A rather odd choice to be given a singular DVD release, Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel is an ITN production that focuses on the publicly vilified photographers who snapped pictures of the wrecked Mercedes while its two prominent passengers, Princess Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed, were lying in the wrecked Mercedes driven by a drunken chauffeur on the night of August 31, 1997.
Chauffeur Henri Paul and Fayed were killed instantly, while bodyguard Trevor Reece Jones had his face smashed in, and Diana lay crumpled and unconscious in the back seat. It was and remains a key historic event where most people remember where they were and what they were doing when news broke that the Princess eventually succumbed to multiple heart attacks from severe internal injuries. Photojournalists at large became instant scum, and an array of conspiracy theories began to circulate as to what ‘really happened' to the couple who were mercilessly tracked down by the paparazzi.
At 47 min., Diana is a pretty concise and focused account of the paparazzi's involvement with the crash, which officially is nothing, if not negligible, according to the final court decision, since driver Paul was cited as the ultimate force who drove too fast while drunk, and lost control, smacking the bulky sedan head-first into a pillar before spinning around and settling in the opposite direction of the tunnel entrance.
Whether you have any sympathy for the paparazzi is key to believing they were simply doing the job they were assigned to do, and at a respectful distance; according two a pair of witnesses – an American tourist and a French doctor - who arrived soon after the crash, the paparazzi did not interfere with their efforts to stabilize the injured. Other later witnesses allege the cameras were snapping non-stop, and the paparazzi hovered around the wreck, taking pictures from all angles, including shots of Diana in the car.
The film's directors offer a decent balance between a play-by-play account of the accident and the doctors' efforts to save the princess, versus the tense moments where information of the crash and deaths was slowly making its way in small droplets to a horrified world.
What's important is directors Janice Sutherland and Stuart Tanner don't turn their investigative piece into a drippy tribute nor pad the narrative with manipulative footage that's been used to death in exploitive specials and spin-off docs for Diana-related cottage industries; it's a straight and grim news piece, and its most compelling segment (brief as it is) deals with the commodification of a woman's trauma: as long as she lives, the few pictures not seized by authorized and in possession of British rags are worth millions, but the moment she dies, they're worthless, because no one will print shots of a dying Diana, postmortem.
What's appalling is hearing Ken Lennox, Picture Editor for The Sun, break it down in such black and white terms, because no matter what sympathy may exist for the injured/dead, those pictures mean money, and as the interviews repeat in different terms, audio and print is of no use to the papers, whose junk content is devoured by a public obsessed with visual star humiliations.
One can see Lennox more or less feels the issue of reader culpability is academic; it's a given causality, but it's also part of an age-old business that won't die. Readers are fickle, and their hatred towards the paparazzi will temper when they capture a new lurid scandal.
For viewers, it's hard to sympathize with the paparazzi who were arrested as suspects, strip-searched, held for a few days, and forced to confront a faction of the media directed towards them as killers; the tables-turned scenario feels like justice when they continue to peddle junk in print and digital.
What's perhaps intriguing is how in 1997, the paparazzi were still an annoying necessity for diverse media streams, and the photographers were generally unnamed workmen in the bushes. Ten years later, with TV shows following their exploits, and daily shows like TMZ offering cheap video footage, the paparazzi have moved up from anonymity to wannabe celebs – an evolution that's actually made them ridiculous instead of relevant.
Anchor Bay's DVD is a bare bones release, and while a good transfer, some bio sketches of the photographers should've been included, charting the career changes the doc skirts over for a hasty finale. It's a straightforward investigative doc, but perhaps one best-suited for Princess Diana and conspiracy completists.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan