Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
OK Google, did the Holocaust happen?
So we had our 15th Anniversary Book Group gathering last night and the book in the spotlight, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, was highly praised by all but one of our number, getting 9s and even 10s in our scores (for Literary Merit and Enjoyment), one of the most popular choices in the whole decade and a half.
My review on Goodreads: A dense and intense tour de force with shades of Catch 22 (absurdity), David Foster Wallace (intensity) and Candide (humanity), filled with insight about how black people are seen and see themselves in the USA (and beyond).
Here are 4 good reasons to read this standout satirical novel:
(i) On lawyers:
The Chief Justice meekly raises his hand.
“Excuse me, Mr Fiske [the defending lawyer], I have a question…”
“Not right now, motherfucker, I’m on a roll!”
(ii) On education:
Two hundred kids quieted instantly and turned their attention deficit disorders toward me.
(iii) On weed:
“What the fuck is this, dog?” Puppet coughed.
“I call it Carpal Tunnel. Go ahead, try to make a fist.”
Puppet tried to ball his hand but failed.
(iv) On intellectuals:
The meetings consisted mostly of the members who showed up every other week arguing with the ones who came every other month about what exactly “bimonthly” means.”
Classic satire in the heritage of Waugh and Swift that’s laugh-out-loud funny.
Just back from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York where I had my first official Sell Out as far as I can recall.
I was doing a Masterclass on factual/unscripted short form video. In the Green Room after I met Dr Melanie Williams of UEA where she is Head of Film, Television and Media Studies. She specialises in post-war cinema and has written a monograph on David Lean (very appropriate in that I’m writing this in BAFTA which Lean founded and which Aesthetica feeds into via the Short Film category in the Film Awards). As we chatted the subject of Christine Keeler’s 60s movie came up – see Chairman of the Board below. Well it turns out one of her colleagues at the University of East Anglia has a particular interest in ‘The Keeler Affair’ movie (1963) and in fact (contrary to what I had read) it was made but was never granted a BBFC certificate in the UK, so it only played abroad. Lewis Morley, the photographer who photographed Keeler in That Chair, refers slightly erroneously to: “an intended film which never saw the light of day”.
It also seems to have another title, ‘The Christine Keeler Story‘, and it turns out that Keeler doesn’t exclusively play herself despite posing for the publicity photos – Yvonne Buckingham plays her although Keeler is also listed as “Herself”. Same for Mandy-Rice Davies who both plays herself and is played by Alicia Brandet. I’ve yet to find out how Buckingham & Keeler and Brandet & Rice Davies squared that circle though there are some clues in the clip I found below.
In the synopsis Keeler is referred to as a “teenage prostitute” which seems both harsh and not entirely accurate. I like the term “good-time girl” which is often used to hedge bets in this type of context.
And here’s the bit I found. Quite intriguing. A disco ball in the courtroom… like it.
I went from BAFTA in Piccadilly round the corner to the May Fair Hotel for a BAFTA Film Awards screening of ‘American Pastoral’ with leading man and director Ewan McGregor in attendance. It is a striking and original film, directed with amazing aplomb for a first movie (this is McGregor’s directorial debut). It is a thoughtful interpretation of Philip Roth’s novel, not spoonfeeding the audience and concluding with an uncompromisingly enigmatic end. McGregor spoke with great articulacy and clarity about his method as an actor-director. What came across strongly is that this is an actors’ film – the rehearsal and shooting process, as well as the framing and camera movement, were all focused on enabling the actors to do their thing in an imaginative and fresh way.
So far the best of the BAFTA fare. Also very striking is the disturbing poster – the best I’ve seen in a long while – which takes the all-American idealism of Wyeth and Hopper (the first half of the film derives its colour palette from Hopper), takes the all-American idealism of Wyeth and Hopper – and shakes it the fuck up, torching the Dream.
Picking up from my post in the run-up to the Brexit vote about Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy I see the roots of yesterday’s dark shock as being in the same realm – the fundamental weakness of British democracy due to lack of proportional representation.
David Cameron offered the in/out referendum in January 2013 to appease members of his own party and keep the Conservatives yoked together in the run-up to the May 2015 general election. If the First-past-the-post voting system was not so inimicable to the third party and below, we could be looking at a much fairer and more democratic landscape in the UK.
The tension in the Tory party is down to the fact that it is not really a single party. There could be a centrist conservative party and a more right-wing one.
Likewise on the Left, the Labour Party is forever jumping through hoops to get round the fact it is not really a single party. It too could exist as a Socialist party and another Social Democrat one.
And that would still leave room for a Liberal party in the centre ground, as well as narrower/more focused parties from the Greens to UKIP making up a healthier, more diverse offering.
Instead we are looking at a riven Conservative Party, a leaderless Labour Party, a destroyed Liberal Party and what was a disenfranchised UKIP, whose followers have now taken revenge.
