Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review of Kika

Basically loathsome...another one about a man who has a passion to kill people for no reason. Anytime someone tells you that Almodovar understands and likes women, refer them to this one. It has nasty cum jokes, an absolutely vile rape scene that is played for laughs, a central character that recapitulates every 'ditzy' woman stereotype.

There are a few decent visual jokes - I couldn't help liking the psychologist-turned-TV-presenter's outside broadcast outfit that has a camera on her head and lights built into her tits, and she wears some good gothic horror stuff to actually present her shows.

But mainly it's just horrible.

Watched at Jane's shop, the Old Co-op on Horns Road in Stroud.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review of 'Revolution in Rojava – Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan"

I read this for Stroud Radical Reading Group, having not really engaged with Rojava before - except via the occasional Facebook post, and the bit in the film 'The Accidental Anarchist'. There's a long and sometimes confusing sprint through Kurdish history; I knew the early bits but not the later parts, particularly since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. It's hard following all the groups and organisations that are referred to, and the dominant groups in Rojava seem down on all other Kurdish movements. It's also the case that the book (inevitably) is out of date, in that the enclaves it writes about are now for the most part occupied either by the Turkish or the Syrian Army. There's a lot about the wider politics of the region, but curiously there's no reference at all to Israel - as it it's somehow nothing to do with Syria. And yet the suggestion that the YPG are supported by Israel is often made, so it seems like the sort of allegation that ought to be addressed rather than ignored.

There's lots that isn't in the book. I don't really understand how the Rojava not-statelet works, and I certainly don't understand what economic model it follows in the absence of a state. There are co-ops, but are there wages, prices, profits? Are these set by the market or something else?

Some bits are too turgid to read, and some too confusing. I find it hard to believe that a Marxist-Leninist inflected nationalist armed struggle turned itself into an eco-anarchist inflected feminist movement, and I'd like to know a lot more about how that happened and what it felt like. I can't believe it was all due to a revelation in prison of Ocalan.

Still, it's utterly amazing what they are even trying to do - to build a libertarian, feminist society in the midst of monstrous hierarchical and patriarchal regimes and movements. Even the fact that they aspire to this is magnificent, and they deserve all the help that they can get...and the book is worthwhile for bringing that out.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review of Frantz

A slow but intriguing film set (mainly) in a small town in Germany, when a young woman whose fiance fell in the closing months of WW1 finds a young French man putting flowers on his grave (BTW why is he buried in a churchyard in his home town rather than in a battlefield war grave like almost everyone else? Were German practices different is or is this just a mistake by the film-makers?).

Hard to say more without a spoiler, but it's beautifully shot, acted and plotted.

Watched on BBC iPlayer on smart TV.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Review of Schultze Gets the Blues

Another one of those light social comedies for which German cinema is so justly famous...well, this is sort of a comedy, though there aren't many laughs.

Schultze and his two mates are made redundant from the salt mine in former East Germany where they work, and they don't know what they'll do with themselves. Schultze picks up his accordion, and accidently discovers Zydeco on the radio, and now he wants to play that instead of the polkas that he's played to date.

If this had been an British film, he'd have been charmingly redeemed by his discovery and he would have had a new life as a Cajun...but it's a German film, so he just carries on as before, sort of half-heartedly searching but not finding. The poster and the blurb and really misleading...he never has a moment in which he finds new life through the new music, and he never leaps for joy, or for anything else.

He goes to America and rents a small boat, which he drives down a river (the Mississipi?) through the bayous, but he never quite finds the local music that he's apparently after...just more people playing German polkas, and then Czechs playing Tex-Czech polkas. He almost makes friends along the way, but not quite. And it mainly gets bleaker and bleaker.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, from an old-fashioned DVD.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review of 'Vertigo" by Boileau-Narcejac (Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

Wow, what a book! A very short thriller with lots of narrative and emotional depth...it's the book on which the Hitchcock movie (which I've never seen, but will now) is based. Hard to say much about it without giving away the plot, but it's brilliant, and the atmosphere - of Paris during the Phoney War of 1940, and then the immediate post-War period, is brought to life with little details. I didn't see any of the twists coming.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review of Honeyland

Ruth liked this more than I did...I found it hard to like, though much to appreciate. It's about honey producers in Macedonia - one oldish woman (living with her much-older mother) who produces honey through a combination of wild gathering and a few semi-natural hives, and one family of micro-scale commercial producers, who know almost nothing about bees or honey (or cattle farming, their other main activity). Despite the poster this is not a depiction of any rural idyll - they are a few miles from Skopje, but it's poor and harsh in a nasty way.

