There's something weirdly wonderful about this BBC/Canadian-funded flick, written and directed by Sean Durkin (He of Martha, Marcy and so on).
Thursday, December 31, 2020
The Nest (2020)
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
HBO's The Art Of Political Murder
Sending 2020 off with a glug...
My Somebody Else's Problem Field is just about holding up. And this really does appear to be somebody else's problem.
On the plus side, just as La Antigua has been granted some sort of Safe Travels recognition, we appear to have acquired a brand new tourist attraction. And there's definitely some water hiding underneath the village. For now...
Monday, December 28, 2020
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Fitting perhaps that the two ‘big’ movies of 2020 were both utterly absurd.
First there was the one that was going to save the big screen experience (Tenet) and now we have the one that essentially says sod it to cinemas.
The trouble here is I couldn’t consistently establish whilst viewing just how knowingly ludicrous WW84 is, and ended up pondering how great it would be to see Gadot in a movie for grown-ups before this nonsense swallows her career.
Great to see Pedro Pascal out of his helmet again. His performance is silly yet entertaining in a good way, unlike a lot of what is going on around him.
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Brexit, a pre-history
Under the influence of a continental super-state Britons started to live in rectangular houses instead of round ones and social status began to accrue from education and economic muscle rather than the more local ties of kinship and tribe.
It was in these circumstances that perhaps our first great Brexiteer emerged: Boudica, queen of the Iceni.
In 60 AD she led an army of up to 100,000 in a bloody revolt against 'ever closer union', laying waste to much of urban Roman settlement in the south with a particular ire directed against Londinium. According to Tacitus 70,000 of its citizens were slaughtered as it was razed to the ground.
There is still a layer of red, oxidised iron to be found under the City, so in effect there have been two Great Fires in London's history.
Brimming with optimism, Boudica's horde then faced up at an uncertain location to a Roman force led by Gaius Paulinus Suetonius (ten times its inferior size-wise) and duly lost, really badly. 80,000 dead on the British side, 400 on the Roman.
In modern parlance it seems they had a tactically-naive attacking game and were thus extremely vulnerable to the counter.
Britain's new anti-cosmopolitan folk heroine then either fell ill and died of natural causes, or partook of poison.
Sunday, December 20, 2020
The Chambermaid (2018)
"On Monday, February 16, 1981, I was hired as a temporary chambermaid for three weeks in a Venetian hotel. I was assigned twelve bedrooms on the fourth floor. In the course of my cleaning duties, I examined the personal belongings of the hotel guests and observed through details lives which remained unknown to me. On Friday, March 6, the job came to an end."
An extract from the blurb accompanying L’Hotel, a series of voyeuristic photographic observations made by Sophie Calle of the items in these rooms, that were at one stage on show at the Tate in London and went on to inspire a stage play by Mexican actor-come-director Lila Avilés which evolved into her first feature film.
And perhaps if this had focussed more on the reverse anthropology conceit in Calle's installation the movie might have been more consistently interesting. Instead it uses atmosphere (very effectively) to show us multiple aspects of its protagonist's invisibility, with the whole not quite adding up to a fully coherent story.
In his review Peter Bradshaw captured what is both gripping (and in a sense the opposite of gripping, as we both nodded off a couple of times) in the mood projected by Avilés as she shows us a set of salient incidents in the daily activities of young camarista Eve, seen to be "in revolt against the almost erotic narcosis of the place and the expensive weightless perfection, which the reality of her existence is always liable to soil in some calamitous way."
Like the art work that inspired it, the film is fascinating in an almost photographic way, as a collection of stills or vignettes that inspire further contemplation beyond the narrative line.
Mexico has a solid tradition in a sociological cinema of race and class, where non-professional actors have often excelled. As Eve, Gabriela Cartol is a pro, seemingly trying to capture the guilelessness of an amateur. It works some of the time, but there are moments in the movie where both the lead and the director seem to be too visibly struggling to project a depth beneath the blankness.
Monday, December 14, 2020
How much much does abnormality need to impinge on our existence before normality caves in? This is a very 2020 question.
