Friday, July 23, 2021

Review of "Zami: A New Spelling of My Name" by Audre Lorde

Shamefully I've never heard of Audre Lorde, even though she is quite famous as a poet and writer, and activist. I hope to read more of her (prose anyway, I don't do that much poetry) because she's a very engaging writer, able to write in an articulate, non-academic way about the way that different kinds of oppression interlock and counter-balance each other. She writes about her life as a Black working class lesbian, and this book covers the period in which she is formed as a writer but before she is one. She writes about work, and racism (at school, college and work) and about the various lesbian tribes and subcultures of 1950s New York. 

She's brilliant at depicting the latter, and in bringing the city to life as it was at a very special moment of its history, when it was still possible to live as a bohemian (bourgeois or other) in Manhattan. I wish I'd read it with a map, and it would be great to have a 'virtual walking tour' of the New York she is writing about.

I note in passing that she obviously moved in Communist Party circles, was involved in the campaign to save the Rosenbergs from execution, relishes the very end of the 1940s as a time of hope, and is excited and enthusiastic about the creation of the State of Israel as a sign of that hope.

There's a lot of material about growing up the children of immigrants that I recognise...she wasn't just Black in New York, she was West Indian, which I think makes for a very different sort of Black experience. It would be good to know more about that.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Review of "Promising Young Woman"

Good enough thriller-drama about a not-so-young woman taking revenge on men in general, and some specific men (and women) who were involved in the rape of her best friend while at college. Lots of tension, plot twists, and some well constructed scenes. Some of the twists were visible before they arrived, but it works well as a film, and is a good one for bringing up the issues involved in the way men behave...especially the 'nice' ones.

Informal distribution, VLC on laptop and Chromecast - working again at the moment. Sometimes there's now sound but not on this one.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Review of Fatherhood

Sort of OK film about a man whose wife dies soon after childbirth, and ends up bringing up his daughter himself as a single dad. Mainly positioned as a comedy, but with lots of poignant moments. The most remarkable thing is that the dad is a black guy working in the tech industry in Boston (though the family are from Minnesota, and his mother and mother-in-law keep suggesting that he moves back there), and there's no racism at all in his experience. His white boss and white colleagues are mainly just great to him, and there is never any suggestion at all that anyone sees him as a black man. Oh, and in the way that seems to be really common in Hollywood movies, he seems to be much richer (and work much less) than would really be compatible with his job...it's not clear exactly what he does in what seems to be a CAD company, but he does give a few presentations.

Watched on Netflix.

Review of 'The Overstory' by Richard Powers

Very effective and moving novel, about trees. Reminded me a lot of Barkskins, partly because of the subject matter (which also focuses on the clearance of forests from North America) but also the structure, and the feeling. I didn't learn all that much that I hadn't previously heard about trees, but it did affect the way that I felt about them...I have much more respect for the HS2 protestors than I did before, for example. And I think it changed the way I thought and felt about people too, including the people who are wedded to the existing way of doing things, who have jobs in logging or in enforcement of property rights. I'd like to read more by Richard Powers, who on the strength of this is a very good writer.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Review of 'Promised Land' (2002)

Came across this pretty much by accident while looking for the other 'Promised Land' with Matt Damon and Frances McDormand. This is a different film altogether, though as with that one the title is ironic. It's in Afrikaans, and set mainly among Afrikaners in the world of immediate post-Apartheid South Africa. The main characters are a farming family in a bleak, dry spot, to which a young man who's been living in London returns after the death of his mother. 

It's creepy, and violent, and a bit cliched ("You don't understand our ways, you don't belong here any more"), but not without interest. Apparently it's based on an award winning novel. A curiosity is that it features Yvonne van den Bergh, an Afrikaner actor who went on to become a big thing in South African TV before outing herself as a dominatrix and then going all out into porn. It's supposed to be the other way round, isn't it?

Whole film was available on YouTube.

Review of "The Forty Year Old Version"

A nice, feelgood film about a middle-aged black woman living in Brooklyn who teaches theatre to kids but also aspires to be a playwright. She'd been tipped as a rising star but hasn't delivered on the promise...and now she has a chance to have her play produced, only she has to deal with manipulative and duplicitious financial backers and so on, who want her to change the focus, and wiggle around her wish for a black director, and so on. So it's about artists, and compromise, but it's also about being 40 (hence the title, a play on 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' film title, and wanting to be cool - she has a go at rapping in a club - but, well, forty...

Enjoyable to watch, nice acting, well observed. A rare good film from Netflix.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Review of "The Great Indian Kitchen"

Really good film, though somehow describing it makes it sound dreary and dull. Oddly the poster makes it look like it's a Bollywood romance, which much be someone's idea of irony. The film starts with a wedding, but after that there's little romance, though there is some unpleasant sex.

It's about a young Indian woman who marries into a middle-class family in Kerala, and the way that they are everyone else she knows expect to her accept a life of absolute servile drudgery. Interesting on several levels - in some ways her life was not so different from my own mum's. My dad thought of himself as modern and progressive, but helping around the house (let alone doing a share of the housework) was not his thing, and was not something that my mum ever seemed to expect. My mum expected no more of me or my brother, and always seemed at least bemused by the fact that we did housework in our own homes. Still, the men in this film do take it to another level; among her duties is putting toothpaste on her father-in-law's toothbrush. 

Worth noting is that this is a Hindu family - Muslims and even Orthodox Jews are often singled out as the epitome of patriarchal religion, but as the film makes clear Hinduism at least as depicted here has just as many taboos about contact with menstruating women, who are regarded as unclean and to be shunned. And these are middle-class, educated people in progressive Kerala - at one point towards the end of the film the woman walks past a mural of Che Guevara.

Made me realise the extent to which my favourite Indian foods (and most of my favourite foods are Indian) are labour-intensive, and not possible without either the unpaid labour of women or the underpaid labour of restaurant workers.

Watched on Amazon Prime.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Review of "Modern Persuasion"

No redeeming features whatsoever. Wash your hair, wash your eyes with lemon juice, just don't watch this film.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Review of 'Almost Famous'

A film from 2000 about a 15-year-old boy (young man?) who blags his way into writing for Rolling Stone magazine (they don't know how old he is, and he fakes a deeper voice over the phone), and ends up on tour with the rock band Stillwater, developing substantive relationships with some members of the band and their hangers-on. One of these is a young woman called "Penny Lane" who is a member of a groupie cohort called the band-aids, and it's here that the film gets problematic. The hero calls out the band because he thinks they aren't kind enough to these girls, but there's no suggestion that he or anyone else thinks that there's anything abusive about sexual relationships between men in their twenties and girls in their mid-teens.

There's surprisingly little tension in the film - the hero is never really in trouble or in danger. The band's manager is supplanted by a cool dude appointed by the record company, but the old manager who has been with them since the beginning still stays on. And so on. Frances McDormand is nice as the boy's mother.

Watched on Amazon Prime.