The Guardian April 16, 2003


TV programs worth watching
Sun April 20 Sat April 26

Pinocchio, the wooden puppet whose nose gets longer if he lies, was the 
invention not of Walt Disney but of an Italian writer and journalist, Carlo 
Lorenzini, from the Tuscan village of Collodi. An astute political 
commentator during Italy's struggle for independence from Austria, 
Lorenzini settled in Florence, where he adopted the pen-name Collodi.

The first weekly instalment of Pinocchio's adventures was published in 
1881. Like the Russian classic The Little Humpbacked Horse, 
published at almost the same time, a children's fantasy was used to depict 
the impoverished and inward looking life of the poor and the peasantry.

Since then, Pinocchio's adventures have appeared in more than 3000 editions 
in 63 countries translated into 83 languages.

The first film version (hand coloured!) appeared in 1911. Scenes from this 
recently restored film appear in the very comprehensive Pinocchio: The 
Story of a Puppet (SBS 8.30pm Sunday).

[Hand-colouring was one way of overcoming the lack of colour film: using a 
very fine, single-haired brush, rows of women seated before very large 
magnifying glasses would colour in the scenery, the costumes, the objects 
in the film, applying the coloured paint direct to every frame of the film 
(and there were 10,000 frames for every ten minutes of screen time!). The 
result is delicate, unreal but beautiful.]

We also learn that Pinocchio became an enduring figure in advertising 
campaigns from the 1920s onwards, "since he made an excellent long-nosed 
lying salesman".

In the latest version of Pinocchio's adventures, a film by Roberto Benigni, 
the wooden puppet has been modernised into a sophisticated robot, named 
Pino. (Whether his nose still magically grows if he fibs I've no idea.)

Pinocchio's nose certainly grows in Luigi Comencini's captivating 1972 
television series, The Adventures of Pinocchio (screening over six 
weeks on SBS 3.00pm Saturdays). The series stars Gina Lollobrigida, Nino 
Manfredi and Andrea Balestri.

In 1935, as part of the Works Progress Administration, established by US 
President Roosevelt to get unemployed Americans into some form of 
productive work, the Federal Writers' Project was set up.

The writers it employed were drawn from the "relief rolls" and, like the 
Federal Theatre Project and similar schemes, it was enacted largely on the 
initiative of the Communist Party.

One of its notable achievements was to send teams of young writers across 
the country, but especially into the still heavily segregated South, to 
interview some 2000 former slaves about the reality of slavery in the US.

These interviews were written down in the vernacular of the people 
interviewed and filed in numerous volumes in the Library of Congress. Now, 
with the aid of top African-American actors including Angela Bassett, 
Samuel L Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Oprah Winfrey and Don Cheadle, these 
memories of an horrific existence have been brought to life.

Unchained Memories: Reading From the Slave Narratives (ABC 9.30pm 
Sunday) is one of the most compelling, rivetting documentaries you are 
likely to see this year.

We have had 100 years of Hollywood sanitising and misrepresenting slavery 
in the USA, so as not to estrange the Southern market or encourage 
revolutionay ideas amongst the Black population. Programs like this are a 
refreshing and much-needed alternative to the image of "kindly massa" and 
his well-fed, well-treated "faithful darkies".

The stories told here are of constant brutal beatings, rapes, dismembered 
families, humans treated and viewed as cattle, of huge profits made out of 
cruel, backbreaking dawn till dusk labour, sometimes seven days a week.

Written by Mark Jonathan Harris and directed by Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon, 
Unchained Memories is brilliantly put together, working 
simultaneously on three levels. There is the pure archival record, the 
photographs of the elderly ex-slaves, film records of the South in the '30s 
and photos and engravings of the slave era itself.

Then there is the reading of the ex-slaves' testimony. Instead of a simple 
voice-over narrative (as in The Civil War or Mark Twain), here the actors 
reading the reminiscences before a microphone are filmed.

A photo of an old woman on a porch will fade in to a close-up of a black 
actress (often much younger) reading the old woman's recollections with 
spirit and feeling. You are acutely aware that this is an actress, but no 
one is trying to hide that fact, and it makes all the difference.

And then we have the third level: the actors are filmed even as they 
themselves react to the reminiscences. One actress is clearly appalled at 
the way the ex-slave she is impersonating still speaks with pride of 
meeting her quota of cotton picked in a day, a quota set by a massa who 
cared not a jot whether it was excessive or cruelly heavy or even if it 
killed his slaves or not.

The actors bring tremendous conviction to their readings. Oprah (who turns 
in a splendid dialect performance that might surprise those who only know 
her from her talk show) at one point looks at a photo of the former slave 
she is about to impersonate and remarks that the Depression-era shack in 
the background is actually bigger than the one where she herself grew up.

Made by cable channel HBO for Time-Warner, the program is narrated by 
Whoopi Goldberg, and the closing credits are rolled over Paul Robeson's 
rendition of the moving No More Auction Block.

Did you know that when you order a book or video from Amazon in the US by 
email, the order will almost certainly be processed in India. Or that if 
you are a Coles-Myer card holder and you phone Customer Service, your call 
will be dealt with by a call centre operator in New Delhi, not Melbourne.

The call-centre "industry" is expected to bring India an income of billions 
of dollars by 2006. A sub-industry is the training of call centre 
operators.

As the Australian documentary Diverted To Delhi, screening on True 
Stories (ABC 10.00pm Thursday) shows, this training involves 
indoctrination in not only the accent but the culture of the US, UK or 
Australia. It is a ghastly form of brainwashing: cultural imperialism at 
its sharpest, in fact.

Thirty percent of Indian university graduates are unemployed. They are 
desperate for work and will degrade themselves to work in the new call 
centres (for a princely $40 a week!).

US, British or Australian companies are happy to outsource their customer 
services to India because it's so cheap: not only are the wages minimal, 
but as one executive observes, companies don't have to pay for such things 
as superannuation, health care, holidays, etc.

Developed capitalist countries like the US and Australia have been 
exporting manufacturing processes (and the accompanying jobs) to the Third 
World for years, but now, with modern telecommunications, administrative, 
sales, IT and customer service jobs can also be exported to low-wage 
countries.

Shall We Dance (ABC 10.25pm Saturday) was the seventh musical Fred 
Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together. Directed by Mark Sandrich, it has 
more straight comedy than some of their other films (Fred's parody of a 
Russian ballet star, for example, imperiously ordering Ginger to 
"tweest!").

The film is set to a classic Gershwin score (including Let's Call the 
Whole Thing Off, They Can't Take That Away From Me and They All 
Laughed) and set in some classic RKO settings by Van Nest Polglase and 
the unsung Carroll Clark.

Back to index page