its funny with JOE STRUMMER and THE CLASH i have kept at arms length. i am familiar with their catalogue and enjoy it but i always considered them a bit of an anomaly in terms of early PUNK ROCK. to my ears they were a bit slick and rather contrived. they sang about "LONDON'S BURNING" but the music seemed contained and under control, unlike say "ANARCHY IN THE UK" by the SEX PISTOLS which i can easily see as the soundtrack to LONDON burning to the ground. i also never knew what to make of their global ambitions, infusing their sound with rhythms and lyrics dedicated to rebel groups and liberation struggles in faraway lands. all seemed very colonialist to me. maybe its the fact that my grandmother is ENGLISH and is convinced they gave the world "culture." maybe THE CLASH and STRUMMER in particular hit that blindspot of mine and just didn't come off convincing.
how pleasantly shocking it was when viewing JULIEN TEMPLE's crafty documentary JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (FILMFOUR, 2007) to learn that this iconic frontman was, in fact, the son of a left-leaning BRITISH diplomat and grew up the world over. he was born in TURKEY and lived in places like MEXICO, IRAN, ZIMBABWE, INDIA throughout his childhood. this coupled with surviving ENGLAND's notoriously draconian boarding school culture makes me question my assumptions about the man. probably because they mirror my own experiences growing up abroad and surviving boarding school (ha!). seems maybe he was genuine in his affinity for world culture after all.
also the man knew about suffering. the isolation of boarding school didnt come without consequences and his brother's suicide makes quick note of such. i think before i knew his backstory, i always saw STRUMMER as a culture opportunist. someone who fiddled with folk and hippiedom only to find PUNK ROCK as a vehicle for his ambitions that maybe didn't align perfectly with their dictum for nihilism and and anarchy. what this documentary show me was that in fact PUNK ROCK served as a key to unlocking his ability to take his expansive knowledge of how the world actually functioned and hold a mirror up to it in a way none of his contemporaries could. he wasn't interested in destruction but rather the deconstruction of the forces and systems that manipulate human behavior en masse. that same process can also be said to his own persona, having to strip everything back clear his identity by discarding his past associates and previous community of supporters, including THE 101ers. this new order was extremist and fanatical in nature.
for these reasons PUNK ROCK for him was that ideal vehicle, its direct messaging and fiercely confrontational, often polemical stance in relation to BRITAIN's strained relationship with the world and itself. "england's dreaming" as JOHNNY ROTTEN put it.
on a purely cinematic level, i think the way TEMPLE constructed this film was particularly ingenious. the film is essentially a campfire vigil/gathering of sorts along the banks of the RIVER THEMES across from downtown LONDON with fans, colleagues and peers relating their experiences with the man as they listen to him over the radio airwaves on the BBC WORLD SERVICE. in essence it is is a representation of how his music is what continues to bind them all. his message and his music is his legacy. its a very eloquent conceit rooted in his later life ritual of embracing campfires as a means of connecting with others. to use that as an organizing principle in a film is a novel approach which i havent seen utilized before. all talking participants were also unaccredited, another ingenious choice by TEMPLE meant to draw focus on their words. these include family members, musicians such as STEVE JONES (SEX PISTOLS), MICK JONES (THE CLASH), PAUL SIMONON (THE CLASH), BOBBY GILLESPIE (PRIMAL SCREAM), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), ANTHONY KEIDIS (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), and BONO (U2), actors STEVE BUSCEMI, JOHNNY DEPP, MATT DILLON, JOHN CUSACK, artists BOB GRUEN and DAMIEN HIRST as well as directors JIM JARMUSCH, MARTIN SCORSESE and DON LETTS.
as much as i hate giving BONO any credit, he probably has the quote of the film when he states, and im paraphrasing here, that the legacy of JOE STRUMMER and THE CLASH was that at a moment in the late 1970s ideas trumped guitar solos in rock and roll, which provided an entry point for musicians across the world to pick up an instrument. virtuosity was not a requirement to become a viable band, just three chords and the truth as they say. not a bad legacy in the least and id argue THE CLASH more than held up their end of the bargain on providing "the truth."
well executed, cutting documentary on a PUNK ROCK icon that be should of interest to anyone interested in the subject.
