Archive for the ‘trump’ Tag

Coincidences No.s 250, 251 & 252

No. 250 – Puritans

pilgrim fathers boarding the mayflower painting by bernard gribble

The Pilgrim Fathers boarding the Mayflower – painting by Bernard Gribble

I travel to Plymouth and decide to see where the Mayflower departed from for the New World in 1620. I take a photo of the so-called Mayflower Steps (the water’s edge was actually some way back an elderly local gentleman explains to me back in the 17th Century). I decide to Insta the photo which mainly captures the fact that the Steps are being rebuilt for the 400th anniversary next year. For some reason the train of thought in my mind at the time is stepping off this quay onto that ship ultimately gave the world Trump. Also in the back of my mind is Ronan Bennett’s novel Havoc in its Third Year which probably coloured my views on Puritans. So I ended up writing this caption, including #fuckthepuritans:

screenshot 2019-01-27 09.16.13 plymouth hoe waterfront

The next day I am reading How to Think by Alan Jacobs. In the section on Consensus & Emotion he references a 1994 essay entitled Puritans and Prigs by Marilynne Robinson. In it she “challenges the contemptuous attitudes many people have towards Puritans”.

No. 251 – Scaramanga

Just along from the Mayflower Steps, past the building (Island House) where the Pilgrim Fathers are supposed to have taken their last meal on English soil,  I enter a good second-hand bookshop, The Book Cupboard. I eventually buy two paperbacks for a very reasonable £3 each, including a 1967 copy of The Man with the Golden Gun (largely for its cover which includes a BOAC luggage ticket for Scaramanga, the villain of the piece).

james_bond_13_the_man_with_the_golden_gun ian fleming book cover design

The next day I go to a meeting of the Advisory Board of Sheffield DocFest documentary festival. It is held in a place called Second Home, communal offices in the East End (by coincidence in the same narrow road where my grandfather had a clothes factory back in the 60s and 70s). At the appointed time I walk through to the meeting room. The way the building has been fitted out the spaces are divided by curving clear plastic walls which has the effect of a hall of mirrors. I remark on the confusing effect as I enter the meeting room and my colleague from DocFest immediately references Scaramanga and the movie of The Man with the Golden Gun and Christopher Lee (who I once crossed paths with on the streets of London).

the man with the golden gun roger moore christopher lee movie

No. 252 – Jack Shepherd

I go to the monthly meeting of the University of London Finnegan’s Wake Research Seminar. We cover about 6 to 8 lines per session as the method is close reading. The first of this month’s 6 lines includes a reference to the notorious 18th Century criminal Jack Sheppard.

Our bourse and politico-ecomedy are in safe with good Jock Shepherd, our lives are on sure in sorting with Jonathans, wild and great.

On the tube home I pick up the Evening Standard. The first line of the newspaper’s front page is: “Speedboat killer Jack Shepherd today launched a bid to resist extradition from Georgia”

Joyce deliberately misspells Sheppard’s surname to give it another connotation, shepherd, be that of sheep or men. This brings it in line with the surname of this 21st Century criminal currently on the lam(b).

finnegans wake james joyce 1st edition

1st edition

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Quote of the Day: Love them anyway

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

This text is known as The Paradoxical Commandments and was written in 1968 by American educator/writer Dr Kent M. Keith – you can read their story here

© Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

hedy_lamarr actress

They are featured being read by Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr in the excellent feature documentary about her life Bombshell (dir. Alexandra Dean) – well worth checking out (DVD, Amazon, Netflix). The film brings to light Lamarr’s role in the invention of channel-hopping communications technology which has been applied to GPS, Wifi and other technologies which underpin modern life. She was never paid a penny by the US military which exploited her patent.

Hedy had a good turn of phrase herself – given she died 17 years almost to the day before Trump was inaugurated how do you like these apples:

American men, as a group, seem to be interested in only two things, money and breasts. It seems a very narrow outlook.

