Posts Tagged ‘Five’

Interview With a Cannibal

March 30, 2009

In 2002, German cannibal Armin Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to over eight years in prison for killing, dismembering and eating another man.

Most of us have heard of this fellow and what he did with Bernd Brandes, so watching ‘Interview With A Cannibal’ on Channel Five was, on the face of it, no more than one’s own voyeurism taking advantage of the channel’s tendency to sensationalise events.

As the programme trundled inevitably towards the ‘good bits’ I was surprised that Five had made some effort to explain why on earth the man might have a vibrant fetish for the consumption of human flesh. Putting it bluntly, his dad left the homestead when he was nipper, his domineering mum remarried three times to rotten types, all of whom nicked her money before nicking off and when the last one left Meiwes obsessively cared for her until death.

In short Meiwes wanted something permanent for himself – what he described as a ‘brother’. He concluded that, by consuming a lover, the digested flesh would physically transgress into his being for evermore. We learned that aside from a spell in the army, the desire to eat human flesh had been an all-consuming urge (excuse the pun) since he hit puberty.

Whilst his character was being dissected (if you’ll excuse the pun, again) much less was made of the victim. We got a miniscule amount on his background. It wasn’t dissimilar to Meiwes, but there was nothing to explain why he wanted some random fellow to eat him – in particular, his winkle.

I’m not saying I can understand why anyone would want to eat another person, though I can project my sympathies sufficiently to inform you that I’d much rather be the diner than the meal. Incidentally Brandes wasn’t the only person offering himself for consumption; apparently Meiwes had a pick of over 400 individuals that wanted to be his tea…

After meeting online and discussing plans, Miewes arranged to meet Brandt at the station near to his late mother’s 44 bedroom mansion and drove him home. After showing him around, lobby, winter lounge, kitchen, ‘slaughter room,’ as he openly referred to it, they had sex because, according to Miewes, Brandes wanted to. After the latter dosed up on sleeping pills and cough syrup, and following one failed attempt, Miewes cut off his lover’s manhood, as discussed of course.

At this point I started to feel a bit peculiar. Far from a barrel of laughs, Miewes came across as quite affable. He was almost affectionate when discussing his lover, but the manner in which nonchalantly described some of the events had a tendency to suddenly chill the blood like liquid nitrogen. In two or three instances it was impossible not to feel physically sick. One period of nausea arrived when Miewes recalled how Brandes screamed for no more than 30 seconds before expressing his disappointment that it didn’t hurt more, casually acknowledging the spurting wound.

As Brandes ‘relaxed’ upstairs, Miewes popped down into the kitchen, split and broiled the winkle, fried it with some garlic and took it back upstairs for a spot of post-penectomy dining. Apparently Brandes was very upset that it was inedible, which is a disappointment to say the least, especially as he was, by that point, bleeding heavily from the hole where his penis / sausage was.

I have to say I found the next part the hardest bit of all to comprehend, which may come as some surprise with regard to what has happened so far. Miewes ran his pal a hot bath and, whilst he went downstairs to read a Star Trek book, left him there for a few hours to ‘bleed out.’

I don’t think this translates as well in writing as it does when spoken by Miewes, and this was the programme’s strength. The interviews were inter cut with footage of the actual locations within the house – kitchen, slaughter room, bed, hook in the ceiling etc… This gave the variously unpleasant stages an insidious quality which occasionally convulsed into unmitigated horror.

Brandes was still alive after his bath – by now more blood than water (‘as he was still spurting’) – and after getting out and collapsing a few times, eventually he passed out for good.

Miewes made it clear he wasn’t interested in killing anyone (weirdly I sort of believed him, killing was a means to an end in the same way as carnivores buy meat at the supermarket) nonetheless, after a small struggle with himself he slit his lover’s throat, removed his head and hung him on the meat hook where he was disembowelled and dismembered in accordance with instructions attained online. The body parts were packed as choice cuts (65lbs worth) and placed in the large chest freezer in the kitchen. For the next 10 months he ritually cooked and ate Brandes daily (describing its taste as ‘rich Pork’) with his best dinner service by candlelight.

Incredibly none of these facts are remotely contentious. From the outset Miewes and Brandes agreed to film the whole evening, particularly as Brandes was keen to watch himself having his penis cut off. When 20 minutes of the more grisly ‘highlights’ were shown to the jury all but two vomited in their seats as Miewes stood by watching calmly.

This will probably be the part of the programme that will stick in my brain. Miewes’ calmness, his matter-of-factness, made the events he described seem virtually normal, like he was talking about two mates on a Saturday night eating pizza, getting drunk and one of them passing out from over-indulgence…

But there was something else in this interview that concerned me and it took me a while to work out what it was. Initially I thought he was a little arrogant, almost smug – but it wasn’t just that. As the credits rolled I got it. Miewes appetite had been sated. He was full.

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Nature Shock: Alien Ice Bear

October 23, 2008

I like nature programs – especially ones about weird animals. The opening credits hinted that I’d be seeing some pretty alarming stuff, making me really excited for things to get started, not just because the first episode was entitled ‘Alien Ice Bear’.

‘An alien bear?’ I thought. ‘Wicked!’

The program opened with a lot of reconstructions and talking heads. Apparently, some American businessman had gone off to shoot a Polar Bear and had ended up shooting something that wasn’t a Polar Bear. He got into a lot of trouble because he only had a license to shoot a Polar Bear.

Now, I should point out that I shoot things occasionally – rabbits mostly, and then I eat them – but the idea that anyone would be allowed to shoot a Polar Bear horrifies me. They’re rare and their habitat is rapidly shrinking, so we should be doing everything we can to protect them. This probably doesn’t involve letting American businessmen shoot them for shits and giggles.

