TV review: Chosen Monday | The Swing Thing Friday | The X Factor Final Today
TV, AS THIS WEEK'S OFFERINGS demonstrate, is a wide-ranging medium capable of showcasing stupidity, intelligence, sensationalism, subtlety, eye-opening insights and soul-sapping vacuity in almost equal measure.
So then, let's begin with a two-hour documentary about child abuse. That won't, I'm fairly certain, sound like most people's idea of an enjoyable night in front of the television. But daunting though it may seem, Chosen, is a powerful and rewarding experience, in which three middle-aged men recount – with remarkable candour and detail – the systematic sexual abuse they suffered at boarding school.
Directed by Bafta-award-winning filmmaker Brian Woods, Chosen is constructed via a simple yet effective technique: the men, Tom, Mark and Alastair recount their individual stories straight to camera, interrupted only by haunting photographs from their childhoods. It's an intimate, unsettling, wholly immersive programme, the equivalent of eavesdropping upon a private confessional or psychiatric session.
And yet the film never feels voyeuristic or exploitative. In a culture oversaturated by celebrities and plebs crassly unburdening their traumatic tales of woe, Woods's tableaux is a paragon of sensitivity. Painfully honest though they are, these devastated men reveal only what they feel is necessary, and refrain from going into too much detail if they feel it would be of no beneficial use to the viewer.
Whenever they fight back their tears it's as much an act of defiance as a preservation of dignity. "I don't want to show this bastard weakness," seethes Tom.
The term "brave" is bandied around far too freely these days, but I can find no better word to describe these three. Extremely articulate and thoughtful, they appear to be undergoing a kind of catharsis before our eyes. It's clear that their intensely moving and harrowing testaments – in which they name and shame the teachers who abused them – are being shared not only as a form of personal therapy but also as an attempt to reach out to children and parents who may have been affected by similar abuse. It's that rare thing: a documentary with worthy intentions that's neither overly manipulative nor heavy-handed.
Since it was first shown earlier this year on More4, the producers have been deluged with e-mails from viewers, and a closing caption hints that more child protection initiatives are being instigated at private schools. It's sometimes easy to forget that television can often be used as a tool for good: Chosen reaffirms that possibility.
On a literally more upbeat note, The Swing Thing charts the evolution of one of popular music's most enduring phenomenon.
Authoritative, assiduous and as comprehensive as its 90-minute running time will allow, this entertaining film is more of a tribute to the big bands rather than the singers we associate with the genre – Frank Sinatra doesn't croon into view until five minutes before the end, before briefly making way for more contemporary swingers such as Michael "Parkinson" Bubl.
So it's hats off to trailblazing black cats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, the white, often bespectacled men who swung in their wake.
It's easy to forget that the swing boom of the 1930s and 1940s caused just as much widespread devotion and panic as the rise of rock'n'roll in the late 1950s. Twenty years before Elvis Presley thrust his pumping crotch into the horrified maw of the moral majority, many horrified adults thought of swing as a similarly corrupting influence on the youth. Rock'n'roll didn't invent the teenager, swing did.
Fizzing with spell-binding footage of the greats in action (Dizzy Gillespie's barrage balloon cheeks are always a marvel to behold), it's a fascinating tale told with verve. It also contains my favourite fact of the week: during the Second World War, Goebbels put together a Nazi swing band called Charlie and His Orchestra.
Thankfully, there's been no ersatz swing edition of The X Factor this year, meaning we've been spared the horror of a bunch of smirking androids who think that all it takes to emulate the likes of Dean Martin is to loosen their ties and goose-step across the stage like, well, like Joseph Goebbels jiving badly to Charlie and His Orchestra. If emetic Womble Eoghan Quigg – one of the most inexplicably popular contestants in the show's history – wins the final, then we should all leave the country.