Thursday, July 30, 2015

salt of the earth...

I went to the Watershed yesterday to see a film. It was being shown in Cinema 2 – the tiny cinema with seats for just 45 people. ALL 45 seats were taken.
This was very unusual, especially for an afternoon performance (there have been occasions when there’s just been me and two others in attendance!).              
The film was “Salt of the Earth”, directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders. It was documentary featuring the work of Brazilian photographer Sabastiao Salgado (Juliano’s father) compiled over the past 40 years.
It was simply stunning.
The audience sat spellbound for 110 minutes in absolute silence.
The film consisted of well over 1,000 black+white photographs, with simple, sparse commentary – which frequently featured head-shots of Sabastiao talking about his work and his experiences.
The images were horrific (man’s inhumanity towards man is an under-statement), haunting and tragic… but, at the same time, very beautiful and poignant. They included shots from various of his photographic projects/assignments, including: the Serra Pelado mountain goldmine in Brazil, taken in the mid-1980s; through “Sahel” looking at the famine in Ethiopia, again in the 1980s; the plight of refugees from Rwanda and Yugoslavia during their respective troubles in the 1990s. Somehow, he was allowed into the lives of utterly miserable and desperate human beings. His photographs provided a message to the world.
The film also includes footage of Sabastiao’s aged father (Juliano’s grandfather) on his drought-stricken farm in Brazil – which had once been a thriving forest (before it was felled to help pay for the education and the survival(?) of his family). Having "seen into the heart of darkness" (as Wenders puts it in his occasionally narration) for so long, a burned-out Selgado returned to Brazil and, thanks to his wife’s initiative and drive, embarked on a plan of replanting and reviving the land that he dubbed "Instituto Terra." Not only did this effort help begin to bring the farm back to life, it would spread, first to other parts of Brazil and then worldwide.
After the stream of harrowing black+white images of people’s suffering at the hands of others, greed and the destruction of our planet, it’s completely fitting that the film should end on a hugely-uplifting, positive note.
Without a doubt, this is the best film I’ve seen this year.
Photo: Sabastiao Salgado standing in front of just a few of his photographs.
PS: If you’re not familiar with Salgado’s work, I suggest you just click “Salgado” on google images… you’ll be stunned (and also sadly appalled).  
PPS: You can catch the film at the Watershed, Bristol until Wednesday 5 August.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

still 7 weeks to go before the labour party gets a new leader…

At the end of a week that saw much Labour Party embarrassment over the welfare vote, it’s been fascinating reading some of the newspaper comment regarding the Labour leadership contest (which is still 7 weeks away!).
Some 55,000 new people have signed up to Labour since its crushing election defeat in May. A third of them are under 30 and their most common age is 18. They seem to be flocking to Jeremy Corbyn.

