Thursday 23 December 2010, 16:53
Here are two films for the holiday.
One is a film made by a young David Dimbleby about a group of 500 British ballroom dancers on an ocean cruise in the summer of 1973.
The second film tells the history of how pandas got involved with power politics in the 20th Century - and the strange consequences for politicians in the West.
There is no connection between the two films.
Dimbleby's film is wonderful. It is beautifully shot - the images of the dancers rehearsing on deck under the grey skies of the Atlantic are great.
But underneath Dimbleby also cleverly uses the film to analyse the relationship between eroticism, friendship between men and women, and sex.
It is also very funny and affectionate.
I have always thought that pandas, in evolutionary terms, are the most sophisticated animals in the world.
They cannot look after themselves, they are useless at reproducing. But to compensate they have managed to persuade the most advanced creatures on the planet - human beings - to care for their every need.
Here is a film made in 1976 called Very Important Pandas. It is the history of our relationship to pandas which not only explains how they came to have such a grip on our imaginations, but it also shows what happens when pandas get involved in power politics.
As the presenter points out - any world leader who was given a pair of pandas in the 1970s fell from power pretty soon afterwards.
Richard Nixon and Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing
Edward Heath and Chia Chia and Ching Ching
And Prime Minister Tanaka of Japan who was found guilty of accepting bribes from the US Lockheed Corporation - pictured below with his pandas, Lan Lan and Kang Kang
And, as if to prove the film's point, the same year it was transmitted, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who had helped make the pandas famous, was also found guilty of accepting bribes from Lockheed.
Prince Bernhard had been one of the co-founders of the World Wildlife fund in 1961. The fund had decided to make the panda its international logo. It was an act that made pandas the top "charismatic mega fauna" of the world.
Prince Bernhard tried to claim he had taken the money for the pandas. But noone believed him - and he was stripped of his title, his uniform, and forced to resign.
The second part of Very Important Pandas is a film made by the People's Republic of China in 1975 about the pandas and their environment in south-east China.
It is beautiful and strange. It has a great mood and pacing - and sometimes looks like the work of Jeff Koons. And there is a lovely section about the birth of a baby panda.
The Chinese film also tries to put the odd evolution of the useless panda into a revolutionary socialist perspective. The narrator quotes Friedrich Engels:
"F. Engels points out that each advance in organic evolution is at the same time a regression"
David Attenborough couldn't have put it better.
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