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Son of Man. Dennis Potter’s Passion Play.

Reposting on Good Friday.

conradbrunstrom

This Jesus never forgets that he’s a carpenter and hugs a cross with a sense of professional appreciation.

Colin Blakely’s most important directorial note probably consisted of “just be as unlike Max Von Sydow as is humanly possible”.  Blakely portrays Christ as a sort of “nutter on the bus”, but does so in a way that makes you wonder whether any Messiah could avoid resembling the nutter on the bus.  What makes Blakely so “flaming” (Potter’s preferred intensive) amazing is his ability to transition from screamer in the desert to nutter on the bus to inspired preacher that many people might plausibly follow.  By the end of the play you are actually in love with him.

Potter’s dialogue makes use of C.S. Lewis’ famous remark that if someone is not mad and not lying they deserve to be treated as though they are telling the truth.  Lewis’ formulation actually falls…

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What about “whataboutery”? Belated thoughts on Notre Dame de Paris.

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All too quickly, now that the structure has been declared secure, it’s easy to forget the agony of last Monday night.  The first sight of smoke and actual flames billowing from the building froze me.  The sight of the spire collapsing was like a knife to the heart.  The incredulous looks of authentic grief on the faces of the Parisians who couldn’t bear to either look or look away was enough to melt me.  The rumours spread quickly on Twitter – some offering premature false hope and some very credible ones promising complete disaster.  I can still sense the plummeting feeling in my heart when I learned that fire had spread to one of the bell towers.  For approximately 45 minutes, I was convinced that the cathedral faced total destruction.

Apparently the salvation of the cathedral in any shape or form can be put down to a critical and very heroic 45 window of frantic yet focused endeavour.

And then there was that exquisite relief experienced when slowly but surely the fire was conquered.  First we were told that the bell towers were safe – that the familiar outline of the cathedral would be saved.  Then we were told that the most important relics had all been removed.  Then, having heard accounts of all three rose windows exploding in the intense heat, we eventually learned that they were all pretty much intact.

Even when the flames were doused, there were stories that the structure might have been fatally compromised.  So the final relief, when it came – was immense.

It is now clear that Monday night’s inferno represented not the death of a Cathedral but a very traumatic event within the ongoing life of a Cathedral.  Part of a story.  A chapter.

It’s important to go through the timeframe of this memory, in view of the controversial aftermath.  I, and millions like me, went through an emotional roller coaster on Monday night, one we should not soon forget.

Because then, the “whataboutery” starts.  We are told in particular of mosques being bulldozed in China.  We are told we should care as much about those.  We are told of any number of architectural tragedies that involve significant loss of life.  We are told, by a few, to feel bad about the amount of emotion that we have invested in Notre Dame.

Well, I for one refuse to feel bad about the emotion I felt (and feel) for Notre Dame.  Perhaps there are some people who can ration their emotion rationally and equitably across the whole world, but I’ll be honest and say that my attention is instinctively seized by people and places I already know.  Just as I grieve more for people I know than people I don’t know, so I am emotionally involved in the life of historic buildings that I know more than historic buildings I don’t know.  Should I have known more about these other buildings?  Probably.  If I knew them as well as I know Notre Dame would have felt just as much about them?  Assuredly.

Then of course, there was the speed with which the squillionaires started to pledge money for Notre Dame’s reconstruction.  It is always shocking to be reminded of just how much private wealth there is and the things that wealth could do if it were properly focused.  How come these people will pay for Notre Dame when they weren’t moved to give to the victims of Grenfell Tower?  What about those black churches that were torched by that Neo-Nazi in Louisiana?  What about the homeless?  Aren’t people worth more than old buildings?

Indeed they are.  But people live not by bread alone but by inspirational shapes and forms.  The idea of Paris without Notre Dame felt like an unthinkable tragedy because it was robbing a city, a nation, a country, a continent, and a world of a manifestation of eternity.  People without any particular religious affiliation realised that trusting that something beautiful would outlast them and would somehow always “be there” had long been a source of unspoken solace.  It’s not a question of “Art” versus “Life” because art is life – life celebrated and extended.

