Category Archives: cinema

Utopia and Ever After

A Cinderella story that says goodbye to pumpkins!

The 1998 romantic fairytale comedy seemed pleasant – I saw it twice at the cinema – but it is, I now believe, a vehicle for something much more profound. The centrality of Thomas More’s Utopia may be very significant. Like More’s treatise, Ever After bookends the main story with seemingly irrelevant stuffing, but this stuffing is key to the presentation that this is real. The old lady ends by telling the Grimm Brothers that “the important point is not that they lived happily ever after – but that they lived”. We wonder if Cinderella really was a 16th century noble turned servant who caught the eye of one of France’s many Prince Henrys. (That Cinderella has a real full name, and the mention of real contemporaries and lack of magic may make us waver – I’m afraid this is a pumpkin free presentation). We may quickly assume not – just as we realise that More’s Utopia is a made up word meaning ‘no land’, and that the progressive croissant shaped New World island is a society of his making.

Both are positing a world that could be, far enough ago and away to allow us to take on the ideas a little more easily than if they were just spouted to us about our own world.

And told in a story format, by a 3rd party linked to the tale, to give it weight.

The universal appeal of love overcoming all barriers is a myth that deep down we know to be true – or want to be. And Ever After is a tale of social levelling. Cinderella (or Danielle) is Prince Henry’s equal in every way but social standing. As Leonardo the fairy godmother substitute says, Cinderella is the Prince’s match – and that implies possibly his better – in strength, courage, morality, goodness and also education.

For the central theme of this story states that education – or more precisely, reading – is at the heart of equality. Henry’s education has come from privilege; Danielle’s from passion.

(Note the Step Sister’s comment: that books are for those who can’t think for themselves – we suspect we’re meant to think that the reverse is true). After meeting Danielle, Henry wants to make universities open to all.

Both Henry and Danielle resist the roles society expects of them, but Danielle’s unconventional father – who gave her Utopia – has allowed her to cross social and gender boundaries.

Those who want to enforce them are the wicked villains who get their comeuppance. The Step Mother and Step Sister so bent on titles and power end up as the very servants they despised, literally pushed to the bottom of the pile (or vat). Danielle sees her fellow servants as equals and friends, and we are encouraged to see them that way too. It is in defending one that the whole story begins.

In this, Danielle demonstrates not only is she well read, but thinks. She sees the injustices of the world and dares to speak out about them. Her intellectual bravery and evasiveness make her a kind of Anne Boleyn to a prince of the same name, who is captivated and determined to have her. Through Danielle, not only is her dear friend freed, but so are all those destined for America as a punishment. Her earliest words to Henry are a Utopia quote about poverty being a condition created by society, which those who created then punish.

The Prince, his family, and the nation accepts Danielle the former servant as part of the Royals – and the whole court knows as her status is exposed publicly at the ball. A group often excluded and discarded with a negative label – the Gypsies – is invited to the ball, like in the parable.

Ever After has further a biblical echo of the Magnificat – for the humble are lifted high whilst the proud are sent away empty. Religion is mentioned little – apart from the aborted arranged wedding, there is only a Sunday where our protagonists don’t go to church. Our villains do, to ingratiate themselves and flirt with royalty, rather than out of any wish for devotion. Danielle says her faith is best served out of church.

Couched as a rom com, Ever After is really a tale that invites us to make its tenets our Utopia. Its real ending is not “that they lived” but that they could and should, in our time.

 

 

NB This is not to suggest that I support Thomas More or his Utopia but a critique of that here spoils the overall piece

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, society

What can He-Man and Mary of Scots have in common?

They both ended in 87…400 years apart.

And they’re both royal.

And their stories are about leading with justice and tolerance.

The link between Mary Stuart and the royal family of Eternia may take imagination to see. But in the new film with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, I felt there is an interpretation, if not an intention, to use this historic story to speak to us in our time, just as He-Man and She-Ra were, I believe, meant to have greater morals than the ones spelt out at the end of each episode.

I know this film has now left most cinemas, but I took the time to see it twice and to watch all the other available films/TV and do some reading before commenting, and my observations remain pertinent to our times.

I liked the lack of polarity which I observed in some other films about Elizabeth and Mary.

