Film

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Gef the Talking Mongoose

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 5:17am in

According to next week’s Radio Times for 30th May – 5th June 2020, Radio 4 next Tuesday, 2nd June, is broadcasting a programme on the bizarre affair of the Manx poltergeist, Gef the talking mongoose. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In the 1930s, a BBC employee who was interested in psychic phenomena investigated the story of Gef the Talking Mongoose – a supernatural creature with a foul mouth and disturbing habits, said to haunt a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Man. Thinking to amuse the public in the silly season, he published an account of his findings, little knowing that Gef would cause a national scandal, prompt questions in the House, drag in Lord Reith himself, and provoke a front-page court case. Docudrama by Robin Brooks featuring Jasmine Nazina-Jones.

Gef the Talking Mongoose is supposed to be one of the poltergeist cases with the best supporting evidence. About a decade or so ago the Fortean Times, the magazine for connoisseurs du weird, published a long article about it. I leave it to you to decide for yourself what you think of it or the paranormal, but this could be an interesting programme. However, with docudramas you’re always left wondering how faithful they are to the facts, and how much is dramatic license.

Way back in the ’90s ghosts and ghost-hunting were all the rage, and Most Haunted and other shows like it were gathering sizable audiences for what were niche shows on the satellite and cable channels. It was lampooned on the Beeb comedy show, Dead Ringers, where Most Haunted’s star psychic at the time, Derek Acorah, received psychic impressions from a hibernating tortoise in a shed in a garden centre, before being possessed by the unquiet spirit of Desmond Decker. Slumping, ‘Acorah’ started singing ‘I don’t want to dance’.  The ghost hunting craze has passed, though there are still very many people up and down the country spending their weekends visiting haunted places in the hope of seeing or experiencing one. Most Haunted has come and gone, and Derek Acorah, I think, has sadly left us. But nevertheless, its fellows and competitors are still around on some channels.

I found the video below from Red Letter Media on YouTube. That channel specialises in film reviews, not always respectful, but always well informed and often hilariously funny. One of the hosts, Mike Stoklasa, here talks about his guilty pleasure. Which is watching one of these shows, Ghost Adventures. It’s clear that he doesn’t take it too seriously, but is very careful not to say that it’s all scripted, even when there’s abundant evidence in the clips he provides to show that it is.

In the edition he talks about, the ghost hunters visit a museum that contains a dybbuk box. A dybbuk is a type of Jewish demon. The show’s stars intend to open the box to see if it really does contain a demon. To make sure they are properly protected spiritually, they have on hand a rabbi. They ask the reverend gentleman if he knows how to deal with such a demonic object. He replies that he does, as he’s just looked it up that day. The ghost hunters seem a bit crestfallen, but ask him if he personally believes in demons. He tells them that he doesn’t, not in his personal religion, but he’s prepared to believe in them for the sake of the script. Oh dear! Stoklasa then helpfully explains that he thinks that what the rabbi meant was that he would, if the course of the programme required it, and that the show didn’t have a written script.

More proof that the show isn’t scripted comes from a video Ghost Adventures put on YouTube. One of the ghost hunters is talking to the viewer about some place he wishes to investigate in the locale they’re investigating. Then a door comes open. The presenter makes an exclamation of surprise, the sequence cuts, and then he is shown approaching the same location and giving the same speech. Stoklasa merely comments that it’s bad editing. Here’s Stoklasa and Jay talking about it.

There’s a considerable amount of evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal, and many of the people I’ve come across who take them seriously enough to investigate them, whether believer or sceptic, are by no means gullible fools or cynical debunkers. But, as with everything else on TV, not everything you see is objective reality and it’s a myth that the camera never lies.

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 4 Tackles Bad Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 6:01am in

Ho ho! According to next week’s Radio Times for 23rd – 29th May 2020, next Saturday’s The Archive will be on the subject of Bad Culture. This is the type of music, art, literature, film, TV or whatever which is so bad that it’s entertaining. The blurb about it in the Radio Times reads

Steve Punt is joined by Grace Dent, Robin Ince and Laura Snapes to analyse why seemingly bad culture can be so enjoyable, looking at the films of Michael Winner, the songs of Astley and the poetry of Danielle Steele.