Notre Dame and Grenfell Tower are not really in competition with each other – are they?

As to why the mega rich give to some things and not others – I don’t pretend to understand.  I never will understand.  I’ll never be put in the position of truly understanding.  I do feel, however, that expecting human needs to be satiated by a more rational apportioning of largess on the unilateral initiative of squillionaires is a forlorn and misplaced hope.  If societies want rich people to cough up in ways we feel that are fair and proportionate, then those rich people need to be taxed fairly and squarely. It’s not like they’re paying their share.

The real issue is not that hundreds of millions are going to Notre Dame restoration rather than “the homeless”.  The real issue is that trillions are being buried in places like the Cayman Islands.  The offshored wealth of the truly wealthy dwarfs the public spending of any nation state.  Ordinary people pay a reasonable percentage of their earnings to pay for both homeless shelters and cathedral restoration.  The mega rich do not.

These hundred of millions already pledged are much better off being used for Cathedral restoration than they would be lying at the bottom of a hole in the Cayman Islands.  Cathedral restoration will pay the wages of a great many people.  Cathedral restoration is a job creator.  The economy of Paris will benefit in more ways than I’m qualified to itemise.  Cathedral restoration will, more importantly, add to an inspiring narrative that will remind humanity as a whole of what humans can build and recreate when they put their hearts and minds to it.  Would/should solving the Parisian homeless crisis be an even more inspiring achievement?  Yes.  But as long as we’re talking about voluntary benevolence that’s not the choice we looking at.  The actual choice on offer, ladies and gents, is money being used to recreate a timeless and inspiring spiritual monument versus money hiding somewhere in the Caribbean – unless or until the world wants to get serious about untaxed offshore wealth.

In the meantime, we can enjoy the eerie yet transient pictures of Notre Dame in a state of strangely beautiful desolation.  The spectacle of sunlight shining straight into the nave is something none of us thought we’d ever see.  These pictures showing the scale of what was lost as well as testifying to the heroism of those who have saved so much will form part of the timeless Cathedral story.

There’s a lot of inspiration to be harvested from what happened in Paris this week.  Can the world not use that too?  Can we not do all sorts of useful things with it?

Giovanni da Verrazzano “discovered” New York Harbour OTD in 1524

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Of course, the Wampanoag and Narragansett people who met with Verrazzano a bit further up the coast would have been well aware of the large harbour  the Florentine adventurer had just charted.  They would have known about it for endless generations and would have guffawed loudly had they heard Verrazzano claim that he’d “discovered” it.

But assuming that no Viking ever made it that far south, Giovanni da Verrazzano (or whoever cried “enormous bay ho!” in idiomatic Italian from the crow’s nest) was the first European to take note of what is now New York Harbour.

Giovanni has, of course, an enormous bridge named after him – the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge – though apparently it took a while to persuade people in Brooklyn to spell it with two zeds (zees).  The bridge features very prominently in Saturday Night Fever.  Indeed, the bridge can be regarded as one of the stars of the film.  Like all bridges, it symbolises opportunity and danger in roughly equal measure.  Like all bridges, Verrazzano-Narrows suggests the possibility of transcendent change and the imminence of fatal plummeting – as this superb film makes very clear.

A teenage Donald Trump witnessed its opening in 1964.  He noted, apparently, that the actual designer of the bridge, Othmar Ammann, was virtually snubbed on this occasion, as the money men closed ranks to congratulate each other.  According to Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio, this made Othmar Ammann a “sucker” in Trump’s eyes and therefore despicable.  It’s been described as a defining moment in Trump’s “philosophical” journey. People with energy and drive and imagination and genius are utterly contemptible compared to those with enough access to inherited wealth to kick such people around.