It seems to me that these women say: if we’d trusted our hearts, and each other, might all this not have happened? If we’d not let our advisors poison us – several of whom wanted the throne for themselves, or to steer its occupier…if we’d let our draw as women, as sisters guide us…

This is not an anti-men story, but I think it is anti the traditional male rule. Elizabeth felt that society only offered her the choice of wife and mother . To reign, she must cast off her gender, or the limitations of it. Even today, women expect to lead but also be defined by our status usually in relation to a man, and by the children we bear.

The 16th Century courts were aberrations of what ought to be. Even the most intimate relationship had become a commodity, a business transaction, nothing to do with love and companionship, but forming an allegiance and keeping bloodlines pure and heirs unambiguous.

What a dreadful way to live – for women and men.

Many of us are feeling that it’s time to do differently. We feel that feeling is a good thing, not something to be suppressed or ignored. In another new film, On The Basis of Sex, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is told she can’t be a lawyer because women are too emotional. What’s wrong with caring? Doesn’t that make better lawyers, political, and any role I can think of?

But Ruth wasn’t content, and changed the law, and history.

Mary and Elizabeth were told that a woman couldn’t reign alone. But as Saoirse as Mary says in the film, she’s done lots of things which her male advisors told her was impossible.

The old way – adopted by women as well as men – was all about fear. And so we watched our backs and plotted and tried to never reveal a weakness, which included caring. We tried to amass power through titles, land and wealth to make us unstoppable. We tricked and trapped, and changed loyalties. We made laws which suited ourselves, making us immune but others culpable. We imposed our version of truth and made violent repercussions for those who disagreed.

We pretended that a strong ruler was one who never showed vulnerability, who had few manners and lots of arrogance; was quick to punish and didn’t do mercy, let alone ask for it. We preserved rank and kept those below on their knees.

We’ve too long cited Machiavelli as our political manual. Utopia is sometimes better, but still far from Eternia, and that’s the imaginary world I’d rather look to.

What if we took from She-Ra and He-Man? They forgive, they save even their enemies (is Skeletor an Earl of Moray?). They care about goodness, and about others. Their power is not used selfishly. And they’ll work together, and with other leaders, not to expand their boundaries and their gold reserves, but to fight injustice – never to harm or kill.

She-Ra, like Wonder Woman, has used her womanhood to recruit and turn wicked people to the side of right; like Xena, Warrior Princess, She-Ra needed turning herself – by her brother. Theirs is not a violent rebellion; it’s not about one set of ugly, inflated power overturning another and then behaving in much the same way.

I’ve often wondered: what would British history be if Mary and Elizabeth had been allowed to work together rather than against each other? Where would we be now? Not in terms of our current royal family, but the governance we have, which like the rest of the world, is all out of shape.

I think these stories invite us to put it back again.

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, history, society, television

Disobedience

Firstly: why the big gap in posts? It was on principle, about Word Press privacy and security. I am dismayed that you’re all having to agree to nonoptoutable cookies to read this, and I wish to register that 1) I disapprove 2) it’s contrary to GDPR and 3) I as author in no way place anything on you or track you or know anything unless you wish to share it.

So if there’s another gap or this blog disappears, you’ll know why.

 

I rather like that I’m starting again with Disobedience. It makes a naughty title!

It’s a film I’ve been awaiting all year, and was thrilled to be able to twice see it before its British release, this weekend. I read Naomi Alderman’s novel again in between.

On paper, it is natural for it to appeal to me: a story of love between women set in a religious community and featuring a favourite actress (Rachel Weisz, opposite Rachel McAdams).

So far, that’s a synopsis of my own first novel. But perhaps that can be a recipe for disappointment as much as delight. Fortunately, I felt much of the latter.

 

I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of anyone who has not yet seen or read this story, so instead I will share brief insights and comparisons.

In the opening moments, I wondered if I had savoured a film so much.

The last time I recalled doing so was a film which I could make several comparisons to:

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley – another one which is special to me.

Its title too is a single word beginning with D; a noun, or rather a state of being, something that is seen as sinful by organised religion, although both stories question that;

both are set in the narrow enclave geographically and religiously that their authors grew up in; a mostly three hander (two women and a man) where homosexuality is central and transgressive; and starts with a sermon and ends in a religious garden.

