The best of the best

Number one is… The Philadelphia Story.

Which I really shouldn’t like at all. It seems somewhat whimsical and lightweight doesn’t it? And more to the point it’s about some upper class bods and their love lives. Not my favourite subject – and no, I have never seen a single second of Downton Abbey.

Why then do I love this film so much? A more shallow chap might just like it because of Katherine Hepburn – she’s luminous in this and it rightly resurrected what was a failing career at that point.

It might be that James Stewart plays a poor writer and I empathize with poor writers more than any other demographic.
But it isn’t any of those – It’s the script, it’s the speed of the wit. It’s dialogue.

And now that we have established all these positive things I can get back to moaning and establishing without a shadow of a doubt how I am right and everyone else is wrong about nearly everything there is to be right and wrong about.

Six of the best – Part III

The 1982 Show

What the hell was in the water in 1982? Or in 1980 when these things were green lit?
I mean, that is a stellar line up (no pun intended) for any year and then you have another think and realise that none of these were your favourite movie from that year. Close, don’t get me wrong. Every single one of these is a classic. But they aren’t number 2 on the list. That goes to.. Blade Runner.
Ridley Scott’s dystopian rendering of a Phillip. K. Dick novel and such a leap that it is reported William Gibson left the cinema in shock.
About ten minutes into Blade Runner, I reeled out of the theater in complete despair over its visual brilliance and its similarity to the “look” of Neuromancer, my [then] largely unwritten first novel. Not only had I been beaten to the semiotic punch, but this damned movie looked better than the images in my head!

William Gibson

And for me it was much the same. I stayed until the end mind you. Blade Runner came only a few years after Star Wars in cinema terms and it is vastly, vastly different in all ways except one – it changed my perception of what was possible. Not just in a cinema, not even just in a story, but in life. I was 14 or 15 years old when I saw it and as a naive young Scots lad had not entertained the notion that the future would not be bright and white and shiny and clean. Blade Runner blew all that away.
Blade Runner invented sci-fi noir as far as I’m concerned and finally gets it right with The Final Cut of the film that took away the unnecessary voice-over and the fake happy ending. Replacing it with the unicorn truth that answers the question whether or not Deckard is a replicant.

Six of the best – Part II

Number Four – The Suspect Suspects

There are very few films that can actually surprise you once you know how a story is put together. But number four in our countdown was one of those rare events where I was actually ignorant of the twist right up until they told me. It is of course, The Usual Suspects.
It is also a film that bears repeat viewing because of the nature of the twist. Yes, a lot of what takes place is utter fabrication on the part of Verbal Kint but you can’t take it all as an untruth. Verbal is our narrator and he is an unreliable one as these things go but not everything he says is a lie. There are verifiable events that he can’t avoid. I do actually enjoy watching this film just to see where the lines are between truth and reality.
It is a modern shame that this movie cannot just be enjoyed for its own merits. At least not as much as it used to be because of two contributors now mired in scandal and disgrace. I find it easy not to listen to Michael Jackson and easier still to ignore the work of Bill Cosby but when it comes to film I find it harder. Film is collaborative – what crimes have the others committed? So I will still watch The Usual Suspects and even to this day it still manages to surprise me now and then.

Number Three – Great films never die (hard)

I never even thought of Die Hard as something laudable at all until a friend of mine (D. Brown) actually quoted it as his favourite movie. Like, of all time. This must have been not long after it was released because I had only seen it once at the time. It now sits in second place on my all time watched list just behind Star Trek II; Wrath of Khan – but you have to remember that these were back in the days when all we had were VHS tapes that you rented, or bought or used to record things on the telly. We ended up watching loads of stuff over and over again. Christ, I’ve watched Koyaanisqatsi two or three times. I’ll let you look that up yourself – spoiler alert it isn’t in the top 2.
And that’s the thing about Die Hard – it’s just one of those movies that you can watch over and over again without even having to think about it. If you are browsing through the channels just before going to bed for example and you come across Die Hard, well… bed will still be there later, no? The utter watchable-ness of this film added to the fact that it has a great deal of humour interspersed with its comic book violence puts it in the top three. No bother at all.

