New Towns, Our Towns

New Towns, Our Town – Stories on Screen is a collection of (often sponsored information) films “about (mainly) the first four of the UK’s New Towns – Stevenage, Crawley, Hemel Hempstead and Harlow” from the ’20s to the ’80s. (Peterborough, Basildon and Milton Keynes also feature.)
Without an overarching explanatory narration, and presentations of contemporary perceptions of the towns, the criticisms of the new towns movements quickly spring to mind – lacking a central feature of distinction, designed before the take-off of car ownership, vulnerable during periods of high crime, diminished by people choosing home entertainment, home drinking and shopping in hypermarkets, oh and buying from internet companies who avoid paying tax.
But new and old towns alike have been vulnerable to that criticism. As are the redeveloped neighbourhoods and new suburbs.
Seeing “Crosswall” properties being erected, and the failure of (Harlow) Town Hall, it’s clear the New Towns movement didn’t have enough money to always provide quality.
Cliches abounded – “it’s about people”; loads of kids playing and adults bowling; modern art statues and fountains lined with small square tiles. And one I actually like – success will be when they don’t need us (the development corporations) anymore.
Loads to take in, but in the absence of editorial, the collation struggles to champion the New Town movement.
Highlight, the champion for the Milton Keynes development describing it in 1973 as “the most exciting thing in the world”.
The Guardian article.

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Apollo 11

Cos I’m of an age that landing on the moon was supposed to appeal our idealism the most. Cos we created our own command module using the lino in the bottom of the arts cupboard in Class 4. Cos we were woken up in the middle of the night to watch the landing on TV. Cos I’ve kept watching the movies (e.g. First Man and Apollo 13) and the documentaries that explained the mission, and the failures of the Russian programme. So I knew I had to see this film.

But if I though I knew it, was there anything left to learn? Oh yes –
– the portrayal of the power of the Saturn V rocket was better here than seen before;
– the top of the LEM looked tattier than I imagined it, and it looked fragile;
– the landing felt quicker;
– the photos of the moonwalk were better than I remember seeing;
– the rejoin of the CSM and the LM seemed more astonishing than ever before; the true wonder of the mission;
– amazing that they could adjust the splash down site, and miss the new arrival point by only 2 miles.

With the sound of JFK setting a new ambition or the country fresh in the mind, Apollo 11 is the kind of film that makes you se street life outside the cinema in a one way.
Cos we have a new challenge – to save our planet for our current life.
And we need the kind of leaders who can see the necessity of meeting this new challenge, convey the new challenge in a way that people get, and mobilise people to deliver.