as an AMERICAN it is difficult to hear the story of the spread of JAMAICAN music (SKA, ROCKSTEADY and REGGAE) in BRITAIN and not hear echos of the role AFRICAN-AMERICAN music held in the UNITED STATES (JAZZ, BLUES, R&B, ROCK AND ROLL, SOUL, FUNK, HIP HOP) in demanding both respect and representation from an oppressive white power structure that sought to exploit them for their labor, uninterested in their culture (or so they thought). its just too similar a narrative not to mention. AMERICAN music is BLACK MUSIC. likewise, JAMAICAN music influenced everything it touched in the UNITED KINGDOM (FASHION, POLITICS, ATTITUDE).
the recent documentary RUDEBOY: THE STORY OF TROJAN RECORDS (PULSE FILMS, 2018) outlines this compelling narrative from both a JAMAICAN and BRITISH perspective, as the two are deeply intertwined with one another. it does this through interviews with the musicians (TOOTS HIBBERT, DERRICK MORGAN, DANDY LIVINGSTONE, MARCIA GRIFFITHS, ROY ELLIS, KEN BOOTHE, FREDDIE NOTES, GEORGE DEKKER, DAVE BARKER, NEVILLE STAPLE, PAULINE BLACK), producers (BUNNY "STIKER" LEE, LLOYD COXSONE & LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY) and former TROJAN RECORDS officials (LEE GOPTHAL, ROB BELL & DAVID BETTERIDGE) that participated in bringing JAMAICAN music to the UNITED KINGDOM as well as writer NOEL HAWKS, filmmaker DON LETTS and most impressively of all, original JAMAICAN soundman KING EDWARDS THE GIANT.
the film also has some superbly choreographed reenactments with exceptionally visceral cinematography. the result is that we are taken into the streets of mid-century KINGSTON and the immigrant basement parties in 1960s ENGLISH council estates as the musical form and its audience developed. all this while the main participants act almost as voice-over narrators. really cool stuff that results in a highly immersive viewer experience.
as i've covered in other documentaries on the same topic (i.e. ROOTS, REGGAE, REBELLION and THE STORY OF SKINHEAD) the basic background is that the BRITISH NATIONALITY ACT OF 1948 gave BRITISH citizenship to all members of the commonwealth and the right to settle in BRITAIN, which led to a population boom of roughly 150,000 CARIBBEAN immigrants between 1951-1961 known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION. this had ramifications both culturally and politically.
LEE GOPTHAL was a BRITISH entrepreneur of INDIAN descent (who immigrated from JAMAICA) that owned a small string of record stores aimed at the burgeoning youth market represented by the children of the WINDRUSH GENERATION. at some point he realized he could sell imported 45s of JAMAICAN music to this growing second-generation immigrant population. he could not keep up with demand. in the late 1960s he established TROJAN RECORDS in partnership with CHRIS BLACKWELL's ISLAND RECORDS, which had connections to JAMAICA (thus its name).
once they started churning out records for the ENGLISH market, a funny thing happened: it caught on with the children and young adults of the working-class WHITE population. this led to the SKINHEAD movement of largely WHITE enthusiasts of JAMAICAN-imported music, fashion and attitude. essentially they wanted to look like the RUDEBOYS. their parents tolerance for this upstart youth culture was another story entirely sad to say. what is super interesting is how some participants of this documentary, PAULINE BLACK of 2-TONE SKA upstarts THE SELECTER and filmmaker DON LETTS (both second-generation immigrants), essentially were introduced to music of their ancestral homeland vis-a-vis the SKINHEAD movement.
at that point in the late 1960s, it could be argued that the music had become another facet of BRITISH popular culture. it even started getting regular airplay on BBC radio after years of being confined to offshore pirate radio stations. the intransigence and outright racism of radio programmers and gatekeepers on television was essentially nullified by the power of the collective popular appetite for this music. now a distinctly BRITISH sound rooted in its former colonies. i have no doubt that subsequent musical traditions rooted in immigrant populations in SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA and the INDIAN SUBCONTINENT no doubt gained entry to the ENGLISH radio-sphere through the efforts of TROJAN RECORDS and their audience demanding representation during this period.
