Thursday, 17 April 2008

Things that I like: "Travel documentaries"

I know, I know. I started this the other day with great promise of writing great things. And then I didn't.

What I plan to do (and that's no promise that I'll stick to it) is write about a few things that I like. I've got no idea how I'm going to do "music". Perhaps I'll write about a few bands that I like. Or... I don't know. That's something for another time.

But to start, I like watching travel documentaries. Yes, it's a fairly rubbish start, but I really do like them. I'm not really much of a traveller myself (I've been to lots of places when I was younger, but I really don't have much desire to go to India and "find myself" or whatever. Perhaps it's a lack of people to go with, or the fact that I'd probably waste it by getting homesick. But what I do like is spending seven hours (sadly my attention span is rarely long enough to manage it in one go) watching Michael Palin or Simon Reeve visit places that I never could do.

When I was a child I used to watch many of Michael Palin's programmes. My memory tells me that I remember Pole to Pole but I'm not quite sure if that's right. It was on TV in 1992 (I'd have been four), so maybe it was a repeat. Anyway, my more recent reintroduction to them was when I happened to turn on BBC Four during the second half of Meet The Stans (presented by Simon Reeve) a few years back. I vowed to track down the first half, but it was only about a year ago when I downloaded the whole series of Holidays in the Danger Zone and watched much of it in a weekend.

More recently I watched Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor's motorbike journey around the world Long Way Round. I'm not particularly interested in motorbikes, nor was I a particular fan of Ewan McGregor (I don't watch enough films to call myself a particular fan of any actors really) but I found the whole adventure fascinating. On the extended DVD there are two 45 minute episodes devoted to preparation for the trip. It seems like I'm in a minority, but I found that to be the most interesting part of the series. The thing I particularly like about this is that there's much more of a focus on how they get around than many other similar documentaries. Whereas Michael Palin programmes appear to mostly show things going particularly well, on Long Way Round (and its sequel Long Way Down, which I've only watched the first half of) they'll show things like their frustration at the endless waiting at borders. And, perhaps more importantly, they show (or at least appear to show) everybody who is there. While Michael Palin acknowledges his crew, or passepartout, it's only rarely. In the motorcycling ones the crew are as much part of the adventure as Ewan and Charlie are.

I suspect this is as much due to technology than for the viewers' evolving expectations of travel programmes. In Michael Palin's time they needed (I believe) five people to film, record sound , direct etc. Nowadays with the invention of handheld DV cameras you can have one person to do all that, and also be part of the story. And I much prefer that.

Having said that, I'm in the middle of watching Michael Palin's Pole To Pole and I'm loving it. I think I prefer it to his first adventure (Around the World in 80 days) due to the lack of time constraints. Whilst 80 days is made more interesting by the context (following Phileas Fogg's fictional route), the fact that he's mostly in a rush to get to the next city doesn't help.

Pole to Pole starts, as the name suggests, at the North Pole and the mission is to travel approximately down the 30ยบ line of longitude to the South Pole. I'm only at episode two (of eight) now, and they've just boarded a ferry on the Black Sea from Ukraine.

After I've finished this one I'll either watch Michael Palin's next trip (Full Circle, where he attempts to circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean) or Charlie Boorman's attempt at the Dakar Rally.

No comments: