Fahrenheit 11/9

The most relevant political film ever is “The Wave“, and a sister version made in Germany.  Based on a true story, a sixth former in California asked how did German people ever become Nazis.  In later lessons, their teachers start to coach them in ways that ends up with them supporting despot ideas and sharing a wave sign for a zeig heil.

This in the end is the message of Michael More’s latest film, “Fahrenheit 11/9“.  But dialled to 11 through much of the film, ribalding “fake news” but with too many false endings, the film is too long.

Shelly Runyon (underhand Republican politician): “Take a magic marker, cross out the word “objectivity”. Your constituents want you for your opinions, your philosophy, for your subjectivity.”
from The Contender.

I’ve always been struck by this quote. It says loads.  Perhaps the filmmakers meant it as a condemnation, but I’m not sure.  I take it to mean energise people to vote for what you believe.  Just don’t take the quote to mean it’s OK to lie.

In this context, I take it as a reminder that Michael Moore makes editorials, not documentaries.  And I think his main conclusion is just wrong.

Anton Chigurh: “… If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?” – from No County for Old Men.

Cos at the end, he essentially says if the political system, many aspects of which he’s been celebrating for much of the previous 2 hours, brings us to Trump, of what use is it; and let’s get rid.  Another version of despotic exhortation.  I’m not putting him anywhere near Trump’s level, but it’s an uncharitable conclusion, which prompts me to say that I don’t accept his mea culpa at the outset for being soft on Trump when a tv programme asked him to.
And yet I do recommend going to see the movie.
(r:7.5; s:4; e:3; t:3)

Cos the episodes are interesting, often telling and at times very uplifting:
* that the Democrats have recently been losing winning hands; from a populace that is more to the left that you’d commonly understand;
* that Hillary Clinton hid from people in the 2016 campaign;
* that mainstream politics has created a new majority – of the uninterested and not voting;
* that the media loved the ratings boosts Trump’s appearances have given them;
* the extraordinary tragedy of polluted water supply to the city of Flint in Michigan; that Trump visited when the others didn’t; that Obama visited and upset people when they  were looking to him for salvation;
* the West Virginian Democrat making a strong showing cos of his direct style in an unwinnable district; (a showing that The Guardian reports has been harmed by professional advisors turning up to help him out, although I think the problem has been recognised);
* the student protests led by victims of a shooting in a Florida school, that saw teenagers organise massive rallies and actually trigger the downfall of a Maine state senator in a previously unchallenged seat;
* a new wave of women and BME candidates that are having an impact;
* a strike by West Virginian teachers, and other school staff, protesting against a more expensive health insurance that required. them to wear monitors, that grew from a few counties to all 55; and with it, an explanation of what being a “red neck” originally meant;
* how despotism took over the advanced and well-red Germany of the 1930’s;
* a tragic scene shot of a child separated from their parents in Nazi Germany.

Finally, again from The Contender –

Shelly Runyon: There’s a reason they call me honest Shell.
President Jackson Evans: Irony, Shelly.


Science Fair movie

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This is a documentary to watch in a cinema with serious young couples at one end, and a multi-family group – with teenagers engaging and laughing with the scence students – at the other. Clash of cultures.
Cos what I wanted most was to see the science excite.  The movie starts strongly as teenage students outline the ideas they have, but kinda fails to explain the outcomes.  So two teenagers from a small town of a Brazil at the epicentre of the zika virus outcome, and had identified a protein that could mitigate its speed through the human body.  The cinema was united in wanting them to win – they didn’t place.
I went to see this movie,  in part cos we have science weeks in Nottingham, but not I think along the competitive lines of the featured international event (the British were conspicuous in their absence), and in part cos with a science degree, I wanted to see what I should have been doing before I went to university (given a German won with an updated flying wing, I suspect I should have made models of ekranoplans (ground-effect vehicles)).
The makers did find some interesting teenagers to highlight.  And arguably a boring one.  An Amercian girl from a Bangladeshi family who didn’t particularly project, attending a school in South Dakota that focussed on sports (its American football team had just finished the season with 9 losses out of 9) and had to find a sports coach to mentor her cos the science teachers wouldn’t; so low-profile that fellow school students had no idea the high-achieving scientist was at their school.   This girl in a hijab was studying alpha and beta waves in the teenage mind.  The documentary failed to convey the outcomes, but did show her winning one of the 9 world wide categories, something which the school is said not even to have celebrated through an announcement (although I wonder about that really).
Again, credit to the Broadway in Nottingham for screening it.
(r:7.5; s:3, e:4, t:3)