 

Much of my other musings about Disobedience have been about the changes between book and film. As an author of both, this is of concern. It’s not just about this book, or books in general: what might they do to mine?

I won’t list those changes, but I will say that some were improvements, and some felt arbitrary. I sometimes wonder why filmmakers option work which they intend to change so much. I noted that the filmmakers were non Jews, and that the area and even country were unfamiliar to some of them; and that this female penned and led story was directed by a man. I missed the opportunity for Dovid’s colourful headaches to be shown visually.

 

The other area of thought was about the way women are treated – and to some extent, men too; and how traditional Jewish ideas about women and our bodies have pervaded Western culture and other faiths.

 

Lastly, I would like to add two insights.

The silver snuck in the sack – is this a reference to the Joseph story? Or David and Jonathan?

The final shot in the cemetery, a dense city of monoliths: is that meant to look like Manhattan?

 

And as for the film itself: the fact that I have already been twice and been checking for the film tie in novel for some weeks should be encouragement enough.

 

My next post will be another adaptation involving Alessandro Nivola – this time, he plays the naughty one.

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema

A different angle of Wonder Wheel

The content of Woody Allen’s latest film isn’t being talked about as much issues around the writer-director himself. In towns I know, the film is being shown little, even though it’s just been released in Britain; it’s been skipped from some film magazines.

I know people who won’t see it, because of what’s being said about Woody. But that means that the four main actors and all the others involved in making Wonder Wheel don’t get their work seen, and if it’s not in cinemas, we can’t make our own decisions. The film also feels quite separate from the 25 year old allegations about Woody.

I felt the ones against Blue is the Warmest Colour were more apt, for they were concurrent with and about the movie.

I am not sure what I believe about Woody Allen, or feel about these hash tagged campaigns.

I hate all injustice, abuse, inequality.

But I also hate witch hunts, public career destruction, and false accusation.

Much of these campaigns seem to come from angry and imbalanced sources; there is much hate fuelled behaviour.

They conflate various allegations in Hollywood between quite different situations.

I haven’t warmed to the interviews of Woody’s children, and their statements that if you work with Woody and don’t denounce him that you are wrong – even that you are hurting them, and aiding an abuse allowing culture.

The vehemence of this has turned some actors, it seems, from remaining neutral or even kind of defending decisions to work with Woody into making statements that seem to upend that. I have noted some very carefully phrased speeches about this, encouraging empowerment and listening to those who speak out – which I applaud. But I’m worried that the reverse of the wildfire spreading against abuse is that if you want to keep your career, you’ll denigrate and distance from those several people who have been recently accused.

Of course we should want abuse to stop, and for people to be free to speak out against it.

I also see forgiveness and healing as key, for all involved. Rehabilitation not retribution.

But these often get omitted, if not refused. And it means that the accused – especially those wrongly so – are destroyed without hope.

I have noted female inappropriate behaviour in Hollywood – such as public unsolicited gropes, which press and perpetrator laughed over. Is it different or better because a woman’s doing it?! NO!

There is a big debate to be had about our laws and attitudes, and to unpick the contradictions around sexuality in our culture, which is both promoted and prohibited. We need a healthier one based on respect and permission, not fear and commodity, and which rebalances male and female.

——–

As for the film: Woody’s films do have much in common with each other, and what felt enjoyable and powerful to me several years ago has much less appeal. But Woody is often wise, and his films have been helpful on a personal level.

I saw Wonder Wheel because of Kate Winslet. I saw her previous roles in this. Revolutionary Road is also about a 1950s American former actress who is now living an unwanted domestic dull life. Mildred Pierce, set just 20 years earlier, is also a restless poor waitress – another red haired role – with a difficult relationship with her estranged daughter.

With both her “failed” actress roles, I felt quite an irony. Kate is widely well considered at her job: in the Picturehouses Recommends booklet, Woody is quoted as saying: “I try to cast actresses who have enormous range and depth and intensity. There are only a limited number of actresses in the English language that are that deep and that great. Kate Winslet is one of them.”

