Archive for the ‘hunger’ Tag

Connections (Days 85 and 86)

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds The Beatles visualisation

Lucy in the Sky

Two days where relatively little done on the book and yet filled with surrounding stuff which feels of the same spirit, worthwhile and somehow connected.

Day 85 was just slow to start, had a run when the sun showed up mid-morning for a while and got caught up with other stuff – sorting out a trip to Ireland next week, writing to an old friend and exchanging emails with the excellent David McCandless of Information is Beautiful and the insightful Mark Stevenson of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. Did a bit of polishing of Ginsberg chapter then had to do Enfants Terribles related stuff so by the time I dropped off ET No. 2 at a lesson in the afternoon I’d not that much done. But I repaired to the Adam & Eve on The Ridgeway in Mill Hill village with trusty Air at hand and, sitting by the fire, got up more of a head of steam. As I reached the section on Apple Corps, The Beatles’ corporation, Help came up on the pub’s sound system. Worked on and then just as I reached the section on Ginsberg’s involvement in early LSD testing, after The Who, Van and a bunch of other stuff had been playing, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds kicked in at exactly the moment the Find function landed me on that bit. When I left the pub and got into the car, switched on the engine, Radio London was still on from earlier and on it was, yes you guessed it, The Beatles, again playing  Help. So I take it I’m supposed to be writing that part at the moment.

Adam & Eve pub mill hill london nw7

I did some pro bono work in the evening for Anti-Slavery International regarding Film4′s 12 Years a Slave. Sorry to read Steve McQueen is going over to the BBC next as Film4 has really backed him to the hilt – my friend Jan Younghusband (formerly Commissioning Editor of Arts at C4) nurtured Hunger and navigated its way into Film4 (and Steve’s into feature film making), not an easy project to see home intact.

Day 86 began, after a quick burst of Ginsberg, with more pro bono – a fabulous & fun Culture24 project in need of a little guidance. Got the ol’ creative juices flowing alongside the cappuccinos at the marvellous Amici. Dashed from there to Middlesex University, where I’ve been doing a little consultancy work recently, to discuss doing a PhD next year. In many ways university was a bit wasted on me in my early 20s – I’m just about ready to do a proper job of the academic side of it now (as opposed to running film societies and doing the whole Art History tripos on the side when I was supposed to be doing Languages).

Final stop – the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, a place Allen Ginsberg often hung out in when in London, to meet up again with Kathelin Gray, a friend of Ginsberg and William Burroughs, a wide-ranging artist, performer, curator, teacher, activist and ball of energy who I interviewed before Christmas. She showed me around the beautiful gallery sited in an old schoolhouse and its library which was right up my street, custom-made book cases and a lovingly gathered collection.

So I’ll do some writing over the weekend to make up for it, the first weekend I will have worked since I started on 1st Sept. Working 9-5 Mon-Fri has been an important discipline and getting this far without breaking the pattern is quite good going, what’s a quick Friday for Sunday swop between friends?

Kathelin in the desert

Kathelin in the desert

The free range broadcaster

With all the speculation, misinformation, politicking and general bullshit flying around today with the release of TV regulator Ofcom’s blueprint “for sustaining and strengthening public service broadcasting (PSB) for the next decade” I’d like to take a moment here to highlight Ofcom’s recommendation for Channel 4:

Create a strong, alternative public service voice to the BBC, with Channel 4 at the heart

And pick up an article by Roy Greenslade, widely respected Professor of Journalism at London’s City University, writer for The Guardian and Evening Standard, and man about Donegal (believe he’s been spotted in The Bridge Bar, Ramelton where my wedding reached a satisfying, musical conclusion on Day 3). In tonight’s issue of the Standard (which I picked from the bin in East Finchley station – does Alexander Lebedev have any idea how few people part with actual cash money for it?) Prof G wrote the following insightful article:

Ofcom risks making a pig’s ear of C4 if we lose gourmet selection of quality TV
Roy Greenslade
21.01.09

Pig Business - a Channel 4 documentary

Pig Business - a Channel 4 documentary

On Monday evening I attended the preview of a Channel 4 documentary called Pig Business. It was a fine piece of work, a mixture of passion and compassion that raised all sorts of disturbing questions about factory farming, agri-business and globalisation, not to mention airing concerns about public health and the environment.

