour-long documentary consisting of nothing but shaky, grainy footage recorded by passengers on their video cameras and mobiles.

Well, not quite "nothing but"; for all the rawness of the filmed material, it still had to be assembled, selected and edited by a group of television professionals adept at shaping the narrative of a documentary.

"Every now and then a home movie can become a part of history," announced a voiceover at the start, as though what we were about to see was something of the magnitude of the Super-8 film of the JFK assassination, before excitedly boasting: "This is the anatomy of a disaster, filmed by those who made it out alive."

This hyperbole bypassed the inconvenient reality that, of the 4,200 people aboard the Concordia, all but a comparative handful "made it out alive".

Not to belittle those that died, but compared to the loss of life in that other famous cruise liner disaster that's being exhaustively commemorated on TV at the moment, the Concordia was a drop in the ocean of human tragedy. The footage itself was nothing spectacular or revelatory.

The material recorded in the hours and days before the actual collision consisted of long, tedious shots of the lavish interior of the Concordia, or of children and adults mucking about on sun-drenched decks, precisely the type of stuff you or I or anyone else on holiday might shoot, without ever imagining anyone but immediate family would be remotely interested in watching it.

True, there were a few scenes near the end -- passengers jostling to get through a doorway, for instance, or a lifeboat full of people swinging wildly around like a fairground ride as the crew struggled to get it into the water -- that communicated the sense of panic.

But for every one of these there were two or three shots of passengers in lifejackets horsing around, as though the whole evacuation was a big shipboard party game.

"This is straight out of a scene in Titanic!" squealed a young American woman, with something approaching delight, as her lifeboat pulled away from the tilting ship.

None of us knows, of course, how we'd react in a situation like that until we find ourselves in a situation like that. Still, I'd like to think I'd take a slightly different approach to that of a young man called Yuri, who said at the end: "I thought I was going to die, so I just shut my eyes and carried on filming."

You have to wonder if Yuri and the others who freely contributed to the programme have their priorities quite right.



THE SINKING OF THE CONCORDIA: CAUGHT ON CAMERA


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