Monday, February 23, 2009

View from The Treetops (23 Feb '09)

Blog No.10
by Alexei Sayle

Because currently I’m working on a book about my memories of when I was young in Liverpool I have inevitably been thinking a lot about my childhood. One weird thing that has struck me was my parents attitudes to toy guns. Although they were Communists, in some ways my mother had some quite hippyish opinions, even though this was before the time of hippies. At first she wouldn’t allow me any toy guns at all, because supposedly having a plastic cap gun might turn me into a violent psychopath. This was despite her as a Marxist believing in the violent armed overthrow of capitalism and also that the main determinants in a child’s development were econonomic and social rather than what sort of toy they had.

Anyway it didn’t work, I started making my own toy guns out of bread, what I would do was I would chew an L-shape into a slice of Hovis, then I could run around the streets shooting other kids with my wholemeal pistol. As long as it didn’t rain I was fine.

After a while they gave in but in an echo of the arms limitation talks the US and the USSR were engaged in at the time I agreed that I would only have toy revolvers and rifles. This left me forever one step behind in the arms race in our street, I never obtained automatic weapons and there was something called a “Johnny 7” which was a combined raygun, machine gun and rocket launcher with which I could never compete. It also meant that I have been fascinated with real guns ever since.

Before it was made illegal I used to shoot handguns at a range in south London and I owned a 12 gauge shotgun for clay pigeon shooting when I had a house in the country. When I’ve worked on movies I’ve used all kinds of weapons, there was a piece of nonsense on the other night on TV called “Deadly Currents” that I made years ago. George C Scott and Bill (CSI) Petersen were in it but I can’t remember anything about them, I only recall that I got to use a 9mm Ingram Mac 10 machine pistol. That’s why I was so looking forward to “In the Line of Fire” on ITV1. It was all about the Met’s CO19 squad of armed officers. Whenever I see an armed policeman at an airport or guarding a politician’s house I want to chat to them about their weapon. To say “I see you’ve got the new 5.56 mm Heckler & Koch G36 there, how do you feel about using what is basically a military round in a policing situation?” But I’m worried they might shoot me.

Anyway ”In the Line of Fire” turned out to be mostly white people kicking the crap out of black people which I’m not sure is the type of publicity the Met were after. I also noticed the narration was done by the Scottish actor Ken Stott in order to give it gravitas and I think because he has played so many policemen during his career.

There used to be a nest of swallows at my house in Spain and I was able to name each of them after a policeman Ken Stott had played in a TV drama, “Hello Red from “Messiah,” I would say to them as they swooped around my car as I approached the house “...hello Rebus, hello that copper from “The Vice” Hello DI McCall from the film Shallow Grave.”

Incidentally the Sunday Times are printing a short story of mine called “A Friendship” on March 8th.


Hollywood's New Censors
by John Pilger

When I returned from the war in Vietnam, I wrote a film script as an antidote to the myth that the war had been an ill-fated noble cause. The producer David Puttnam took the draft to Hollywood and offered it to the major studios, whose responses were favourable - well, almost. Each issued a report card in which the final category, "politics", included comments such as: "This is real, but are the American people ready for it? Maybe they'll never be."

By the late 1970s, Hollywood judged Americans ready for a different kind of Vietnam movie. The first was The Deer Hunter which, according to Time, "articulates the new patriotism". The film celebrated immigrant America, with Robert de Niro as a working class hero ("liberal by instinct") and the Vietnamese as sub-human Oriental barbarians and idiots, or "gooks". The dramatic peak was reached during recurring orgiastic scenes in which GIs were forced to play Russian roulette by their Vietnamese captors. This was made up by the director Michael Cimino, who also made up a story that he had served in Vietnam. "I have this insane feeling that I was there," he said. "Somehow... the line between reality and fiction has become blurred."

The Deer Hunter was regarded virtually as documentary by ecstatic critics. "The film that could purge a nation's guilt!" said the Daily Mail. President Jimmy Carter was reportedly moved by its "genuine American message". Catharsis was at hand. The Vietnam movies became a revisionist popular history of the great crime in Indo-China. That more than four million people had died terribly and unnecessarily and their homeland poisoned to a wasteland was not the concern of these films. Rather, Vietnam was an "American tragedy", in which the invader was to be pitied in a blend of false bravado-and-angst: sometimes crude (the Rambo films) and sometimes subtle (Oliver Stone's Platoon). What mattered was the strength of the purgative.