You can make up your own mind on 3 February, when it is screened on More4, but — even if you disagree with the polemic — it has to be seen as an extraordinary project because it was filmed over the course of four years by Tracy Worcester. After the showing there was loud applause for her and tributes from several speakers, including Zac Goldsmith and Chrissie Hynde. There was acclaim too from Tim Sparke, managing director of the path-breaking broadband TV documentary company Mercury Media, but he broadened his praise and struck a particularly topical note.

“If ever we need a demonstration of Channel 4′s commitment to public service broadcasting,” he said. “Then this is it.”

As C4′s chairman, Luke Johnson, and chief executive, Andy Duncan, peruse the Ofcom report released this morning that outlines how the channel will be funded in future, it is important to keep in mind the value of its output.

I know this is the channel of Big Brother, and that we are currently being assaulted by another instalment of a Celebrity Big Brother, a title that — given the crop of inmates — surely breaches the Trades Descriptions Act. But they are programmes that ramp up viewing figures, thereby attracting essential advertising revenue and enabling the broadcasting of serious public service broadcasting (PSB) content.

There is so much to appreciate about C4, not least its contribution to film, arts, drama and documentaries. There is a Channel 4 ethos, a distinctiveness, that sets it apart from both its commercial rivals and the publicly-funded BBC. I happen to be an avid viewer of Channel 4 News because it deals in some depth with the most important news stories of the day. It treats viewers as grown-ups and, significantly, attracts a young audience that clearly appreciates that fact. It’s a sort of early Newsnight.

Consider also the very different documentary and factual strands such as Dispatches, Cutting Edge and Unreported World. The latter, screened 20 times a year in peak time, takes viewers to stories in parts of Africa, South America and south-east Asia that never appear elsewhere.

Sure, the audiences are small. But the whole point of PSB, and of C4′s remit, is to widen the TV horizon. There is no point in sticking to a safe mainstream, agenda. Other broadcasters do that. There is a mix, with populist factual programming running alongside more esoteric stuff, but it works. C4 also commissions programmes that take risks or challenge our preconceptions.

Take the eight-part series now showing on Sunday evenings, Christianity: A History. It started off two weeks ago with a superb and counter-intuitive presentation from Howard Jacobson on Jesus the Jew. It was some of the most watchable TV I have seen in a long time, intelligent without being in the least bit pompous, provocative without any hint of bombast.

Turning to C4′s contribution to film, who can deny the virtues of a company that backed movie-makers such as Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave); Steve McQueen (Hunger) and Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Six Shooter)?

But let’s stop the tour here. The point of the exercise is to illustrate what we stand to lose if C4 is not adequately funded in the coming years. It is also to underline the point made by BBC executives, even if through gritted teeth, that rival PSB output is healthy for our society.

I realise the over-riding importance of C4 every time I call up the list of documentary channels on Sky and discover the endless loop-tape of what has rightly been dubbed a choice of sharks or Nazis.

What distinguishes C4′s factual output is that it rarely, if ever, stoops to the formulaic TV that populates the digital depths. That is one reason why I have been opposed to the notion of a merger with Five, a commercial channel that would erase the individuality of C4.

I have never seen the point of Five since its launch in 1997 and, going on the viewing figures, neither can most of the nation’s viewers. It is remarkable that a populist channel that screens wall-to-wall entertainment attracts only 4.6% of the total audience. Yet C4, with so much of its PSB programming specifically aimed at minority audiences, manages to get a 6.3% share.

I can well understand why the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, has advocated a C4-Five merger. He wants to protect the BBC’s licence fee and preserve the income from its own commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

While I was thinking about C4′s dilemma I realised that the Pig Business documentary offered several relevant metaphors. In its current state C4 is a free range broadcaster, offering good meat that satisfies the appetites of its customers. If it is overly constrained, whether by tighter budgets or by an uncomfortable accommodation with a rival, there will be a reduction in both the quantity and quality of its meat.