The programme’s Archive on 4: So Bad It’s Good?, and it’s on Radio 4, Saturday 23rd May, at 8.00 pm.

Robin Ince, who presents The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Brian Cox, wrote a book a few years ago, The Bad Book Club. This was about some of his favourite terrible books, one of which was the autobiography of John Major’s half-brother, Terry Major-Ball. But people have been particularly bad films for a very long time. I think that goes back to the ’70s at least, when Michael Medved, before he morphed into a right-wing pundit, published The Golden Turkey Awards about some of the worst movies ever made. Then in the early ’80s he presented Channel 4’s The Worst of Hollywood, which screened some of the classics of Bad cinema. These included Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster, The Wild Women of Wonga and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Ed Wood was the stunningly bad director who also gave the world Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex, and Robot Monster. The costume for the latter creature was a gorilla suit with a diving helmet stuck on top. The guy who played it did so because he owned the gorilla suit. I think it’s also in Robot Monster that there’s a 2 minute segment of dinosaurs going on the rampage for no reason at all. It’s because Wood’s studio was right next to that of stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was responsible for a string of SF/monster movies, including Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, as well as the sequence in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad where the Arab sailor fights an army of skeletons. Wood used to go round to Harryhausen and use any material that the other director had no use for after editing. That day Harryhausen had cut 200 feet of film out of a film about dinosaurs, and gave it to Wood when he asked him if there was anything he could use. Glen/Glenda is about a man struggling to come to terms with his transvestism. It’s a serious subject, which in the hands of a good director would no doubt be highly praised by critics. But this was made by Wood, so it’s abysmal. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it has Bela Lugosi in it. He plays God in a dream sequence in which he says ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’ This makes no sense at all. The film is, however, one of Alice Cooper’s favourites, or so he told Muriel Grey on Channel 4’s pop programme The Tube a long time ago. When she asked him ‘Why?’, he replied that it was because it made him wonder just what he had just watched because it was so weird. Her reply was classic: ‘You’re a strange boy, Alice’. Yes, and he’s made a whole career out of it. Wood was himself a transvestite with a passion for cashmere sweaters, a fact not lost to the makers of the ’90s film biography of him.

Since The Worst of Hollywood has come Mystery Science Theatre 3000. This is an SF look at Bad Films, in which the crew of an orbiting satellite a thousand watch, and make rude remarks about, terrible movies. The SF author, Jack Womack, responsible for a series of books set in a violent, dystopian future Ambient, Random Acts of Mindless Violence, Heathern and Elvissey, is also an aficionado of weird and Bad books. He supplied a list of some of his favourites in his personal collection, with his comments on them, in an interview he gave in the ’90s to the Science Fiction magazine, SF Eye. They included Bottom’s Up with the Rear Admiral: Memoirs of a ProctologistThe Elvis Image, which is about a journalist crisscrossing the deep south in search of Elvis impersonators, and Behold! The Protong!!! by Stanislaw Szuchalski. Womack described this as ‘America’s greatest eccentric tells you why Communists are descended from the Yeti’. 

A few years an academic did a study of the type of people who deliberately went to see bad movies. He found that they tended to be of above average intelligence, and also watched transgressive cinema. You know, like the films of John Waters and some of the other cinematic horrors Jonathan Ross discussed in the ’80s in his Channel 4 series, The Incredibly Strange Film Show. They like those for the same reasons they enjoy terrible films, because both provide an experience that is outside the mainstream.

