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Category Archives: best viewing 2009

NSW Schools Spectacular – ABC TV

Every year I blog this, and every year I am amazed by this show put on by our NSW State Schools. Such talent! Such achievements! Such dedicated and brilliant teachers must be behind it!

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Those  captures from my TV give some idea, but for more go to the Schools Spectacular site.

 

Australian Indigenous film

Such a big and interesting topic! You can see an outline history here.

I am of course prompted by ABC screening Samson and Delilah (2009) last night.

Almost unprecedented was the unanimous five stars from Margaret and David on The Movie Show earlier this year! I can see what they meant, but in many ways it isn’t an easy movie to watch. I suspect it also needs to be watched more than once, but I think I do get where the Biblical allusion fits in. Pretty savage about the commercialisation of Indigenous art too.

The “behind the movie” documentary screens on Thursday night.

By coincidence I had borrowed a 1954 documentary from Surry Hills Library: The Back of Beyond. It is impressive in its way, but there is a bit much fakery for my taste, though it was part of the documentary style of the time, and it is relentless in the “hearts of gold” department to the point of propaganda rather than revelation. Still, it is well worth watching. Poets Douglas Stewart and Roland Robinson had a hand in the script, which rhymes from time to time.

…Shell’s [the oil company] interest in the story of the Birdsville Track is linked to the importance of the postal and telecommunications industry and the development of infrastructure. In this way it shares similarities with the British documentary Night Mail (1936) directed twenty years earlier for the British GPO Film Unit by the ‘father of the documentary movement’ in Britain, John Grierson. Night Mail, like The Back of Beyond, used symbolic imagery, a poetic ‘voice-of-God’ narration, and a mail route to project its message of nation building. But also, like Night Mail, The Back of Beyond has outgrown its beginnings as a product of corporate or private enterprise and continues to resonate today.

The Back of Beyond won the prestigious Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Film Festival, the overall prize for the best film across all catagories. It won awards at five international film festivals. Locally it was a hit as well. Some 750,000 people saw the film within the first two years of its release…

The “dying race” view of the Aboriginal was alive and well in 1954.

 

Revisiting “The Maltese Falcon”

star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 They really do not make movies like this any more!  I watched it again on Saturday night.

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— You aren’t exactly the sort of a person you pretend to be, are you?

— Why, I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean.

— The schoolgirl manner. You know, blushing, stammering and all that.

— I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad. Worse than you could know.

— Good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be…we’d never get anywhere.

— I won’t be innocent.

— Good. By the way, I saw Joel Cairo tonight. Do you know him?

— Only slightly.

— You’re good. You’re very good.

Cracker of a script. Great direction. Great acting.

 

Two worth watching on ABC1

I have been enjoying Sunday nights on ABC with Stephen Fry in America at 7.30.

I have often felt a hot flare of shame inside me when I listen to my fellow Britons casually jeering at the perceived depth of American ignorance, American crassness, American isolationism, American materialism, American lack of irony and American vulgarity. Aside from the sheer rudeness of such open and unapologetic mockery, it seems to me to reveal very little about America and a great deal about the rather feeble need of some Britons to feel superior. All right, they seem to be saying, we no longer have an Empire, power, prestige or respect in the world, but we do have ‘taste’ and ’subtlety’ and ‘broad general knowledge’, unlike those poor Yanks.

What silly, self-deluding rubbish! What dreadfully small-minded stupidity! Such Britons hug themselves with the thought that they are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Americans because they think they know more about geography and world culture, as if firstly being cosmopolitan and sophisticated can be scored in a quiz and as if secondly (and much more importantly) being cosmopolitan and sophisticated is in any way desirable or admirable to begin with. Sophistication is not a moral quality, nor is it a criterion by which one would choose one’s friends. Why do we like people? Because they are knowledgeable, cosmopolitan and sophisticated? No, because they are charming, kind, considerate, exciting to be with, amusing … there is a long list, but knowing what the capital of Kazakhstan is will not be on it.

The truth is, we are offended by the clear fact that so many Americans know and care so very little about us. How dare they not know who our Prime Minister is, or be so indifferent as to believe that Wales is an island off the coast of Scotland? We are quite literally not on the map as far as they are concerned and that hurts. They can get along without us, it seems, a lot better than we can get along without them and how can that not be galling to our pride? Thus we (or some of us) react with the superiority and conceit characteristic of people who have been made to feel deeply inferior.

