Ophelia, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writers Lisa Klein and Semi Chellas, Director Claire McCarthy

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0011pn4/ophelia

Ophelia, based on a book by Lisa Klein, who is also a screenwriter here (my guess that gave her leverage to adapt her novel for cinema/television) tells the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from a woman’s perspective, in much the same way Tom Stoppard put centre stage other peripheral figures in the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

I’m not read Lisa Klein’s novel. And I’m not a great fan of Shakespeare’s plays, or theatre in general, which for some people marks me out as a bit of a thicko. And they may well be right. But I’ve speed read the play. I also watched Franco Zefferelli’s version of Hamlet, filmed largely in Scotland. Mad Max, Mel Gibson in the titular role of the Prince of Denmark. Glen Close playing his glamourous mother, with a hint of incest. Alan Bates played the murdering uncle and brother of the king, Claudius. Homer Simpson played my favourite version of Hamlet. Blue-haired Marge as Queen of Denmark.

 If Ophelia was in verse such as iambic pentameter then it would have been curtain after five minutes. It starts rather with a more conventional trope, in medias res. Orphelia (Daisy Ridley) drowns herself, as she does in Hamlet. Time spools backwards to her childhood. A bit of a tomboy, she’s taken under the Queen’s wing (Naomi Watts) and made one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting.

She grows into a swan. So far, so conventional. She catches Hamlet’s eye (George MacKay) and they fall in love.

A secondary plot involves the Queen consulting with a witch to keep her beauty and aging at bay. The witch Mechtild (Naomi Watts with straggly hair) is also beautiful. Her backstory involves teenage pregnancy with Claudius (Clive Owen) who let her rot and burn rather than admit his own involvement and parenthood.

She might be in league with the devil with her potions, but she’s not in the league of Morgan Le Fey of Arthurian legend. Morgana Le Fey (Helen Mirren) in Excalibur. Merlin, Lancelot and King Arthur should have just given up and taken the knee in homage to such earthy beauty, as Claudius forces Hamlet, in the name of chivalric honour to bow to the new King of Denmark or commit treason.

I’m probably giving too much away, but if you’ve read Shakespeare or watched The Simpsons, you know Claudius gets his comeuppance. Ophelia? That’s for you to find out.  

Vice, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Adam McKay.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0011p18/vice

Described as comedy-drama, a biographical film about former US vice-president Dick Cheney. Christian Bale won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the most powerful vice-president in modern history. There is a contemporary joke that nobody is ever called Dick, but that’s about it.

There is nothing funny about Vice. At a push, I could probably name most of the President since the first wold war since it mostly involves saying Roosevelt over and over.

Vice President can become Presidents. General Eisenhower and Harry Truman spring to mind. And if you take a circular route, Republican, Vice President Richard Nixon finally got his feet under the desk at the Oval Office. Most were in agreement Vice was no more than a token job. A bit like being the President’s wife. Good for photoshoots and opening fetes.

Kamala Harris’s power, in contrast, lies her ability to cast a tie-breaking vote in a split Senate. But really, she’s waiting for Joe Biden to die so she can step into a real job.

Robert A. Caro shows how Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) spiralled into depression when his attempts to control the Senate were rebuffed and his attempt to manipulate the new American President, and darling of the media, John F. Kennedy were swatted aside with a smile. The man that had once controlled Congress and Senate reduced to a comic figure that was left out of briefings in the new Camelot.

Vice follows the path of an American boy made good. Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) telling him after a couple of drink driving convictions and barroom fights he was on the road to nowhere. He better ship up or ship out. He did both, while staying out of Vietnam and the armed forces on deferments.

Like LBJ, Cheney had a talent for politics. In one scene, he asks another intern what party  guest-speaker Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) belongs to. When told he’s a Republican, he says he’s a Republican too.

When working for Rumsfeld as an intern he asks him Cheney what he believes in. Here’s the joke part of the film. Rumsfeld slaps him on the back and laughs so long and hard, the viewer knows it’s a joke. The purpose of power is power.

Realpolitik. Rumsfeld points to a closed door. He tells Cheney behind it is Nixon and Defense Secretary Henry Kissinger are having an unofficial meeting. When the meeting was finished tens of thousands of Vietnamese would die. Subtext. They are plotting mass murderer.

Drawing a line in the sand, Cheney gave his support to gay marriages since one of his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) came out as gay.  