Factory-farmed TV is junk food for the masses. C4′s programmes, by contrast, are a gourmet selection for niche audiences. We lose them at our peril.”

Update 22.i.09:
Last night while I was writing this post Channel 4 was winning the Broadcaster of the Year Award at the Broadcast Awards.

It also picked up awards for:
Best Documentary: My Street [a wonderful film]
Best Documentary Series: The Genius of Charles Darwin
Best Single Drama: Boy A
Best New Programme: Gordon Ramsay Cookalong Live
Best International Sales: Come Dine With Me

Update 22.i.09:

To ram the point home, this lunchtime (GMT) this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced and Channel 4′s Film4 have received 12 (yes, 12!) nominations:

Slumdog Millionaire

· Cinematography

· Directing

· Film editing

· Original score

· Original song – “Jai Ho”

· Original song – “O Saya”

· Best picture

· Sound editing

· Sound mixing

· Adapted screenplay

In Bruges

· Original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

· Original screenplay

Global Warming

Q. Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road? A. Because there's fuck-all else to do in Bruges

Q. Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road? A. Because there's fuck-all else to do in Bruges

What an incredible year my colleagues at Film4 have had since Last King of Scotland picked up an Oscar (and two BAFTAs). Last night at the Golden Globes of the 14 movie awards 6 went to Film4 productions:

  • BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA 
Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
 Colin Farrell, In Bruges
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
 Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
  • BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
 Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE 
Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE 
Slumdog Millionaire

Add to that movies like Hunger which already has picked up a shedload of silverware (20 so far including the Camera d’Or at Cannes, which I acknowledge is not technically silverware) and Garage, a landmark in Irish cinema. Irish and Waiting Around has been something of a theme this year (Garage, Hunger, In Bruges). And let’s not forget A Complete History of My Sexual Failures made by Chris Waitt, an alumnus of 4Talent.

Film4 may not be huge but they’re perfectly formed, add a great deal to the UK film industry and – like Channel 4 as a whole – punch well above their weight. “Our organization is small, but we have a lot of opportunities for aggressive expansion.”

…which brings us neatly from a great night to a Dark Knight: I have to agree with Maggie Gyllenhall’s analysis of Heath Ledger’s win in the Best Supporting Actor category: “Our movie I think is great, but I think he elevated it to a completely different place.” Without a doubt, performance of the year.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

UPDATE 15.i.09 08:15

BAFTA nominations just announced. Film4 picked up 3 of the 5 nominations for Outstanding British Film (In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire, Hunger); Slumdog got most nominations (equal with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); and, of course, Slumdog is up there for Best Film and Best Director.

Good to see Kate Winslet pitted against herself in Best Actress category – you can see the speech already: “I’m so sorry, Anne, Meryl, Kristin, …oh god, who’s the other one? Me!”

Now THAT speech, it bears some anaylsis… “I’m so sorry [unconvincing (for such an experienced actress) self-deprecation] Anne, Meryl, Kristin, …oh god, who’s the other one? [what a bitch, eh? sub-text: I know full well who the other sexiest one is] Angelina! this is… ok… now, forgive me …gather [sub-text: I've been to drama school]. Is this really happening? OK, erm… I’m going to try and do this on the cuff, ok [so OFF the cuff I get the phrase wrong] – Thank you so much. Thank you so much! [sub-text: I really do need a good script-writer, I've nothing substantial to say myself] Oh god! {applause} Please wrap up, you have no idea how I’m not wrapping up! [sub-text: stop clapping, I need to wrestle control back, I'm not fucking finished!] Ok, gather…”

UPDATE 17.i.09

I’ve just gotten round to watching the end of The Reader. Having given Kate Winslet a hard time above, I have to confess it is an excellent performance, well worthy of awards. But the film itself has left me with nagging doubts, two in particular. Most of the UK critics praised it highly but I noticed two exceptions, strangely enough by two people I went to school with. Pete Bradshaw of The Guardian expressed strong doubts (from memory, the review I read on the way back from Ireland after the new year gave it one star). Mark Kermode subsequently spoke of his reservations on the weekly film review show he does with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5.