We don’t see Ginny act to know if it is quality or discovery which is lacking. Kate says that Ginny pretends her life is a role, but that the sadness is it really is her life. But can’t we live in layers, and who says what is truly real? I note that Ginny found solace in the memory of her acting – it’s what she goes to when unhappy. Talk of theatre with Mickey starts to bring her alive. Like April in Revolutionary Road, Ginny – wife of Humpty! (do you have that egg nursery rhyme in America?) has a travel bug, urged by her lover. She believes that going to a new place will free her – but none of these three stories ends well for Kate’s character. Usually, Woody is wise and positive; although the end is ambiguous, I didn’t leave the cinema how his films normally make me feel.

When Mickey speaks of tragedies that crush, we suspect we’re in one. No, our protagonists will not be able to squeeze out from the wreckage, stronger, to try again. They’re earmarked for the crusher; the past will repeat, and they cannot learn from nor expiate their mistakes.

————–

I’ve written several pieces before on whether Kate’s roles are about women who go mad or die; Wonder Wheel fits this. And when she’s doing that strong but challenged vulnerable person in a drama, she is at her best. This is the film of hers that I’ve enjoyed her in most in some years.

I don’t see the climatic act of her character as being as shocking as the film wants you to see it. Ginny’s act is not what Tiny’s is. She tries to do something, and doesn’t. Who knows if she would have been successful if she had? I also thought that the other possibility of the film’s ending meant that her deed would have no affect on the outcome. The choices of the person concerned had already been made before Ginny; and ultimately what happens, if that is truly the conclusion, is due to those choices and entirely other persons.

Wonder Wheel makes me wonder about the line between theatrical and cinematic. Indoor scenes were too much like a play – the sort I don’t like. It’s not the long scenes of dialogue, or that one of the characters turns to the audience to tell us their thoughts: I like that. I did feel that Mickey ought to bookend and stay consistent by giving us a monologue at the end, but his talk to camera narration switches off. I didn’t like that staid, false, very egged intensity; the one room melodrama. Wonder Wheel, penned recently by Woody, seems to be like the theatre of fifty of more years ago. The staple plays I don’t go and see.

I’m left not only wondering about the wheel of denigration turning in the media, but also that sad turn of you’ll die in the doldrums, or trying to escape them. It’s not a message that I choose to believe or purport.

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, society

Wonder Woman and Little Women

Not natural bedfellows, you might think. When I switched from viewing the first to reading the latter, it was a very different gear.

And then I did some research and thinking…

They (are) both:

 

Continuously printed American classics and well known exports

Set during a war (the American Civil and WWII)

Concerning ahead of their time women doing ‘man’s roles’

A community of women led by a matriarch (Marmee March/Queen Hippolyte)

Lived in a discrete ideal community (Paradise Island/Alcotts in Fruitlands)

Believed that women thrive intellectually and in the arts in this environment

Writers wanted social change where where women’s roles are augmented

Talk of slavery (Alcott was an abolitionist; Diana’s bracelets)

Have strong morals

Were written for children, although enjoyed by all ages

Have gay appeal

Their authors are interesting stories in themselves

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, literature

What would Wonder Woman do?

About the terror attacks this week and what happened next

 

I’d like to emphasise that’s Kabul, Baghdad and Coptic Christians as well as Manchester.

 

I predicted and worried about this – that more attacks bred more attacks and more armed police and less freedom; that the death penalty has got in though a side door and that the trial by jury at the heart of democracy is being eroded. It’s not just Canterbury and London now – they’re in all the county towns, at stations, zoos, outside libraries.

 

I don’t feel safer – I feel more wary. It puts me off doing things. I feel relieved if I’ve not seen armed police or been somewhere that expects me to be searched – a world sadly familiar to those in the Middle East and to Black and Asian men respectively.

 

Fighting suicide bombers with guns doesn’t make sense – they are planning to die and will detonate rather than let you kill them. Shooting them in the torso is just where their bomb is. So what are the guns really for?

 

Guns are bullying, cowardly weapons that give you power over others, often from a distance. They easily get misfired and when we live in a panicked environment, we can make paranoid mistakes.

 

Officers in Britain – who’ve been largely unarmed till now, like the population – were wary of stepping up to the arming call, afraid of investigations if they misuse the gun.

Good – but why only just investigations? If I carry a gun on the street, let alone use it, let alone kill someone, I’ll be in prison both sides of the trial; I may stay there.