There were other shifting lines in the sand. He was a hawkish Secretary of Defense (1989–1993) following the precepts of the Eisenhower Doctrine—any (oil rich) Middle Eastern country could request American economic assistance or aid from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by armed aggression. 1st August 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi forces into neighbouring oil-rich Kuwait.

President George W Bush (senior) unleashed coalition (mainly US) forces in Desert Storm under the command of General Norman Schwarzkopf. February 24. Within 100 hours, Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait in the ground war. With aerial dominance, they were sitting ducks.

[Not in the film, but worth quoting Cheney’s perceptive response to the invasion of Baghdad, in the first Gulf War: how many American dead is Saddam worth?]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Cheney

 ‘Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it – eastern Iraq – the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families – it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.’

Vice Presidency (2001–2009).

We all know about what’s now called 9/11.

But if you asked me who the Vice President was at the time, I couldn’t have answered. The tone of the film is set early. George W. Bush (junior) (Sam Rockwell) is in the air metaphorically and literally when the planes hit The Twin Towers. Dick Cheney takes charge of the 9/11 fallout.  

But Dick Cheney had always been—more of less—in charge. The coup that LBJ had attempted had failed, but Cheney was the real power in American politics. The dithering George W Bush President, but the Vice President pulling the strings. Ironically, the power grab going in the other direction. The American President grabbing more executive power as the Twin Towers fell. Extra-ordinary rendition. Repealing the Geneva Convension. Spying on American citizens.

The invasion of Afghanistan was payback for 9/11.

Payback for his old bosses at Halliburton Corporation by adding billions of dollars to shareholder value. The invasion of Iraq’s oil-rich fields with evidence from a list drawn up before Saddam Hussein was found to have mass weapons of destruction—he didn’t have and links to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida hidden network in the paperwork with the weapons of mass destruction.  

Cheney, a hawk abroad, and conservative at home. No surprise with his fortune coming from a fossil fuel, Times 500 Company, he helped in the pushback for the ideas of global warming. He helped reframe the debate, through think-tanks sponsored by Times 500 companies as simply climate change, which sound much more palatable and less threatening. The kind of idea picked up the moron’s moron.

Cheney endorsed Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, but didn’t shut his eyes to how he got elected. Russian interference, or what he moron’s moron would call Russian help from their cyber networks, Cheney classified as ‘an act of war’. But he’d also have to have declared war on that American institution Facebook that cashed the cyber cheques made in Russia and created the images of hate that polluted politics (from a very low base which Cheney’s think-tanks helped fuel) and still does.

The film ends with the viewer finding out the narrator of the film is the man that provided Cheney with a new heart after his failed. I guess they should have saved it and given it to someone more deserving. But money talks loudest. Worth a look, but don’t expect to giggle.  

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The Exorcist, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, writer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00116dq/the-exorcist

I was around ten, big for my age, but not big enough to sneak into the La Scala and watch The Exorcist. The media warned us—don’t go. Rather than see it, there was talk of church boycotts and a spate of suicides. And those that did see it fainted, spewed up, or went insane. But my sister was made of stronger stuff. Jo even smoked and drank vodka. She wasn’t eighteen, but there was a buzz about the film that made it a rite of passage.

We heard, of course, about the highlights. Regan (Linda Blair) poking herself with a crucifix and her head turning back to front like a piegon while spouting green goo. This was a step up from Christopher Lee as Dracula, who hung about open windows, waiting for the lady of the house to arrange her negligee so her big boobs were showing, before inviting him inside to bit her on the neck and leave two pin-prick marks. It wasn’t safe to go to bed without a crucifix. Being Catholics, of course, we’d more crucifixes that the average American had household personal guns. And if my wee brother was sleeping, I could set him out as a tasty snack, with a big arrow pointing to the room next door, where my two sisters were more than a match for Dracula. Just let him try laying a fang on them.

The Devil, of course, was a different matter. Atheists could poo-poo the existence of ghosts, or use logic to prove that God didn’t exist, but you’d need to be mad not to believe in the devil’s existence. Wherever sex was, he was sure to follow. Ironically, the swinging sixties saw a surge in numbers to religious institutions. The Exorcist was a reminder of the good old days when good was good and evil was truly evil, and nobody abused anybody in their beds.

When, for example, Regan’s mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) asks Father Karras (Jason Miller) to perform an exorcism on his daughter, he quips, that he could, but he’d have to find a time machine and whisk them both back to the sixteenth century.