This could be a very funny, interesting programme about some truly awful cultural productions. But will it include any clips from Wood’s wretched oeuvre? 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part One

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Introduction

This is a great book. It’s the kind of book on socialism I was very much looking for in the 1980s when the papers were all praising Margaret Thatcher and alleged superiority of capitalism to the heavens. What I wanted then was a classic defence of socialism, which clearly showed the destructive nature and defects of capitalism, and how these would be removed for the better under a proper socialist government with a clear idea of what needed to be done and how it could be achieved.

This is a rather long review, so I’ve split up into four parts.

The book was written between 1924 and 1928, when it was first published. George Bernard Shaw is one of the great figures in British socialism. An Irishman, he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and editor of its anthology of socialist writings, Fabian Essays. He’s best known for his play Pygamalion, about a linguist, Henry Higgins, who takes Eliza, a rough working class girl, and tries to mould her so she can pass as a lady of the genteel classes. It was filmed as the musical My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison.

Shaw wrote it between 1924 and 1928, when it was published, at the request of his sister-in-law, Lady Cholmondley. She had asked him to write a letter explaining socialism for women. Shaw looked into it, and discovered that amongst the masses of literature about socialism, there weren’t any books that realised that there were such creatures. And, he adds in his ‘Instead of a Bibliography’, very few that recognised the existence of men either. The book’s addressed to a female audience. The reader is a ‘she’ and the examples given are taken from women’s lives, jobs and experience. Shaw recognises that most women are occupied as wives and mothers, or shop girls and workers in the great weaving mills, the common female roles at the time. But he also recognises and fully supports the fact that more professions were being opened up to women in science, law, medicine and so on. If done badly, this approach by a male writer can seem patronising, but Shaw, as a great writer, manages to avoid it. And even though it’s aimed at women, I greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other blokes.

Capital, Equality of Incomes and Imperialism

Shaw tries to present complex ideas about capitalism by simplifying them down to the level of ordinary people’s housekeeping or domestic economy. He defines capital as left over money. It’s the money you have left after spending your income on rent, food and so on. This is the money that the idle rich, the landlords, invest in industry. And money’s only real value is for the food and clothing that it will purchase. You cannot eat money, and the food it will buy must be eaten or else it will be spoilt. Which means that money must be invested and used, rather than stored up.

At the heart of Shaw’s view of socialism is the equalization of incomes. He believed that everyone should earn exactly the same amount. Capitalism had created vast inequalities of wealth. On the one hand there was a small minority of the idle rich, who had to invent pastimes and diversions in order to use up their wealth. On the other was the vast mass of the poor, living at or near starvation level. He begins by asking the reader how they would divide up the nation’s wealth, challenging the reader to think for herself rather than let him do her thinking for her. He then proceeds to argue that it is impossible to decide that one person should be paid more or less than another because of their personal morality or ability. He sharply criticises the quasi-feudal economy of his day, when 90 per cent of the country worked to support the gentry, who only comprised ten per cent of the country’s population. They do nothing for it, don’t benefit from it, as they can’t personally eat or drink more than anyone else. And instead of investing it, they simply take it out of the country to invest it or spend it abroad. He also attacks British imperialism for this same thing. It hasn’t benefited the peoples we have conquered nor British tradespeople, businessmen and workers. It has led to the exploitation of Blacks abroad, who can paid far less than their British counterparts. Thus Britain is flooded with cheap imports, and British companies are going bust and their workers laid off.

The Progress of Capitalism and Decline of the Businessman Owner

Shaw then describes how the middle class have their origins as the younger sons of the aristocracy, with a few acute remarks on the absurd gradations of class which meant that a wholesaler was socially superior to a retailer. His father was a businessman, who had been a member of the gentry. As such he looked down on the elite Dublin shopkeepers, even though they were richer and entertained the local Irish aristocracy, which he very definitely couldn’t. But business was changing. The age of the small businessman in personal possession of his business, was giving way to joint-stock companies owned by their shareholders and managed by professional, salaried staff. Under pressure from the unions, they were combining to  form monopolistic trusts. This made them ready for nationalisation.