Six of the best – Part I

A little while back I did a list of the seven worst films I had ever seen. And that was all very funny (I hope) but also negative. And what with the state of the world currently we could likely do with a little more positivity. So, following some recent questioning by folks I have decided to put up my top six films. It was gonna be five but… I just couldn’t get it into five. The clips are about three to four minutes long. In the manner of classic countdowns we’ll start at the bottom and work towards number one. So, leading us off is a classic noir and one of only two black and white films that made the list (to the surprise of many I am sure). It’s Bogey and Bacall in…

Number Six

Is Bogart good? He’s outstanding. of course he is. But it is the other characters who light up this film. The whip smart dialogue and not a weak link to be found. And Bacall…
There have only been about five true goddesses in cinema and Lauren Bacall was one of them. The others being the Hepburns, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. If you haven’t seen this film then Bogart plays detective Phillip Marlowe who is hired by General Sternwood to deal with a small blackmail problem. Which issue Marlowe handles with aplomb but then he makes the mistake of looking into another mystery – the death of one Shaun Regan. It does not go well, as you can imagine. From the novel by Raymond Chandler this is classic golden age hollywood. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this film then fix that at once. You aren’t allowed to call yourself a grown up until you have and everyone should have seen this and Casablanca by the time they hit 30. Either one of them makes an excellent date movie if you are trying to impress a person. Moving on to…

Number Five

Khan is a story in 5 acts and at the very end of the clip above we are at the turning point near the middle of the film where everything changes. The script is practically flawless and disliked only by those who will never like sci-fi no matter the quality. I place The Wrath of Khan higher up than other fantasy classics like ET because it is of the same standard but has more adult themes. If the action took place on two naval vessels and a couple of desert islands rendered in black and white it would be regarded as a masterpiece by all and sundry. The layers in the storytelling are worthy of their literary bases and it is sad only that Star Trek never quite reached these heights again. The new version of this very story Star Trek: Into Darkness tries its best but fails because it does not have the honesty of this original. Where here there is characterisation and motivation in the form of the personal hatred of Khan for Kirk the newer version has a more distant motivation for Khan – there is no connection to Kirk but just a general need to save his people. The newer film fails because it has not had the time to set up the relationships that Khan had – and also because studio films tend to place CGI and action at the top of the list instead of characters.

And with that, it’s back to the studio…

The news from 2028.

Next up a report on the increased number of dangerous crossings being attempted in the English Channel. Laura is on the South coast… what’s the situation Laura?
Of course I’m a qualified journalist.
Well Fiona, I’m here on Southsea beach with Chief Inspector Strange of Hampshire Constabulary because this is a major refugee crossing point isn’t that right inspector?
And you are?

CI Strange:

That’s right Laura. This is frequently the site for dinghy crossings.

Laura:

And obviously crossing the channel in a dinghy is both illegal and dangerous.

CI Strange:

Absolutely. We’ve caught dozens of groups attempting that very thing however.

Laura:

And just how do you catch them inspector? How do you know when they’ll be here or just where to find them?

CI Strange:

Oh that’s easy Laura, we follow them down from the car park.

Laura:

The car park?!?!

CI Strange:

Yes you can spot them a mile away. One look can tell you if it’s a group trying to get to France.

Laura:

I’m sorry. You’re catching people going TO France?!

CI Strange:

Sure. We can’t have people just leaving the country. That would break our treaty with the EU since we no longer have freedom of movement rights to go there. Here’s a bunch of these desperate criminals now.

Laura:

And what makes them do this?

CI Strange:

Lots of reasons – some of them are trying to find work, some of them are trying to get somewhere with decent health care, some of them just can’t live in a country with only three types of cheese. We call them Leavers.

Laura:

But they don’t have a boat?

CI Strange:

No, no, no. They buy a boat here. They wait for days sometimes until the boat salesmen turn up. Ah, here’s some now. As soon as they make the exchange we’ll scoop up the English ones and force them into being Remainers.
Pate, get your pate here!

Laura:

And these people in the boats? Who are they?

CI Strange:

Iranians mostly. Lots of them started crossing the channel pre-brexit and so they had the experience. The Leavers buy the boat and head off if we don’t catch them.

Laura:

And the Iranians?

CI Strange:


Contraband

Oh they bring black market goods and sell those to local contacts and then they either buy stuff with the money or head back to France and buy another boat.
Got any chablis?

Laura:

That’s utterly astonishing. And what would the Iranians be buying?