The implication of the film – in the trial of Hanna Schmidz – is that she left Siemens to join the SS because she had been offered a promotion which would have exposed her illiteracy. The same happened to her at the tram company after the war – she runs away when a promotion to office work is offered. What is this saying? The film comes to (and this is no easy feat) create a degree of sympathy for Hanna, a guard at Auschwitz for the SS. Is it saying because she was illiterate, disadvantaged, perhaps a touch simple it explains her role in the war? That reminds me of an experience I had in Austria in the 80s.

I was on a scholarship studying the artist Egon Schiele (to whom my attention had first been drawn by David Bowie on the radio). I went to the small village on the outskirts of Vienna to find his studio. I knew it had been up a small lane but had difficulty finding it. I asked an old man I met on the street and first he hushed me, indicating that the name Egon Schiele was still a dirty word in the village 70 odd years after his ‘artistic’ behaviour had scandalised the place. Then he brought me into a bar, bought me a white wine and launched into an apology (in the sense of ‘explanation’) for Austria’s take up of Nazism. We were poor, hungry, illiterate…

It didn’t wash then and it doesn’t in the film either. The other thing I didn’t buy was that the daughter who had been in Auschwitz as a child with her mother would keep a memento (Hanna’s tin) of a concentration camp guard, least of all by a photo of her murdered family. There’s something being underestimated there.

Now I’m not sure what comes from the David Hare screenplay and what from Bernard Schlink’s source novel (Der Vorleser) but the tin and the flight to the SS from the Siemens promotion both give me the impression that Schlink (or Hare, but I suspect the former) was letting Germany off the hook too easily – ignorance is no excuse and forgiveness doesn’t come that easy.

For all that, it’s still a very well made and compelling movie. Ralph Fiennes’ performance is on a par with Kate Winslet. Ironically the one time I met and spoke to him, in the bar at the Almeida in Islington, he had just played the fiendish Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. David Kross who plays Fiennes’ character, Michael Berg, when young is also excellent. The film was part-shot by my old boss Roger Deakins (who shared the gig with fellow Brit Chris Menges) and it certainly looks great too. Well worth watching but there’s something dubious to be read between the lines.

Update 22.i.09:

This lunchtime this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced and Channel 4′s Film4 has received 12 (yes, 12!) nominations:

Slumdog Millionaire

· Cinematography

· Directing

· Film editing

· Original score

· Original song – “Jai Ho”

· Original song – “O Saya”

· Best picture

· Sound editing

· Sound mixing

· Adapted screenplay

In Bruges

· Original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

· Original screenplay

The Opposite of Digital

Camille at the Roundhouse

Camille at the Roundhouse

It started deep below Tate Modern. In three large circular spaces, formerly oil tanks for the Bankside power station, Will Gompertz, Director of Tate Media, mentioned he would love to do an event in the brick-walled space before it gets transformed into new gallery space for 2012. The acoustics were enchanting, a huge cylindrical echo chamber punctuated with iron pillars, and a low hum from the remaining generators which made me think of Le Fil, the album by London-based(?) French singer Camille. The name of the record – the Thread – comes from the single note which threads across the whole of it. So when I noticed Camille was playing at the Roundhouse I invited Will.

Le Fil I came across by chance. Just liked the cover. I was down in Brick Lane with the Enfants Terribles one weekend when I ducked into Rough Trade East. When we pass a record or book shop they habitually form up into a SWAT team to bar my way but on that occasion I was too quick for them. It was a good session of buying on instinct – I came across Burial’s Untrue for the first time that day too.

As things turned out Will couldn’t make it in the end (had to meet Steve McQueen of Hunger fame) and I ended up inviting James, my neighbour, on the touchline at Finchley RFC vs Harrow RFC U12s out in Stanmore on an autumnal Sunday morning.