So I wanted to make an American series which was not about how amusingly unironic and ignorant Americans are, nor about religious nuts and gun-toting militiamen, but one which tried to penetrate everyday American life at many levels and across the whole United States. What sort of a design should such a series have? What sort of a structure and itinerary? It is a big country the United States…

Very informative and entertaining.

Then on Friday nights is a new (to us) crime series: George Gently. Set in 1964 – a time that to me seems not all that long ago! – the first episode features great acting, well-delineated characters and a good plot line. I look forward to making this a regular date.

I have added video on both to the Vodpod – see the end of the side-bar.

 
 

Racism is not the main story: Four Corners last night

Last night Four Corners ran an expose on the scams run by certain private vocational training colleges and some immigration and education agents. I emphasise some because there are very many such agents who are totally ethical, and ditto for the better established private colleges. In fact one of the principal whistle blowers is himself an immigration and education agent.

According to ABC this morning the Indian press has reacted by invoking racism: ‘It’s racism’: Indian media seizes on student scam report.

Another storm of controversy has broken out in India over revelations that Indian students are being ripped off by unscrupulous operators in Australia.

Last night’s Four Corners program on ABC1 detailed how students had paid tens of thousands of dollars for services they claim they never received, and how allegations were made to the relevant government authorities but their complaints were ignored.

An Indian journalist, working undercover for the program, was also attacked after investigating alleged corruption by immigration agents.

The latest incident has seen the Indian media slip into tabloid high gear.

I am not for a moment denying there are racist elements in the story but would still say Australia is no more racist than anywhere else. I have addressed that before: More on “Racism? Yes and no” and here and here. It is true that the Flying School singled out in the Four Corners story is alleged to have behaved in a racist manner, but the other examples were of Indians here and in India exploiting both the system in Australia and their Indian clients.

Reporter Wendy Carlisle reveals how dodgy business practices are being used to rip off foreign students seeking legitimate qualifications in Australia. At the same time she also shows how vocational training for foreign students has become an immigration scam allowing thousands of foreigners to come to, and then remain in, Australia under false pretences.

For ten years now Australia’s foreign student education sector has been on a massive growth spurt. First it was foreign students seeking university degrees. More recently it’s the vocational education sector that’s been expanding.

Last year more than 70,000 Indian students came here to buy an education. Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told if they enrolled in cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses they would not only get a diploma but they could also qualify for permanent residency in Australia.

Now a major Four Corners investigation reveals that foreign students in this country have been targeted by unscrupulous businessmen, who have set up training schools that supply qualifications that sometimes aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

"It is a fraud because we were shown so many rosy pictures about the school and it is not what it was really… it was just a scam." – Parent of Indian student

"We all know that they have sardine type cooking classes where there’s sixteen students to a frypan." (Corruption investigator)

Bogus courses though are not the only scam going on. If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has found clear evidence that unscrupulous immigration and education agents are offering English language tests for a price. In some cases the exam paper is worth up to $5,000…

In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald we read that “Students have been dealt a major blow after a Sydney college went into administration on Monday night.”

More than 500 students have had their courses halted and face the loss of thousands of dollars in fees. All 35 college staff have been sacked.

"Late on Monday afternoon Dr Dharmappa Hagare, the sole director of Sterling College Pty Ltd, which operates the group’s Sydney training facilities, made a decision to appoint Quentin Olde and Matt Adams of Corporate Recovery Specialists, Taylor Woodings, as voluntary administrators," the administrator said in a statement.

Taylor Woodings said the college’s Brisbane campuses, part-owned by Dr Hagare, would remain open for the time being.

The Sydney campuses specialised in teaching IT, language and hospitality courses.

"Students have unfortunately been severely impacted by the failure of Sterling College and have had not only their education process suddenly halted, they also face the prospect of a financial loss as most of their tuition fees have been paid in advance," Taylor Woodings said…

So the story is primarily one about corruption, greed, exploitation, and government inaction. The cash cow was devised (unwittingly perhaps) by the Howard government, but the Rudd government has also sat on its hands rather too much, to the great detriment of Australia’s reputation in what is in fact one of its greatest export earners, greater than wool and wheat combined in fact. As Four Corners noted:

For some time now the Federal Government has boasted about the growth in the foreign education sector. But some experts now believe the time has come for the government to stop the corruption. The question is: does it have the will?