The family is a personal, social, cultural and agricultural disaster zone - their children suffer from bee stings, cow kicks, each other, abuse and neglect. Although they are barely part of the commercial nexus (they sell their honey to a small-scale dealer for cash) they have absolutely no feel for sustainabilty...not just in environmental terms, but in terms of planning for any kind of crop next year. They lose fifty calves because the husband has delegated feeding them to his wife, who has delegated it to the children, who just don't. Naturally their slash-and-burn methods devastate the production of their old woman neighbour, who has told them all she knows about honey production - I was going to say 'taught them all she knows', but she has taught them nothing.

Oh, and it's all actual 'found footage', in that the camera crew apparently went there and filmed without understanding Macedonian or knowing what was going on. Which means all that the brutal and incompetent and harsh scenes really happened, and no-one did anything different because they were being filmed.

It's beautifully filmed, but it's not beautiful. The landscape is harsh, the woman is ugly, the dwellings are impoverished but without the beauty that sometimes comes from simplicity. The music is amazing, but sometimes it's almost like atonal noise, so that it seems to be pure emotion rather than anything like a tune.

Watched at Lansdown Hall through Stroud Film Club.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Review of "Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime"

Is it possible to hate a book and love (or at least like) it at the same time? This one makes some really important points about the sense of dispossession and displacement that underlies some of the popular support for the new right, and about the vaccuity of the project of modernisation and globalisation that has been the principal objective of both liberalism and neo-liberalism. This is important, and he makes the distinction between "good" internationalism of accepting that we all live on one planet with one atmosphere, and that refugees (especially climate refugees, of which there will be many) are people like us, displaced - and the "bad" internationalism of saying that we can't fight the deregulatory race to the bottom and outsourcing.

And it's something that I not only understand, but feel - I'm aware that I now feel like an ex-Londoner, because London doesn't want people like me and my family any more, but I don't really feel like I belong in small-town Gloucestershire either; many of my friends are also people who moved here from somewhere else, and some of the locals feel aggrieved that I'm part of the trend that makes their town no longer affordable for their kids, and I can see their point. There are great bits about that in the book, and I was delighted to learn about Zadists.

But it's written in the most abstruse, complicated language - and with incomprehensible diagrams that are supposed to illuminate the argument but really really don't. I've had this experience before with Bruno Latour, when I read his stuff about science and the labour process, and later about the embedded social relations of technology like caravels. He's got really important things to say, but it's absolutely not accessible to a lay audience, at least not one of English-language heritage. I wonder whether he's let down by bad translation, but I don't think it's that. It's more that the English and French intellectual traditions are so alien from each other, that even though this book appears to be in English, it isn't. Which rather speaks to his point, if you think about it.

Review of Marilyn Hotchkiss ballroom dancing and charm school

Soppy but quite enjoyable romantic comedy/drama, in which a baker played by Robert Carlyle (but what accent is that even supposed to be?) goes to a dancing school as part of a favour to a dying man, and finds the happiness and love that he's lost after the unexpected suicide of his wife.

Watched on Netflix...or was it Amazon Prime? I don't remember.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Review of Groundhog Day

Just watched this again in the Middle Floor at Springhill (on a DVD) and had forgotten how great it is. Really enjoyed it, in all its feelgood schmaltziness. Bits of it - about how life is capable of perfection if we only had the time, and the inclination - felt very profound, though I wonder if that feeling will evaporate on reflection.

Review of 'On Tyranny; Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century'

If you think that 'totalitarianism' is a useful concept for analysing political systems, that it's useful to compare 'democracies' and 'tyrannys', and that democracy is like pregnancy - you are either are you aren't - then this is the book for you. It will help if you think everything was fine in the UK, and the US, and Europe, before the nasty right-wing populists turned up. Otherwise you might not like it so much.

This couple of sentences stuck out so much I wanted to quote them in full:

"Some spoke critically of neoliberalism, the sense that the idea of the free market has somehow crowded out all others. This was true enough, but the very use of the word was usually a kowtow before an unchangeable hegemony."

So is neoliberalism a useful concept or not? Speaking critically of it is...er, true? Or a kowtow to something?