Now James hadn’t been to the Roundhouse since ’69 when he saw Pink Floyd, of which there are colourful accounts in Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles, including a mention of Donegal’s own Henry McCullough, the only Irishman on stage at Woodstock (with Joe Cocker). So it was a pleasure to reintroduce them and resonant to be standing next to an iron column not dissimilar from that secret Tate space.

Camille‘s performance was the opposite of digital. In this age of easy copying, reproduction, recording, on demand, clones – it was a unique performance of an unpredictable singer in dialogue with the live crowd. She seems to have a thing about the colour orange which suits me as so do I (childhood bedroom colour at 2A Selvage Lane aka La Sirene, appropriately enough – lord knows why my parents called the house that (or anything) but the sign ended up being flipped around and having the even worse Popin added to the former reverse side at the next house where my mum still lives and Sirene still hangs hidden).

Camille in short hand is Bobby McFerrin meets Kate Bush with a bit of Swingle Singers, Marcel Marceau and Beardyman thrown in for a good measure of machine-free madness. So all voices and body beats with no instruments beyond a piano which she doesn’t really need.

The gig came to a collective climax and just to show how live it was she came on for one too many encores and an improv with Jamie Cullum which didn’t quite work and dissipated the hard-won energy. But that’s the beauty of transcending the 1s and 0s – you win some, you lose some, you can’t tell til you try, human fallibility seeps in alongside human spirit.

The best 0 of the night was when she came back on for the encore that took the performance to its high point. She’d changed from the LBD under her orange robe to a Longer Black Dress. Then at 1 point she turned around to reveal a large 0 cut into the dress at the base of her spine, revealing an expanse of back which recalled Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and a delightful toppest bit of bum, an emblem of that mad French sexuality we know and love from the likes of L’Ete Meutrier (One Deadly Summer) and 37.2 degres le Matin (Betty Blue). That threat of madness, that touch of unpredictability, the moment of unevenness, the ambiguous attractions among the band are the undigitalness we all need from time to time.

Random poll brought to you courtesy of WordPress’ new alliance with Polldaddy – couldn’t resist having a quick go

Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

I have to admit I was a bit worried when I heard Channel 4 were making a film about Bobby Sands and the Maze hunger strike. Having sat through shite like Ken Loach and Rebecca O’Brien’s ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ I feared the worst. But ‘Hunger‘, by Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, is an artist’s film of intense emotional impact and real insight. And it belongs on the big screen, its compositions and rhythms fill the space. That it is a London born film-maker, a black film-maker, that provides such insight into so fraught and sensitive an Irish story is all the more remarkable.

It was commissioned by my colleague Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor for Arts and Performance at Channel 4. She is a woman with a purist and committed approach to art, as I learned from working with her on projects like Big Art Project and 4mations. ‘Hunger’ was five years in the making and conception. Through her work on the Turner Prize Jan came into contact with McQueen, hooked up from time to time in a cafe on Old Compton Street and gradually homed in on this most demanding of subject-matter. Film 4, in the person of Peter Carlton (who I worked with last year on My Movie Mash-up/Faintheart, which amply demonstrated his ballsy approach) came in to back the film as a theatric offering. I have to say, having just emerged from a viewing of the finished film, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an organisation that creates a work like this.

I walk past Bobby Sands regularly in the form of a Christ-like statue of him in Newry, the town in County Down where my wife was born. She grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and early 80s – I can hardly imagine how she and her sisters will watch this film. Whatever you feel about the politics behind Bobby Sands (of which most of our (British) population is incredibly ignorant, and was so back in 1980 – as a suburban London teenager it was right off my radar beyond what I gleaned from Stiff Little Fingers) the portrayal of political conviction and of inhuman bigotry is as powerful as it comes. Thatcher’s voice, heard in voice-over punctuating the film from time to time, comes across as truly monstrous. Everything about its coldness and stridency speaks of the huge cultural gulf between the Lincoln grocery and a family gathering in West Belfast or Gweedore, Donegal (where the key flashback scene of the film takes place) or pretty much anywhere in Ireland or an Irish home.