"Well basically they’ve been bedazzled by the dollars …they could proudly say this is a $15 billion industry, more than wheat, wool and meat put together, there’s perhaps an understandable reluctance to look at the foundation of the industry." – Bob Birrell, from the Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research

If the government refuses to clean up the scams and the corruption many believe it could destroy the $15 billion industry. As one young student told the program why would you pay for a service that is not provided?

"Obviously I am very angry. I’ve like taken a loan. It’s a big loan and I paid the money to the school. I came here for a purpose… I haven’t got anything." – Indian student.

One of the Australian Indian figures exposed on Four Corners has now become the object of Federal Police attention, we were informed in a note at the end of Four Corners.

Certainly this industry needs to have the cleaners put through it.

 

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Two rather different experiences: book and dvd review

star30 star30star30star30star30  The Tracker (Rolf De Heer 2002)

This truly magnificent movie — so resonant, so beautifully made and acted — came out when Australia was lost in Howard’s Great Stony Desert. As Margaret Pomerantz said at the time:

The film opens with a painted landscape – and this is signficant because paintings by Adelaide artist Peter Coad are integrated into the action of the film to historify events and to move the violence from realistic representation. Into this landscape come four men – four archetypal characters. They are the Fanatic, Gary Sweet, a government trooper who is heading an expedition to find an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. Others in the expedition are the Follower, Damon Gameau, a greenhorn trooper, the Veteran, Grant Page and the Tracker, David Gulpilil. Like a tapestry unfolding the film charts the attitudes, the shifts and balances of power within the group as if it were the history of white settlement here. Along the way are confronting scenes of violence. But at the heart of every scene is the Tracker. Graham Tardif composed and Archie Roach sings on the soundtrack and it was one of the most emotional film experiences of my life to see The Tracker with Roach performing live at the opening of the Adelaide Festival. De Heer’s use of Coad’s paintings adds an uncanny power to the film, strangely making the violence more meaningful, more tragic, taking away any notion that’s it’s only a movie. David Gulpilil brings important heart to the film. De Heer’s screenplay and direction has extraordinary compassion despite the violence. It’s actually a film that’s important not to miss.

It still is important not to miss. For more reviews and a synopsis see Rolf De Heer’s The Tracker.

star30star30star30star30star30 Alexander McCall Smith, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (Edinburgh, Polygon 2008)

This is the sixth in the 44 Scotland Street series; I reviewed the fifth here. Again I was delighted. What was true of the fifth is true of the sixth:

The thrust is gently conservative, with a folk wisdom that has much to commend it. I see that captured in a quotation I planned to use myself, but fortunately Kerryn Goldsworthy has used it in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, thus saving me some typing:

For the most part, we treat others in a matter-of-fact way; we have to, in order to get on with our lives. But every so often, in a moment of insight that can be very nearly mystical in its intensity, we see others in their real humanity, in a way that makes us want to cherish them as joint pilgrims, almost, on a perilous journey.

Po-faced indeed would be any reader who is not drawn in and delighted, even if at the expense of an odd cringe or two — the latter probably being therapeutic.

One issue that runs through the novel is the discomfort some (perhaps many) Scots experience about social change, particularly relating to immigration, though it would be silly to accuse McCall Smith of racism. I can understand the discomfort, as Scotland has been until recently an exporter rather than an importer of migrants: I am part Scot myself! Even if quite a lot of what passes for Scottish tradition was invented by or after Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century, I do sympathise with the sense of loss. At the same time McCall Smith skewers ultra-romanticism with his very funny Pretender travelling across Scotland in a motorcycle sidecar attempting to replicate the saga of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A lovely book, with much wisdom to offer.

 

June review catch-up 3 — “Sylvia” (2004)

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star30 star30star30star30star30a  I watched this partly out of HSC-related duty, but also out of interest. I have to say I was very impressed by its accuracy and fairness. The lead review (at the moment) on IMDb pretty much sums up my reaction.

In 1998, "Hilary and Jackie" explored alleged episodes in the short life of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre and her pianist, now also conductor, husband, Daniel Barenboim. Despite very very good acting the film was largely a descent into the basement of scurrilous storytelling by relatives of the dead musician. Whatever the truth of the claim that she bedded her sister’s husband, the movie said nothing about the couple’s meteorically brilliant early careers. It was slanted voyeurism writ large.

Director Christine Wells has taken a very different and insightful tack in exploring the life of poet Sylvia Plath and her marriage to Ted Hughes, a poet with laurels garnered while Ms. Plath was still starting up a not very steady ladder to recognition.