TROJAN RECORDS is just a record label. it sought to expose and profit from music they believed in that was not exploited in the marketplace. they created that market and the culture that organically rose up around it in BRITAIN is still there today decades later after the label went bust in 1975 after not being able cover costs and taxes after it produced too many records. it created a musical and cultural dialogue that linked the UNITED KINGDOM with its former colony and made it reconsider its role in a newly multi-cultural society. i don't think BRITAIN was ready at the time, as evidenced with BRITISH MP ENOCH POWELL's xenophobic 1968 "RIVERS OF BLOOD" speech in which he stated that "in this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man" and the subsequent rise of the NATIONAL FRONT.
to BRITISH music lovers the legacy of TROJAN RECORDS is that of being a crucial preliminary step in the nation's hopeful progress towards INCLUSION, DIVERSITY and MULTICULTURALISM. yes there are setbacks (look no further than the xenophobic madness of BREXIT) and a brutal history (not unlike that of the UNITED STATES or GERMANY) defined by slavery and colonialism. one would hope recognizing the good in another's culture is the first step towards abandoning a shallow nativist stance and myopic, nationalist view of the world.
one can only hope.
great documentary worth checking out with superb cinematography and storytelling.
THE FALL was always the least approachable of what i consider, and i trust i am not alone here, the three great MANCUNIAN bands that arose in the wake of the PUNK movement (the others being JOY DIVISION and THE SMITHS). part of the reason for such was that i could never get my head around MARK E. SMITH, the leader and sole permanent member of THE FALL. JOY DIVISION and THE SMITHS arrived seemingly fully developed and benefited from sonically adventurous yet classically tuneful music that had a definite perspective courtesy of their legendary frontmen, IAN CURTIS and MORRISSEY respectfully.
SMITH is lyrically another beast entirely. his music is less structured and more chaotic (partly due to the constant shuffling of lineups) and his lyrics are highly obtuse. in fact i wouldnt even call the music made by THE FALL songs, they are more diatribes. makes perfect sense to me that bands like AT THE DRIVE-IN worship this group; both share a manic need to juxtapose impenetrable yet evocative poetry with intense sonic experiments that broaden the vocabulary of ROCK AND ROLL. even makes sense that THE FALL during their career wrote music and performed with a ballet company.
the documentary THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF MARK E. SMITH (BBC, 2005) attempts to explain this paradox of a frontman. he is highly literate, yet in essence he is most effective when communicating an aggressive attitude and swath of base emotions behind visceral yet obtuse music. a commentator in the film puts him in the company of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and CAN. i tend to agree. his is an example of someone that makes complex music made to be pored over, analyzed and argued over, much like that of CURTIS and MORRISSEY. but his music is often in your face and hard to pin down as it is often a flurry of dissonance whizzing by you.
essentially it is music for thinking people. in other words: music nerds.
notable participants include that of FACTORY RECORDS label owner TONY WILSON, legendary radio presenter JOHN PEEL and MARK E. SMITH himself. all three have since passed on in the years since so this documentary is an invaluable resource.
this film is definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, INDIE ROCK or experimental music in general.
the cultural roots of the SKINHEAD subculture are rather fascinating. the fact that in our modern nomenclature the term has a dark, far right-wing, xenophobic connotation ironically belies its origins in a cultural moment that brought a diverse confluence of cultures and styles together. its a term with many embedded identities that is at war with itself. its a subculture that is complicated and serves as the perfect metaphor for the UNITED KINGDOM's complicated relationship with its former commonwealth and itself.
DON LETTS' film THE STORY OF SKINHEAD (BBC, 2016) explores the SKINHEAD subculture and its inherent contradictions. the story begins with the UNITED KINGDOM's policy in the wake of WORLD WAR II of allowing inhabitants of its greater commonwealth entry and work visas to work in the island's borders. this set off shortly thereafter beginning in the 1940s what is now known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION, former inhabitants of the CARIBBEAN (JAMAICA, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, etc) that begin working in ENGLISH factories and living in council estates. DON LETTS hones this narrative squarely with his own, as he was raised in SOUTH LONDON on a council estate by JAMAICAN-immingrant parents from this generation. what happened was that despite their parents closeted racism, white kids on these council estates in LONDON began to adopt the style and music of their JAMAICAN counterparts. poor white urban identity in some circles became intwined with CARIBBEAN immigrant culture.
eventually this movement, which didnt have a name, but later got deemed SKINHEAD by outsiders, was largely innocuous as it was mainly a subculture based around white appropriation of black culture. the fact that eyes were raised by an older white generation didn't stop these kids, and its debatable whether or not they shared in their parents XENOPHOBIC-leaning views. it must be said that racial jokes about PAKISTANI immigrants were common on the radio at the time and the education system was far from progressive, with educators often being explicitly derogatory towards the dress, speech, mannerisms and culture of immigrant children. racism was in the air and open on some level during this time in BRITAIN.
