Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

Hillbilly Elegy (2020)

Hillbilly Elegy is a film based on the novel of the same name by J.D. Vance.

Hillbillies in popular culture have usually been represented as figures of fun, even ridicule. Older readers will remember “The Beverly Hillbillies”, a TV comedy series based on a family from the Appalachian Mountains when oil was struck on their land, producing untold riches. They moved to California and continued to live like hillbillies in, of course, Beverly Hills. More affectionately, Don Macleans “Good ol boys drinkin` whiskey and rye” were clearly hillbilly types, albeit from further south. The hillbillies represented in this film could scarcely be more different.

So who were the hillbillies? Descended mainly from Scotch and Irish Protestant settlers who had ventured westward into the Appalachian Mountains from the 1750s onwards they had lived primitive lives in small, isolated mountain settlements with a good deal of in-breeding. The Appalachian Mountain chain stretches north to south from the Canadian border to the northern counties of Alabama and Georgia, but the hillbilly heartland is centred on West Virginia and the eastern areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. The discovery of coal in the 19th century led to major industrial developments in this still mainly rural and scenic region, but they were concentrated in small towns and villages. To this day the region has no large cities. Marked by violent industrial strife, impoverished by the Great Depression and, after a brief period of prosperity, suffering from the effects of post-industrialisation from the 1980s it has the lowest living standards of any region in the U.S.A. In racial terms it has remained overwhelmingly white. This is the Hillbilly country depicted in the film – poor, white, backward and devastated by an opioid epidemic. The film is set around Jackson, eastern Kentucky, and the small industrial town of Middletown, Ohio. A review in AP News described the book on which the film was based as “an election year explainer (2016) to liberal America about the white underclass that fuelled Donald Trump`s rise”

The film is autobiographical, based on the experiences of 3 generations of one family. Mamaw (Glen Close), the grandmother who holds the family together, Beverley (Amy Adams), her daughter and J.D. (Gabriel Vasso) Beverley`s son and the author of the novel. J.D. has progressed from a troubled childhood, enlisted as a Marine and used the money earned to work his way through Ohio State University. His scheduled interview for a post in a prestigious firm on Wall Street is jeopardised by an emergency call from his sister back home – their mother has succumbed yet again to an overdose of drugs. The family story is told through a series of flashbacks to his childhood and adolescence. It is moving and, at times, frightening. The film had a mixed reception, with nominations for both the Golden Globe and the Golden Raspberry (Close became the third performer in history to be nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Raspberry for the same performance). The film was criticised for perpetuating stereotypes about the poor and praised for its realism.

J.D. Vance himself is an aspiring Republican politician considering a run for the United States Senate in 2022 representing his home state of Ohio. A successful venture capitalist, he is being tipped as a future Presidential candidate (he will be 44 in 2028). Indeed some regard “Hillbilly Elegy” as a promotional film with this in mind. Watch it (it`s on Netflix) and see for yourself!

Reviewed by Henry Falconer
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: J.D. Vance (based on the book by), Vanessa Taylor
Stars: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso

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It Happened Here (1964)

It Happened Here Film Review by Anthony C Green

What if?

Kevin Brownlow was only eighteen years old when he began work on what would become the low-budget, cult-classic, Alternative History movie It Happened Here. Already a keen amateur student of the history of cinema, he had only a single 16mm camera to his name as his project commenced.

It was 1956 and Brownlow’s native London still showed much evidence of the effects of the brutal world war that had ended a mere eleven years earlier. For him growing up, as for so many of his age group in every major town and city in the country, bomb sites had seemed to be a permanent feature of his physical environment. Now, although the speed of post-war reconstruction was gathering place, it was these physical reminders of the horrors of war that gave Brownlow the subject for his film. The question he pondered as he began work was a question that had already been explored by many, and would be explored by many, many more, through the mediums of both film and literature: That is, what if Hitler had won the war and Britain had, like so many European countries, been invaded and occupied by the Nazis?

We should perhaps state that initially, Brownlow was under no illusion that, given the extreme limitation of his resources, he could produce a whole, professional-looking movie alone. The best he hoped for at this stage was that he would be able to produce a few reels of sufficiently interesting quality to be able to hawk them around various film studios, impressing enough of the right people to make his dream of seeing his project reach the big screen into a reality.

His early efforts, by his own admission, were not great. For actors, he used friends, friends of friends, relatives, and any passers-by he came across who looked right and were willing to give their services for free. For costumes and props, it was very much a DIY, make-do-and-mend aesthetic. For example, Nazi uniforms were made by the simple expedient of sewing swastikas onto a job lot of American army uniforms that Brownlow had acquired cheaply from a local theatrical costumier.

Everything changed, and work on the film properly begun when, whilst buying German war-time helmets on Portobello market, Brownlow was introduced to somebody whom it was felt might be able to assist him with his project. That person was Andrew Mollo who, at mere sixteen years of age, was even younger and more precocious than Brownlow. As luck would have it, it was to the subject of military history and to the collection of military artifacts that young Andrew had decided to dedicate his time and single-focused dedication. Intrigued by what Brownlow told him about his nascent movie, he agreed to take a look at what progress had so far been made.

Crammed into Brownlow’s small flat, surrounded by rolls of film, empty film canisters, and Fascist magazines that had been bought purely for the purposes of research, Mollo was not at all impressed with what he saw projected onto a white sheet affixed to a wall. Calmly but firmly, he told Brownlow that almost every single detail as regards the military aspects of the film was wrong. He then went on to amaze Brownlow with his detailed knowledge of the work of Eric Von Stroheim.

Stroheim had been an Austrian-American filmmaker of the silent era who had acquired legendary status through his obsessive attention to detail. For instance, in period pieces, he would even insist that his actors wear underwear appropriate to the time in which the movie was set, even if there was never any intention that any of this underwear would ever be seen on screen. The original version of his classic 1924 movie Greed originally ran to more than nine hours, a length which was unsurprisingly cut to a little over two before Metro-Goldwyn Mayer deigned to release it. Stroheim was considered to be so difficult to work with that his career as a filmmaker effectively ended in the early 1930s, and he spent the remaining thirty or so years of his life as a well-regarded but little-known Hollywood character actor.

That Mollo had even heard of Stroheim hugely impressed Brownlow, and Andrew was soon on board as the joint Producer/Director of the film, on the mutually agreed understanding that as close to a Stroheim-like degree of accuracy would be applied to their joint creation as possible.

The film would take eight years to complete, and it would be a further two before it would gain a full cinematic release.

Though both have since admitted to there being some degree of ongoing creative tensions between the two of them, Brownlow and Mollo clearly complemented each other as far as their skills and areas of special interest were concerned. Whilst Mollo brought to the movie a degree of authenticity that lifted the film well beyond that of being a mere home-made curio, Brownlow brought to it a political dimension that made it different from anything else in the ‘What if Hitler had won’ cinematic, or literary canon, either before or since.

By 1956, just over a decade after its conclusion, many film adaptations of major events of the Second World War had already been made, including many which are rightly still regarded as classics to this day. But one thing, in particular, struck Brownlow about these films, and that was that ideology had essentially been removed from all known portrayals of the conflict. The German army, and even elite Nazi forces such as the SS, tended to be depicted as little different to any other generic movie bad guys. But, considered Brownlow, wasn’t the Second World War essentially a battle of competing ideologies, in a way that no other war had ever been? On the one side, we had the Allies, comprised as they were of an uneasy, and as it turned out unstable, between Western Democracy and Soviet Communism. On the other were the similar, though not identical ideologies of Japanese militarism, Italian Fascism, and most importantly of all, in the vanguard of the Axis powers, the philosophy of Hitlerite National Socialism. For Brownlow, as both a filmmaker and as a committed leftist, a clear understanding of what National Socialism was and what it was that National Socialists believed was essential.

This determination to show Nazism as a real live ideology, for which people were prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die, led Brownlow to make a decision that was to prove to be highly contentious: This was the decision to allow real-life, modern-day Nazis the opportunity to describe their own belief system, without the mediation of actors, or even of properly scripted dialogue. We will return to this subject shortly. Through sheer necessity, despite their determination to apply the greatest possible degree of historical accuracy, the low budget/homemade ethos of the film remained. Only three professional actors would be included in the finished product, each of them agreeing to work for the minimum scale of Equity pay, on the understanding that their parts would be relatively small, so that they could fit in other work around the filming schedule, and that they would be paid properly in the unlikely event that the movie would receive a cinematic release. The remainder of the roles continued to be played by amateurs, some of whom were enthusiastic battle reconstructionists, and some of whom were former members of Mosely’s British Union of Fascists, temporary actors who no doubt relished the opportunity to dig their old Blackshirt uniforms out from their guilty hiding place at the back of their wardrobes. The rest of the uniforms came from Mollo’s ever-expanding list of contacts in the sub-culture of collectors of militaria. These were supplemented by the cast-offs from mainstream movies, as Mollo started to get paid work in the props and art departments of various movies.

