Shadow of Truth, another TV gem from Israel

Shad­ow of Truth

It’s hard to avoid describ­ing the doc­u­men­tary series Shad­ow of Truth as Israel’s Mak­ing a Mur­der­er (reviewed ear­li­er by me here). Released at round about the same time, in 2016, it was sub­se­quent­ly picked up by Net­flix and became one of their most watched true crime series, before being picked up and aired recent­ly on BBC4.

And, if you’re hap­py to accept my enthu­si­as­tic rec­om­men­da­tion as suf­fi­cient, I sug­gest you stop read­ing now, go away and watch all five episodes, before com­ing back to read the rest of this albeit con­scious­ly brief review. 

Notwith­stand­ing which, I don’t think it’s giv­ing too much away to assume that any­one who sits down to watch a five episode docu series on a famous and infa­mous mur­der tri­al will do so expect­ing at some point to be pre­sent­ed with some class of a twist.

So, and with­out giv­ing any­thing away, here very broad­ly is how it begins. A teenage girl is bru­tal­ly mur­dered in a leafy, bub­bled sub­urb in the Israeli hin­ter­land. And the first episode presents us with a clear and appar­ent­ly un-con­testable expla­na­tion as to exact­ly what hap­pened. Up until that is the final 20 sec­onds, when some­how, we appear to have the rug pulled from under us.

And in episode two, every­thing we thought we knew about what had hap­pened is, remark­ably, turned com­plete­ly upside down.

Cre­at­ed and direct­ed by Yotam Guen­del­man and Ari Pines it stirred up quite the storm when it was orig­i­nal­ly screened in Israel. Con­stant­ly sur­pris­ing, painstak­ing­ly researched and utter­ly com­pelling, it’s a loud and ring­ing endorse­ment for a free and inde­pen­dent media landscape. 

Which is as fun­da­men­tal for a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy as main­tain­ing a clear sep­a­ra­tion between the judi­cia­ry and the vest­ed inter­ests of polit­i­cal parties.

Watch the trail­er for Shad­ow of Truth here:

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Cillian Murphy and the casting of “Oppenheimer”

David Bad­diel has ques­tioned the cast­ing of the non-Jew­ish Cil­lian Mur­phy in the role of Robert J. Oppenheimer. 

And both Clarisse Loughrey and Peter Brad­shaw were sim­i­lar­ly crit­i­cal in their reviews of the film for The Inde­pen­dent and The Guardian respec­tive­ly. But the film’s far more egre­gious sin, sure­ly, was its fail­ure to cast an actu­al physi­cist in the role.

After all, his voca­tion as a nuclear physi­cist was far more fun­da­men­tal to Oppen­heimer the man than his cul­tur­al her­itage. But, bizarrely, the film­mak­ers chose inex­plic­a­bly to cast an actor in the role! Which isn’t just frankly sil­ly, it’s gross­ly unfair. 

Antho­ny Hop­kins, doing his best.

How on earth can an actor be expect­ed to have any kind of under­stand­ing or feel­ing for the casu­al back­stab­bing and ruth­less com­pet­i­tive­ness that aca­d­e­mics have to deal with, every day?

The only way to make a role like that in any way believ­able is by cast­ing an actu­al physi­cist. Actu­al­ly, now that I think about it, you know who would have been absolute­ly per­fect? Stephen Hawk­ing. If of course he’d been Jew­ish. And still alive. 

It’s that kind of old fash­ioned, colo­nial-era mis­cast­ing that’s bedev­illed Hol­ly­wood since God was a child. Exam­ples are, almost, too numer­ous to cat­a­logue. But prob­a­bly the most infa­mous was the sor­ry sight of the mild-man­nered, unfail­ing­ly polite and vis­i­bly well-mean­ing Antho­ny Hop­kins try­ing for­lorn­ly to con­vince in the role of Han­ni­bal Lecter.

Orson Welles as Othello.

