Category Archives: cinema

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

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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.

 

 

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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.

Whether intentional or not, there’s incredible control here of citizens, undermining our rights as humans too, with very nanny state decisions being made.

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 for its supposed proper use) is appalling, continuing the control and following of citizens that we are so angry about and are supposed to accept – even rejoice in!

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.” You like the revenue of alcohol, its profiteers are often close government friends, but you want to be seen to be cleaning up the streets.

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.

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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.

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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 ingratiating. 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 shows 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 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 Belle in 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 and 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Wives and Daughters – Gaskell’s and Austen’s

Cynthia is like Zippy from British children’s cult TV show Rainbow – the naughty one is definitely the most lovable

Wives and Daughters is more akin to being penned by the friend of Jane Austen than Charlotte Bronte. It is without the gothic supernatural brooding harshness of the Bronte’s books. Like Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell has an ironic, satirical, witty eye for her society – largely that of the various ranks gentlefolk and aristocracy. It is surprising that Gaskell wrote Wives and Daughters and North and South which, with its political northern setting and convention defying, makes it clear to see why Gaskell and Charlotte were kindred spirits. Bronte is quoted to have disliked Austen’s work, yet her biographer and friend has written something very much of its ilk.

The plight of the heirless widow – a central theme in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility – is there in Wives and Daughters, as is that of a gentleman loving a woman of a lesser family. Reputations and honour are key to both Austen and Wives and Daughters; a lady’s public opinion is so easily made into a scandal, and as such forms a major part of the dramatic narrative.

Like Pride and Prejudice, there is a strong father-daughter affection in contrast to a foolish mother and wayward sister (the last is also found in Sense and Sensibility). The heroine of Wives and Daughters, Molly, is a high moraled, near perfect woman who suppresses her own love so not to betray the confidence of another’s long term secret engagement. In that way, she is much like Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. Despite both Molly and Elinor being the heroines, their wayward sisters are more interesting.

Yet in Pride and Prejudice, the placid good sister is not the heroine. The real excesses are given to Lydia, but Elizabeth has the mixture of passion and decorum which makes her so popular with readers. She too falls for the villainous man – Wickham – who is instrumental in the near ruin of her sister; but Austen’s other heroines (and Molly) fall for the good, kind, brotherly character (Mr Knightly in Emma, Edmund in Mansfield Park; Edward in Sense and Sensibility).

Eliza Bennett has not only family connections but a passionate dislike to overcome  in her romance. In Wives and Daughters, the ultimate match between Roger and Molly is merely two boringly good people finding each other at last. Roger and Molly are not the stuff of literary fantasy like Elizabeth and Darcy (or Jane Eyre and Rochester). More flawed than Eliza Bennett, Cynthia Kirkpatrick has our understanding and sympathy.

One of my favourite things about Wives and Daughters is that it’s about dysfunctional families – a diachronic phenomenon – with real, rounded, flawed yet lovable characters. Mrs Gibson continues that pantomime dame-like quality found in adaptations of Austen, but she has more rationale than Austen’s dames. She is a widow whose poverty forces her into work. She struggles with being a single working mother (again, a suitably modern theme) and put respectability before all else. So she hastily marries a handsome widower who is strict on professional secrets but relaxed on how his household should be run, whereas she is the reverse. The new Mrs Gibson finds her daughter being contrasted with her step child – homely, obedient stay-at-home Molly and the beautiful, accomplished, travelled, secretive Cynthia. Mrs Gibson realises her own neglect to her daughter through the close relationship that her new husband enjoys with Molly.

I am not sure how we are meant to view Molly’s father: as she does, almost perfect? My own view is that he is far from it. Dr Gibson’s work comes before family; although this may be his method for compensating for the loss of his first wife, it comes between him and his new wife immediately. He has a tendency to be severe on the women in his life. He is overprotective, surly to his daughter’s suitors, and often chauvinistic and unreasonable – even unkind – and needs to learn to let go. Twice, he reveals a temper problem.