CI Strange:

Property mostly. A case of half decent Cotes du Rhone will get you a council house in Middlesbrough.

Laura:

Well, that’s remarkable. Thank you Inspector. And with that… it’s back to the studio.

You and whose army?

I haven’t been posting a lot lately and when that happens it tends to be because I am too busy with work, or the family, or I’m just too tired… or not in the mood… or… well, given that this is an unpaid endeavour any reason is as good as another isn’t it? I mean, when people aren’t paying us to do something then we have to really want to do it if it’s going to get done at all. I don’t get paid for gardening (or even tidying my garden) and guess what? Yep, I don’t do a helluva lot of gardening because I hates it.
Euch!!!
Writing this, on the other hand, I do enjoy so I get to it when I can. Would it be better if someone paid me? Probably. Possibly. I know I like being paid to do things. Would it be better if I got paid to do gardening? Same answer. I would be more likely to do it, but I would still dislike the entire process. Which leads me neatly to Brexit… Ha! You weren’t expecting that were you? Well, stick with me, the connections are a bit labyrinthine but they get there in the end. My opinions on Brexit are well known. I have a European wife and children so even if it were not the most massive incident of economic self harm ever known, even if we would all be better off financially, I would still hate it. And given that it will have an immediate impact on where I live out the rest of my life I do tend to read a lot about it. Which brought me (at 4am) to this.
A citizen’s assembly. Now the first time I heard about this I thought it would be a dozen people like a jury but it turns out that it isn’t. In the Irish referendum on abortion they had a citizens assembly of 100 people and according to Gordon it went off without a hitch. No yellow vests were spotted as far as I know and there seemed to be a remarkably calm transition – with no need for the rise of the far right. Now, this is Gordon Brown – a man I would not trust to bring the correct change back if I sent him to the shop for a pint of milk and 20 Lambert & Butler – but since the idea was originally Irish I managed to put aside my initial reticence and ended up with an even bigger proposal.
Still a crap idea.

The Irish Citizen’s Assembly didn’t just meet once and have a chat – they met over 5 weekends and didn’t just talk about abortion. Which got me to thinking… did they get paid for that? And yes, I am Scottish, why do you ask?
picture of money that isn’t a pound or euro
I mean, that’s five weekends you’re talking about there. As a man with a young family I get enough abuse if I work even one day on a weekend and whilst I am not moaning about that it did raise the thought in my mind… well, why shouldn’t they be paid for it? There they are thinking about what to do with the ageing population in Ireland, or climate change or whatever… seems to me only fair. Then I thought… paying people to solve problems… that’s a neat idea. I wonder why no one ever thought of it before? And of course they have, but they f***ed it up and invented politicians by accident – a group of adults who act like teenagers and believe that a good excuse is the same as a job well done. So they decided to leave it to business instead and discovered that the money became the problem instead of the solution. Clearly we are in need of better people to address these issues. People who either don’t care about money, or don’t need it. People who have time on their hands and no clue what to do with it…. I think I might know some. Imagine a society that had at its disposal a group of activists. An army of social activists that is. Not political activists you understand, not people dedicated to a single party or cause, but to society as a whole. Look at the problems we currently face. Brexit, climate change, immigration (or the lack of it)… take any issue from a huge global problem such as automation and employment down to the personal difficulties of loneliness and mental health. Then add an army…
Hmmm…not quite
It will come as a surprise to many of you (as it did to me) that the idea we really need was in the Daily Mail all along. What we really need here is conscription. I have an acquaintance in Israel – he is a young and talented film maker who could have avoided his national service in the infantry simply by joining the communications corp or whatever. In the end he chose not to – he joined the infantry and spent two years scared shitless. I am old enough to have known people in France who had to do their national service – and they generally did choose the communications corp, or did their public service in some other institution like a museum or some such. That is to say, they spent time working in their community – and we could do with a bit more community could we not? Imagine if, instead of being conscripted into the army, you were told to do your public service in the community. What issues might we be able to tackle? What great problems might be lessened with that dedicated workforce? You won’t need it everywhere – the Queen and her family don’t really need checking up on despite their advanced years. And you wouldn’t have to pay the Queen’s rate for a bit of community work either. I’m not talking about people marching up and down here. This isn’t a ‘STAND BY YOUR BEDS!’ proposition. No, I’m talking about a vast swathe of the country’s young people (all of them really) delaying the start of their post-school life for a while. I’m talking about Etonians working with the homeless in Manchester or Glasgow. The privileged working alongside the less fortunate for a few months and learning something of life beyond their entitled bubble. Equally it is a chance for those less fortunate to get mobile. Maybe you want to live in your home town your whole life? That’s fine… just as soon as you’ve done your bit for the landscape or whatever. I know people in my home town who have no idea about foreigners, folk of a different colour or even other local authority areas… and they are happy to hate all of them. Can you imagine people hating Polish folks so much if they have had a chance to work with them and meet them and talk to them since they were in their late teens? Can you imagine Brexit happening after 20 years of this when every Polish person who has grown up here has had a chance to work on an equal basis with everyone else?
The disconnect between the politicians and the voters, in my opinion, has never been wider – and it needs narrowing. If we did this then we might have some chance that the professional political class to come would have a notion of what ‘real’ life is like. It becomes more difficult to hate people you have lived and worked beside and that’s all I am proposing here. Everyone does the same thing… no one is disadvantaged by delaying a year because the intake for university or whatever is the same for everyone equally – except you get people with a little more life experience when they do arrive. Wanna take a gap year? That’s fine. You can do that just as soon as you finish this.
Just to confirm – you can still join the army if you want to – nobody is stopping you – or you can try a bit of social work, or get your driving license so you can work the mobile library/foodbank/ blood drive van. And just before you say. How will we pay for it? We already do pay for it. The knock on costs of cleaning up the environment/ dealing with the elderly/ drug crime and addiction… ach, this could help all manner of things. A society that spends money on the defence of… itself. And you don’t even have to wear a uniform.