Jack Jones documentary

Striking image for a documentary on Jack Jones, largely financed with union funds.
A reminder of a union leader whose political values and organisational capability led to him creating Britain’s largest union.
Often on the tele to get the values across and to ensure justice at the workplace was a media issue – kinda missing that in particular these days.
The documentary makes the point that low hours contracts are the casualisation of labour that was fought against for all those years.
Born in a deprived part of Liverpool, his commitment to the cause and for trade unions was “in your bones”, as Dennis Skinner put it.
Opposing fascism and fighting in the Spanish Civil War was celebrated, although his service as a Liverpool City Councillor (he was the youngest councillor) wasn’t.
Taking union organisation in the motor city of Coventry to a new level.
He was very well-known, and highly regarded by the public, and in retirement led the National Pensioners’ Convention.

For sons of 70’s trade unions activists like me, the documentary is not only a rehearsal of good values, but also an immersion in nostalgia as you recognise all the activists and leaders from the past.  Oh and Mike Yarwood.

It is surprising that documentaries like these haven’t already been made, especially by the BBC who had people like Michael Cockerill who could have done something with the life story.  This documentary has too many testifiers from now and not enough film from then.
Maybe something could then have been said about his time as a Councillor.  Maybe some recognition for advances made for pensioners by new Labour before his death in 2009.

Here to be Heard

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Never saw The Slits but the almost breathless start to their cover of “Heard it through the Grapevine” is a classic, applauded by a member of the audience who asked how it had come about to find that the reggae producer brought in from Island Records couldn’t get it right and a new producer on their first record brought it together.
The Guardian review of the documentary expresses disappointment with the film so I had gone for the experience of the event, including a Q&A like that.
My question was on the claim by a journalist (check) that ‘without The Slits, there would have been no Madonna’. “Were they disappointed with today’s music scene“?  Turns out the quote came from Madonna at the outset appearing to copy Viv Albertine‘s fashion sense.
The documentary is a bit of a mess, and the second half not good, but the first half is compelling, especially for the nostalgia.  And the Slits were part of that magic time when youth music was so good.

T. Rex was not what we were taught

Recommend “The Real T Rex with Chris Packham”, on BBC2 tv.
Main point – many dinosaurs were much more like birds that we’ve previously imagined.
He announced the making of this programme at the opening of the Chinasaurs exhibition (at Wollaton Hall in June), explaining that our popular perceptions of dinosaurs were wrong.

I must have remembered what he told me was wrong cos I’ve since being telling people the T. Rex was covered in feathers and only had a high-pitched squeak.
Perhaps they’ve learnt more since.
I told hom the public might not accept a new T. Rex.  He told me quite clearly – it was the truth!

The Vietnam War documentary

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Telling the story of a war that figured so heavily in the news broadcasts of my childhood.
The war kinda feels other worldly in an era in which opposition forces are taken out by drones.

The TV documentary series by WETA-TV and Florintene Films is compelling.  You learn so much.  (Note, it cost $30 million to make.)
The piece on the memorial was just one of the special pieces.
Ditto, the napalm attack that caught innocent children.
The point blank execution on camera of a Viet Cong agent during the Tet offensive.
A reminder that the North Vietnamese communists could be cruel too.
John Kerry’s testimony on Capitol Hill.
(It’s possible that bits were missed out – e.g. peace initiatives in the early sixties.  Possbilby a tad harsh on the new regine given what they followed, and that they were to throw out the Khmer Rouge.)

So much to take in, but just one excerpt especially pertinent to today …
Episode 5 showed John McCain being interviewed by a French journalist having been shot down in Vietnam, ejected too low from a plane out of control, broken 3 limbs and having them reset without painkillers.
In the interview, his voice is trembling. He was interviewed because he was the son of a US General in charge of their military in Europe.
He was beaten up afterwards, because he had not been grateful enough to his captors on film.
Years later, he was to be ridiculed, told heroes don’t let themselves be captured and only recently, mocked cos of the physical symptoms he has as he is fighting cancer.
America, get a grip.