Father Karras is having his own Dark Night of the Soul (St. John of The Cross) and doubts if he can continue being a priest. If he believes in God. This is centred on his Italian Mama, who is ill and lives alone. He thinks he should be caring for her in her last days. When she’s taken into hospital, his uncle, her mother’s brother, remonstrates with him there’s nothing they can do. They haven’t got the money for private care. He asks, Who’s going to take care of her? – you?

Father Karras has no answers, but as well as being a priest and psychiatrist, he’s a keen amateur boxer. Lt. Kinderman (Lee J Cobb) buttonholes him on the track. He’s investigating a strange death on a stairway, outside Regan’s window. Chris MacNeil’s boyfriend fell down those stairs, his head turned back to front. Father Karras might know something about that, he hints, some wayward priest with a grudge. After all, there’d also been the desecration of the church.

Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) brings the storylines together. The film begins with his architectural digs and ancient demons. When Father Karras tries to tell him about Regan’s medical history, Merrin tells him none of these things matter. He’s Peter Cushing’s Doctor van Helsing hunting down Dracula to his lair. Instead of a brace of wooden stakes in his hand: a worn  Bible. Father Karras follows the formula: Good versus Evil. God versus the Devil.

The Prodigy (2019) a horror film directed by Nicholas McCarthy, and written by Jeff Buhler gives this formula a twist. A child at birth is inhabited by the soul of a Hungarian born mass murderer, who’d relocated to the United States. The battle for the body is the battle for the soul.

In The Exorcist this is shown graphically with the words ‘help me’ appearing on her abdomen, underneath the skin for her mother to read. Twelve-year-old Regan is innocent, but the devil has taken her.

We all know how it ends in a boxing match. Father Karras knocking the living hell out of twelve-year-old Regan and the devil inside her. ‘Take me,’ his invitation accepted. One for the other. Broken in body (Eucharistic rites: this is my body, broken for you), but time enough for Confession and repentance. The Catholic Church 1—0 Devil nil.

Watching the film, forty years later, you see how run down New York is. This is the Nixon era. There’s rather a corny scene when Chis MacNeil goes up into the attic to investigate what she thinks are rats. She has a torch, which doesn’t work. Instead, she lights a candle. The traps for mice lie empty. The candle flares up and just as suddenly goes out. The real surprise is the caretaker appearing, immediately, with a torch. That’s what you call service. Things were better in those days. Servants could anticipate your every need. They even knew when the devil was going to flare up and stand ready with battery power.

Roe versus Wade, 1973, the year of The Exorcist. Nostalgic religious porn. The rise of the religious right. The election of the demonic moron’s moron backed by the religious right. 2021, the squashing of Roe versus Wade. Peter Cushing or Father Karras,  we need you to put one on the evil ginger quiff and pink-faced one spouting green goo and household cures by injecting common disinfectant? Evil lurks—still.  

Saved by a Stranger, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Presenter Anita Rani and Director Toby Trackman.

Brixton born Marc

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000vlpr/saved-by-a-stranger-series-1-1-karl-and-emina

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000vszb/saved-by-a-stranger-series-1-2-marc-and-peter

 The format for this serious is simple, and it’s in the title. People who have been caught up in some traumatic, life-changing event, and some stranger has stepped in to help them. I’m sure I watched the last series, but can’t remember if I did. It’s a feel-good programme.  

The cynical part of me suspects if  an American documentary maker made this programme there would be supernatural elements, but the only angels here are real people. Anita Rani meets with Karl and Emina in the first episode and Marc and Peter in the second episode and does a bit of acting: Will we find these strangers, she asks? That’s like asking will Kylie and Jason Donovan marry in the final episode of Neighbours—of course they will—and live happily ever after?

Karl was in the train carriage where 26 people died on London’s Piccadilly underground line on the 7/7/2005 (another 26 died when a bomb went off on a bus). He was a student dancer, training to be a professional. After the explosion, he prayed to God to let him out, ‘I won’t be gay any more’, was his bargaining chip. God knew he was lying, because He was God, but He also had foreknowledge of the 7/7 bombings and that Karl would push past the stranger that held his hand and told him it would be alright, in his rush to escape from the carriage.

