Never mind the alcopops: Paul Watson’s film Rain in my Heart showed that alcohol abuse is rarer and more complex than some people think.
British director Paul Watson is known, among other things, as the filmmaker who brought the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary technique to the public consciousness, especially with his 1974 series, The Family, in which he intimately documented the life of a working-class British family. The technique has been much emulated, criticised and parodied. TV critic Christopher Dunkley once dubbed it ‘the elephant-on-the-floor’, since it was fanciful to imagine people simply went about their normal business despite the hulking presence of a camera crew at every turn.
Watson’s approach was always about more than turning up and pointing a camera, though. Instead, he has got to know all his subjects, cultivating relationships over time before even beginning filming, so the impact of his presence is minimised, or at least used in service of the film and what he and the subject hope to get from it. This aspect of Watson’s filmmaking was foregrounded to an unprecedented degree in Rain In My Heart, which was broadcast on BBC2.
In it, he followed four alcoholics in and out of hospital in Kent; he is often seen on camera as well as behind it, and the film is cut with his occasional commentary on the making of the film itself.
On one level, the film could be seen as an investigation of the blight of alcoholism, and indeed it was followed by a Newsnight discussion that focused on this, and especially the idea that the government should move to deal with the problem by increasing tax on booze. But really Rain In My Heart is an intimate portrait of its four subjects, Mark, Vanda, Toni and Nigel, and through this it becomes clear that their alcoholism is inseparable from other problems, including personal tragedies, mental illness and ultimately the depressingly run-down character of the Medway towns where they live.