One of the best things on television in the past year or two has been the emergence of ‘slow tv’. I’ve now watched various programmes on the BBC under this heading. Although they may exist on other channels I’ve not spotted them. In any case the intrusion of adverts would seriously upset the rhythm, nor do I want slow adverts which would to my mind be a particularly refined torture.
I was introduced to slow film early on in my late teens encountering Warhol’s slow films, e.g. Chelsea Girls, Harlot, or his wonderful film portraits. Then there was Michael Snow’s Wavelength and other smaller versions such as Larry Gottheim’s Fogline. I am sure there are many other examples. And maybe if I searched YouTube and Vimeo I would find plenty more. Digital technology of course now makes it easy whereas back in the sixties it was much more expensive.
BBC slow television tends to focus on nature as a subject, very reasonably as the two are a natural fit. But last year they screened slow films of three Benedictine monasteries to marvellous effect (see my blog entry of Saturday 4 November 2017), again the two making a natural fit.
But their nature slot reached new heights on Wednesday 27 December when BBC4 screened ‘Turtle, Eagle, Cheetah: a slow odyssey’ (still available on iPlayer). Cameras were attached to the three creatures and we were able to enter their lives for 30 minutes each, in a 90-minute programme. The very best thing was the way music was banished, except for its brief use at the transition points, and we had to be content (and I am very content) with natural sound. Try for example the rushing sound of the air that accompanies the white-tailed sea eagle moving and drifting over the mountains and coasts of Morvern on the west coast of Scotland (where I have spent countless holidays).
The film climaxed with a cheetah hunt. Three animals, all sibling orphans, were released on the Namibian plains and tracked hunting prey. Since the camera was attached to the top of their heads you got a cheetah eye’s view of the prey being stalked and then chased, first zebra, then a warthog (watch it go!) and then gemsbok (with serious antlers, weapons which made them unafraid to turn and face the cheetah). Disappointingly in all three cases the cheetah had to give up the chase as they had used up all their energy, so the narrative lacked the perfect end of a kill – you identify with the cheetah and want them to succeed.
I repeat, no music, and indeed no voice-over. Instead information was provided with ‘embedded graphics’ that could be read onscreen as you watched the action. You actually are getting quite close to pre-sound dialogue cinema, casting the narrative weight on the visuals, and using intertitles to back up the story. That was a golden, pre-lapsarian age, and it looks like it may be coming back in a new, sophisticated way.
Credit to the programme producer, Doug Mackay-Hope.