Nationalisation and the Coal Industry

He presents the coal industry as particularly needing nationalisation. At the time he wrote, there were a number of different mining companies. Some worked poor mines and were close to bankruptcy, others very rich. However, miners wages were set at the level the poor mines could afford, which was near starvation. Coal prices were set for the rich mines, and so prices were high. The miners were thus being starved and the consumer overcharged. The mines should thus be nationalised so that the workers were paid a fair wage, and the consumer a fair price. Shaw advocated nationalisation so that costs and prices could be brought down and goods sold at cost price.

Banks and the Stock Market

He also discusses and explains finance capitalism, stocks and shares, debentures, futures and the stock market. He warns the reader against get-rich-quick scams, like the bucket shops which will charge his prices for very risky shares. If people want to invest, they should do so with the government or municipality. Their shares won’t provide a great yield, but they will be safe. He recommends that banks should be nationalised because of the problems the small businessman had acquiring capital. The big businesses rely on financiers, who certainly won’t lend the small businessman wanting a modest loan anything. Neither will the banks. He pointed to Birmingham as an example for the future, as it had established a municipal bank to serve the customers the big banks wouldn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 2:49am in

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

Radio 4 Programme on Saturday on the Making of the ‘Empire Strikes Back’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 2:07am in

Radio 4’s Archive on 4 next Saturday is on the first of the Star Wars sequels, The Empire Strike’s Back. From the pieces about the programme in the Radio Times, its filming was bedeviled by a series of disaster, which nearly stopped it from being made at all. The blurb for the programme Archive on 4: The Empire Strikes Back, on page 115 of next week’s Radio Times for 16th – 22nd May 2020 runs

Mark Burman marks the 40th anniversary of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars sequel with a look at its production, including rare archive interviews with producer George Lucas and others. He hears from studio whizzes at Industrial Light and Magic and travels to Norway to meet some of the veteran crew.

There’s an additional piece about it on the preceding page, 114, by Edward Crawford, which states

It’s amazing to think, as the Disney empire bombards us with an ever increasing number of Star Wars stories, that a sequel to the original 1977 film was by no means a foregone conclusion. The second film in George Lucas’ epic space saga was beset with problems, such as the death of its screenwriter, a snowstorm on location and a fire on the set. In this entertaining, not wholly reverential documentary Mark Burman gets the inside scoop, talking to some of the crew and plundering the archive for worlds from director Irvin Kershner, George Lucas, Mark Hamill and Yoda creator Stuart Freeborn.

The Empire Strikes Back is one of the great SF/Fantasy movies of the 20th century. Fans and critics have considered it the best of the Star Wars movies, although I was shocked to find in a video on YouTube that someone, somewhere, has decided that it’s the worst. Heresy! Blasphemy! The programme should be really interesting for those of us old enough to remember the excitement when it first appeared in the very early 1980s. I remember reading in Starburst at the time that a fire had broken out on its set at Pinewood, but I wasn’t aware that the scriptwriter had died or they’d had a snowstorm while filming in Norway.

The programme’s on Radio 4, on Saturday 16th May 2020 at 8.00 pm.

‘We’ll Meet Again’ at the End of ‘Dr. Strangelove’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 5:22am in

Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the government wants us to celebrate it by going outside at 3 pm or whenever, having a cup of tea and singing Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The Beeb has screened a half-hour documentary about her in preparation for the occasion.

I fully realise just how important VE Day was and is. It meant the final end of six years of carnage in Europe and the extinction of the Nazi regime. And with the exception of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the era of peace it has ushered in is the longest ever in Europe’s history. But to me the song brings to mind not the end of the Second World War, but that of Stanley Kubrick’s cold war black comedy, Dr. Strangelove. As the  Russian’s Domesday weapon is finally triggered, the film ends with Strangelove rising from his wheelchair to shout, ‘Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!’ and footage of nuclear explosions accompanied by Vera Lynn singing.

Here it is, in another video I found on YouTube. Enjoy, and I hope you have a great time.

