The Guardian 20 April, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun April 24 - Sat April 30


The composer under the spotlight in this week's episode of Howard Goodall's Great Dates is Mozart and the date in question is 1791 (ABC 2.00pm Sundays). It is another fascinating exercise in relating a composer's work to the historical and social conditions of his time.

Goodall gives short shrift to the myths that sprang up around Mozart's early death, especially the ones perpetuated or even perpetrated by that travesty of history Amadeus. The truth is much more interesting.

Goodall shows how Mozart was deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, the revolutionary philosophical and political movement of the 18th Century, which in turn influenced the French and American Revolutions (both at their height in 1791).

Goodall demonstrates the radical change in musical form as the free-wheeling adornment of baroque was replaced by structured and more pleasing forms exemplified by the sonata.

And he traces the wealth of philosophical ideas in Mozart's extraordinary opera for the masses, The Magic Flute.

Hopefully, Revealing Gallipoli (ABC 7.30pm Sunday) should dispel a few myths too. A joint production by broadcasters in Australia, Turkey, New Zealand, Wales and Ireland, it takes a sober, no nonsense approach to its subject, showing the campaign to capture the Gallipoli peninsula (and then Constantinople) as the useless bloody slaughter that it was.

Officers on both sides had no compunction about sending men "over the top" to certain death in futile efforts to capture a few metres of ground that were of no military significance whatsoever. And, as the commentary points out, they did this time and again.

Considerable effort imaginative effort at times has been spent on treating the archival images (mainly still photographs) to make them appear three dimensional or to have the illusion of movement within them.

The three on-screen commentators (the Australian War Memorial's principal historian Dr Peter Stanley, Turkish filmmaker Savas Karakas the grandson of a Gallipoli veteran and prominent Irish historian Professor Keith Jeffery) are integrated into the battlefield as it is today so thoroughly that you begin to remember them as being there with the troops.

But it is the program's attitude to authority that you notice most of all, as the commentators reveal the ineptitude of Churchill's original plan, the greater ineptitude of the attempt to carry it out, and the truly appalling number of casualties that resulted on both sides.

Wain Fimeri, who directed Revealing Gallipoli, also directed the program that follows it, Love Letters From A War (ABC 9.10pm Sunday). This is a repeat screening of this touching true story about a country couple from Albury and the grief the War (WW2 in this case) brings them.

John and Josie Johnson battle through the Depression, living on rabbits, and struggle to bring up their seven kids. When the War comes, although they have another kid on the way, John volunteers.

He is sent to the Middle East and eventually to Tobruk, where he cops it.

Adapted from their short but frequent letters, the film is excellently filmed, well written and very well acted. Andrew Blackman is perfectly cast as John but Trudie Hellier as Josie is the standout performance. There are lines in the real Josie's letters that remind you eerily of Jane Austen.

Running the two programs back to back however does have one small flaw: it makes all too obvious the way Fimeri has used the same piece of footage of a ship leaving a wharf, streamers flapping, and a lone young girl walking away down the deserted wharf to represent two different ships, two different ports and even two different wars.

April 30th 2005 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and this occasion is being marked by, amongst other things, a program about the unprecedented movement against the war in Vietnam that developed within the US military.

Sir! No Sir (SBS 9.30pm Thursday) tells how through demonstrations, underground newspapers, combat refusals and more, American GI's altered the course of the Vietnam War and rocked the foundations of the American military.

By 1971, resistance had grown to a level of mass defiance that rendered the majority of ground troops "unreliable" in the eyes of their government. A Pentagon study that year determined more than half of all troops in the military opposed the war.

Yet today, the memory of the GI movement has been buried.

With hundreds of thousands of American soldiers again spread across the globe and signs of opposition emerging among troops Sir! No Sir resurrects the suppressed memory of the GI movement.

SBS is marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, not with a program about the anti-fascist alliance that was the key to the defeat of Hitler and co, nor a program about the 26 million people the Soviet Union lost in because of Hitler and his backers.

No, we are being given yet another program about the last days of poor Adolf, deep in his bunker, still fantasising about victory even as retribution for those 26 million dead Soviet citizens was smashing its way towards his bunker door.

The Bunker (SBS 7.30pm Saturday) is a mixture of dramatic reconstruction and documentary (in the modern manner) from German television network ZDF. Conceived as "psychological portrait", this latest addition to Hitler lore, asks such profound questions as: Did Hitler know what was really happening outside of his bunker?

A question I would like to ask is: If the German people had known where Hitler was, had caught him, shot him and hanged him by his heels (like his fellow fascist dictator Mussolini) would there still be this fascination with his last days? I think not.

Faith and Fear: The Children of Krishna, screening in the Hot Docs timeslot (SBS 10.00pm Tuesday), explores the abandonment and abuse of children raised in Hare Krishna boarding schools. The program traces the history of the Hare Krishna religion, inaugurated in New York's Bowery district, and follows its meteoric climb through American pop culture. Also examined are the Krishna's proselytising and fundraising activities.

Dozens of young adults have now come forward with chilling allegations of systematic abuse by teachers and caretakers at Hare Krishna boarding schools across North America. The alleged abuse is now the subject of a landmark $400 million lawsuit filed in Texas.

Plaintiffs include scores of former students; defendants include the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and dozens of former teachers and officials at the now- closed boarding schools.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim they were sent to boarding schools in order to allow their parents to spend most of their time raising money for the movement. They charge that the result was substantial and repeated physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

If successful, the lawsuit could strip ISKCON of most or all of its North American assets. The current ISKCON leadership admits much of the abuse but has decried the overwhelming size of the claim, offering to pay the plaintiffs a much smaller sum to assist with counselling and rehabilitation.

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