Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year . . .

 . . . from me up here, and him down there!

Does the mind rule the body,
or the bird rule the brain?
I don’t care to know tonight.

Rubbernecking the WikiLeaks ethics pile-up

Two articles from yesterday on leaking police investigations into sexual assaults:

Harry’s Place on re-examining the Wikileaks release of unedited police files from the investigation that led to Belgian serial rapist Marc Dutroux being convicted in 2004. The files included “names, telephone numbers, addresses and bank details of witnesses and people involved in the investigations”.

According to Cedric Visart de Bocarme, prosecutor general of Liege, “there is some true, some false, some very disparate information here, involving some people who have done nothing wrong, who have simply been mentioned in an investigation and are thus exposed to public contempt [...] there is some wild stuff in these documents. Some witnesses are prejudiced and would say anything to try to blacken their neighbour, to make themselves seem white than white.”

Journalist Nick Davies of The Guardian responds to criticism of the newspaper’s reporting on leaked information from the Swedish police investigation into sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange.

See also: Christopher R. Albon at The Atlantic On how WikiLeaks set back democracy in Zimbabwe, and from CNN, how the Cuban government is publishig cables from WikiLeaks that “detail meetings between independent Cuban bloggers with officials from the United States Interests Section, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba”.

Earlier in The Guardian, “Assange defended one of WikiLeaks’ collaborators, Israel Shamir, following claims Shamir passed sensitive cables to Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko,” via HP, and more on Shamir’s exhortation to “kill a Jew” from Harry’s Place.

Previous posts here and here.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Again, Tulips Shall Grow

The above drawing is by Iranian cartoonist Hadi Heidari, who was released on Sunday along with political activists Mohammad Shafii and Alireza Taheri, after a week in prison. This was not the cartoonist’s first experience of prison. A fourth activist detained at the same time, Fatemeh Arabsorkhi, has still not been released.

Again, Tulips Shall Grow.

More from United4Iran on an execution postponed, and from EA on two executions carried out.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Herzog

Via Milo George, and a day late, Werner Herzog reads ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.

See also: Werner Herzog reads Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, and Madeline.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Mickey’s Orphans

A merry Christmas to all our readers! For more free Christmas cartoons, Christmas films, Christmas books, and Christmas radio by the sockful, drop over to Kevin Gendreau’s place.

Added: more Christmas cultural imperialism at Lines and Colors. Yay!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

I blame Bonnie and Clyde

Another week of anti-establishment and anti-imperialist apologists for political repression, political violence, and alleged sexual violence, and whatever else it takes to stick it to the man . . .

On Friday The Guardian published sexual assault allegations against Julan Assange, central to which were assertions that he deliberately and repeatedly had unprotected sex with women contrary to their wishes. Bizarrely self-described feminist Naomi Wolf read this and saw only consent, as she says in this TV debate with Jaclyn Friedman. Wolf had earlier ridiculed the two women alleging assault.

Then there’s Michael Moore who described the allegations as “lie and smear” when interviewed by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Countdown. And Mr Olbermann has turned out to be quite a spectacle himself, retweeting a link from Assange supporter Bianca Jagger to a piece written by Holocaust denier Israel Shamir naming both women in the case and alleging a link between one of the women and the CIA. Finding himself criticised as a result, Olbermann reacted in a rather extreme manner and has since kept on digging.

What else? Michael Moore found he didn’t like it much when his own name turned up in a WikiLeaked cable on Cuba, and protested that The Guardian had the story wrong. Terry Glavin tells just how wrong the story was, and putting it right gives no credit to Moore.

Oh, and conspiracy theorist Israel Shamir turned out to be not just an Assange supporter but WikiLeaks’ man in Russia. Bizarrely for a representative of an organisation supposedly devoted to fighting corrupt government, he popped up in Belarus making excuses for the regime’s brutal crackdown on opposition activists.

Modernityblog, a WikiLeaks supporter, finds himself stunned that somebody as internet savvy as Assange hadn’t thought to Google Mr Shamir before getting involved with him. Perhaps that’s because Assange has been too busy Googling himself.

Added: apologies, how could I have left out John Pilger?

