TV REVIEW : Failure to root out the truth
Rooted, ITV Filthy Homes From Hell, ITV 55 Degrees North, BBC1 In Rooted we learned that Anna from Ghana opened the first hair salon to cater to black hair styles in Edinburgh. Previously she and her sister had to travel to London to have their hair done. Today the capital has "two or three more". We then met Lindsey who ran the Ashanti hair salon, also in Edinburgh, and for 30 minutes we listened in to conversations, saw a few customers have their hair done and learned almost nothing about Afro-Caribbean culture in Scotland.
Where the hair salons could have been used as a prism through which to view this new and welcome addition to the tapestry of Scots life, the director, Kapwani Kiwanga, focused instead on a repetitive series of shots of girls milling around the salons, while an intrusive dance track played over their actions. Rooted, produced by STV, lacked both a presenter and a narrator. This is a legitimate documentary style, but its success then depended on having participants who are eloquent, informative and capable of driving the story along.
Anna and Lindsey were pleasant and sweet, but you got the impression this was an idea that had been foisted upon them, rather than a story they were burning to tell. I had a checklist of questions that I hoped Rooted would answer: how many African and Caribbean people live in Scotland today? Why are their numbers increasing? What has drawn them to Scotland? We know so much about Scotland's other immigrants, the Irish, Italians and Asians, so tell us more about this group. Yet instead we were told next to nothing. Even at the level of hair design, there was no attempt to explain why African hair is so problematic for high street hairdressers. The programme's one attempt to find out whether customers wanted their hair long and straight in imitation of white society was brushed off with the answer that is was merely "more manageable" this way.
Rooted more closely resembled a student film than a professional documentary, which was unfortunate, as it was a waste of a good idea.
In comparison, Filthy Homes From Hell, was just a terrible idea. When did we become so interested in other people's dirty homes? The appeal of peering into our neighbours' dirty laundry is meant as a metaphor, not an actual physical practice. The first two Filthy Homes From Hell were truly horrendous, but both belonged to people who obviously had serious mental health problems. In the first case study, Eric and Janice Dower shared their home with 138 animals, 83 of which, including a crocodile, parrot and turtles, were dead and in various stages of decomposition. Dennis Bostock, meanwhile, was known as the Blackpool Womble for his compulsion to collect other people's rubbish, even to the extent of consuming their throwaway food. His home was a cathedral to detritus, with his inability to throw anything away extending even to toilet paper.
"I just didn't like seeing rubbish being crushed in the back of a cart," he explained.
The students who dwelt in Britain's Dirtiest Student Digs, however, were merely showboating for the cameras. The mother of one was so appalled by the state of the flat that when visiting she brought her own flask of tea and used the toilets in a service station rather
than use the flat's facilities. Watching Filthy Homes and its predecessor on Channel 4,
How Clean Is Your House? the question I found myself asking was what happened to our sense of shame or embarrassment? How can people celebrate their lack of hygiene? Is the lure of television stardom so strong? Apparently so.
There are those who think BBC Scotland should hang their head in shame over 55 Degrees North, but I don't see why. It may not be Cracker, but it's finding its feet and has managed to juggle a variety of storylines and tones, ranging from light-hearted to grim. Granted Uncle Errol (George Harris) does go on a bit and his lecture last night on the carnivals of his youth had a toe curling quality, but his presence on the domestic front does help to lift the show above the ordinary. Detective Nicky Cole (Don Gilet), however, is becoming too much of a living saint, hopefully his burgeoning love affair with Claire Maxwell (Dervla Kirwan), now pregnant with her married lover's child, will reveal his feet of clay.