eventually shops emerged to cater to this subculture and it spread north. by the 1970s haircuts and fashions changed as the original SKINHEAD culture merged with northern football culture. this new identity helped solidify a new uniform for the emerging football hooligan and their street gangs of fellow team supporters. violence and gang-mentality entered the picture as these squads with face off against rival supporters, but the ethos was still tentatively not explicitly race driven. again, its complicated. definitely some cognitive dissonance going on here. it may be that some elements that had far right-wing sympathies based on those that preexisted in the northern white working class population itself, but none that were rooted in the SKINHEAD subculture per se.
enter the NATIONAL FRONT. this WHITE NATIONALIST political party used football (as well as youth events, dancehall parties, self-published newspapers, etc) as a means of attempting to convert young men to their side in the late 1970s and early 1980s. those that embraced their XENOPHOBIC, RACIST views forever altered the meaning of the SKINHEAD subculture. it been infiltrated a segment of poor northern white kids.
but culture shifted again. this time to PUNK ROCK which largely embraced REGGAE and its bedrock political messages wholeheartedly. but it wasn't a good fit for the SKINHEAD kids that went to their shows. too artsy. too posh. SHAM 69 bridged that gap. but unfortunately their gigs were infiltrated by NATIONAL FRONT SKINHEADS that caused SHAM 69 frontman JIM PURSEY to abandon the band and move on.
the 2 TONE SKA and OI PUNK movements of the early 1980s that came next didnt fair much better. famously they couldnt find gigs because of the fear around their following, which absurdly included NATIONAL FRONT SKINHEADS. this was much to their chagrin, since they named the movement 2 TONE as a means of delineating that they were on the side of multiculturalism and racial equality. OI PUNK was just a newer, more aggressive form of PUNK ROCK that placated to a generation of militaristic SKINHEADS looking for a community. again the NATIONAL FRONT infiltrated both to the point that it rendered them dysfunctional. this was especially the case after the SOUTHALL RIOTS OF 1979, in which SKINHEAD youth burned a pub in SOUTH LONDON in a largely asian community. OI was banned by MARGARET THATCHER and most of the bigger (non-racist) bands folded up, leaving only those funded by the NATIONAL FRONT in their wake. it was a coup for the ultra right-wing.
this in turn led to the SHARP SKINHEAD bands who were a reaction to these NATIONAL FRONT funded racist SKINHEAD bands. the SHARPS were explicitly anti-racist and that movement continues to this day.
its super interesting how this youth culture got hijacked and its "uniform" which was based on JAMAICAN style from the 1950s is now synonymous with WHITE NATIONALIST and NEO-FASCIST movements from POLAND, GERMANY, the UNITED STATES and even MALAYSIA. i even saw this in THAILAND where they sold NAZI paraphernalia in common markets with "SKINHEAD" gear. its truely bizarre and endlessly fascinating.
i have one other thing to add.
this contradiction of "loving" the music but "hating" the people is something that is not unique to the NATIONAL FRONT infiltration of certain segments of SKINHEAD culture. i've heard that contradiction by white AMERICANS my whole life. its a form of cognitive dissonance rooted in a potent cocktail of hubris and ignorance. the idea that you understand a people and a culture better than they do. its very AMERICAN and it deprives minority populations of controlling their own identity, which was probably the point in the first place. but what do i know, im only a former teacher. i saw this shit firsthand.
great documentary that brilliantly raises some unnerving issues about cultural appropriation and how hate can be used to subvert and infiltrate youth culture. endlessly fascinating.
zthe harmonic complexity and intoxicating rhythms of BOSSA NOVA are on full display in THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA: BRAZIL, BOSSA NOVA AND THE BEACH (BBC, 2016), q recent documentary recounting the birth, development and dissemination of this unique BRASILIAN phenomena in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
after centuries of colonialism and authoritarian rule, BRASIL in the 1950s found itself with a new leader PRESIDENT JUSCELINO KUBITSCHEK, who promised and delivered on economic expansion and modernization of both industry and infrastructure. BOSSA NOVA became very much domestically the soundtrack to an era of optimism and promise. i can't imagine the pride of being alive during that era, withe PELE and the national team playing like dancers and ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM and JOAO GILBERTO performing at the peak of their powers. it makes me sigh. then again i am completely biased, i was lucky enough to visit RIO DE JANIERO (article linked HERE) back in october 2014. its funny, i even spoke with the same owner of the BOSSA NOVA record store interviewed in this documentary about the cultural dialogue between AFRICA with BRASIL. how SAMBA relates to WEST AFRICAN musical traditions. good to see he is sharing his passion to a wider audience!