Nightingale in colour

Earlier here.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Wild Oysters

Here’s Wild Oysters by Charley Bowers. Originally there was a better YouTube copy embedded at the top of the post, but it ain’t there no more. If anyone finds a sharper version online, give a holler!

See also Believe it or Don’t at Europa Film Treasures for your poultry portion du jour, and more besides.

Added, thanks to Paul, Pete Roleum and His Cousins from 1939, animation by Mr Bowers, direction by Joseph Losey. This was a promotional film about the oil industry made for the New York World’s Fair. It’s a little hard to understand in places because when it was originally shown, a live actor in the theatre would engage the animated figure in conversation, and the live part of the dialogue is now missing.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Fake ‘film’ found in London cinema

A guest post from the vaults of the Airforce Amazons’ Surveillance Section, where special agent Ray Butler has been watching the tapes.

Recorded in 2006.

Critics and moviegoers are reeling from the news that a forgery has been circulating on the arthouse film circuit.

Junebug, a US independent (or ‘indie’) film, which has received ecstatic reviews from members of the press both here and abroad, was yesterday spectacularly revealed by a member of the public to be a fake.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says John Dog, the unemployed nightclub singer who made the discovery. “I saw this poster for what I thought was a film, outside a cinema and everything, and, y’know, I went in. But even through the opening credits, something seemed fishy.”

“It just seemed . . . empty, y’know? Like the people who made it had seen a couple of French movies in film school and wanted to make something that looked like an art film, without first knowing what it should actually be about. It was affectation after affectation: the sans serif credits that filled the screen, appearing and disappearing abrubtly; the ‘naturalistic’ dialogue, which only indicated the writer’s laziness and inability to construct real scenes; the static shots of empty rooms that purported to say ‘look at how they live,’ but actually said ‘can we push this f*cker to 90 minutes?’ It was a clearly a dud, a fugazi, a total and utter fakey-fake-fake - but most of the people in the auditorium seemed to be enjoying it. It was a nightmare - I thought I was going crazy!”

While Trading Standards officers have been alerted to what may well be a serious offence, both the distributors and exhibitors of Junebug insist it is a genuine film. We contacted Mr. James Crock, junior distribution administration assistant of the FilmArt Cinemas (formerly GDX Corp) chain. When confronted with the accusation that his cinemas were carrying a forgery, he said; “What?!! Who is this?!! Forgery?!! I don’t have time for this sh*t. Is this Ian? Did Ian put you up to this?” Several attempts were made to contact the newspaper critics who had so praised the film, but sadly, the pubs had already opened.

Crock o’ sh*t
According to Mr. Dog, it was the forgery’s attitude to its own characters, and its target audience, that was the real giveaway. Junebug pretends to portray a sophisticated married Chicago couple as they journey South to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the husband is from, ostensibly to meet with an ‘outsider artist’. They take the opportunity to stay with the husband’s family, and it is from the familiar conflict, town v country, hepcats v rednecks that the ‘film’ attempts to extract drama.

“Yeah,” Mr Dog continued, in a more agitated fashion, “I couldn't believe how patronising it was. While the detached style and crappy, faux-realistic dialogue might lead you to believe it was going to at least attempt to be even-handed in its treatment of the characters, it wasn’t at all. The Southern characters are either gifted savants, in the case of the artist and the pregnant chick, or flat out, one-dimensional cartoon hicks, in the case of Ryan from The OC. It was like 2,000 Maniacs, but at least that piece of sh*t was honest.

“The arty city-dwellers, on the other hand, are well-rounded, beautiful, people who can enjoy both their own, unquestioned, metropolitan lives and the ‘authentic’, rustic ways of the Clampetts, or whoever. They were like the beatific, smiling aliens at the end of Close Encounters, descending to grace and illuminate the lives of the lower species.”

Worst film ever? Why not
“I mean, what a backpatting exercise in wholesale smuggery for both the filmmakers and your average arthouse movie crowd - talk about preaching to the converted! Compare this to Noah Baumbach’s relatively masterful The Squid and The Whale, which is a pointed, funny and beautiful squirm-a-thon for anyone who’s ever had an artistic pretension in their life. And this terrific film was well-received by many of the same people who feted Junebug - what’s going on? Don’t critics know when they’re being flattered by a film? Don’t they know a fake when they see one?”

