IMAGINE… DAVID HOCKNEY: A BIGGER PICTURE, BBC1 7/7: THE CONSPIRACY FILES, BBC2
WITH The South Bank Show exiting stage left for the final time next year, it looks like it might be left to Alan Yentob's Imagine… strand to fly the flag for chin-stroking arts coverage on terrestrial television. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since these wide-ranging programmes – usually fronted by Yentob himself, but often outsourced to other filmmakers – are occasionally good value.
The latest instalment, David Hockney: a Bigger Picture, was one of its better profiles, thanks largely to the legendary artist's engagingly mercurial personality. When he agreed to be followed by filmmaker Bruno Wollheim, Hockney was approaching 70 and had recently returned to his native east Yorkshire after living in LA for 30 years. His only stipulation was Wollheim filmed alone, sans crew. This gave the film an intimate, unguarded feel, undoubtedly aided by the fact that Wollheim spent a whole year – the most creatively productive of Hockney's career – in the elusive artist's company and had previously gained his trust during the making of another documentary in 2003.
Hockney seemed relaxed in front of the camera. Occasionally he would playfully chide Wollheim for what he perceived as a banal line of questioning, before holding forth with amusing aphorisms and poetic rebuttals. With a permanent twinkle in his eye, a wry smile and a cigarette never far from his lips, Hockney came across as a man amused and enraptured by life.
His ability to gain endless pleasure from his surroundings is, he says, a privilege. Whether painting a prolific series of landscapes by the side of country lanes, or enthusing about the aesthetic beauty of a tangled hedgerow, his delight in what Van Gogh described as "the infinity of nature" was contagious.
Now resident in the Bridlington home of his late mother, Hockney seemed settled and blissfully unconcerned about death. Even his chain-smoking appeared to be a two-fingered gesture in the face of mortality. More revealing, in its gentle, ruminative way, than any previous Imagine… programme, this was a fine profile of a charming and inspiring contrarian.
Similarly eye-opening, but for dramatically different reasons, was 7/7: The Conspiracy Files, a satisfyingly stringent investigation into the alarmingly widespread and irresponsible conspiracy theories surrounding the 7 July London bombings. Coolly debunking every one of the supposed "truths" behind official reports, it highlighted the aggressively delusional nature of those who choose to believe and propagate such myths.
One 7/7 conspiracy theorist, Nick Kollerstrom, was revealed as a Holocaust denier, while the self-styled Muad'Dib (an alias chosen from Frank Herbert's Dune, not Islam), the creator of a widely proliferated online conspiracy video, was exposed as a white bloke from Sheffield who believes he's the Messiah (he has since been arrested on charges of perverting the course of justice).
Depressingly, the programme showed the chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque airing this crazily conjecturing video before his congregation, many of whom swallowed it blindly.
As this justifiably outraged programme made clear, the spreading of unqualified 7/7 and 9/11 conspiracy theories is a harmfully divisive phenomenon, their preachers as dangerously extreme as the suicide bombers they strive to exonerate from blame. But as a fully paid-up shill for the media lie-factory, I would say that, right Truthers?