Molly’s misery is brought on herself because her so called virtue of keeping her feelings for Roger secret were her choice to repress. As Cynthia says several times that her love for Molly is superlative, I believe Cynthia would have given Roger up if she had realised the feelings of her friend for him.

Cynthia is as good for Molly as the reverse. Cynthia’s opening speech is that she is not a very good person. But there are several occasions when despite what she believes and others reinforce, she shows that she has many qualities. Molly rushes to meet Cynthia for the fist time, but it is Cynthia who simply hugs her new sister and insists on ceasing the polite civilities to acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation. Unlike her mother, Cynthia comforts Molly at the death of Mrs Hamley, simply holding her friend’s hand. Cynthia speaks her mind to her mother when her mother has behaved dreadfully. She breaks off the engagement to Roger of her own volition when she feels it is no longer fair to him to remain so. She immediately tells Mr Cox that she’s already engaged when he proposes. Dr Gibson calls her callous but it is the men falling for her and proposing on so little an acquaintance or encouragement which led to that pain and embarrassment – as much for Cynthia as for the rejected suitor. As she says, her manner is one which men fall for, whether she intends to encourage them or not. To know Cynthia is to love her. Molly tells father she does, although confesses she doesn’t understand her.

It is Cynthia and Molly’s relationship which is central to the story, not the romances. Cynthia frequently proclaims that she has not the gift of loving as some people, and that she has never fallen head over heels for anyone. But she often states her affection for Molly – although that is not in love feeling, she qualifies, although it is the nearest we see to passion in the story – the physical contact, the murmurings of love, the rush to return to Molly’s sickbed and the love that restores her. Could Cynthia’s lack of enthusiasm for men be because she prefers women? Someone who is independent, strong willed, flirtatious and loves to be adored seems unlikely to be incapable of passion. Can someone who excites such wild admiration in others be incapable of feeling the same for anyone else?

If I had finished off Gaskell’s book, it would have not been hurriedly tied up as in the Andrew Davies 1999 television script; nor letting the important friendship tail off after Cynthia’s hasty marriage to an attorney whom we know nothing about. The Cornhill Editor’s postscript presumes that we know that Roger and Molly will marry, and that this is the reader’s chief interest. This editor did not anticipate me!

I had thought that the novel ends on a cliffhanger, but now I am content without further chapters. Roger is not to allowed to speak to Molly as she is in quarantine; he is about to go to dangerous Africa, and has not yet declared his love for Molly. Roger tells Molly’s father than if he does not come back alive to propose that his ghost will haunt Dr Gibson. The 1999 TV adaptation has Molly chase the coach (Gaskell has her content with her friend’s wave) and Roger disembark it. But what if he wrote to her from Africa, and they exchange their love by letter – but it is the last that Roger sends? What if that ghost has cause to haunt? And what if Molly goes to Cynthia for comfort…? Perhaps this is a tale of how overprotection and high morals and sacrifice lead to misery.

Worse is that the TV series misses out Cynthia’s restoration by rushing home to seriously ill Molly which helps Molly recover, and earning the sparing praise of her stepfather.

Cynthia says: ‘I am not good, but I may be the heroine of this story yet’.

It is my intention to make her so.

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Eddie the Eagle

“I think a little bit of wee just came out!”

 

I nearly made that quote from the new film my title. Thus spake Eddie as he experiences the rush of ski jumping, learning to let go and soar for the first time.

 

I am not sure that I can name another olympian, especially not from thirty years ago. But a non sport follower recalls this rather unconventional skier, whose journey to Calgary in 1988 is the subject of a new film starring Hugh Jackman as his somewhat fictional trainer and Taron Egerton as Eddie himself.

 

The film differs from the real Michael Edwards’ life – the Eddie came as a nickname from his surname and his real family call him by his real forename.

 

Eddie was more reckless as a child, as his autobiography recounts; the film implies he was weak and sickly, but his frequent hospital visits were due to stunts. He also was good at skiing, and other sports – something that is downplayed by press and script.