None of this, of course, was new; it was how Hollywood created the myth of the Wild West, which was harmless enough unless you happened to be a native-American; and how the Second World War has been relentlessly glorified, which may be harmless enough unless you happen to be one of countless innocent human beings, from Serbia to Iraq, whose deaths or dispossession are justified by moralising references to 1939-45. Hollywood's gooks, its Untermenschen, are essential to this crusade - the dispatched Somalis in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down and the sinister Arabs in movies like Rendition, in which the torturing CIA is absolved by Jake Gyllenhal's good egg. As Robbie Graham and Mark Alford pointed out in their New Statesman enquiry into corporate control of the cinema (2 February), in 167 minutes of Steven Spielberg's Munich, the Palestinian cause is restricted to just two and a half minutes. "Far from being an 'even-handed cry for peace', as one critic claimed," they wrote, "Munich is more easily interpreted as a corporate-backed endorsement of Israeli policy."

With honourable exceptions, film critics rarely question this and identify the true power behind the screen. Obsessed with celebrity actors and vacuous narratives, they are the cinema's lobby correspondents, its dutiful press corps. Emitting safe snipes and sneers, they promote a deeply political system that dominates most of what we pay to see, knowing not what we are denied. Brian de Palma's 2007 film Redacted shows an Iraq the media does not report. He depicts the homicides and gang-rapes that are never prosecuted and are the essence of any colonial conquest. In the New York Village Voice, the critic Anthony Kaufman, in abusing the "divisive" De Palma for his "perverse tales of voyeurism and violence", did his best to taint the film as a kind of heresy and to bury it.

In this way, the "war on terror" - the conquest and subversion of resource rich regions of the world, whose ramifications and oppressions touch all our lives - is almost excluded from the popular cinema. Michael Moore's outstanding Fahrenheit 911 was a freak; the notoriety of its distribution ban by the Walt Disney Company helped to force its way into cinemas. My own 2007 film The War on Democracy, which inverted the "war on terror" in Latin America, was distributed in Britain, Australia and other countries but not in the United States. "You will need to make structural and political changes," said a major New York distributor. "Maybe get a star like Sean Penn to host it - he likes liberal causes - and tame those anti-Bush sequences."

During the cold war, Hollywood's state propaganda was unabashed. The classic 1957 dance movie, Silk Stockings, was an anti-Soviet diatribe interrupted by the fabulous footwork of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. These days, there are two types of censorship. The first is censorship by introspective dross. Betraying its long tradition of producing gems, escapist Hollywood is consumed by the corporate formula: just make 'em long and asinine and hope the hype will pay off. Ricky Gervais is his clever comic self in Ghost Town, while around him stale, formulaic characters sentimentalise the humour to death.

These are extraordinary times. Vicious colonial wars and political, economic and environmental corruption cry out for a place on the big screen. Yet, try to name one recent film that has dealt with these, honestly and powerfully, let alone satirically.. Censorship by omission is virulent. We need another Wall Street, another Last Hurrah, another Dr. Strangelove. The partisans who tunnel out of their prison in Gaza, bringing in food, clothes, medicines and weapons with which to defend themselves, are no less heroic than the celluloid-honoured POWs and partisans of the 1940s. They and the rest of us deserve the respect of the greatest popular medium.


Röyksopp ~ What Else is There?


Candie Bracci said...


It isn't new that Hollywood is censuring and we all know that they have their own way to write history.

I was having a gun myself and it wasn't made of bread and I didn't turn into a dangerous psychopath but I do hate guns and any form of violence!My dad is communist too.

To finish,I looooovvvveeee this song!What say?

Pisces Iscariot said...

Candie: I was cured of any boyhood fascination for guns by having to serve two year of compulsory national service with the South African Defence Force.
Living in the presence of a bunch of 17 year old boys all carrying weapons capable of shooting through walls gave me a profound respect for the stupidity of our species.

Yodood said...

The perversions of the state's immunity from charges of murder in the cause of preemptive defense backed by calculated lies and the media's blanket sanitizing the horror in the cause of delicate sensibilities backed by calculated polls have manipulated compliant masses into noticing change only when their TV goes out. Many more people went to the trouble to get their HDTV converter than voted, even in this past record election.

James Higham said...

Alexei Sayle - a real talent. Like him.

jams o donnell said...

I was never keen on Alexei Sayle as a comic but he does seem to be more interesting as a writer. I liked the prog (or was it progs) he did about Liverpool last year.

As for Hollywood it galls me that the good films are swamped by dross

Pisces Iscariot said...

Dood: that's gotta be the longest (coherent) sentence I've ever read :)
James: the man has the ability of running from serious into ridiculous in the space of a thought - love it.
Jams: I also enjoyed that series - especially enjoyed the explantion as to why The Sun does not sell in Liverpool