God would also know about the atrocities in Sarajevo during the Bosnia and Herzegovina war in 1992. He would know that a doctor would arrange for Emina and her sister, Edina, who required surgery and had Down’s syndrome to escape on a bus, taking young mothers and kids out of the sieged state to live in Birmingham. God would know that some of the older boys would be taken off buses and shot, and buried in mass graves. Buses would be blown up crossing bridges. But Emina and Edina and their mother would make it to safety. He would know that their dad made the right choice not getting on the bus, despite their mother begging him. And he too would join them in Britain. God would know Britain hates refugees—and poor people, in particular, even their own citizens that have the wrong colour of skin— but since this is a feel-good story, we’ll kid on we don’t. He’ll know that Anita Rani will go through the charade of not being able to find the paediatric doctor who now lives and worked in Holland.

God, despite hating gay people, killing them with AIDs, and in the words of former police chief of Greater Manchester, Sir James Anderton, ‘swirling around in a cesspit of their own making’ will know he’ll get the backing of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Brixton born black boy Marc will be diagnosed with HIV at the age of seventeen. Marc will find a saviour in a counsellor called John (Wilks) and a place of safety in the Landmark Centre. God will know that the Tories will unleash savage policies in the name of fiscal prudence which took money from the poor to give to the rich and shut off local authority programmes like Surestart and close places like the Landmark Centre.

God will know about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He’ll know about the Brexit border and every lie that Boris Johnson has told. Yet, God will know that the English voters found the little Trump to be good. He’ll know about Peter being shot in the legs by Ulster Protestant paramilitaries in 1979, and how his wife suffered post-traumatic stress disorder hit the booze and died young. God knows Peter will make it and have a pile of grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Peter will never forget the angel, a nurse called Betsy that pulled him through his darkest days in hospital. God knows Anita Rami will go through the usual hee-haw of being unable to find her, but then, suddenly, a chink of light. Ahhhhhhhhh…that’s nice.    

The Men Who Stare at Goats, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, screenplay by Peter Straughan, adapted from a book by Jon Ronson, and directed by Grant Heslov.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00xhf50/the-men-who-stare-at-goats

In many ways this is George Clooney’s creation. He’s listed as one of the producers. Producers are the guys (and it is usually men) who get the money together to make a movie. Because he’s George Clooney he can do that kind of thing. Other people will fling money at him, because it’s a no-lose situation, a film starring George Clooney is bound to make money, and if it’s any good, it’ll make a lot of money, but the stars need to be aligned.

George Clooney stars with different haircuts and uniforms, but the same sugary smile he’s perfected over the years. His character Lyn Skip Cassady is ex-American army, and there are flashbacks to the time when the US military set up a shadowy organisation to create psychic warriors and conquer hearts and minds by making love, not war. Army maverick Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) led them to places they couldn’t have dreamed. Bridges re-jigs his role as The Dude, but in army military bases.  But The Men Who Stare at Goats is much more fun than The Big Lebowski. I laughed  aloud several times, and that doesn’t usually happen unless an old woman falls in front of a truck after jumping over a skipping rope.

We know all this because Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) tells us about his journey with Cassady on the road to enlightenment in an Iraq that is being liberated or conquered by American troops (depending on your point of view). There’s the realist tone Umberto Eco adopts in his masterpiece Foucault’s Pendulum with the ridiculous rubbing shoulders with reality. Cassady regrets, for example, under military orders letting his ego run wild, staring at a goat and stopping its heart. He admits that it might just have been coincidence, him staring and the bleating animal’s heart stopping, but he doesn’t believe in coincidences.

Cassady’s mission is so hush-hush, he’s not even sure what it is himself. He needs to find his former guru, The Dudeless Bill Django in a desert without road signs. The right road is often the wrong road as they are taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists. But that’s a mere blip in Cassady’s inner radar, as Bob Wilton makes the inner journey from sceptic to true believer.

Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is our Judas and nemesis of free-love and free-wheeling Django and Cassady in the military and world at large. (This was before Spacey was publically shamed, some would see that as proof of the dark side. Other examples being the large numbers of cast members that died in strange circumstance after making The Omen).

Whatever—this is a great and fun movie. George Clooney has never been better as George Clooney, Ewan McGregor even gets in on the act. Well worth watching for Dude-less fans. Try it.

A Teacher, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, written by Hannah Fidell.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08xc504/a-teacher-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08xc59p/a-teacher-series-1-episode-2

We all know about the meet-cute, when the main characters collide, and we know they’ll later have a romance. In Norah Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, for example, Sally Albright (Meg Ryan’s character) is sitting waiting in a beaten-up Beatle car filled with junk to give a lift to Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) while he gives a prolonged snog to his latest has-been. Here Hannah Fiddel is more in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita territory with middle-aged literary professor Humbert Humbert having a sexual obsession with his stepdaughter, Dolores Haze, and English school teacher Claire Wilson (Kate Mara) having an affair with her pupil Eric Walker (Nick Robinson).

