Monthly Archives: July 2005

So now we know…

Having seen and read about everything that has gone on in London in the last week or so, you might be forgiven for wondering why I haven’t yet commented on the sad events of the Brazilian citizen shot by police in Stockwell tube station. The simple answer was because I didn’t yet have access to all the facts. Just yesterday we learned that:

Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead in the head, was not wearing a heavy jacket that might have concealed a bomb, and did not jump the ticket barrier when challenged by armed plainclothes police, his cousin said yesterday.

Without seeming to stress the point, this contradicts everything we’ve heard since the shooting itself, right up to the eyewitness reports that told of “an Asian guy” who might have been wearing “a bomb belt with wires coming out of it”. What we’re facing here is more dangerous than any terrorist threat, because now it’s the people responsible for keeping us safe and informed who are lying to us. The state, and the elite who control the state, control both the methods of coercion (the police) and the methods of persuasion (the media). For almost a week we’ve been unaware of the true facts, simply because it’s not in the interests of the powerful to give them to us. The political “consensus”, which has held sway ever since the deadly bombings of the 7th, should be broken, if not by the politicians than by the people. After all, it’s our lives on the line here.


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Lahnden, baby!

In my first trip of the summer holidays, I travelled to sunny London, and thence to the exotic locale of the visa section of the Japanese Embassy. The ‘sunny’ bit of the previous sentence was a lie. Everything else is true.

Having convinced myself that getting my entry visa for Japan would be a long, difficult and expensive process, I didn’t even mind being proved wrong when I left the Embassy half an hour after I walked in, having been told I should come back next Monday and collect my passport (complete with visa) on payment of the princely sum of £6. After I asked nicely if I could have it earlier as I was going to Barcelona on Saturday, they even said I could collect it this Friday. Shame I only remembered about my holiday this weekend on the Tube after I’d left, and had to dash back to tell them so.

Speaking of the Tube, it seemed perfectly normal. One passenger offered a smile to me, which as anyone who has taken the London Underground knows is a rare thing indeed. By half-five, however, rush hour had peaked and the traditional sardine-tin passenger scheme came into play. No more eye contact. I can only hope this is a sign that things are getting back to normal.

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Two weeks on

Oh Lord. Not again.

I can’t believe that another attack has been attempted. From what I can tell from the news, the bombs failed to detonate. We’ve been lucky. As a copycat attack, it failed. As an attempt to show up our security, well … we live in a free society, and we have to get on with our lives without fear. I feel the odd sense of resigned nervousness (if that isn’t an oxymoron) that doubtless many people across the country are feeling. Sure, there’s always a risk. But if we restricted liberties to the point where everyone was tracked, recorded, searched and investigated, this wouldn’t be our country anymore. It would be our prison.

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The State of Cinema: Discuss

Here’s a link to an interesting article on the current state of Hollywood. I basically agree with most of what it says, but not having grown up in the late 60s to early 70s (the last “Golden Age” period that everyone agrees on) I couldn’t comment on the interface between the cultural and political climate and the films produced in that period; one of the more important aspects of film criticism, in my opinion.

Film writer David Thomson, the interviewee in this article, says at one point:

The trouble these days is that the kind of film we used to be proudest of–the film that met a general standard of seriousness, intelligence, and sociopolitical awareness–has been all but lost. And anyone in Hollywood today will tell you that. You take Chinatown to a studio today and they’re probably not going to make it.

Of course, not every great film of that period was motivated by political dissent. But a lot of films of that time tapped into a sense of growing paranoia and disillusionment about the government of the time. Conversely, today we have probably more access to independant (in both origin and outlook) films than ever before, but almost none of them seem to tell us anything about the society we live in.

Film may be an art form more concerned with entertainment than with its older counterparts, but that’s no reason why the classic films full of comment on the way we live our lives have no modern equivalent. There’s an approximation of sorts in the new wave of documentaries, such as The Corporation, most of which were made possible by the popular success of Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. But fiction, whether blockbuster or indie, remains stranded in a realm of cute fantasy.