So why should police expect to be above the law that they are (ugly word coming up) enforcing?

 

Now that children have been targeted, police are more willing it seems. “It’s the best way I can protect myself and the public,” one policewoman said. Note the order of that.

 

Many words have been poured out in sympathy already, and take mine as a given, but I will focus this post on something less said, which needs to be.

 

Before I say it, I’d like to return to an old friend of mine, one who featured early in this blog 6 years ago, and who’s getting her first big screen outing released today – yes I’m going! (‘Twas brilliant).

Yes I am wearing long boots with a heel in her honour, and guess which 3 colours?

Let us contrast her way of dealing with problems with the police:

(Note these are general WW principles and change between comic/screenwriters)

 

1) Wonder Woman doesn’t fire bullets, she deflects them

-significant morally as well as operationally

Wonder Woman is only armed with her truth lasso

(Ms Gadot has a sword but she thought guns dishonourable fighting)

Her plane is purely for transport – it doesn’t drop bombs

She befriends animals, she doesn’t use them as weapons

 

2) Wonder Woman works with the authorities and is respected by them, but she is independent and she is not part of a huge force

Unless you count the Justice League, but they tend to be outnumbered rather than outnumber their opponents. Unlike police who overkill, literally; a whole squad after one person (even not dangerous ones) which wastes resources – and police claim they don’t have enough

(Don’t start me on police using foodbanks on ‘only’ £20k… try £30 a week!)

 

3) Wonder Woman is approachable Unlike po faced armed officers who we’re afraid to say anything to, even good morning. Wonder Woman retains her humour. She doesn’t yell, especially not at the general public.

 

4) Wonder Woman is compassionate A quality not in the police and army much; it’s why their personalities and training mean that they’re not the right people to handle many situations entrusted to them. Wonder Woman’s someone you’d cry on. Not most PCs.

And she knows the difference between being tough and strong

 

5) Wonder Woman is not dressed to kill or intimidate

Her face isn’t covered; no mirror glasses, no bully boy armour

 

6) Wonder Woman has a global view, inside (since she’s living among us) but outside (since she’s alien). She can point out our follies and since she’s so old, she has great wisdom, watching nations repeat mistakes for millennia

She’d also see what’s really happening, the even more despicable terror.

 

7) Wonder Woman doesn’t kill or use unnecessary force

She does her own undercover work; she doesn’t use assets

 

8) Wonder Woman knows when to talk instead of fight and can transform would-be crime doers. Wonder Woman believes in redemption and forgiveness

 

9) Wonder Woman thinks for herself. Hannah Arendt would approve – for she knows the peril of taking and giving orders without question

 

10) Wonder Woman

makes a hawk a dove

stops the war with love

changes minds (and hearts)

and changes the world.

 

It’s the far more effective way – not retribution, not meeting violence and fear with more.

Not weak, fluffy, unreal.

 

No wonder Ms magazine cover emblazoned: “Wonder Woman for president”.

I’d like to her preside over a lot more.

 

Finally, to what I didn’t yet say….

I was reminded this week of James Alison’s book On Being Liked and his first essay in it Contemplation of a World of Violence, written in autumn 2001. He points out that such acts are given sacred meaning and that we are sucked in collectively, policed as to what we can say (a new heresy) and given specific behaviours in response.

He encourages us to not be drawn into that, but to One who can show us a new way to see, one who subverted violence by seemingly giving into it and then overcoming it to say I’m nothing to do with this system; there is another way to live.

The One is not Wonder Woman this time.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, society

Challenge 25 policy – grave concerns

Gone are the days of 18 and 21 being celebrated as the birthdays when you get the keys to adulthood. Adulthood has been deferred; minatory has been extended, and that murky inbetween now a longer limbo.

This ‘Challenge 25’ policy isn’t just about drink.

It is used to challenge a 20 odd old buying a 12 DVD, when they are twice that age.

I have always maintained that age isn’t the factor – for we are not all automatically willing and able to cope with things because of our age, protecting young people but not older ones.

The more you forbid, the more you’ll provoke.

And once over 25 – people can buy what they want, and it harms just as much.

