TV-ing it    1                                                                                                                                                                    Posted 3rd August 2013

Good comedy being notoriously difficult to come by, it's not surprising that the BBC should be repeating what is currently the best situation comedy around: "Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way".

The basic theme is megalomania in the Home Counties and the main character is Barbara Woodhouse, a Valkyrie in a skirt and jumper. She's an amazing creation, only slightly marred by being not entirely credible. Most of the humour stems from Barbara's evident belief that God is a woman whose initials are B. W. and her certainty that all dogs are only slightly more intelligent than their owners.

This week's programme was terrific. I only hope that R.S.P.C.O. (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Owners) have the wit to see the joke and don't start self-righteously protesting. I feel sure the owners enjoy being made to do tricks. They are so obviously delighted when Barbara praises them for saying "Si-it!" as if they'd just completed a research degree.

Barbara stood facing umpteen owners and their dogs and talked the most remarkable gibberish, purporting to teach a sort of canine sign language. While this was going on, there was a saturnine man having what looked like a fight to the death with a kind of over-grown husky.

"What's happening over there?" Barbara barked. "I saw you." Mr Daggis (for indeed it was he, or sounded as if it was) was suitably ashamed of wanting to go on living. Barbara came across like a visiting thunderstorm and proceeded to strangle the dog to within a couple of gasps of its life, apparently noticing no contradiction between this and her insistence on love between owners and dogs: "Go back and love them."

That's one of the funniest devices in the whole show: how Barbara establishes one law for herself and another for the rest of the world. When the owners have done exactly what she has told them to do she says, "No, no." Then, when they do exactly the same thing again, she says it's wonderful. She has the classic skill of the bully - whatever you do, it's wrong, unless she wilfully decides it's right.

She was concentrating her aggro this week on a Dr Johnson, who was stumbling around with a dog that looked as if the doctor's mother must have been on her fourth ball of wool before she finished it. I don't know in what field the good doctor took his degree. I assume it was a doctorate in forbearance. Barbara gave him a terrible roasting, as if to prove to him that fancy letters after your name mean nothing in the doggy universe.

The next episode is not for a couple of weeks - it should take that long for my ribs to recover.

"The Last Supper" . I made a simple mistake with this Cuban film written and directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. I didn't videotape it. I wish I could have watched it more than once.

Centering on the brief rebellion of some negro slaves on a sugar plantation in eighteenth-century Cuba, the film released a cataract of complex and interacting ideas on the nature of religion and power and their uses in society. It was also very moving, depicting credible people with sympathy and showing how the lives of masters and slaves      alike had been shaped by the assumptions that had surrounded their births like amniotic fluid. The violence was sparingly deployed, always a way of clarifying meaning, never in the service of sensationalism. The final image was stunning: the severed heads of the defeated slaves mounted on sticks with one pole empty and Sebastian, the only rebel remaining at liberty, running free with a machete. Whatever reason those Cuban refugees may have for wanting to live outside their country, it's not to see better films.

The Last Supper is simply the kind of film we rarely attempt to make here, depending as it does for its power on ideas regarded as a matter of life and death.

(To read the next post in this series click here.)


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