The latest but not the best in the Beeb’s long line of classic serials, Wuthering Heights (BBC2), is the blithering pits.
There is a good case for restoring to the tale some of the romantic tempestuousness it must have generated in the minds of its original readers. But tempestuousness is one thing: a tornado is another. Every time Heathcliff opens his mouth to scream, a geyser of rain hits him in the face.
There is a famous short film by W. C. Fields called The Fatal Glass of Beer. Purporting to be resident in Alaska, Fields establishes this fact by repeatedly going to the door of his cabin, opening it, saying, ‘It ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast,’ and getting hit in the face with a bucket of snow. Perhaps that is what Heathcliff is trying to say. ‘It ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast, Cathy.’ Pfwoosh.
As a reporter, John Pilger usually comes under the heading of blunt but effective, stronger in viewpoint than memorable for phrase. But with Do You Remember Vietnam? (ATV) he attained a kind of eloquence. Pilger has got on my nerves in the past and doubtless will do again in the future, but this time his gravity and the subject’s matched each other. The result was a good programme: unglib, awkward to handle, hard to ignore.
Tom Mangold of the BBC had already been back to Vietnam, so Pilger was obliged to cover some of the same ground, up to and including a tour of the war museum in Saigon. But he has been reporting Vietnam for most of his adult life, so it was not surprising that what he had to say about what he was seeing carried the implication that he had seen plenty more.
Indeed the most telling image was a blank. Pilger said that he had had the idea at one stage early on of keeping in touch with a Vietnamese family to find out what would happen to them as the war progressed, but one by one the members of the family were killed or just vanished, so that eventually he had to give up. You can’t get film of something like that: you have to say it, and Pilger found a way of saying it.
8 October, 1978