Plath, an American, met Hughes in England. A short courtship was followed by marriage and then two children. The relationship was tumultuous and eventually it foundered because of Sylvia’s underlying emotional instability followed by her husband’s desertion to another woman…

Wells takes a sympathetic view of Ted and Sylvia, not joining in the political debate over feminism and Sylvia’s supposed maltreatment by Ted. Sylvia in this film is brilliant but also terribly brittle and her inner demons are not caused by a brutish or callous husband. As Platrow portrays her, I believe accurately, Sylvia was seriously and chronically depressed with life events worsening but in no regard initiating a downward spiral. Today she would probably thrive and be both prolific as a poet and happy as a person if successfully maintained on an effective anti-depressant.

Ted, played by Daniel Craig, is a bit transparent – loving but somewhat distanced by his own quest for fame. He hectors Sylvia to write more, annoyed that she bakes instead of composing verse while on a seaside vacation. He’s supportive but also blind to the deepening reality that he is dealing with a woman who needs help, not critical comments about non-productivity.

The supporting cast is fine but this is Paltrow and Craig’s film. She has a strong affinity for England and its culture (I believe she has moved there) and she gives the role deep conviction and understanding. It happens that she somewhat resembles Sylvia but the true recognition is internal and intellectual. And emotional, let’s not omit that…

"Sylvia" sets the record straight as Paltrow acts the part of a woman – mother as well as poet – who slowly loses control of her life while her husband reacts first with confusion and later with the self-protective armor of withdrawal.

Hughes went on to publish many fine poems and he became poet laureate of England, a post he definitely wanted and enjoyed (Hughes was one of the very few modern and relatively young intellectuals who was a convinced monarchist).

Not long before succumbing to cancer, Hughes published "Birthday Letters," an attempt to show through years of verse the nature of his relationship with Sylvia. Whether viewed as an apologia or a last record – and chance – to give his side, it’s an impressive work. And "Ariel’s Gift" by Erica Wagner is must reading for those who want more than a film and sometimes potted articles can provide. It analyzes the poets’ relationship through the prism of Hughes’s writings, most unpublished before "Birthday Letters." A recent book, "Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, Portrait of a Marriage," by Diane Middlebrook, is also recommended…

The movie is M15+ in Australia.

 
 

June review catch-up 2

Some quickies.

star30 star30star30  1. Ed Gaffney, Enemy Combatant (2008)

A good courtroom drama with a strong post 9/11 twist. It may be improbable, but not so improbable as to not make you wonder “What if?” See also Thoughts On "Enemy Combatant" by Ed Gaffney.

star30star30star30star30  2. Susanna Gregory, To Kill or Cure (2007)

I haven’t read many in the Medieval Whodunnit genre. This one is sufficiently entertaining and informative. See also Euro Crime.

star30star30star30star30star30 3. 1945: The Year That Changed the World (DVD 2008)

This series (2 DVDs) is excellent. There are contributions from first-rate historians, one of whom, Ian Nish, taught me Japanese and Chinese history in 1962! Yes he is rather older now. If you check YouTube you will find it well represented.

star30star30star30star30 4. Frontier: Worse than Slavery Itself (DVD 1997)

Famous so-called “Black Armband” presentation of Indigenous Australia and European settlement 1830 – 1860, based on the work of Henry Reynolds. I was particularly struck, of course, by the NSW material which focussed on the Dangar family of the Hunter/New England areas, and on some of the better documented massacres of those years. The series still stands up well despite the reaction to aspects of it from the likes of Keith Windschuttle. It really is good on the role of evangelical thought as a conscience of the times.

It is interesting to compare the more recent SBS series First Australians (2008). Its episode dealing with NSW in the early to mid 19th century drew attention to another settler family, the Suttors of Brucedale, whose relations with the Aboriginal people were comparatively enlightened.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in best viewing 2009, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, dvd, Fiction, film and dvd, History, Indigenous Australians, reading, Thriller

 

Parzania (2007) – definitely worth seeing

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I borrowed this DVD on spec from Surry Hills Library, not having heard of the movie before.

Cynical, intelligent and lost, an American by the name of Allan Webbings arrives in Ahmedabad city. For the longest time, Allan has been searching for answers, praying to find internal peace and understand the world and his troubled life. Allan has chosen India as his school, and Gandhi as his subject. It’s here that he meets Cyrus, the local projectionist, and his loving family.