The way many Tories in particular (largely the ones that went on to back the Leave campaign) stifled and undermined the last UK referendum (May 2011) on voting reform was disgusting and ultimately very damaging as yesterday proved.
I’m still absorbing yesterday’s dark news. Keeping these to capture the feeling…
Yesterday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox. There was no studio audience and the panel was made up of commentators rather than politicians. What cheered my heart to some degree, in the midst of a moronic and deceitful referendum and a tragic assassination, was that two disparate journalists, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, emphasised the desperate need for voting reform and some meaningful form of proportional representation.
I have voted in every election in my adult life – for 34 years – until the recent London mayoral election which I did not turn out for because I didn’t care for either of the main candidates. In those 42 years I have never elected a single person. Because I’m a liberal by nature, though even when I’ve voted otherwise/tactically, as in May 2015, I’ve still made no difference.
In Anita Anand’s Any Answers phone-in after the programme an MP’s chief of staff rang in and threw away that great cliche that in our democracy we “can always vote them out”. But we can’t. I haven’t been able to.
We have a highly overrated ‘democracy’ in which elections have boiled down to become focused on a tiny minority of swing voters in marginal seats.
We have an increasingly disempowering ‘democracy’ in which a party like UKIP gets millions of votes but one seat only, gets three times as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th of the representation in Parliament. How should those millions of UKIP voters feel in the wake of that most depressing election? I’ve no particular sympathy for the UKIP perspective but I don’t believe their supporters’ votes should be without value or real meaning.
As I was walking along the river in Winchester yesterday evening I spotted a Leave campaign poster at the back of an affluent house, with a URL including the words “take control”. I would contend that even if we took back sovereignty from the EU we would continue to have no real control. At least ‘we the people’ would not. We the politicians, many of whom are elected on well under 50% of the vote, indeed many on under 30%, may gain even more unearned control and fundamentally undemocratic power.
UK democracy has been severely wounded and bleeding out long before the horrendous murder of Jo Cox, by all accounts a representative of great integrity, selfless conviction and beautiful character. Her death is tragic. Her killer’s state of mind is sadly poisonous. The referendum debate is toxic with hate and mendacity. I’ll go vote on Thursday – but with a deep sense of disempowerment and little feeling of hope…
A while back, on my sabbatical from Channel 4, I did a phone interview with Hettie Jones in New York, wife of LeRoi Jones aka Amiri Baraka, and friend of Allen Ginsberg (both sons of Newark). Baraka passed away a few months later. He played a key role in one of my favourite films, Bulworth. This poem of his I read this week in connection with a documentary I’m working on really resonated…
Wherever you are, calling you, urgent, come in
Black People, come in, wherever you are, urgent, calling you, calling all black people
calling all black people, come in, black people, come on in.
“Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth”
Black is a country
(1962 Amiri Baraka)
It’s strange how things work out. I found myself today at noon under the portico of the GPO in Dublin, by my calculation within a couple of feet of where Patrick Pearse first read the Proclamation of Independence 100 years ago today. I’ve no Irish blood but I find the event very meaningful and resonant and it meant a lot to me to be present there and then. I made a special trip to Dublin for today to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
I took the train in to Connolly Station (named after one of the signatories of the Proclamation, socialist leader James Connolly, in 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary) from Rush, a small station north along the coast from Dublin where scenes of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins were filmed. On the train I sat at a table with a mother and daughter who were busy planning the logistics of some major shopping manoeuvres for the day. I revelled in the gap between what was on their mind and what was on mine.
On arrival in the city I walked round the corner to Liberty Hall, Connolly’s headquarters which played a central role in the planning of the uprising. The original building from which the rebels marched to the GPO on the fateful day is no more – in the Sixties it was built over to make a statement about modernity in the form of a highrise union HQ. Shortly after I arrived a woman dressed in dark green 1916 Irish Citizen Army uniform was preparing (with a modern worker with a droopy moustache and hi-viz vest) to raise an Irish flag of the era. She was then joined by two other ICA women and a troop of armed men dressed up in period uniforms. They marched out of an adjacent alley and gave the flag-raising sufficient gravity before a crowd of just a couple of dozen motley passers-by, tourists and left-leaning supporters.
I followed them off along the quay to the point where they were dismissed and wandered off. As I walked down the quay on the route I imagine the rebels took just before noon on 24th April 1916 to the GPO in Sackville (O’Connell) Street I could easily conjour up their emotions – they would have been perhaps slightly self-conscious in similar ‘unofficial’ uniforms as they walked among the few Easter holidayers on the streets that Monday morning. They would have been nervous on the short walk knowing they were about to raid the GPO and reach a point of no return.