Brownlow and Mollo found their lead actor in Pauline Murray, a middle-aged, Dublin-born woman who at this time was living in Wales. Murray was introduced to Brownlow by his friend, the film critic, and journalist Derek Hill. She was a working nurse who had a passion for amateur dramatics, though she had also had a small amount of paid acting experience as a background artist in a handful of little-known British films. Extra layers of realism were added to the movie by the fact that the character she portrayed on-screen would also be called Pauline, and that the character would also be a nurse by profession.

Although a strictly part-time actor, Pauline Murray apparently put the professionals to shame when it came to the seriousness with which she applied herself to her role, turning up on set early each time she was required, despite the long journeys from Wales to London, and always word-perfect.

Despite the resolutely DIY nature of It Happened Here, the film would not have been completed without the assistance of two major cinematic figures. The first was the film director Tony Richardson who had just enjoyed success with one of the earliest, and best, examples of what came to be known as ‘Kitchen Sink’ British movie dramas. This film was called Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. Intrigued by what he had heard of Brownlow and Mollo’s project, Richardson asked to see what progress had been made so far. After reviewing the raw footage, he asked that it be expanded from 16mm to 35mm so that he could get a clearer idea of what a finished product might look like in the cinema. Liking what he saw, he agreed to bankroll the movie on three conditions: Firstly, that it could be completed for £3000 or less; secondly; that the rest of the film be shot using 35mm film; and thirdly, that the filmmakers provide a workable script. Up until this point, they had been working without one, improvising scenes when and where they could, using what would later be called ‘Guerrilla filmmaking’ techniques around general themes and ideas.

This last point was no real problem. Brownlow and Mollo had enough of an idea of the general shape of the story to be able to formalise it into a decent enough script. The problem lay with the first and second points. 35mm film was expensive, and paying for that alone would undoubtedly take Brownlow and Mollo way over Richardson’s kindly given but limited budget.

It was here that another established filmmaker came to their rescue, the already well-respected and later legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Brownlow met Kubrick, rather ironically, at a showing of Von Stroheim’s Greed, and took the opportunity to tell him how much he’d enjoyed his recent film Paths of Glory, which was set during the First World War. At this time, Kubrick was in London working with Peter Sellers on the classic Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove. Hearing about It Happened Here, and like Richardson intrigued by what he heard, and also remembering the struggles of his own early attempts at film making, Kubrick agreed to provide Brownlow and Mollo with the 35mm ‘short ends’ (film left unused at the end of a roll) from his new work-in-progress free of charge.

Through the help of Richardson and Kubrick, the goodwill of all of those who gave their services freely or cheaply, the contacts of Mollo, and the ‘beg, borrow and steal’ dedication of both he and Brownlow, the movie was finally completed by the autumn of 1964, and a mere £3000 over the sum allocated to them by Richardson. It received showings at a couple of film festivals, and the reviews and word of mouth grapevine from these was positive enough to alert the interest of United Artists. Thus began two years of tortuous negotiation before the film would finally get its proper cinematic release.

The main sticking point in these negotiations was the filmmaker’s determination to proceed with the inclusion of the real-life British Nazis. United Artists insisted that this footage be cut.

The scene in question was a six-minute segment during which Pauline is undergoing ideological training through the Immediate Action Organisation. The IA, as it is generally known, is a kind of British equivalent of the Nazi-controlled German Labour Front, membership of which is required before workers are allowed to begin, or to continue with, their chosen profession, in the case of Pauline, that of nursing. As part of this training, she and a small group of others are shown discussing with three British SS officers. These officers are played by former members of Mosely’s BUF, and who at that time of filming, in the early 1960s, were current members of the National Socialist Movement, a small party that included amongst its leadership would-be British Fuhrer Colin Jordan (a few years before he was convicted of stealing women’s underwear), and future National Front and British National Party leader John Tyndall. The scene is largely improvised and, prompted by the questions of Pauline and her fellow trainees, the Nazis had the opportunity to put forward their views on such topics as the superiority of the ‘Aryan’ over the Jewish race, and the need for methods of ‘humane’ euthanasia to be used against the disabled, or ‘useless eaters’ as they are described. The scene was accused by United Artists of allowing Nazi propaganda to be put forward virtually unchallenged. The British Jewish Board of Deputies would go further and accuse the filmmakers themselves of being anti-Semitic, despite Brownlow’s (Mollo was and is, by his own testimony much less of a political animal) impeccable Leftist, anti-racist credentials.

This part of the film has also, perhaps more plausibly, been criticised on purely aesthetic grounds, including by Brownlow’s film critic friend Derek Hill. Hill believed that, though fascinating it its own right, the scene unnecessarily interrupted the narrative flow of the movie. It is indeed true that the scene does seem to be rather shoe-horned into place, and perhaps a bit more scripting may have proved useful in integrating it into the film as a whole. But, like Brownlow, I would argue that the segment simply has to be there. Its inclusion, particularly given the added knowledge that these filmic Nazis really are Nazis who are articulating their own true beliefs, rather than actors simply speaking words that have written for them by others, is a big part of what makes It Happened Here special; and what better indictment of National Socialist ideology could there be than to hear one of its advocates declare that not only is he in general approval of a law allowing for the ‘putting down’ of disabled children but that he would happily take matters into his own hands as regards to a disabled child of his own, should such a law not exist?

In the end, through a sheer desire to see their long and difficult creative journey come to a successful conclusion, Brownlow and Mollo let United Artists have their way, and the controversial scene was cut. This was a decision that Brownlow, in particular, seems to have always regretted; and it should almost go without saying that the scene has been restored to its rightful place in all subsequent media releases.

Perhaps surprisingly, given its origins and the struggle to get it made, It Happened Here was something of a success. Extras in the Blue Ray release show queues outside a cinema in the West End, and examples of giant billboards advertising it that had been erected at strategic points around the capital. The idea that the film was a ‘lost’ low budget masterpiece that disappeared without trace after its release, only to be discovered later by dedicated British film buffs, is simply wrong. In the six weeks of its initial run in the West End, it made a gross profit of £26000, not quite Hollywood blockbuster material by modern standards, but a still not insubstantial amount in 1966.

Unfortunately for Brownlow and Mollo, this money was swallowed up entirely by United Artists’ advertising campaign, a campaign which included expensive cinematic trailers in addition to the billboards, plus the belated payment of the professional actors, and other assorted ‘expenses.’ Despite being shown at many venues across the UK, and also in several countries outside the UK, the two people who had dedicated ten years of their lives to the realisation of the project made not a single penny from its relative success. So, what of the movie itself? I won’t give away too many spoilers as regards the plot. Suffice to say, that the action takes place in the period of 1944-5, in a universe where Britain has been occupied by the Germans following the surrender of the British armed forces after their military defeat at Dunkirk in 1940. It is never explicitly stated, but a background photograph of Oswald Mosely next to a portrait of Adolf Hitler suggests that the government is now in the hands of the British Union of Fascists under Mosley’s leadership, with guidance from the German occupying forces.

A full-scale armed resistance movement is under way, and one of the most powerful moments in the movie, in another scene that some have criticised on the grounds of being anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, is the fiery oration delivered by a British SS officer at the torch-lit funeral for one of his comrades, a comrade murdered in an ambush by ‘Jewish-Bolshevik’ members of the resistance.

For me, two themes stand out most strongly in the film: Firstly, the explosion of the myth of British exceptionalism, the idea that, unlike our less than courageous allies on the other side of the Channel, ‘we’ would never have accepted defeat and collaborated with our conquerors, had the war been lost. In the world of It Happened Here, the British people behave exactly like the French, the Dutch, the Danish, and indeed the residents of the Guernsey Islands, the only British territory that actually did fall to German occupation. That is, some collaborate enthusiastically with the Nazis, some fight actively for their nation’s liberation, and the vast majority in the middle simply accept the reality of their predicament and make of it the best that they can, perhaps resisting in small ways, as shown by the dirty looks that Pauline receives on the bus the first time that she ventures out in her IA uniform. The second theme concerns the moral compromises that ordinary people are forced to make when faced with extra-ordinary situations, simply to get by, to earn a living, to survive and to support their families, compromises that, as is the case with Pauline, can lead them into the kind of actions that they would never have contemplated should the world they had known not been brought to a shocking halt.

These extra-ordinary actions of course apply equally to those who resist as to those who reluctantly collaborate, a point that is well illustrated close to the end of the film, when a resistance leader, following the brutal and summary execution of a group of British SS members, comments: ‘Sometimes in order to fight fascism, you must use fascist methods.’

Another high point of the film, and another moment of uber-realism, is the faux-German newsreel extolling the brotherhood of the German and British people, and the glories of the new National Socialist Britain. In the creation of this segment, Brownlow in particular was heavily influenced by Orson Wells use of a similar device in Citizen Kane.