In his account of a tour of Mexico's border towns a couple of years ago, Paul Theroux repeatedly expresses amazement at their 'civic pride' amidst all the cartel violence. In effect, it appeared that he could not quite cope with the levels of everyday normality he kept encountering.
This weekend I read that 1 in 500 people in New Jersey have died this year from covid-19.
In a town of 500,000 this would equate to something like 1000 deaths over the course of 10 months, actually somewhat more extreme than the prevailing stats for violent fatalities in Mexico's notorious border communities. Has 'normalcy' duly collapsed in New Jersey? I suspect not.
A major part of the 2020 narrative has been so-called complacency — people going out and acting normal when they supposedly shouldn't. From this perspective civic-mindedness involves self-isolation, rather than picnics in the park or museum visits.
Yet when he wrote The Plague in 1947, Albert Camus seemed to grasp something vaguely counter-intuitive: that the more calamitous the circumstances around us, the more we feel the urge to break out and enjoy the moment.
He seemed to be suggesting that there is a fundamental human instinct at play here that transcends blinkered selfishness. In his novel we come across a 'parade' of young people on the streets attempting to demonstrate a "passion for living that grows in the midst of great misfortunes", a pervasive inclination which deepens as the plague takes an ever more profound hold on the locked-in city of Oran.
"When they saw that it was serious, they remembered the enjoyment. All the anguish which is painted in the daytime on the faces is then resolved, in the fiery and dusty twilight, in a sort of haggard excitement, an awkward freedom which infects a whole people."I am reminded too of Antony Beevor's extraordinary account in Downfall of the grand apocalyptic blowout that took place in Hitler's Berlin bunker as the Soviet's closed in.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
What's done to us...
Spinoza believed that thoughts of personal mortality were rarely conducive to freedom: “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not of death but of life.”
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Vacas and Vacunas
Spanish-speakers will probably be alert to the shared root of the words for cow and vaccine.
At the end of the eighteenth century British zoologist Edward Jenner had observed how milkmaids seemed to be immune to smallpox.
He subsequently established that this immunity appeared to be conferred by the pus from their cowpox sores, a disease contracted occupationally, which in turn had been transferred to the cattle by horses which were vulnerable to an ailment known as 'the grease'.
In 1796 Jenner injected this cowpox pus into the arm of James Phipps, son of his gardener, and thus the world's first vaccine was born.
The institution of slavery had a hand in modern medical advances as slaver ships often carried scientific observers who would duly note all the relevant symptoms generated by different afflictions that became rife below decks in the hold.
But in Latin America at least, slavery would also play a key role in the way Jenner's vaccine was distributed.
The story is told in a fascinating footnote in this rather wonderful book by Greg Grandin...
“In 1803, after his daughter died from the disease (smallpox), Spain’s King Carlos IV ordered its vaccine (a practical version had been recently fabricated by the British) to be disseminated throughout his dominion. Francisco Xavier de Balmis, the doctor who headed the royal expedition appointed to carry out the task, decided it was best to transport the vaccine live. Twenty-two foundlings aged three to nine were boarded on a ship: doctors made a small incision on the arms of two of them and inserted a mixture of lymph and pus, which after a few days produced the pustules that would provide the material to vaccinate the next two boys. The procedure was repeated until the ship reached America. Once there, the foundlings were feted and praised, laid at the foot of church altars, and adopted by the king himself as “special children of the country.” But Balmis’s team didn’t have the funds to cover all of Spanish America. It turned to the one institution that already reached across the far-flung realm: slavery.“In Havana, Balmis bought four young slave girls, whom he used to send the vaccine to the Yucatan (once they performed their service, the two girls were sold). At first, slaves were sent on journeys specifically organized to transport the vaccine. But as time passed, it became easier just to use already established commercial routes, sending the vaccine “arm to arm of the blacks” who were being shipped as cargo. Portugal had from the beginning relied on African slaves to get the vaccine across the Atlantic, sending it to Brazil in the arms of seven enslaved children. It was then taken to Río de la Plata in a shipment of thirty-eight vaccinated slaves who were to be sold in Montevideo. An African woman “with pustules in perfect development” carried the vaccine to Buenos Aires. And from there, slaves took the “miracle discovery”—which made slavery much more profitable for slavers—through the rest of Argentina, over the Andes, and into Chile.“Interestingly, before the Spanish began to disseminate the vaccine through the arms of orphans and slaves, the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt reported that young African slaves and Native American cow herders on the slopes of the Andes knew that exposure to the tubercles of cow udders protected them from the pox. Africans and Indians, Humboldt said, “display great sagacity in observing the character, habits, and diseases of the animals with which they live.”