The first couple of episodes set things up. Claire Wilson arriving at Westerbrook High and Eric Walker and his school buddies looking on and saying how cute she is. But, of course, she’s ‘a teacher’ and they’re eighteen-year-old boys. They know the difference between fantasy and reality. Twelve-year-old Lolita, for example, has still a lot of growing up to do in comparison.

We’re a long way from Texas, but in Damian Barr’s autobiographic Maggie & Me, with Motherwell as a backdrop, he tells the reader how as a spotty sixth-year pupil, one of his teacher was giving him the heavy-come on. Prattling on about her problems at home and how her husband didn’t really understand her. Giving him a lift home.  Does this sound familiar? She didn’t realise he liked boys. Perhaps that would have made a more interesting drama.

Usually, as we know, far away from News of the World type exclusives, around 99% of cases it’s the male teacher leching after the female student. Age does matter. Who does what to whom shouldn’t matter.  But for this kind of drama, phew, every schoolboy’s wet-dream onscreen. You might want to watch how it develops and how the protagonists don’t live happily-ever- after over ten episodes.  Two short and colourful episodes was enough for me.

Documentary of 2020: Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Andy Serkis and Director James Bluemel.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Andy Serkis and Director James Bluemel.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000kxwq/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-1-war

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000l43w/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-2-insurgency

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr4ws/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-3-fallujah

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr52c/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-4-saddam

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr5t9/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-5-legacy

Waleed Nesyif was a teenager when President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein just 48 hours to leave Iraq. He was, like many Iraqi teenagers at that time, infatuated by the West. But while many of his generation grew up enjoying songs by The Backstreet Boys, Waleed formed Iraq’s first heavy metal band. By comparison to the American movies Waleed and his friends enjoyed, life under Saddam was oppressive, fuelled by fear and paranoia. If war meant life would eventually be more like the way it was in the movies, then in Waleed’s words, ‘let’s get this s**t done’.

Omar Mohammed, a young Iraqi student in 2003 explains the difference between the Iraqi and the American soldier during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He thought they were Rambo. Nobody could defeat them.

For others, it was more complicated. Um Qusay, a farmer’s wife from a small village near Tikrit, was under no illusions about the cruelty of Saddam’s regime. That did not mean however that she wanted a foreign army to invade her country to dispose of him. There were benefits to living in a police state. The streets were very safe, and if you did not oppose the government directly, you were free to live how you wished. Life might not have been perfect, but many felt that a war with America would be something that Iraq would not survive. Sally was just eight years old when American troops entered Baghdad. She had been told to be fearful of them, but when a soldier offered her a sweet, she decided that the stories she had been taught at school about the foreign imperialist devils were wrong, as only good people could be this kind.

As the statue to their former dictator falls in Firdos Square, there is a real sense of hope felt by many Iraqis. Maybe, just maybe, Iraq would emerge a better country – perhaps even as one of the best countries in the world. That was the very real hope of Ahmed Al Bashir. Now Iraq’s most famous comedian, as a teenager in 2003, Ahmed was excited by the opportunity to speak English with real Americans, waving at the invading troops and inviting them into his house. From his hotel room in northern Iraq, photographer Ashley Gilbertson watched, along with the rest of the world, as Saddam’s statue was torn down. ‘I’ve missed the war’ were his initial thoughts. What he and many others did not realise at the time was that this was not the war. The war was still to come. The initial hope, felt by many Iraqis, would be tragically short lived once the realities of occupation with no postwar plan hit the streets of Baghdad

When Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman arrived in Iraq in 2003, his belief in the task ahead – of delivering democracy and stability to the Iraqi people – was unquestioning. Sassaman was an inspirational leader to his men, and many felt that he was destined one day to become a general. Six months into his tour, caught in the political and literal crossfire of the insurgency, his good intentions and belief systems were shattered. Unprepared for the hostile environment he found himself in, with little support coming from Washington and taking daily attacks from insurgents, Sassaman was pushed to the very darkest regions of his psyche.

Alaa Adel was 12 years old in the summer of 2003, when she too was caught in crossfire on the streets of Baghdad. She suffered life-changing injuries when she was hit in the face by shrapnel from one of the first roadside bombs, which were planted by insurgents and intended for American forces.

