TV programs worth watching
Sun Oct 26 — Sat Nov 1
When the program Disturbing Dust goes to air on Inside Australia (SBS 7.00pm Sunday), 500 people will be dying from mesothelioma, the most virulent asbestos disease. Asbestos fibres (usually breathed in) have created an incurable cancer in their bodies that kills its victims within an average of nine months of its onset, years after the fibres entered the body. The condition is now an epidemic. In 20 years, 40,000 people will have died from this asbestos poisoning which will reach its peak in 2010. Disturbing Dust follows Perth couple Robyn and Peter Unger through the last months of Robyn's life. Twenty-seven years ago she and her husband used James Hardie asbestos products to create a cheap and sturdy extension to their modest cottage in the Perth hills. Robyn held the asbestos sheets for Peter while he cut them. In the process, she inhaled the deadly microscopic fibres that cause mesothelioma. The filmmaker who made Disturbing Dust lives in Perth himself. "Disturbing Dust was borne out of an interest in the number of people contracting asbestos diseases around Western Australia", he says. "As I began researching the program, everyone I spoke to reported a connection to someone who was dead or dying because of asbestos. "Our own home in suburban Perth boasts an asbestos roof and is divided from our neighbours by asbestos fences. WA is full of asbestos and people who've breathed it." By the early 1980s, one in three Australian homes contained asbestos. Asbestos manufacturer James Hardie had allowed decades to pass before they warned consumers that their lucrative building product was killing people. "Robyn Unger was like many women facing terminal illness", says the director, "concentrating on making everyone else feel OK about the situation. If she hadn't been like this I'm not sure I could have made the program and her family would have also found our intrusions impossible." "It was a harrowing, enlightening and heartbreaking experience and I'm very glad I've helped Robyn tell her story." To maximise the return on a film, Hollywood seeks to have it viewed by the widest possible audience, everywhere. Hollywood is today, as it always was, controlled by the banks that finance film production. They have no interest in low budget, art-house or independent films that appeal to specialised audiences ("niche markets"). That's not where the big money is, and Hollywood has always gone after the big money. In The Shadow Of Hollywood, screening on Masterpiece (SBS 10.00pm Tuesday), details how US politicians have worked with the Motion Picture Association of America to "control the TV and film industry, commodify filmmaking, and export American culture". This French-Canadian documentary looks at the evolution of Hollywood's hegemony, from early protection of the US product to the use of political pressure and economic threats to guarantee its dominance over cinema distribution in Europe. After WW2, the US asked the French Government to reserve nine out of every 13 weeks of cinema screening for US films. Today, 85 percent of the total films broadcast in Europe are American. Luciana Castellina, in charge of external economic relations in the European Parliament, points out that cultures all around the world are all starting to look alike. This "McDonaldisation of culture has led to a genocide of images and a loss of cultural identity in order to appeal to masses everywhere", says Castellina. How's this for typical Hollywood hokum? It's the mid-'30s. Tom Smith, a trainer, persuades an auto magnate to buy a stumpy looking three-year-old horse with asymmetrical knees, who looks like "he should be pulling a cart", who has raced 35 times in two years — and lost nearly every time. He pairs the distrustful horse, Seabiscuit, with a dismally performing jockey, "Red" Pollard. Pollard's experience riding bad horses on the worst tracks has given him a special rapport with difficult horses. The pair win their first race and keep on winning. Within months they are competing in the richest horse race in the world — the Santa Anita Handicap (US$100,000 prize money at a time when the average American earned less than US$500 a year). The next year the Western nag has to race War Admiral, the toast of the East Coast racing establishment. Pollard meanwhile has suffered terrible injuries whilst riding another horse but he counsels the jockey who rides Seabiscuit. When Seabiscuit wins, Pollard comments, "Seabiscuit made a rear admiral out of War Admiral". Six weeks later, Seabiscuit's career — like Red Pollard's — appears to be over when he ruptures a ligament. Pollard and the horse convalesce and recover together. Then Pollard and Seabiscuit, now seven-years-old, make a final attempt on the Santa Anita Handicap (which he has now lost twice — by a nose). In a dazzling comeback for both horse and rider, they win. The curious thing is, it's not a movie but a documentary and the story is all true. Life imitating non-art, you might say. In fact, Seabiscuit (SBS 7.30pm Friday), won the Emmy last year for Outstanding Writing for Non-fiction Programming. It makes some interesting points on the perception of underdogs, especially unglamorous ones, in the Depression-ridden '30s. Bachelor Mother (ABC 2.00pm Saturday) is a typical '30s farce about a shop assistant (Ginger Rogers) who finds a baby on a foundling home doorstep and can't convince anyone she's not the child's mother. Laid off on Christmas eve, Ginger gets her job back when the foundling home director tells the millionaire owner of the store about her attempt to "abandon her baby". Rich folk behaved like that in the '30s, at least in Hollywood's '30s. The millionaire's son, David Niven, takes an interest in Ginger and "her" baby, leading to assumptions about who the baby's father is. Various misunderstandings (and the production of a couple of bogus fathers) culminate in Charles Coburn's splendid line: "I don't care who the father is, I'm the grandfather!" Garson Kanin directed from a script by Norman Krasna. Ginger Rogers is excellent as the hard-boiled working girl pursued by the boss's son. It's a bit of a Cinderella story, but the players are all first rate and their professionalism makes for an entertaining piece of flummery. The last of the Katharine Hepburn RKO movies to be showcased in the @ The Movies slot (ABC 10.20pm Saturday) is the 1937 adaptation of the play by Edna Ferber and George S Kaufman, Stage Door. The American Film Insti-tute's description is spot on: "Screenwriters Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiler took the Ferber- Kaufman original and added a great deal of snap-crackle-pop dialogue which director Gregory La Cava then turned into a superb comedy-drama about life in a thea-trical boarding house that housed Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and some of the best young talent and character actors then working in Hollywood".