The Colosseum

Or as we call it… the internet.

What people are we? Hidden in plain sight. Who dare not go out in our true clothing? Dare not show our true colours. No. We cower behind aliases and pseudonyms and user IDs – we shroud ourselves in anonymity then sally forth into battle imagining ourselves as some sort of Black Knight or Lone Ranger entering the fray when we are merely bystanders, crowd members, baying voices in the mobs that create the noise of the internet.
Twitter Poll !!!
And who then are the real combatants? For it is surely combat this feels like. There is precious little healing going on. No hands across oceans, no meeting of minds for grand endeavour… at best an isolated soul can find a kindred spirit and perhaps a small suffering is alleviated thereby. But is this rare? Or is this happening all the time and it is simply too quiet an event, too subtle for us all to notice in the tumult that is modern day communication? How did we all get to be so angry… constantly? Imagine, if you will, that you could hear the internet… all the time. Would it not drive you mad? Well, in a way, we can. It is on our social media, it is on our historic media, it’s on the page and in the airwaves. Then, even if you were to avoid all of that, your friends arrive and promptly start repeating all that they have seen and read. It is endless. As if a mass of people had shown up at your house and just simply started banging on the windows and shouting through the letter box.
Hey snowflake! Wanna chat?
We are constantly bombarded and the resulting disorientation leads us, understandably to dissatisfaction at best and utter fury at worst. And is this anger not the cause of even more anger? When someone shouts at me do I not respond in kind? Of course I do.
You can’t beat a bit of reasonable discussion
And so no wonder we enter the fray in a guise other than our own. No wonder we buckle on the armour. We have moved the public discourse of the forum across the city into the colosseum and we sit, waiting for someone to be fed to the lions, baying for blood with the rest of the crowd. We’re not there to hear the information. We’re there to pick a side in the hopes that our side wins and we can feel better for the slightest fraction of a second or morally superior for even longer when someone says something we don’t like.
Oi!! I’m offended by that.
But the plebs attending the colosseum had a a few advantages over us in this regard. Actually way more than a few but let’s ignore things like the weather and cheap tickets and just take the biggies.
  1. Anonymity – Sure Claudius Drusus sitting next to you might just remember your face and think badly of your language but for the most part the poor christian in the pit isn’t going to remember you after the lion does get him. Also the lion doesn’t care either. Whereas in our internet you either take time to ensure your anonymity or that drunken tweet comes back to bite you on the arse later.
  2. It was a social thing – you weren’t sitting in your domus and shouting at the slaves. You went to an event – it was a day out – where you got to shout at someone else’s slaves. Here and now you are just annoying the family.
  3. It was obvious who was paying. If a senator or consul decided to sponsor a few games they did it openly. It was the equivalent of a political action committee. Julius for Senate! No sneaky viral attack ads here, no Russian trolls – just a bit of wild boar hunting and prisoners v leopards.
The more I think about it the more I like the colosseum better. We should ban political spending and advertising on the TV. Make them pay for local events where the politicians can come and sit with us as we watch PR men and hackers slug it out in the ring. With added lions, naturally. Can I just ask those that know me and live close by? Can we do less in Colosseum and more in the real world? I know some are spread far and wide but can we make time, this year, to just meet for a while? The best things I did last year I did in the real world. Went to a Grand Prix or a protest march or even just round to a pal’s to watch a football match. A dinner with friends or a night out… a card game. These are the times new memories are made (when we can remember) and even though I do things online a fair bit I cannot count one single thread on facebook or twitter amongst the top 100 events from last year or any year. It seems that ‘social’ became a fast thing, An easy thing, that is done whilst sitting in your shorts and wearing your oldest t-shirt I’m sure social isn’t supposed to be that. Thumbs up if you agree. Thumbs down if I should be put to the sword.