The Evil Eye

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/05/2020 - 7:56pm in

Tags 

Film, Movies, Cinema

As Paul Bond already noted, there was a reprisal of the Bavafest last week. We got to talk about the maestro of b-movies, Mario Bava, with Antonio Vantaggiato’s class on Cine y Cultura Italiana at Sagrado. Short version of this post: it was a lot of fun.

We talked about one of our favorites, The Girl Who Knew Too Much or so it is called in Italy. But in the end we did not watch that movie, rather we watched the U.S. cut which was titled Evil Eye. It was released in theaters as part of a double-feature bill with Black Sabbath in American theaters in 1964, both trying to cash in on the international success of Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) a few years earlier.

2018/365/017: The Blog that Knew Too Much

A French movie poster for the film currently hanging in my office!

But let me back up a bit, a few weeks ago Antonio reached out to me about introducing one of the films on his syllabus, namely Bava’s seminal giallo film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). I don’t need too much convincing to talk about almost anything, and the idea of molding young minds to impress on them the importance of Mario Bava was almost too inviting: I even wondered if there was catch? Well, it’s Antonio so of course there wasn’t, just good people doing good things. Once we set a date I looped-in fellow Bava fan Paul Bond. We did a Bavafest back in 2013, and it is always a blast to talk with him about  movies. In fact, writing this post made me go back and find the discussion Paul and I had back in 2013, and I resurrected the video from a back-up drive* and re-posted a version of that discussion on the original post. I am including it below as well:

What was interesting about the 2013 discussion is Paul knew about the alternative US version, namely Evil Eye, but neither of us had seen it yet. In fact, I believe it was not until a year after this conversation in 2014 that Arrow Video would release a version of the film that had both the audio commentary from Tim Lucas (originally on the Anchor Bay DVD from 2007) along with a fully restored version of the U.S. cut. So, in this conversation we tended to focus on the US cut, in particular framing the film around a particularly provocative and thoughtful essay that came with the 2014 Arrow Video Blu-ray by Kier-La Janisse 2010 essay titled “Somatic Incompliance: The Look of Resistance in Mario Bava’s Evil Eye.” The essay argues that U.S. cut provides a far more sympathetic and empowering look of the gendered and generational struggle of the female protagonist (played by Leticia Roman) than the Italian version, which opened up a quite interesting line of discussion through the hour-long introduction of the film. We talk about a number of the points Janisse makes in some detail, and in many ways this discussion is very much of a piece of the bavafest discussions Paul and I had 7 years ago. There was also so fun points to discuss the complex textual history of this film, using the longer opening scene of the US version versus the much shorter Italian version. Here is the Italian opening with Lucas’s commentary:

Now compare that to the US opening  which Quentin Tarantino called one of the best openings in film:

I love stuff like this, and the opportunity to work through not only the alternative openings, but also the alternative endings was such a treat. The ending of the Italian version is a kind of non sequitur to preceding events, effectively suggesting the entire film could have been a hallucination on the part of the protagonist given she had smoked a marijuana cigarette she had received from the man on the place before witnessing the murder that drives the rest of the narrative. It is probably the weakest plot element in an already shaky narrative:

Long story short, she remembers the marijuana cigarette, grabs it from her fiancé’s (played by John Saxon) mouth and throws the laced pack of smokes away only to be picked up by a passing priest. Bizarre, almost absurd. Whereas the US version has the couple riding a skytrain while her fiancé is admonishing her to give up the gialli (or murder mystery novels) that he seems to believe got her into this mess. At that momenta jealous husband shoots his wife who he finds with another man, and when her future husband asks her how she is after the shooting she coyly suggests he has now idea what he is talking about—reinforcing the reading of resistance Janisse articulates in the US version of the film:

And there was much more, the appearance of Bava in a scene on the Spanish steps a la Alfred Hitchcock (a figure he has been likened to for his technical ingenuity again and again):

The horror of whiteness in the apartment scene, which may be the most beautiful scene from any Mario Bava film:

Bava’s brilliant use of shadows and light to create illusions of space and place:

