The FilmThose old enough to remember it can appreciate when the old goggle box used to have only 3 channels to show us. Furthermore, those channels were only available during the civil hours of the day. Imagine it... Telly used to stop after midnight for educational broadcasts and teletext. Since then, digital channels, greater freedom in what you broadcast and the need to break up all those adverts has led to TV bloating itself to fill all the space available to us.The need for cheaply produced endless coverage has led to journalists making the news rather than simply reporting on it, and an expansion of people-watching formats through reality entertainment programmes. We have watched z-list celebs masturbate livestock, Richard Blackwood having an enema and kangaroo anus being eaten. Yet, the worst has been reserved for those poor fucks like you and I who have no status other than being easy and cheap to gawp at. Common decent people have prostrated themselves on the altar of light entertainment, ready to let us cry at their pathetic back-stories, selling off their privacy and mortgaging their souls.
Having read and loved David Compton's The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, Bertrand Tavernier eventually adapted the novel with it being shot in Glasgow in 1980. Casting Romy Schneider as the eponymous heroine and Harvey Keitel as her human camera, the film clashes between European theatrical styles and those of the rougher, improvised "method" of its American stars. Little effort is made to explain the lack of Glaswegians in the main cast or just why Keitel or Dean Stanton find themselves this side of the pond. Truth be told, the production is not particularly well integrated or coherent.Where the film works best is where the European elements dominate, where the camera obsesses upon Schneider and she displays a tough independence and fragile dignity which is the story's most engaging feature. Similarly the story's completion unites a perfectly cast Von Sydow with Schneider and the ticks and self regarding method acting of the other leads is obscured in an emotionally convincing and moving finale.
The tale is scarily reminiscent of modern TV though. Katherine (Schneider) is diagnosed as terminally ill and is eventually pressurised into allowing her last days to be the subject of a reality show produced by NTV. She tries to run from the programme but picks up a fellow traveller (Keitel) who unknown to her is actually fitted with a camera beneath his eyes and is recording her every moment. Running back to where she was happiest with Keitel in tow, it becomes clear that NTV have engineered Katherine's fate.Think Jade Goody in reverse and think of all of those who have engineered Bush Tucker trials, Big Brothers and all manner of fly on the wall documentaries and you get Keitel's guilt and NTV's disgusting ethics. In our times, Death Watch is definitely a vital viewing and it is only the failure to resolve the question of style and tone successfully which undermines what would have been a much more important film than it has become.
Death Watch will appeal to fans of the great director and to those who like a bit of far sighted tragedy.