Friday, June 12, 2020


Labels can be used to navigate to parts of the blog. To get just book reviews click on "books"

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Banksy at Bristol Museum

Banksy who has gone from being a graffiti artist to the quasi-respectability of having an exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. His picture of a spiky-haired anarchist having his mask adjusted by his mum probably suggests what his attitude towards this is.

When you first approach the Museum you can see a figure of Ronald McDonald on the facade. If you think another public service has succumbed to corporate sponsorship - the clown cries tears of blood and has a bottle by his side and a clear intention to commit suicide.

Some of the pictures are lighthearted such as the Wizard of Oz picture of Dorothy saying "I don't think we're on Canvas any more."

Others are less so with a KKK member hanging from a tree to comment on the fine old Southern Tradition of lynching.

The exhibition is thought-provoking and interesting and well worth a visit. It is also free.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Most Sun readers think The Sun prints lies

“You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God, the British journalist,
But seeing what the man will do,
Unbribed there's no occasion to.“

(Humbert Wolfe, poet 1885-1940)

Journalists unleash periodic attacks on teachers and
teaching. “Falling standards” every time the exam
results are better than last year, “failing schools” if
the results are not as good and of course “no progress”
if the results are the same. “Failing teachers” become
“greedy teachers” when we put in for a pay rise.

However the public trust in journalists has been low for 25
years at least, according to the nation-wide face to face
surveys carried out by MORI (now Ipsos MORI) since 1983. In
1983 19% of the British public said they trusted journalists
to tell the truth. Now it is 19% again.

At the top of the scale 92% said they trust doctors
Teachers (87%), professors (79%),
judges (78%) and clergy (74%) completed the top five of
those the public rated as the most trustworthy.

In every one of the last six years overall trust in
journalists has been at 18%, plus or minus the usual margin
of error of 3%.

It is worth remembering that government ministers (24%) and
politicians in general (21%) just come ahead of journalists
at the bottom of the table of sixteen occupations measured.

Interestingly only 30 percent of News of the World and Sun
readers say they trust their newspaper to tell the truth
even "somewhat". Rupert Murdoch sells the newspaper on the
slogan “Lots of fun in the Sun” but it is not seen as a
reliable source of information, even by Sun readers.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ali Piper's website

Ali Piper's website is and it is currently under construction so watch this space.

The grey gerbil shown in the photograph is actually a microphone.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Letters to Lara

There is some renewed interest in the Letters to Lara project. Of course teachers can choose another iconic computer game hero in place of Lara and get the same interesting response.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bill Hicks on Advertising


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Randomly Shocking Monkeys

This is the second randomly shocking monkeys video and based on Bill Hicks' tirade against advertising. It is very good.

Sponsored by the Coca Cola Death Squads in Guatamala - where they used death squads to kill off union activists.

Also sponsored by the Lambert and Butler Cancer Unit and McDonalds Obesity campaign (self explanatory)

And "New Kiddie Arsenic" which is a Bill Hicks far anyway.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007


I saw 300 today and the short review would be "don't".

The battle scenes are well choreographed but the cartoon-like violence becomes repetitive when you have seen the fifteenth beheading. I found myself murmuring, "I've had worse than this, this is just a flesh wound." which seemed to send my daughter into fits of laughter.

The dialogue is forced and false. It is a bit of an insult to the Greeks who invented rhetoric to make them sound like neocon yahoos.

And Xerxes was a bit of a stereotype I think. The big bad black guy with an army of rhinos, giants and elephants.

And it is just the film to get Bush baby dropping 300 hundred troops into Iran just to see if it works.

No it was not history. To be fair, historical drama seldom is. Shakespeare (for example) certainly isn't. Having said which this certainly ain't Shakespeare!

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Endemol cry all the way to the bank

You would have to be stuck in the Antarctic or adrift in an open boat (lucky you) to have missed the row over the bullying and abuse of one of the contestants in the strangely named Celebrity Big Brother.

Following criticism of the "celebrity" credentials of the participants, a couple of genuine celebrities Leo Sayer and Ken Russell (who were just a little past their sell-by date) deserted the house.