Cyrus and his family are Parsi, followers of a rarely practiced religion that is both small in number and neutral to religious politics. They are a middle-class family and live happily in a housing development, which is mostly Muslim. Cyrus has a beautiful wife named Shernaz. Strong and practical at times, it is only her inner strength that keeps the family going. Parzan is their imaginative 10-year old boy and Dilshad is his younger sister.

Parzania is the imaginary perfect world created by Parzan, where the buildings are made of chocolate, the mountains of ice cream and all you do is play cricket throughout the day. It is a world that only he and his eight year old little sister Dilshad can truly understand.

Through Cyrus’s family, and the teachings of an old Indian scholar, Allan starts to find peace of mind, right before the rest of the country loses its sanity. One morning, the beauty and peace in India is stirred beyond measure, as a fire erupts in a train killing 58 Hindus.

Within 24 hours, 100,000 citizens storm into Ahmedabad and slaughter thousands of Muslims, making that day one of the largest acts of communal violence the country has ever seen. And in the midst of the terror and violence, Parzan disappears.

While Cyrus fights for his own sanity and searches for his child, Alan battles to uncover the truth behind the riots and any possible meaning to the insanity he has witnessed. People start to question the explanations they are given and a Human Rights Commission is formed. But will the truth finally be out? Does any of it matter to a distraught family that just wants to find their little boy?

That’s the DVD box summary, also found on Bollywood Hungama, where there is much more information about the movie. See also Wikipedia.

Made on a low budget (US$700,000) Parzania has one or two rough patches, but the second half is absolutely gripping, a terrible reminder of those years earlier in this decade when Indofascists were to the fore. Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika in the lead roles are quite brilliant.

A blog taking a critical view: My Take On Parzania. Even so, the blogger, Amrit Hallan, admits the movie has power:

If you have been at the receiving end of a state sponsored riot you can relate to the views expressed in Parzania. In the movie the policemen laugh while the Hindu mobs butcher defenseless civilians and set on fire pregnant women. If it sounds inconceivable, it isn’t…

Despite a one-sided portrayal of the situation, it’s a good movie to see. A world ahead of those overrated and silly Ram Gopal Verma and Karan Johar flicks and in fact they should learn something from the makers of Parzania.

Sarika has acted exceptionally well in the movie and she deserved the award she got for this movie. The script is very tight and the story moves fast. Sometimes it makes you cry. It makes you cry because beautiful, blissful lives are ruined due to some distant follies of others. It makes you ashamed of your country…

star30 star30star30star30 A film of great humanity.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2009 in best viewing 2009, dvd, human rights, movies, South Asian

 

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Overdue DVD reviews

The reviews, that is, not the DVDs, though I do plan to return them to Surry Hills Library today. It’s been a while since I watched them, so the reviews will be briefer than I first planned.

1. For Whom the Bell Tolls 1943 star30 star30star30star30

2. December Boys 2007 star30star30star30star30a

3. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown 1988 star30star30star30star30star30 Best viewing 2009

4. The Piano 1993 star30star30star30star30star30a Best viewing 2009

Quite a good batch this time, all of them well worth the time spent. I did find the classic For Whom the Bell Tolls showing its age, and despite many excellences it is just a touch confusing at times. December Boys is rather cloying, but very well acted. Young “Harry Potter” is good as an Australian! Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is just as funny and inventive as it seemed when I saw it in Paddington in 1988. The Piano is a beautiful movie still. Hard to believe it is now 16 years since it was made!

I did say brief!

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2009 in best viewing 2009, dvd, movies

 

Enjoying “The Story of India”

120px-MahasenaHuvishka Our ABC here in Oz has been screening The Story of India at 7.30pm on Sundays. Last night was Episode 3. I have to say I knew nothing about one of the more interesting parts of the episode dealing with the Kushan Empire (coin on the right). Admittedly when I studied Indian history at university it was just one term out of three in an Asian History course, the other terms dealing with China and Japan. We were meant to do South-East Asia but ran out of time, though I read the textbook. The Indian course was by one Marjorie Jacobs who, as I recall, was very fond of Nehru. We are talking 1962 here! The first few thousand years flashed by in about a week, as our course proper really began with Akbar in the 16th century. By the way, I came first! My Indian history essay was about Ram Mohan Roy.