Life is like a…

No it bloody well isn’t


And this my fine friends is the folksy wisdom of Forrest Gump which was released in 1994 and is therefore coming up on it’s 25th anniversary. What I’m about to say tends to attract funny looks and cold shoulders. There are things that people can agree to disagree on – like Marmite (it’s not a foodstuff) or the justification for auto tune (nope, never, ever) but equally there are things where I get the feeling I am so right it might well look to the casual observer that I am wrong. Forrest Gump is one of those things – I hate Forrest Gump. Which is to say that I hate the movie. Forrest Gump isn’t a real person – can we just make that clear? If he was a real person I would have nothing against him and I would wish him every success in his prawn selling endeavours. But he isn’t. All the same, when you tell people you don’t like the movie they tend to react as if you said you hate puppies. Or that you really admire the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The movie was a huge hit when it was released and to be honest that was one of the reasons I think I might have been set against it at first. I really struggle to like the ‘big’ film of the year since they invariably disappoint compared to the build up. Some of them manage it eventually Jurassic Park; ET- The Extraterrestrial and so on. Forrest Gump came second in overall box office and it scooped up awards the same way Forrest scoops up shrimp. It won oscars, it won golden globes… it was bloody everywhere and the line above about the chocolates became an instant quote. Going from nowhere to everywhere in the space of a few months and even to this day if you type “life is like a….’ into google then it comes up top. Even before Life is like a book. It is now so well known that it has become a cliche; a generally accepted truism that is no longer examined despite it being the dumbest simile on film. Life isn’t like a f***ing box of chocolates and in the last defence of this film I will ever give neither the author nor the film makers would have wanted it to be taken as true. It is merely an example of how Forrest Gump sees the world. That one line is a microcosm of his character and the film but it is also a perfect example of what goes wrong with this film. What do you mean you haven’t seen Forrest Gump? Sheesh! Okay, I’ll come back to the chocolates.
Forrest Gump is the eponymous hero in a tale spanning several decades. Forrest has a low IQ (75) but is kind, open-hearted and always does the right thing. He excels at football, goes to Vietnam, meets the president and finds himself involved in various famous events of the time. Disaster befalls him and his companions on a frequent basis but he retains a sunny disposition for the most part and ends up being fairly famous and rich. All of which is fine, but what’s it about? Well that’s the problem you see. The film starts with this feather falling from the sky…
And it’s erratic descent to Forrest’s feet is as much of an explanation as you will ever get or need for the plot of the movie. Forrest is the feather to all intents and purposes – blown hither and yon by unseen forces and having as much about say in it as the feather does in the main. Are there good bits? Of course there are, this is not a badly made film in any way – and you have to feel sympathy for Forrest or there is something missing in your soul. He is a victim of circumstance and everyone should feel sorry for the victim. But Forrest Gump is a singular movie because he is a singular character. I did suspect that he was, perhaps, the ultimate stoic – a near perfect example of that philosophical school invented and espoused by Zeno of Citium and other ancient greeks as well as Marcus Aurelius, Derren Brown and my mate Allan who lives in Thailand.
zeno of citium not my mate Allan
I won’t go into the details of stoicism (it can be long and winding road) but I had thought that it was much to do with retaining an equanimity about events – regardless of whether they be good or bad – as I searched for a good reason to champion this film. If Forrest Gump was merely the embodiment of something then I could like him. But he isn’t. It turns out that a stoic has one thing that Forrest does not – and that’s a vision of the future. As a character Forrest initiates nothing, wants nothing (except maybe Jenny) and makes no moves towards achieving anything that he might desire – and as a film educator it drives me nuts. Every time I go into a classroom I am trying to tell the children (or adults) about character and story. We all do the same. Films are about characters and characters want something – which they don’t get right away. Otherwise there would be no bloody film. Think of any other film you’ve ever seen and the chances are high that there is a central character who wants something and a variety of obstacles in their way. It’s storytelling 1.0.1. Except not in Forrest Gump – he’s a blank slate- and the film shouldn’t work, but it does. We are encouraged to just drift along with him as his life is turned upside down by random events – Jenny, Vietnam, Storms and shrimp… it pains me utterly because we are looking for meaning where there can be no meaning. The critic Roger Ebert at the time wrote: Watch him carefully and you will understand why some people are criticized for being “too clever by half.” Forrest is clever by just exactly enough.
Now that I write this it occurs to me that it is not the film, nor the main character that I dislike but the reaction there was to it. Back in 1994 it was championed as a better, more innocent view of the world. Forrest Gump, in the movie and as an aspect of the movie in the real world was famous because of his inabilities, not because of his abilities. There is the whole attitude that we are better off not worrying or thinking or having ambitions and we can still make a success of life. No. No you don’t. I’m not having any of it. The film makers might not have intended it that way but anything they meant to achieve by having Forrest only get to normal school by his mother sleeping with the school principal is lost in the folksy charm of Forrest and his chocolates. And this is why we come back to the box of chocolates. The screenwriter and film makers I am certain did not want that line to become a cliched truism in the world. The line is intended to let us know how Forrest thinks – not how we should think. “Life is like a box of chocolates, cos you never know what you are gonna git”
Really? I do know what I am getting, they tell you on the side of the box, which is why I grab the orange cremes before anyone else. Life is shit sometimes (even for Forrest Gump) and the last box of chocolates I read didn’t have shit-flavoured truffles wrapped up inside.
25 years have passed since Forrest Gump appeared. Damn! I guess life really is like a box of chocolates. Turn your back for a minute and there’s hardly any left.

