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Darkest Hour (2017)

darkesthourposterHitler is at the height of his power in 1940. His forces are pushing aside opposition in France and Belgium and the British are retreating. An invasion of Britain is a real possibility. It’s not just the ‘other side’ the new wartime leader Winston Churchill has to worry about either. Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Halifax (Stephen Dillane), think that the best hope is a deal with the Nazis and and are plotting (seemingly with some approval from the King, George VI, at least at first) to undermine Churchill’s cabinet.

Churchill is the hero of this film and his many faults are downplayed. There is reference to his poor judgment and Galipolli and we do get a taste of his ruthless streak when he sacrifices troops like disposable pawns.

His extreme political views on certain topics are not referenced. As far on as 1937, then aged 62, he justified mass genocide of indigenous peoples on the grounds of white supremacy, announcing to the Palestinian Royal Commission: “I do not admit […] that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia.

“I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

That was nothing new for Churchill. In December 1910, aged 36, Churchill wrote to prime minister Herbert Asquith warning of the “unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes” (general terms then used to describe the mentally ill and impaired).

Their rapid growth, he asserted, together with the “steady restriction [of the] thrifty, energetic and superior stocks” (folks like himself, of course), constituted “a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate.”

He argued that they should be “sterilised” or “segregated under proper conditions so that their curse died with them and was not transmitted to future generations.”

As home secretary in 1911 he brought the artillery on to the streets of east London in a somewhat onesided battle to deal with Latvian anarchists in the siege of Sydney Street.

In 1910 he ordered the military into Tonypandy to support local police and authorities in quelling disorder and the strikes of the miners.

When Iraqis and Kurds revolted against British rule in northern Iraq in 1920, Churchill, then secretary of state at the War Office, said: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”

In the 1926 General Strike Churchill edited the government’s newspaper, the British Gazette, and used it to put forward his anti-union and anti-Labour views.

Before the War he even had a good opinion of Fascism and Hitler.

He wrote to Mussolini: “What a man! I have lost my heart! […] Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world […] If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely.”

As late as 1935 he wrote of Hitler: “If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”

In 1943, a famine broke out in Bengal and up to three million people starved to death. He bluntly refused any aid, raging that it was the Indians’ own fault for “breeding like rabbits.”

Of course these views, which jar with our values today, were far from unusual at the time. The past is another country. That’s not to say that there were not many even then who would have had an opposed view. There were. Let’s hope that some of those who go to see the film take a closer look at the history behind it.

He was certainly a bastard but to use the Sumner Welles phrase he was “our bastard” – at least during the War. He is described as the one UK politician who frightened Hitler and, perhaps, that is true. He was also, in my view, right on the likely outcome of appeasement.

The film does present Churchill as the contradiction he was. This is brought out in scenes with his long-suffering wife Clemmie (Dame Kristin Ann Scott Thomas) and family as well as scenes with his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

An underlying theme of the film is the power of language and the importance of oratory. There are many scenes where we see Churchill mobilise the English language and send it to war (as Halifax puts it). Oldman’s Golden Globe-winning performance is forceful and effective and Churchill’s speeches have lost nothing of their persuasive and stirring qualities through his delivery.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Blade Runner 2049

bladerunner2049Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Written By: Michael Green, Hampton Fancher
In Theatres: Oct 6, 2017 Wide
Runtime: 164 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Blade Runner 2049 is certainly a worthy sequel to the original for many reasons, including it’s stunning visuals and cinematography.

CGI is used only when really needed and it’s convincing even to the well trained eye.

The lighting used in the film was absolutely superb and in places it all felt very real an atmospheric but yet still different, showing a dystopian world.

There are a number of moral issues with Artificial Intelligence that the film touches upon and it left me asking myself what humanity actually is and how humans have an ability to completely and knowingly discard their humanity. This even when furnished with the knowledge that an artificial intelligence would highly likely seek/cherish humanity in it’s quest to be more human.

I could not help but notice that there was a critical message about the human pests ruining the environment with their throwaway culture. This manifested itself in the plot in a subliminal way.

Another re-occuring theme in Blade Runner 2049, is a retreat from the outdoors to inside, possibly setup as a pointer to humanity’s lack of respect for the outdoors.

I didn’t tire of the pace in this 2h 43m film and slowing things down really did seem to demand more attention from the viewer.

All of the actors and characters played out perfectly, with a good script.

The only criticism I could possibly make about this masterpiece, is that it would have been nice to have seen more of the residents that inhabit this dystopian world.

It certainly is a film that I would love to see again, just to make sure there wasn’t anything I missed, especially on the philosophical front, though not at the Reel cinema in Burnley, as the experience was marred by a broken bass speaker!

Reviewed by Chris Barnett

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 My Leonard Cohen

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
19:45 Aug 16-27 1 hour
20 minutes

myleonardcohenRight from the get go I knew I was going to love this show. Stewart D’Arrietta and band started with two of my favourite Cohen songs – Everybody Knows and In My Secret Life. For me Leonard Cohen was a poet, a philosopher and a modern day prophet. A compassionate, exceptional and inspiring man.