Mr Dog collapsed at this point during the interview, and was rushed to hospital, where he remains in a coma. Junebug is still on limited release.

Pictured, a London cinema, from London's West End Cinemas by Allen Eyles and Keith Skone.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Police Radio

Police corruption in New York, in Right to Remain Silent, an episode of This American Life from September. The show also includes another tale similar to the Twitter joke trial story.

Anti-police insurgency in Russia’s far east, The Primorsky Partisans, from BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents and broadcast in November. Also as an MP3.

Not radio: Axe Cop comics, via Mr Bowbrick.

Added: Buster Keaton in Cops, at

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Where the action is . . .

 . . . well it’s not here.

For words on fees, cuts, and protests, I’ve been reading Flesh is Grass, Stumbling and Mumbling, Bad Conscience, and Marko Attila Hoare.

ADDED MONDAY: Stumbling and Mumbling on the pathetic Pupil Premium.

On Wikileaks and Assange I’ve been reading Carl Packman, Harpymarx, Laurie Penny, and also regrettably Naomi Wolf.

Enough words, Weimar Art posts an eclectic collection of portraits of business leaders, including some surprising choices.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tulips Shall Grow

A beautiful print of George Pal’s anti-Nazi Puppetoon Tulips Shall Grow is one of the films now available to view at Europa Film Treasures. They also have La Grande Revue Philips 1938, a French print of The Great Philips Review, one of a series of advertising films Pal produced for the company during his time in Holland in the 1930s.

More on George Pal here. And also.

Daytime listening

Jeb Sharp of PRI’s The World talks to political scientist Severine Autesserre about reasons for failure in peacemaking efforts in The Democratic Republic of Congo: The Trouble with the Congo. Her main argument is that national and international peacemaking efforts miss the importance of local causes of conflict. Part of the How We Got Here podcast series.

A two part documentary by Wendy Robbins on BBC World Service: The Holocaust Deniers, via Greens Engage. Also as MP3s, here and here.

Available for seven days only, Liu Xiaobo: ‘I Have No Enemies’ from BBC Radio 4.

You are old, Father William

More at Belog.

Carroll and Tenniel’s You Are Old, Father William on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

After they got to him: Bubba Ho-Tep

A guest post from the vaults of the Airforce Amazons’ Surveillance Section, where special agent Ray Butler has been watching the tapes.

Recorded in 2006.

Elvis Presley’s first movie was supposed to be called The Reno Brothers. The screen tests for this workaday, western drama show the young singer doing his best to fulfil a long-held ambition: to be a ‘real’ actor, like James Dean or Tony Curtis (It was Curtis he was emulating when he dyed his hair from fair to the trademark jet-black). In a 1956 TV interview, Presley is unambivalent in his intention to keep the movies and his singing career entirely separate. After the movie was shot, Col. Tom Parker and the studio convinced him to do a few musical numbers, and the picture was retitled Love Me Tender. And thus, that least distinguished of genres, The Elvis Movie, was born.

“Shitty pictures, man - every single one,” says The King in Don Coscarelli’s little indie miracle, Bubba Ho-Tep. Based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale, the movie finds Elvis (Bruce Campbell) alive, sort of, in an old folks home in present day Texas. Pretty old and largely bed-ridden, he spends his days having ghastly dreams about the growth on his pecker, watching fellow inmates/patients get wheeled out under a sheet, or poring over his many, unique regrets. His nurse, of course, believes he’s some crazy old guy who just thinks he’s The King of Rock and Roll, like fellow patient John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), also alive, black. Elvis notices a marked increase in the death rate around the nursing home, as does The President. Events lead them to conclude, correctly, that the residents are being killed off by nothing less than an Egyptian Mummy, who stalks the corridoors at night, preying on the weak and forgotten.

I should say at this point that this movie didn’t need to be sold to me. When I heard ‘Bruce Campbell as Elvis fights Mummy’ I was always going to be there, and unless the movie was an unmitigated stinker, I was probably going to like it, or at least enjoy it. Little did I know I was going to see the best Elvis Movie ever made.