Sure­ly they could have found one of the many flesh-eat­ing mass mur­der­ers bid­ing their time in any num­ber of the jails there to take on the role? Whose idea was it to imag­ine that Hop­kins could be in any way believ­able por­tray­ing a char­ac­ter he clear­ly had absolute­ly no cul­tur­al con­nec­tion with?!

And don’t get me start­ed on Orson Welles as, if you can believe it, Oth­el­lo!! Or, for that mat­ter, Mar­lon Bran­do as, wait for it, Mark Antony!!

Bran­do had nev­er set foot in Italy, had nev­er stud­ied the Clas­sics and had had absolute­ly no prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence or knowl­edge of the life or world of a prac­tic­ing politi­cian, what­so­ev­er. Nev­er mind a Roman one!! And yet there he is, casu­al­ly don­ning a toga, if you don’t mind. 

Mar­lon Bran­do as Mark Anntony.

What is it about priv­i­leged, white, mid­dle class, mid­dle aged males that makes them imag­ine that all you need do is don a cos­tume, mem­o­rize lines that have been care­ful­ly sculpt­ed and painful­ly ago­nized over, and immerse your­self in an exten­sive pro­gramme of pro­found, unre­lent­ing and often mani­a­cal­ly obses­sive research, that can stretch for months and years at a time, and then, hey presto, you’re sud­den­ly equipped, mag­i­cal­ly, to some­how inhab­it anoth­er char­ac­ter?! I mean, seriously?!

Would that it were that sim­ple, gen­tle­men. All any of that can be called, I’m afraid, is cul­tur­al appro­pri­a­tion, pure and sim­ple. And I, for one, say enough. Enough is enough, it real­ly is. It’s lit­er­al­ly the same word (© any num­ber of Late night Amer­i­can stand-ups).

Which isn’t, of course, to in any way take away from any of the mar­vel­lous per­for­mances that actress­es have giv­en in the role of, for instance, men. Each of which, with­out excep­tion, were coura­geous, thought-pro­vok­ing and bril­liant­ly chal­lenged our social mores and cul­tur­al preconceptions.

I’m think­ing of course of Judi Dench as M, Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, Gwyneth Pal­trow in Shake­speare in Love and, for that mat­ter, any one of those won­der­ful­ly inven­tive all-female pro­duc­tions of Shake­speare. Which, delight­ful­ly, are often per­formed in the park.

Welles’ cel­e­brat­ed pro­duc­tion of the Scot­tish play.

Equal­ly, Welles’ ‘voodoo’ Mac­beth, from 1936, in which all of the Scot­tish parts were per­formed by an all black cast, was brave, admirable and entire­ly to be applaud­ed – and one of the few that things that, for once, Welles man­aged not to make a mess of. 

But as for that unfor­giv­able per­for­mance in -

(con­tin­ued on pages 62–187. For the full list of all the films that we should nev­er watch, ever again, see Appen­dices F(1) F(2) and S.)

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Hit the road”, sunshine and dark clouds from Iran

Hit the Road, the fea­ture debut from Panah Panahi, has been described as Iran’s answer to Lit­tle Miss Sun­shine. But this being mod­ern-day Iran, its sur­face whim­sy masks sin­is­ter under­cur­rents and gen­uine danger.

A young man is dri­ving his par­ents and his caf­feinat­ed 7 year old broth­er, some­where. And the film’s easy charm, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its first half, is gen­er­at­ed by the things the lat­ter says and does because he’s only sev­en and doesn’t know any better.

But as the film and their jour­ney progress, we realise that, con­trary to appear­ances, they’re trav­el­ling with a very spe­cif­ic des­ti­na­tion in mind; a seclud­ed and out of the way bor­der crossing. 

Panahi is, as some of you will have sur­mised, the son of Jafar Panahi, who direct­ed the infec­tious­ly charm­ing and gen­uine­ly mov­ing Off­side, from 2006, about a pair a teenage girls deter­mined to go a world cup qual­i­fy­ing match. In 2010, he was sen­tenced to 6 years in prison and banned from mak­ing films for 20 years.

But a year lat­er, in 2011, he defi­ant­ly “made” This is not a Film, which was smug­gled out and shown inter­na­tion­al­ly (reviewed by me ear­li­er here). And ever since which, he’s remained there under house arrest and under con­stant threat of being sent to prison. 

