The Guardian November 26, 2003


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.

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