The It Happened Here ‘Mirror on the World’ newsreel was in fact so real that an Italian documentary film in the 1970s took it to be an actual German propaganda film explaining what a glorious opportunity for Britain an alliance with Germany would be. Within it, we see faked footage (and all of the footage in the movie was created by Brownlow and Mollo, as they took a conscious decision not to use any stock footage) of the Christmas Truce of 1914, and of occupying German soldiers behaving not as cartoon-villains or as brutal conquerors, but as living, breathing young lads on an adventure, posing for photographs at famous London landmarks, drinking in cafes and bars and flirting with local girls.

One particularly believable touch in this section is provided by a brief shot of young British boys laughing as they jokingly imitate the Nazi goosestep. If the film has a weakness, it is one caused simply by the budgetary limitations placed upon its creators. Chief amongst these is that Pauline is the only constant character in the movie. Other characters are either extras, or else they appear briefly in order to fulfil a narrative function, to illustrate a ‘type’, be it an enthusiastic Nazi, a reluctant collaborator, or a determined, politicised resistance fighter. These were the roles that were played by the three professional actors, the structure of the film and the brevity of their role designed specifically to allow them to do their bit and move on to more immediately remunerative work.

But if this is a quibble at all, then it is a very minor one. It Happened Here is a one-off, perhaps the best Alternative History movie ever made, and one of the best British films ever made. Given its humble beginnings, the extreme youth of its creators, and the shoe-string nature of its budget, it is a truly remarkable artistic achievement. Actually, to say that It Happened Here is a one-off, is not quite accurate. Brownlow and Mollo were to work together once more, on the film Winstanley, released in 1976, about the 17th Century writer and social reformer Gerrard Winstanley, one of the leading figures in the proto-communist Diggers movement during the English Civil War. This film also took a decade to make; was also made for next to nothing using a mostly amateur cast, and also made virtually nothing for its makers. It is a worthy companion movie to It Happened Here. Since this film, Brownlow has devoted himself to the silent movie era that is his abiding passion. He has written books and made documentary films on this subject, and most notably he played the primary role in restoring Abel Gance’s classic 1927 film Napoleon, the five-hour epic about the early life of the future French Emperor. Andrew Mollo has continued to be much in demand as a cinematic Art Director and advisor on matters military, in recent years working on such high-profile movies as The Pianist and Downfall.

The 2018 Blue Ray release of It Happened Here includes, as well as a the beautifully restored main feature, an excerpt from a documentary on the making of Winstanley, early unused footage from It Happened Here, a longer version of the ‘Mirror on the World’ newsreel sequence, and a brilliant hour-long interview with Brownlow, during which he goes into much greater detail about the making of the film than has been possible here. It is fabulous value for money.

Directors: Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo Writers: Kevin Brownlow (story and screenplay), Andrew Mollo (screenplay) Stars: Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison

Anthony C Green’s latest novel Better than the Beatles! is available as both a paperback and an eBook

Purchase It Happened Here

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Director: Milos Forman

Writers: Lawrence Hauben (screenplay), Bo Goldman (screenplay)

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman

Runtime: 2h 13min

The book from which the film was made was begun by Ken Kesey in 1959 or 1960 (sources differ) and published in 1962. It places Kesey as a kind of link between the Beat Generation of the ’50s and the Hippies to come. The film, released in 1975, was set in 1963 (with some reference to contemporary racial tension in Alabama). I have watched the film a number of times but have come to it now in 2021 set against a backdrop of increasing social tension.

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t watched the film then do so before reading – it won five Oscars (Academy Awards) at the time and is ranked 33rd on the American Film Institute’s ‘100 years…100 movies’ list. According to Wikipedia: “the film was deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registr”‘. If you don’t intend watching, but are curious or you HAVE watched then please carry on. I rank this film so highly that I wouldn’t want anyone’s possible enjoyment ‘spoiled’!

Watching as I did in February 2021 I couldn’t help but see this film in relation to the current ‘pandemic’ and worldwide governmental responses. In ‘One Flew Over’ (I shall abbreviate thus) the action is mostly set and filmed in a psychiatric hospital – the same one described in the book, thus giving it more poignancy. A note too here that as well as working at Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital for a while, Kesey also took part in the secretive program known as the ‘Project MKUltra’ prior to writing the book and took various drugs including hallucinogenics (LSD and Psilocybin for instance). This CIA program had only one aim, which was to see if forced confessions could be obtained through mind control after intake of drugs. Again, this adds poignancy to various scenes and themes in the film.

The basic plot is that an offender: Randle Patrick McMurphy (Mac) – played by Jack Nicholson – is sent to a psychiatric hospital to be evaluated for mental illness – he has feigned ‘madness’ to get out of work details/hard labour. On admission – when he sees the doctor in charge – Mac is identified as being belligerent, lazy and resentful – as Mac says, [he] ‘fights and fucks too much’ and has had five arrests for assault plus a statuary rape of a 15-year-old girl. As Mac says to the doctor in a friendly way, full of male bravado: ‘No man alive would resist that’. He also states categorically that there is ‘not a thing’ . The conversations Mac has with the doctor appear very casual and what we might term typically male (joky and with a sense of shared values). Thus we follow what happens to him as he enters institutional life. We must note here that the doctor is perfectly at ease with these casual conversations (and they seem to speak as equals) and that Mac has stated he is NOT mad (but that he has a certain time period to be evaluated). The impression we get is that for Mac this will be a ‘fun adventure’ and respite from prison. He is like a naive but also – as we shall see – an anarchic presence.

In order to get a sense of where the film is going, and what it talks about, here are some of its main themes: Freedom (and captivity); Conformity (to the system); Institutionalisation (and as I see it, a critique of society in general); Psychiatric treatment; Feminism; Sex; Race and to a degree, Politics. It’s FULL of thematic texture. The main conflict centres on the relationship between Mac and Nurse Ratched (the ‘Big Nurse’ of the novel) played by Louise Fletcher. She is (what has been described as) ‘passive-aggressive’, authoritarian – seemingly cold and sterile with a prurient interest in the patients’ lives. She is the ‘all seeing’ eye: “She could have seen you” says a worried patient to Mac at one point. She is a manipulator, using language to control – drawing on ‘feelings’ when necessary. To Mac: ‘These men are members of the ward just as you are” to which he replies, “Don’t pull that hen house shit”. Mac also says of her to the doctor: ‘That nurse, she ain’t honest”.

During one scene, after entering the nursing station and turning down the music (a constant, draining and wearying form of MUSAK), she says: “Music is for everyone. Old men couldn’t [or wouldn’t] hear it if it were turned down.'”

The hierarchy of the hospital seems to be the male doctors and psychiatrists seemingly at the top (who cannot reach a decision regarding Mac’s mental state), Nurse Ratched – who the doctor describes as being ‘the person he [Mac] is closest to [and] the one he most dislikes’ and who is left to decide his fate after the doctors cannot agree. She is the matriarch, the proto-feminist, the channel through which all authority seems to flow. (Alongside Nurse Ratched we have the petite and silent Nurse Pilbow – sexually attractive for the patients I would imagine, seemingly passive but strangely powerful.) We do see a female supervisor at one point too – who is archetypally matronly – her manner and physique being ‘old school’. Underneath Nurse Ratched come the black orderlies/attendants. This was the first time I had noticed their combined role in the film and the flipping of power from what might be expected. They are like a pack of wolves to Ratched’s orders – and also, like wolves, have a sense of independence and non-belonging, despite their pivotal roles (especially so of Washington). It is they that clasp patients to gurneys, who restrain, who control the locking and opening of doors and windows – and it is they who overpower and assault prisoners – knocking out Mac in one VERY important scene. It is also Washington who delivers the bombshell information to Mac that: ‘You’re going to stay with us until we let you go.’ The patients also have hierarchies – one of which is their state of mental health but also whether they are volunteer patients or have been sectioned. Mac is dumbfounded when he realises that most of them can walk out and be free! It is Mac who becomes the focal point of the other patients (the book is actually written from the Chief’s point of view) and they take vicarious pleasures from his actions or imagined actions. And they are also – at least momentarily – freed from their mental restrictions (such as on the fabulous fishing boat expedition).

Nurse Ratched and Mac clash during – what appears to me to be – Cognitive Behavioural sessions – where she seems to both want to elicit sexual details from the patients but also control them via their sexual fears. Mr Harding, for instance, is a closet homosexual that is fearful of his wife’s possible infidelity – he talks in psychobabble and there’s much tension between him and the others – though he has been the ostensible leader of the group before Mac arrives. The young patient Billy with a debilitating stutter is utterly repressed by his mother and Nurse Ratched seems happy enough to use the idea of his mother’s disapproval to control him (and that she is in fact friends with his mother).

I really did get a sense of sexual tension between Nurse Ratched and Mac. We see at least one meaningful glance between the two and it would be understandable that with her being in authority but seemingly highly repressed, she might well be attracted to Mac’s ‘free spirit’ – and vice versa. Mac, as I have stated, brings along anarchy and hedonism into her ordered and very clean, disciplined world. There’s a hilarious exchange between them following Mac’s ECT treatment (more of that later) where he describes to her his supposedly new-found virility following the treatment with an allusion to sex – as I recall he will effectively play the next woman (sexual partner) as a pinball machine, light her up and she’ll give out silver dollars! I have paraphrased – but when you watch again you’ll no doubt pick up on that!