Outside in the queue one of the staff had said two things – that the band were all Scottish and that Stewart sounded like Leonard Cohen. If he meant that the band were all Scottish and excluded Stewart (who is Australian) he was right on that score. As to Stewart sounding like Leonard, well he doesn’t. He has his own unique and very good voice. The whole show is a celebration of the life and work of Leonard Cohen but it isn’t an attempt to duplicate how he did things.

That’s true of the music too as there were some impressive rearrangements. It made you listen with a fresh perspective and it’s a tribute to the music that it can be reinterprated in such different ways and yet still stay true to the core.

Phil Alexander on piano-accordion probably had a lot to do with that. Incredibly talented as was the lead guitarist. In fact all the band brought something to the table – very much an ensemble effort.

Some reviews are mixed because those who expected a slavish copy of the music will be disappointed. If you go along knowing that some exceptional musicians are bringing their energy and style to a body of work then you will be delighted. I was thinking of the criticism of Bob Dylan when he was asked why he covered some many folk songs and why he didn’t do more of his own. His response was: “I like to think I make them my own”. Stewart and the rest of the band are, I think, adopting this approach!

As people left the hall they were still clapping and calling out congratulations to the band. I was among them.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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JUST FESTIVAL: 100 Years of Balfour

St. John’s Church, Princes Street
Aug 15-16, 18-19
17:15
1 hour 20 minutes

balfour

The seeds of the Palestinian conflict were sown by Balfour

This production forms part of the Balfour Project – a commemoration of the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 which pledged British support for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine whilst also promising to protect the rights of the existing indigenous Arab population. Contradicting, as it did the promises already given to the Arabs in 1915, the Declaration sowed the seeds of a future conflict with us to this day. The audience was presented with a meticulously-researched and balanced production based on original documents, leaving it spellbound throughout. Talulah Molleson, as the Voice of History, provided moving and beautifully sung vocal interludes. The commitment and sincerity of all who took part were obvious. We were left in no doubt that British duplicity and their subsequent abandonment of their promises to the Arabs are at the root of the current plight of the Palestinians. Running out of ideas of how to control the violence between Arabs and Jews, the British withdrew in 1948, handing over the problem to the United Nations, which in the aftermath of the Holocaust was strongly supportive of Zionist position (the Zionist Movement for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine was founded in 1898). The U.N. decided on Partition, resisted unsuccessfully by neighbouring Arab states, giving the newly-established state of Israel the first of its many opportunities to expand its borders.

The story was told imaginatively and was easy to follow – no mean feat given the complexity of the issues involved. Britain’s motives were mixed. As an imperial power she was fighting alongside France and Russia against Germany in Europe – yet her greatest imperial rivals were – France and Russia! Indeed Britain and France had almost gone to war in 1898 over France’s resentment at British dominance in Egypt. A Zionist presence in the region would help to check French ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secret Agreement of 1916 (effectively promising French dominance in Lebanon and Syria in return for British in Iraq and Palestine) was an attempt to pre-empt similar disagreement after the war. And how ironic that at the same time as fighting alongside the most anti-semitic regime in Europe (Russia) the British should be promoting Zionist interests!

100 Years of Balfour did not shirk difficult issues. I was particularly impressed by the emphasis given to the opposition of Edward Montagu, the one Jewish member of the British cabinet, to the Balfour Declaration – on the grounds that it was likely to promote anti-semitism in other countries as well as cause insuperable problems in Palestine itself. But the needs of War, not least the support of Jewish interests in the United States, and British imperial concerns came first.

 

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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BREXIT the Musical

DSC_0796At: C Venues, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Until 28 August

It’s 24 June 2016 and Boris wakes up to the horrible realisation that Leave has accidentally won the EU Referendum. Worse follows when he and Michael discover that George is suffering from amnesia and not only does he now think that he is a journalist but he has lost The Plan of what to do if the country did indeed vote to leave. The boys set-off on a Holy Grail like quest to find The Plan under the direction of the leather trouser clad new Prime Minister, Theresa, who does not suffer any dilly-dallying on the matter.

This musical comedy is a little over an hour of rip-roaring entertainment with a fine cast DSC_0797and a host of new and original songs from the outgoing PM David giving the kind of farewell address that he might really have liked to give the nation outside of Number 10 to Andrea singing about how mother is always right to Jeremy bemoaning how the Brexit vote will stop him getting to Glastonbury. Our politicians are mimicked with some skill and the witty and snappy dialogue leaves the audience with a smile on their faces as well as a few laugh out loud moments.

With no strong bias against either side you will enjoy BREXIT the Musical whether you were a Leaver or Remainer last June.