These are just a few things I’ve picked up during the course of the past couple of days regarding Jeremy Corbyn and the contest:
The 'left-wing' policies of Jeremy Corbyn the public actually agrees with (The Independent: 25 July 2015):
1.     The public overwhelmingly backs renationalising the railways 
2.     There's a public appetite for a 75% top rate of tax on incomes over £1m
3.     Two thirds of Brits want to see an international convention on banning nuclear weapons
4.     Six out of ten people want to see rents controls on landlords
5.     The public support a mandatory living wage
6.     Jeremy Corbyn wants to cut tuition fees and so does the public
7.     The public were on the same side as Jeremy Corbyn in Iraq War debate 
8.     The public were also in sync with Corbyn when it came to bombing Syria
Andrew Grice, The Independent (24 July): “If Labour members want to be part of a pressure group, railing impotently against the nasty Tories for the next 20 years, they should vote for Mr Corbyn.  If they want to change the country, they should back someone else.”
Robin Lustig, Huffington Post (24 July 2015): Here's what I think Labour party members want: a party that speaks up for those who have least and need most; that develops policies to distribute the nation's wealth more fairly; and that believes everyone deserves an equal chance to make the most of what life offers... And here's the central dilemma: for reasons that many party activists struggle to comprehend, not enough voters seem to agree with them (a) that these are laudable objectives, or (b) that voting for the Labour party is the best way to achieve them... There's an uncomfortable, but unavoidable, truth in all democracies: however high-minded your goals, you won't get a chance even to try to reach them unless you win an election. So all those people you want to help will remain unhelped - until and unless you can persuade enough people to vote for you…
After two successive election failures, Labour is now in deep mourning. That's why it's going through the five classic stages of grief: denial… anger… bargaining… depression… and finally comes acceptance. And that's when it'll be time to elect a new leader. Unfortunately, the timetable says different, so the new leader will be elected less than mid-way through the grieving process. It's like asking someone who's just been bereaved to choose a new partner within a week of the funeral…”
Charlotte Church’s Blog (24 July): The inverse of Nigel Farage, he (Corbyn) appears to be a cool-headed, honest, considerate man, one of the few modern politicians who doesn't seem to have been trained in neuro-linguistic programming, unconflicted in his political views, and abstemious in his daily life. He is one of the only politicians of note that seems to truly recognise the dire inequality that exists in this country today and actually have a problem with it. There is something inherently virtuous about him, and that is a quality that can rally the support of a lot of people, and most importantly, a lot of young people… What I can say is that for the first time in my adult life there is a politician from a mainstream party who shares my views and those of most people I know, and also has a chance of actually doing something to create a shift in the paradigm, from corporate puppetry to conscientious societal representation… The hysteria that has rendered certain members of the Labour party catatonic, and has the right wing press rubbing its hands together in glee, is ultimately based on nonsense. The fact is that this election is not for the position of king of kings but for the leader of a party of equals. No matter how far left Jeremy Corbyn is, if he is voted leader he will have to represent a party that is jam packed with shy Tories and Blairites. He would be dragged towards the centre ground anyway. But he would have galvanised the support of many disparate factions of society, who didn't vote in the general election, or who voted Ukip, or maybe even some of those who voted Tory”.
Editorial, Guardian (25 July): Politics moves in cycles and some are more vicious than others. A deadly one is the spiral into irrelevance after defeat. The losing side is more interesting to its core voters than to the mainstream of the electorate, which moves on…
All candidates must turn their attention to more forward-looking alternatives. The challenge for Mr Corbyn’s rivals is to match his crusading passion while leading the debate back to a discussion of the country Labour would aspire to lead in 2020. In that sense the defenders and critics of New Labour are both right. The party needs a transition equal in scale to its 1990s journey from opposition but very different in content. If it continues down the current path of retrospection and introspection, Labour will face not just defeat but obsolescence…”
Jonathan Freedland, Guardian (25 July): “What’s needed instead, one enthusiast for Corbyn told me, is “someone who can articulate what you feel”. The key is “to have someone who represents what you believe in. Why does it matter whether other people believe it or not?... All this has consequences for those who would like to halt Corbyn’s march to the leadership. It means they have to find a different way to talk to those drawn to the rebel backbencher. Sounding like the grownups lecturing the kids won’t do it. Hurling insults won’t help either. Nor will talk of electability, if what’s at play here is a matter of identity. They’d be talking at cross purposes. Instead, Labour’s pragmatists will somehow have to match the excitement that’s been unleashed. The prospect of Labour’s first female leader could be a starting point. Having the chance to oust the Tories before today’s 20-year-olds turn 40 might be another. But ultimately those unwilling to face a lifetime of opposition will have to persuade their fellow party members that an identity built on the purity of impotence is not much of an identity at all”.
James Walsh, Guardian (24 July):  Why are Labour voters turning towards Jeremy Corbyn? Quotes from some of the 2,500 replies sent to the Guardian on the leadership contest… these are some of the views from people who plan to vote for Corbyn:
‘If it makes Labour less likely to win then so be it’
‘He’s no messiah. But he’s perhaps the start of a debate we need’
‘I do not believe that Miliband dragged the party as far left as many would have us believe’
‘Labour has just decisively lost an election trying to copy the Conservatives’
‘Labour have become like desperate sales people who will say anything’”.