Then a way of boosting the ratings seemed to fall into Endemol's lap with the ignorant racist abuse directed at Shilpa Shetty by multi-millionairess Jade Goody.

It will be remembered that Endermol swore to ensure George Galloway did not use the Big Brother house as a platform for anti-war sentiments. They used the situation to make George Galloway appear foolish - aided and abetted by George Galloway of course.

In contrast, they have continued to defend their broadcasting of racist abuse on the grounds that it is not really racist as such.

In the past there was a term "racialism" which was applied to distrust and hostility towards other races based on ignorance. This was differentiated from "racism" which they defined as the manipulation of racialism to stir up hatred. It seems clear that Jade Goody's abuse is an example of the former rather than the latter.

Under pressure, Endemol have muttered about donating a fraction of their obscene profits from this imbroglio to charity but the set-up of Big Brother ensures they continue to profit whatever happens.

One wonders how long it will be before one of the housemates murders another under the artificial strains imposed on them by the situation and whether that will prove a money-spinner for Endemol as well.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Eyes Wide Shut (contains spoilers)

I can honestly say this is the most unusual Christmas film I have seen. However I watched it on Christmas Eve and the action all takes place during advent. There are some jolly characters in red cloaks but no beards but they are taking part in a somewhat satanic prelude to an orgy and they soon drop the cloaks to reveal that is all they are wearing apart from the occasional thong.

And the viewer/voyeur is sometimes invited to see the nudity through the eyes of a doctor – Dr Bill Harford – first the naked body of an unconscious woman whose life he saves and the naked body of an apparent suicide victim

And for all the nudity, Bill Harford’s sexual encounters are all unfulfilled. His initial encounter with Domino (a name which presages the “fancy dress” masked orgy he later attends – is interrupted by a telephone call from his wife (curse these mobile phones!) He himself turns down the offers of his deceased patient’s daughter and a fancy dress shop owner who offers him his underage daughter “for anything the doctor orders!” And at the satanic fancy dress orgy he sneaks into, he is teased and then caught and sent off with a warning.

The film is also a thriller in the more traditional Hitchcock sense of the term. There seem to be two murders but the good Doctor drops all his investigations and accepts the unlikely explanations of his rich client who turns out to have been behind one of the masks. In the end he is content to go back to his beautiful wife and keep his eyes wide shut.

The dialogue transcript is available here


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Well I can see that it is a great film although it is slow-moving to start. If you watch it all the way through and you don't have tears in your eyes at any point, you are probably "a real man!"

"Tell the truth and shame the devil." is what my dear old mother used to say. I never had to tell her I was gay however. Back in the era of this film the very word scarcely existed. At the beginning Ennis and Jack have to hide their feelings from each other and most importantly from themselves. Traditional Westerns are about the theme "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." and curiously so is this. I will seek strenuously to avoid any spoilers. I think it is fair to say Ennis and Jack feel forced into roles, marriage and family, which really do not suit them.

Are they going to live how they want to live and face the (dire) consequences or are they going to settle for unhappiness?

We have all faced difficult situations though hopefully not usually as difficult as these two star-crossed lovers. And how many of us have settled for unhappiness because it seems easier?

What do you think? If you have seen the film what did you make of it?


Sunday, April 02, 2006

V for Vendetta

"V for Vendetta" is great fun. It is an adventure film with some serious messages included. It is usually possible to wade through the deepest ideas in an adventure film (for example, X men, Catwoman) without getting your ankles wet. This is a bit different.

John Hurt and Stephen Fry are always good value for money and Hugo Weaving in the title role was a revelation with his ability to create a role brilliantly while hiding behind a mask for the whole of the movie.

Terrorism, homophobia, racism and islamophobia are all dealt with in the film in different ways. There are chilling insights into the secret camps where alleged terrorists are tortured for the good of the state. And the media are not exonerated either.

Most crucially the plot shows the way the religious right can use terrorism as an excuse for repression. In the course of the narrative responsibility for a terrorist outrage is shifted to whoever is the current enemy of the state. It comes as no surprise to find out that the author of this "9/11" turns out to be the dictatorship itself.

