Archives for February 2013

Stunning New Documentary “The House I Live In”.

thehouseilivein-15469-530x330The documentary The House I Live In arrives with a lofty reputation, and for once it more than lives up to it. It’s stunning.

It’s the latest work from Eugene Jarecki, who’d previously made the brilliant The Trials Of Henry Kissinger in 2002. And who is also the brother of Andrew, who made the extraordinary Capturing The Friedmans in 2003.

The House I Live In gives an overview of America’s so called “War On Drugs”, which began officially with Richard Nixon in the early 70s. In reality though, its roots are buried deep in race.

It began with the successive moves to outlaw each of the different drugs favoured by the various groups of ethnic immigrants. That started with the criminalization of opium at the turn of the 20th century, in response to the influx of Chinese workers to the West coast.

friedmans-2Cannabis, cocaine and heroine followed as blacks and Hispanics were similarly targeted. This racism by default reached its nadir in the 80s when the mandatory sentence for crack cocaine was made 100 (one hundred!) times harsher than for ordinary coke, based on the kinds of people who were more likely to be caught using them.

This by the way has only very recently been reduced to a difference of a mere 14 times, despite the fact that everyone knows they are essentially the same thing.

The film brilliantly marshals an extraordinary amount of research and molds it into a coherent narrative. But never one that’s in any way simplistic, or un-necessarily bombastic. Despite the fact that it’s a passionately, and understandably angry film about what the war on drugs has done to the mostly black and always impoverished members of society there.

It perfectly combines personal testament, such as the moving story of the Jarecki family housekeeper and how her family was effected, with the carefully considered views of seasoned professionals in the area. The strongest of whom is The Wire’s David Simon, who worked for 12 years as a crime journalist on the Baltimore Sun, before taking all of that extensive and depressing experience and turning it into riveting drama.

NNVG2305It’s very hard to watch this film and not feel incredibly depressed about modern day America. All you can say is that, at the very least, this is an American film, and as such is a magnificent example of the freedom of speech and expression that that country fosters and encourages.

And the fact that there are people like Jarecki making films like this. And that people like Danny Glover, Brad Pitt and musician John Legend are all keen to help him do so by acting as Executive Producers on it. And that the people interviewed in it are all of them heroically trying to do something to help change the status quo, offers some cause for hope.

It’s part of BBC4’s superb Storyville series, so keep your eye out for it there. Either way, if at all you can, see it. You can see the trailer here.

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My Bloody Valentine’s New Album Picks up Where Peerless “Loveless” Left Off.

130203-my-bloody-valentine-m-b-v-album-art-1-700x422You’d be forgiven for thinking that Kevin Shields and his band My Bloody Valentine were too cool for school. Had they sat down and plotted a course to garner as much press and attention as they could from the follow-up to their 1991 album Loveless, they couldn’t possibly have done a better job.

Since the surprise release of MBV last weekend, teenage boys in their 30s 40s have been panting breathlessly into every corner of the blogosphere in a frenzied fever pitch.

They didn’t of course. When My Bloody Valentine released that album 22 years ago, like every band before them, they did so in the certain knowledge that theirs would change the course of musical history.

lovelessOn this particular occasion however, they were right. Edge, to pick but one, has frequently – and generously – said, no Loveless, no Achtung Baby. So Shields and co found themselves under extraordinary pressure to produce a follow-up. Unsurprisingly they froze. And that mythical sequel became a thing of yore.

Until that is last weekend. When out of the blue, there it was. And to everyone’s amazement and immense relief, somehow, it doesn’t disappoint.

As the suitably impressed review from the boys from Pitchfork notes here, where it gets a regal 9.1, it’s an album divided into three triads.

The opening three tracks are very much as you were, and could easily have been set aside by the band in 1991 as hidden bonus tracks on Loveless. The next three are quieter, with the tiniest of nods to the digital universe and the ambient sounds that have arrived in the intervening decades.

It’s with the final three tracks that the album really digs in and gets its claws in. As ever, the trademark ethereal 4AD his and her vocals are buried beneath the industrial noise of guitars that have been fedback and endlessly treated.

tumblr_mdnyvvkJvA1rc22qso1_1280But all the beats that are usually muffled by the rhythmic drone of the digitally mastered distortion are let loose on the penultimate track, Nothing Is. The result is hypnotic.

And the album ends with Wonder 2, where everything gets fed into what seems to be a jet aeroplane as it prepares to take off. Yet somehow, it inexplicably remains forever grounded. It’s the sound of flight and at once of containment. And it’s thrilling.

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“Zero Dark Thirty” Makes for Very Uneasy Viewing.

