The Curious World of Frinton-on-Sea
Part 1 embedded, Part 2 here.
Total running time: approx 40 mins
This documentary is an absolute gem, in the tradition of Errol Morris it finds the profound in the utterly banal, without resorting to postmodern sneering. The subject is a sleepy English seaside town, one of those places where uptight, keeping up appearances, Edwardian sensibilities hang by a thread, appropriately enough at the nation’s edge. This is a culture that was satirized in Dad’s army as being obsolete 40 years ago and which Orwell railed against even earlier in Keep the Aspadistra Flying, but it still lives in Frinton on Sea.
This calcified culture that has only recently begun to emerge in America, where middle class people, or to paraphrase Evelyn Waugh, ‘upper lower middle class’ people emulate the veneer of respectability displayed by the public face of the powerful, without enjoying the private debauchery. Its a sick joke that is played by the rich on the modest, the world over, where ordinary people suffer humdrum in exchange for a caricature of dignity.
When people talk about the hypocrisy of suburbia, as if the few people who are secretly sleeping around and snorting coke after church on Sunday are proof of endemic problems, they miss the point. Where I have encountered it, this Janus like culture seems to be the norm in the upper echelons of society, from the Hamptons to Hampshire, whereas in places like Frinton-on-Sea there are many people who actually live the lives that the Victorians pretended to. Its a raw deal.
Here, a BBC team pokes back at the ‘twitching net curtains’ of exburbia, to examine the traumatic impact of the decision to automate the town’s railroad crossing and the resulting local outcry. The result is a small socio-anthropological masterpiece.