Wednesday, February 27

Review: Freaky Eaters and Wonderland: The 92 Year Old Danger Junkie

Some very different interpretations of freaks leaves Mark Lewis rather cold

Isn’t it a shame when words are dumbed down? I don’t want to be an old codger here, but ‘gay’ used to be a perfectly good way of describing a homosexual, now it’s been appropriated by school kids to mean something not terribly good. ‘Sick’ used to be a decent way of describing the act of intercourse with ones own sister. Now it could be perfectly well employed to describe the act of having sex with, say, a pair of sisters from a different family altogether.

But the worst of all is ‘freak.’ It used to be the moniker of thumb sized girls who dance for biscuits, the grossly deformed, and South Koreans. Now it can mean practically anything. By rights, Freaky Eaters (Wednesday, 9pm, BBC3) should have been about Elephant Man-style unfortunates who consume potatoes through their bottoms.

Instead it was about a man who didn’t like vegetables. Admittedly his girlfriend was a vegetarian, which adds some carrots to their particular casserole, but the man hardly belongs in a circus. He only ate meat, he didn’t know what cheese was, and he was terrified of a bowl of fruit. But the freakiest thing about him was that after six years in a relationship with his girlfriend, the pair still lived with her mother.

Over on BBC2 David was still living with his father Ron, but Wonderland: the 92 Year Old Danger Junkie (9.50pm) was far too gently moving a programme to name call. The Wonderland series might catalogue unusual people but the ubiquitously meaningless ‘freak’ is not a word which is going to end up in the final edit – even if Ron Cunningham, aka The Great Omani at least had the decency to run off to the circus.

That, however, was 70 years ago. Now, at 92, he was the oldest stunt man in the world.

The film began with a South Korean film crew following him around while he set fire to himself, walked around on broken bottles, and smashed glasses on his throat, and the peculiar South Korean journalist jumped around and squealed melodramatically like some Japanese, geriatric, punishment, wank fantasy.

But even if Ron, (who during the film suffered a stroke, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer and liver failure) was a local side show, the programme was never going to fall into that trap. It was really a sad story about an ageing man’s interdependent relationship with his ancient father.

As his father’s assistant, who had never enjoyed show business, David had suffered his father’s stunts for years. Now he was a full time carer whose endless asides to his dogs revealed an unhappy, lonely soul. The Great Omani, despite his ailments was able to go to his death with his cigars and glasses of whiskey, asking “isn’t it rather nice to have been someone?” Now in his 60s, let’s hope there is still time for his son to leave his mark.

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