The Hedonist in this case turns the verbal duel against the Puritan. And a note here that Mac brings his girlfriend (possibly a prostitute) to the Fishing Trip and again, with a friend at the major denouement of the film.

Nurse Ratched and the younger Nurse Pilbow administer ‘Medication Time’. We have the conformity of clothing (which changes over the period of the film) – somewhat like mask-wearing in 2021 and drug dispensation for the good of all – rather like ‘vaccine’ programs currently being rolled out. Senses are dulled and moods controlled – which might be thought of as a good thing – but there are always consequences and side-effects. You can see how Kesey must have thought about medication through drugs and their ritualistic administering. Some folk have seen religious aspects to the film/book – if so perhaps these pills would be like receiving the consecrated wafer during Holy Communion. This world is SAFE until Mac comes along and offers FREEDOM!

Thus we have various characters who certainly are damaged but – as we see – are capable of much more. After his first betrayal (finding out that most of the other patients are not sectioned) Mac says: ‘You haven’t got the guts to walk out?! You’re no more crazy than the average asshole in the street!’ They have chosen enforced security and safety over their own liberty.

The hospital regime seems stultifyingly routine and boring and only interspersed with ‘group therapy’ and cigarette smoking (though Mac introduces gambling and mimes the Word Series when the patients’ ‘vote’ is effectively rigged against them watching it). The patients are ‘treated’ by drugs (as discussed) and at times by ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) – it is while waiting for this treatment that Mac passes the Chief a gum and hears his reply, ‘Thank you’. On first watching this – that ‘thank you’ is explosive! I really didn’t expect it. The Chief, a good character actor in the film (and a good actor) spends his time sweeping the floor – seemingly deaf and dumb. A watcher, an outsider – like the Native Americans as a whole, perhaps, in the United States. Reserved (on reservations) – outsiders on their own land – keeping watch and maybe countenance. As stated, the book is written from his perspective and it is he alone who escapes at the end, finally finding the courage to match his stature. The Chief says to Mac at one point regarding his father: ‘They worked on him the way they’re working on you’. It is also the Chief who comes to Mac’s aid when Washington attacks him, which leads to them having the ECT. Just in case – I won’t give away the final dramatic events of the film – though you’ll discover below that the Chief escapes.

One thing I realise I haven’t stressed is the HUMOUR to be found in ‘One Flew Over’ – and there’s plenty of it! The dialogue is wonderfully written – Mac is a joker and a clever man – but not clever enough. The film is also given a sense of other-worldliness by the Muzak that is played to the patients and the original compositions utilising the ‘novel’ instrument – the Theramin. After the Chief escapes into the wilds of Oregon – another poignant moment magnified by the Native returning to the land with its anti-sterility – we can imagine the patients returning to their ‘normal’ lives. I will say this though: three of them will not return!

Was Mac a failed revolutionary? Or was he the catalyst to the Chief’s freedom? Did he instill a sense of freedom and possibility/potential to the other patients that – who knows- might have come out in the future. Did he simply just shake up the system and cause heartbreak and death? How should we view him? I simply can’t risk telling you of his final fate or that of Billy’s. But you can imagine. What I will say is that the institution – the government/the status-quo/the establishment was rocked but it remained. The Chief’s newly found inner-strength gives him freedom – but in another place – Canada. A word too about the director,the Czech-American, Milos Forman who rose to fame in communist Czechoslovakia and through his parents also knew of the terrors of National Socialism.

In the United States, ECT is still legal (as in other countries) but said to be safer – but the last lobotomy was carried out in 1967. Drugs are still prescribed of course and it is hoped – at least – that they are always dispensed with the patient’s best interests at heart. David Susman (PhD), a blogger and advocate for better mental health states in response to the idea that patients may also be “chemically restrained” by being forcibly loaded up on strong sedative medications that nowadays ‘using medications in this fashion is explicitly prohibited. Patients may be provided medications against their will during a psychiatric emergency involving the risk of harm to self or others, but only on an as-needed basis to help them calm down. They should never be given large doses of sedatives on a regular basis just to control or subdue them.’Times have changed but nothing is perfect!

The eras of ‘One Flew Over’ in both its setting and when the film was made seem like distant times. If we were to critique the notion of Freedom v Captivity – then we must acknowledge that we have all since (NOW!) become patients in a global institute! Are we sane? Are governments insane or simply power-hungry? The power of language, twisted to suit political positions, holds us, hostage, with the threat of persecution and even imprisonment should it be used in a non-authorised way. We are a society obsessed with sex but in some ways dominated by Feminism and other political speech-codes. Democracy (as in ‘One Flew Over’) only seems to suit those in charge. Will we need to find inner and outer courage (as with the Chief) to free ourselves in coming years? Who of us will have the strength to fly over the nest?

The title of the film comes from a nursery rhyme read to the Chief as a child by his grandmother (mentioned in the book):

“Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,

Apple seed and apple thorn,

Wire, briar, limber lock

Three geese in a flock

One flew East

One flew West

And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest”

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

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Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Likely to offend?

Director: Terry Jones

Writers: Graham Chapman, John Cleese

Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin

Runtime: 1h 34min

“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.Forty-two years ago, the Monty Python team released their most controversial film, Life of Brian. The opposition to it from conservative religious groups was so strong, the film was banned in the Irish Republic and Norway and in many British cities. TV personality Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the then Bishop of Southwark, appeared on television opposite John Cleese to denounce the film as ‘tenth-rate’ and blasphemous. They predicted that it would soon be forgotten.

In retrospect, a lot of this opposition was misplaced. This was not an attack on the person of Christ or on Christianity; the team decided early on that they would not target Jesus but set their film in the tumultuous time of his birth, first century Judea under brutal Roman occupation. My own church in Belfast has even shown it in our regular monthly film club.

The film stands up well more than four decades after its release. It’s quite possible that it could be the subject of bans or cancellation if it were to be released today; attacked not by the conservative religious right for blasphemy but by the regressive faux-left for the modern secular equivalents of blasphemy; ableism, transphobia, and mocking people with speech defects. The scene where Stan (Eric Idle) wants to become a woman called Loretta and have babies causing the PFJ members to debate supporting his/her right to have babies is a classic. Today, I can imagine trigger warnings on the BBC if it were to be screened again on a mainstream channel.

That said, the film is still screamingly funny. It tells the story of Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman); a hen-pecked mummy’s boy who tries to join an anti-Roman political group. After escaping from captivity when an attack on the Roman occupiers is botched, he is mistaken for the Messiah and followed by adoring crowds who hang on his every word.Much of the satire deals with how religious and political factions can emerge and religious and political sectarianism can grow. Brian drops his gourd and loses a sandal; his disciples divide into gourdists and sandalists. Then there’s the bitter rivalry between the Judean People’s Front and Reg’s (John Cleese) People’s Front of Judea. “the only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.” The ‘splitters’. When Brian is arrested, the PFJ goes into immediate debates and discussions. When he’s crucified, they march determinedly towards his cross… and then read out a statement to him in solidarity with his sacrifice.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian may not really say much about first-century Judea but it still has a lot to be said about twenty-first century Britain. Brian is not the Messiah; he’s a naughty, naughty boy. Watch it while you still can. And remember, always look on the bright side of life.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Apostasy (2017)

1h 35min

Director: Daniel Kokotajlo

Writer: Daniel Kokotajlo (as Dan Kokotajlo)

Stars: Siobhan Finneran, Robert Emms, Bronwyn James

This is the story of a family being torn apart as the strictures of their religion conflict with the realities of both illness and the modern world. The story focuses on three women – a mother and two young adult daughters – whose ties to the group create conflict in their relationships with each other.The younger daughter Alex (Molly Wright) is anemic. She has been conditioned to feel guilt and shame because she received a blood transfusion as a baby. This is at odds with the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) to which she and her family belong. Her older daughter, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), is beginning to question their belief system and rebel. When she becomes pregnant after a relationship with a non-Witness and he fails to convert and marry, she is excluded from the group. one of The requirements of disfellowshipping means that family members who remain Witnesses cannot have any significant contact so her mother Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) forces Luisa to leave home. Ivanna is faced with a choice between her faith and her family. The Church expects her to “shun” her own daughter and effectively isolate her from her family and former community. The mother, Ivanna ((Siobhan Finneran), is conflicted but generally sides with her faith and obedience to the authority of the ‘Elders’. She is, perhaps, the character you feel saddest for. My mind called out for her to see sense and put her daughters before her unreasoned faith.

