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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.