Remark­ably, as it’s con­sid­er­ably eas­i­er said than done, his son here strikes up exact­ly the same deft bal­ance of pro­duc­ing a fly-on-the-wall win­dow on to inti­mate, domes­tic ten­sions, togeth­er with the sub­tle, unspo­ken cri­tique of a regime that forces ordi­nary peo­ple to act in ways they would nev­er nor­mal­ly have dreamt of.

All the per­for­mances are out­stand­ing, and there’s just the right mea­sure of direc­to­r­i­al flour­ish­es to lift the film for­mal­ly, with­out allow­ing it to descend into wan­ton quirkiness. 

Hit the Road is yet anoth­er rea­son to cel­e­brate one of the most vibrant film mak­ing cul­tures in the world. And for lament­ing a regime that insists on for­ev­er pun­ish­ing its peo­ple for their defi­ant and stead­fast refusal to stay silent.

You can see the trail­er for Hit the Road here.

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10,000 gecs” latest album from 100 gecs

10,000 gecs, by 100 gecs.

10,000 gecs”, the new album from 100 gecs is final­ly here, and has been duly recog­nised as the promised deliv­ery of the sec­ond coming. 

After the LA-based duo’s debut, 1,000 gecs, broke the inter­net after its release in 2019, the band was signed to the mighty Atlantic records, and the world wait­ed to see just how dis­ap­point­ing their fol­low-up would be, now that they’d sold out to the man.

But no soon­er was the album fin­ished and ready to go, than the band cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly binned it to begin it again from scratch. And now that, a life­time lat­er, their fol­low-up is final­ly here, the ver­dict is unanimous.

10,000 gecs is an epoch-defin­ing snap­shot of the zeit­geist that per­fect­ly encap­su­lates the dis­pos­able nature of con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. By min­ing so catholic a land­scape of musi­cal influ­ences with such bold irrev­er­ence, it tri­umphant­ly pro­duces a new kind of universality. 

The world and music will nev­er be the same again. You know, the usu­al in terms of a mea­sured crit­i­cal response. 

And the pair are play­ing their part to per­fec­tion, per­form­ing wall to all inter­views with prac­ticed insou­ciance, declar­ing their indif­fer­ence to all media, includ­ing and espe­cial­ly social (“I’m actu­al­ly not even on…” etc.) in per­fect­ly formed sound bites pre­cise­ly for­mu­lat­ed for the very plat­forms they’ve so lit­tle inter­est in courting. 

In fair­ness, it’s not their fault that they sud­den­ly find them­selves cat­a­pult­ed into the lime­light. They have to find some way, I sup­pose, of deal­ing with all that, and this is prob­a­bly as good a way as any. 

But there’s a huge prob­lem for a pair of musi­col­o­gists who are as unabashed­ly seri­ous in their study of all things son­ic as gecs are. There’s very lit­tle ter­rain left to go search­ing in.

In the 80s and 90s, the 60s and 70s were trawled exhaus­tive­ly by hip hop and rap artists for grooves and snatch­es of melody to sug­ar-coat their rage with. Then, in the oughts, DJs like Shad­ow and RJD2 mixed con­tem­po­rary hip hop with what­ev­er they could get their hands on from the 80s and 90s, as well as the 60s and 70s. While more recent­ly, the likes of Daft Punk and Bey­on­cé went back to dis­co and to house in their orig­i­nal forms. 

So any­one dig­ging today is forced on to nec­es­sar­i­ly obscure ter­rain. The result is that, in between the glo­ri­ous onslaught of thrash gui­tars, pop-punk, ska and auto-tuned vocals we get respect­ful nods in the direc­tion of Limp Bizk­it, Green Day, Primus and Ween.

Which gecs then feel duty-bound to insist is done in com­plete earnest­ness, and is utter­ly devoid of even a soup­con or smidgeon of irony.

