Tuesday, 12 July 2016

First Thoughts on Trainspotting Live

Courtesy Plum Pictures and BBC Four
From a Slow TV point of view, these are my first thoughts on BBC4's Trainspotting Live, produced by Plum Pictures.

What a marvellous celebration of the rail network and trains, from the Victorian period to now, from urban train stations to iconic lines and landscapes. BBC4's Trainspotting Live is not so much Slow TV but embracing several key principles of Slow TV.

At its heart, Slow TV is about taking your time to see what you can see if and until when something 'big' happens. It's in that waiting where the smaller details assume greater significance and then the mundane evolves into the spectacular. It's about finding the meaning in the meantime.

In terms of the images, the transmission itself is not very 'slow' in that we do not have a picture where not much is happening for a while. It is a steady flow of pictures and cuts from around the country, blended together with pre-recorded packages about rail history and enthusiasts. Even watching the Crewe built Black 5 approach the halt in Scotland, the broadcast was cut to the next piece of information before the experience of watching all of the train could pass. Slow TV is more about the experience than the information.

Yes, information unpacks and explains the experience - but the head-knowledge about something rarely replaces the experience knowledge of it. This is where English is inadequate to convey the nuances of knowledge. Think about the German verbs Wissen with Kennen, or French Savoir with Connaitre. Let's see more of the train as it passes, and hold off the producer's itch to cut to the next stimulating information feed.

27 minutes into the first episode the poet Ian McMillan, commenting on the poem 'Adelstrop' narrated by Richard Burton (what a fantastic voice that man had), he remarks about moments of stasis in a poem being a metaphor for moments of stasis in life - where you sit and wait, then somehow in that waiting, history turns and culture turns. That really is capturing some of the transformative essence of Slow TV.

However, Trainspotting Live is good TV medicine, something we need more of. It's a celebration of the everyday, a celebration of something not usually on TV. Thankfully there are another two one-hour segments of Trainspotting Live. Making special moments of the everyday. The mundane becomes the spectacle, the small things become the big things.

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The enthusiasm of the presenters and the participants in Trainspotting Live was fantastic and endearing. The passion for details and nuances, the celebration of 'nerd' ways. I used to take offence at the word 'nerd' but now I see it as something to be embraced - I too am quite a nerd for ancient sites, and yes, well, Slow TV.

Nice one Plum Pictures and BBC4. A live fest of history, heritage, rail-enthusiast excitement. Even if there's not much actual Slow TV in the production, the presence of several principles of Slow TV is a good thing in a media world where we used to having quick fire stimulation.

The first episode is here to watch in the UK. Two more episodes 8pm BST Tuesday and Wednesday on BBC4.

Trainspotting Live arriving on Platform BBC4, 8pm, 11th July.

Can't get enough Slow TV? More this week  - Birdwatching in northern Norway up to and including Thursday evening, and also a Paddle Steamer in southern Norway from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive, courtesy of NRK.

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