John Hurt is very good as a dictator and he also plays a caricature of himself on a TV show hosted by Steven Fry's character, Deitrich. Deitrich falls foul of the secret police for his pains. He expected to get away with a grovelling public apology. Instead he is killed when a copy of the Koran, which he kept because of its poetry, is found in his house.

If you have ever had a sneaking suspicion that Guy Fawkes was the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions, the sight of millions marching in Guy Fawkes masks to overthrow a corrupt government based on lies is inspiring.

And that is where the film falls short. What happens next? It is here that the emasculation of the original story is most keenly felt. The "politics" were not exciting and spectacular enough so they remained on the cutting room floor. The original story of V was not from a socialist but an anarchist perspective but at least didn't leave the basic questions unasked; the original message of the story has been toned down and given the Hollywood treatment.

I still think the film does fulfil in an attenuated form, the concept of the original writer, Alan Moore "../the central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn't want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think, and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history."/

You have to like action/adventure films to appreciate it but if you do, this film is for you.

"People should not fear their governments. Governments should fear their people!"


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Chatterley Affair

The Chatterley Affair
A victory over hyprocrisy

"Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?" In 1960, prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones tried to persuade an Old Bailey jury to ban DH Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. The victory for Penguin Books was a turning point in recent history and represented a massive defeat for the ruling class.

Censorship has been used by privileged elites throughout history. For instance, the works of Milan Kundera were banned by the Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia. They said the works were offensive to Czech women. Anyone who reads them finds them much more offensive to the Stalinist regime itself!

The Chatterley Affair on Channel 4 mixed fact and fiction to bring this story to life. Two members of the jury fall in love under the influence of the novel. The progress of their affair is shown interspersed with extracts from the case based on the court record.

The novel uses language which even today has shock value and would be out of place in The Socialist. However, Lawrence recontextualises the language and transforms the four letter words from obscenities into the language of love.

It is not the best novel in the English language. The first chapter for example is one long “miaou” about women’s rights. Nevertheless the stand which the jury made against hypocrisy threatened the very right of the ruling class to decide what we can read.

Andrew Davies’ play which was shown twice on BBC4 is well worth the time taken to view it. And let your wife or your servants watch too!


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Les Miserables

Les Miserables

(Queens Theatre London)

To go and see Les Miserables, like any walk through London’s streets, means running the gauntlet of people asking for money. “Les miserables” ( a powerful word inadequately translated as “the poor”) People so poor in many cases they have given up hope.

Inside the warmth of the theatre you are surrounded by comfortable and respectable people watching a brilliant colourful musical about the poor people outside in the street.

And the musical, based on a two-volume 19th Century novel by Victor Hugo, is not miserable at all because it contains within it a message of hope that things can be changed.

It is worth comparing the revolutionaries in Les Miserables with those other revolutionaries in a 19th Century novel – the bloodstained monsters depicted in Dickens’ “a Tale of Two Cities.” Although the revolution of 1830 was defeated, Victor Hugo sees the revolutionaries as human beings and evokes sympathy for the cause for which they are fighting.

To say it is a revolutionary musical would be pushing it. It is a musical about revolution and about the appalling injustices of society but the message of the musical and the book is about individual salvation through love.

The central character Jean Valjean is imprisoned for five years for stealing a loaf of bread, then another 14 for trying to escape (not an exaggeration of the penal code of the period). On release he is condemned to carry a yellow passport – an ID card which is as effective as a brand – even outside the prison he is not free.

A priest who takes the message of Christianity seriously (and thus has no future in the Church!) seeks to redeem him with an act of kindness and (without retelling the whole story) the narrative rests on the consequences of that act of kindness.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the original story is the casting of a policeman, a perfectly respectable upholder of the law with no sympathy for the poor, as a villain. We are accustomed to seeing “crooked cops” but he isn’t crooked, he is as straight as he can be according to his lights. He simply enforces an unjust law because it is not his place to change it. He would be at home in the modern Labour Party wouldn’t he?

The most powerful scenes involve the street fighting in Paris during the 1830 revolution and the idealism of students and young people who are depicted as simply and selflessly fighting for the poor of their own city.

“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!”

Without the music the words give you some idea of the emotions stirred by the powerful song. I am aware that people talk cynically about “not a dry eye in the house” but it really is an accurate description of how people in the audience respond to this.