So I am learning much I didn’t know before thanks to this very enthusiastic and colourful presentation. I have put some relevant videos into the Vodpod in the side bar.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2009 in best viewing 2009, History, South Asian, TV

 

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Compass last night: Bridge Over the Wadi

logohand Given so much we see and read out of Israel/Palestine, it was good that Compass screened the documentary Bridge Over the Wadi last night. One reviewer writes:

… Although Hand in Hand is bi-lateral, this film isn’t. It’s Israeli. This will immediately scream ‘bias’ to some audiences. But hold on a minute – and I say that sincerely as I am the most sceptical of audiences on such matters. As an Israeli film, I still feel it bends over backwards to illustrate both sides. Often quite emotionally. And the sincerity of all concerned can be painfully moving to behold.

Views expressed are mostly of the children. Children educated in each other’s languages. Each other’s religious beliefs. Respecting their own culture, but partaking fully – yes, fully – in the opposite culture.

"I’m a total atheist," says one parent. "But I’m Jewish." She is not making some subtle academic point about the separation of Jewish culture and religion. As a parent who’s sent her child to Bridge over the Wadi school, she is already a ‘tolerant’ member of her community, and is consequently looked at askance by many of her neighbours. Yet her tolerance soon begins to waver. She exclaims that Arab parents must think she is "a sucker" for letting her Jewish kids say "Allah is great". We then hear from her the familiar, archetypal, emotional (if disingenuous) homilies about Exodus and about the Holocaust. She removes her child from school.

An Arab boy goes to lunch at his Jewish classmate’s home. The boys just want to relax. Grandma, however well meaningly, interrogates him over his ‘views’ on terrorists. He squirms. This is a five-year-old child being made to feel guilty. But it is normal and reasonable from the grandma’s perspective, with her look of fear and concern…

Bridge Over The Wadi packs a tremendous emotional punch. It doesn’t offer complete answers. It does show a significant attempt to move forward in reciprocal understanding rather than mutual narrow-mindedness. My main criticism is that it still seems a little smug. It fails to give any noticeable credit to the Initiatives on which the documentary is based. It simplifies facts. For instance, considering the vast lengths Hand In Hand go to for accuracy, it seems disrespectful that filmmakers round out the numbers of pupils – applications ‘doubled’ in the second year – they actually increased very significantly. Or, suffering the little children perhaps, should they have omitted to mention that Christianity is also taught alongside Islam and Judaism?

But Bridge Over The Wadi is an impressive piece. One I recommend. It succeeds in presenting issues in a captivating way, without assuming detailed prior knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

One of the extraordinary things about five-year-olds anywhere is their sense of discovery about the world. Their unaffected and unconscious grasp of what is before their eyes. When they put their cross-border friendships before age-old enmity, the reasoning out of their mouths puts the complex negotiations of adults to shame.

That really says it all, and I agree wholeheartedly.

See also my Vodpod on the right down the page.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2009 in best viewing 2009, current affairs, education, humanity, inspiration, interfaith, Israel, Middle East, multiculturalism, peace, pluralism, religion, TV

 

Old books, old movies, old mentalities

Jim Belshaw has had a couple of interesting posts lately: Train Reading – J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth and Sunday Essay – Race, Eugenics and the views of J H Curle. The book was published in 1937.

In the first post Jim writes:

In some ways I got more than I bargained for.

The book is laced with comments about nationality, race and ethnicity expressed with a freedom that would not be tolerated today. I almost put the book aside after the first chapter with the thought do I have to read this stuff? I kept going because I had, after all, deliberately chosen the book as a window into a past world.

As I read I found that I could put aside my reactions.

In the second post he elaborates:

At the time Mr Curle was born, the British Empire was at its peak. It seemed natural to assume that the white race was by process of natural selection destined to maintain a dominant position. However, Mr Curle’s Social Darwinist views did not allow him to believe that any nation, people or race had an automatic God-given superiority. All three could rise or fall.

I also think it worth noting that Mr Curle had no belief in the “purity” of any race or people. He was not opposed to racial mixing so long as the mix raised the “quality” of the race or people.

In this context, Mr Curle supported the Nazi eugenics policy as it related to things such as sterilisation. However, he did not believe that there was such a thing as a German or Nordic race. He thought the Nazi expulsion of German Jews was unwise because to his mind the admixture of Jewish and German blood had done much to strengthen the creativity and strength of the German people. He still hoped that Germany would learn this and re-admit the Jews.

The reason for the desperation in Mr Curle’s writing is simple. By 1937 he had come to believe that in the absence of fundamental change, both the Empire and the current pre-dominance of the white race were doomed.

