REVIEWS

And you were there— Los Angeles, Chicago, the moon... Montreal

DOUGLAS MARSHALL December 1 1970
REVIEWS

And you were there— Los Angeles, Chicago, the moon... Montreal

DOUGLAS MARSHALL December 1 1970

And you were there— Los Angeles, Chicago, the moon... Montreal

REVIEWS

TELEVISION

DOUGLAS MARSHALL

THERE CAN NEVER be too much drama on television. The medium, as wise men are beginning to perceive and ponder, is a natural instrument for universal catharsis. It affords an outlet to mass emotions on a scale Aristotle never dreamed of. Even cheap drama, contrived and artificial, can be affecting on TV. Good drama, written and produced and acted by artists, can enlarge the spirit of an audience of millions. But there are moments when television transcends traditional forms of theatre and presents us with drama unique to the electronic medium and more compelling than art. Television, and television alone, can encompass the theatre of reality.

During the last decade we have experienced in countless day-and-night vigils what no other audiences in history have been able to experience — the catharsis that comes from being part of the great events of our time. We have watched these events as they happened in Chicago and Dallas, in Prague, Paris and London, on a desert airstrip in Jordan and on the surface of the moon. This fall Canadians also watched them happen in Montreal and Ottawa.

The ragged drama of the FLQ kidnappings of James Cross and Pierre Laporte, with its harrowing plot structure and cruel climax, makes TV’s tidy, commercially segmented fantasy thrillers seem somehow obscene. We sat huddled around our sets and felt the agony and torment of a country facing a real crisis. We watched while the body of a man — a real man wrapped in blankets soaked in real blood — was found, crammed in the trunk of a car. It will be a long time before the two-dimensional an-

tics of cardboard characters playing a make-believe murder will again be bearable for many Canadian viewers.

Of course, the theatre of reality depends for effect on experienced and intelligent people working behind the scenes. It is a pity we abolished the honor system in this country, leaving us with no regular way to reward meritorious services to the state. I can think of several OBEs, perhaps a knighthood or two, that should now be handed out among members of CBCTV’s news department. Coverage of the kidnappings by both networks was always good, but at times the CBC’s handling of events was simply outstanding.

I’m thinking particularly of that dark Saturday midnight when Laporte’s body was discovered. The CBC was caught cold at a time when virtually the entire news-gathering machinery of this country had followed its archaic custom of closing down for the weekend. But the news department, with the heroic oncamera co-ordination of George Finstad, cranked up through bulletin flashes to live and comprehensive coverage of developments. By 1:30 a.m., when my local CTV station was still running a Don Knotts film, the CBC’s anchor desk in Toronto was plugged in to Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City. (CTV’s news network didn’t get organized until after 2 a.m.) By 3 a.m., when a haggard Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the nation for the second time in just over 24 hours, the CBC was fulfilling its function of being the main line of Canadian communications — and fulfilling it superbly.

Naturally the CBC made some mistakes that confused

night, as it did before and after. But generally, amid jumbled feelings of horror and shame over the kidnappings, there was also a tinge of pride. The CBC was helping to prove that this country is not, as some of its internal enemies appear to think, made of cotton candy. In view of which, CBC President George Davidson’s reprimand to his news department— he ordered producers “to exercise a greater degree of restraint” — was hardly warranted and, in terms of its effect on morale, unforgivable. The CBC has a mandate to keep the people informed — no matter what the wishes of the government of the day. □