I WAS shocked, visiting our former church, to discover that my stern insistence that, Advent being a penitential season, the most lavish decoration permissible in church is bare evergreens, has been overthrown by the new management; so the tree already glitters with baubles.
At least there was no sign yet of fairy lights; so I hope that they still keep in reserve that moment of illumination of the time hallowed by tradition and (surely somewhere) scripture: the first note of “Once in royal David’s city” from King’s College, Cambridge.
No such discipline inhibits the secular subjects of Britain’s Craziest Christmas Lights (Channel 5, Saturday). This was an appalling programme: the topping and tailing of segments was apparently carried out by a blunt breadknife, and Noddy Holder’s rasping, jokey commentary contrarily produced an unexpected moral effect. I had tuned in to scoff, but the more insistently his relentless alliterations made patronising fun, the more I began to admire the bizarre achievements on display.
Four homes in England were portrayed: ordinary houses transformed, their walls, roofs, and gardens hidden behind illuminated tableaux, thousands upon thousands of fairly lights celebrating the incarnation of our Saviour with reindeer, giant robins, huge snowmen, sleighs — even the occasional nativity scene.
This is obsession: one home is now almost uninhabitable, choked with storage boxes. We saw teams of father and son, a pair of brothers, and a patriarch who, at 85, is forbidden to climb the ladders, and directs family and neighbours. Unexpected relationships blossom, communities knit together in celebration, and thousands of pounds are raised for charities. This is unselfconscious folk art on the grandest scale, bringing light to the midwinter darkness.
Always seeking a different light — first Brittany, then Provence, finally Tahiti — describes the trajectory of Gauguin: A dangerous life (BBC4, Sunday of last week). When before have arts experts, while admiring the paintings, so disapproved of the artist? Gauguin proclaimed a lifetime’s search for primitive purity, but was competitive and messianic, developing a wild and barbaric persona in the South Seas, and trading on his colonial superiority, especially in sexual relationships with young native women. This sad finale questions the sincerity of the depictions of Breton peasants at prayer. Was it all a pose?
I try not to revert to programmes already reviewed, but Giri/Haji (BBC2, final episode, Thursday of last week) was so extraordinary as to demand mention. This Anglo-Japanese crime thriller amalgamated diverse genres: ultraviolence, familial tenderness, humour, tragedy, psychological depth, and anime cartoon — all melded into a new kind of TV. The climax of the drama was expressed, astonishingly, by a slow-motion ballet. Fantastic!