Mr Curle’s views strike us as in many respects most unfortunate, but had we been around at the time no doubt we would have found a range of views to the left and right (not taking those terms with their unfortunate linear and dichotomising effect too literally) of his. As Jim says, the fact he wrote in a certain matrix of his time and place does not prevent his being interesting. Eugenics is nowadays totally tainted, and discredited as gross oversimplification – and more, but it lives on in other guises and in other terms under the rubric of genetic engineering. I suspect we also have to thank our current so-called “political correctness” for inoculating us, if we are wise, against the racist mindset within which he was working even if at certain levels he was, as Jim mentions, reacting against it too. But even there much that he wrote seems to have been predicated on the idea of “race”.

Some of Mr Curle’s most scathing writing is addressed to what he sees as the unjustified racism of some of the working and middle class English throughout the Empire. He compares them very unfavourably with other peoples and races.

And who, in all this, are the races or peoples of the future?

It seems from The Face of the Earth that in terms of people at a purely personal level, Mr Curle is especially enamored of Chinese/Malay (this includes what is now Indonesia) or Chinese/European mixtures.

However, in the hierarchy of races or peoples driven by Mr Curle’s Social Darwinism, the future lies with the Chinese.

That idea of “quality” is itself racist thinking because it assumes that “race” is a relevant category. Culture may be; race is not.

One can go back even further. I am rather fond of a Victorian lady – she would have used the term – named Isabella Bird.

Bird was born in Boroughbridge in 1831 and grew up in Tattenhall, Cheshire. As her father Edward was a Church of England priest, the family moved several times across Britain as he received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas’ when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.

Bird was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel. In 1854, Bird’s father gave her £100 and she went to visit relatives in America. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. She detailed the journey anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856. The following year, she went to Canada and then toured Scotland, but time spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and following her mother’s death in 1868 she embarked on a series of excursions to avoid settling permanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the Isle of Mull. Bird could not endure her sister’s domestic lifestyle, preferring instead to support further travels through writing. Many of her works are compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.

Travels

Bird finally left Britain in 1872, going first to Australia, which she disliked, and then to Hawaii (known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands), her love for which prompted her second book (published three years later). While there she climbed Mauna Loa and visited Queen Emma.

There was a copy of an 1877 Leisure Hour in our house when I was a child which contained a serialised version of her Australia Felix – but unfortunately this is long gone. I do have a cheap reprint, however, of her The Golden Chersonese (1883) and even if she finds a Chinese dragon dance may be “devil worship” she can also be very observant. She writes well. Read an extract on Singapore.

…Here is none of the indolence and apathy which one associates with Oriental life, and which I have seen in Polynesia. These yellow, brown, tawny, swarthy, olive-tinted men are all intent on gain; busy, industrious, frugal, striving, and, no matter what their creed is, all paying homage to Daikoku. In spite of the activity, rapidity, and earnestness, the movements of all but the Chinese are graceful, gliding, stealthy, the swarthy faces have no expression that I can read, and the dark, liquid eyes are no more intelligible to me than the eyes of oxen. It is the "Asian mystery" all over.

It is only the European part of Singapore which is dull and sleepy looking. No life and movement congregate round the shops. The merchants, hidden away behind jalousies in their offices, or dashing down the streets in covered buggies, make but a poor show. Their houses are mostly pale, roomy, detached bungalows, almost altogether hidden by the bountiful vegetation of the climate. In these their wives, growing paler every week, lead half-expiring lives, kept alive by the efforts of ubiquitous "punkah-wallahs;" writing for the mail, the one active occupation. At a given hour they emerge, and drive in given directions, specially round the esplanade, where for two hours at a time a double row of handsome and showy equipages moves continuously in opposite directions. The number of carriages and the style of dress of their occupants are surprising, and yet people say that large fortunes are not made now-a-days in Singapore! Besides the daily drive, the ladies, the officers, and any men who may be described as of "no occupation," divert themselves with kettle-drums, dances, lawn tennis, and various other devices for killing time, and this with the mercury at 80 degrees! Just now the Maharajah of Johore, sovereign of a small state on the nearest part of the mainland, a man much petted and decorated by the British Government for unswerving fidelity to British interests, has a house here, and his receptions and dinner parties vary the monotonous round of gayeties.