In the final scene the selflessness is rewarded when with Les Miserables they ascend to heaven. Dickens, for all his compassion, would have had them going to the other place!

And at the end of the play you walk back to the tube station. There are people bedding down for the night in cold wet shop doorways. It would take a revolution to put an end to this injustice.

“At the end of the day there's another day dawning
And the sun in the morning is waiting to rise
Like the waves crash on the sand
Like a storm that'll break any second
There's a hunger in the land
There's a reckoning still to be reckoned and
There's gonna be hell to pay
At the end of the day!”

By Derek McMillan
Tuesday, 27 December 2005


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin was on BBC4 last night. I thought
they were pushing the idea of having repeats for
Christmas to the limit with a 1925 film. Then I
watched it for a bit and ended up watching the whole

It was a film Hollywood could not have made and couldn't make today. The corporations would not be happy with the whole idea. Eisenstein could experiment with
technique and make a silent black and white film come alive. The actors (and they were not all actors, some were members of the public roped in by his enthusiasm)
have to express themselves without words and put across a story which can be understood in any language.

And what a story! The sailors have to suffer appalling conditions and lack of food; their officers lie to them and meet discontent with brutal repression. In the end the sailors outrage finds a focus when the vicious Tsarist officers put a tarpaulin over the heads of some rebel sailors and orders the marines to shoot them. This is too much for the sailors and they appeal to the marines to think about who they are shooting and they rebel. The leader of the revolt is killed but his death becomes the focus of solidarity and revolution in Odessa.

Even eighty years after the film and a century after the events it depicts it is still a moving tribute to the men and women who took the first faltering steps towards the revolution of 1905 and it the last reel accurately portrays their apprehension and anxiety and then their joy and enthusiasm at their successes.

It was the last time Eisenstein had complete cotrol over one of his films. His next film October was cut by about a third as Stalin sought to rewrite history so that Trotsky did not appear and Lenin was made to sound like a Stalinist!

I doubt if they will show it on American TV, but you can download it from the internet and there are various sites which have streaming video which let you watch the film for free.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Moral High Ground on music downloading

Democracy Now! reports today:
"Sony-BMG Settles Payola Lawsuit
One of the world's largest record companies -- Sony/BMG -- has agreed to pay a $10 million settlement in a major payola case. New York's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the company for illegally paying radio stations thousands of dollars to play certain artists including Jennifer Lopez and Franz Ferdinand. Spitzer said "Contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees." Spitzer also criticized the radio stations for accepting the payment. He said the Federal Communications Commission should consider stripping the licenses of the stations. On Monday FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called for an immediate federal investigation of payola practices."

This is very interesting given the decisions of big business to prosecute teenagers for downloading music and their contention that a teenager who downloads music is robbing them of much needed needed to pay fines for illegal activities presumably.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Princess Leia and Princess Padme

I pity Natalie Portman for the inevitable comparisons between her and Princess Leia. Leia had a much more active role and her relationship with Han Solo provided most of the laughs in the original Star Wars trilogy. Apparently Harrison Ford got on her tits (metaphor) and that was why they worked together so well on screen.

Princess Padme was pregnant and passive through most of episode three and her main function was to hear terrible things about Anakin Skywalker, give birth and die. With the best will in the world she could not be sexy and witty in that role.

She didn't appear in a golden bikini in chains either so there are swings and roundabouts!

Ewan McGregor could have taken on a Han Solo role but as a Jedi, even a stroppy Jedi, he was restricted in what he could do. The plot called for him to be doomed to failure anyway.

Ian McDiarmid was brilliant despite struggling with some pretty weedy lines and he had to carry the film a lot of the time. He really is a first class actor but George Lucas is obviously out of touch with the fact that nobody can do an evil laugh these days....ever since Austin Powers they no longer work!


Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Forgotten Arm

Aimee Mann's new album is The Forgotten Arm. The title refers to a boxing trick of feigning weakness in one arm which is then used to deliver the knockout.
I have written about "Dear John" and the earlier "Jacob Marley's Chains" today.

I used the website which I like because as a former English teacher the lyrics of songs interest me as poetry. My analysis is not very deep on this site though.

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