Slow TV: The Telemark Canal (2012)
Returning once more to Slow TV and this for me is what Slow TV does best, (mostly) single locked shots slowly drifting through beautiful landscapes. This time we’re aboard The Victoria, sailing along Norway’s Telemark canal. There is a little explainer overview before this film signalling it’s original life as a live broadcast on Norwegian TV, but after this short distraction, the rather beautiful sailboat gets moving and we’re off on our 11 hour journey. As we leave Skien we do get lots of extra shots from the bank and this montage is accompanied by some Norwegian pop music. It’s awful and sadly it doesn’t stop there. As alluded to, this isn’t purely a single shot like the Bergen to Oslo train film. It’s the backbone of it, the view mounted high on the mast, but there is another camera mounted on the front that gives a view similar to the train. There’s also a couple of roving cameramen aboard who supply a variety of shots to the shore and behind the boat. One even has a bloody crane and another a submersible camera! Whilst it’s nice to have this extra visual information, I miss the simplicity of the single hero shot and thus this feels diluted. Couple this with sporadic bits of music, it feels more whimsical. It’s intended as a celebration of the canal and the people associated though and I guess this is why they’ve done this, to get more people and life in... I however just want the beautiful vistas. We’re also offered little onscreen descriptions here and there about the places we’re passing. I don’t mind this, but they do muddy the screen. It gets even worse though as they play archival video inset over the frame, why just why? (Although it is in one of these sections where I learnt of the Troll car, so it’s not all bad). Perhaps Norwegians aren’t as patient as I thought, or NRK (the TV channel that made and broadcast this) aren’t as brave as I thought. Bergen to Oslo was made a few years before this and is definitely the superior film. This one feels to be aimed as a piece for the tourist board. It’s still very cool to watch though and there’s undeniably some breathtakingly gorgeous shots, but at such a long duration this is purely for those really interested or insane. I probably fall into the latter category, but in being patient and sticking with it, you do get vast sections of unspoilt indulgence. Free from music, voiceover, graphics and the locks are very cool and probably the high point (no pun intended), despite the time it takes to navigate them.
Now for a twist in this review, you didn’t expect a twist now did you! I’ve watched this in sections again, not even I’m daft enough to endure this in one sitting. However much to my dismay, Netflix removed it when I was only 6 hours in! Cue some frantic Googling, “No! They can’t leave me hanging!!” style panicking and... I found it on YouTube (of course)... but wait, it’s better! On YouTube it’s one camera angle, that does a sweep to a side shot when stopped at locks (annoyingly not resetting straight on one occasion which messes with my OCD), but it’s so much better. No commentary, just atmos sound and a much more immersive experience. It gets really addictive, wanting to watch just a little bit more so you can see what’s around that next bend, spoiler... it’s often more water, trees and possibly another lock.
It’s into the 6th hour that it becomes clear this really is a journey and film of two halves. Marked nicely by a small rain shower that punctuates the otherwise glorious sunshine, as the landscape moves away from the narrower canals and into open water lakes, devoid of locks and bathed in wide open waterways. The film seems to slow even further and takes on a serene tranquillity. Helped I’m sure in focusing on that one camera. There is a spot of high drama at the 8 hour mark when a bug gets stuck on the lens, cue a bit of camera wiggling and even going dark for a minute, while I suspect someone tickled it with a duster to get rid of it. Normal service is soon resumed though and it’s back to vast lakes, green mountains and speedboats giving our trusty vessel some company.
This really is what Netflix should have gone with (perhaps they will if they bring the title back). So ignore all my previous griping, watch it on YouTube and once more drift along to this beautiful simplicity. As the sun begins to drop in the final hours and lens flares break through the trees, the journey completes with dusk setting in and dotted lights appearing in the silhouetted mountains of Dalen. Norway really does look beautiful!
Slow TV, genius.
5/10 on Netflix
7/10 on YouTube