 

His father was not boorish and opposed to Eddie’s ambitions as in this often clichéd and formulaic film. His on screen father only is proud of Eddie when he has made an achievement and others are supporting him – but his mother stood by him and encouraged him whilst he was unknown and ridiculed. She’d have been proud whatever had happened on the slopes. Such a father would have risked his son.

 

Eddie’s siblings are stripped away, and so is his Cheltenham roots. Hoorah, they have the accent right in Eddie, but his regency terraced home in Gloucestershire’s spa town became a generic street that looked more like over exposed London, and his father doesn’t share his accent.

 

The baddies – the naked hairless Scandinavian team – are too bad; the fellow Brits the usual faces in such films, stereotypes also abounding there too – and then the finale is the appearance of an American veteran coach.

 

What angered me was how Eddie is still reported – that he was an embarrassment to the Olympics. I suppose he was – because he took the Olympic ethos back to its roots, subverted all the values associated with the games, and stole the attention from those who considered themselves more worthy.

 

No, he didn’t have the right outfit, looks or body shape, accent or school. Yes, he started far later than most competitors and came to a high standard in under 2 years. He came without a ski jump team, when sport is all about teams – sometimes in the wrong sense. In an event that’s got ridiculously serious, he had fun, and he made people laugh. When medals had become everything, he was happy to come last.

He wasn’t rich, but his family got into debt to stop money being the intended obstacle.

 

Eddie The Eagle reminds us that the inaugural ethos of the Olympics was about taking part, not winning; and that the struggle, not the triumph, was what mattered. We rally for him in the film as much as the public did for the real Eddie. We see his courage to return to the ski lift when no-one around him thinks he is capable of the jump, let alone being worthy to represent his country.

 

For the olympics is about prestige, gaining sponsors who in turn share in values such as achievement and excellence – boring buzzwords which the film rightly lampoons. It relates to my earlier post about the Counting Thief, who would see points and measurements, medals and ranking as all that matters. The young champion “Flying Fin” rightly sees a connection between Eddie and himself, despite the fact that their names are likely to be at opposite ends of the results list. The Fin’s words actually were negative, ready to beat himself up and by extension, Eddie too, for not having given their own highest effort, whatever the outcome. Flying Fin could break records and be given a gold trophy, but he might still feel dissatisfied. But what was special about his brief speech to Eddie is that he recognised here was someone else who did this because it was a spirit level passion.

 

The ranking and prizes didn’t matter to either, in a good sense.

 

Eddie was right to say that the Olympics is meant to be an open competition. I hoped to learn that he had returned for other olympics, but they changed the rules and so he was debarred, and they also tried to ensure that no-one like him could follow.

 

Now the seriousness is so high that competitors have to undergo intrusive tests, lest they have an unfair advantage. People can’t accept their natural bodies, they must mould (no fat or hair) them and forever push themselves, always having to beat last time – just like company profits.

 

This film pulls us back to the original Olympian ideals, to the kind of hero we really admire – and whether or not his flapping arms amuse you, his spirit must warm yours.

 

I hope that the Eagle again soars, in whatever way he wishes to, and that his flight encourages others to take off, in whatever their dreams may be.

 

[The use of capital O or not for Olympics is deliberate]

 

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Hail, Caesar – he is Risen

 

This week I saw two new films, each featuring a Fiennes brother, about a Roman tribune (senior soldier) who encounters Jesus at the end of his life.

 

I bet I’m one of few to have seen both, because Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes, hardly got any theatrical release. In my city, only one cinema had it, for one week, twice a day at awkward times, pulling it before the Easter weekend it is all about. Thus its low audience numbers were self fulfilled. And it’s gone before, like the disciples at the tomb, I could go and tell anyone else to come and see it.

 

I am also one of the few drawing a comparison between these films, because the subtitle of the film within film, Hail Caesar, is not mentioned in any cinema brochure I’ve read. Along with other inaccuracies, it is called “a sword and sandal” epic. But there’s no sword fights and no George Clooney is not Caesar, but encountering a more paradoxical alien leader. There’s a scene where the religious leaders whom the studio is trying to placate discuss the nature of the incarnation (interesting for Jewish film makers), a beautiful closing speech at the foot of the cross (for which scene the crucified actors received “hardship pay”) and confusingly, a section featuring Saul of Tarsus with a title card “Divine Intervention to Be Inserted”.