It’s a bleak story, matched by a grim northern setting, which is often difficult to watch. There are lighter moments and there are also moments that show the attractive side of the fellowship of the JW. I enjoyed the JW speaking Urdu and trying to recruit Pakistanis on the doorstep (and wow you have to admire their commitment to learning Urdu!) and the party scene of JWs showed a different, more attractive side to them.I found it difficult to feel much sympathy for the teachings of the JW as opposed to the adherents/victims. The film depicts them as hostile to independent thought. Speaking to Screen International, the Director explained, “I was harbouring doubts since I went to college. I realised that people at college were interested in your opinion. That was a new concept to me because being a Witness it was always about reaffirming the text, group-think, it wasn’t about encouraging independent thought.” I also found their practices similar to other cults. Disfellowship is very similar to the Scientolgist view of how to behave toward “suppressive persons”, for example.This, low-budget film is well-written and has terrific performances, particularly from the female leads. Yes, it deals with a traumatic and difficult subject but it does so in a sensitive and thought-provoking way.

If there is an underlying message to the film I think it is to take great care in adopting a worldview, value-system or ideology.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Authours note: A much longer discussion took place in our Counter Culture Film Club so if I’ve stolen anyone’s ideas from there just remember that the Magpie likes shiny objects and I like good ideas!

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The Myth of Night Magic

The original poster for Night Magic

Night Magic is a 1985 Canadian-French musical film written by Leonard Cohen and Lewis Furey and directed by Furey. The film stars Nick Mancuso as Michael, a down on his luck musician whose fantasies begin to come true after he meets an angel (Carole Laure). The film’s supporting cast includes Stéphane Audran, Jean Carmet, Frank Augustyn, Louis Robitaille, Anik Bissonnette, Nanette Workman and Barbara Eve Harris.

Article By Nick Mancuso

I starred in Night Magic. And I feel guilty about it. A marvelously original musical by two geniuses Leonard Cohen and Lewis Furey. Take a listen. Find this lost Canadian film.I say geniuses because there is no doubt that Leonard Cohen remains one of the great legends in music history, poetry, and writing in the latter part of the 20th century in the period known as the 60s. As for Lewis well take a listen.

Leonard Cohen. A legend. Night Magic the unknown unsung movie he wrote starring myself Carol Laure Stephan Audron Jean Carmet directed by Lewis Feury first time at the bat. Cinematography by Phillppe Rouseleaut. Choreography and dancing by Eddie Toussant Ballet de Montreal and Frank Augustine of the National Ballet of Canada.

A class act of a film and a complete flop.It reflected a time of mythic figures in cinema and music Fellini Kurosawa, Godard. the Beatles. the Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, and from the frontier country of olden Canada Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and all the other illuminated crazies that infused my generation with the sheer force and hope for a shimmering bright new future. It reflected the echoes of a time that would once and all-time end the war to end all wars.And bring about a time of peace and love.To my mind at least this was the subtext of Night Magic. Yes, it was to be peace and love and this unknown little film spoke about it all. Success. Fame. Love. Immortality

We started in Montreal Canada in the late summer of 1984. It was a wonderful summer that year in Canada in my favourite city. Night and Magic. The Baby boomers sing and dance.Just watch us.The Baby Boomers born from desperation and sprung from parents who had survived the worst event in human history and who were not one of the corpses piled in the millions into mass graves. Who had not been transmuted into hot ashes or evaporated by the nuclear flash of Hiroshima. We children were survivors and children of survivors. We had done something right to be alive and to stay alive and therefore had a purpose a reason to be.A reason to sing and dance.Leonard Cohen was to be the voice of our generation. He was one of these amazing children born in Montreal in 1934 a Jew who was not hatched in Europe but born into a safe harbor called Canada. His father was a successful merchant his mother the daughter of a distinguished rabbi.His teacher was one of Canadas greatest poets Irving Layton.His guitar teacher who was an immigrant Spaniard taught him some basic chords and then committed suicide. He was an artist through and through. A true Bohemian not a hippy or a yippie and certainly not a yuppie or the X generation. Leonard learned 3 chords and started strumming along to the song of the Universe.Leonard was a born poet but he wanted to be like David to play the harp and sing. To God and for God. And my character Michael was modeled on this modern cinematic David.These are the thematics of this little unknown orphan of a film shivering in a snowbound lane way. Lol as the theologically correct cynical children of today smirk.Buried and forgotten.

The film is in fact a very biblical and religious fairy tale and Carol Laure is not only a perfect angel but she is the Virgin Mary and Suzanne all wrapped up into one brunette Marianne. A modern fairy tale lost and forgotten in a Quebec winter.How odd in the Age of Beyonce and Lady Gaga and COVID to think that a film like this could ever be made.And yet it was.Another era.In 1964 Leonard was at the perfect age and the perfect time. And in the perfect country; Trudeaus Canada the land of peace.Hope and brilliance were in the air.One day in 1965 my old friend then young now-deceased Alex Gottlieb announced to me that Leonard was writing songs and singing.At the University of Toronto, we knew him only as a poet a protege of Irving Layton.Alex put on the scratchy disk.”Susanne takes you down to her place by the river/ you can hear the boats go by/ you can hear the river answer…”What?An awful voice tuneless like fingernails on a chalkboard…..hopeless he was. There was no future for this unknown Canadian poet. Who the hell wants to hear songs about razor blades in the age of the Midnight Rambler? Alleluia. It’s ironic and fitting that Night Magic which he wrote with Lewis Furey should remain unknown hidden in the amnesiac snows of Canadian Cultural History. Like all things Canadian which do not exist until they exist in the outside world until they are recognized and lauded by the Americans or the British or God forbid the French. Night Magic disappeared into the night. I feel guilty about Night Magic and this article is by way of an apology to make amends to this little gem of a film playing that singing poet. I feel guilty because I did not go to Cannes when the film was accepted into the Directors Fortnight Category. I feel guilty for not walking the red carpet with the paparazzi screaming “Over here! Over here!”. I feel guilty because I helped bury the film by not suiting up and showing up. Because you see, this film is a gorgeous work of art musically and visually imaginative and more than deserves to be remembered. The film is about lost love and love found and lost again and the egocentric selfishness of the artist and his obsessions with himself and the consequences thereof. In the context of the larger picture I was perfect for the part at the time. My Salad days though slightly wilted.When Carol asked me to star in it while shooting Bobby Roths Heartbreakers with Peter Coyote I balked.I’m neither a singer nor a dancer and Michael was both. Stage fright paralyzed me.” I know you can do it” Carol told me. We had worked together on several films going back to the time of John Hirch’s CBC and Gille Carl. So I took the leap.Rehearsals began in Montreal a month before principal photography and that time I learned to sing and dance. Somewhat. I did it all by the numbers with much help from some marvelous people.But my voice was to be Lewis. I had done this sort of dubbing thing before when I filmed the rock star in “Blame it On the Night” original story by Mick Jagger. I gave a concert for 3 days at the San Diego Sports Arena singing in Ted Neeleys Voice ( Jesus Christ Superstar) in a 4-octave range and blowing out my voice in front of 10,000 people I was on stage with Billy Preston and Mary Clayton. Faking it. Pretending. An actor’s utter madness. But no risk no gain. And here’s the kicker.No gain means no fame and vice versa. Cosmic law in showbiz.And as Charlton Heston once told me while shooting a film called Motherlode with Kim Bassinger directed by Heston and written by his son Fraser: ” The trouble with showbusiness is that its business that is show and show that is business.” Ya cant win unless you get the loot.Leonard never cared much about the loot.

Night Magic made neither loot nor fame.It cared not a whit.“It is to such as you /that we were sent/ to speak directly to your deepest shame/ and light the fires of experiment…” So sang Michael in Night Magic so sang Leonard Cohen.” we claim you now…in the name of that which/ you have never done before /the victim shall be smitten on his Sore/ The Haughty One shall have a Visitor” What language!! Not exactly Rocky Horror!! Almost Elizabethan. Chilling words. Michael loses everything including the Angel that loved him “I burned the House of Love tonight” . Again Leonard. This film is very much about the fires of experiment. To my mind the fires that electrified the 60s. My generation. And Leonard’s even more so born 14 years earlier. The hope of a generation that betrayed itself. Look around you and listen to the music in this film beat its heart out against the diminishing rattle of a shifting Schumann Wave, the heart sounds of Gaia our Planet. A cacophony of sound. Splintered chords in syncopated 7/8 time.The music of Shtokhausen divided by Bertold Brecht. And so it began.We had a nothing budget and Robert Lantos who had produced the movie ran out of money so we the principal players threw some of our salaries back in.So why would I not go to Cannes? That was the question. Was it indifference? No, I had massive stage fright. I hated the red carpet. How bizarre.” I never thought / I’d get this far: ” Michael ” we always knew you would! “ The Angels

Fear is an ugly thing. Fear of success. Fear of the red carpet. Fear of judgment.Leonard had neither fear of success nor failure. He was a free man. But the film did not liberate itself.Was the film afraid?It was afraid of its own genius.Afraid it would be captured and compared.Afraid of its novelty.Who was the villain in the story? No one. It was self-betrayal . It was treason which according to Dante was the greatest of all sins. Night Magic betrayed itself and I like a good Mephistphelian actor played along. But for Leonard it was different.His Buddhism and dharma and Sangha kept him balanced. He bought a small house in the immigrant section of Montreal. To which he returned every now and then to “renew his neurotic affiliations.” He chopped wood and carried water for his old Roshi on Mt Baldy In California. He knew the score. He was not afraid.He stayed humble because from the get-go he knew everyone was in trouble.He didn’t kid nor kill himself much as he sang about it. He loved women and he loved song and he loved life and he was grateful to his maker the Creator of heaven and earth.He understood the essential magic of the universe. There’s a crack in things. That’s how the light gets in.