part of this film is about recounting the development of the genre and giving due to its originators, middle class SAMBA and WEST COAST JAZZ aficionados like CARLOS LYRA, LUIZ EVA, ROBERTO MENESCAL, SYLVIA TELLES and NARA LEAO ,that lived a charmed, bohemian lifestyle in apartments near COPACABANA BEACH and IPANEMA BEACH. the group circled around muse and gifted singer, NARA LEAO. they took what was a more somber genre and lifted it harmonically. this sound found its way to JAZZ artists like GERRY MULLIGAN and CHARLIE BYRD who initiated a fruitful, mutually beneficial dialogue that created a SAMBA/JAZZ hybrid sound.
sadly, the film also retraces how the style became a stateside fad and how MADISON AVENUE sucked the lifeblood out of such a special gift. the perfect example of such is the legendary track "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA" which originally had PORTUGUESE lyrics by renowned poet VINICIUS DE MORAES which touchingly spoke of the grace of an unknown woman and the salvation one may find by being in her company. it is incredibly romantic and full of religious sentiment, even referencing the VIRGIN MARY in describing a level of passion and appreciation for such a graceful creature. the AMERICAN version had lyrics "translated" by NORMAN GIMBEL who wrote the lyrics to the HAPPY DAYS theme song. his version just describes a beautiful woman. its vulgar in comparison and a lost opportunity, and of course the biggest hit and cultural touchstone from BRASIL. its just so depressing an apt metaphor for how AMERICAN commerce and by extension society cares little for authenticity and exoticizes the unknown. the amount of products from the early 1960s that bear a BOSSA NOVA tag outlined in the documentary makes this point plain. ugh, so gross.
what is interesting is how ASTRUD GILBERTO, wife of JOAO, rose to prominence from this single. she was not classically trained but carried the tune in a naive manner sans vibrato in a wistful, seductive manner with a slight accent that won over the world. she sang it largely because she was in the room and she spoke english. it was an accident of fate. funny how pop culture works sometimes. second most recorded song of the 20th century. gulp.
and it is that song that has largely defined the image that has been projected on BRASILIAN WOMEN ever since. which is undoubtedly problematic. i remember when working in VENEZUELA talking to BRASILIAN friends who spoke about the fact that the cultural pressure to get plastic surgery was intense, largely based on cues from watching AMERICAN television shows and films. its a death spiral im telling you.
sadly in 1964 a military coup (backed by the UNITED STATES) ended this golden era of optimism and democracy under PRESIDENT KUBITSCHEK. BOSSA NOVA artists were blacklisted from the radio. culturally it was abandoned as quixotic anachronism that didnt fit the new harsh reality of the new oppressive political reality. it was too light and airy.
BOSSA NOVA originator and muse NARA LEAO pointed the way with a more sonically experimental and lyrically aggressive sound that celebrated the roots and underclass of BRASIL which led the way to TROPICALIA. JOBIM and GIBERTO had long since found success in the UNITED STATES, making sophisticated records designed for the middle class, a far cry from the reality back home. JOBIM even collaborated with FRANK SINATRA. BOSSA NOVA in essence became part of global repertoire, a classical music of sorts.
when i visited BRASIL it seemed that they celebrated this form, with several markers in IPANEMA identify residences and clubs that housed the major players of the movement.
great introductory documentary on the BOSSA NOVA. makes me want to go back. not that seduction of the music resembles the reality of the place. i saw a guy rob a bus at gunpoint at noon on a sunday a block away from the famous RIO DE JANEIRO CATHEDRAL. i found the reality much more interesting than the idealization. travel wisely and be careful out there.
hosted by BRITISH rapper and poet AKALA, ROOTS, REGGAE, REBELLION (BBC, 2016) is a welcome introductory documentary about the political and religious history of the RASTAFARI movement and its influence on ROOTS REGGAE music and identity of JAMAICANS both home and abroad.
