TV programs worth watching
Sun March 9 — Sat March 15
When did humans first begin to disperse from Africa? Early in their evolution, when they were still Homo Erectus, or later when they had evolved into Homo Sapiens? Or perhaps there were various migrations at different stages of evolution? Exodus, this week's final episode of Ape Man: Adventures In Human Evolution (ABC 5.00pm Sunday) looks at this question and why it was that these early African beach-dwelling humans left their homeland to colonise other continents. Twenty years ago, when I was with Quality Films, we tried unsuccessfully to interest television here in a series from Ireland called The Atlanteans. Made by the progressive Irish filmmaker Bob Quinn, the series examined the cultural and historical origins of the Irish people, and in particular whether they were in fact Celts. On the basis of a variety of clues, Quinn postulated that the Irish came originally from the Mediterranean by way of the Portuguese and Spanish coasts. It was an interesting and well-argued theory, but no station here wanted it. Now, SBS is presenting a "three-part documentary series [that] encompasses a period of 3000 years in the search for the roots of Irish identity and culture", In Search Of Ancient Ireland (SBS 7.30pm Sundays). The new series also questions the popular view that the Irish are Celtic. "No archaeological evidence of any kind has been found for an invasion of Celtic people. "The strongest evidence for a Celtic presence in Ireland lies in the Irish Celtic language. This is the conundrum of early Ireland: the Celtic culture and language arrived but it is possible that no Celtic settlers came." Starting in approximately 2000 BC and continuing until the Norman invasion of 1167AD, the series attempts to unravel Irish history, piecing it together from archaeological evidence and a wealth of pagan Celtic folklore and Christian legends. A few weeks ago, the photo that accompanies this edition of Worth Watching appeared here identified as a still from the Regency naval adventure series Hornblower. The anachronistic presence of a bicycle and Edwardian fashions probably alerted most readers to the fact that gremlins had caused the wrong photo to appear. Well, here it is again, in its rightful place, illustrating news of the forthcoming new adaptation of D H Lawrence's autobiographical novel Sons And Lovers (ABC 8.30pm Sundays). David Herbert Lawrence was born in 1885. His father was a miner, his mother had been a school-teacher. There were five children and the family lived in poverty. At 15, David had to leave school and get a job, but he persevered with his studies and eventually got a scholarship to study for a teacher's certificate at Nottingham University College. He published his first novel (The White Peacock) in 1911 followed by The Trespasser in 1912. Sons And Lovers, published in 1913, is a faithful autobiographical account of those early years of his life. His next novel, The Rainbow, would be seized by the police as obscene. He was as intolerant of "middle class morality" as George Bernard Shaw was, but he confronted it head on. His frankness about sex and his use of four-letter words would delay the publication of some of his novels, such as Women In Love, for years. Lady Chatterley's Lover was not published in an unexpurgated version in Britain or the US until more than 30 years after it was written. Despite his popular reputation as an "immoral" write, Lawrence was in fact a moralist, believing that "modern man was in danger of losing his ability to experience the quality of life". Besides his novels, he wrote much poetry, travel books, volumes of short stories and such disparate works of non-fiction as Movements in European History, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Studies in Classic American Literature. That said, I must acknowledge here that I am not a Lawrence fan. His novels are too pessimistic for my taste (the evidence of that miserable German Nietzsche being all too obvious). Nevertheless, as literary adaptations go, Sons And Lovers is well scripted, well acted and well directed. Made for British commercial network ITV, it catches the period with some success even if the poverty seems just a little genteel and less grubby than it probably was. Everybody these days is aware of just what a raw deal black American actors used to get in Hollywood (and although it's better now it's still not as good as it could be). But there are other ethnic groups that Hollywood treated just as badly. American Indians are one. Latinos are another. The Bronze Screen, screening in Masterpiece (SBS 9.30pm Sunday), is a remarkable, entertaining and largely untold story of the history of Latinos in the Hollywood motion picture industry. Where would the Hollywood Western have been without fat, stupid Mexican ranch-hands for comic relief or ugly, leering, lecherous Mexican bandits? Latinas generally had to play prostitutes or Indian squaws, or showgirls tied up with gangsters (often Puerto Ricans themselves). Racial stereotypes have always been big in Hollywood. And yet Latinos have made movie history. This documentary brings this to life as it deconstructs Hollywood's history and prejudices. It tells the stories of the Latinos in Hollywood in their own voices, including the continuous fight against being typecast. Among those interviewed are Jimmy Smits, Raquel Welch, Ruben Blades, Edward James Olmos, Ricardo Montalban, Rita Moreno, Caesar Romero and John Leguizamo. The Bronze Screen uses extensive film footage, much of it never seen by contemporary audiences, to track the progression of Hollywood's distorted screen image, from the early silent movies to contemporary urban gang movies. Before you read about the next program take heed of this warning: The Cutting Edge: The War Behind Closed Doors (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) is not a satire, it is not a comedy, nor is it a spoof. It is a serious documentary. It will also have you rolling on the floor in helpless disbelief. Made by the once well-respected US Public Broadcasting Service's Frontline team, it purports to be an investigation into "the roots of a new American policy toward Iraq and the development of what is called 'The Bush Doctrine' ." According to the program "some members of the Washington foreign policy establishment have been formulating a new American view of its place in the world. "That group, now in power as part of the Bush Administration, lobbied the President to face down Saddam, remake Iraq and send a forceful message to the rest of the world — America will not tolerate terrorists or tyrants." Note the incredible language: "face down Saddam", as though he is threatening them. "Remake Iraq". Pardon me? Who gave the USA the right to "remake" countries? And just what does that encompass anyway? And above all, that wonderful affirmation of US policy: "America will not tolerate terrorists or tyrants". Unless they are allies and/or puppets of the US Government, in which case it will not only tolerate them, it will arm them, finance them, advise them and protect them. The murderous Bush Doctrine is of course no laughing matter. Programs that solemnly try to defend it, however, are.