This is not to say that cinema is in an unstoppable downward spiral. The last two films I saw at the CFF were highly political films, in the sense of being concerned both about the state of government and how people live their lives. John Sayles’ Silver City and Paul Haggis’ Crash are exciting, challenging films which spell the way forward for socially conscious film-making. Let’s hope there are enough people willing to take that road.

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Van the Man

As concert venues go, Audley End certainly beats your average sticky-floored dive. I went down to the stately home last night with my parents to see Van Morrison in concert, in the most comfortable surroundings of a performance I’ve ever experienced.

As Van’s principal audience mature into late middle-age, they look for a bit more luxury in their leisure time. So, playing at the foot of a rolling hillside carpeted with picnic blankets and folding chairs, while not hugely rock’n’roll, is at least in keeping with the fans. And while it all seemed pretty sedate on the surface, the area closest to the stage was packed with standing concertgoers, and the whole hillside erupted when Van the Man took to the stage.

Before that, however, we had to sit through the support act, an insipid female singer-songwriter who began and ended every song with a high-pitched “Thankyooouu!” and gushed about how honoured she was to open for Van Morrison. I wondered what the notoriously grumpy old legend made of her stage manner, especially when she prefaced one song with an extended story about how her tentative romantic experiences with a guy called Roland prompted her to write this song. Listening to that oddly grating, helium-tinged voice, I hoped that at that moment Roland was cavorting on top of a pile of models and cocaine.

Van Morrison was, of course, the exact opposite; a brisk “Thankyou” at the end of each song, and then straight into the next one. As he and the band played on through his huge back catalogue, we watched the sky slowly change and its colours deepen as the sun sank below the horizon. Seeing acts outside is always a special experience, but in this case the combination of great music, relaxing surroundings and a beautiful summer evening was something else entirely. Having consumed ridiculous amounts of TV coverage of both Glastonbury and Live 8 lately, I’m glad I got at least a taste of the outdoor music experience this summer.

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Something in the water…

Over the past week I’ve going to see some films showing as part of this year’s Cambridge Film Festival. I’ve notched up about six so far, and easily the best was the one I saw on Wednesday afternoon; John Sayles’ latest film, Silver City.

A mixture of dark comedy, thriller and political satire, it was at once funny, gripping, shocking, classy and intelligent. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, it tied several seemingly disparate plotlines together, L.A. Confidential-style, to weave a dark and terrible tale of modern America. At a photo-op for a dimwitted candidate for governor (the brilliant Chris Cooper), a corpse is discovered floating in a lake. Endearingly rumpled journalist turned private eye Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) is hired to investigate, but ends up discovering more than his bosses would like.

Silver City draws together many plot strands; the buying and selling of political influence by lobbyists, tame journalists and spin doctors working hand in hand, the exploitation of undocumented migrant workers, the relaxing of environmental and industrial regulations. And it shoots them through with a thick vein of humour. Cooper’s tongue-tied, Dubya-esque Dicky Pilager in particular has a few hilarious scenes in which he’s caught by reporters without a script and comes close to verbally imploding.

This is a thriller that never takes its audience’s support for granted, as many recent ‘political’ works have. It resists cheap shots and easy arguments, and contains more truth than the heavy-handed Michael Moore school of dissent. As such, it deserves to be seen, so try and catch it when it comes out next Friday.

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I had planned to start up this blog earlier, but right now the events of last week are still very raw and recent, and I feel they deserve a mention. I lived in London for the first ten years of my life, and still go down there regularly. Just looking at the paper this morning and reading reports of the damage down underground, I found tears welling up in my eyes; something that doesn’t usually happen when I read the news. Usually, the effect of presenting events through the media distances them, but this kind of carnage visited on somewhere I know so well has really affected me. For now, I can only offer my condolences to the victims and their families, and hope that the kind of rage we saw in the U.S. after 9/11 doesn’t take root here. We are both more and less tolerant then we like to think, and often it’s only in times of trial that we find out our best abilities.

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