It’s all incred­i­bly clever, gen­uine­ly impres­sive and propul­sive­ly toe-tap­ping. And yet. To once again mis­quote Gertrude Stein, there’s very lit­tle there, there. 

Instead of being able to bal­ance the intel­lec­tu­al weight of their son­ic archi­tec­ture with the emo­tion inher­ent in a clas­sic 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s melody, they’re reduced to rely­ing on musi­cal ref­er­ents that fur­ther bol­ster that intel­lec­tu­al heft. So it ends up being all brains and lit­tle in the way of heart or soul.

The result is an album that’s daz­zling but un-engag­ing. Telling­ly, despite com­ing in at bare­ly 27 min­utes, the album some­how over­stays its welcome. 

What it feels like more than any­thing else is an inter­mez­zo. An enjoy­able, indul­gent nov­el­ty record, that the band can now put behind them to focus on some­thing some­what more substantial. 

You can see the offi­cial video for 10,000 gecs’ Dori­tos & Fritos below:

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Shoah: the Most Important Documentary of the 20th Century

I spent an entire day ensconced in the IFI cin­e­ma in Dublin in the 1990s to watch all 7 ½ hours of Syberberg’s extra­or­di­nary epic “Hitler, a Film from Ger­many”, from 1977. Susan Son­tag had famous­ly said of it that it was “one of the 20th century’s great­est works of art.

Which had struck me at the time as sound­ing unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly wool­ly. But once you watch it you appre­ci­ate her choice of words. It’s not a film, or a doc­u­men­tary, a dra­mat­ic re-enact­ment, essay, opera, mime or the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion, and yet it draws on all those forms as a means of approach­ing its ungod­ly subject. 

But it’s only now that I’ve final­ly sum­moned up the courage to sit down and watch all 9 ½ hours of Claude Lanzmann’s mon­u­men­tal “Shoah”, from 1985, doc­u­ment­ing the holocaust. 

It is, as it needs to be, con­stant­ly har­row­ing and as such is a much-need­ed anti­dote to some­thing like Schindler’s List

Filmed over 11 years, Lanz­mann makes some remark­able choic­es. There’s no use of archive footage. Instead, he inter­views absolute­ly every­one he can find and talks to them, calm­ly, in a per­func­to­ry way, about what they can remember. 

And one of the first things that strikes you is how young every­one is. This is the mid 1970s, bare­ly 30 years after the IIWW, so many of the peo­ple he inter­views are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. 

He talks to some of the very few sur­vivors of the holo­caust, most of whom speak to him from their homes in Israel. To some of the casu­al wit­ness­es who’d been liv­ing and work­ing there in Poland, as the camps in Tre­blin­ka and Auschwitz came into being. And to a num­ber of SS offi­cers, whom he secret­ly films and records. 

And because he under­stands how fun­da­men­tal­ly impor­tant it is to doc­u­ment all of this, and to not allow his emo­tions inter­fere in that process. And because he’s pre­pared to spend 11 years doing it, and will only release the result in its entire 9 ½ hour form, the result is a film that’s qui­et­ly mes­meris­ing. And cumu­la­tive­ly dis­turb­ing in its insis­tence of unhur­ried­ly por­ing over all the details, one by one. 

And the phrase that, inevitably, keeps return­ing is Han­nah Arendt’s famous “the banal­i­ty of evil”.

But one of the things that has changed over the past cou­ple of decades is our view­ing habits. Few of us would ever have actu­al­ly got around to spend an entire week­end in the cin­e­ma watch­ing all 9 ½ hours of a doc­u­men­tary on the holo­caust, how­ev­er much we might have intend­ed to.

But watch­ing a less than 10 hour doc­u­men­tary on one of the most impor­tant events in mod­ern his­to­ry is far less improb­a­ble today, giv­en our cur­rent appetite for binge-watch­ing all sorts of unde­serv­ing dross, which we’re more than hap­py to waste hours and hours doing.

Every­body should put aside 10 hours to watch Shoah. It’s appalling. And mes­mer­iz­ing. And is one of, if not the most impor­tant doc­u­ments of the 20th century. 

Watch the trail­er for Shoah here.

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