TV programs worth watching
Sun Nov 30 — Sat Dec 6
One of the strengths of Kevin Brownlow's meticulously researched series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (ABC 5.00pm Sundays) is the attention it gives to Hollywood's use of special effects, trick photography and — in this week's episode — stuntmen. Silent films are remembered for their physical gags — always good for a laugh and over in a second. But behind these gags lay the planning, courage and skill of the stunt men. Stunt men did everything — high dives, car wrecks, upsetting wagons, swapping from motor cycles to planes. The most famous stunt flyer, Ormer Locklear, was killed in the middle of a film. The production company capitalised on the tragedy. US cable outfit The Discovery Channel has a lot of airtime to fill, so it makes a lot of use of padding and speculation ("Some think this may have been") when short of real facts. In the Discovery program The Real Jason And The Argonauts (ABC 7.30pm Sunday), experts (mainly American) postulate that the myth of Jason and the Argonauts was actually a highly embellished account of an early explorer/merchant who made a landmark trading expedition from Mycenae in Greece to the Black Sea (the end of the world to Ancient Greeks), to trade dyed fleeces for gold. At the same time, a Greek archaeologist, on the basis of seemingly very skimpy evidence, believes she has dug up Jason's home town. What would have made a moderately interesting little short is buried under the weight of excessive speculation, portentous music, and some particularly wooden re-enactments. But if the preceding program is poor science, Atlantis Reborn Again, screening on Compass (ABC 10.50pm Sunday), is unabashed anti-science. We are in Von Daniken country, here, this time with best selling author Graham Hancock, "the latest exponent of the theory of a lost ancient global civilisation". In his book, Fingerprints of the Gods, he claims that all civilisations can be traced back to a sophisticated society of astronomer-priests whose civilisation was destroyed in a flood 12,000 years ago. Hancock's fantasies of an ancient civilisation are silly, but the ruling class uses such unscientific "theories" to undermine the concept that society develops in accordance with scientific laws, to undermine historical materialism. Scientists attempting to expose his specious claims are refered to (including by the ABC, I'm sad to say) as "conventional scientists", thus elevating Hancock to the level of a scientist, albeit an "unconventional" one. This is pernicious, anti-scientific rubbish. It is not surprising that it is on the ABC's religious program. Aids Warriors: Aids And The Angolan Military, screening in Cutting Edge (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday), deals with the campaign being waged by the Angolan army to stave off the encroaching AIDS epidemic in that country. What is interesting is the involvement of the US Defence Department, why is it providing experts and material assistance to Angola, where for 30 years they supported the UNITA rebels against the Marxist government? The New York Times of July 24, 2003 provides the answer: "Angola has become an important oil source for the United States making the health of soldiers a strategic as well as a humanitarian goal". Of course, if you believe that any department of the US Government is concerned about humanitarian issues when oil is involved, well, give my regards to the tooth fairy the next time you see her. I suppose it must be me, but I find Bruce Petty's aging undergraduate humour only intermittently amusing and frequently tedious. His latest series, Human Contraptions (ABC 9.20pm Tuesdays), comprises five or six-minute shorts on such topics as law, education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine and government. I suspect some people declare Petty's work to be funny only to show that they "got" his symbolism. Despite its brevity, I found this week's episode, Law, to be tiresome. More unscientific nonsense must have been produced over the years about Easter Island and its statues than about anything else except the Great Pyramid. However, The Mystery of Easter Island, a BBC Horizon documentary screening on The Big Picture (ABC 8.30pm Wednesday), is a straight-forward, scientific exposition of the island's real history, how (and why) the statues were carved, and what really happened to the people of the island. Very interesting, and full of lessons for us all. The final episode of Believe Nothing (ABC 9.00pm Thursday) ends with a bang, caused by a video recorder filled with plutonium. It's hard to see how a sequel could possibly be forthcoming. In the course of the episode, however, there is a most ingenious explanation advanced as to why global warming is a myth. I strongly suspect that the new light drama series Rescue Me (ABC 9.30pm Thursdays) is written by the same sort of people as the characters in it. Not being a young urban (or upwardly mobile) professional any more (if, indeed, I ever was), I found its supposed charms hard to discern. The characters are obsessed with sex and relationships, leading lives that are actually extremely narrow and shallow. The ABC is billing it as a sophisticated comedy (even suggesting comparisons with "the classics of the '30s and '40s, to Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story"). Don't you believe it: there is no resemblance, whatsoever. The brittle dialogue, clever wit and brilliant direction of the classic comedies is not in evidence here. View it as light drama and you just might find it agreeable. Port Davey, a sheltered inlet on Tasmania's wild S-W tip, was home to a settlement of timber getters until they chopped down all the Huon Pines (which grow for up to 3000 years). Then it was a whaling settlement until they killed off all the whales and had to leave again. Then it was a fishing area for crayfish — thousands were taken by scores of boats. Fortunately, the government stepped in to stop the crayfish going the way of the whales and the pine trees. On Richard Morecroft Goes Wild: Return To Port Davey (ABC 6.30pm Saturday) we accompany two old-time cray fishermen back to Part Davey to see what it's like now. Bleakly beautiful, barren, with a sustainable crayfish population, apparently. This is an interesting program about working people and their very different attitudes to their work.