TV programs worth watching
Sun Oct 5 — Sat Oct 11
Who Killed Julius Caesar? (ABC 7.30pm Sunday) is a pretentious waste of television space. Made for cable (the overated Discovery Channel), it takes a serious historical subject — which historical forces conspired to overthrow Julius Caesar and why — and turns it into a highly problematic whodunnit. The program's jazzed-up approach is based on the assumption that its viewers not only know nothing about history or historical processes, but are incapable of taking a serious interest in such a topic without lots of shots of Caesar's bloody corpse and portentous intimations on the soundtrack of startling revelations to come. Nicolae Ceausescu was President of Romania from 1964 to 1989. His growing megalomania successfully derailed socialism there. When he was finally shot by firing squad he left behind a country wracked by extreme poverty and ripe for counter-revolution. Ceausescu's record is used to discredit socialism not only in Romania but throughout the world. One of his policies was to ban abortion and most methods of contraception, leading to unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children. Some of those children now constitute a feral underclass of children living in the underground railway system and similar places. Their daily struggles against hunger, drug abuse and violence are shown in Children Underground (SBS 8.35pm Sunday). The film, by first-time director Edet Belzberg allows the children to speak for themselves with striking naturalness, revealing both the horrific conditions of their existence and their uninhibited, distinctive personalities. It has won a number of Best Documentary Awards, including the 2001 Sundance Festival Special Jury Prize for Best Documentary. After WW2, it was in the Soviet zone of occupation that filmmaking began again in Germany. The DEFA film studios were established and in 1946 their first feature film was released. The Murderers Are Among Us (SBS 11.50pm Sunday) was directed by Wolfgang Staudte and starred Hildegard Knef as a former concentration camp inmate and Ernst Wilhelm Borchert as a doctor traumatised by witnessing the murder of an entire Polish village. The doctor discovers that the Nazi officer who ordered the massacre is alive and living comfortably in Berlin. Called "a serious and courageous film" by H H Wollenberg in his seminal 1948 book Fifty Years of German Film, The Murderers Are Among Us set the tone for GDR filmmaking for the next 40 years. Hildegard Knef made such an impression she was immediately poached (with more money and star status) for the emerging West German cinema. The trials and tribulations of China's attempt to establish socialism in a hostile capitalist world via a socialist market and capitalist investment funds have obliged the Chinese Government and people to deal with such unwelcome phenomena as mass unemployment and entrepreneurial thinking. Clearly there are many in China who echo the Western media's cry that "China is going capitalist". I suspect however that they are a little premature. Documentary maker Sue Williams certainly thinks the country is going capitalist, and in her two-part documentary China In The Red (SBS 7.30pm Tuesdays) she has amassed a litany of horror stories to show the dreadful effect of all this on the people. In the new series of the BBC impersonation show Dead Ringers (ABC 9.30pm Thursdays) Tony Blair searches for Weapons of Mass Destruction in the shopping bags of bemused customers in a shopping mall. This episode at least seemed less parochial and more consistently humorous than the last series. I particularly liked the guy with the toffy accent collecting (from real passers by in the street) on behalf of northerners — "people who have to travel by bus". In 1950, the US was fresh from successfully completing the task the British had begun of rolling the Communists back in Greece. US forces had intervened not quite clandestinely in the civil war in China, on behalf of Chiang Kai-chek's Kuomintang. The US Fleet and Air Force had been used to prevent the Chinese Red Army from pursuing the remnants of Chiang's forces to Taiwan. Thousands of Kuo Min Tang troops had been flown by the US from Taiwan to Burma to prepare for an imminent counter-attack on China. In Korea, there were constant armed provocations along the 38th parallel between the North and South. Probing attacks and "incidents" involving the army of Syngman Rhee, the US-installed dictator of South Korea, resulted in several thousand soldiers being killed between October 1949 (declaration of the People's Republic of China) and June 1950. On June 25, according to the US, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) invaded the South. According to the DPRK, and initial Western news reports would seem to support this, South Korea had launched a pre-emptive strike against the North but discovered that they had made a bad miscalculation. By June 28, DPRK forces had captured the South's capital, Seoul. In the ensuing war, 33,269 US soldiers were killed, as were 415,000 South Korean soldiers and perhaps as many as 1,500,000 DPRK and Chinese soldiers. As the four-part documentary series Korea: The Unfinished War, screening on As It Happened (SBS 8.30pm Saturdays), tells us, there are one hundred times more books and films on the death of Custer at the Little Big Horn, where 225 US soldiers died, than on the Korean War. The program accepts the US version of the War's origin, but does acknowledge that "evidence hidden for almost 50 years demonstrates that the United States deployed biological warfare, including bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and other deadly agents, against North Korea and China during the conflict". The filmmakers were given the unprecedented opportunity to interview Chinese commanders. They were also granted access to new material from the former Soviet military and intelligence archives as well as to material emerging from the archives of the United Nations powers (US and its allies) that fought the war. In the first episode, the program also claims that US forces staged assaults on "civilian targets and refugee columns" in an effort to halt the Northern advance. I watched John Cromwell's 1934 RKO film Spitfire (ABC 10.20pm Saturday) some years ago and found Katharine Hepburn's fey "Ozark mountain girl" irritating beyond sufferance. As the New Yorker observed at the time, "her artistry does not extend to the interpretation of the primitive or the uncouth".