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 IIWWOr 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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