much like the AMERICAN SOUTH, the CARIBBEAN island of JAMAICA was heavily involved with the MIDDLE PASSAGE to satiate its plantations when it was SPANISH and later a BRITISH colony. slaves on plantations were treated cruelly and made to adopt the religion of their oppressor, CHRISTIANITY. the RASTAFARI movement can be seen historically as a means of the local population rebuilding a culture that had been stripped of them by their BRITISH colonial oppressors. a means of connecting with their AFRICAN past and celebrating their heritage and owning their own identity. obviously this put them in opposition to powers that be, before and after gaining independence from the UNITED KINGDOM in 1962. the music that rose from this counter culture promoted empowering ideals of PAN-AFRICANISM, peace, self-sufficiency and liberation.
and for me that is the legacy of ROOTS REGGAE music, its ability to empower the listener. being a BRITISH documentary, it expands the influence of ROOTS REGGAE to the DIASPORA of immigrants in BRITAIN in the 1960s and 1970s and how it helped provided a sense of identity and unity to a disenfranchised community that bore the brunt of systematic racist practices and routine brutality at the hands of the police, not to mention the rise of the NATIONAL FRONT. ROOTS REGGAE galvanized this population, as well as strange allies in the concurrent PUNK ROCK movement, to fight oppression and seek strength in their community. I and I indeed. at its core, ROOTS REGGAE by definition is subversive, which most people forget.
one other compelling feature of this documentary was a brief interview with SLY & ROBBIE, the production dup and legendary rhythm section that worked with PETER TOSH and BURNING SPEAR among many others. they basically breakdown the difference between the basic percussion and bass patterns common in SKA, ROCKSTEADY and REGGAE. essentially SKA and ROCKSTEADY have a similar groove that is heavily accented with a high-hat on an off beat. SKA has a relatively fast tempo and ROCKSTEADY is pulled way back. they are very similar and focused compositionally around the drums. REGGAE on the other hand is wholly based structurally around bass parts with the drums following it. its an entirely different animal structurally and has a very different effect. its one thing to write about it, but this documentary has the duo actually play them.
touches like this make this a great introductory film for the layman unfamiliar with this incredible genre of music that shows the enduring power of music from the AFRICAN DIASPORA. a great entry point to a bigger conversation about global culture and the power of music. all from this small island nation. incredible.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
DUNKIRK (WARNER BROS, 2017) is a film very close to my heart.
i should start by mentioning that during WII my great-uncle CHARLES CALIENDI worked for the DE HAVILLAND AIRCRAFT COMPANY and played a major part in designing and testing the MOSQUITO fighter plane for the war effort. he was a very sweet, funny man and i still miss him dearly.
in my mind this film is a love letter to all those who fought and died in WWII, with special focus on the efforts of the ROYAL AIR FORCE and common sea merchants who braved incredible odds and paid a high personal cost to bring their countrymen safely home during the BATTLE OF DUNKIRK.
the film itself focuses on harrowing experiences of the ALLIED forces as they were marooned in the coastal FRENCH coastal town of DUNKIRK awaiting evacuation. as they waited along the beach they were picked off and bombed at will by the NAZI LUFTWAFFE.
where this film excels is its ability to position the audience in the psychological and emotion headspace of the main protagonists: common soldiers stuck on the beachhead at DUNKIRK, RAF pilots and brave sea merchants doing their solemn duty. this is done through a masterclass of visual storytelling, with absolute minimal exposition. this film is really a story to be experienced rather than read as a piece of history.
in particular, there are numerous scenes of random wanton violence. what is truly shocking is the silence shortly thereafter. again, the psychological space that compels the characters, as well as the audience, to piece together meaning from that which is unsparingly violent and wholly unpredictable. in essence we move forward but that silence lingers.
director CHRISTOPHER NOLAN is well-known for his ability to tease out the inner psychology of his characters, despite given genre expectations as seen in his filmography that includes INTERSTELLAR (SCI-FI), INCEPTION (SCI-FI) his DARK KNIGHT trilogy (SUPERHERO) and MEMENTO (NOIR/THRILLER).
in my estimation, his war film DUNKIRK is his finest effort yet. i highly recommend it for anyone interested in the power of filmmaking.
legendary british NOIR film THE THIRD MAN (LONDON FILM PRODUCTIONS, 1949) directed by CAROL REED, screenplay by GRAHAM GREENE and starring OSON WELLES is as much an historical document as it is one of the unrivaled gems of the genre. filmed largely on location in VIENNA in the immediate aftermath of World War II, this film details the intrigue of shattered lives and jumbled alliances relationships, both personal and political, that defined this era.
