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.