It has made retailers our guardians, and the ridiculous fines if they guess an age wrong means that their paranoia leads to arguments at the till. It’s not flattering to be thought younger than you are. Why do we privilege youth?!  So don’t make it sound like it’s kind of compliment: “if you are lucky enough to look under 25…” because it isn’t. It’s causing embarrassment and offence, on both sides, and also inconvenience.

We are proud in the UK not to be an ID carrying country. This policy enforces that on young people, using the frightening technologies of biometrics to learn and retain information about people. The abuse (and even its supposed proper use) is appalling, continuing the control and tracking of citizens.

It makes me wonder if it is a way of starting ID carrying through the back door and influencing the youngest generation.

The adverts about peer pressure and drinking were much better, for they were for any age, and should put the responsibility on the consumer not just the retailer.

Meanwhile, you’ve created an industry around ID, useful for secret services and any who would abuse the system.

This isn’t liberty, this isn’t taking care of citizens, it’s another mixed message such as “we like the income that smoking gives us, but we’ll put health warnings on cigarette packets.”

So I don’t agree with First Minster Nicola Sturgeon that this is a step to be proud of. Scotland has been great in many ways at making sensible laws first in the UK, which then trickle down. This is not one of them.

Challenge 25 website doesn’t even have a contact – my email bounced, so we don’t know who to hold to account.

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, society

Why the Beauty film is Beastly

Yes I mean that one – the new Disney remake of its own cartoon, where more than the cursed prince is hideous.

This is not a story about beauty being within. This is a story which perpetuates harmful and false ideas about youth, beauty and love. It says – you can be too late to find love and be forever inhumanly frozen. And this deadline is in your youth.

It says that you must find love in return to stop the curse. It hasn’t grasped that the telos of love is to love – end. Even if you are rejected or scorned, you and your love are not diminished. You can also find reciprocity in non romantic love.

Crazy Eyes in Orange Is The New Black had a better speech to give on this subject than anything said or implied by the Beastie.

It’s the implication which I particularly am concerned by.

Belle of course is beautiful and young. Cartoon Belle was a disturbing mix of juvenile and ridiculous woman’s figure. She is the heroine who is the darling of her father and the Beast and his entourage. She gets the guy – but he reverts to being handsome and human.

Does anyone else see issues with a creature of at least 3 types having relations with a girl?

But Belle (and we) learn to love Beast in his large and furry form (the cartoon was a bison crossed with Honey Monster) so it’s not surprising that the audience is disappointed when he goes back to being a man – in the cinema I saw the live action film, there was laughter.

The catalyst is the usual trope – the old ugly hag. But she – the sorceress, showing magic is dangerous and spiteful – is young and beautiful really.

I wondered how different ridiculously caricatured Gaston is to Beast, at least as he was. Why didn’t the sorceress pay a visit to Garston?

And of course the Beast has to be aristocrat with a huge home and an estate; he is served by a retinue far greater than his household (ie just him) requires. Is he going to give anything to the community he shuns now the spell has ended? Or will they all carry on with foppish selfish debauchery as before?

The lovers are young – wasn’t Belle 21 in one version? Those Disneyfied folk tales often have such wenchlike heroines, and there’s ageism in Snow White and the Dwarfs too. Why wasn’t an older couple at the centre? And why wasn’t excellent Ray Fearon, the priest, used more? 57 year old Emma Thompson is the mature widow, when at the time of the cartoon original she was the star wench. Why is she less worthy now of being a romantic lead?

And romance is of course dinners and dances and being silly together. Are we at all convinced this is the meeting of souls and the basis for a life together?

And as for his rejoining the human world : I liked the ending of Shrek better.

Read my cinema reviews here

2 Comments

Filed under cinema, society

Street Cat and Feral Heart: why I stopped supporting the Big Issue

It’s been a time of social justice films. Whether or not they are actually just is another matter.

I’m not going to analyse the quality of the films, although I will say that the two I saw this week were not films I especially rated.

One was My Feral Heart about a man with Downs syndrome who befriends a man who does community support work as a punishment for his involvement in animal welfare activism. What I got from that was the incredibly dreadful way that care homes treat people. The carers might mean well, but they have no idea about dignity, or that those who can’t communicate as they do or have the same motor skills are not less able to think and feel.

A Street Cat Named Bob is far too popular – unlike the smaller release film above which I saw at a festival and made a point of supporting.