Clearly, the Tories are really enjoying the leadership contest. No doubt, they would love Corbyn to win… they’ll be able to re-use all their “Red Ed” jibes and a few more besides (although I suspect that Corbyn, if elected leader, would surprise them with the tenacity of his arguments) and, on current form, they will have absolutely no worries regarding the other candidates – who haven’t exactly shone thus far. I think this week’s poll suggesting that Corbyn is now the clear favourite to be elected leader (but, after the general election, who could possibly believe the polls?) will be a real wake-up call for Kendall, Cooper and Burnham. Thus far, the other candidates seem to have had very lack lustre (and rather mixed) messages for the Labour Party electorate… they seem hell bent on being all things to all people - trying not to offend potential supporters, but not actually appearing to have any clear vision (or passion or understanding) for either the party or the country.
They’ve got seven weeks to turn things around… and I’m not at all certain that they will.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

july 2015 books

More book stuff:
Arabian Sands (Wilfred Thesiger): I first read this over 20 years ago and it remains one of my favourite books of “all time” (I simply love reading about deserts – that is, before many of them were taken over by the petroleum industry!). The book was first published in 1959 and describes Thesiger’s journeys made in and around the Empty Quarter of Arabia from 1945 to 1950. It’s a brilliant, vivid account of his remarkable life among the Arabs – travelling huge distances across vast and waterless desert land, riding camels or accompanying them on foot… without reliance on cars/airplanes and with no wireless contact with the outside world. As Thesiger himself acknowledged, the book is a “memorial to a vanished past… and a tribute to a once magnificent people”. A stunning book.
Unseen Things Above (Catherine Fox): I find it a little baffling to acknowledge that I’ve become a fan of fictional tales about the Anglican Church (entirely thanks to Moira)! Actually, more accurately, I’ve become a huge fan of author Catherine Fox. This is the second book of hers that I’ve read and, like the previous one, I really enjoyed it. Fox is a very gifted, clever writer with a wonderful turn of phrase (utterly hilarious at times) and an ability to convey poignant insights about the Church and some of its people. I still struggle with trying to come to terms with the Anglican Church and all its idiosyncrasies… but Fox has become a great help in my quest.       
Swan (Mary Oliver): This book of Oliver’s poetry was published in 2010 and I was drawn to her writing by our great friend Gail Adams who frequently makes reference to Oliver in the course of her own work. Although I’m very new to Oliver’s work, I’ve been hugely impressed by her ability to say profound things simply. I also love her poignant observations of the natural world and her empathy for solitude - she makes me think and reflect. I’ll certainly be seeking out more of her poetry over the coming months/years.
Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf): Published in 1925, this novel interweaves two seemingly unconnected storylines that take place during a single day in June 1923. One involves Clarissa Dalloway, the fifty-something wife of an MP, who is reflecting on her past (as she prepares to host an evening party) - including her decision to marry her husband rather than a more fiery suitor – who has returned to London after 5 years in India. The other relates to Septimus Smith, a shell-shocked war veteran, struggling with the after-effects of the war, hearing voices and feeling that life has little meaning. The introduction to my edition of the book indicates Woolf’s intention to use the novel “to criticise the social system and to show it at work, at its most intense”. In a somewhat limited way, I think she succeeds - it’s a beautifully-observed account – although within a very limited sphere (working class lives hardly feature at all). I enjoyed the book – except that it was written in one single block and contained no chapters (which I found a little irritating at times). This probably says far more about my own reading preferences!
The Irresistible Inheritance Of Wilberforce (Paul Torday): I read Torday’s first novel “Salmon Fishing In The Yemen” in 2007 and had thoroughly enjoyed it. This is very different (the first one was a comedy, but this is more of a tragedy). The book’s central character, Wilberforce, is a wine nerd. In his 30s, he sells up his successful computer software company in order to concentrate on his main passion in life (wine). He “inherits” a huge cellar of wine – consisting of 100,000 bottles(!) - from a friend (actually, he buys it from his dying friend). The story is told “back-to-front” – starting in 2006 and ending in 2002 – and begins with Wilberforce as a befuddled drunk who’s lost grip with reality. At the start of the book, he’s consuming five or six bottles of classic wine every day (my two daily glasses seem quite modest in comparison!) and, by the end, Wilberforce is a hopeful young man, embarking on a new and thrilling phase of his life. It’s a somewhat gloomy book about a lonely alcoholic man’s search for identity… but very readable.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

around the world in 80 days

Moira+I went along to the Tobacco factory Theatre last night to see Alex Byrne’s production of Around The World In 80 Days. To be honest, whilst I’m always up for going to the theatre, this wasn’t a production that particularly appealed.
But I was wrong.
It proved to be a really enjoyable evening. The six multi-talented actors-cum-musicians were all excellent and the cleverly devised set of limited parts was ingeniously adapted to suit the fast-moving storyline.
Silly, funny and thoroughly entertaining (for all age groups), last night’s show was rightly acclaimed by its very enthusiastic, very nearly full-house audience.