Looking back at that time, both Sassaman and Alaa question the benefits of the war in Iraq. While one struggles with the guilt of their actions, the other lives with bristling resentment and ongoing anger.

At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, over 600 journalists and photographers are given permission by the US government to follow the war as embedded reporters. Dexter Filkins and photographer Ashley Gilbertson are working for the New York Times when they enter Fallujah with Bravo Company in November 2004.

It is the most intense battle of the entire war and the biggest the marines have fought since Vietnam. For the duration of the battle, both journalists live with the marines, filing their stories as they are constantly shot at. Illustrated by thousands of photographs taken by Gilbertson that week, many of them never before published, as well as unseen material taken by the marines themselves, this film takes viewers into the heart of the battle. Gilbertson’s decision to capture an image of an Iraqi sniper shooting from inside a minaret changes not only his life but the lives of the soldiers with him.

Nidhal Abed has lived in Fallujah her entire life. On 4 November 2004, her two-year-old son Mustafa is running a high fever. She leaves her home to take Mustafa to the doctors just a few streets away. What happened next ensures their lives too are never the same again.

With unique archive of the battle itself, this story is told through the marines, journalists and residents of Fallujah

CIA analyst John Nixon is the first person to interrogate Saddam.

The emergence of ISIS concludes the legacy of the Iraq War. But it has begun before this by what David Armstrong describes as the Bush administration ‘Drafting a Plan for Global Dominance 2002,’  in response to 9/11,  a strategy of threatening and attacking countries in pre-emptive strikes to prevent terrorism. ‘Iran would be next, then Syria, North Korea, even China…Sweep it all up’.

Felicity Arbuthnot, reports in Iraq: The Unending War 1998-99, humanises it by reporting on the case of Jassim, the Little Poet – R.I.P.  

Until he’d been ill he’d been selling cigarettes in his home town of Basra, in northern Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Gulf War and Desert Storm.

A six-fold increase in childhood cancers linked to the use of missiles and bullets coated with depleted uranium, which remains radioactive for 4500 years.

‘Iraq’s childhood mortality rate will go down in history as one of the great crimes of the twentieth century, alongside the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden and the excesses of Pol Pot. Between 6000 and 7000 children under five are dying of embargo-related causes,’ said Denis Haliday, a former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN.  

Jay Gordon, Cool War, Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction 2002, reminds us before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s government, despite the well-known mass murder of Kurds and Shi’ites would not have survived without substantial backing from the United States, especially with an expensive war with Iran from 1980-1988.

After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, in 1991, the US secretary-general envoy predicted ‘imminent catastrophe’. Immediate crises in food, water, sanitation, and infrastructure. His report concluded with the suggestion of ‘epidemics and famine’.  According to a Pentagon report that was the intention.

In the Oil for Food Programme, for example, around $170 per person per year was allocated. Around half the annual per-capita income of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti. Less than the $400 spent on dogs UN used on de-mining operations.

The destruction of the fresh water system caused outbreaks of cholera and typhus, which disproportionately killed infants and children. Prior to 1990 around 95 per cent of city dwellers had drinkable water. By 1996 all sewerage-treatment plants had broken down, confirming the Pentagon report’s analysis. Thirteen percent of Iraqi children died before their fifth birthday.

Jassim, the Little Poet’s last written words, ‘Identity Card’.

‘The name is love,

The class is mindless,

The school is suffering,

The governorate is sadness,

The city is sighing,

The street is misery,

The home number is one thousand sighs.’

The Death of Stalin, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer directed by Armando Iannucci

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000qrrc/the-death-of-stalin

I’ve read a couple of books on Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore. I get who he is, or was. Armando Iannucci concentrates on Stalin’s death and the scramble for power among his henchmen of torturers and mass murderers. It’s played out as farce. For example, in the opening scenes Stalin, who loved music (and books) rings a studio in Moscow and tells the presenter of the radio performance that he’d like a recording and he’ll send someone to pick it up in 17 minutes. You can’t say no to Stalin. The orchestra has to replay the concert and an audience rounded up to fill the theatre and clap at the appropriate moments. Then  it has to be recorded and sent to Stalin. Chaos has to be managed.

The apparently droll humour of Iannucci’s Yes Minister and The Thick of It translated into the grim Soviet era of 1953, Moscow. But I just don’t get that kind of stuff, and found it as funny as Benny Hill chasing after a Page 3 girl. I didn’t laugh once and switched over to Match of the Day before it finished. I guess these kinds of programmes aren’t made for the proletariat.  

