Documentary treasures on free TV

I am totally a free-to-air TV pensioner. Given there is so much crap on offer under the guise of “reality TV” and “infomercials” –with entire channels devoted to the latter (God knows what desperates watch them!) it really should be said there are treasures aplenty to be had too. Why, I even enjoy rather often the ancient movies GEM runs around midday! (Yesterday it was Nurse on Wheels, 1963.)

Documentaries though. Today I will almost certainly drag myself away from the Cricket to watch two must-watches on SBS: The Story of Wales at 4.30 and Heroes of the Enlightenment at 3.30.

Heroes of the Enlightenment is the story of how power came to the people. From Google, and Facebook and Wikipedia to the systems of democracy, finance, manufacture and the law – many aspects of modern life owe their existence to a single defining period: the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century.

In the space of barely 100 years, Western deference to divine and royal authority gave way to a belief that humans had the power to understand their own nature and the universe around them. Heroes of the Enlightenment discovers how holy writ gave way to empirical investigation, the power of miracles to that of logic and reason. It was a revolution in ideas, information and technology.

Filmed in locations across Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and America, this illuminating series brings to life some of the key characters of the era –Newton, Erasmus, Darwin, Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, Frederick the Great and Thomas Jefferson – and the ideas that shaped the world we live in today.

Should be compulsory viewing, don’t you think? 

Also, last week’s episode of The Story of Wales told me a great deal about the Industrial Revolution and its costs, and the rise of working-class politics and the Chartists, leaders of whom were transported to Australia. Some of them:

Jeremiah Howell: Arrested along with three others for “demolishing a house by force” during the Birmingham riots of 1839, Howell was 39 and a Birmingham gunsmith at the time of his court appearance. He was sentenced to be transported for life, and arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, on board the Mandarin on 30 June 1840.
John Ingram: A single man aged 36, Ingram was described in court as a labourer and a soldier. He was one of three Montgomery men charged with “drilling the mob in the use of firearms” during the summer of 1839. Their activities appear to have been connected to the build-up to the Newport rebellion. Ingram was sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years. He arrived at Sydney on board the Maitland on 14 July 1840.
John Jones: Arrested along with three others for “demolishing a house by force” during the Birmingham riots of 1839, Jones was 22 and a woodturner from Welshpool at the time of his court appearance. He was sentenced to be transported for life, and arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, on board the Mandarin on 30 June 1840.
William Jones: Newport
Humphreys Lewis: A 29-year-old boot and shoemaker, Lewis was married with one son. He was one of three Montogomery men charged with “drilling the mob in the use of firearms” during the summer of 1839. Their activities appear to have been connected to the build-up to the Newport Rebellion. Lewis was sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years. He arrived at Sydney on board the Woodbridge on 27 February 1840…

Then last Tuesday was one of my favourites, Who Do You Think You Are? SBS is currently running the 2013 UK series. The most recently shown was Marianne Faithfull.

marianne

The Austrian side of her family tree experienced some astonishing acts of bravery, tragedy and struggle. And nobility, too – in both senses of the word. Her half-Jewish mother, Eva von Sacher-Masoch (or Baroness Erisso), had been a Weimar-era dancer in Berlin’s heyday, and then got in with a group of avant garde performers as Nazi tensions built in Germany, forcing her to return to Austria.

Her grandfather, who had aristocratic roots dating back to the Habsburg empire, married a Jewish woman – Faithfull’s grandmother – joined the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Austria at the height of the war, and ended up being arrested and hung by his hands in torture chambers at the age of 60. His wife, who had helped him in these highly dangerous covert activities and who had come to feel the “guilt” of being Jewish, ended up being raped by the Red Army soldiers who liberated the country. So did Faithfull’s mother.

Faithfull already knew some of this and said that the rape had a devastating effect not only on her married life (she separated from her husband, Marianne’s father, after six years, and drank heavily after that) but on Marianne too. “She hated men and passed it on to me,” she said, shortly after talking about leaving Jagger. It was a quietly startling moment, more so when she added that it was only when she hit 50 that she was able to be intimate with a partner without being drunk or on drugs.

On ABC we have had George Megalogenis’s Making Australia Great.

See also Amber Cunningham on ABC Radio. I have particularly enjoyed the way this has been done, giving life to what could be heavy and dry. Nice touch taking John Howard back to Canterbury Boys High!

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