Unlike I, Daniel Blake, or My Feral Heart, the protagonist’s situation is one we may struggle to sympathise with – for James is a homeless druggie. The cat with matching hair helps us be endeared. But I felt for Baz, the other homeless guy who James rejects and then finds dead of an overdose. We might too push away this snot nosed needy young man whom had no one to mourn him, no one to fight to put him on a recovery programme. It’s the Bazes that I really worry about. I worry how many there are. But I have heard statistics that say there are far less dying of illegal drugs than prescribed ones.

The Bob story is true. And of course I’m glad that James found a way off the streets and off harmful drugs – both sorts. But there was much I found grating. One was his writing success, when he wasn’t even a writer. Many writers – me included – work for years, perhaps in poverty, until they gain recognition. I can understand how other Big Issue sellers and buskers would be resentful of the attention that a ginger tom gave James.

The  film considers that James’s ultimate success is that he has bought a property, in London, Europe’s most expensive city.

It reminded me of The Soloist, another true story about a musician living on the street, this time in LA. And I was angry too at the rules that Nathaniel – that’s the Soloist – was made to subscribe to by hostels and other helpers.

Just like Luke in My Feral Heart was expected to in the residential home for those with learning difficulties. Just like James was by his support worker and the Big Issue Office.

Are none of these aware of transactional analysis, and that it’s more than the special needs guy that it keeps in nappies?!

I understood why Nathaniel wanted to keep out of the system.

I have always sympathised with homeless people and often bought the Big Issue – I’ve also offered them articles.

I hate that the Big Issue is ‘a hand up, not a hand out’. I’ve often asked what our issue is with the idea of giving for giving’s sake, without expectation of the recipient or expecting something out of it.

It’s called grace.

I also hate that the Big Issue is resocialisation into the world of capitalism, where you become useful by selling – a frankly often unwanted magazine of varying quality – and by learning about profit.

The way the Big Issue is portrayed here makes me decide not to support it again. I care about the people selling it. But if the office is full of blunt tough love and lots of rules – including CUTTING SELLERS’ SOURCE OF INCOME over a squabble about selling patches – then I will find another way to support those without homes.

Note again how patches are about territory. I saw Swallows and Amazons – the original – for the first and last time, and these children of military parents were claiming and defending territory in their games, making rules, making leaders to obey without dissent.

James not only lost his Big Issue selling, but he was banned from busking by the police for being the victim of an act of aggression. Busking is how James survived. (Unlike Daniel Blake, no mention of benefits offices here). If he was caught busking, James would lose his recovery programme.

And Joanne Frogatt’s Val was angering – are support workers that bad or is it just how they always appear on the screen? Why did he hug and thank her when she’d been horrid to him in the hospital and forced him to be on a prescribed, profit making drug which is harder to come off than the one he was trying to give up?

He had to go to chemist for a regular dose of methadone or lose his support programme and his disgusting home that only a homeless person would be glad of.

I noted how public his reporting to the chemist was – so that his almost girlfriend learns he’s on drugs when she comes in to shop and sees him taking the familiar little cup.

The Bob cat film also pertains to be about animal rights, but the intrusive procedures that deprived Bob of his intimate parts infuriated me. If we did that to a woman, we call it genital mutilation; if we do it to an animal, we say (as in the words of the film) it’s giving the cat a chance to survive. It’s all about territory and fighting – just like both druggies, buskers and Big Issue sellers.

And all this done by a charity who gives ‘care’ for free and then sees James give his week’s food money to a harsh receptionist for the drugs he didn’t know he’d have to pay for. Cat drugs that is, prescription post operative ones.

Unlike Daniel Blake, which was clearly indicting the system, I wasn’t sure how My Feral Heart or A Street Cat Named Bob wanted their audience to feel. Was I meant to like these support workers? Was I meant to feel grateful for the organisations and institutions which these protagonists got embroiled in?

Was there not a critique of the police’s busking ban, the Big Issue’s selling ban (like benefit sanctions) and general tone towards its sellers, the animal welfare charity, the care home that an independent man who’d looked after others is forced into?!

Has this not caused a furore about how prescribed drugs are creating a revenue out of those on proscribed ones, and are causing them as much harm?