The lighter-side of darkness and the sexual tension running through the film:

It was a pretty far ranging discussion, and I came away from it remembering why I love to teach so much. It’s been a while, but it is always fun.  Here is the hour long discussion in its entirety, keep in mind I was experimenting pretty wildly by pulling the Zoom into ds106.tv and also streaming clips both in Zoom and on the TV, so there are a few missteps. I’ll talk more about my setup for this in another post, but lest the post get too long and I never fin ish writing it, let this suffice for now:

Thanks again Antonio for your generous invitation, thank you Paul for joining me, and thanks most of all to the students for tolerating it.

*The UMW Media server it was originally posted on is now long gone.

Unrepresentative Jewish Group Makes Racist Demand to Labour to Expel Black Women MPs

This is absolutely atrocious behaviour from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for which they should be roundly condemned by every genuinely anti-racist person in the country. Mike today has reported that the Board, led by its odious president, Marie van der Zyl, should expel two of its highly esteemed Black women MPs. The women they’re targeting are the Labour veteran, Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy. Why? Because they attended a conference on Zoom in which they took questions from the audience, which included two former Labour members, Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker, whom the Israel lobby and Conservative – including Blairite – establishment had smeared as anti-Semites. And because Keir Starmer had stupidly tried to win their approval by signing their wretched ‘Ten Pledges’. One of these was that Labour Party members would not share a platform with those expelled from the party for anti-Semitism.

The Board is an unrepresentative body. Despite it claims to speak for all of Britain’s Jews, it really speaks for a tiny minority, the United Synagogue. It does not represent the Haredi Jews nor the Orthodox, who have their own bodies. Furthermore, it explicitly defines itself in its constitution as a Zionist organisation, which means that it does not represent non-Zionist Jews, of which there are many. The Board is, like the rest of the British establishment, by and large very Tory, though I would not care to say that all of its members are. Starmer, and the rest of the Labour leadership candidates, has given them, an organisation outside the Labour Party and hostile to it, dictatorial powers over whom it may accept as members, how they are to behave and with whom they may associate. Many of their demands, as Mike and others have pointed out to me, would not stand up if challenged in a court of law. Indeed, I have heard that they run directly counter to it. To many people, van der Zyl’s and the Board’s obnoxious demands look like both a domineering attempt to dictate to the Labour party and its members, and also a racist attack on two distinguished Black female MPs.

And not only is the Board morally wrong to demand their expulsion, it is also technically wrong according to the terms of its own wretched pledges. Jackie and Tony weren’t on the platform. They were members of the audience. And neither of them were expelled for anti-Semitism.

Mike reproduces a number of tweets from Labour members and supporters, who are very much aware of the gross injustice and sheer arrogance of the Board’s latest demand, and strongly condemn. They include Jackie Walker, the Alternative Daily News, ‘Saboteur Aesop’, ‘Stevewhiteraven’, Kerry-Ann Mendoza, Clare Curran, the Rt Rev’d Mojito and Simon Maginn.

Mike considers that this has put Starmer in quite a quandary, as if he gives into the Board there will be such a mass walkout that by Christmas it will only consist of him and Rayner.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/05/01/this-minority-interest-group-is-dictating-racist-membership-rules-to-the-labour-party-why/

As well as being racist, it also looks very politically motivated. The right has hated Abbott since she was a radical young firebrand in the 1980s. She was one of the first of the wave of Black and ethnic minority MPs that were then entering parliament, along with the late Bernie Grant. She was among the Labour MPs smeared by the Scum in the 1987 election. They claimed that she had said that all White people are racist. They hate her because she is very loud and outspoken in her attacks on anti-Black, anti-Asian racism. But she is also a close friend, and, so I have heard, a former lover of Jeremy Corbyn. This looks very much like the Conservative Board using this as an opportunity to attack a Labour MP they have always loathed.