The businessman shot the bear and posed for photos. The photos showed that this bear had black eyeliner on, so it wasn’t a Polar Bear. Teen Polar Bears don’t become goths to rebel, so this meant he’d bagged some other species. When you do shoot a Polar Bear you have to bring some bits back to show some Rangers so that they can be sure you shot it and not a moose or something.

At this point we got to listen to a CSI-type person waffling on about how they couldn’t tell what it was. A taxidermist also rambled on about how they had never seen anything like this before. We eventually got the point that he’d managed to accidentally shoot something even rarer than a Polar Bear.

After thirty minutes of these people saying ‘Gee wizz! We killed a unicorn!’ they dropped the bombshell that you can cross-breed Polar Bears with other bears. People used to do it in zoos all the time – those crazy Victorians, eh?

The bear, which I was starting to get bored of, was actually just a cross-breed and not that alien at all, really. Nobody had ever heard of a hybrid being born in the wild, so they’d ultimately proved that it could happen by shooting it. Great.

So, after an hour long program they had conveyed information that could be summed up in a paragraph of text.

Next week they’re covering some man-eating river monster that killed someone. They never found a body. I’m going to presume that the vicious monster that killed a person was a rock and go and read a book instead. Or shoot a Gorilla.

Merton In India / Fry in America

October 13, 2008

How To Make a Television Programme
#16485 – Drop a National Treasure in a foreign country

Michael Palin’s spine is not what it once was. Apparently he can barely take a 168 to Hampstead Heath without buckling.

Ustinov’s dead.

So who could the BBC and Five send off on a jet plane for their travelogue programming? Which safe pair of hands could deliver quality footage, fit for a series at only the cost of their fee, their expenses and a handful of first class plane tickets?

Time to get out the Handbook of National Treasures…

David Jason’s too grumpy, Robbie Coltrane won’t fit on the plane and Parkinson’s not very interesting. In the end, stuck for options, Five chose Paul Merton whilst the BBC, probably thinking itself slightly superior, plumped for Stephen Fry.

Paul Merton in China was a bit of a drab affair. It was Merton’s first outing in the travel format and he didn’t look altogether comfortable. His constant asides to camera occasionally came across as slightly patronising towards the Chinese and the imported comedy moments, set-pieces created purely for camera, didn’t do it any favours. It still had a lot of good moments and thankfully the second series is a further improvement.

Paul Merton In India is a different kettle of fish. Merton’s in his element here, as the atmosphere is markedly more chaotic. This gives him the scope to make his witticisms to camera without so much of a reaction. The general hubbub around him means he is ignored, to some extent. He’s part of a constant movement rather than the focus and the show benefits from this change.

In episode one, Merton visited a gentleman called Bubbles who saved a city from exploding using guile and breathtaking bravery. Rather than focus on why missiles were being driven nearby and how one of them caught fire, we followed the story from Bubbles’ point of view and discovered that he put it all down to his worship of a Goddess. A Goddess who protects rats. He led Merton and his charming guide to a nearby temple where they hung out with the rodents and it was all very sweet, if not a little odd.

Things took an even stranger turn when PM hung out at a religious festival in honour of Shiva which featured naked disciples twisting their penises in all directions. Five didn’t shirk from showing this footage. I’m glad I wasn’t eating my dinner when the sight of a block of cement suspended from a bell end flashed on screen, filmed from behind, from the vantage point of the disciple’s arse-crack. Merton was speechless. The viewer was speechless. When offered a chillum packed with weed, PM toked on it like a man possessed, presumably to soften the blow of the visual assault. By the end of this sequence, he was visibly stoned out of his face – like an aged, slightly flabby Bruce Parry, intoxicated in the near-wilderness. It was great stuff.

On top of all this, having sat through a bizarre, faux-accident in a weird, nightmare flight simulator, Merton accidentally jumped out of the emergency door the wrong way, bounced on his head and fell arse over tit. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. The programme was littered with these amusing little accidents and it triumphed as a result.

Over on BBC1 in a Sunday night slot made available since Martin Clunes stopped fannying about with his dogs on ITV, Stephen Fry pretended to drive around America in a black cab. In Stephen Fry in America, he started his journey in Maine, speaking to fishermen engaged in catching lobsters. We didn’t learn much from this exhange, except that lobster-catchers in Maine are apparently the best in the world. But then, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

  • Later, Fry went hunting deer with some men who covered themselves in deer-poo. No deer made itself known, in the event, so Fry moved on.
  • He went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory and made some ice cream. Visitors to the factory enjoyed his mixture.
  • He went to Washington and talked to a satirist you’ll not have heard of.
  • He went to a Casino to act as croupier. He spoke to a Vietnamese lady who couldn’t understand his accent.
  • He went to speak with Sting, the self-styled Englishman in New York. Sting likes it in New York (when he’s not loitering in European brothels). This section was absolutely infuriating.
  • He spoke to an old man who pretends to be Abraham Lincoln for a living about the Gettysburg address.

And that was about it.

With Fry’s effort it didn’t seem items were linked by anything other than the location of the States – and several of these were completely glossed over with a fleeting apology. This was an episodic array of set pieces, all featuring Fry as he met with everyday, unremarkable Americans. There was something missing here. As with Dave Gorman’s recent America Unchained series, the central premise was flawed so momentum wasn’t allowed to build. Was Fry studying the history of America? The social relations between Americans? Was it an effort in cultural understanding? Or was it just a shallow toe in every one of those puddles, with too little exploration for it to be as engaging as it could have been?

If it was none of these things, then it should have dropped its game and opted to go for the same silly approach that Merton’s crew took. As it stands, Fry’s effort was a touch too earnest and less entertaining as a result.

His series may well improve as time goes on and Merton’s may well degenerate, but from episode one of either vehicle, Merton leads with a goal to nil.