Today’s news brought to you by 1988.

Nope. it’s 30 years later. Which, despite being the most logical, inevitable and obvious thing in the world, I never saw coming.  Back then it just didn’t seem feasible that the world would reach 2018 at all and (when regarding it in the round) the imminent demise of the planet and human civilization had its pros and cons. Sure, we had all come to enjoy breathing and living but then some of that air was being used up by people like Bros singing ‘I owe you nothing’.

So, swings and roundabouts really. Yes, we were all living with the certainty of eventual incineration by apocalyptic nuclear holocaust but, you know, a world that can produce Die Hard can’t be all bad.

Looking back on it from a distance though 1988 was a very seminal year. Some stuff happened in 1988 that you never noticed at the time even if you had reached an age to give a shit.

Like what, Edison?

I’m glad you asked. Many of you will not remember 1988 in any great detail but you should because 1988 was the year we got the warnings. The faint tremors before the main quakes or, (for film fans) the ripples in the glass before the T-Rex turns up. You will be surprised (I was) to realise that back in 1988 the internet actually existed – The World Wide Web didn’t but the internet did and to celebrate that a guy created the first computer virus. It was called The Morris Worm after its creator and the poor chap had intended to map how big the internet was but only ended up shutting lots of it down for days and weeks. It cost millions.

That one event kinda sets the tone. Was it an existential threat? No, but it wasn’t a step forward either.

Like any year 1988 had its good and bad, mostly bad. If you give a vague description of something that happened that year then you could be talking about most years since.

Massive oil rig disaster – Piper Alpha in the North Sea, 165 lives lost but, you know, Deep Water Horizon and all that.

Plane downed by bomb – assailants unknown – No, not Flight 307, Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

Famous singer dies – in 1988 it was Roy Orbison but there have been a few since.