I first met Leonard Cohen in a macrobiotic restaurant in Montreal at midnight.We became instant friends. He asked if he could come and watch us rehearse at the National Theatre School.Of course. Dancing and sweating every day with Edie Tousant Ballet of Montreal and Frank Augustine of the National Ballet he, asked if he could bring me water or a coffee. Thank you.He was of service to others at all times.When he offered me the rights to Beautiful Losers his first novel I accepted. I was a beautiful loser and did nothing with the rights.The film itself became a beautiful loser.”I burned the house of Love tonight/ it made an aweful ring” Michael/Cohen Night Magic

Leonard was kind and gentle and sweet with an impish sense of humor. There was no anger nor frustration in the man. He had the feeling of a man who knew the jig was up. With him, everything seemed possible because there was a smile at the end of the Universe. The cold razor blade reality was not his. Its something he wrote about.“everybody knows/the war Is over/ everybody knows/ the bad guys won:” So drink eat sing and dance deep into the night for tomorrow you will pay the bill.

Night Magic was originally entitled The Hall.I think it was Robert Lantos the producer of the film who gave it the name Night Magic. The Hall a classic Cohenism was too prosaic for Mr. Lantos. He went on to become along with Garth Drabinski Canada’s most successful producer and yet when I asked him years later how it felt to have succeeded he told me he felt like a loser. “Why?” I asked?

Because I wanted to produce….you know…films.” He was, of course, talking David Korda films, MGM …you know films. Gone With the Wind films, The Red ShoesStar Wars, The Godfather, Rambo. In a relative world, we are all of us…losers. It’s hard to believe Night Magic the film was ever made. Before the existence of MTV and music videos, a film totally ignored by Canada written by a Canadian legend. How utterly fitting. It’s a marvelous gem of a movie and I am happy to have been a part of it. Thank you Leonard Cohen. Thank you Night Magic.

Nick Mancuso, Paris 2020

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Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats

Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000jjr5

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The Boomtown Rats in Ireland

Citizens of Boomtown: The Story of the Boomtown Rats has its faults but is hugely entertaining and informative. Director Billy McGrath records and analyses both the band’s history and its music. He highlights key (sometimes iconic) footage documenting its huge success and subsequent fall from popularity. Guests include Bono, Sinead O’Connor, Dave Stewart, Jools Holland, David Mallet and Sting, as well as music writers, photographers, and historians all give their views on the history and social impact of the Rats.

I should declare my interest. I am a Boomtown Rats fan. I loved ‘A Tonic for the Troops’ when I first heard it. I loved the mix of punk rebellion with people who could actually play instruments and carry a tune. I loved the relative complexity of the lyrics.

The Boomtown Rats originated in Ireland. An Ireland that was economically grim and socially frozen. Ireland was dominated by the allied Church and State and to many young people was depressing and corrupt. All many wanted to do was escape. That was certainly true of the members of the Boomtown Rats. Added to that sense of alienation or estrangement was there disrupted family backgrounds. All in all a mix for anti-authority, questioning and rebellious positions. And that’s exactly what you got.

For me, the relationship between their Irish roots and the state of that nation was one of the most fascinating aspects of the documentary. The lyric of Banana Republic written in response to the band being banned from performing in the Republic is uncompromising. Take the chorus:
“Banana Republic
Septic Isle
Suffer in the Screaming sea
It sounds like dying
Everywhere I go
Everywhere I see
The black and blue uniforms
Police and priests”

The Irish establishment took a dim view of this song and Geldof’s earlier “denunciation of nationalism, medieval-minded clerics and corrupt politicians” in a 1977 interview/performance on Ireland’s The Late Late Show. The Irish Times described the band as “a thorn shoved into the skin of church and state”.(1)

Yet the Rats were also one of Ireland’s most successful exports for a time opening up opportunities that other Irish bands followed. And Geldof never abandoned Ireland itself whilst maintaining his criticism of the system there.

There are many ‘might have been questions’ raised by the documentary. The Rats were ahead of their time in terms of producing music videos but there was no dedicated music video channel at the time. Had there been maybe they would have broken through in the United States. If Geldof had been less abrasive and understood America and Americans better perhaps they would have done better there. As the Irish Times put it: “Geldof, for whom keeping his mouth shut did not come naturally, went out of his way to alienate US audiences by deriding the sainted Bruce Springsteen.” (2)

You can mark the end of the band at different points but I would place it when they failed to breakthrough in the United States. It didn’t help that the anthemic I Don’t Like Mondays was blocked by legal threats from being produced as a single there.

Bob Geldof kept busy. He starred in Pink Floyd the Wall (released in 1982) cast as the mentally deranged Fascist leader Pink. He brought his energy to organise the massive 1985 Live Aid charity concerts and the Xmas hit Do they know it’s Christmas? and many associated efforts for famine relief in Africa.

The Rats reunited as a part-time touring act in 2013 and in 2020, 36 years after their last release. They also produced a seventh album, Citizens of Boomtown (after which the documentary is named). Although keyboardist Johnny Fingers and early-era guitarist Gerry Cott are both absent, the Rats of 2020 — Geldof, guitarist Garry Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette, and drummer Simon Crowe – are all original members. The album received mixed reviews but the live gigs were said to be filled with energy and passion by those who attended.

In both the documentary and in an interview with Rolling Stone Geldof insists that the band’s older songs aren’t nostalgia but are relevant today:

““When I sing ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ I’m not in 1979,” he says. “I’m in last night’s school massacre, which nobody anticipated at the time. When I’m doing ‘Rat Trap,’ it’s not for the hopelessness of the people in that abattoir I wrote it in, but hopelessness now. When I do ‘Banana Republic’ it’s not for the Irish Republic, which eventually grew up and matured. It’s for the American republic as it descends ever further into political infantilism.”

“When I do ‘Lookin’ After No. 1′ it’s not about the conditions of life in 1979,” he continues. “It’s about Google and Facebook and [Mark] Zuckerberg always on, always monitoring, collating every thought you have, every friend, every choice, packaging and selling it to a third party who in turn exploits you and your preferences. It’s utterly now. That rage, that animus propels the Boomtown Rats.” (3)

I can’t hope to cover all the informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining aspects of this documentary. It is so full. Though there are still aspects missed such as Geldof’s support for Father’s Rights and his opposition to Brexit.

I said at the start that it had flaws. There is a very contrived ‘interview’ with Bob Geldof at the beginning which I think is meant to be funny but isn’t. I didn’t make much of the rather ‘art-schooly’ of the band walking through a tunnel behind a figure wearing a gas mask and pulling a board laden with rocks. Each to their own though! It is also a little self-congratulatory but given the band, and particularly ‘Saint Bob’s’ contribution to humanitarian relief and social progress maybe we can forgive them that!

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

(1) https://www.irishtimes.com/…/the-boomtown-rats-citizens-of-…
(2) https://www.irishtimes.com/…/citizens-of-boomtown-bob-geldo…
(3) https://www.rollingstone.com/…/bob-geldof-interview-boomto…/

Picture credit: By Author unknown; Photo courtesy Orange County Archives – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ocarchives/5486877395/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14267259

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Eurovision Song Contest: the Story of Fire Saga


Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language)
Genre: Comedy
Directed By: David Dobkin
Written By: Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele
On Disc/Streaming: Jun 26, 2020
Runtime: 121 minutes
Studio: Netflix


When everything around us is grim: Coronavirus, impending economic disaster, increasing political polarisation and – of course – Brexit and the climate change crisis, you might be forgiven for looking to watch something escapist to take you mind off things at least for an hour or so.  If so, Will Ferrell’s Eurovision Song Contest is just the tonic you need.
It’s common in Britain to treat

the annual Eurovision Contest with disdain and condescension; so this film could easily have take the lazy option and been a sneer-fest at the expense of this very popular event. It’s not. It’s an affectionate and gentle send-up of Eurovision’s more absurd, camp and at times startling features; including the voting system.


The plot, such as it is sees Lars  Erickssong (Will Ferrell) as a not-that-talented singer in a small Icelandic fishing village realise his ambition to represent his country at the 2020 Eurovision Contest in Edinburgh. Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) is his best friend and his much more talented partner in Fire Saga. They get through to the final by default after an explosion on a boat wipes out the favourite to win the Icelandic heat and all the other entrants.


Pearse Brosnan plays Ferrell’s embarrassed father with superb grumpiness. There are cameo appearances from Graham Norton as himself and some real-life past Eurovision winners. Add a very camp Russian competitor, and a sexy Greek one to each make a play for Sigrit and Lars to introduce some tension between them.