Saturday, December 05, 2020
Thursday, December 03, 2020
The Plague (1)
"It was the feeling of exile that this hollow that we constantly carried in us, this precise emotion, the unreasonable desire to go back or on the contrary to press the march of time, these burning arrows of memory.”
Saturday, November 28, 2020
There's a time and a place for everything...
I have given quite a lot of thought to the nature of sentient existence and specifically the nature of time over the years and have reached certain tentative conclusions.
Calling them beliefs might be a step too far, but they are undoubtedly fairly strong suspicions. They are not ideas that have been served up to me whole by parents, schoolteachers and so on, but the result of a more personal trail of ruminations and digestions.
Diego Maradona died this week in 2020. Jules Caesar was assassinated on March 14, 44BC. Just over 2000 years separates this pair of events in subjective time, yet my suspicion that these deaths, and every other death, ever, occur at precisely the same moment in what I might refer to as objective time.
This is one reason why I do not believe in ghosts, at least not in the traditional sense, though I can see why the fundamentally concurrent nature of objective time, at least from a perspective usually unavailable to all of mutable existence, might lead to certain phenomena described by enthusiasts of the paranormal.
This intuition is also why I do not believe that my parents or any other departed friend, relative or pet, is waiting for me in “another place”. Indeed while I believe them to be dead to me subjectively, it would be just as reasonable to say that they are as alive in their particular time and place in the cosmos, just I currently am in mine.
One day I too will die and my subjective consciousness will collapse into that singularity of objectivity.*
And if you want to know what happens after that, you might well be missing the point.
For if you examine this matter with a degree of intellectual honesty, it's very hard to see the point of anything resembling subjective time in the next world.
*You could challenge that this is just a polite way of referring to nothingness, but like one of the great progenitors of all western metaphysical thinking, Parmenides of Elea, I do not believe in nothingness.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Coffee and Tamales
The velatorio for Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires yesterday afternoon seemed to be going more or less as expected, perhaps a little less solemn than your average Guatemalan equivalent, when a perimeter breach at the Casa Rosada set off a full desmadre a lo Argentino around the Plaza de Mayo.
Cue water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas (though many people did seem to be crying already).
It's a bit of a shame that two moments in the Estadio Azteca have become so dominantly emblematic of the talent and spirit of Diego Maradona, one beautiful, the other less so.
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Time to be Implacable
One of the themes covered amply in the first fifth of The Plague by Camus is whether politicians and their associated medical advisors have a duty to act ‘implacably’ even before they have the fullest understanding of the extent of the dangers a particular epidemic could present.
It would seem there is a potential for disconnect between reality and the worst case scenario that has to be managed politically. Trump, for example, ultimately 'managed' the summer’s emerging disconnect by claiming credit for lives saved, in effect the arithmetical result of subtracting actual excess mortality from the dire predictions of early models.
More broadly the Right tends to use the disconnect to somewhat stealthily scorn the models themselves and the scientists behind them, blaming them for an overreaction that they attempt to quantify both economically and also in terms of a more hidden mortality.
Yet it is clear that politicians that responded according to Dr Rieux’s calculations in the novel, have had superior outcomes over the course of 2020.
Wait and see and then speak and act in the appropriate measure, might sound reasonable, but it is a recipe for an unholy mess. Right now an American is dying every 40 seconds. Before the festive season i.e. after Thanksgiving, it may soon be like 9-11 on daily repeat.
That same debate in front of Oran’s Prefect in The Plague, features another fairly important notion. Opinions ought to be valued according to how much they make us reflect, not by how much they concord with our preexisting ones.