As I turned right into O’Connell Street a crowd was gathered in front of the GPO. A trade unionist or socialist of some kind was making a speech, amplified off a stage just beyond the General Post Office, recounting and interpreting the events of Easter Monday 1916. Banners for various contemporary campaigns to do with energy companies and water charging and the like leant an appropriately grass-roots political vibe to the gathering. This was the Citizens’ Commemoration and it was a refreshing contrast to the bigwigs’ official ceremony on Easter Monday a few weeks ago. Suddenly on stage appeared a friend, ironically from just the other side of Highgate Hill from me, actor Adie Dunbar, who was playing Master of Ceremonies with his usual aplomb. I texted him from between the bullet-scarred classical columns of the Post Office. As noon approached, the hour Pearse came out of the building to give the Proclamation its first airing to mainly uninterested passers-by, somewhat against the odds I saw the mother and daughter from the train. They were rushing by through the now dense crowd with shopping bags in hand, pretty much oblivious of the commemorative event going on around them – a perfect echo of the Dublin citizens who largely ignored Pearse and his men.
A few minutes before twelve Adie announced that a descendent of one of the GPO combatants, the O’Rahilly, would lay a wreath at the entrance to the monumental building. Proinsias O’Rathaille, the grandson, walked a few inches in front of me and I found myself among a small group of media photographers as he laid the wreath to the fallen. As the clock above the window in which the emblematic black sculpture of Cuchulainn is displayed struck noon I was within a couple of yards of the focal point. Strangely I don’t think anyone had focused on the precise spot where Pearse would have been standing.
Foggy Dew was sung. The Proclamation was read. The Soldiers’ Song was sung. I watched for a few more minutes from the stone base of a column. I left to the strains of Fenian Women’s Blues, a song by a young Irish singer drawing attention back to the women who participated in the Rising but were to a large degree airbrushed out of history.
I walked round the corner to the Winding Stair bookshop, one of my favourite spots in Dublin, and picked up a souvenir in the form of a copy of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ new book The Seven, about the signatories of the Proclamation. Still buzzing from the intersection of history, time, place, my life – the rhyming of hope and history.
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
Easter Sunday (23rd April 1916)
Marked the day by going to the National Film Theatre to see The Trial of Sir Roger Casement, a television play from 1960 (on Granada) starring Peter Wyngarde as Roger Casement, who was hanged for treason 100 years ago not a million miles from here (in Pentonville prison) and even more shamefully chucked into a pit of lime. That’s Peter Wyngarde of Jason King and Department S fame. It was 56 minutes of skilfully crafted court room drama, with a contemporary commentary well integrated into the flow. Casement was arrested on Good Friday 100 years ago…
Scroll forward two days and it is as much a confused fiasco as Casement’s bumbling efforts on the Kerry coast. Had the arms shipment from Germany brokered by Casement arrived as intended, Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers, might have supported the Easter Rising but as it was, considering the rebels to be underarmed and to have no chance of victory, he countermands the order to gather and ultimately rise up against the English and thereby creates confusion across the country. The plan had been to assemble armed men (and women) of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army across Ireland as cover for the start of the Easter Rising.
MacNeill’s withdrawal of the order for ‘manoeuvres’, indeed “all orders given to Irish Volunteers for tomorrow, Easter Sunday”, is published in the Sunday Independent.
Significant numbers of IV and ICA gather in Dublin and across the country but are uncertain what’s to happen. Needless to say it’s raining in much of the country as the volunteers hang around awaiting orders. Most end up dispersing (although many are still set to mobilise the next day if so commanded).
The rebel leaders decide just to postpone the uprising until Easter Monday despite MacNeill’s countermanding order.
Eamonn Ceannt, one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of Independence which was read out today (2016) in front of the GPO in Dublin, as it is every year on Easter Sunday, was on the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) Military Council with Joseph Plunkett and Sean MacDiarmada. He was appointed Director of Communications as well as commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers. During the Rising his battalion of over 100 men was stationed at the South Dublin Union, with Cathal Brugha as his second-in-command.
Ceannt returns home at 2am on Sunday and tells his wife Aine: “MacNeill has ruined us – he has stopped the Rising.” In the morning he heads to Liberty Hall to consult with Connolly and the others. His battalion meanwhile gathers at his house, the bicycles stacked four deep in the front garden. Ceannt returns to the house in the evening and begins filling out mobilisation orders. The bundle of papers commands his men to assemble again on Easter Monday. The decision to proceed is in motion…
Once the GPO fell and the rebels surrendered, Ceannt, like the other leaders, found himself in Kilmainham Gaol. He was shot like the rest in the stonebreaking yard on 8th May. He was 34. He wrote a last message a few hours before in cell 88:
I leave for the guidance of other Irish Revolutionaries who may tread the path which I have trod this advice, never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy, but to fight to a finish… Ireland has shown she is a nation. This generation can claim to have raised sons as brave as any that went before. And in the years to come Ireland will honour those who risked all for her honour at Easter 1916.
Today (2016) the Irish tricolour was raised above the roof of the GPO with planes of the Irish Air Force flying overhead trailing green, white and orange. What would Ceannt have made of that?