The onstage performances are terrifically choreographed – as are the inevitable disasters, but Fire Saga’s entry song Double trouble makes it through to the final. There are some twists in what passes for a plot but who cares about the plot in this delightful romp? 


There are fantastic, catchy songs – which, like genuine Eurovision songs – are dreadful ear worms. You won’t get Jaja Ding Dong out of your head. I bet it will become a disco and party standard in years to come. Set all your worries and troubles aside and just luxuriate in this hugely entertaining film. 

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid 19 & the Future Part 4 ‘Medicine’

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Medicine’.

Just before the ‘lockdown’ I had root-canal surgery here in France. In fact this became necessary as I had had an abscess. And I had the abscess for about 18 months (mostly kept under control through using iodine). I went to the dentist at very short notice and it was the LAST possible moment I could have gone. The dentist saw me late in the afternoon (I was her last patient I believe) and then she was off on holiday. Well she didn’t come back after her holiday as the ‘lockdown’ intervened. It was only a week or so ago that I was able to have the procedure finished and during the interim I needed antibiotics and more iodine!

For one moment let me imagine what might have happened to me had I been a ‘Survivor’. Let’s presume I wasn’t able to go to the dentist. My abscess would have got worse. Would I have been able to get tincture of iodine in England (I called many chemists before a visit there a few years back to see if I could buy any – but no luck. Myself and my request seemed an odd anachronism!). I might have got lucky with the abscess and it could have healed (though I have read conflicting information on this) – but given that it hadn’t completely after 18 months – that would’ve seemed unlikely. The danger would be sepsis! And from this – death! When I finally visited the dentist for the completion of the treatment (removal of temporary filling and re-draining of infection from tooth/gum) – I was VERY grateful there WERE dentists and wonderful, modern equipment. I had also broken part of my tooth too which she fixed efficiently.

The condition of our teeth and their maintenance of good health generally would be a worry in a survival situation. In ‘Survivors’ they had painkillers, needles, and no doubt scavenged antibiotics. How long would these last? Antibiotics have a shelf life and would be difficult to produce in the survivors circumstances. Before antibiotics became common-place I think they used sulphur, but this wasn’t as effective. In the past ‘the poor’ would have had bad teeth – and often bad health. In France a disparaging term for those without money is ‘sans dents‘. Our oral health has an effect on our general health. And if we found ourselves in the world of the survivors and we needed treatment, how many dentists would have survived? Remember the general survival rate was 1 in 5,000. It’s one thing to read about how to do dentistry– it’s quite another to act upon it. And this dentistry would have to be carried out ‘ad hoc‘ with scavenged equipment. How would a filling be done? And how would we maintain the health of our teeth and gums? Again we’d have to consult the past for advice!

A baby is born during the series. This is somewhat played down (and I don’t think the mother plays a further part but is referred to obliquely). As with dentists, how many midwives or doctors would have survived – and where would they be found? Having a baby would be – as in the past – a threat to the life of both mother and child. We saw in various episodes that painkillers seemed available and needles to inject opiates. The first mothers and babies would be the ‘lucky ones’ – but I imagine ordinary folk (helping at the birth), would struggle with certain deliveries – such as ‘breach births’. Who would have the skill to perform a caesarean? The birth would have to be natural but assisted as best and as ably as possible. Mortality rates would revert to pre-industrialisation figures. In the late 18th Century maternal death was between 5-29 per 1,000. How many babies died? How many babies died then that would have been saved had they been born a century later?

Of course in ‘Survivors’ attitudes to sex/women of possible child-bearing ages would change fairly quickly. In the episode ‘Corn Dolly’ the group we are following (before settling down at their manor house) come across a small commune where many are mortally-ill from eating poisoned fish. Charles, the leader, administers morphine (I’m fairly sure) through injections – to aid a less painful death. It also turns out that he has impregnated most of the women at this small commune in his zeal to re-populate the world! Now, I shan’t dwell too much on the social side of this here – but it is safe to say that women would be ‘expected’ to carry babies and bring in future generations. Sticking to the medical side of this – that would mean sex would more likely result in pregnancies. Which, as discussed, carries risk. Women’s attitude to sex, especially, would surely change – and men’s attitude to women too. I’ll discuss this in a future article. Many women (and girls of course) might find themselves pregnant and at the mercy of either nature or the competence of their fellow humans. Results could be shocking. It is revealed in the last episode (of Series 1) that Jenny is pregnant with Greg’s child.

Every cut would pose a possible threat to the remaining populace. Every accident too. In one episode of ‘Survivors’ a chap has had his legs crushed beneath a tractor. Greg does his best to help him but he doesn’t know how to re-set the man’s bones. This man is eventually left for dead by the woman he is living with (in a hut in a quarry). She has no further use for him in this condition. Spoiler: he survives! And he eventually joins Abby and Greg’s commune. Those who survive any apocalyptic scenario would have to learn ‘old skills’ pretty fast. How to cauterize a wound; how to amputate limbs; how to stem blood flow; how to treat infections etc. Whereas in the past knowledge was built on and developed, in ‘Survivors’ knowledge would be taken back to a place where the ‘old ways’ would be re-learnt. Before, the skills were in place (however primitive) but the knowledge was lacking – in ‘Survivors’ or a post-apocalyptic future, the knowledge would be there but the skills would need to be re-learnt (however primitively).

Alcohol would need to be distilled to produce high-grade alcohol for cleaning, and food and herbs would have to be grown to be eaten for good health or applied to the body as treatments. A variety of food would not just be pleasing – but would also help people feel good mentally as well as physically. Survival would be dependent on many things: supply of good fresh food; a varied diet; new medicinal products (including food/herbs); fresh water; salt; bodily and oral hygiene; the ability to foresee ailments and to treat effectively before blood poisoning or the worsening of the condition. People would need to be physically fit. It would be a young man and woman’s world, though aided by the wisdom of those with necessary skills. Eyesight would be dependent on youth and inherited traits. Folk would need to raid opticians for glasses of various prescriptions – if available. If you had one pair of glasses left and those were damaged or lost then you would be left with your natural eyesight. This could cause problems for normal existence (depending on the state of the eyes). Some conditions could worsen and without treatment might cause blindness, including: macular degeneration; infections of the cornea or retina; glaucoma; diabetes AND simply the inability to find suitable glasses.  

Mental health might well be a problem too. The challenge of everyday living would focus and occupy the mind and that would be conducive to good health. But the situation itself – the lack of food, the struggle to survive, the realisation of the post-apocalyptic world and the LOSS of loved ones would surely take their toll. Would some just ‘give up the ghost’? Again I would like to discuss this further when I’ll talk about social interaction/change and religious/spiritual responses. It’s certainly true to say that the survivors would be like a hapless lot in a leaky lifeboat in the middle of a vast ocean. Occasionally other life boats would be seen and connected with. And some would pose a threat. Threat would be a constant.

Diseases could become rife and in the face of some horrific ones, thought long gone, how would the survivors fare? How would their primitive medicinal skills and (initially well-stocked) medical supplies cope? As with all these thoughts I have had – there would have to be an adjustment. Humans are very good at adapting. Our survivors would need to do so fast! Fortunately for the commune they eventually take in a young woman who is a medical student. She is able to treat Greg’s wounded arm. Obviously for the purposes of future episodes our group needs more than a touch of ‘luck’.

Doctors and dentists would become as gods in this post-apocalyptic world. They would in themselves command power but could also find themselves held hostage (as it were) for their skills – a strange symbiosis perhaps within a commune. Whichever commune a doctor or dentist belonged to would have immediate power and influence. I presume there would be an inclination (probably prompted) for any doctor or dentist to pass on their skills. Hopefully these skills would also be written down with relevance and reference to their current situation so that others could learn. It would be a matter of ‘application’. At what point, I wonder, could the survivors check out hospitals (full of dead/decaying/disease-ridden bodies) and dental surgeries. At what point would ‘safe’ chemists become emptied?
People would need to be able to diagnose diseases/illnesses or damage to the body and treat these as far as possible. They would need to formulate a prognosis too and ideally make others aware of prevention. Already in ‘Survivors’ we have seen violence and death – for a remaining population of about 10,000 that is unacceptable both morally AND in terms of survival. Such a small population would need to expand as quickly as possible.

In the end it would be down to ‘survival of the fittest’. Survival of the healthiest, the luckiest. Those who are young, fit and have healthy ancestry will survive. It would be down to them to procreate; do the bulk of the physical labour; learn new skills – and for some to learn the particular skills of medicine. They would also act as the fulcrum between the past and the future. In fact, that generation would either keep the human race alive or not – it would be as dramatic as that. Their health and knowledge would produce, and then rear, the first post- apocalyptic generation. That generation would have no empirical knowledge of the ‘safe’ world of their parents – the reasonably safe world we now enjoy. Their knowledge of the old world would come through their parents and older survivors. Their attitude to medicine would also be key to their future survival. And again I stress the connection between knowledge and its application. This would be the great test in all skills. There would need to be veterinarians too to control diseases in animals and treat any problems. Those working with animals would have to learn animal-medicine FAST!