 

Risen also consulted with Christians to avoid upsets, and likewise, found them happy – though I was not at the depiction of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. This is not in the Bible and even Catholics – who pretended she was – have officially un-tarted her now. Hasn’t the writers heard of even the Di Vinci Code and who Mary is believed to be by many? She’s Jesus’ no 2, covered up by Peter ‘I want the Keys just for Me’ and friends.

 

Both films had powerful and profound moments, but the tones were very different. Hail Caesar was often funny, though I mainly just laughed at the two points I described above; the studio debacles often did little for me. I am not a proponent of the multiple storyline and so I wished we spent more time with Rome and Jerusalem, and less (or none) in aquariums, deserts, drawing rooms and bars filled with sailors who sang about the lack of dames at sea, by by their antics (some dance moves were suggestive of a number just before 70) they were not sorry. Not all the characters really fitted together, and I found were by some rather conspicuous sewing.

 

Risen had no humour and was for the first part, often brutal, opening as a high budget and adrenaline thriller, just incase you thought this was for church halls. I think it is a film for church halls, though not for families or sensitive people of any age. The usually doe eyed, gentle and sensitive Joseph Fiennes is harsh and interrogative and even murderous. I found it hard to watch him being so unjust and bullying. He is one of a few well known actors in the film, such as Peter Firth from Spooks as Pilate, who is driving Joseph as Tribune Clavius to find Jesus’ missing body because Pilate fears the next tier of the chain – his emperor.

 

The brutality in the Coen’s film – some of which was verbal threat – was by the main person, a studio producer and fixer of any legal and publicity embarrassments. I hated Eddie Mannix for hitting Baird (that’s Clooney) and silencing his new communist sympathies. Eddie becomes the old kind of tribune and God – telling people what to do, think, and what they can know, judging by narrow standards, being non-negotiable and using perceived virtue to guide those in his care; and of course, money.

 

Both tribunes alter at the experience of Jesus, yet Joseph’s conversion feels more like a Christian Union mission film. I am trying to work out why. Did I feel the disciples too spacey and squeaky good? Was I angry that they never fought back? Was it the snippets of their sermons on the beach? But – whatever your beliefs – in the story, wouldn’t frightened, crushed followers feel exonerated and empowered and impervious to threat if they thought their leader was truly alive again? And their responses to Clavius do draw him in, perhaps more than more assertive reactions might.

 

The Coen brothers leave us, as so many Jesus films and plays, with him on the cross – yet for George’s tribune, even then, it is enough to change him. The makers of Risen (and Waterworld) let us see Jesus to the end of his earthly life (I was going to say, off the premises), but the ascension is more of a disappearance into the sunset – ET had a more memorable and convincing take off. They obviously didn’t have the budget to show us what the guards at the tomb saw either – shame as modern film is wonderful for bringing such stories to us visually.

 

The Coen’s Jesus is a back of a rather strawberry blond head and a pair of feet on a maximum comfort cross. Risen features Cliff Curtis – is this the first Maori Christ? – whose face has have the expected unnerving quality, but his less conventional Messiah looks and Tears For Fears hairstyle also slightly beguile and unsettle. However, he behaved like we like to think of Jesus – in the imaginary last miracle where he truly saw and loved the person he healed.

 

What was hardest for me was reconciling the kind of Jesus we want to believe in – like this – to the one who actually appears to be in the gospel. I’ve been at a study group where we heard that one writer thinks that Jesus snorts in fury at his healees; a Jesus whose first line in John’s gospel is a snap at would-be followers; a Jesus who is incredibly rude to that Gentile lady seeking healing for her son… Commentators let him off by saying, he must have meant…ah, but really he knew… Is this disciples and early fathers scribbling in, or…

 

It’s a search I continue. Meanwhile, I found these films as worthwhile as any church service and yet not exclusive of those not seeking a spiritual message this Easter.