My wife recalls how her life and the lives of all around her were overshadowed by the hunger strike. A time punctuated by the staggered deaths (they deliberately spaced the starts of their hunger-strikes two weeks apart to maximise the impact of their sacrifice). Looking back from the last few years it is only now she truly recognises what a troubled, hard childhood she and her contemporaries lived through. A couple of years ago we were in the (old) Tate with the children. They were copying some of the pictures in the Pop Art rooms. As we emerged from the gallery I noticed my wife was really upset. I asked her what was up and it turned out walking through a room of Richard Hamilton images of soldiers on the streets of Belfast [The State 1993] had really disturbed her and awakened ghosts. (Richard Hamilton of course also portrayed Bobby Sands draped in blanket in his picture ‘The Citizen’ [1981-83].)

When I first visited Newry in 1986 I was greeted by the most surreal of experiences – walking down the high street I watched British troops, armed with machine guns and equipped with radios, ducking in and out of shop doorways between little old ladies struggling along with their shopping bags. Nothing in my North London childhood had given me the slightest clue that such dark comedy was to be had on the streets of ‘my country’.

On my way out of the screening I met a woman who looked pretty shaken by the experience (naturally enough). It turned out her daughter works at the Channel and she comes from Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh. Needless to say she knew the one family I know in Crossmaglen, as that is the way of Ireland. I knew the hospital she was born in in Newry, Daisyhill aka Crazyhill, as my wife was born there too. I knew her school in Kilkeel as my wife went there too. It’s a small, connected place. In her family home this woman I got talking to has some of the tiny notes smuggled out of the Maze – that’s how connected it is.

I thought the starvation in Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild‘ was painful to watch and moving but it goes nowhere near the forensic observation of this film. The skeletal bodies are resonant of Auschwitz – and the crucifixion. And yet the film captures something incredible, something transcendent about the human spirit and will.

Towards the end of the film we see a flashback of the Belfast boy on a coach traveling over the border into Donegal to attend a cross-country race put on by the Christian Brothers (purveyors, as Pete McCarthy amusingly put it, of “the carrot and stick method of Education – only without the carrot”). Behind the face of the young Bobby is a blurred swoosh of gold, low sunlight on the ferns and bogland. It represents a paradise to the starving man.

Recalling when I first went to that place – Gweedore – brings a smile to my lips. I’d followed the roadmap and came to what I thought was not far from Gweedore. I stopped at a junction, reminiscent of where Cary Grant gets off the bus in ‘North-by-Northwest’ and gets attacked by a crop-spraying plane. There was a small shop at the junction, outside of which stood an old fella in a flat cap. I wound down the window and asked him where Gweedore was. You’re in it. Where? All around. He was trying to explain the concept of a ‘townland’ which was foreign to me. ‘Town’ I get. ‘Land’ and ‘country’ I get. But this was something in-between, half way to the imagination, between the word on the map and the ground beneath me was a cultural gap and an imaginative leap. ‘Dhun na nGall’ (Donegal) means ‘fort of the foreigners’ – foreigners have given the people there a tough time since way back – from the marauding Vikings (who probably explain my wife’s love of the battle and fighting scenes in ‘Gladiator’) to the screws beating the living shit out of Bobby Sands and fellow prisoners with their truncheons and tattooed knuckles. The same shit these men smeared on the walls of their cells in an astonishing act of defiance for over 4 years, the shit McQueen turns into a kind of circular abstract painting in one scene. The ability of people to survive that kind of degradation and brutality for the sake of an idea is ultimately uplifting. The ability to inflict that kind of degradation and brutality is to be the subject of one of my next posts (bet you can’t wait ;-) inspired by Philippe Sands‘ recent book Torture Team about torture in Iraq, where Steve McQueen served as a war artist in 2003.) So shifting Sands from Bobby to Philippe – not easy subjects but then 7/7 isn’t an easy day…

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