In Trump’s mind – there can be no difference between the use and abuse of riches – because the whole point of being rich is to kick other people.  It’s been argued many times that Trump would be wealthier than he is if he had stayed in bed since 1986, ringing up his broker once a month just to see that everything is OK.  It is demonstrably the case that Trump’s habitual and petty habit of stiffing his own contractors makes no economic sense, because you keep having to find new contractors and it keeps getting harder to find such partners given your appalling reputation.  But for Trump the point is not just to get very rich – the bottom line is not the bottom line.  The point for Trump is to ensure that someone stupid enough to trust you suffers.  It is worth taking an economic hit if others more vulnerable than yourself, take a bigger hit.  That’s like “winning”.

Strange sequence of reflections, from the revelation of New York Harbour, to a magnificent bridge, to Saturday Night Fever to Donald Trump.  What a downward spiral.

“Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite,” The strange and irritating birthday of Spike Milligan.

conradbrunstrom

spike-milligan

What to show to young people?  What to use to explain him with?  Why was he so darned important?

Well, actual children are easier to talk to about Spike Milligan.  Just tell them that the author of “On the Ning Nang Nong” was born a 101 years ago today.  If Spike Milligan had done nothing other than write inspired children’s doggerel he would be remembered for endless generations to come.  If he had done nothing other than write hilarious wartime memoirs, his reputation would be similarly secure.  And, needless to say, had he been known exclusively as the man who wrote the lion’s share of “The Goon Show”, he would also be revered by the cognoscenti until cognoscenti are themselves no more.  But because he’s done all and more of these things, he’s impossible to tether or cohere in the collective memory.

It is impossible to over-state the influence of…

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Reunion, Recognition, and overdue Library Books. “Winterfell” reviewed. With horrible spoilers.

GameofThrones

How long does it take the Army of the Dead to get from the Wall to Winterfell?  Bearing in mind that they don’t have to stop to eat or sleep on the way, even if aesthetic endeavours may interrupt them?

This is the question that absorbs us the most while watching “Winterfell”.  I suppose we’ve had a long break from Game of Thrones and the show-runners (not a word I knew ten years ago) are anxious to re-introduce us to all the characters.  They want to remind us of all the people we might want to remember we care about before they start killing them off – which is fair enough.

But really, how far off are they?  If only the Army of the Living had some means of aerial reconnaissance?  If only there were some way of getting a lofty view of the situation – after all – it’s not as though this vast zombie hoard can very well hide – can it?  I mean, the organisation of Winterfell’s defense would be a lot more focused if there was some way of getting very high up so that you could announce an ETA?

I think you can see what I’m getting at.  But no, dragons are only to be used recreationally for the time being.  Neither of them seem to be best pleased with the spectacle of Mommy in Jon’s arms.  “Is he going to be our new Daddy?”  Technically, Jon/Aegon VI would be their cousin – wouldn’t he?

“Cousin of Dragons” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

There is stuff going on back south.  Theon saves Yara – who decks him and then forgives him.  She’ll be going to the Iron Islands – and he’ll be going to Winterfell.  Harry Strickland arrives with the Golden Company but no elephants.  I get the feeling that Harry Strickland is being set up as some sort of significant character, despite being given the sort of name that reminds you of a moderately successful building supplies contractor from Lichfield.  Oh, and Cersei and Euron have sex – based on Cersei’s assessment that Euron is the most arrogant man she’s ever met. Bron is contracted to assassinate both Tyrion and Jamie.  Let’s see.

Qyburn informs Cersei that the Wall has been breached and that the army of the dead are on their way.  Cersei reprises the same sort of “am I bovvered” smile she used to enjoy the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor.

Has nobody (Qyburn?) pointed out to her the folly of her “let my enemies fight it out plan” if the Dead win?  Has nobody told her that the defeat of the Living means the Dead doubling in numbers?  In tactical terms, this makes the whole Head Sparrow sponsorship plan look like a comparatively trivial error.

