Tuesday, 16 December 2008


With books, films and TV I don't really bother watching the trash. Some people find it relaxing, but for me reality TV programmes such as Big Brother or easy reads such as Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series seem like such a waste of time, when there is such a wealth of stuff out there which I haven't yet discovered. But that doesn't mean that my 'cultural' roster is completely devoid of trash; I am partial to Desperate Housewives and celebrity gossip websites.

Although there is a lot of gold out there, most of it is pretty hard-going. It is true that I am always itching to read this book, or watch that film, but I often find it too draining to fully commit to. If I have just finished a really good book, I find that I cannot start the next one straight away. There must be at least a brief interlude; maybe a detective story or two.

One territory into which I have rarely entered is the documentary. Of course, I have watched the predictable few at school; An Inconvenient Truth, Super Size Me, The Yes Men and every time I am again surprised by how enjoyable they actually are. I had never before watched a documentary out of choice.

I also find that I have to be in a certain mood to watch a subtitled film. Yes, there are prejudices about subtitled films and there's always something a little daunting about watching one. Oddly, it automatically becomes an intellectual task. There are a couple of DVDs I have which I could easily watch whenever I'm feeling bored, but they're French and do I really want to watch a French movie right now? Why not an episode of Friends? And despite this, I can immediately think of several films which I absolutely loved, all in foreign languages.

That was quite a long introduction; longer than I intended. Perhaps there's more than I initially thought to the concept of 'good-quality culture'. Certainly today, watching two separate films which are both highly regarded was a bit of a culture shock. It feels different - my mind feels far more occupied and buzzy - to those lazy days when you watch three back to back episodes of House in the afternoon and then a romcom in the evening.

The first film I watched was subtitled - Das Leben der Anderen (in English: The Lives of Others). This is the first foreign language film I have ever watched twice. The first time I watched it was in a cinema and I was transfixed, following the suspenseful storyline every step of the way. This time, I knew what was coming but again was transfixed, this time by the actors, the clues about their character which flashed and then were gone in every frown, every smile. Yes, of course a film about life in 1980s East Berlin is going to be harrowing but I also finished with the sense of pleasure which comes from watching a film that good. If you haven't watched it already, I urge you to!

Look how the eyes of this secret police agent manage to betray that he is 'ein guter Mensch'!

The next - and I know you've guess it already - was a documentary. I found it on the 4oD free programmes homepage and for some inexplicable reason it caught my eye, because as I have already mentioned, I had never before voluntarily watched a documentary. Chosen is the story of sexual abuse in private boys' school, and is recounted by three victims from one school in particular who were abused over 30 years ago. It was told so simply, with these three men talking directly to the camera and a handful of photos to illustrate their stories. Again, even though everything they said is sadly true, I was so moved by the nuances of detail on their faces as they spoke, the unscripted eloquency with which they spoke. In fact, instead of rambling on about this truly superlative documentary, I am again going to urge you to watch it. You can view it for free online here, I think you can view it in the USA as well as the UK.

How do you feel about top quality 'entertainment'? Does it defeat the purpose of entertainment if it's painful to experience, or do you get the sense of pleasure from something which is so good? There's a little bit of both for me, which is why I have to be careful not to overdose.


  1. Wildlife documentaries showing lion kills are the modern version of the Roman amphitheatre.

  2. Oooh no I can't stand those! I think I've watched one at the Science Museum in 'pop-up' (I can't think of the technical term right now) and I hated it! I don't need to think about such ungenteel behaviour... ;)

  3. Unfortunatly I haven't mush time for entertainment. Almost my free time I spent it at internet (most blogging)


  4. Good quality culture is definitely something I engage in a lot, but I love trash fluff like Kinsella's books or Gossip Girl. I think a balance of both is what I'd aim for, not so much trying to pretend to be someone I'm not and saying that GG or Kinsella is ridiculous and below me.

  5. The Lives of Others is a fantastic film. I do enjoy foreign films, documentaries and crap TV. I refuse to read chic lit. I just value reading too much to go down that road. but, yep, I will happily watch a little reality TV. I know that is a bit hypocritical; I can live with that.

  6. I've heard nothing but good things about "The Lives of Others," and now I've got to nudge the hubs again to rent it.

    I will admit to gravitating toward fluffy entertainment overall - as a person prone to anxiety, I'd rather be soothed by innocuousness. BUT, a quality drama is always welcome. It's just hard-hitters - holocaust stories, rape, disease - that I can rarely stomach.

  7. I like fluff, I like meaningful, I like docco. It's all fun or good in one way or another. I have to be in a certain mood for a docco, though. Sometimes, I just want a little "Flight of the Conchords."

  8. I don't think that's hypocritical at all Sal, think these comments just highlight how peoples habits are simply to varied to 'judge'. One of the most erudite people I know prefers to watch romcoms to anything else.