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.