Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The needle and the damage done

"Quietly stunning" is how the Radio Times' Kasia Delgado described Chasing Dad: A Lifelong Addiction, a documentary that recently aired on BBC3 - and she wasn't overstating the case.

What made the film so powerful wasn't simply the often harrowing portrait of a man firmly in the grips of heroin addiction (haggard appearance, zoning out mid-conversation) but primarily the fact that Philip Wood, the person behind the camera, was his son. The film-maker wasn't just a sympathetic ear - he asked his subject probing questions, challenged his subject's behaviour and routinely cast doubt on what his subject said (decades of addiction had turned Philip Wood Sr into a compulsive liar).

Time and again Wood Sr mentioned wanting to straighten himself out, though only ever seemed to be going through the motions and saying what he thought his son wanted to hear without really meaning it. So it came as a pleasant surprise to discover that a spell in rehab (arranged and paid for by his son and other family members) was proving a success. Certainly, four months down that difficult path, he looked like a different person.

It was at this point that the film-maker properly confronted his dad with the stark truth about the physical, emotional and psychological devastation that drug (and alcohol) addiction had wrought upon the family - and his dad's stunned and horrified reaction suggested the possibility that, through open and honest exchanges, bridges could be rebuilt and trust could be re-established.

The film was perhaps a little confused in (on the one hand) implicitly portraying Wood Sr as at least partially culpable for his condition, his behaviour and the damage inflicted on others and (on the other) recognising that drug addiction is an illness, control of which lies beyond the capacity of the individual. But then nothing is completely black and white, and the film-maker's sister articulated this confusion well, saying that initially she felt nothing but anger and hatred for her father (how could she and her brother not?) but that she'd gradually come to pity him on the grounds that no one chooses to become an addict and to wind up in the state he was in prior to rehab.

BBC3 wants to be careful - with this following hot on the heels of another worthy and emotive documentary, Professor Green: Hidden And Homeless, the channel is in serious danger of gaining credibility and a reputation for being at least occasionally watchable...

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