The Guardian October 22, 2003


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".

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