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The Pursuit of Happyness

My thoughts on the 2007 film

Will Smith is very engaging and sympathetic, but my critique is of the world he enters – and that it is never really critiqued by the film.

In passing, it does throw up that a homeless woman has more chance of getting a bed for the night, though I’d like to add that both men and women need shelter, whether or not they have a child with them.

I thought that the way the church he slept at handled the “we’re full” tonight was about as tactful as the end of Bugs Bunny cartoons – that’s all folks. No more, you need to leave. And yet the real Chris Gardner, whose story this is, is grateful and asked that the real pastor re-enact his role.

The US tax system is disgusting – that money can be taken without notice or discussion direct from your bank if they believe that you have underpaid. The IRS seem to have no thought for what money they leave you with. This was directly responsible for putting Chris and son on the streets.

The carparking fine system is likewise a disgrace, that holds you in prison overnight, jeopardising job and the safety of children. Is this person dangerous? Is this money so urgently and truly needed? And then to threaten social services on you for being a bad parent!!

The behaviour of landlords was also abyssal. I wish in the film that Chris had tried to explain his circs to his, rather than just fob off yet another rent request and keep walking. But twice he is without home and without notice: he finds a new lock and his things outside, not even a letter. That is illegal – you have to serve notice and go through the courts where I live. Their lack of compassion from landlords shows why so many face homelessness.

It also shows why you need to keep railway stations open at night, and how all night trains also serve a purpose. And it shows that all kinds of people can face homelessness, in case one has a stereotype and belief about who’s deserving of help (an attitude I reject).

It shows how some people make a living through selling unnecessary objects, and how that selling enough of something to live off can be very hard.

But then Chris graduates to more selling of unnecessary objects – financial packages. I was saddened that his impetus to join the world of stockbrokers was seeing a flash car. As a poor person, I could understand his thinking – what would it take to stop this struggle, and what do people who don’t struggle do for a job? But the car lure felt shallow, and stock brokerage not the aspiration that his partner assumes— “Why didn’t you just say astronaut?” she sneers when she hears.

I thought that the film would criticise the stock brokerage entry scheme – that a ‘lucky’ handful of hopefuls work 6 months unpaid, but only one gets a job at the end of it. They’re abused – being asked to lend to (and sometimes pay for) their overpaid superiors run, errands they daren’t say no to, work ridiculously stressful days, always trying to increase productivity and beat their colleagues. I did not admire Chris for saying that he worked out that not drinking water and hanging up the phone between calls gave him an advantage. All jobs need breaks – yes to the bathroom to, and to drink. It should never be an advantage to overwork, go without, to be pressed to maximum.

I really wanted Chris to be offered the position at the end, but I also really wanted him to say no. I wanted him to have learned that happyness is not found managing fiscal portfolios, nor in the harsh competitive and abusive world of glass towers. It’s not even just found in family bonds.

The title cards at the end disappointed me – for this was not my idea of reaching happyness, and I’d like to think, not the sort that Lincoln meant when he wrote the quote that the film’s title comes from.

I watched the extras to see if the real Chris had anything better to say. He did say that though the world presented this as a rags to riches tale, he saw it as one of parental love, but even that didn’t entirely endear and soften me. Making it in the financial world wasn’t my idea of achievement. Although I was glad to see that he uses his wealth to help others, I am unsure of the true worthiness of spreading capitalist ideas to new counties and generations.

It felt a little like the oft mentioned Rubik’s Cube (there’s a whole featurette on it) and those medical instruments Chris sells – not that useful, just an end in itself. And whereas those cube competitions don’t harm anyone, the economic markets do, and so does the unspoken message from the film that success in them is something to aspire to.

I would be more concerned about reforming the tax office, shelters, parking fees procedures, landlords, and the abuses of internships than linking this story to the American dream. I am all for coming through, overcoming odds, seeing determination rewarded, supporting love – all things I hoped for when I chose the film. But I want to see more Lincoln, less Lehman in the outcome.

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