12 YEARS A SLAVE directed by Steve McQueen (UK/USA, 2013)
The Academy members undoubtedly did the right thing by naming 12 Years A Slave the best picture and, if there was any justice, Steve McQueen would have been awarded an Oscar for best director in place of Alfonso Cuarón. Gravity is a remarkable technical achievement but directing technology is less deserving of a statuette than man management.
McQueen not only gets the best out his actors but he also knows how to pace a movie. The huge temptation in telling Solomon Northup’s story is to revert to Hollywood clichés and crank up the sentimentalism. It is to his credit that he doesn’t milk the emotional content and heroic lines like “I don’t want to survive, I want to live” are few and far between.
In one remarkable scene, Northup is strung up and has to desperately cling on while waiting for ‘the master’ to cut him down. In conventional films there would be dramatic music and close-ups of the man’s life and death struggle. Instead, the camera pulls back so show life going on around him and makes us realise how commonplace such torture was.
Northup (Chiwetel Ejofor) quickly learns that maintaining a low profile and keeping schtum about his education are the only ways to guarantee survival. Patience and will power are the main reasons why he lived to tell his remarkable story.
It is only right, therefore, that the movie never has the quality of an action movie. The power of the drama comes from the systematic abuse and degradation he and his fellow slaves have to endure. Continue reading
PUSSY RIOT , A PUNK PRAYER directed by Mike Lerner & Maxim Pozdorovkin (Russia, 2012)
This HBO documentary follows the highly publicised show trial of Nadia, Masha and Katia, the three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot who were arrested for their part in the very public disruption of the holy mass at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2002 and who were subsequently sentenced to three years in a penal colony.
The film opens with a quote from Bertolt Brecht: “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it” which immediately reassures us that it will be justifiably weighted in favour of the women’s cause. Interviews with their parents help us to understand their background to the protest while humanizing their stories.
In the interest of balance, however, the filmmakers also give ample space to the case for the prosecution. There are interviews with angry members of the church wearing T-shirts proclaiming ‘ORTHODOXY OR DEATH’ who look like greying doom metal fans.
One web site once took Pussy Riot to mean “an uprising of the uterus” but an offended worshipper states on film that “deranged vaginas” would be a more apt translation. Continue reading
SIMPLE LIVING – 30 DAYS TO LESS STUFF & MORE LIFE by Lorilee Lippincott (Free Kindle ebook)
The clean slate of a new year is as good a time as any to strive towards a goal of achieving a simpler life and an uncluttered existence.
This slim volume will take little more than a couple of hours to read but significantly longer to put its recommendations into practice.
What the splendidly named Lorilee Lippincott advocates is “right-sizing your life” on the principle that if we get our heads and homes more organised, we have more time to focus on things we really need and love. Continue reading
PHILOSOPROPS: A UNIFIED FIELD GUIDE by Alyce Santoro (2013)
Homeopathic Remedies for the 5 Ills of Society.
‘Philosoprops’ are devices,implements, or illustrations.
In this crowdfunded hundred page book Alyce Santoro, an American marine biologist with an artistic bent, provides a thought-provoking guide to how her “sharable forms of expression” can help people to think differently about their surroundings and relationships with others.
Via this publication and her ‘Center For The Obvious & (Im)Permacultural Research’, her aim is to produce audio/visual prompts that challenge common misconceptions about the environment and society.
Her work is humourous and quirky but her motives are serious. She is fired by a profound opposition to the profit obsessions of corporate interests.
Her actions are motivated by the belief that we should “cease to be passive consumers and become engaged social architects”. Continue reading
With so much of life in Italy blighted by news of economic depression and under the shadow of endless governmental crises, it was good to be part of an event in my adopted home town of Cesena in Emilia-Romagna that gave cause for optimism and pride.
After many decades of careful planning and patient work, the new central library – La Biblioteca Malatestiana – was finally opened yesterday.
Within the same complex, a 15th century humanist library has been listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and justifiably celebrated. Now the needs of 21st century scholars are addressed with the beautifully restored and redesigned building. Continue reading