I’ll have more to say about pro and prescribed drugs another time.

PS I wrote to the Big Issue for comment and didn’t really get any defence, save to say that James chose to be involved in a recent magazine and has a good relationship with them.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, society

I, Elspeth Blake

No, that’s not my surname. You’ll have worked out real one by now. But I’m showing solidarity with the film I’ve just seen – I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s latest instalment in the Cathy Come Home mould. More humorous I think than that 1960s docudrama, but I hope that this feature film has the same social impact.

I noted that this film about the welfare system chooses to base its story in an inner city, round a manually skilled older man with a medical condition, and a single mum. People we can feel truly on side with without any controversy.

But they’re not the only examples of those hit by state support’s cruelties.

These issues are found in the country too, and with people you might not guess. I’ve been in rooms where we talk about ‘the poor’ as those out there, statistics in particular postcodes. But they were in the room too. I was one of them.

Katie in the film takes 2 years to get a real home – and nowhere near the place she’s from. If you’re not in the vulnerable group of old or young, ill or disabled or with children, support of any kind can be even harder to get.

What struck me is the coldness of the system, the attempt at breaking you or resocialising you. Not just you the claimant, but those behind the desk.

Those in officialdom have lost their humanity.

They need to regain it – their ability to think, to feel, to question. This film is a good start.

I’ve often said that those in various corporate roles don’t understand any other kind of work and are almost robotic in their adherence to rules and shocking in their stupidity.

Are they chosen for those qualities or do they come after the years of employment in government offices? They are removed from the public – call centres, automated phone messages, PO box addresses, the internet with preset answer boxes that won’t send until you put in what they want. Quite often these decision makers (‘adjudicator’ was thought too big a word by the DWP, though it remains in the tax office and ombudsman) are also unnamed, as are trustees of grants for those in need, such as Charis – who have no understanding of the grace of their name. As I pointed out.

I have my own story to tell, but I don’t yet feel ready to tell it here. Of course, I have another which I have told. I also began a TV series script on a comedic satire on the world of work. My Near Professor Sally Gababa is in a different situation to Ken Loach’s Daniel and Katie – an academic misfit of middle years without children or illness, or not one that’s understood – which makes her life such a struggle.

I still recall the name of the jobcentre staff I lampoon.

I do remember nice ones too, and I’m glad that I, Daniel Blake shows one. There are those that helped make the film.

Rather than feeling depressed, I felt energised: The people on the street in solidarity with Daniel when he sprays his appeal on the wall. The packed cinema. And whether those people me had ever suffered what Daniel had – and you can’t tell or guess demographics – they came. They saw. And they clapped. They’re on side.

We need a system that’s likewise, where appeals are not rigged (read PHSO – the true story for more on that), where citizenship doesn’t have to be earned in narrow ways, where we’re not valued for the taxable income we generate. Where we’re not to fit drop down menus and preset boxes. Where, as one staff said to me of my claim, we make free use of the form. Where staff too are not faceless and also support us instead of being a mindless, soulless bullying chain. Where we’re not graded on a point system, where we’re not intimidated and intruded into.

I like the idea of citizenship being about grace, not earning. It’s the theology I have and it’s also the society I believe in. Even those who support Citizens’ Income sometimes talk about deserving – ie fitting their patterns. But I want a world where ‘paying your way’ and rejecting charity are no longer signs of dignity and worthiness; where we don’t have to put our time into categories of work and leisure, living to do the former to deserve a little of the latter. Where we’re not justifying ourselves and our existence to another who won’t be challenged.

“I, Daniel, Elspeth, [your name]” is a statement of individuality, of personhood. As Daniel says, we are not a government given number or term for those who need to use the system; we are ourselves, and we are worthy.

And we look to those who really drain resources, and that’s not those at the benefit queue, but quite the other end of society. There’s far worse handouts and passive income (benefit claiming is not passive) than the dole.

Daniel Blake didn’t tell me anything much new. If you don’t know about the system, go and see it. If you’re in it, go. And if you judge those in it, go. And if you work in it, go.

But let there be a discussion that is wider than just the issues of the film and those I can touch on here. And let there be, as with Cathy Come Home, the sea change that is needed.

Leave a comment

Filed under cinema, society