BBC political coverage and bias

David Dimbleby won an award at a National Television Awards event broadcast in front of an audience that had been whooping and hollering for soap stars and game show hosts, and used his speech in part to say he admired politicians cos they had a difficult job and were doing their best, but perhaps should genuinely answer questions with their own personal views. And his opportunity to keep asking questions was the thing that mattered most.
I may have missed it, but I didn’t hear the references to inform, educate and entertain. Not all of Reith‘s values were that great – he kinda admired Hitler and Mussolini and was a Conservative – but he did demonstrate a strong desire for the BBC to be independent of government, most famously during the 1926 general strike when he tried to get the views of trades unions, labour leaders and church people broadcast, and was blocked.
Despite this determination to be independent, he still became a Conservative MP. And a major problem with the BBC’s news and politics coverage is that its leading reporters and presenters are Conservatives, and / or from a very narrow snd privileged background. Cos of his dad, Dimbleby was presenting from the age of 12.
Looking at the current batch, except for Andrew Marr, well known for being Conservatives: Laura Kuenssberg (placing Nick Robinson), Andrew Neil, Evan Davies (replacing Jeremy Paxman) and now Fiona Bruce – a picture of whom wearing a blue rosette (which is downloaded from social media, so some caution – really not sure it is a Conservative rosette) has been circulated following a controversy over her treatment of Diana Abbott on Question Time, for which the BBC have partly apologised (the unfair challenge over opinion polls, not the suggestions of racism).
A Guardian correspondent claims Question Time’s director shifted the show to be more controversial a year or so ago, and makes five suggestions how it can be improved – calm the audience down, fairer chairing, mind the setting plan, scrutinise the directing and embrace the boring – well, maybe so, it misses bigger points.
(BTW, I wonder what the suggestions would be for Daily Politics and A Week in Politics, where a guest (a rock star) sat in bewilderment as Neil and his sofa experts did a silly dance to music.)
The BBC reporting of the employment figures – the highest for decades, whilst unemployment rate being the lowest for 40 years – was bouncy and enthusiastically sold. All at odds with the social security having to be paid out (even on a much more restricted set of criteria), the lump or gig economy meaning people don’t earn enough or in a regular enough manner (and so we get reports from local schools of the increase in problems young children are presenting).
It disappoints me so that with the onset of information technology, our ability to understand what’s really happening has got worse.
BBC political coverage will continue to struggle with its approach and Conservative and class background. And with journalists who look down on politics and politicians.
So what would my Reithian approach be?
Inform, Educate and Entertain – OK, but find a framework by which those tests can be measured, and have some kind of unit that evaluates and publishes the evaluation. Embrace Orwell’s values on condemning barbarity in writing. Give a framework to questions geared testing advocates and their plans for ambition, planning, performance, capability, capacity, culture and legitimacy. Value and celebrate politics – its existence is the signal of living in a free society – so that people do want to watch it. And then require much more of what government at all levels does through services and projects so that there is more of value to report.
And yes, it would be good if politicians changed to this mode too.

Nae Pasaran

Went for its last local showing out of a sense of duty – and it was so much better than that.
A desert war veteran and Rolls-Royce engineer realises that 8 engines for extensive and high quality renovation at the East Kilbride factory are for Chilean Air Force Hawker Hunter jet planes of the kind used to attack the seat of government in Chile during in the CIA inspired coup of an elected government. “They’re blacked”. And management can’t get him to change his position. And the engines are boxed and later sent out into the yard and not moved. This turns out to reduce the operational effectiveness of the Chilean Air Force, and possibly even see some of their planes fall out of the sky.
It’s a symbol of goodness, and most significantly, an indication of what having strong unions could mean.
Some great stories too of how what was done has since been celebrated.
The Guardian gives it 3 stars; (e:3; s:4; p:4).

They Shall Not Grow Old documentary

“an utterly breathtaking journey into the trenches” – The Observer. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/11/they-shall-not-grow-old-peter-jackson-review-first-world-war-footage It is incredible to see old film converted and filled to the right speed and colourised. It changes how we see people. And then to see lip readers and voice artists and sound effects engineers bring it to a new level.

Amazing what you take from the new scenes. A gun blasting from a farmyard, and slates fall off a roof. A German prisoner losing his balance and a Tommy giving him a shoulder charge and a bit of verbal. A shell exploding within horse column bringing supplies.

The documentary ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They_Shall_Not_Grow_Old#Critical_response ) starts with the optimism of the British going to war, and has quite a few quotes expressing the spirit of the Captain from “The Wipers Times”. This is not “Oh What a Lovely War”, or “The Monoculed Mutineer”, or “Blackadder Goes Forth”.

And the film is limited, perhaps by the source material. But no navy, no air battles, no hospitals, no Italy, no explorations of strategy, no news of revolutions elsewhere, no French army, no Americans, no Spanish flu, possibly no Empire and certainly no black and minority ethnic.

But what it brings, especially for those descended from British soldiers on the front, is something so special, that allows us a sliver of understanding, and a sense of what shock and awe might actually have been like. Cos as is explained, they never told us, or as the film asserts, many of us didn’t ask or want to know.

And a concern that maybe the last four years haven’t been used well enough to re-iterate just what a stupid war it was. Which just one quote at the end manages to impart.

And then a terrifically judged version of “Mademoiselle from Armentières” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mademoiselle_from_Armentières ) to finish.

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)