The world of  ‘Survivors’ and any future post-apocalyptic survival of the human race would rest on a number of things, the most important of which being individual survival. Every man and woman (and child) would count. Every animal used by the communes would count. In the abandoned towns and cities, animals would teem and reclaim lost land. The future would be fashioned in the countryside. The future would be a marriage of intellect and brawn. As the years roll by perhaps shamanic figures would once again rise in communities – with their knowledge of medicine being paramount. Maybe ‘wise women’ would once again dispense herbal knowledge and remedies. As I write these words I can envisage a very different organisation of human affairs. Maybe a very different kind of human. A strange new world indeed.

by Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

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Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, Covid 19 & the Future Part 3  ‘Food’

Survivors_LogoReviewed by Tim Bragg

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to ‘Food’.

Before I start writing – or rather re-writing this article – I have to say that I lost 1,000 words as a result of a power cut. An hour or so trying to recover the original document proved fruitless. So I will turn the loss into an advantage! Needless to say I was very happy with what I wrote but I cannot recapture those particular thoughts. But this has emphasised the dependency we have on both electricity and technology – themes I shall cover in the future. And I have decided to have singular articles for Food and Medicine whereas I had intended a combination.

The plague in ‘Survivors’ is called ‘The Death’. Without food and water you die – of course. And at times, without medication, you also die. In the series, life for the survivors is an awkward mix of reliance on the past (pilfering food and medicine) and adjusting to the needs of the future. The baton of the past being slipped into their hands for them to run with. Although they have stockpiled non-perishable foods, they have to plant and grow their seasonal, fresh needs. Most survivors would be ordinary folk with few skills – those WITH skills would find themselves elevated within their small communities. The ranking of folk is also something I wish to write about later.

For the moment I am going to concentrate on food and its production. Our group has finally decided to set up in a permanent place. It’s an old manor house which offers room, protection (to a degree), plenty of grounds to cultivate, a river and some animals close by. Fortunately a lone man joins the commune with self-sufficiency skills and he is able to point out where the group’s initial husbandry is going wrong. Paul (the new member) is able to look at land and know how it is to be cultivated (or not) – he has a seasoned eye for a young chap. He understands about irrigation too and how that is to be managed. Most people will have come from urban areas and have little clue about how to grow things, when to sow crops, how to raise and treat animals, how to cure meat and pickle or dry food. In the commune there is an old Jewish lady that seems to have some of the latter skills (harking back to a pre-war time) and having Paul arrive is a God send (or a ‘writer’ send).

Apparently during the lockdown here in 2020 large rats have been invading homes in the UK as their normal source of food in restaurants has been cut off! That got me thinking about the state of towns and cities in ‘Survivors’. How long would these places yield food? With so many dead bodies – neither buried nor burnt – diseases would surely flourish. Rats would teem and likely carry disease. In one episode of  ‘Survivors’ a small community has been close to wiped out as a result of eating poisoned fish. Rivers could easily become polluted by all manner of means – not least the slurry of dead humans and animals, plus toxins leaked from unmaintained factories. Every aspect of healthy living would be challenged. What water could/couldn’t you drink (running water from high-up streams would be best I imagine)? How would you tell if a fish was poisoned? You’d have to know a healthy fish – here any anglers would play their part. I don’t eat meat or fish but as the future overtakes the past with each new generation then I imagine all people would simply be glad and thankful for the food on their plate. The magical appearance of ready-made foods would be long gone – our whole connexion with Nature and Animals (flora and fauna) would be radically changed. How good would you be at picking edible mushrooms for instance?

Food would continue to be scavenged of course but as I have written, fresh food, meat and milk would be needed. In one episode a forlorn character realises that they will never eat bananas again. Even tomatoes would have to be grown in greenhouses (in Britain). Potatoes are a great crop as they are hardy and it’s possible to get three (but at least two) yields a year. You’d need to find potatoes that have germinated and duly plant them. And keep them blight free! All crops would be dependent on the season and its weather. You’d have to think ahead – think in a way most of us have never had to. Growing vegetables and herbs isn’t ‘easy’ – okay nature does a lot of the work but you have to dig the ground and maintain the soil. And keep insects, slugs and snails (maybe animals) from eating your crop. An episode showed how our group, though it had a tractor, realised they’d need to re-learn the skills of ploughing with horses. And as soon as animals are involved you really need to know what to do. It would be likely that horse-related skills would be found within the survivors – if not, then how do you handle a horse? How do you get it to wear a harness? Where is the food to sustain it? (You’re going to have to grow that.) If you have sheep/cows/goats – do you know how to look after them. Someone would have to step in and get their hands dirty – literally. These animals need to be disease free, well fed, sheltered if necessary. And how do you milk a cow or goat – not as easy as portrayed (Jenny in ‘Survivors’ was shown milking a goat). Okay you learn. But it would be such a complete change of mentality needed. The milk would come straight from the animal. How do you keep it fresh? Where would the bull be for the cows – who’s going to take charge of him? It wouldn’t be a story-book farm or some sentimental reflection you’d previously seen on the TV.

And what about killing your ‘food’? Someone will have to break the chicken’s or rooster’s neck; someone will have to snare a rabbit and kill it – then skin and prepare for cooking; someone will have to take a lamb and hold back its head so its throat can be slit (and the blood caught and used)! None of the meat from the animals killed would be wasted, at least. I imagine a random group from a survival rate of 1 in 5,000 wouldn’t produce many slaughterhouse workers, butchers or folk used to despatching animals. Methods of killing would have to be learnt and then done as quickly and efficiently as possible to save further pain to the animal. If rabbits or deer are shot then that will require the skills of stealth and accuracy – otherwise wounded animals will escape only to die later, slowly and painfully – or find themselves easy prey (meat) for another species. And the animals which are kept will have to be raised properly – all sorts of parasites will need to be monitored. Veterinary practices will also need to be raided. Where will future replacements come from? How will future drugs be made? Re sheep – who will learn to sheer the sheep – not as easy as one might think, I imagine. Would our attitudes to animals change for the better or be far worse (in the interim period at least)?

I don’t know how long drugs can be used safely – whether there are ‘expiry’ dates. Eventually alongside the growing of plants to eat, must come the growing of plants and herbs as medicine. Alcohol and cider could be made – but a primitive distillery would be required to create high-percentage alcohol that could clean wounds. There would be a LOT of drugs/medicine to go round – but going into towns and cities might become prohibitive. Just too dangerous – too dangerous even for the collection of much needed medicine. At some point  surviving folk would have to go right back to the fundamentals of medicine and how it is obtained. We would need folklore customs and detailed books for growing and gathering medicinal plants and herbs – then their domestication. We would need to re-discover the variety of produce in hedgerows.

Food is not just about ‘staying alive’. We need variety and good taste. Vegetables would need to be sown at the correct times and rotated. Land would be ploughed. Orchards located and/or fruit trees grown close by. Much time would be spent growing and tending food – making sure each season supplies its crop. Growing food requires forethought. Food could, of course, be traded and exchanged with other local communities (that could be trusted). And each group would need manpower (people-power) to keep its existence sustained. I think there would be a return to pre-modern sex-based roles. Men hunting and doing heavy manual work with women preparing and cooking food. This food would also need to be stored correctly. In one episode of  ‘Survivors’ our group loses much of its stock as it has stored the food in a cellar – which would have seemed sensible. But with heavy rains the cellar was flooded, causing extensive damage.

Eating food is a communal act – a celebration, a bonding of folk. We used to say ‘grace’ before eating – acknowledging that all food came from God. Perhaps in some future, devastating pandemic (as in the fictional ‘Survivors’) we would either re-discover a connexion with God and/or give praise to all the souls that brought the food to the table. A recognition that it was a group effort to bring about the nourishment on the plate: those who tended the vegetable and herb garden; those who ploughed the fields; those who cured and pickled; those who reared, killed and prepared the animals; those who obtained salt; those who fished; those who collected honey; those who picked fruit; those who knew which mushrooms or berries to pick and eat (not the poisonous varieties!); those who COOKED! Those who gathered wood for the fires and those who kept them going. Everyone would be as intertwined as the life found in a hedgerow.

Through the growing, rearing, managing, preparing and cooking of food there would come a  re-alignment of our relationship with Nature and ourselves. Rain and sun would affect crops as would the phase of the moon re sowing! Wind might drive the sails of mills (re-built for grinding wheat). We would become creatures of daylight again – and fire-lighting and maintenance a pre-occupation. With our natural ingenuity and enough minds put together (along with all the tools required and books found in libraries) we certainly could manage to transform from a ‘everything you want – when you want’ society into a self-sufficient hybrid society. I say ‘hybrid’ as we would take the best of the past and use it for as long as possible to help effect a sustainable future. With enough time, the transition could be made. But we would have to live WITH Nature not against her. Every aspect of food and our relationship with it would be altered. Life might become harder but perhaps – more rewarding.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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