Inside the Bruderhof, BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Director Emma Pentecost and narrator Katherine Jakeman.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00071xr/inside-the-bruderhof

The end of the world is nigh. That’s not religious dogma, but the science of global warming. Hundreds of millions will die. Perhaps billions. The mass extinction of non-human species on land and sea has already begun. But Inside the Bruderhof is a joyous look at communal living in a religious community. But then again, I’m a big fan of utopia. The flip- side of Brave New World was Aldous Huxley’s Utopia. An island nation where everything was going swimmingly until a takeover bid called democracy with an injection of neo-liberalism was just another way of saying dictatorship, and not of the proletariat.  Remember onscreen when hard-bitten cop Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis looking pretty dinky in Amish costume got together in Witness. ‘Worlds apart’ was the tagline. The Bruderhof aren’t Amish, they don’t, for example, travel about in horse and cart, but director Emma Pentecost in this forty-minute documentary goes for that angle of cute otherness.

Eighteen-year-old Hannah, who plays a major role in this documentary, puts it bluntly, ‘It feels like I’m from a different time zone… Someone from the middle-ages shows up in London and stays in those ages… That way of life. I kinda feel like a foreigner.’ She probably doesn’t even realise she’s a ginger.

Ford and McGillis had to protect an eight-year-old boy in a corrupt world. Here we’ve got the before and after. Hannah is leaving the idyllic countryside setting of Darvell in Sussex and moving fifty-six miles to inner city Peckham (of Fools and Horses fame) to find work for a year, outside the community.

Hannah, the eldest of three children leaves behind her father, Bernard, and mother, Rachel, and around three hundred other people in the community she has known all her life to ask a very important question of herself: Does she want to remain part of the Bruderhof?

 Ironcially, she moves into another Bruderhof community, with house parents, but in London, which isn’t the London I knew when I hitchhiked down there when I was nineteen. A London of smash and grab and no time for anything but money, money, money and fuck-you more money.  This is a different kind of cloistered freedom Hanna experiences with other girls on the same quest. For the first time in her life, for example, she’s handling hard cash and toying with eight-inch heeled shoes in Rye Market.

‘One thing I have learned is how empty life is,’ she concludes. ‘And how we fill our life with stuff. It’s just so unnecessary.’

Amen to that. The question who am I? becomes what am I? (A question we all need to ask ourselves, and there’s a category of hell for Trump supporters and Tories.)

Aged 21, Hannah knows, like the other youngsters, she must commit or leave the Bruder community. Her father tells the narrator that around 25% to 30%  of young people in the community do not commit to staying and do leave. That it is not a utopia or a democracy.  ‘But it’s healthy, them leaving’.

‘People move where they’re told. People move internationally. It’s a way of life where you have to give up that kinda stuff, or you shouldn’t join.’

There are a few types of jobs, but everybody that is able works. And the domestic duties are taken predominantly by the females. Men work the land and workshops that produce, for example, wooden chairs and toys for classrooms and day-care centres.

Bernard says, ‘People come here and see gender segregation. But it’s no big deal. Nobody is getting paid.’

What is also noticeable to the viewer is there are no people of colour in the Bruder community. Is playing the white man, literal, metaphysical or other?  

The narrator quizzes a young lady in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, ‘Have you ever questioned the division of jobs?’

Answer, ‘Yes as a young woman, as a teenager, but as I grew older I came to understand the significance of why it is, we do what we do, here.

‘I’ve never been so free in my life.  Because we are under no pressure to follow anything, but to follow Christ.

‘And we do that in a free way, by taking care of our kids, taking care of other people’s kids.

‘We have our roles, it’s a traditional thing, but not a bad thing, it’s a wonderful thing.’

Hardy, aged 26, presents the flip-side of the community. The one that got away, but ‘if you ask me, I couldn’t live anywhere else’, he says, while being filmed angling.

He moved to UK, 2010. He grew up in Bruderhof. As a child he described it as ‘paradise’.  Rebel, typical teenage behaviour, ‘the grass is greener’. He left with his family of five siblings when he was fourteen, with the blessing of the community. They returned, well mostly, a few of them didn’t. That didn’t make them bad people.

Hannah’s father Bernard concludes, ‘We’re not utopia. The Bruderhof works because everybody has given up their life.’