The Godfather movie image Al PacinoIf history has taught us anything, above and beyond the fact that anyone can be killed, it’s that there’s no such thing as being neutral.

Imagine what might have happened between us and our closest neighbour if we hadn’t gone out of our way to secretly help them during the IIWW. Or if we’d prevented the US from using Shannon over the last decade.

Refusing to take a stand amounts to taking the other side.

zero-dark-thirty-posterThere’s been a huge controversy in the US over Zero Dark Thirty’s attitude to torture. Which is baffling. Because, as the Independent On Sunday’s ever reliable Jonathon Romney says here, there’s nothing remotely ambivalent about it whatsoever.

There are two aspects to torture. Is it ethically and morally acceptable? And does it work? And the film is crystal clear on both fronts.

In the fight for good against evil, in the “war on terror” in other words, the good guys do whatever they have to in their efforts to nail the bad guys. And if that means torture, so be it.

Does torture work? Demonstrably. It’s thanks to the information they extracted through torturing their Prisoners Of War that they eventually locate the hide out in Pakistan where a mysterious man is housed.

And in case you were in any doubt, when somebody in the White House says that they need proof that it really is Osama holed up in there, the CIA tell him that they can’t give him that proof, now that the new administration have stopped them, alas, from using torture.

Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to the quieter, Oscar winning The Hurt Locker. Once again, it’s an extremely well made film. But this time around, all we get is a conventional shoot-em-up, Hollywood war film. And, like everything else that’s come out of Hollywood since the success of The Titanic, it’s way, way too long. 

zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastain-sliceIt’s Jaws meets The Guns Of Navarone, in which the lone sheriff, played by Jessica Chastain, comes up against the indifference of her superiors as she fights alone to keep the good townsfolk safe from the evil danger threatening from without.

What you think of it will depend on what your views are on the fact that there are tens of thousands of US and British troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in dozens of other countries across the globe.

If you’d like to have been in Times Square celebrating the killing of Osama bin Laden, then the film’s depiction of torture might very well seem to you to be somewhat ambivalent. In that it fails to openly celebrate it.

For the rest of us, it makes for very uneasy viewing indeed.

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Glen Campbell, Musical Prodigy, Majestic Singer and another Superb Doc from BBC4.

glen-campbellGlen Campbell was one of the most sought after musicians of the 1960s. He played lead guitar on The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas and on Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night. At one point, he ended up touring with the Beach Boys having replaced Brian Wilson as the latter descended into Stygian darkness.

Raised literally dirt poor, in so far as he and his eleven siblings were permanently caked in mud form the fields where they all worked, Campbell moved to Los Angeles to become a star after establishing himself as a musical prodigy.

But his first four albums failed to register. So like many before him, he became a session musician, and was one of the core musicians in what came to be known as the Wrecking Crew.

51IMviBowvL._SL500_SS500_These were the professional musicians and backing vocalists who, famously, Phil Spector and all the major record producers in Los Angeles relied on at the time. It was their sound that the kids were unwittingly listening to when they bought all those hit records.

The Monkees in other words were very much the norm, and not the exception.

But there was one person who’d fallen for Campbell’s unloved debut solo album, Turn Around Look At Me. A 14 year-old boy, who dreamt of one day becoming a songwriter, had listened to it endlessly. And when the now 21 year old Jimmy Webb eventually teamed up with Campbell seven years later, they began one of the most fruitful relationships in modern pop.

Songs like By The Time I Get to Phoenix and The Wichita Lineman would see the pair sent into the pop stratosphere. And Campbell, after years of hard graft, became an overnight success.

He was the perfect antidote to the suspicion and paranoia that the 60s became increasingly mired in. And, with his good looks, wholesome image, and gently conservative demeanour he was soon hosting one of the most successful TV shows of the day.

Inevitably though, as the 60s drifted bolshily into the 70s Campbell’s star was on the wane. But in 1975 he was given a brief reprieve, as his record label had one last stab at reviving his career. The result was Rhinestone Cowboy, a song that sounded like it was revealingly autobiographical. It wasn’t of course. It was written by the young Larry Weiss.

lThe conventional nose-dive into drink, drugs and dubious marriages followed. But a blind date with the prim and pretty Kim Woollen would see his spirit and his life revived, resuscitated  and re-born. And although Alzheimer’s has brought his touring to a premature end, for the most part this was a story with a happy ending.

Glen Campbell: The Rhinestone Cowboy was another in a long line of perfectly pitched portraits of musical greats. And it follows hot on the heels of a brilliant Storyville programme on the genuinely inspiring figure of Harry Belafonte. And, if you missed either of these two excellent BBC4 programmes, keep an eye out for them.

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