Meanwhile, there are important and personal revelations being made back up North.  Daenerys wants to thank Sam for saving Jorah’s life, but can’t do so without accidentally informing him that she killed his father and brother.  Up to that point, Sam’s main anxiety was overdue library books.  Bran now tells Sam that it’s time to let Jon know who he really is and that Sam rather than Bran is the one to tell him.  Tanya pointed out to me that Ned Stark had told Jon that when they met again he would tell Jon about his mother.  As it happens, they are right by Ned’s tomb in the crypt as the revelation is made.  So that’s neatly arranged.

Even more tricky, perhaps, is the arrival of Jamie in Winterfell, since the first person he claps eyes on is Bran.  Credits roll.  Jamie of course, has nothing to worry about from Bran, since Bran is not one to hold grudges these days.  Bran is not one to acknowledge any kind of emotional attachment positive or negative of any kind.  Bran’s gone – from any sort of interpersonal point of view.  Jamie doesn’t know this yet, having never met the Three Eyed Raven.  As far as Jamie knows, Bran is about to start screaming  “You murderous fucking pervert you nearly killed me!”

Meanwhile, where are the dead already?  They’ve performed some of their avant garde body art at The Last Hearth and presumably moved on.  I can appreciate that the battle before Winterfell is probably going to be the longest, most extraordinary battle sequence ever filmed by anybody ever and there’s a sense it needs some proper build up.  It will be a battle that takes some coming down from and I’m starting to think that it will absorb the entirety of Episode Three.  Bring it on.

 

Much have I traveled in Realms of Something or Other. A Song of Ice and Fire Reviewed.

conradbrunstrom

song of ice and fire

A little over a year ago, I was engaged in an online discussion of Game of Thrones and its possible trajectories and resolutions, when someone addressed me by saying “but you HAVE read the books haven’t you?  You HAVE to read the books to understand this conversation.”

In my line of work, this sort of comment has roughly the same effect as Biff referring to Marty McFly as “chicken”.

So heaven help me I read them.  I read all of them.  I read all five or more (some of them are cut two in some publishing jurisdictions).  Thousands of pages.  Done.  As Tenzing Norgay so memorably observed on an occasion you’ll extrapolate – “we done the bugger.”

Here’s the funny thing, I’m almost professionally obligated to prefer literary sources to televisual (or filmic) adaptations any day of the week.  When I look at actors portraying literary characters, I always feel…

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The Evil Living or the Neutral Dead – what do we really want from Game of Thrones?

Famously, not long before the Battle of the Bastards, Jon Snow declares to Sansa that he’s fought “worse” than Ramsay Bolton.  He’s wrong of course.  He’s often wrong.  The Night King is not “worse” than Ramsay Bolton – he’s just got a much bigger army.  The Night King never put the kind of detailed imaginative planning into his cruelty that Ramsay Bolton did because the Night King is just doing his job.  It is the Night King’s determined, principled and consistent belief that things should be dead rather than alive and he is but an agent of this great purpose.  Unlike the Night King, Ramsay Bolton could never have destroyed every living thing in Westeros, partly because he likes to kill things very slowly, and no lifetime is long enough to kill absolutely everyone as theatrically as Ramsay likes to kill.

Well, Ramsay is gone (unless the Night King takes Winterfell and brings Ramsay back to life), just as Joffrey has gone.  Instead, we have a sort of grand alliance of everything that is alive versus everything that is dead.  But we’re not satisfied with such binary thinking are we?

Even disaster movies like to compound “forces of nature” with some kind of human wickedness.  The Poseidon was racing to scrappage dangerously quickly when it was hit by that tidal wave because that suited the money men (but not the captain).  The Towering Inferno was caused in part by cheap wiring installed by a dodgy contracting associate.  Even the Titanic apparently needs obvious human villains in the form of Billy Zane and David Warner.  A big chunk of ice just can’t focus enough righteous resentment on its own.  Or can it?  One of the reasons why the 1950s Night to Remember Titanic movie is far more traumatic to watch is because there is no particular villainy depicted.  Some people behave better than others, but really it’s a film about living in an uncertain universe in which despite most people’s best intentions – ships like The Titanic can still sink.

