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TV Review: Amazon with Bruce Parry

Admiration for BBC2’s affable adventurer

Published on October 7th 2008.

TV Review: Amazon with Bruce Parry

BRUCE Parry used to be in the Marines. Now he’s an explorer, seeking out remote tribes and strange customs in corners of the world untouched by modern life. Having first appeared on our screens in the BBC2 series Tribe, where he met cannibals, underwent endurance tests and dined on rats’ intestines, he’s back with a new series, tracing the Amazon river and all the rich life it takes in as it winds through South America.

I missed Tribe, but am enjoying getting to know Parry during this series. He’s not what I expected from an adventuring ex-Marine. He’s not tough. He’s not burly. In fact, he’s a bit of a wally, a word I have resurrected from the 1980s purely because it describes him so completely.

In the last episode, Bruce went to revisit a tribe, the Matis, who he met filming Tribe. Unfortunately, since that time they’ve been badly affected by hepatitis, a “white man’s disease”. Not Bruce’s fault, you understand. It’s been spread by the loggers, via the prostitutes, to the tribesmen and so to their many wives. Very sad stuff. Still, they greet Parry with great warmth, ask him to draw attention to their plight, inform him that they’ve named a child after him and, when he leaves, send him off with what look like a pair of tiny Mickey Mouse ears strapped to his head, as is their tradition. Being a wally, Parry can carry this off no problem.

Such illness is catastrophic because the Matis are small in number and the shamans, the men who would traditionally heal the sick, are a dying breed. So Bruce goes in search of the Marubo tribe: “We’ve been told that this village is home to the most powerful shaman in the region,” he explains.

I was rather hoping it might be Mr C – well it has been a while since we’ve seen him– but no. In fact, the great shaman was a rather ordinary looking guy in trackie bottoms. If these are the shamanic traditions that are so in decline on the Amazon, I reckon we can restock the Matis from the Arndale.

If the Matis were sombre, the Marubo are a giddy lot, and Bruce’s silly-ears send off was nothing compared to the greeting these guys give him, “When a brother comes from afar we must greet him repeatedly, each time more loudly,” says the chief and does so with gusto. This could get a little wearing if you tried it at Christmas.

Then they pick him up and walk round the longhouse with him a couple of times. “We are happy to have you Bruce that is why we are carrying you.” Of course. Makes perfect sense.

The Marubo’s, being great ones for ceremony, also have a cracking traditional dress, a tassley affair which looks like cooked spaghetti or those curtains your auntie used to have on the kitchen door. They show him their shamanic tradition, a sort of tassley congo, and then get down to some series business, chanting and singing through the night to draw the illness out of a sick child.

Soon enough, it’s everyone’s favourite: endurance test time. This particular ordeal involved ants, which didn’t sound too scary until you saw the ants, which were as big as Werther’s Originals with evil looking stings. Red plant dye was then daubed onto the sensitive parts of the men’s bodies – faces, necks, inside of elbows, I dread to think where else – and then the ants were applied with a stick. This went on through the night, a test of the tribesmen’s manhood, the Marubo equivalent of downing a pint in one or eating a really hot curry.

Bruce did rather well, wincing but not actually fainting. He did rather less well when invited to share snuff with the chief, which involved the latter blowing it into his mouth through a coily contraption. This was a momentous and serious moment, or it would have been had Parry not coughed at the wrong moment and sent a cloud of snuff back into the chief’s mouth. Honestly, it’s like Mr Bean does Brazil.

Eventually Bruce had to tear himself away, and went on to pay a visit to the loggers, who did not initially endear themselves to me, not only because they are contributing to deforestation and Hepatitis, but because one of them arrived lugging a great big monkey back for lunch as though it were a chip barm. But as Bruce discovered, the loggers aren’t really bad guys. They could have been any workmen in the UK, making a living the only way they know how and having a laugh while they’re doing it.

Never one to stand back from the action, Bruce got stuck in, helping with the delicate dance of floating the cut logs down the river by leaping on them, and even having a go at chopping down a tree himself. Well he would have done except that as soon as he was about to start, he broke the chainsaw. Ah! Perhaps Bruce’s bumbling Brit is all an act and this was just a cunning way of saving the planet, one tree at a time? No. He’s just a goon.

But we love him. You just can’t help it. Tune in tonight where Bruce will be going in search of the Amazon’s largest fish, the Pirarucu. Odds on he hooks it and then it drags him halfway down the river like something out of Some Mothers Do ‘ave Em. Bless.

Nicola Mostyn

Amazon with Bruce Parry, Monday, 9pm, BBC2

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taliaOctober 6th 2008.

Sorry tree huggers everywhere but this is the worst nonsense on BBC. Who does this guy think he is? Doesnt he realise that his very presence with a horde of cameras, helicopters, and associated entourage is raping the very environment he is pretending to be interested in?This is typical new BBC. There are no rural eccentrics in England any more, so lets go and despoil dying Amazonian tribes in a programme fronted by an ex-marine.The presenter himself looks unstable, uncomfortable and has nil television presence. A course in psycho therapy perhaps would help him exorcise the demons he is so keen to confront on this programme.

mariaOctober 6th 2008.

O love it !! Im from Brazil and its a great show which you can see how amazon is amazing and how difficult its life there... but at the same time so differenet and so rich in so many ways,

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