American politicians mired in scandal over foreign policy (I grant this could be any month not any year but in this case it was Iran/Contra)

Americans put half wit up for election…

A guy called Osama bin Laden started a new band called Al Qaeda. On reflection, bad thing.

But it wasn’t all bad. Or, at least, we didn’t think so at the time. Mikhail Gorbachev instituted an idea called Perestroika and the chances of that atomic annihilation receded somewhat. It led to Glasnost and eventually the Berlin wall coming down.

(In 1988, West Germany was still a thing)

After causing a million deaths the Iran/Iraq war finally came to an end.

The soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the first episode of Home and Away aired. I will leave you to decide whether these were good or bad.

It all sounds so incredibly distant and yet incredibly familiar at the same time doesn’t it? Even when humanity starts to fix things it just seems to be a precursor to f**king it up in a slightly different fashion.

Case in point – Northern Ireland

This was Northern Ireland in 1988.

I lived in Northern Ireland for a time, slightly before these events, and I remember this one vividly. It faded though as it was subsumed by its own consequences – there were counter attacks, reprisals… it was not good. 10 years after this the Good Friday Agreement was made and now, for the sake of brexit, it is all under threat. Moronic politicians in their London bubble who seem to think of a hard border as a minor inconvenience need to have longer memories. This was not a minor inconvenience. I have visited Northern Ireland since and in a tour around the town the guide stated in bubbly Irish brogue.

“You come at a wonderful time in our history. No one is getting shot these days. it’s brilliant”

That was one that was fixed and is being f**ked up again. There is some stuff that happened in 1988 that hasn’t been fixed. You won’t recognise this guy

This is Dr James Hansen in 1988. He looks a little different now but he is still kicking around to see the fruits of his labour – which I am sure he would love if there were any. What’s he doing here in this photo? He’s telling Congress that climate change is man made and is an existential threat to the planet. Or at least, to the humans and other animals fond of air, water and temperatures lower than Venus. 30 YEARS AGO!

We’ve actually known about global warming for a lot longer than that but this was the first time someone had spelled it out and put the science together in easy to understand language. 30 years and we are in worse trouble.

Why? Because we aren’t very good at seeing the big picture. We aren’t inherently honest with each other or ourselves. And when we do try and be honest people tend to look at us as if we are insane.

Back in 1988 the internet wasn’t ready for Facebook and the only way humans could get a raw and unadulterated look at themselves by shouting at each other was through the only type of social media we had back then. I give you Talk Radio.

Why not have a listen…

 

There;s a reason we keep saying ‘Same shit, different day’.

 

 

Things Unseen

I work with young people a lot and some of them have had a pretty rough start in life. I could tell you stories but.. well, those are their stories to tell not mine. The thing is though that whether the young people have had all the advantages in life or not I have noticed a disturbing trend. More and more of them have not seen Star Wars. It used to be that in a class of 30 you would have 16 who had seen Star Wars – and I hate to say this dear reader, but that number has fallen – and it has fallen by a significant amount. We were working in a school in Drumchapel. Glasgow…

To Scottish readers I will not need to say more than Drumchapel. Billy Connolly used to mention it in his set. It was the very epitome of poverty and it is better now… but not that much better.

The class had about 28-30 kids in it. All taught by a young, good-looking Irishman named Michael (obviously) who had made a film with them the year before – and that film had won a prize – we were part of the prize. For a single afternoon we brought along the big cameras and tried to show them a little of what it is to be a film maker. It was tough going.

One of the kids (We’ll call her Senga) was so gallus (Glasgow word, look it up) that she could hardly function in normal conversation – seriously, she had such a compulsion to be a smart-arse (she was 10) that it was nearly impossible to get a conversation going. I shall, naturally, give you an example. We set them a task.

You have five shots to convey a single word. You can’t use that word verbally – you can’t write it down and show it. You have to think of a way of showing that is entirely visual. Senga was in a group of five or six. Their word was ‘Lost’.

So we set all six groups, including Senga’s, to work and some of them started furiously drawing pictures and writing down what they would do – but not Senga’s group. In fairness, they might have been ready to do it but just having Senga there rendered the task impossible. She wasn’t about to let a single statement or idea go unchallenged. So I went over to help them out. I wouldn’t be giving them ideas but if I could just tease some out of them…

‘What word is it?’ They whispered it to me – Senga, eyed me with suspicion, ‘Lost’

“Right, well what if you lost something? What would you do?”