Central to its success is the casting of Bruce Campbell. His fans were among the first group of nocturnal diehards to see and support the film, and Coscarelli has even said that one particular scene was pretty much put in there ‘for the Evil Dead crowd’. While the scene is terrific, and the gesture is as warm as it is pragmatic, I think, he needn’t have worried about pleasing anybody. Campbell’s portrayal of Elvis is a career-best, and confirmation for those of us who have long suspected his range to be wider and deeper (howdy, Brisco County fans) than his essentially genre-based career path might indicate. Having seen it a few times now, I find it hard to imagine anyone better-suited to the broad mix of styles and scenarios the film utilises in its portrayal of Presley.

And it is for this singular portrayal that Bubba Ho-Tep deserves to be considered outside of the indie/horror/exploitation genres it may well linger in - it looks at Elvis a little differently, no mean feat when the word ‘saturation’ seems to have no meaning in the context of Elvis Presley Inc. And it does so through a ballsy mix of wild fantasy, horror, toilet humour, genuine pathos and visual flair, somehow arriving at the most believable depiction of the man I've ever seen. Very deftly, the movie manages to embrace and harness all the larger-than-life, Weekly World News elements of the legend and roll them convincingly into this portrayal of a sad, rueful soul. It also demonstrates why, in some cases, a straight, po-faced biopic (I hope you’ve all forgotten the Elvis mini-series) just won’t work. The facts of Elvis’s life, and the folklore of his afterlife, are just too insane to be captured by conventional methods: you almost need elements like an Egyptian mummy and a dead President sidekick just to keep a sense of proportion.

Any time Irish DJ John Kelly plays an early Elvis track on his remarkable radio show Mystery Train, he'll usually say something along the lines of “. . . that was Elvis there - before they got to him.” Anyone who’s ever seen footage of the young hick on The Ed Sullivan show in 1956, the breakthrough year, or interview footage from the same time will know exactly what he means. There you’ll see a remarkably gifted, intelligent young man giving his absolute all to a clanky, scary, still-thrilling, hybrid music he clearly loves - nothing more, nothing less. By the end of that same year, he’s a millionaire, on TV they only film him from the waist up, his old band are ditched and Love me Tender, the first Elvis movie, has made a bucketload for all concerned. The music too, though still great, is already starting to morph, on the inexorable slide from Baby Let's Play House to In the Ghetto. Bubba Ho-Tep is a movie especially for those of us who wonder why he let it happen, why a smart kid like him never got out. By imagining that Elvis does indeed live, and by inventing a world strange enough to contain the legend, it bestows on the myth of the man’s life one aspect some might say it lacks: redemption.

A fire in winter

Some links on yesterday’s student protests in Iran: United4Iran, the LA Times Babylon & Beyond blog, Enduring America live blog with follow up video post and press survey, homylafayette, Tehran BureauAzarmehr, BBC News.

Turn over, old leaf

Brown leaf
hanging from a tree
in December,
not dropped yet.
Below, the millions of dead
little oak leaves
withered in the wet.
They rot, they rot, they rot.
Sweep them away,
bury this year now,
and next year I’ll be
all that a leaf can be.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Late night listening

A conundrum in sixteen small comforts, square of four stones, from Molloy with the voice of Jack McGowran.


But the one for comedy is missing . . .

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Late night viewing

Above, Buster in Beckett’s Film. Also available at, where you can download it.

And here, Beckett working on What, Where in 1987.

Francis Sedgemore writes on watching Christopher Hitchens’s recent Newsnight interview.

Ain’t a fit night out on, The Fatal Glass of Beer.

Below, SEE CANADA NOW! with Buster in The Railrodder.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Need some Scratch?

A small sampling of some early work by Ireland’s super-cartoonist Scratch, AKA Aongus Collins, from In Dublin magazine, 1986-’87.

The last one an illustration for an event in the magazine’s Noticeboard listings:

Copyright © Aongus Collins.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Little Cat lights the match

A Print Gocco card by Bo.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Hidden, and why even dumb pitchers got rools

A guest post from the vaults of the Airforce Amazons’ Surveillance Section, where special agent Ray Butler has been watching the tapes.

Recorded in 2006.

