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Star of the show

06 June 2014


IT WAS a secular canonisation. The climax of the first episode in the documentary series Welcome to Rio (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) was the unveiling of a huge portrait of the man who had become the star of the show - Rocky the Doorman.

The films seek to show us the real context of the forthcoming World Cup, focusing especially on the favelas, the illegal shanty towns that rise above Rio de Janeiro; and particularly the government's programme of "pacification" - the driving out of the drugs dealers, crime, and violence that made them no-go areas.

But this is a subversive, first-person account. Cleo Rocos tells the story from the inside. The favelas are her home, and the viewers are addressed as "you" throughout. We are the outsiders, privileged to be shown something of the inner truth of these places, which, for all their problems, she celebrates as centres of life, vibrancy, and mutual care.

Rocky is an astonishing character. He runs - until forced to dismantle it by the police - a junk shop at the foot of his favela, and keeps an eye on everyone who goes in and out, or, rather, up and down; for it has 500 steps from top to bottom.

All goods to be delivered are dropped off at his stall, and he then carries them, on his back, wherever they need to go. We saw an amazing shot of him lugging a large deep-freezer all the way from the bottom to the top. He carries the sick and elderly without charge: a genuine St Christopher.

His picture was created by a neighbour, a graffiti artist, to celebrate the success of a campaign to halt the authority's programme of not just "pacifying", but also knocking down many of the illegal dwellings; for they occupy prime sites, with glorious views over the bay. Compelling and gorgeous, this programme raised issues far beyond Rio: how do you impose reasonable order without destroying vitality and community?

"Religion will play a larger part than economics": a heartening credo from the subject of Sir Kenneth Clark: Portrait of a civilised man (BBC2, Saturday), which revealed someone far more complex and contradictory than might be expected.

Lord Clark was convinced that the new medium of television was a noble tool in the dissemination of culture. The film reminded us of the radical transformation of British society in the 20th century. The multitudes thronging Tate Modern, to see works that he, no doubt, would have hated, witness to a revolution in which he played a decisive part.

The quote about religion v. economics comes from his earliest discussion with Sir David Attenborough, setting the tone and methodology of the groundbreaking Civilisation series, rejecting the intellectually favoured Marxist interpretation and championing a traditional narrative.

The Story of Women and Art (BBC2, Fridays) could not offer a stonger contrast to Lord Clark's urbane detachment. For me, the excellent story Professor Amanda Vickery told of female artists and creativity, their long suppression and, eventually, public triumph, was compromised by her over-emphatic script, declamation, and wild gesture. But then I'm a man.

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