The narrator asked Hardy, ‘Why did you come back?’

Hardy, ‘I never felt the same sense of belonging anywhere else.’

Narrator, ‘Some people might say you’re running away from real life by moving back here’.

‘I don’t think the Bruderhof is an escape from reality. We’re not trying to get away from the terrible things in the world. From a selfish point of view, I think I’d probably be happier living elsewhere. I knew it’d take sacrifice. I’d have to give up what I’d have to do with my life.

After a month away Hannah has more or less made her mind up. ‘All the people of the Bruderhof have committed themselves to a cause, there’s that meaning that gets you out of bed in the morning. If it wasn’t for my faith, yeh—I’d see no point in life’.

There’s a lot of good faith in the Bruder community. It would have been interesting to see it during lockdown with the corona virus. I’m sure with green field and sunshine they’d have handled it better that most. Generally, people with strong religious beliefs live longer, happier, lives. But there’s always the bad apple. That’s the story I want to hear most. Paradise is great, but after the fall is more interesting. The four horseman of the apocalypse are already in the saddle. I believe that. I truly do. Perhaps the Bruder community can teach us something useful about the way we should live, but I think it’s too late for most of us. Perhaps for all of us.

The Trial of Alex Salmond, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Director Sarah Howitt and narrator Kirsty Wark.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000lwld

Droit du seigneur

#MeToo in the Middle-Ages – A supposed legal right in medieval Europe, allowing feudal lords to have sex with subordinate women on their wedding night (or whenever).

#MeToo in the twenty-first century, Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond, March 2020, at the High Court in Edinburgh,  was found not guilty of thirteen charges of sexual misconduct, including an attempted rape in which the witness, ‘woman H’ (identities were kept secret and actor’s voices used for dramatic purposes) alleged that after dinner in 2014, at Bute House, she was sexually assaulted and Alex Salmond held her down on a bed and would have raped her, but he passed out drunk. This charge was found ‘Not Proven’ (a verdict that only exists in Scotland’s courts). One charge was thrown out by the procurator fiscal’s office before going to trial.

 ‘Woman A’, one of ten women, alleged, for example, Alex Salmond had placed his hand on her thigh while in his chauffeur-driven car and had sexually assaulted her.

Salmond’s Queen’s Counsel, the bumptious Gordon Jackson, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, was himself censored after being overhead naming some of the women witnesses on board the Edinburgh to Glasgow train. Salmond had crowdfunded his defence costs and reached his target of over £80 000 claiming he was being unjustly vilified.

Jackson was more forthright in his train journey. The same old tactics that victimise the victim which mean, on average, 95% of rape allegations never reach court and aren’t prosecuted by the procurator fiscal, were referred to by the QC: ‘All I need to do is put a smell on her’.

Discredit, discredit, discredit.

Jackson also referred to Salmond as sexual bully and being a nightmare to work for, but not being quite the kind of person that should be on sex-offender register. He was, in effect, one of the middle-class chaps that had made a mistake and it was his fame that had got him punished. He was being victimised.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/mar/29/alex-salmond-qc-to-be-investigated-after-naming-trial-women

Kirsty Wark also established that female workers at Bute House were advised not to work out-of-hours and to be alone with Alex Salmond. Alex Salmond and his friends suggest there was a conspiracy against him. He was right, of course, about this. It’s called POLITICS.

The latest opinion-polls suggest fifty-five percent of the Scottish population would vote to leave the British union and become an independent nation.

‘Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or No’ was the question asked of voters in September 2014. I voted YES. The country voted NO, with a 55-45 percent split in which there was a turnout at the polls of almost 85% of registered voters. I was ungracious in defeat. You can fuck off with your Better Together campaign was how I and many others felt. A Labour Party cosying up to the Tories wiped them out in Scotland. All this is history, of course, but it’s still being played out.

The futures green and the futures SNP, but an SNP without its leading light of the 2014 Scottish referendum. Alex Salmond stood down and his ignominy was compounded by losing his Parliamentary seat to a Tory bastard. Salmond then tried to revitalise his career as a talk-show host, which would be fair enough, but like the former Communist Jimmy Reid decrying the rat race as Rector of the University of Glasgow, but writing for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun tabloid made strange bedfellows, Salmon’s show was backed by Russian television and Putin’s oligarchs. Talk on independence would leave a bad taste in anybody’s mouth.

Where does Alex Salmond go now? A footnote in history? Nicola Sturgeon, now we’re talking.