Despite their claims, the Board and the Israel lobby have a very poor record when it comes to combating racism when it does not involve Jews. David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, a veteran anti-racist campaigner, states in one of the pieces on his blog that when he was in the Anti-Nazi League, the Board forbade Jews from joining or holding their meetings in synagogues. This was ostensibly because the founder of the Anti-Nazi League was an anti-Zionist, and they wished to stop impressionable Jews hearing criticism of Israel. But other Jewish left-wingers suspected there was also another agenda, to stop Jews supporting Blacks and Asians.

The Board’s demands for the two women’s expulsion also resembles the racist undertones behind the Blairites’ and Israel lobby’s demand for the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth. Wadsworth is a genuine anti-racist activist. He worked for the parents of Stephen Lawrence to meet Nelson Mandela, and with the Board in the 1980s to stop anti-Semitic assaults by the BNP around the Isle of Thanet. But he was the man, who supposedly made a Jewish Blairite MP cry when he caught her passing information on to the Telegraph at a meeting, and called her out for it. An angry squad of Blairites, including, I believe, Luciana Berger, descended on his hearing to demand his expulsion. All of them were White, and critics said it looked very much like a White lynching party about to attack a Black.

Jackie Walker, a very respectable anti-racism educator and activist, has also been subject to viciously racist abuse since the Israel lobby smeared her as an anti-Semite. Apart from the grotesque hate messages she’s received demanding that she should be hanged, or burnt and her body dumped in bin bags, she’s also been racially abused by Jews. She’s Black, and so, according to their limited ideas, can’t be Jewish. I got news for them. There have been communities of Black Jews in Ethiopia for a very long time. There are also Black Jews in the West. There’s a professor of Afro-Jewish Studies at one of the American universities, an American synagogue has even made a Black woman its rabbi. And some of the older readers of this blog will remember a certain Sammy Davis jnr, a very popular singer, dancer and film star, who was a member of the famous ‘Rat Pack’ which included Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

But the Israel lobby also includes some individuals, who can certainly be fairly described as being Far Right. One of the ultra-Zionists, who turns up to protest pro-Palestinian meetings, was formerly a resident of apartheid South Africa and, it seems, very comfortable with its official racism. Others have links to the EDL and other islamophobic groups. Jonathan Hoffman, the former head of the Zionist Federation, has appeared at protests alongside Paul Besser of the extreme right-wing group, Britain First. There is also a couple who turn up to such protests, including those organised against Corbyn by the Campaign For Anti-Semitism and the Board of Deputies, wearing Kach T-shirts. Kach are an extreme right-wing Israeli terrorist group. There have also been Jews, who are extremely sympathetic to the British Nazi right. One Tory MP in Barnet, according to one anti-Zionist Jewish website I read, who used to complain that it was a pity the Conservatives and BNP were separate parties, as it divided the Nationalist vote. The great historian of the British Jewish community, Geoffrey Alderman, was also under pressure from the Board to remove the finding in one of his books in the 1970s that two per cent of the Jewish community support the National Front against Blacks and Asians. There were also some Fascists, who had no hatred of the Jews. Matthew Collins of the anti-racism, anti-religious extremism groups, Hope Not Hate, formerly a member of the BNP and other Nazi groups, recalls being told by another by another Fascist that he really couldn’t understand hatred of the Jews. This interesting snippet is in his book, Hate.

It is therefore completely possible and sensible to talk of Jewish White supremacism and anti-Black, anti-Asian racism.

Marie van der Zyl’s attacks on Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy is not only another partisan, Conservative, Zionist attempt to dictate to Labour under the spurious pretext of combating anti-Semitism, it also looks very much like anti-Black racism.

As one of the Tweeters quote by Mike says, get the Board out of the Labour party.

 

 

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 3:04am in

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I need all this context to tell the story of our walk, which doesn’t really have a story at all, but which is connected to and inseparable from the past. I often end up there when investigating my reactions to the pandemic. Other people tend to stress the exceptional nature of this experience, but the lockdown blows me ceaselessly into the past.

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