Story Structure

In recent years the word and concept of Story has become fetishised. Every dull brand has a story, every prostituted hack is a storyteller. But despite this cheapening, Story remains a fascinating aspect of human behaviour. I have been interested in the structures underlying Story for many years. A couple of landmarks were being sent, on my second job, at Melrose Film Productions by my boss and mentor the late Peter Cole (ex-BBC Panorama), on an early outing of Robert McKee’s Story course in London. And reading Into The Woods by my former Channel 4 colleague John Yorke (Head of Drama).

robert mckee story book and course

Also on the McKee course, which has since become something of a screen industry cliche, were John Cleese, Joanna Hogg and a famous British sci-fi writer, I think it was Brian Aldiss but I forget. It took place at the Liberal Club off Northumberland Avenue over a weekend and it was a profound experience. I remember writing to McKee after to thank him for a transformational couple of days.

into the woods book john yorke

Into The Woods I found a great synthesis of the various theories I’d heard over the years.

Another key experience was the first time I worked on a development with my Little Dot colleague Paul Woolf. I was a Commissioning Editor at Channel 4 at the time and he was a senior Development Producer at Maverick TV. He is now based in Philadelphia heading up Unscripted Development in the US for Little Dot Studios and we’ve been working together closely throughout 2019 – a lot of Skyping. I was struck by how Paul applied story archetypes to the factual entertainment programme we were developing at the time – not an obvious tactic but it worked really well.

I use concepts of Story Structure all the time in developing documentaries, even when derived from sources more focused on movie and drama scriptwriting. In the area I work in much of the time, short form online docs, there is a tendency to neglect narrative and default to what are in effect mini character portraits. I’m a real Story merchant, pushing all the time for narrative drive in documentaries.

violet vixen poster real stories original documentary

A good example is the recent Real Stories Original Violet Vixen. The young director, Leanne Rogers, brought me some lovely footage centred on Leo, a charismatic 11 year old exploring his gender identity. But there was little story in place. I gave her a commission for a 25-minute doc on the proviso that she add an element to up the narrative drive. I suggested she encouraged Leo (and his mum) to go see his hero. It turned out his hero was Courtney Act, drag queen graduate of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Leanne managed to pull off the encounter and the trip down to Brighton to meet Courtney (the charming Shane Jenek) gave the film a spine. Our timing was lucky too as Courtney won Celebrity Big Brother while we were in the edit – he has since been given his own show on Channel 4 this Christmas.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last year thinking about Story Structure. My starting point was reflecting on Why Do Us Humans Love and Tell Stories?

Cavemen at camp fire telling stories cartoon

My conclusions in brief can be summarised thus:

* to distract us / entertain us
* to find meaning / patterns in our experiences
* to get a sense of there being order
* to think about what we would do in the circumstances / rehearse situations
* to get guidance on how to understand other people
* to connect to others through shared experience
* to pass on information
* to pass on values
* to define our identity/give us common ground/bind the group
* to feel better about our lives (by comparison)

All of these seem to me to grow out of our Human Condition and the imperatives of evolution.

* to distract us / entertain us – the world is a tough place
* to find meaning / patterns in our experiences – evolution has made us great pattern spotters
* to get a sense of there being order – we need a sense of meaning and purpose
* to think about what we would do in the circumstances / rehearse situations – we’re more likely to survive if we’re well prepared
* to get guidance on how to understand other people – we’re more likely to thrive if we have insight into how our fellow bald monkeys think
* to connect to others through shared experience – we have an inherent need to belong (to the family and tribe and race)
* to pass on information – e.g. to help our offspring survive & thrive
* to pass on values – to help our society run smoothly
* to define our identity/give us common ground/bind the group – we need the group to survive
* to feel better about our lives (by comparison) – the world is a tough place.

In the same way, archetypal stories grow directly out of the human condition. Let’s start at the beginning – Birth. One of the main story structures is Paradise Lost. We spend nine months floating around in a benign place, well fed, nicely muffled sound, a steady reliable rhythm of heartbeat. And then we get ejected. Into a tough place.

When I was doing some research on that second job at Melrose I went down to the old Docklands to meet a bloke whose big theory was that the trauma of Birth was the defining moment of our whole lives. I’ve reflected on that from time to time over the years and I buy it more and more.