It may be especially important to remember this on a day staff members at Random House had a collective hissy fit about their employer's plans to publish the latest tome from Jordan Peterson, darling of anti-progressives in the English-speaking world.
If this were just a story about the employees of a publisher objecting to the contents of a book, it would be disturbing enough (at what stage did we teach the next generation that it is OK to try to suppress all opinion that one disagrees with?), but no, they have no idea what the book actually says, it is just that its author is an 'icon of white supremacy'.
There may come a day when the Left rather deeply regrets taking this principled stance on stuff it doesn't like, as fanatical censorship is notoriously versatile.
There is real intellectual jeopardy here. There is a danger that anglophonic reflection will become largely unworthy of the name as it becomes barricaded into two distinct and righteous redoubts with a barren no man's land in between.
Friday, November 20, 2020
The Silence by Don DeLillo
DeLillo's latest, a novella of just over one hundred pages, is long enough to be both imperfectly stimulating and imperfectly annoying.
It's set amidst a very sudden and simultaneous end to human technology, loosely defined, emblemised by a blank screen on Superbowl night, 2022.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne
An enjoyably unsettling karmic-noir novel set in a decadent (and decaying) luxury apartment complex during times of political upheaval in Bangkok.
The most developed character in the story is the city itself.
Rather like a Roland Emmerich blockbuster catastrophe movie with the volume turned down to slightly more bearable levels.
Director Ric Roman Waugh has previously pulled off a similar trick with Gerard Butler’s ...Has Fallen franchise.
Saturday, November 07, 2020
They might just have to build him another White House to govern from though.
Thursday, November 05, 2020
Trump, it turns out, was on to something when he suggested that from November 3 onwards nobody in the US was going to hear much more about covid.
One thing we have learned this week, it is possible to report over 100,000 new cases along with over 1100 fatalities daily, and for hardly anybody to be all that bovved.
The Superfluous O
I guess it's never really occurred to me quite like this before, but on US election night this year I realised other ways in which our British system of parliamentary elections is generally preferable to the American electoral college.
The broadcasting of partial results is really not a good idea, this year in particular.
Whatever flaws the US might have as a mature modern democracy are clearly being exacerbated right by a system whereby an incumbent would-be autocrat can exploit the fact that upwards of a third of the electorate might not really understand the process of vote counting.
Then there's the fact that whether Biden wins the college by one vote or a hundred, he ends up with pretty much the same set of super powers.
Compare this to our former PM Theresa May, who was still PM, but a very different sort of PM, already a bit more former, after the general election she called which duly led to a loss of the Tory majority she'd inherited.
It may well be possible to pry Trump's arthritic fingers off the White House and replace them with Biden's, but what America and the world is not going to get right now as part of the process is a clear rejection of everything that has happened over the past four years.
And maybe it will find it needed that even more than it needed a narrow Democrat win in 2020.
There's one other thing. This lame duck business is also non-optimal. In the UK if the opposition wins a majority No10 has a new resident almost immediately.
Even a beaten Trump gets to be the world's most powerful man until January. Can you imagine the trouble he's going to cause, not least as he will still be in overall charge of the federal covid response.
It would be like the Russians showing up in Berlin in 1945 and telling Hitler he could still run Germany from his bunker for another month or so.
And can anyone really imagine the Donald is going to give a dignified concession speech any time before hell freezes over?
This in turn would be like the Pope appearing at the Vatican balcony and announcing that, on balance, he's no longer quite so sure about this whole God business after all.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Walls have ears?
My neighbour is finally building his own wall after eight years of the sort of resistance to the very notion that one could only describe as dogged.
'Are you going to build the wall Johnny? Are you going to build the fucking wall? Over my dead body.' *
Monday, October 26, 2020
I'm unfamiliar with both antecedents, the original du Maurier novel and Hitchcock's first American feature, which he is said to have despised, yet is widely considered a classic nowadays.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Health by stealth
By now over half of the UK population is covered by Tier 2 or 3 restrictions, so the local approach might actually be called a national lockdown by stealth.
There’s already talk of finding a new name for the so-called ‘circuit breaker’ so that it could be implemented with minimal government embarrassment.