The native streets monopolize the picturesqueness of Singapore with their bizarre crowds, but more interesting still are the bazaars or continuous rows of open shops which create for themselves a perpetual twilight by hanging tatties or other screens outside the sidewalks, forming long shady alleys, in which crowds of buyers and sellers chaffer over their goods, the Chinese shopkeepers asking a little more than they mean to take, and the Klings always asking double. The bustle and noise of this quarter are considerable, and the vociferation mingles with the ringing of bells and the rapid beating of drums and tom-toms–an intensely heathenish sound. And heathenish this great city is. Chinese joss-houses, Hindu temples, and Mohammedan mosques almost jostle each other, and the indescribable clamor of the temples and the din of the joss-houses are faintly pierced by the shrill cry from the minarets calling the faithful to prayer, and proclaiming the divine unity and the mission of Mahomet in one breath.

How I wish I could convey an idea, however faint, of this huge, mingled, colored, busy, Oriental population; of the old Kling and Chinese bazaars; of the itinerant sellers of seaweed jelly, water, vegetables, soup, fruit, and cooked fish, whose unintelligible street cries are heard above the din of the crowds of coolies, boatmen, and gharriemen waiting for hire; of the far-stretching suburbs of Malay and Chinese cottages; of the sheet of water, by no means clean, round which hundreds of Bengalis are to be seen at all hours of daylight unmercifully beating on great stones the delicate laces, gauzy silks, and elaborate flouncings of the European ladies; of the ceaseless rush and hum of industry, and of the resistless, overpowering, astonishing Chinese element, which is gradually turning Singapore into a Chinese city! I must conclude abruptly, or lose the mail.

Given her always uncertain health she was one very feisty woman, and it is good we have her work. But we also see time and again that the past is indeed another country. We enter it at a certain peril. We can’t possibly say “heathenish” today in quite the same assured way, can we?

Last night courtesy of Surry Hills Library I was transported back to my earliest years through a double bill DVD of I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and Since You Went Away (1944). The second is the better movie, but both have fine performances and some lovely black-and-white visuals. The music on the remastered sound-tracks is also really good. Both movies offer much to think about in terms of the world-views they partake in, not all of them worse than our own, I should add. For their time both movies are in some respects rather enlightened. I enjoyed them, but was reminded of my own age and that, again, the past is another country.

I have added relevant video to the side-bar VodPod.

 
Comments Off on Old books, old movies, old mentalities

Posted by on March 2, 2009 in Asian, best viewing 2009, book reviews, film and dvd, History, Jim Belshaw, memory, movies, Postcolonial, racism, reading

 

Pakistan on the Brink – Four Corners

Those who close all girls’ schools wherever they have the power to do so, who murder all their opposition, favour terror as a weapon, make their God a gun, and are driven by a crazed and extreme version of the worst aspects of the Abrahamic faiths – the Taliban and their supporters. What more can you say? The poor people of Pakistan — a country M visited in 1999-2000 and loved, having met with nothing but hospitality and honesty wherever he went, which included Peshawar and much of the North-West Frontier.

But what a different story today, thanks to Bush’s foreign policy, past neglect of the key significance of Afghanistan/Pakistan – the borders really are notional – and the sideshow that was the invasion of Iraq, even granted that things there are somewhat better.

But it is chilling to realise that whatever one’s hopes of peace the Taliban and company do not want peace, except their own peace – and that is what you just read in the first paragraph. That is not a peace the world can live with, even less the people of Pakistan. And yes I know what a quagmire Afghanistan/Pakistan has been for all who have ventured into it – the British, the Russians, and now NATO, the US, and our own military. Earlier US Cold war policy directed against the dying USSR in Afghanistan nurtured the monsters.

r341525_1554761Before you comment on this post, carefully review the Four Corners program linked to that image.

Before you start rabbiting on in a generalised way about Islam, consider that all the people we see in that program – terrorists, cultists, fanatics, and their victims – are all Muslims. There are indeed Muslims and Muslims. Jihad-watch style reaction does not help.

You don’t have to demonise the Taliban; they do that very successfully themselves. The dilemma — and what a dilemma! – that the program also brought out is that heavy-handed military “solutions” quite often strengthen the Taliban and such groups. Can’t help thinking though that it would be in everyone’s interests if India and Pakistan could bury their differences in the light of the common threat they confront. Nor would a just solution to the Israel/Palestine issue go astray – that being another running sore in the background to all these events.

Glad I just run a blog, and not the world!

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2009 in awful warnings, best viewing 2009, current affairs, Islam, peace, South Asian, terrorism

 

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