Reviewed by David Andrews

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The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

leniriefenstahl

Tom McNabb gave a balanced and informative view of the controversial Leni Riefenstahl

I didn’t know quite what to expect of this. Leni Riefenstahl (Helene Riefenstahl) was a controversial and complex figure. She was a German dancer and actress in the first part of her life. Tom McNabb relates her training in ballet and her surprise hit tour of Germany as an interpretive dancer. Tom has even tracked down footage of her dancing which he shows as he narrates the tale. She was also a popular -the star of a number of German director Arnold Fanck’s silent motion pictures, typically set in the Alps (so-called Bergfilme). Tom showed us a clip from one of these which shows a confident, empowered and daring woman beckoning a male climber who has lagged behind her. This part of her life indicates her love of nature, appreciation of human beauty and a pagan sensibility. There is a kind of wildness or recklessness just below the surface.

Sadly, this period of her life (as well as the later period of her life) is little known. Leni will perhaps always be best known for her propaganda films in support of the National Socialist Party (the Nazis). Perhaps it was almost inevitable that Leni would fall under the malign spell of Hitler. He was a big fan of her first major feature film, Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light) which was released in 1932. Riefenstahl had heard Hitler speak and was mesmerised by him.

In 1933, Hitler asked Riefenstahl to direct a short film, Der Sieg des Glaubens (The Victory of Faith), shot at that year’s Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally. The film was a basis for her more infamous work, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), shot at the Nuremberg Rally the following year, in 1934. Tom showed clips from this film. There is no doubt that it was a masterpiece of propaganda which almost worships power through numbers and organisation. Yet there are also small human touches such as when we see young boys straining to reach up and see what was going on. This is part of what made her propaganda films so dangerous. Alongside the glorification of totalitarian power is a human touch. It is this combination that seduced the audience at the time and still grips now despite our awareness of the horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime. The content cannot be divided from the innovative film technique which is used to support and craft it.

Tom tells how he came to see Olympia, which documented the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936 and how he was fixated from the opening shots. These were later to influence the hit film Chariots of Fire which Tom was involved in making. It was for Olympia that Riefenstahl pioneered numerous cinematographic techniques, such as filming footage with cameras mounted on rails (commonly known today as tracking shots) and underwater filming. Germany won most gold medals in the game (33). They also won most Silver (26) and Bronze (30). The United States came second.

When we think of these Olympics now many would not be aware of that. The focus is on Jesse Owens.

Owens captured four gold medals (the 100 metre, the long jump, the 200 meter and the 400-meter relay), and broke two Olympic records along the way. Owens record for the world broad jump would last 25 years until being broken by Olympian Irvin Roberson in 1960. Tom showed us clips from Olympia where crowds cheered Owens and we heard an enthusiastic German commentary on his performance. We also saw a smiling Hitler seemingly enjoying his performance. All at odds with tales of Hitler storming out of the stadium or refusing to shake his hand. Owens himself was more critical of segregated America than Hitler. There is a detailed discussion on his Wikipedia page for those interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens

Tom points out the irony of a non-segregated Olympic village under the Nazis at a time when they would not have been able to mix in the US!

Leni witnessed an atrocity in the war (the massacre of Polish partisans) and her enthusiasm for the Nazis seemed to wane (though she filmed Hitler entering Warsaw). After the war she was treated harshly in comparison to others. She was locked up in first a prison and then an asylum for over three years. Veit Harlan, who had directed such crude and damaging Nazi propaganda works as Jüd Süss and Kolberg, for example, returned to a flourishing directorial career in the 1950s. I suspect that it was partly bitterness at her treatment that prevented her from ever really apologising for her role as she should have done. She was, as Tom pointed out, a stubborn lady.

The emphasis on her association with Nazism also deflects from an awareness of her later life. Tom adopts a more balanced approach showing stills she took whilst living with the Nuba tribe of the Sudan. We also see photos she took in her late seventies, when, amazingly she got involved in underwater cinematography.

At the end of the production we were shown a short film (Leni, Leni) that Tom had written about her life. It took up many of the themes in the talk through Leni at earlier ages/life stages talking with an aged Leni. There is a resolution in the film which probably was not reflected in her life itself. That’s excusable as we all wish it had happened and artists deserve some license after all.

It was an unusual but fascinating evening. I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to see it in your area or at the next Fringe.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Piaf and Brel: The Impossible Concert

• theSpace @ Surgeons Hall(Venue 53)
• 14:05  Aug 11-12, 14-19, 21-26
• 50 minutes

piafvbrelEdith Piaf (1915-63) and Jacques Brel (1929-78), were nearly fifteen years apart in age. Their classbackgrounds were very different. Piaf born in poverty and brought up in a brothel. Brel the son of a bourgeois owner of a cardboard box factory. Both escaped into music in different ways. Brel from a job in his fathers factory and Piaf from the grind of poverty. They never met but here Melanie Gall brings there songs together.

And what songs they are! In just an hour Melanie Gall gives us a potted history of their lives and renditions of some of their best known songs like Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” and “La Vie en Rose” and Brels “Amsterdam” and “La Chanson des Vieux Amants”.

For me the highlight of the show was the performance of two great love songs about loss: Brel’s “Ne me Quitte Pas” (If You Go Away) and Piaf’s “Hymne à L’amour”. Piaf did sing Brel’s moving song seeking to win back his mistress so there was a connection and recognition there.

You can see a clip from the show here

 

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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