You know the feeling. Trudging out of the Multiplex or pulling the tape out of the machine, your brain numb and your heart heavy, and all because you thought something with a 1000ft cybernetic mutant terrorising three major cities at once could not fail. I mean, some nights you don’t want Shakespeare, right? You want spaceships or cops or zombie space cops from the future, and that’s OK. I know some heartless bastards are sitting out there thinking we genre-fans only get what we deserve, but it seems to me that is wasn’t always like this, that the terms ‘sci-fi/action/horror’ and ‘soul-destroying’ didn’t always go together like peas in a pod.

I was thinking about this because I've just seen ‘The Hidden’, a no-nonsense, get-the-job-done cops ’n’ aliens flick from 1987. By the time the opening credits have rolled, we’ve already seen a bank robbery, niftily shot through a security camera, and we’re dumped right into a good old fashioned, eighties car-chase. We’re in L.A., and a plain, ordinary Joe Citizen has suddenly gone batshit, knocking over banks, stealing Ferraris and shooting anyone that tries to stop him. Det. Thomas Beck, (Michael Nouri) a straight-up guy and family man to boot, is not standing for this kind of carry-on on his beat, and the aforementioned car chase ends when the nutjob meets Beck’s roadblock and is very, very hospitalised. Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (the great Kyle MacLachlan) turns up looking for him, only to be told to go home, your guy’s almost a flatline, so much for the cavalry etc. The freakazoid dies, of course, but before he does we see him, and there’s no other way to describe this, puke a giant slug thing into his fellow patient’s mouth. Then off the new guy goes, and the familiar M.O. of savage killer with a taste for fast cars and metal music is detected in several incidents around the city. Now Beck is puzzled, intrigued, the whole thing and so he and Agent Gallagher form a partnership that is, in the finest Hollywood tradition, reluctant.

There you have it. It’s definitely an old formula, a chase movie basically, with a body-hopping space worm to give it a new spin. So why is it different from an ‘Armageddon’ or an ‘Astronaut’s Wife’? Why is not going to give you a headache from not caring? It’s all in the telling; Jack Sholder’s direction keeps the pace up, and by pace, I don’t mean patronising attention grabbing - no, no. There’s none of that rapid cutting, multiple film stock, Olly Stone type bullshit here, just the requisite amount of time for the information in the scene to be imparted, and nothing more. It’s tight to match Jim Kouf’s script (credited here as ‘Bob Hunt’), which is inventive, warm-hearted and even a little satirical at times; there’s nothing flashy or over ambitious, just enough to make you care what happens to these people.

And isn’t that what it’s all about, suspension of disbelief? Sinking into the dream of the film and not waking up ’til the credits roll? This is cinema’s beautiful sleight of hand; you think it’s the exploding Statue of Liberty that delivers the big thrill, but it’s not. Even in a genre picture, if all the various elements required for you to feel peril on the character’s behalf are not properly drawn together, no magic will occur and your brain is just going to hate you for hurting it with this mush. (It’ll punish you later when you ‘accidentally’ spill your pint over a beautiful woman in the pub). I know trash is not a new thing, it just seems that Hollywood has almost perfected its anti-individuality, anti-innovation machine. The process of script doctor to test audience, test audience to script doctor and so on has been refined to a degree where most product is purged of anything that might possibly offend anyone, anywhere in the world. This pleases the market researchers because movies are getting more expensive to make every year (especially when goofballs like James Cameron keep upping the ante), and if you offend a certain demographic, you may lose quite a chunk of change. But this system can only work against the subtler aspects of film-making, (invention is an unknown commodity, therefore invention equals risk) resulting in the soulless, cliched, computer driven behemoths given birth to by the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer or Roland Emmerich, who constantly try to distract you from the gaping hole at the heart of their pictures by making everything faster, Brighter, LOUDER! Hence the headaches.

So the next time you despair for the dying art of the big-budget ‘B’ picture, go bother your local video store for a copy of ‘The Hidden’. It isn’t going to change your life, but you know that. It’s just a genre picture that plays by the rules, but plays with them enough to pull you in, and keep you there ’til the end. It’s a good movie. You can tell by the way it doesn’t hurt your brain.