So what I’m calling the Paradise Lost story is: I was in a perfect place. I got ejected. I need to get back there. I reckon this is reflected in all sorts of human behaviour from people tending to drift back in their later years to where they grew up (or a place similar to it) to men spending so much time and effort trying to get back up that little birth canal. This story is intimately linked to the concept of Home.

It’s the central human story of the Bible – the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It’s there in The Godfather – Michael gets sent off to Sicily after tasting the forbidden fruit of illegal killing (the murder of Sollozzo and McCluskey) and works his way back not just to the family kitchen but also to the desk in the background. It’s there in Where The Wild Things Are – Max gets sent to his room and from there finds himself in that wild place, it’s fun but he’s happy to sail back to the peace of his childhood bed.

al-pacino godfather murder of Sollozzo and McCluskey

Of course it also the story of both Trump and Brexit as highlighted in John Harris’ excellent 3-parter for BBC Radio 4, The Tyranny of Story, which has been repeated this week. “Make America Great Again” – America was a great place (e.g. in the post-war 50s boom); that disappeared; Trump is going to bring it back. “Take Back Control” – Britain was a great place (e.g. when we had an empire); that disappeared; Brexit is going to bring it back. Neither Hilary nor Remain came up with an effective counter-narrative.

where the wild things are maurice sendak book childrens

Over the holidays I’m going to reflect more on the connection between the human lifecycle (both as individuals and a species) and the core human stories.

Anthem for the Age of Brexit & Trump

Plus ca change. Better to laugh than cry…

There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner
(by Noel Coward)

They’re out of sorts in Sunderland
And terribly cross in Kent,
They’re dull in Hull
And the Isle of Mull
Is seething with discontent,

They’re nervous in Northumberland
And Devon is down the drain,
They’re filled with wrath
On the firth of Forth
And sullen on Salisbury Plain,

In Dublin they’re depressed, lads,
Maybe because they’re Celts
For Drake is going West, lads,
And so is everyone else.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!
Misery’s here to stay.
There are bad times just around the corner,
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky
And it’s no good whining
About a silver lining
For we know from experience that they won’t roll by,
With a scowl and a frown
We’ll keep our peckers down
And prepare for depression and doom and dread,
We’re going to unpack our troubles from our old kit bag
And wait until we drop down dead.

From Portland Bill to Scarborough
They’re querulous and subdued
And Shropshire lads
Have behaved like cads
From Berwick-on-Tweed to Bude,

They’re mad at Market Harborough
And livid at Leigh-on-Sea,
In Tunbridge Wells
You can hear the yells
Of woe-begone bourgeoisie.

We all get bitched about, lads,
Whoever our vote elects,
We know we’re up the spout, lads.
And that’s what England expects.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!
Trouble is on the way.
There are bad times just around the corner,
The horizon’s gloomy as can be,
There are black birds over
The grayish cliffs of Dover
And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC
We’re an unhappy breed
And very bored indeed
When reminded of something that Nelson said.
While the press and the politicians nag nag nag
We’ll wait until we drop down dead.

From Colwyn Bay to Kettering
They’re sobbing themselves to sleep,
The shrieks and wails
In the Yorkshire dales
Have even depressed the sheep.

In rather vulgar lettering
A very disgruntled group
Have posted bills
On the Cotswold Hills
To prove that we’re in the soup.

While begging Kipling’s pardon
There’s one thing we know for sure
If England is a garden
We ought to have more manure.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!
Suffering and dismay.
There are bad times just around the corner
And the outlook’s absolutely vile,
There are Home Fires smoking
From Windermere to Woking
And we’re not going to tighten our belts and smile, smile, smile,
At the sound of a shot
We’d just as soon as not
Take a hot water bottle and go to bed,
We’re going to un-tense our muscles till they sag sag sag
And wait until we drop down dead.

There are bad times just around the corner,
We can all look forward to despair,
It’s as clear as crystal
From Bridlington to Bristol
That we can’t save democracy and we don’t much care
If the Reds and the Pinks
Believe that England stinks
And that world revolution is bound to spread,
We’d better all learn the lyrics of the old ‘Red Flag’
And wait until we drop down dead.

A likely story
Land of Hope and Glory,
Wait until we drop down dead.

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