Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Scots on the box

"Jonathan Meades-off kilter", conts Wednesdays BBC4 9pm,"Mackintosh's masterpiece: The Glasgow School of Art", Monday 21st September BBC2 Scotland, 9pm.

I had what passes in my head for an original thought last week.

Here it comes.

This is my idea, which I'm going to share with you.


Documentaries on the telly tend to fall into two broad and distinct categories - they are either essentially one idea stretched out for an hour OR they contain too many ideas to cover in a hour.

As an instance of the latter can I just refer you to "Jonathan Meades: Off Kilter". An avowedly alien, stridently secular, forensic analysis of Scottish architecture and its wider social context.
Meades is English, but, you know, in a good way...

The show is on BBC4 as part of that channel's Scottish season. You know, the thread that should be branded "Isn't Scotland interesting? Oh look they have their own parliament and everything. Isn't that so sweet?" but isn't. Sarcasm apart, there are a few nuggets among the dross and the Meades stuff is the goldest of the gold.

He throws ideas about the relationship between the built environment, history and culture like mental confetti. While you're trying to catch hold of just one idea, whoosh! He's off again, throwing another shower of insightful insanity heavenwards.

Honest, if I tried to review Meades' mind-fuck here my head would explode so if you haven't, catch up with the first two bits on i-player and if you don't have access to i-player, then, er, you're fucked.

As an example of the first style, one idea stretched to breaking point, consider "Mackintosh's Masterpiece" part of the Artwork Scotland strand that pops up now and again on Scottish Beeb 2.

What was stated here early doors and reiterated for the remainder of the show was the idea that Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art was a really good bit of architecture.

Well, duhr...

Contemporary academic staff at the School said it, contemporary speccy , spotty students also said it and various recognisable alumni (Peter Howson, Muriel Gray and Liz Lochhead among them) said it.

The camera work said it with, in turn, interesting and banal shots of bits of the building, leavened by the odd bit of artistic "wackiness" just to show how the school is still cutting edge, subversive and dangerous and aw that ae? And when we weren't being told for the nth time what a really good bit of etc. the building was we were being told that "it's a really interesting space".

Oh, fuck off.

And it was quite interesting and quite pretty, but know what? At the end of the hour I really didn't know any more than I did at the start. In sum, the show was like a pile of those ubiquitous Mackintosh postcards you find in Glasgow's tourist shoaps, taken and flicked through really quick to give the illusion of movement. Great play was made of how Mackintosh insisted art be useful and rooted in the real world but the real world never got a look in here.

For example, there were the obligatory bits of visual filler, sepia shots of Edwardian men and women at work as students in the school's original buildings. Hang on. Women in higher education in the Edwardian era? Who were these women, where did they come from? What was their background? What's going on here? That's just one question, interesting to me at any rate, that deserved consideration. What we got here was the history of a building with nothing, and I mean nothing, apparently going on outside the building.

Oh, and just to rub salt in the wound, "actor" Daniela Nardini treated us to her speak-your-weight-machine style narration...

Enough, already.

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