Among the dross that is the regular staple of television programming is to be found a great deal of valuable, absorbing stuff of immense educational and even political value. In addition to the item I have already reported on in an earlier post, the story of Dr. Alfred Blalock and his black associate Vivien Thomas in the segregated city of Baltimore, I have in recent days been impressed by several excellent programmes, some of which I have watched not on TV but on my computer, although they were made for TV.
One of those I saw today was brilliantly made by a director called Mick Jackson, and dealt with a fascinating subject, the career of a girl called Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who triumphed over the debility of that strange disease to become a professor and a nationally recognized adviser to the cattle industry. The autistic girl was played with awe-inspiring fidelity by the actress Clare Danes, but the film was not a sensationalized account of the girl’s career so much as a measured view of the achievements that are possible for such people if only they can find one or two people to fight for them and insist that they get fair treatment.
Some other impressive films I have watched in recent days include:
Columbus: the Lost Journey, about the little-known fact that Christopher Columbus made not just three trans-Atlantic voyages, but a fourth, in which he hoped to both establish colonies among the native people who had begun to act towards these strange visitors in a hostile manner, as well as to snaffle for himself some of the untold riches that were to be found lying around, even in some of the West Indian islands. This voyage ruined Columbus, and he finished his life impoverished and in and out of prison as he lost the support the King and queen of Spain, who had supported his earlier journeys. An interesting fact I picked up from this film was that Columbus was not recognized widely for his ground-breaking voyages until many, many years after his death.
The Zen Mind: This was a fascinating but rather curious film in which the filmmaker tried to take his audience by simple steps into the essence of Zen, or zazen, as the experience was called. Not unexpectedly, it seems that the essence of Zen is full of contradictions, at once trying to empty the mind, and then admitting that it is impossible to empty the mind; and exchanging odd sayings that sound like simple statements of fact known to everybody, such as, if you have eyes, you see, if you have legs, you walk…. Like some of the people who commented on this film on the Web site, I am not much into mysticism, but this film did try fairly successfully to explain the simplicity of Zen clearly, and without making it sound really far out. An odd thing is that in the practice of picking up Zen, the climactic moment seems to come when the instructor raps the student sharply on the shoulders or back with a stick.
Lastly, I have seen two parts of two programmes on the recent economic meltdown. One of them was on the CBC this evening. It was a rather typical Terence McKenna show, fairly sensationalized, not particularly informative, but with good show biz qualities that keep one watching. A much better one was the second part of a show on PBS which concentrated on the fruitless experience of a woman, a Dr Born, I think her name was, who was in charge of a minor agency of the US federal government charged with oversight of economic and financial affairs, and who, for year after year, was warning the great panjandrums of the federal government that they were heading for a massive disaster. She had discovered what is called the “derivatives” market had expanded hugely, and out of sight of the federal government, totally unregulated, and left alone to such a degree that the government had no idea how large it was. She warned Greenspan, head of the responsible federal agency, and Larry Summers and one other man whose name I have forgotten, time after time: but repeatedly she was simply brushed aside, and eventually warned by Greenspan that if she insisted on calling this market to account she would do irreparable harm to the American economy. Eventually, frustrated by their attitude, she resigned. Of course, eventually everything she had prophesied came about exactly as she had described it: the great panjandrums, it turned out, didn’t know what they were doing, and Greenspan had to go before Congress, a shaken and beaten man, and admit that his idea of how the markets worked which he had followed for 20 years, was inadequate. Of course, Greenspan, this guru of economic affairs, had been a lifelong follower of the crackpot Ayn Rand, whose ludicrous attitude towards government had an army of equally crackpot followers. This program even said that when Dr Born urged Greenspan to take action against the evident likelihood of corporate fraud, he brushed her aside contemptuously, and said, “The market will take care of it.”
Wow, are we living in a strange world, or what?
Incidentally, for those interested, the site Top Documentaries contains hundreds of documentary films that can be whistled up at any time. Its address is: