The Guardian June 18, 2003


TV programs worth watching
Sun 22 June Sat 28 June

Compass (ABC 9.30pm Sundays) frequently has programs on important 
topics that just make you want to throw up your hands in despair. Not this 
week, however.

A Wedding In Ramallah, this week's episode, is a multi-award-winning 
documentary about Bassam, a Palestinian man living in the US, who goes home 
to Palestine to find a bride. His family arranges for him to meet and marry 
Mariam, a traditional village girl.

Bassam returnd to the US, but Mariam is trapped in a country under Israeli 
occupation. Eventually she makes it to the US, only to discover that a life 
in exile is no life at all.

Written, produced and directed by Sherine Salama for Habibi Films, this 
gives an unusual view of the Palestinians' situation. By focussing on a 
Palestinian-American the film has given many US viewers their first 
appreciation of the human face of Israel's aggression in Palestine.

The propaganda line of Gorbachev: After The Empire (SBS 7.30pm 
Monday) is evident in the title. SBS' publicity makes it even clearer, 
introducing Gorbachev as "former General Secretary of the Communist Party 
and last emperor of the USSR".

Gorbachev is a non-entity in Russia today, rejected totally by voters in 
his last attempt at being President, cursed by most Russians on those rare 
occasions when he is even remembered.

Only imperialism still promotes him; he can still be useful for the odd 
book, speaking tour or TV program.

It's all rather pathetic, but what does emerge is just how deeply anti-
Soviet Gorby and the group around him were, and had always been.

Gathered in a hotel room to toast the former leader, a group of Gorbachev's 
friends acknowledge their anti-Soviet role: "At least we're having a good 
time and not doing time, thanks to Gorbachev and those who supported him."

Troy Russell's documentary, Sydney 2000  The Foundation, showing 
in the Australia By Numbers slot (SBS 7.30pm Wednesdays), traces the 
birth and life of The Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs.

According to Troy: "During the 1960s, as the Koori population in Sydney 
grew, The Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs emerged. During a time when 
change for urban Kooris was on the increase, The Foundation helped the mob 
to help themselves.

"It became a springboard for Kooris' social and political activities of the 
1960s and 1970s."

A group of well-known Aboriginal personalities, who were integral to The 
Foundation, have been interviewed for the program. They include Charles 
'Chika' Dixon, Joyce Clague (nie Mercy) who was involved with the push for 
the 1967 referendum, and political agitator Gary Foley.

Also interviewed is former boxing promoter Roy Carroll who was a field 
officer with The Foundation, Esther Carroll who has made a career of 
looking after the young Black people in Sydney and of course Eileen Perkins 
without whom, says Troy, the documentary would have been incomplete.

"Each has a story that vividly recounts the struggle they were involved 
with at the Foundation  from the debutante balls held at the Sydney Town 
Hall to the turbulent days at the Tent Embassy on the lawns of old 
Parliament House."

Celeb (ABC 8.00pm Fridays) is based on the comic strip of the same 
name in the satirical British magazine Private Eye. Written and 
drawn by the team of Peattie, Warren and Taylor, the strip concerns the 
antics of a Mick Jagger-type aging filthy-rich rock star, Gary Bloke.

The strip is clever, if sometimes a little obvious (Private Eye 
tends to use the blunt instrument as often as it does the rapier). For 
once, however, I think the TV adaptation is actually better.

The BBC's version of Celeb stars comedian Harry Enfield as Gary 
Bloke (you can actually see how many brain cells have been damaged by 
substance abuse). He's childishly self-centred, knows nothing about 
anything except rock'n' roll and is excessively eager for sex.

The series has some very funny lines, delivered by talented actors, but 
what makes it special is the amount of clever visual gags in each episode. 
It is written by Charles Peattie and Mark Warren, two of the strip's 
original trio, and directed by Ed Bye, whose other credits include Red 
Dwarf.

I found it that increasingly rare thing, a sitcom that actually makes you 
laugh.

Gary has invested some of his millions in a palatial country house where he 
lives with his ex-model wife, Debs (the excellent Amanda Holden  the 
receptionist in Kiss Me Kate), and his dopey son Troy, to the perturbation 
of the locals.

In episode one, the local villagers have got up a petition against the 
holding of Gary's birthday party, on the grounds of the excessive noise of 
previous parties. Gary appeals to his long suffering butler, Johnson 
(Rupert Vansittart):

"You were at last year's party, Johnson. What was it like?" Johnson does 
not hesitate: "Vietnam, sir, only with more helicopters."

Debs uses Gary's keenness on sexual games to manage him and prevent him 
from spoiling her "career" as an A-list personality. In one of these games 
in the first episode Amanda Holden does a splendid spoof of Kylie Minogue 
(all pert bottom and mild Aussie accent).

The visual gag with the telephoto lens is a classic  so simple, so apt.

Stranger On The Third Floor (ABC 10.30pm Saturday) is that now 
vanished beast, the low-budget supporting feature. Little more than an hour 
in length, it typified the sort of small film the big Hollywood studios 
were able to "carry" in their hayday, films that were considered 
sufficiently unimportant that directors and writers could be allowed a 
certain amount of freedom to indulge their artistic impulses.

Made for RKO in 1940, it was written by Frank Partos and stylishly 
directed, with many a nod to the German expressionist filmmakers of the 
'20s, by first-timer Boris Ingster, who never directed anything as 
interesting again.

The film is considered one of the first true noir films: "Ingster, 
cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and art director Van Nest Polglase 
created a frightening, claustrophobic and nightmarish urban environment 
ruled by indifference, injustice and moral corruption.

"The forces of order (the police, district attorney, juries, judges and 
institutions) are the true villains here as they quickly and carelessly 
dispense judgement on citizens.

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