main character HOLLY MARTINS (JOSEPH COTTEN) is in VIENNA at the request of his friend HARRY LIME (ORSON WELLES) due to a job offer but learns on arrival that LIME has died. much of the film finds him traversing the shadow economy and sullied actors, including LIME, that are set in an underground battle for political and economic hegemony in the vacuum set into motion by the ALLIED FORCES victory.
much has been made about the craftsmanship of the dialogue, the quality of the acting, the look of the film or even the ingenious choice to use post-war VIENNA as the ideal backdrop for a dark, noirish mystery film. all of these are deserved. i myself have even watched this film in VIENNA (there is a theater that ONLY plays it multiple times a day) and gone on the walking tour of its scenes on location.
and all that is good and interesting, but for me the real value of this film is the way in which it navigates sans judgement the shadow world of politics and economic influence. too often today people look at the actions of nations and politicians in a reductive binary moral compass of good and evil, when what they really should consider is who are the players and what is their interest.
growing up i saw this dichotomy firsthand in places where our government supported corrupt foreign military dictatorships (NIGERIA) and undemocratic theocracies (KUWAIT) purely based on economic necessity. i doubt there was a discussion revolving morality when backing these un-american regimes abroad because the vacuum of our absence would have benefited our economic and political rivals (RUSSIA, IRAN, CHINA). this film dives headfirst into the ethical morass that is this ambiguity and really gets at the heart of what we value as a society (through the idealism MARTINS) and what price we are willing to pay (through the actions of LIME).
this is a legendary film well-worth your time. consider giving it a watch.
italian director MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI has made several canonical films throughout his career, my favorite being L'AVENTURA (CINO DEL DUCA,1960), but his first english-speaking film BLOW-UP (Bridge Films, 1966) created at the height of the mi-60s BRITISH INVASION is a remarkable film on several levels.
as mentioned before it is a document of an all-too brief moment when there was a liberating sense of artistic, cultural and sexual possibility. at times it is hard for americans to understand british class politics as it is a bit foreign to our culture which is more underpinned by nefarious forces like structural racism and conservative, puritanical, often binary inherited constructions of sexual preference and gender identity. in england markers of identity such as clothing and regional accents gave you away as being of this or that class, which was often a permanent strike against an individual despite their success thereafter. once lower class you are always lower class. in america we may make fun of a unique accent (i'm looking at you LOUISIANA, BROOKYLN and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY), but we won't let that stop someone from running a company or holding political office. for this reason i think american BLUES, R&B and ROCKABILLY provided british youth a foreign cloak to don and transcend whatever their class prescriptions were in england's rigid, almost caste-like social hierarchy.
this freedom can be viewed in a legendary scene where THE YARDBIRDS oerform. this scene is notable as it was shot during the brief moment that JEFF BECK and JIMMY PAGE where both sharing guitar duties (BECK would amicably depart shortly thereafter).
beyond the era that this film depicts and its influence on modern culture, this film also dives deep into the nature of reality as scene through technology. the film itself showcases a photographer who notices in his darkroom while processing film from a recent photoshoot in a park that he remarkably has evidence of a murder after magnifying, or blowing up, his film several magnitudes.
i think now ideas of HYPERREALITY in the digital age are common place as concepts such as DIGITAL DATA COLLECTION, VIDEO SURVEILLANCE, PAPARAZZI/TABLOID CULTURE and DEEP FAKES have provided means of both documenting and manipulating our belief that what our eyes relay to our brain cannot be relied upon. our reality can be dissected and cross-examined by a seemingly endless myriad of perspectives to the point now that TRUTH seems like a relative ideal, not based in actual fact.
science fiction has long toyed with this idea of authenticity and the limits of empricism (as seen in the the work of ISAAC ASIMOV, ARTHUR C. CLARKE), as have minds dating back to antiquity (SHIP OF THESEUS PARADOX, PLATO's ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE). i think were this film excels is that it asks us at what point do we stop trusting our senses and totally bow to the high reality brought on by technology. i think right now we are still dealing with this question as DIGITAL MARKETING and RESEARCH TECHNOLOGIES of such corporations like FACEBOOK and GOOGLE have already made us subservient to algorithms. its already happening.