I think the ending we need and deserve involves everything living being destroyed by everything that’s dead.  A victory for the Night King would be one in which we, the living, would realise just before our annihilation that we really haven’t made a very good case for being alive.  A victory for death everywhere would make us feel numb and vaguely complicit.  The living just didn’t do enough.  We just didn’t do enough.

Perhaps this ending could be made more necessarily cruel by having the dead seemingly defeated early on just north of Winterfell and then suddenly re-activated down in Kings Landing – enacting a blue-eyed zombification that’s as swift as it is unstoppable.

I think, however, that the ending that we want involves a post zombie showdown between Lannisters and Targaryens (aunt and nephew) in which passionate human villainy trumps dispassionate white-walking efficiency.  We want some sudden betrayals and a gasp involving someone relatively unexpected making a claim for that chair (Euron?  Pod?).  I think this is what we’ll get.

Above all, we want to know more about Grey Worm’s bits.  We now know that he’s capable of having a satisfying version of sex, and humanity demands to know exactly how.  Sex as we know it may be creatively transformed.  And since we’re all doomed (probably) this information is priceless.

One notable feature of Game of Thrones is its willingness to carry on the story of men who have been castrated.  It seems that men need not be defined in any terminal way by a narrow genital imperative.  I like the idea of Varys, Theon and Grey Worm as a kind of Brotherhood Without Penises.  Before the long night renders such questions redundant – there is much they can still teach us.

It’s About Time. Sapphire and Steel: Assignment 3. (1981)

sapphire

My fond attempt to reconnect with stuff that terrified me as a child continues.  This third extended outing for pan-dimensional operatives Sapphire and Steel involves a history project gone awry.  35th century time travelers, given the awkward late-Saxon names of Eldred and Rothwyn, are living in an invisible apartment atop a residential tower block in central London.  They have their new born child with them, proving that 35th century universities have long done away with ethics committees.  They have recently lost touch both with their 35th century handlers and with the other parallel research projects.  Then they start to come under attack from a mysterious entity – an entity that can do eerie things with pillows and suggested swans and can promote infanticide.

More than ever, time itself is the weapon of choice.

Sapphire and Steel arrive.  Sapphire is dressed for an Abba tribute band audition for some reason.  Later on, their colleague Silver arrives too.  Silver and Steel are wearing almost identical suits, but Silver manages to wear it far more foppishly than Steel.  Silver (David Collings) seems to trouble Steel on many levels.  An engineer, Silver can adapt and then reproduce just about any mechanism.  He also invades Steel’s personal space and you initially think that Steel is prone to a very tedious and depressing form of homophobic panic.  However, Silver and Sapphire also have a certain chemistry between them.  I’m inclined to think that Silver’s sexuality is somewhat polymorphic and undefined and this wrecks Steel’s head to some extent.  Steel chants to himself “my origins are impeccable” while wondering what has happened to Silver as though any mention of Silver represents an ontological threat to Steel’s own identity.

Long story short – Steel really doesn’t like Silver.

Eldred and Rothwyn both disappear.  The child is accelerated into a full grown man who also serves as the expression of the malign entity.  At various points, the images and sounds of a slaughterhouse intervene.  In short, every innovative low-budget means of unsettling the viewer is deployed.

When the big reveal occurs – only very near the end – we realise what a crumby sort of future awaits humanity.  In a strange digression, it is realised that the 35th century has achieved new levels of prudishness and Eldred objects on principle to scanning a bedroom even when it’s to check for dead bodies.  Most crucially, we learn that the 35th century is devoid of all animal life except for “pieces” kept for scientific study, and that the malign entity is a cyborg that contains the enraged life experience of vivisected animal slices.

Needless to say, the eventual attempt to directly represent this messy and bloody creature is less effective in the final episode is less effective than the oblique suggestions offered by the previous five episodes.

