First watch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

IT is not of­ten that a TV show catches this old watcher off guard, but the first episode of the new sea­son of Kings Cross ER: St Vin­cent’s Hospi­tal did, and em­phat­i­cally. I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by sur­geons and TV shows about them: the the­atri­cal­ity of the op­er­at­ing the­atre as highly trained medi­cos in white gowns fight for life makes for big-time drama and ir­re­sistible view­ing. Doc­tors and nurses hus­tle rat­tling trol­leys from am­bu­lances into hospi­tal cor­ri­dors and then into op­er­at­ing the­atres. They even carry se­ri­ously ill peo­ple into va­cant cor­ners of the emer­gency de­part­ment to save them, as hap­pens in tonight’s first episode. And does the blood flow freely.

Syd­ney’s St Vin­cent’s ER is ad­min­is­tered by Pro­fes­sor Gor­dian Fulde, the long­est serv­ing emer­gency di­rec­tor in Aus­tralia. And as he says at the start of this new sea­son, shot against the streets of the Cross, his precinct is really a gi­ant en­ter­tain­ment hub, ‘‘ the cen­tre of the city’s naughty place’’.

Fulde is, as they say in TV, ‘‘ great tal­ent’’, lo­qua­cious with an ar­rest­ing turn of phrase and a slightly bat­tered face straight out of a pulp crime novel. There is some­thing of the adrenalin junkie about him, an in­sou­ciance un­der ex­treme pres­sure. He needs it too. ‘‘ No hospi­tal in the world has the case mix that St Vin­cent’s has,’’ he says. ‘‘ In one bed you might have some­body who has very dirty feet be­cause he has an al­co­hol prob­lem; in the next some­one with more wealth than you or I could dream of.’’






Eyeworks Aus­tralia and co-pro­duced and writ­ten by Claire Hay­wood, this se­ries of­fers med­i­cal ad­ven­tures not for the squea­mish and cap­tures the Cross in all its brassy, al­lur­ing and vi­o­lent pic­turesque­ness. St Vin­cent’s is sit­u­ated at the cen­tre of a fate-haunted uni­verse il­lu­mi­nated at night by neon. The las­civ­i­ous painter Don­ald Friend was at­tracted to the Cross in the 1940s, look­ing for its ‘‘ gen­uine Berlin air, where ev­ery­body is wicked’’. And de­spite ex­pen­sive ren­o­va­tions that have trans­formed parts of the district into stylish apart­ments, not much has changed. Ar­eas of the precinct re­main scruffy and risque, suck­ing sub­ur­ban Syd­ney dry of the young and not-so-young, the sin­gle and not-so-sin­gle. You can still see pasty faces and hot­pants backed into door­ways. Some of them end up in the fre­netic en­vi­ron­ment cap­tured by McAvoy’s cam­eras.

In this first episode, Fulde’s staff are faced with a once-in-a-life­time case when a young man, Aus­tralian hip-hop artist and X-Fac­tor con­tes­tant Jelal Ed­monds is rushed to St Vin­cent’s by paramedics. He’s been stabbed in the heart with a long thin blade dur­ing a fight out­side a night­club af­ter per­form­ing.

In the against-all-odds fight to bring the pa­tient back from the brink of death, the St Vin­cent’s team, lead by Dr Lee Blair and Dr Michael By­rom, per­form a pro­ce­dure called a tho­ra­co­tomy, an in­ci­sion into the pleu­ral space of the chest, to gain ac­cess to Ed­monds’s heart. No pris­tine surgery or op­er­at­ing the­atre is avail­able, so they op­er­ate on the spot, in the re­sus­ci­ta­tion bay.

‘‘ We need to go in now,’’ Blair com­mands his staff who cram into the cramped space, blood ev­ery­where, calmly man­ag­ing the chaos. They cut the young artist apart us­ing a pair of scis­sors more usu­ally em­ployed to cut through fab­ric. Then By­rom, rac­ing the clock, is forced to plug the beat­ing heart of the neardeath man with his fin­ger and stitch it, in a rare med­i­cal ma­noeu­vre. It leaves you breath­less at both the pro­ce­dure and the way the cam­era crew blends so seam­lessly with the med­i­cal staff to cap­ture it.

‘‘ In a sit­u­a­tion like that you just don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing so you are shoot­ing in two ways,’’ pro­ducer McAvoy says. ‘‘ You film as if you have con­sent al­ready and make sure at the same time there’s enough footage from both cam­eras so that you would not iden­tify the per­son in the edit.’’ He has his cam­era­men film from dif­fer­ent an­gles, from be­hind doc­tors and from oblique places where the face of the in­jured per­son isn’t shown, so the story can be told re­gard­less of le­gal per­mis­sion. Of course, McAvoy has the co-op­er­a­tion and full author­ity of the hospi­tal and all the staff in­volved in any in­ci­dent. And in this in­stance, con­sent to show the case of Ed­monds also came rapidly, his fam­ily on the scene and quickly in­volved in his or­deal and its film­ing for TV.

Two cam­eras are used for the show’s in­te­ri­ors, the two op­er­a­tors un­ob­tru­sive and nim­ble, one be­ing the episode pro­ducer. A sound per­son ac­com­pa­nies them as in­con­spic­u­ously as pos­si­ble. They use the light­weight Sony C300 dig­i­tal cam­era sys­tem, which is bet­ter in low light than con­ven­tional pro­fes­sional cam­corders and pro­duces a brighter im­age with less noise.

This is the kind of cam­era fre­quently used to shoot TV com­mer­cials, in­die fea­ture films and high-end doc­u­men­taries but it fits into the palm of the hand and is eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated to pro­vide al­most lim­it­less an­gles. If you know cam­eras — and th­ese days we’re all pho­tog­ra­phers — think of the C300 as a full-blown cin­ema cam­era but with a weight and form fac­tor sim­i­lar to a Has­sel­blad.

McAvoy’s style of pre­sen­ta­tion is fa­mil­iar. He and Hay­wood were also re­spon­si­ble for the clever Foxtel fac­tual se­ries Kal­go­or­lie Cops and Ter­ri­tory Cops, with the rough-and-ready hall­marks of be­ing shot in nat­u­ral light and un­der pres­sure. Some­times there’s lens flare, loss of fo­cus, cam­era shake and im­promptu fram­ing. In cases where per­mis­sion to film has not been gained, faces are pix­i­lated, be­com­ing odd ghost-like blurs.

But McAvoy clev­erly takes his cam­eras out­side the hospi­tal as well, avoid­ing the sense of claus­tro­pho­bia that some­times be­dev­ils the real-life hospi­tal drama for­mat. ‘‘ Sec­ond time around we ramped up the ex­ter­nal vi­sion, the streets of the Cross, put more thought into it, pro­vided more con­text,’’ he says

The vi­brant, flu­oro-lit ex­te­ri­ors con­trast bril­liantly against the grey and metal, slightly east­ern Euro­pean bunker feel of the hospi­tal. There is much over­lap­ping di­a­logue and an au­then­tic un­re­hearsed qual­ity, with scenes shot on the run in the com­pany of the emer­gency staff. This is not sim­ply fly-on-thewall doc­u­men­tary, this is in-the-thick-of-it TV. ‘‘ You are there and you are not there,’’ says McAvoy. ‘‘ That team is so com­pletely in the

The emer­gency de­part­ment staff at St Vin­cent’s in ac­tion

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