this is a classic film that deserves to be watched repeatedly and i highly recommend it. also, it is worth paring this film with the later FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA effort THE CONVERSATION (PARAMOUNT PICTURES, 1974) as it is a similar premise, except this time dives into audio manipulation. in a world accustomed to AUTO-TUNE and the wizardry of PRO TOOLS, this film may also strike a chord, pun intended.
normally i'm pretty ambivalent about sci-fi films since they more often than not rely on spectacle and set/prop design to propel the narrative rather than an interesting conceit, which is ironic given that science fiction as a literary genre is the inverse of that. in sci-fi literature, future/alternate technology is compelling given its effect on humankind and their decisions relationships to each other. perhaps this focus on spectacle in films is why sci-fi films become dated fairly quickly.
british director NICOLAS ROEG's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (BRITISH LION FILMS, 1976) starring DAVID BOWIE is one of those rare sci-fi films that reaches literary expectations. its narrative consists of an alien being who reaches earth in search of water in order to save his home planet.
what impressed me about this film is the "realistic" conceit that an alien would attempt to fit into human society by utilizing its knowledge and technology to prosper in our global economy. i can't think of any other film that showcases the exploitation of alien technology as a means of gathering economic and political influence. the cliche is obviously military action, but here economic dominance ensures undiluted power without all the bad aspects of fame and notoriety.
or so it would seem. the idea of an alien coming into our world and excelling in it, only to become alienated by capitalism is reminiscent of PLATO's "Allegory of the Cave." what does that say about human society if an intelligent being with now bias towards humankind is corrupted by it.
that is the central question of the film in my opinion. what does that say for the rest of us?
when i used to go on interviews for high school teaching gigs i would almost be guaranteed to be asked if given the choice what book i'd want to teach. my answer was always ALAN SILLITOE's novel about working class masculinity SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1958) of which the legendary KARL REISZ film was based.
british kitchensink dramas of the 1960s tended to deal with working class-related themes such as class and domesticity, which for me makes them far more interesting and real than their american counterpart films. there is rawness to the subject matter as well as the production, as it is obvious these were made quickly at low cost.
but what drew me to both to the film and the book was this idea of exploring the performative nature of masculinity. in working class midlands england in the post-WWII period, where this films takes place, the main character ARTHUR SEATON struggles to come to terms with how to transcend his repetitive factor job and womanizing ways. for he doesn't get any satisfaction from his work and the only avenue for being dominant was swooning the bored housewives of what he deemed "slow husbands." its as if his conquests was more of a badge of honor to his male mates than an expression or projection of his will. essentially this behavior was a ironically a form of impotence.
i'm almost certain this dynamic, as well as the geographical and cultural similarities of nottingham (where the film takes place) to manchester are what drew a young MORRISSEY to transpose the line "why don't you ever take where it's lively and there's people" into THE SMITHS' iconic song THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. just saying.
i saw this idea of male identity defined through work almost everywhere growing up but especially in the arab world, where at times you would see young men of immeasurable means doing dangerous things out of sheer boredom. this was in kuwait and since their financial, social and political connections were bulletproof, it was as if they had to develop a new pissing contest to set themselves apart. as a foreigner it was fascinating to watch and mock but at some level i really pitied them and their circumstance. it was like they were neglected and were in a dead-end.
this book and film present to me a dead-end scenario that is transcended through hard fought self-reflection. and for me that concept is one meaning that both the novel and film explore effectively: the need for self-analysis apart from your circumstances.
art by nacrowe
cult filmmaker and queer icon DEREK JARMAN was a visual artist of the first order. he gave voice to a community that was largely ostracized, forgotten and pushed to the periphery of western society during the twin reigns of 1980s reagan's america and thatcher's britain.
given the new world order we find ourselves in at the current historical and cultural moment, his largely claustrophobic set pieces with equally harrowing narratives dealing often with whisper campaigns (EDWARD II), coded behavior (CARAVAGGIO) and persecution based on identity (SEBASTIANE) seem wholly prescient and beyond relevant to today's jumbled digital clusterfuck of identity, reason and truth.
JARMAN may have been writing and speaking from the perspective of an uncloseted homosexual in the 80s dealing with the AIDS epidemic, which ultimately took his life, but in his immaculately constructed scenes of fringe characters fighting for dignity and purpose in a world that offers neither, I find a overflowing well of both.
his films show that you don't need outside affirmation to have real meaning and purpose, even if you are doomed.