The changeling “child” has a wonderfully malign grin.  Steel is even more brusque and unfeeling than ever.  Sapphire is interested in humanity but is even less human than Steel.  Silver is a wonderful addition.  We shall see him again.

Here are my thoughts on the previous Sapphire and Steel outings:

Sapphire and Steel 2
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/sapphire-and-steel-assigment-2/

Sapphire and Steel 1
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2019/03/25/sapphire-and-steel-assignment-one-1979/

 

Just how bad must “No Deal” Brexit have been for Theresa May to try to avoid it?

Theresa May Visits Northern Ireland

I mean, she’s not an especially compassionate person.  You only have to look at her record as Home Secretary to understand that.  In terms of being fairly cool about inflicting disproportionate suffering on vulnerable people, she scores pretty highly.  She can hardly be regarded as a soft touch.

The Tory Party is now a “No Deal” Brexit party at the level of membership.  “Leave EU” has been employing Trotskyite/Entryist tactics with the intention of infiltrating constituency parties so as to denounce any sitting Tory MP as a “traitor” who fails to endorse the most destructive version of Brexit imaginable.

It doesn’t matter of course, that the same people who faithfully promised that signing EU deals would be quick and easy before the 2016 referendum are now saying that “No Deal” is what every single Leave voter knowingly voted for.  The egregiousness of this loud and repetitive lie is explained by the fact that the Moggs and Bojos of this world regard the bulk of the British people as expendable serfs who were only put on this earth in order to gratify a handful of aristocratic egos.

Historians will not remember Theresa May kindly.  They will, I think, regard Yvette Cooper as someone whose rapid yet efficient parliamentary endeavours probably saved the lives of thousands of people.  But even the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 5) Bill which forced May to seek an extension from the EU if no deal was obtainable in the time available could not have prevented “no deal” if Theresa May had regarded “no deal” as a politically preferable option.  There are many ways in which she could have torpedoed negotiations with EU leaders.  By all accounts, however, she gave a very good presentation this week, and even then there was difficulty getting Macron on board.

If May had come back from Brussels with no extension this week, blaming EU intransigence and telling Britain to prepare for “No Deal” she would, in the short term, have enjoyed a political triumph.  She would have united much of the Tory party under her leadership and enjoyed the spectacle of much of the right wing press (which is to say – much of the press) celebrating her as some kind of hybrid of Boudicca, Elizabeth I and Thatcher.

So why didn’t she?

I don’t pretend to know the full impact of “no-deal” Brexit.  The impact studies that have been leaked look pretty ominous.  Theresa May is, we would all agree, infinitely better informed than I am.  She will have had any number of talented experts briefing her round the clock on the topic.  Her overview of the situation will have been pretty comprehensive.

So, I’m thinking that May must sincerely regard “no deal” Brexit as truly truly devastating – so devastating as to outweigh any kind of short term political advantage.  Since short term political advantage is the only thing that May has ever shown any aptitude for, sacrificing it can only be a response to some threat that is utterly awful.

So, I think it’s incumbent upon supporters of no-deal Brexit to actually try to explain why Theresa May is seeking to avoid it.  What’s their theory?  What’s their explanation?

Oh Maharishi – what haven’t you done?… 1968… What might have been?

conradbrunstrom

maharashi

Today provides a rather unusual and interesting anniversary.  On this day in 1968, George Harrison and John Lennon finally left Rishikesh in confused and acrimonious circumstances, thus sundering the relationship between the Beatles and the Maharishi.

In hindsight, the obvious positives of transcendental meditation for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr seem to by far outweigh the tragi-comic negatives.   At a confused and pivotal point in the career of The Beatles, Rishikesh allowed the band to detox, to pause for thought, and (although Harrison had mixed feelings about this), write a great many songs.  Indeed, it is not claiming too much to suggest that Rishikesh extended the functioning and creative life of The Beatles by at least a year.  Without Rishikesh, we certainly wouldn’t have The White Album.  Amid all the chaos and the scandal and unnecessary eventual nastiness – a deal of timeless beauty was created.

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