TV programs worth watching
Sun May 4 — Sat May 10
With the Astaire-Rogers films running every Saturday at present, it is timely that the ABC has revived Fascinatin' Rhythm: The Story Of Tap (ABC 11.45pm Sunday), a fascinating documentary that looks at the origins and history of tap dancing, with such great exponents as Fred and Ginger (of course), but also Anne Miller, Gene Kelly, Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson going up and down stairs and the incomparable Nicholas Brothers. One of the responses to US aggression in Iraq and elsewhere has been increased activity by Russian hackers (among the world's best) to interfere with the US Defence, State Department and CIA computer systems. This cyberspace warfare is not new for the US, of course. They have been carrying out a new cyberspace Cold War for some time. Wrecking computer-controlled infrastructure systems such as railways, electricity grids or air traffic control systems by long distance manipulation holds obvious appeal for outfits like the Pentagon. The Pentagon, of course, wants lots more money to increase its cyberspace capabilities, and the White House, with its links to the high fliers in the IT industry seems intent on promoting the "threat" to the US posed by "enemy hackers". In The Cutting Edge: Cyber War! (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) the PBS Frontline program continues its policy of promoting whatever propaganda line the White House is pushing at the moment: this episode "investigates just how real the threat of war in cyberspace is and reveals what the White House knows that the rest of us don't". Horse racing is called "the sport of kings", as though this were some form of praise. All it means, really, is that it is expensive and rich people indulge themselves with it (using money other people sweated to create, but that's another story). For the working class person who wants to train a racing animal, there are basically only two options: greyhounds or pigeons. Pigeon racing, as exemplified by the Leichhardt Flying Club in Sydney's inner-west suburb of Leichhardt, is examined in Leichhardt 2040: Flight Club, Sally Eccleston's affectionate and proud contribution to the series Australia By Numbers (SBS 7.30pm Wednesday). Australia By Numbers, now in its third series, is made by new filmmakers from across the country and commissioned by SBS Independent (SBSi). Sally Eccleston has been a Leichhardt local for 17 years. Leichhardt 2040: Flight Club explores the relationship between three generations of people who race homing pigeons and the suburb they've called home. Leichhardt has undergone rapid gentrification, but these people have held on to a tradition of competitive pigeon racing, despite interference from mobile phones, jumbo jets and the local Council. Sally Eccleston captures the drama of the last and most important race of the season from Wonthaggi in Victoria to Leichhardt in Sydney, where the pigeons fly over 750 kilometres in one day. Says Sally Eccleston: "Like most people I thought pigeons were rats of the sky and had never given much thought to how racing/homing pigeons are trained and different from the wild pigeons that pigeons fanciers call 'road peckers.' "I now look up into the sky daily and see a group of pigeons in formation on their training run and if I'm in Leichhardt I can usually work out whose loft they've come from." Throughout WW2 Britain and the USA sought to develop a weapon that would allow them to destroy or terrorise their imperialist rivals (chiefly Germany and Japan) and, of course, their socialist competitor and temporary ally, the Soviet Union. The development of the atomic bomb was but one route to this end. Another approach was the creation of city-destroying fire-storms through mass incendiary bombing. This was the particular aim of Britain's Bomber Command. Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a number of towns in Germany of little military significance were spared from being bombed for most of the war, because they were needed intact for the testing of the new weapons (or weapons tactics in the case of mass incendiary bombing). With the Soviet Union proving daily that it was capable of defeating Germany single handed if necessary, the Anglo-US drive to develop a horror weapon was urgent. If they didn't hurry, the War might end and they would lose the chance to develop, test and above all demonstrate their new super weapons. Dresden, Plauen, Pforzheim, Heilbronn, Hildesheim, Worms, W|rzburg were spared the horrors of mass bombing until the spring of 1945: then, just as the war was nearly over, bombers came to wreak havoc on them. Most of the German civilians killed by allied bombs during World War II were killed in the very last months of the war. As late as March 1945, Bomber Command dropped 67,000 tons on Germany, more than in any other month of the war. Of these, nearly 50% were targeted not at military or industrial objects, but at cities, killing mostly civilians. The As It Happened documentary Bombing Germany, (SBS 7.30pm Saturday) examines the story behind the indiscriminate killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is not as blunt as I am, but reaches much the same conclusion. As SBS puts it: "Bombing Germany contends that once the major industrial centres had been destroyed, towns were targeted for their very destructibility. That is, towns of minor military importance such as W|rzburg were selected as targets because their dense, medieval centres were expected to burn easily. "Precision bombing, although far from accurate at the beginning of the war, had improved greatly during the course of the war. But nonetheless, area bombing was carried out as a means of demoralising the population, as a deterrent from starting any future wars, and as a way of impressing Stalin with Anglo-American power and resolve." The first Astaire-Rogers film did not star Astaire and Rogers. Oh, they were in it, of course, but they were strictly the supporting cast (billed fourth and fifth!). The film was Flying Down To Rio (ABC 10.25pm Saturday) and its stars were ostensibly Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond, with singer Raul Roulien billed third. The chief appeal of this movie today is watching how Fred and Ginger shamelessly and easily steal the picture from the three leads. The duo had a real flair for comedy, as well as their obvious capabilities in the song and dance department. Variety noted at the time that "the main point of Flying Down To Rio is the screen promise of Fred Astaire. "He's distinctly likeable on the screen, the mike is kind to his voice and as a dancer he reamins in a class by himself". Ginger's characters could be delightfully hard-boiled when required and her way with a wisecrack was a joy to behold: to the delight of Depression audiences, her working class characters could cut a snob down to size with a single crack. Not yet considered a team except in the dance numbers, Fred and Ginger appear singly more than together in this first effort, even if they do tend to monopolise the delightful Vincent Youmans numbers. Flying Down To Rio was RKO's attempt to emulate the success of Busby Berkeley's extravagant, imaginative musical numbers over at Warner Bros, and the title tune (sans Astaire and Rogers) bizarrely features chorus girls strapped to the wings of biplanes. Berkeley, however, had nothing to fear here. RKO instead (and wisely) chose to respond to the audience's appreciation of the Astaire-Rogers duo and went for a radically different, more intimate, type of musical built around their obvious talent and appeal. As some feminist would caustically remark years later, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did it back wards and in high heels!"