Blank stares – as if the concept of losing something had never occurred to them and seemed unlikely ever to happen.

“What would you do, say, if you lost your schoolbag?” Enter Senga – this chat has gone on long enough.

“Ah’d git ma mammy to gie me anither wan.”

“Okay then – what if it was something you really cared about?”

And I cast my eyes around them all, trying to think of what these small alien creatures might give a shit about. And all I could think of was…

“What would you do” I asked “If you lost a tenner?”

“Ah’d git ma mammy to gie me anither wan” replied Senga, quick as a wink.

I looked to the ceiling and wondered ‘Were we like this?’ And we probably were. I know I was a smart-arse in p6 and probably at other times as well, but I think these kids are different in some regards – they have more, but I think they see less. For all that Senga has a big mouth and the occasional barb, for all that she access to the whole world through her phone she actually seems less aware of the world – and of what things mean.

I am not berating one little girl – she is merely an example of the many that I see – there are some who have harnessed the power at their disposal but they are few and far between. The others seem content to stare into their screens and somehow contrive to see nothing.

Which is why we try to teach them film literacy – how to look at a work and see what else there is apart from the obvious. To see what lies beyond the flashes, the explosions and the kisses.

In that Drumchapel class less than  5 of them had actually seen Star Wars and even those that had seen it had not really seen it.

What do I mean? Well, before you go congratulating yourself on your random superiority think of this ‘Have you REALLY watched Star Wars? Here’s the opening 3 minutes. It is a master work of film making.

 

So much is achieved in these 3 minutes I no longer feel guilty about loving this film from the very outset. For all those people in my life who have no idea what I do for a living here is a small sample of it, with a few ideas of things that I see when I watch this movie. The points made are nowhere near all I could talk about but they give you a hint.

I could talk about the sound design as they wait to see what comes through the doors, I could talk about the shadows that fall across the ship as it is consumed by the larger vessel. It’s a perfect example of efficient story tellling. Star Wars. First shot is people having a war with the backdrop of the stars – it doesn’t come much more efficient than that.

But for Senga (and many like her) it seems that the efforts made by film makers are almost beneath her. I’ve seen this time and time again in classes – the skills of the film maker go entirely unseen. Star Wars is a fairy tale and it has layer upon layer in its construction. But if I were to ask what it is about I would get…

‘A war in the stars, obvs!’

Fiver on ebay. Will I be buying it? Hell yeah.

I don’t know what it is but the generations unfortunate enough to come after me seem to be missing out on their Star Wars moment. When the film came out originally it took months to get here from the USA. I had read the bloody book of the movie before I saw the movie. I remember it well. I spent hours looking at the 16 pages of photographs.

And that meant trying to imagine the movie before I had even seen it. I was playing the film in my mind and then watching it on a screen made all the bigger because I was so small. It was utterly enormous and transforming.

But now Senga watches things on her phone, or on a laptop or a tablet or (rarely) a TV. I asked a class yesterday what their favourite movie was – and got hardly one answer. Granted that these are not kids blessed with self-esteem or skills in public speaking but when asked ‘Okay, what was the last thing you watched?’ one lad answered with a fight clip from Facebook and most of the rest cited youtube.

Subtext, layers of composition, craft… all of these things are being diminished both in the written word (you want me to read??!) and in the moving image as the smaller screens take over. We are not getting art from these devices – they are merely distractions that do not expand our minds but shut them down. The constant babble a replacement for the difficulties of thought.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal, Philosopher, 1654

Those distractions are cheaply made. Two gamers playing Minecraft costs very little to produce and edit. What need have they for precision lighting or exact camera placement or complex sound design so that the movement behind the door reminds us more of an enormous beast than it does of machinery? They have no need. None at all.

It is then monetized – with each view being very cheaply paid for by advertisers.

But these are only the financial costs – the true costs are much higher and altogether unseen.

Attention spans diminishing, standards on a race to the bottom so that we can have ‘views’. In the same way that we have lost that passion for reading in many of the young so we will soon lose the ability to watch and understand an entire movie. Subtext will cease to exist for many.

Senga and her like have access to everything and so value nothing. Her media consumption comes in gobbled chunks that have no mental calorie content and instead of being satisfied they simply leave her needing more.

Of course, her Mammy can always get her anither wan.